Thursday 29 September 2016

Something Nasty in the Wood Shed

The swallows have headed back to warmer climes; the kids are back at school; the shoplifters who keep local supermarket security staff busy have gone back to Walthamstow, Brum and Manchester; and Julian and Henrietta have loaded up the Range Rover, locked up the holiday home in Newport (Tudrath) and returned to Hampstead for the winter.

Not so the resident population of lesser spotted bloggers in Carmarthenshire and Pembrokeshire who spend their time rummaging through mouldering mounds of council documents in search of a tasty morsel or two. Currently they are in a feeding frenzy, having sniffed something which smells remarkably like rotting flesh emanating from the county halls in Carmarthen and Haverfordwest.

Can Cneifiwr resist the temptation to join in? Of course not.

What has got Caebrwyn, Old Grumpy and Jacob Williams sitting up and sniffing the wind is the long-running saga of huge EU funded grants dished out by Carmarthenshire County Council for schemes which were perhaps less about creating jobs, jobs, jobs for the many, and rather more about replenishing the bank accounts of a favoured few.

This blog first poked around in this particular wood shed back in 2014 (see Meryl's Millions here and here), and the press took a fleeting interest, only to be told that everything was absolutely fine and that there was nothing to see.

Here was the then deputy chief executive of Carmarthenshire, Dave Gilbert OBE, giving a master class in spin to the Western Mail in September 2014. His message boiled down to this:
  • The council had followed the rule book to the letter, and the Wales Audit Office had confirmed that, subject to a few suggestions about tightening up procedures, everything was tickety-boo.
  • The council would be setting up a working group to review procedures.
  • The council itself was squeaky clean, and was in fact so keen to be seen to be above reproach that it had referred itself to the WAO asking for suggestions as to how it could become even more squeaky clean.
The fact that the council and the WAO were still locking horns over the grants a year later, as is evident from Grant Panel minutes, suggests that Mr Gilbert was a little premature in making the first of these claims.

In March 2016, 18 months after Mr Gilbert told Shipton of the Mail that a working group was to be set up, Carmarthenshire Council Council's Grants Panel (more about this body in a moment) announced in minutes buried deep in the minutes of the council's Audit Committee that there was after all no need to set up a working group because WEFO (the Wales European Funding Office) had taken EU third party grant funding programmes away from Carmarthen:

"It was intended that a working group be set up to review the current third party grants process and to implement improvements. However, the Authority will no longer be administrating third party grants via European Funded Projects. These will be managed by Intermediary Bodies that have been approved by WEFO (WG, WCVA, DEST & SHELL)."
But it is the third of Mr Gilbert's claims which leave connoisseurs of spin gasping in admiration. The truth was that some senior figures in the council (the Director of Resources and a senior councillor) were so alarmed by what Meryl Gravell was up to that they had asked the WAO to take a closer look.

As Caebrwyn has noted on her blog, the idea that Carmarthenshire County Council would proactively go to the despised WAO in an exercise in self-improvement is comedy gold.

The Grants Panel itself is a no-go zone for our elected councillors. Requests from the Audit Committee to be allowed to send along its chair began while Plaid was still in opposition, and it took the Head of Law two years of agonised sleepless nights to conclude that the request was inadmissible.

Heaven forbid that anyone should get the idea that old accusations that Carmarthenshire County Council is officer-led are still valid, but scrutiny of a body responsible for handing out millions of pounds in grants is clearly not something for our elected representatives to worry their little heads about.

It may or may not be legally inadmissible, but politically allowing busybody councillors to go sniffing around her grant awards is the last thing that Meryl wants, and as she holds the balance of power between Labour and Plaid, it ain't going to happen. Besides which, Labour will want to tread very carefully because just about all of the bodies were buried on their watch.

Strangely, given the seriousness of concerns about grant awards, meetings of the Grants Panel invariably record that senior officers invited to take part in their meetings, including Chris Moore, the new-ish Director of Resources, never show up. Anyone with a suspicious mind might think they wanted to keep everything at arm's length for some reason.

