Tuesday 10 March 2015

Red Kev comes to the rescue of their lordships - Updated

Update 10 March

Yesterday's decision is also covered by the Carmarthen Journal (here) whose article shows clearly the extent to which the council is now linking the new road to S4C's new headquarters. Meryl Gravell went a step further on the news last night telling viewers that the new houses (up to 1,200 of them) would be needed to house all the people that would come with S4C.

Strangely, the Carmarthen West planning brief (including the link road) was drawn up and approved long before S4C decided to relocate its headquarters, and although it is hoped that other companies will eventually move to Carmarthen to be close to S4C, the broadcaster is planning to move only 50 posts from Cardiff.

While it is true that the new S4C headquarters will generate additional traffic on an already congested road system, it seems that the council's line is now that the whole Carmarthen West project is a by-product of S4C's move.

The developers have not been slow to take advantage of this and are now understood to be telling the council that if the £5 million + link road is needed to serve S4C, why should they pay for it?

The question of who will pay for it is also unclear. The line fed to the BBC yesterday was that only some of the funds would come from the council's massive reserves, with the Welsh Government having been asked to chip in. Other money will apparently be forthcoming from unspecified "other partners".

Who would those partners be, and what is in it for them? Surely not S4C?

Finally, anyone watching this from the WLGA may wonder why the Executive Board yesterday insisted on meeting behind closed doors to approve the plan when the details have been splashed in the Carmarthenshire Herald - and this blog. So much for the new openness and transparency.

This one is set to run and run.

Update 9 March

BBC Cymru reports that the Executive Board today rubber stamped its plan to finance the link road for the controversial Carmarthen West development out of reserves. As previously stated, the decision was taken behind closed doors, with press and public excluded.

The council says that it hopes to recoup the money from the developers, and that the funding will come in part from its reserves but it will also be asking the Welsh Government for assistance along with mysterious "other sources".

Unsurprisingly, Cllr Meryl Gravell fronted the decision, which was taken unanimously by the ruling Labour-Independent coalition, with the injection of a large dollop of spin in the form of a suggestion that the road will be needed to serve the new S4C headquarters.

It can only be a question of time before the chief executive takes to the media to explain that this exciting new development will not cost taxpayers a penny.

Updated 3 March

As predicted, an item relating to the Carmarthen West development has appeared on the agenda for the Executive Board meeting on 9 March, although that part of the meeting and the report will be subject to a public interest exemption, meaning that press and public will be excluded while the rubber stamp is applied.

If you have a Labour or Independent councillor why not ask them why the council is bailing out people who live in stately homes in England but cannot afford basic services for its residents.
Part-funded by Carmarthenshire County Council


Last week's budget meeting saw Labour and Independent councillors reject a Plaid motion to use £6.2 million of Carmarthenshire's £73.5 million cash pile to avoid the need for cuts to public services and above-inflation increases in council tax, rents, car parking charges and school dinners.

A couple of days later the Planning Committee met to consider various applications, including the highly controversial Carmarthen West planning brief.

The plan for a tranche of 250 new homes had previously come before the committee for approval on 10 February (see A Slight Hitch), but had to be aborted at the last minute thanks to an intervention by the Welsh Government which placed a stopper order on the scheme because of concerns about the impact on the surrounding road network (i.e. gridlock).

Roll forward to 26 February, and the planning officers had some good news. The stopper order had been lifted, the Welsh Government had withdrawn its objections and it was all systems go - subject to a condition in the small print that only 60 houses could be built on the greenfield site until the completion of a new link road.

These boys could teach the council's Ministry of Spin a thing or two about how to present bad news. Boys being the appropriate word, because planning in Carmarthenshire is clearly not suited to women who are much more interested in kittens, ribbons and make-up.

To put it mildly, this is a bit of a problem because the link road, originally estimated to cost £4.5 million, is now expected to cost £5 million, and the final bill is likely to be rather higher.

The meeting was told that there were now a couple of options. Either the council could pay for the development and recover the money later, or the developers could build the road in sections as the development progresses.

By now, readers can probably guess where this is heading.

