Saturday 27 July 2013

Stradey Park - the lawyers roll up their sleeves [Updated]

As Caebrwyn reported the other day, Cllr Sian Caiach recently wrote to Carl Sargeant, Minister for Housing and Regeneration, to ask what the Welsh Government's position now is in regard to the development of the former Stradey Park site in Llanelli by Taylor Wimpey, especially since the company has begun work there.

Work has now progressed beyond piling, and construction has started in earnest in the middle of the old pitch. Huge quantities of earth are being brought in to raise the level of other parts of the site, and Taylor Wimpey has announced that the public right of way through Stradey Park will be closed for 6 months from 1st August.

The Minister has since replied that his officials have asked Carmarthenshire County Council whether, in its view, there has been a lawful commencement of development of the site.

He goes on to say that once a reply has been received from the council, the Government will begin consideration of the call-in requests. In the meantime, he says, an order preventing the council from granting planning permission remains in force.

What will happen if the council does not get around to replying to Mr Sargeant is not clear, but it may be wise for the minister to send a few of his officials on a day trip to Llanelli armed with cameras to see for themselves how lack of planning consent does not appear to be an obstacle preventing the construction of houses.

The news of more ministerial meddling will not go down well in County Hall which is desperate to see the development go ahead so that it can try to recoup some £4.6 million of Section 106 money which the council advanced to the Scarlets. Even more important than the dosh for some of the council's top brass is the political capital involved.

Whatever the outcome of this latest twist in the Stradey saga, the affair highlights a fundamental weakness in the planning system which allows councils to determine planning applications in which they have an overwhelming financial and political interest, often to the detriment of ordinary people.

Note [added on 28 July]

As many readers will be aware, the Stradey Park saga has been rumbling on for years, and must surely qualify as one of the most complex planning disputes in Wales. Here is where the matter currently stands:

The Scarlets got outline planning in June 2007 which expired 5 years later in June 2012
Taylor Wimpey secured Reserved Matters planning in Jan 2011 which expired 2 years later in Jan 2013
Taylor Wimpey applied to extend the time of the Outline permission in 2012 so that they could resubmit the reserved matters as late as 2015.
The Minister has put an article 18 stopper notice on the extension of time of Outline permission due to the query about the C2 flood plain (which has now increased to 63% of the site).
Despite this, TW has gone ahead and begun development under the Reserved Matters permission. They did some things prior to Jan 2013 which they and the county council claim constituted a start on site prior to the Reserved matters expiring, and now they are continuing under that. Objectors believe that TW failed to comply to the conditions prior to starting, but unsurprisingly the county council does not agree.
It is probably true to say that TW would not get outline planning permission on the site and would not be allowed to raise the land by up to 8 feet in places as part of the Reserved Matters if they were starting out from scratch now. However, because they had Outline Planning based on the site not being a flood plain, TW were able to get Reserved Matters because their legal team successfully argued that the Welsh Government could not reconsider the flooding details even though the facts had changed.
Invariably in planning outline permission comes before the Reserved Matters stage, but here we have a situation in which outline planning permission no longer exists, with development taking place on the basis of a disputed implementation of Reserved Matters.

Whatever opinions anyone holds about the Stradey Park dispute, one thing is clear: the planning system was never supposed to work this way.


Anonymous said...

I agree that there is strong likelhood of the Council spending a long time replying to the Minister. Then, if the development is illegal and against the Welsh Government's "stop" order, Carl Sargeant will ask Mark James to send his planning enforcement team to stop the build. They are unlikely to act speedily considering that it is against the Council's political and financial interests to stop the houses being built!

Anonymous said...

Who is pimping who. Where has the interest on 4.6 million gone. Where has the interest gone,is Wimpey going to pay this on top of there Saucepan 106 if not its the same as the Carmarthenshire taxpayer giving Wimpey money to build homes.