Meanwhile, Old Grumpy has been doing his level best to try to dig into one of the grants approved in Carmarthen for an office block in Johnston in Pembrokeshire. A planned visit to County Hall in Carmarthen by Old Grumpy chaperoned by a council officer from Haverfordwest was vetoed, presumably by someone not a million miles from Mark James.

As Old Grumpy notes in his laconic way, if he were a conspiracy theorist, he might think that someone was trying to hide something.

The horse having galloped off into the sunset, the Wales Audit Office has decided to re-examine its stabling arrangements and change its approach to audits of this kind in future, placing greater weight on "outcomes". This would presumably mean that Meryl, Kevin Madge and others would no longer be able to claim that they had created huge numbers of jobs, safe in the knowledge that nobody could ever prove otherwise.

In reality, Brexit will mean that it is highly unlikely that there will be any more grant schemes for job creation schemes, genuine or otherwise.

Back at the ranch, attempts to get to the bottom of what happened in Crosshands, Johnston and elsewhere are continuing. As lesser spotted bloggers can testify, a useful sign for anyone interested in digging for old corpses in Carmarthenshire at least is old press releases announcing the presence at the scene of Meryl and her old friend Edwina Hart with large cheques in their handbags.

Here's a press release snapshot from March this year taken at Delta Lakes, for example:

This one is set to run and run.

Monday 26 September 2016

Council of Despair - Mind Your Language

Y Gair Olaf

Dear Colleagues

As you know, the editors of our staff newsletter kindly set aside this page for me to have the final word on matters of the moment, but this month I have decided to break with tradition and ask my old friend Dame Muriel to elaborate on comments she made at our most recent Executive Board Meeting on the subject of the new Welsh language policies which are being imposed upon us.

Sir Ephraim Jams CBE


Ever since I announced my intention of standing down at the next elections, thousands of you have written imploring me to reconsider my decision in view of the very dark times which now face us. "Dear Dame Muriel", the tear-stained letters begin, "we, your humble and loyal employees, beg of you to save us in our hour of greatest need and to act to save your wonderful legacy to the people of this county".

They refer, of course, to the twin threat of the so-called 'Safonau Iaith' cooked up by some mad woman with a dodgy dress sense in Cardiff called Mary Hughes, or as she would have it, Meri Huws, and a set of new language policies voted in by an extremist minority of 73 councillors when Sir Ephraim was unfortunately resting at home while the police investigated certain entirely lawful and reasonable payments.

Did you realise that everything will now have to be in Welsh? The Language Unit tells me that I will henceforth be known as Y Fonesig Cerrig Mân, while my dear friend Pam will become Y Foneddiges (that's not as important as a Fonesig, by the way!) Siani Flewog on the advice of someone called Bruce who told them that her name in Welsh meant a kind of loathsome hairy caterpillar.

Sheer madness. Poor old Pam.

But it does not stop there. Under the new policy, those of you not up to scratch will be forced to attend compulsory training in Cynghanedd and something called the Treiglad Trwynol. Any officer called upon to speak in the Council Chamber will first have to pass an examination in something called 'Llefaru'. All zumba classes in our leisure centres will be replaced by compulsory clocsio, and the staff canteen will in future serve only cawl and a concoction called Wyau Môn.

Pamela tells me that some staff have come to her distraught because e-mails they wrote in Welsh were returned to them with corrections to spelling and grammar. But much worse is to come. I understand that a squad of jack-booted inspectors from a body called Cylch yr Iaith will be deployed in all offices to weed out anyone who abuses the Treiglad Llaes.

Offenders will be sent to a boot camp in Llanybydder, and will be told "Dewch â phecyn bwyd".

All of this thanks to Kim Jong Dole and his merry men (and women).

Now, I'm not against the Welsh language, but consider this: when Wales enjoyed the independence these fanatics are agitating for, we didn't even have electricity or computers, and there were certainly no weekly bin collections. The economy consisted mainly of cattle rustling, and in view of what happened to a certain Mr William de Braose*, what English tourists in their right mind would want to come here?

As I have warned repeatedly, if we are not very careful, all of the wonderful regeneration work I have done will have been in vain, and investors will run a mile before you can say Croeso i Sir Gâr.

And finally, there may be those of you who think, "why should I worry? I don't work for the council, and I'm not planning to apply for grants to open a swanky new luxury B&B".

