Tuesday 22 October 2013

The Battle of Stradey Park - Checkmate?

Carl Sargeant, the Minister for Housing and Regeneration, has decided to call in an application submitted by Taylor Wimpey for Stradey Park in Llanelli where the developer would like to build 450 houses because, he fears, the development could be at odds with national planning policy.

The application (S/23311) would extend the time limit on another approved application (S/12058) by a further three years.

At issue here is whether new housing developments should be allowed on land liable to flooding.

Initially 50-60% was deemed to be liable to flooding, but at a public inquiry in 2007 Taylor Wimpey successfully challenged this, and the Environment Agency Wales decided that it agreed with the developer. Planning permission was eventually granted on the basis that there was negligible flood risk.

In March 2013 Natural Resources Wales (the successor to the Environment Agency) came along and updated its flood maps, concluding that 75-80% of the area was subject to flood risk, something which older residents knew all along to their own considerable cost following serious flooding in 1981.

A spate of serious floods in different parts of Wales in recent years means that the Welsh Government knows that it cannot sit on its hands and wave this development through because of how things would look when the inevitable happens. Hence the call-in.

The problem is that in this giant game of chess, Taylor Wimpey has started construction work, and Carmarthenshire County Council is adamant that all the necessary planning consents have been granted in order for this to happen.

The huge fly in the ointment is that the council has a direct financial interest in seeing the development go ahead because that is the only way it can hope to recoup the millions it pumped into Parc y Scarlets thanks to the byzantine funding scheme cooked up by the chief executive, Meryl Gravell and the usual suspects.

Despite having a duty of care to the people it is supposed to serve and the tireless opposition of local residents and some at least of their democratically elected representatives (most notably Cllr Siân Caiach), the council is siding with Taylor Wimpey and determined to see the scheme pushed through.

In theory the Welsh Government will now sit down to determine application S/23311, but Taylor Wimpey is expected to counter by withdrawing the application. Because it has now started building, the application to extend the time limit would seem to be academic.

While this game of chess is played out, local people can only hope that the rain holds off.

As for the rest of us who do not live in the Stradey Park area of Llanelli, this mess should serve as a wake-up call. The story is one of corporate greed, overweening arrogance and incompetence, and the victims are ordinary people.

The Welsh Government needs to change the rules to ensure that in future no local planning authority will be left to determine any planning application in which the local authority of which it is part has a direct financial interest.

Planning is meant to be a quasi judicial function exercised in strict conformity with planning policies and with regard to the merits of each application. What is evident in Carmarthenshire is that the executive and the supposedly independent quasi judicial functions of the planning department have been fused together to push through the scheme in which the council has invested a lot of political and financial capital.

Anyone who believes that the county's planning function is independent of the executive when it comes to major planning applications is likely to believe in the existence of the tooth fairy. A small lorry load of documentation has built up over the years showing just how closely involved senior officers and councillors with no direct responsibility for planning have been in the saga.


In a separate development two Labour councillors in Burry Port (Pat Jones and John James) are trying to get a Welsh Government refusal of planning permission overturned for the former Grillo zinc oxide works.

A planning application for 200 houses on the site was called in by the Welsh Government and refused because once again Carmarthenshire County Council saw nothing wrong with building on a site which is liable to flooding.

Cllrs Jones and James and their supporters are seeking a judicial review, and it is understandable that they should want to see the eyesore redeveloped and provide employment for a couple of years. Less understandable is that they want to see houses built and sold to families who face the trauma of flooding.

Cneifiwr has to confess that Cllr John James has so far completely failed to appear on the radar, so much so that a visit to the council website was needed to confirm that he actually exists. He sits on several committees, including the Audit Committee and the Democratic Services Committee, but appears to be one of those councillors who never has anything to say and no questions to ask, at least in the monthly public meetings of the council.

His biographical details on his council profile are blank. Presumably he knows when to raise his hand at the right time, and so should go far.


Anonymous said...

I cannot imagine that any houses built on land likely to flood would now qualify for insurance -- there is no obligation to offer flood insurance to properties built since January 2009. Therefore the houses would not be mortgageable. Who would acquire them? How would they fund the acquisition?

Cneifiwr said...

The problem, at least in Stradey Park, is that the new houses will be built on a gigantic artificial raised platform. It's the existing homes round the site that would bear the brunt of any flooding, and campaigners believe that the new development will exacerbate problems for existing residents.

Anonymous said...

When have councils like the one you have in Carmarthen ever had consideration for the tax-paying public?
Just think of the money they can recoup from all those houses.It could be stashed away ready for the defence or counter-suing of innumerable bloggers.

Anonymous said...

Raising the land does not remove the problem: http://www.legal500.com/developments/1231
...but a lot of lawyers are likely to benefit along the way

Anonymous said...

Anon - 09.20.
I too was thinking about insurance availability and cost - but for the new superschool in Ffairfach after I saw the official flood warnings for the Towy around Llandilo this morning.

Anonymous said...

Has the previous planning permission been lawfully implemented? Does the failure to comply with "conditions precedent" - things that need to be sorted before development takes place - mean that commencement was unlawful? If so, then has the permission expired?

Carmarthenshire County Council are unlikely to find that this is the case, for reasons clearly explained by Cneifiwr. In which case, will the Welsh Government answer these pressing questions? If the answer is that the development is unauthorised, then will they use their own enforcement powers to require work to cease?