The council's Executive Board will meet this week for one of its famous pre-meeting meetings behind closed doors, and on the agenda drawn up by the chief executive it appears that there will be a proposal to take £5 million or so out of reserves to pay for the link road in the hope that a roof tax on new houses will eventually pay this money back.

If Mr James's other schemes (Stradey Park, for example) are anything to go by, taxpayers could be left waiting a very long time to see the money recouped, and experience of all these "it won't cost you a penny" projects suggests that the money may well never be recovered.

We will have to wait for the official public rubber-stamping open session on 9 March to find out, assuming that the plan is not an exempt (i.e. secret) item.

Practically nobody in Carmarthen wants the mammoth Carmarthen West project which will fundamentally alter the character of the town, but the council's top brass is determined to plough ahead regardless, despite mounting problems.

The big idea is that the link road will be financed eventually by a roof tax of around £12,500 per property. In addition to that developers will be expected to make hefty contributions to a Section 106 Agreement to help finance a new primary school as a part of the overall Carmarthen West scheme.

Under the recently adopted LDP, developers will also be expected to provide a quota of 20% of affordable houses. There have already been whispers that this may have to be relaxed.

The recent history of housing developments in Carmarthenshire is that developers sign up to S106 agreements and affordable housing schemes, get planning permission and then return to the council a couple of years later saying that the developments are no longer economically viable. The council then relents, and conditions are relaxed or dropped.

In the case of Stradey Park in Llanelli, for example, there will be no affordable homes at all, and another pet scheme for 250 houses on a greenfield site at Ffos Las is also currently asking the council to let it off its S106 and affordable home commitments.

Partly as a result of this, Carmarthenshire is one of the worst performers in Wales when it comes to delivering affordable homes (21st out of 22 local authorities according to recent government rankings).

But the problems don't end there.

Dŵr Cymru has warned that the sewage infrastructure in Carmarthen is operating at capacity, and it currently does not have the money to carry out the necessary upgrades, although it might be able to tack the project on to its capital investment programme at some unspecified point in the future.

So the council has come up with an amazing wheeze to side-step the problem by bringing in another "licensed operator", i.e. in all likelihood an English water company, to put in and operate a system just for the Carmarthen West development.

Note how once again planning officers in Carmarthen appear to be doing everything they can to "facilitate" a private sector development in the teeth of overwhelming local opposition.

The planning meeting was also told by a couple of councillors that the Tawelan brook which crosses the development site is tidal. This came as news to planning officers, but Plaid's Cllr Jeff Owens who worked for many years in the water industry assured them that he was very familiar with the area, and that flooding would be a serious consideration, especially in Johnstown.

A further concern voiced by Cllr Alun Lenny (Plaid) was the company planning to develop the site. Carmarthen Promotions Limited is, as we have seen (here), a very small company with no track record, owned by a group of landowners, a lord and business types living in East Anglia. The same individuals are involved, in varying combinations, in a whole string of other small companies which appear never to make a profit and have nothing much in the way of assets.

Whether Carmarthen Promotions has the financial clout and resources to see through a major development with huge financial risks is a legitimate question.

Needless to say, the application was passed, and the way has been opened to build 60 new executive-style houses on higher ground, well away from any potential flooding.

Viewers of the webcast will see that Labour's Cllr Peter Cooper could hardly contain his excitement and raised his hand in support of the plan before the vote had been called. Cllr Terry Davies (Lab) also gave the scheme his blessing, although the infamous Terry and Keri double act was not performing this week because Cllr Keri Thomas (Lab) was once again absent. Over on the Independent benches you will also see a small forest of hands shoot up in unison, although any suggestions that there may have been party whipping going on would be absolutely outrageous. For some reason the Indies were all huddled together around the considerable bulk of Cllr Daff Davies of Mwche Farm turbine fame.

Expect Kevin Madge to agree to dip into the reserves any day now to allow the rest of the scheme to go ahead, with the council shouldering practically all of the financial risk, while the landed gentry of Norfolk and Suffolk can look forward to making a handsome profit.


Lesley Williams said...

I was present at a public meeting which was called to object to these proposals when the huge Carmarthen West development was first proposed. Dave Gilbert and Eifion Bowen were both present at that meeting and they categorically assured us that the council would not be paying for the new road and development would not start until a new road was in place.