Well, let me tell you. Back in the bad old days when Wales ran its own affairs, leprosy and the Black Death stalked the land. If you insist on using your so-called rights under the Safonau Iaith and saying "Bore da, Doctor" when you go to your local surgery, there soon won't be any doctors and nurses. It'll be back to the druids with their remedies of mistletoe and boiled weeds mixed with dried cow dung for you.

So don't come crying to my wonderful new Wellness Village. You won't be able to afford it anyway.

I do not wish to spread alarm, but you have been warned.

Dame Muriel


* He was caught having an affair with the wife of Llywelyn Fawr, Prince of Wales, and she was made to watch from her bedroom window as he had his bits cut off before being hanged. Ed.

Saturday 24 September 2016

Thoughts on the Cilycwm By-election

First, let's have the results:
  • Dafydd Tomos, Plaid Cymru - 201
  • Thomas Arwel Davies, Independent - 151
  • Maria Carroll, Labour - 123
  •  Matthew Paul, Independent - 106
  • Jacqui Thompson, People First - 64
  • Catherine Nakielny, Liberal Democrats - 62
  • Steven Holmes, Conservative -15
Turnout: 61%

The result takes the Plaid group on the council to 29 members, with one other having recently resigned to sit as an unaffiliated member. The official Independents are now down to 20, with Plaid just 9 seats short of an overall majority. Roll on May 2017.

Congratulations to Dafydd Tomos who worked very hard to win this ward in what was a very close fought campaign.

We are always told not to read too much into by-election results, but this one tells us a few things.

First, despite all the political turmoil and uncertainty of recent months, Plaid's vote in Carmarthenshire East and Dinefwr is as firm as ever. To win a by-election when you are running the council and having to make unpopular decisions because of continued budget cuts is no mean feat.

Second, it continues the long-term decline of the "official" Independent group of Meryl Gravell and Pam Palmer, now at their lowest ever ebb. Extinction can't come soon enough for anyone who believes in open,  accountable and democratic control of local government.

It cannot be acceptable to have an important branch of government run by a cabal which has never published a manifesto, but which has nevertheless clung to power ever since Carmarthenshire re-emerged from Dyfed. The result has been years of grimy pork barrel politics with Mark James as ring master, and the 50/50 split of cabinet seats which the Independents have insisted on since 2012 in coalitions with both Labour and Plaid is looking increasingly absurd and undemocratic.

Third, let's raise a glass to a truly terrible result for the Tories, pushed into a very poor seventh place. If there is a Theresa May bounce in Carmarthenshire, it's of the dead cat variety.

In second place was Arwel Davies, a local farmer, who put it about that he was an independent Independent. However, Cneifiwr has been reliably informed that Cllrs Pam Palmer and Mair Stephens were all over him like a rash, seeking to have their wicked way and lure him over to the Women's Institute Party.

Commiserations to the rest, especially Jacqui Thompson and Matthew Paul who shamelessly used his column in last week's Carmarthenshire Herald to try to drum up votes for his campaign. As an ex-Tory, there is hope for him yet.

In the meantime, he has rekindled the flame of Auberon Waugh's Dog Lovers' Party, championing the rights of dogs to poo in freedom and in defiance of the totalitarian council's determination to stamp down hard on dog mess.

Without wishing to engender feelings of paranoia, Matthew should be advised that if he sees an elderly man lurking in the bushes with a camera when he's out walking the hounds, it's probably Cllr Jim Jones, Executive Member for Doggy Doos.

For Labour, Maria Carroll turned her village shop into campaign HQ, and for the first time in living memory Labour posters appeared in Llanwrda.

It is not known which of the various Labour parties in Carmarthenshire Maria was representing. Was she a Madge-ist, Anthony Jones-ite, Corbynista, Redmundskyist or fan of Oily Smith? We shall probably never know.

It is not even clear any more who is the leader of the Labour group on the council, with Kevin Madge telling anyone who asks that Jeff Edmunds is not his leader.

Great news then that democracy has finally arrived in Cilycwm, with seven individuals going to the trouble and expense of contesting a  council by-election. All human life was there with the exception of Ukip (debatably) and the Monster Raving Loony Party, although the MRLP may have infiltrated the LibDems.

And in eight months from now, the good people of Cilycwm will be asked to do it all again.

Thursday 22 September 2016

Long Grass

A long way down the very long list of questions raised by the Brexit vote is what will happen to Special Areas of Conservation (SAC). SACs were created in response to the EU's Habitats Directive, designed to protect a list of habitat types and species across Europe. At one end of the spectrum on the list of Welsh SACs are Eryri/Snowdonia, Preseli and Cadair Idris, while at the other are many smaller and less visited places such as Rhos Llawr-Cwrt and Elenydd in Ceredigion.

Some of the Welsh SACs are in national parks, and most if not all are also designated Sites of Special Scientific Interest, so expect to be told that it won't make any difference if we chuck SACs along with air pollution standards, employment rights, regulations to protect consumers (what precisely is in that sausage?) and a lot of other EU safeguards that stand in the way of big business on the promised post-Brexit bonfire of red tape.

We will be taking control and freeing ourselves from all those foreign shackles.

In one small corner of Wales, the Brexiteers are right: getting rid of SAC status won't make a scrap of difference to the fate of part of the Cernydd Carmel SAC (also a SSSI), because laws and regulations which are not enforced are just meaningless scraps of paper.

SACs are supposed to be the gold standard when it comes to protecting our countryside from development. SSSIs can be destroyed with official blessing if a local authority and Natural Resources Wales agree that the interests of development outweigh the conservation considerations.

That is what happened, for example, at Selar Farm near Glynneath, where a former SSSI was obliterated with official blessing by Celtic Energy. Other opencast sites operated by Celtic were supposed to be restored by the company when it finished mining, but funds to pay for the restoration were never paid in, or they were spirited away perfectly legally to British offshore tax havens. If most of those sites are to be restored as countryside, the taxpayer will have to find hundreds of millions of pounds to do it.

The interests of development, or perhaps the interests of Celtic Energy's shareholders, outweighed the interests of the SSSI, and the then council director of environment told councillors that there were plenty of other SSSIs anyway. One of his successors, Mr Will Watson, went a step further and became CEO of Celtic Energy.

In theory, getting rid of an SAC is a bit more tricky. It can be done, but needs to be sanctioned higher up the food chain, and it can only be done if there is no alternative to the proposed development.

But things are rather different in Carmarthenshire.

This blog last visited Cernydd Carmel in April 2016. To cut a long story short, the landowner trashed a chunk of the SAC, felling trees, removing vegetation and topsoil and engaging in a spot of quarrying for what may or may not have been commercial quarrying. He then built a road across the site for purposes which only make sense if you know that his main businesses are road haulage, scrap metal and quarrying.

Happily for our man, Mr Andrew Thomas, the council has always taken the view that he is a farmer, and so this road is an agricultural track as far as they are concerned.

Needless to say, all of this work on the supposedly heavily protected SAC was done without asking either the council or Natural Resources Wales. The council was told about it as work was in progress, but it forgot to tell NRW.

The council then politely invited Mr Thomas to submit a retrospective planning application, which he did in April 2015. The application was eventually validated by planning officers in October 2015.

NRW reluctantly became involved when members of the public and the then Assembly Member, Rhodri Glyn Thomas, made a fuss and started asking questions.

Discussions between the council, NRW and representatives of Mr Thomas began around May 2015, with the aim of agreeing a restoration plan for the land.

Restoration was a bit of a misnomer because almost from the beginning, the council and NRW decided that asking Mr Thomas to put things back as they were was not feasible. As for the road, they formed the view that digging it up would cause more damage. Moreover, NRW decided that prosecuting Mr Thomas would be too expensive.

Almost a year and a half after discussions began, no restoration plan has been implemented, and the planning application seems to be frozen in time.

No such delays were encountered over at nearby  Ffynnon Luan, another of Mr Thomas's holdings, where retrospective planning permission for land reprofiling and a road was granted rather more swiftly earlier this year. The only difference was that Ffynnon Luan is not on an SAC.

Perhaps they're all waiting for Brexit and the eventual abolition of SACs, at which point the SSSI status could be removed on the grounds of essential quarrying.