There are so many reasons why this development should not be allowed to go ahead - one of which is that the so-called housing needs for the predicted future population of Carmarthen are based on false statistics.

Apart from the problems with the infrastructure - roads, sewerage system etc, where are the jobs for the residents of 1200 new houses going to be found? How will Glangwili Hospital and doctors' surgeries, already stretched, cope with the needs of the extra numbers?

How can this possibly be of any benefit to the town? It really is time that we have a referendum before such plans can be put in place in face of such overwhelming local opposition.

Anonymous said...

We must not forget that Dave Gilbert is no Mark James. Of course whatever he promised when he was holding the reins for Mark James holds no water now even if Eifion Bowen agreed with what was said at the time.

How can the CEO be allowed to push through his pet projects with no concern regarding the many obstacles in the path? The money he will be having thrown into the mix is our money not his to misuse and abuse as he did when he took on the blogger for libel who like Cneifiwr is trying to keep us the public, his employers up to date with his shenanigans.

I have a horrible feeling he will feel no remorse for any money he may have wasted with his pet projects. I say "he" is responsible because "he" seems to have the kind of personality that projects authority and anyone who fails to agree with him is a fool. No one wants to appear a fool or cross him.

I have never met him though I have contacted him as a whistleblower and been completely ignored. As a whistleblowing care worker in his eyes I am no doubt beneath contempt. Policies and procedures mean nothing to him as another whistleblower found out as he shouted at her even though she was accompanied by her MP. This shows a lot as to his character and self importance/interest. The public interest should come before the vagaries of one man. Am I going over the top? Maybe; but I have tried every way possible to have the officers actions investigated preferably internally and according to policies and procedures and have completely failed. Externally regulators tell me to complain to Ombudsman if the LA fail to look at my complaint. Ombudsman ignores the problems suddenly announcing as I'm a whistleblower the complaint/disclosure cannot be investigated by him (not in his remit but do you remember Delyth Jenkins?). WHY put the Ombudsman in the whistleblowing policy to be contacted if that was the case. WAG ignores the problems concerning the culture of defensiveness, cover up and the reports of serious maladministration perpetrated by council officers against Complainants and at least one whistleblower. Of course there has been no investigation thus no report of the maladministration in regard to my disclosures and complaints.

Jennifer Brown (whistleblower)

Anonymous said...

Management by fear and intimidation obviously alive and well in Carmarthen. Led by the biggest bigot possible.

This man clearly is only interested in self gain, was convinced he would be appointed vice-chancellor at Bath university and when it transpired he wasn't qualified then decided to remain in his current post.

Quite frankly, if he cannot demonstrate loyalty to the council he needs to go. He clearly wants to leave and has indicated so via actively seeking alternative employment.

This person needs to be sent packing, however its achieved; service no longer required, dismissed, displaced. Whatever it takes. Carmarthenshire needs someone with trust and integrity, neither of which james has, yet alone ever displayed towards those he is meant to support.

Cut the head of the snake off and the other morons will be left vulnerable. It will only be a matter of time to then see some sense of normality return to council chambers.

Local elections are coming and the population need a strong message to convince them of the self serving indifference displayed by those councillors representing them, apparently. Take heed and remove/replace.

m1books said...

Having recently attended a CCC Planning Seminar (aka PR session) with presentations on Positive Planning, the LDP & the new Community Infrastructure Levy, (oh and Biodiversity) it seems clear with decisions like the West Carmarthen development still being made, there is no regard for the existing views and needs of ratepayers and the services for which they pay. It is disgraceful that such plans can worm their way around the sect106 agreements and infrastructure levies, and dig into council reserves that should be used for maintaining residents existing services. The Health Board is also under huge pressure with GP and dentistry practice provision , and district and hospital nurse recruitment. But perhaps all the potential purchasers of these 'executive' developments will be able to afford private care?

caebrwyn said...

It is clear that the council moved very quickly on this to allay the concerns of the Welsh Government. Usually a deferment of an application for something as serious as this takes months to resolve. I also noticed that the report to the executive board which you mention in your post, related to funding for link road, was given a special mention by Cllr Edmunds during his budget presentation.
All the signs are there for a hefty contribution for the benefit of the developers.
I watched the planning committee webcast last week and the officers' case for recommendation was full of holes, as you've pointed out. There also seemed to be something of a panic when it looked like cllrs were on the brink of refusing it.