Meanwhile, Mr Thomas can carry on as though nothing had happened, which of course is manifestly the case, with the application stuck in the long grass in Spillman Street, although you won't find much long grass on the land itself.

You don't need to be Iolo Williams to realise that most municipal golf courses provide richer habitats than the sterile expanse of mown commercial rye grass at Blaenypant:

Picture taken around 14 August

So Mr Thomas won't be going to court, and he gets to keep his road/agricultural track on a "farm" which has no arable land or livestock, apart from horses, and the restoration plan seems set to gather dust down in the archives.

Sunday 18 September 2016

Joined-up government

The proposals for a radical re-drawing of Westminster constituency boundaries published last week are predicated on two main arguments. First, they will even up the number of voters in each constituency (fair enough), and second is the much less convincing populist notion that we need to reduce the cost of politics.

Predictably, the losers in this exercise are not happy. Stephen Kinnock, whose Aberavon constituency would disappear, called it "barefaced gerrymandering", but Aberavon has around 45,000 voters, whereas Tory Cambridgeshire North West has roughly double that number.  A decision to stick with current boundaries really would be gerrymandering.

Overall, there will be 50 fewer elected MPs, but since 1997 Blair, Brown and Cameron between them appointed more than 630 life peers, with Cameron ("cutting the cost of politics") notching up more than 240 of them. That was an average of 40 for every year he sat in 10 Downing Street, and they can all claim allowances and expenses if they feel like travelling up to Westminster and signing in.

More patronage, less democracy and savings of bugger all.

If things weren't already bad enough for Labour, the boundary changes will make it all but impossible for them to win a majority in the House of Commons, no matter who leads the party, for the foreseeable future.

The changes will reinforce the overwhelming dominance of the prosperous, Tory-voting south-east of England over the rest of the UK. Wales, with less than 5% of MPs, will become even more of a political and economic irrelevance in Westminster than we are already, ruled permanently by a party three quarters of us did not vote for.

Neither Corbyn nor Smith nor anyone else in Labour has a solution to this. Their sat-nav has taken us down a single track road and driven us into a bog. Keep on voting Labour and sending a message to Westminster, says Lab-nav impotently, even though nobody in Westminster is listening, and the AA man no longer ventures outside the Home Counties.

Independence is the only way out.

But let's take a look at the proposals on a more parochial level.

Cenarth and Llangeler

Cenarth ward (that's Newcastle Emlyn to you and me), and Llangeler (that's Drefach Felindre in reality) jut out into Ceredigion at the north-west extremity of the constituency of Carmarthen East and Dinefwr. Neither Carmarthen East and Dinefwr nor the neighbouring Ceredigion constituency have enough voters to meet the target of around 75,000 electors per constituency, and so the Boundary Commission for Wales has shuffled the pack, played with different permutations and decided to take the two wards out of Carmarthen East and Dinefwr, lumping them into a new super-sized constituency to be called Ceredigion a Gogledd Sir Benfro.

Ceredigion a Gogledd Sir Benfro will take in the whole of Ceredigion, plus most of the northern half of Pembrokeshire (but not Llanrhian, St Davids or Solva), and a slice of Powys around Llanidloes.

Even with all that, this monster would still be about 4,000 voters short of the UK Government's target.

Reading through the Boundary Commisison's proposals, it becomes clear that this job was a two-stage process:

1. Rearrange the pieces, trying to create constituencies with roughly 75,000 voters in each.
2. Cast around for geographical/cultural/economic justifications as to why these pieces really do belong together.

Apart from helping to make up numbers, the justification for moving Cenarth and Llangeler wards is that Newcastle Emlyn has "very close links" to Adpar. So close, in fact, that if it weren't for the county border, they would be the same place.

Carmarthen East and Dinefwr would be renamed Caerfyrddin and acquire the chunk of western Carmarthenshire (Carmarthen, Whitland, St Clears, Laugharne, etc.) which is currently bolted on to the very different southern half of Pembrokeshire.

It is true that Newcastle Emlyn has more in common with Ceredigion than it does with Carmarthen, 17-ish miles and half an hour away along some scenic, but tortuous roads. 20 minutes if you put your foot down, break all the speed limits and don't get stuck behind slow moving lorries, expletive deleted horse boxes and pensioners heading off for fish and chips at Morrisons.

But this is Britain where reform always means a bit of sticking plaster, string and a few nails applied to give an extended lease of life to some knackered, moribund concept, like the unfair and undemocratic First Past The Post voting system.

The Boundary Commission's recommendations are for Westminster seats only, so we will end up in different constituencies for Westminster and Assembly elections, while remaining part of Carmarthenshire for local government purposes. Apart from anything else, that will create an organisational nightmare for the political parties.

The risk to small areas such as Cenarth and Llangeler in these changes, detached from one constituency and bolted on to another, is that we will fall through the cracks and end up in a kind of political no man's land.

In addition to that change, and as a result of a completely separate exercise in boundary tinkering, Cenarth and Llangeler wards are due to merge to create a single, 2-member ward spread over a large, deeply rural swathe of territory for county council elections.

Just as with the Westminster proposals, the result will inevitably weaken the link between voters and their elected representatives.

Friday 9 September 2016

Cantref - the blood-letting begins, and a letter to the Editor

When Cantref's shareholders voted themselves into oblivion and approved the "merger" with Wales and West (WWHA) a couple of weeks ago, they did so at gun-point. It was either merge with WWHA, or go bust thanks to a secret government report produced by the London firm of Campbell Tickell, which we now know enjoyed some unusually close links to WWHA.

As a last minute sop to wavering shareholders, vague promises were made that Cantref's Newcastle Emlyn headquarters would remain in some shape or form, and that the Welsh language would be safeguarded.

At the time, this blog wondered what mechanisms were in place to ensure that these promises were kept and who would be around to hold the Cardiff-based housing giant to account.

We have not had to wait long to find out that the promises had a shelf life equivalent to that of the proverbial snowball in hell.

Cantref's ICT manager, two senior housing managers and others are understood to have received letters informing them that their jobs no longer exist, although they could stay in work if they up sticks and move to Cardiff or Flint.

HR interviews have been conducted in English, and WWHA is said to be looking for smaller premises to house what is left of its staff in Newcastle Emlyn.

Letter to the Editor

It is fair to say that you would be hard put to find many supporters of WWHA in Ceredigion or the rest of Cantref's patch, so readers of the Cambrian News would have been surprised this week to read a letter to the Editor from a WWHA supporter with an address in Llanarth.

A Mr Byron Butler writes,

I have been a close observer of WWHA for 20-plus years and can confirm that, on most performance indicators, it is the best performing HA in Wales (It is also the largest).

He goes on to claim that,

If the merger does indeed proceed, Cantref tenants will, I have no doubt, be well served. The tenant voice will have an opportunity to be heard, and both responsive and planned maintenance will be undertaken in a timely manner. It is to my knowledge that WWHA has had a language policy in place for many years and business can be conducted “yn yr hen iaith”.

Judging from the garbled nonsense on WWHA's website, the language policy consists of cut and paste into Google Translate. The result is Yr Hen Iaith on drugs:

Rydym yn datblygu mwy o gynlluniau, ar yr amod llety myfyrwyr yng Ngogledd Cymru a daeth yn arweinydd ym maes cyfranogiad preswylwyr. Fel rhan o ymarfer stoc rhesymoli yn 1990 rydym yn trosglwyddo 336 uned o stoc o Gymdeithas Tai Hanover yng ngorllewin Lloegr, trosglwyddodd y cyfan o'n stoc Saesneg i Orbit a chymdeithasau tai Knightstone, a derbyniodd Corlan Cymdeithasau Tai Ymddeol Corlan ac fel is-gwmni WWHA, gan gymryd ein stoc i tua 5,500 o eiddo.

So who is this Llanarth resident who has been observing distant WWHA for 20 years and more?

Byron Butler, it turns out, has a holiday home in Llanarth and is more often to be found in Bridgend. A retired butcher and prominent freemason, the Worshipful Brother Butler is one of those local government dignitaries who in the good old days would have dressed up in fur trimmed velvet robes (when not posing in funny aprons), his girth expanding with every passing year, as he gradually amassed municipal bling and  honours.