Anyway, I'll get back now to putting ribbons on my kittens...

Anonymous said...

Jennifer Brown 18.14

The Ombudsman's hands were rather tied when I took my complaint to him, because just over a week after my complaint to him about the failure of C.C.C to investigate the first abuse nearly a year on, a second abuser, a carer, hit the same service user over the back of the head and admitted it. They had to find a way all round to stop this getting into the public domain at the time. I would like to think that the Ombudsman would have investigated anyway, and I was pleased that the former Public Services Ombudsman for Wales, Peter Tyndall, said in the TARO 9 programme, when interviewed, that I was right to take my complaint to him.

Delyth Jenkins

Anonymous said...

These "developers" - 5 posh squire types - appear to be involved in companies where the liabilities hugely outweigh the assets. And have frequently been directors of companies that have gone into liquidation......

Anonymous said...

Personally I don't think the Ombudsman wanted to investigate our complaint because it would have proved the CCC do not take on board the recommendations of his reports. They say they have and that things have changed but they haven't.

The Ombudsman could tell from our complaint maladministration was on going regarding POVA, whistleblowing and complaints. So many bad reports mainly because officers fail to follow policies and procedures. The Ombudsman seems to have reinvented his remit after that Taro 9 interview where it concerns our (whistleblowers)complaint to him even though he had started to investigate it. What has taken place proves the Ombudsman is not a body able to keep our public bodies on the straight and narrow. The CCC has no respect for him or his reports as they just carry on "Doing it their way". Officers and ultimately the CEO and the Executive must be held accountable if there is to be any improvement in the CCC's handling of POVA, Complaints and whistleblowing concerns and the Ombudsman does not do that.

Delyth the report in 2009 concerning your complaint was not taken seriously by the Social Care Health and Housing Department nor by the CEO and the Executive. Had it been we whistleblowers in 2010 would not have needed to try and persuade the Ombudsman to investigate the CCC's handling of our disclosers and POVA. I think the Ombudsman is not effective by choice if not by design. He fails the public interest by allowing the CCC to run rings round him. He talks the talk but fails, in the long run, to protect the service users and the public from the shenanigans of the CCC. I think he is the CCC's protector not the public's protector. Whistleblowers see what is happening on the ground and for the CCC complaints manager and the Ombudsman to say whistleblowers cannot complain is completely out of order!

Jennifer Brown (whistleblower)

Blodwen said...

This group of East Anglian businessmen who are planning to develop part of the West Carmarthen site - they don't happen to be based anywhere near Boston in Lincolnshire do they?

Cneifiwr said...

Blodwen - no. A little further to the south, although as you hint, it is odd that business interests from the part of the world seem to find Carmarthenshire so interesting.

Anonymous said...

CCC don't care about service users.....commonly know as mushrooms....kept in the dark and fed shit!!!

Anonymous said...

How many more times must we be told that the Ombudsman has no real control over the workings of Carmarthen County Council? This the same Council that wants to be the most transparent in the country. So often they do their own thing and are answerable to no one.As can be seen by any web-cast viewer dissent or questioning is slapped down very quickly or ignored. These people in the Council, are except for the councillors themselves, unelected . How many stories of complaints about the operations of the planning department do we hear of?Personal opinion and prejudice are so often used as an excuse to deter planning applications. Democracy does not rule in Carmarthen.

Anonymous said...

Don't CCC councillors have the right, as they do in Pembrokeshire, to call in an executive board decision?

Anonymous said...

mewn rhai ardaloedd maent yn cynnal referendum am faterion amheus ac amwys amhoblogaidd mae cynghorau yn benderfynol o weithredu - nag os modd cymryd camau tebyg ar y mater cynllunio yma?

Anonymous said...

Why should we pay for the road to S4C Carmarthen HQ. They should pay. When the previous plans for the Llanelli Crematorium were put in, Carms CC decided that there should be a new roundabout at a cost of a third of a million pounds. The company decided to with draw and it was only through the positive determination of the Joint Burial Authority that a new crematorium company was found who were prepared to contribute to the additional road works cost.