In 2007 he was appointed Deputy Lord Lieutenant of Mid Glamorgan after serving as High Sheriff, and when not down at the Lodge could be found dispensing justice to miscreants in the Magistrates Court.

The title of Deputy Lord Lieutenant is awarded for life, and it was a little unfortunate that a year later our Worshipful Brother found himself in hot water for remarks made in an episode of the BBC's Week In Week Out documentary series called "The Only Gay in the Village" when he was interviewed by former Steps singer, Ian "H" Watkins.

Talking about gay people, Butler said, "We haven't got much time for them...Well, I think probably it's a suspicion of the mainstream that they perhaps will interfere with young people and so on and that's historically been the case."

"Paedophiles, solidophiles [sic], not necessarily, but they do, don't they. That's the reality."

A year later, just as he was about to face disciplinary action after an investigation by the Office for Judicial Complaints, Butler decided to resign as JP, thereby depriving the bench of his enlightened views.

Butler is a regular at a Christian place of worship in his home town, and he probably drew some comfort from support he received during his suspension, including a press release from those Carmarthen-based nutjobs, Christian Voice, which called on the authorities to end "this witchhunt of an innocent man".

Fortunately, Butler was able to carry on in various other posts, including as a trustee of the Slocombe Cottages for the Aged and Infirm, a registered charity which is run out of WWHA's headquarters in Cardiff.

Perhaps next time Mr Butler will be a little more open with readers of the Cambrian News about the extent of his links to WWHA.


The Editor never tires of pointing out that this blog is read in many a manse and other respectable homes. Readers looking for adult content in the pursuit of unusual fetishes are politely directed elsewhere.

In response to some of the comments below, the Y Cneifiwr wishes to emphasise that the following image is reproduced for cheap laughs only.

Sunday 4 September 2016

No new jobs for Whitland

It's a funny old world. This blog, which not so long ago hoped fervently that Carmarthenshire's Local Development Plan (LDP) would be derailed and sent back to the drawing board, now finds itself defending the LDP beast, while two Labour councillors, Anthony Jones and Terry Davies, who until recently were Stalinist adherents of planning orthodoxy, are busy trying to undermine the plan they voted to adopt.

Even stranger, Cneifiwr finds himself agreeing with Kevin Madge, now consigned to the back benches and the planning committee, who appears to be embroiled once again in one of those interminable and unfathomable fratricidal vendettas engulfing the Labour Party, or rather the three Labour Parties which now seem to exist in Carmarthenshire.

Last week the council's planning committee considered an application (W/33572) to build 28 houses on part of the old creamery site in the middle of Whitland. The officer's report, which recommended rejection, can be found here.

Although the site is on a flood plain, with Natural Resources Wales warning that a proposed elevated road would increase the risk of flooding, the primary reason for the recommendation to reject was that the site was earmarked under the Local Development Plan (LDP) for employment, and not housing.

In Whitland, as elsewhere in the county, there is no shortage of sites earmarked for housing development under the LDP. Far, far too many of them, in fact, with provision for new housing under the plan way in excess of any likely local need or likely population growth.

Some of those sites have languished for years and even decades on the council's master plans without ever a brick being laid.

The truth is that Local Development Plans, and not just the Carmarthenshire version, are really developers' charters given a thin veneer of local democracy which licence housebuilders to build new estates if and when they think they can turn a profit.

If you were to ask the public what we need most, it would not be huge new developments of executive housing at Ffos Las, but new employment opportunities and social housing.

As it happens, the old creamery site in Whitland is the only site left under the LDP which was reserved for factories, workshops and business use.

So when members of the planning committee voted 8 to 6 to accept the application and reject planning officers' advice, they opted for houses rather than jobs.

The vote has ramifications far beyond Whitland, however, because a precedent has been set which could see land not designated for housing suddenly given the green light for new residential development wherever and whenever a developer spots an opportunity.

Under the rules, the planning committee will soon be asked to take a second look at the application. If members confirm last week's decision, they will have driven a coach and horses through what little protection we have in this county from the unbridled greed of speculators and big bucks developers.