Baseless Political Attacks Damage Confidence in Council
by Pat Dodd Racher (a member of Plaid Cymru, Transition Town Llandeilo and Calon Cymru, slow Welsh learner and former editor with Reed Business Publishing)
Nowadays I’ve stopped buying the Carmarthen Journal, which appears to me to act as a megaphone for the powers-that-be in County Hall, so rely for local news on bloggers, notably Y Cneifiwr and Carmarthenshire Planning Problems, and on the South Wales Guardian. Perusing this weeks’ issue, I noticed on page 10 a letter from Councillor Kevin Madge (Labour), the Leader of Carmarthenshire County Council.
The contents so amazed me that here I am writing about them.
Cllr Madge, after referring to the “somewhat hysterical response of the South Wales Guardian to comments about the planning application to build a new Sainsbury’s store in Llandeilo” goes on to say:
“The Welsh Assembly Government decided to call in the planning application following a number of objections that had been received, particularly from the local AM and MP.”
This could be understood as political bear-baiting, given that Mr Madge represents Labour and the AM, Rhodri Glyn Thomas, and MP, Jonathan Edwards, are members of Plaid Cymru. Political jousting is one thing, but ignoring salient facts in the interests of party politics is quite another.
NOWHERE in his long letter does Cllr Madge tell readers that CARMARTHENSHIRE COUNTY COUNCIL ITSELF WAS OBLIGED TO REFER UP, TO THE WELSH ASSEMBLY GOVERNMENT, THE APPLICATIONS FOR SAINSBURY’S STORES AT LLANDEILO AND CROSS HANDS. The reason? Under the Town and Country (Shopping Development) (England and Wales) (No.2) Direction 1993, Carmarthenshire Council had to refer the applications upwards because the retail floor-space of the two stores would together exceed the limit of the council’s authority, which was to grant permission for up to 20,000 square metres within 10 miles of any part of the proposed development and within a five-year period.
Carmarthenshire’s planning officers knew that the double application needed to be put before the Welsh Assembly Government, and so for council leader Mr Madge to heap all the blame for his disappointment on objectors, and to single out the AM and MP, suggests one of two possibilities:
1) Councillor Madge was and remains unaware of Town and Country (Shopping Development) (England and Wales) (No.2) Direction 1993, or
2) He knew of the regulation but opted to ignore the facts in the interests of a political fight.
Jonathan Edwards and Rhodri Glyn Thomas were far from the only objectors to the plan for a large Sainsbury’s outside Llandeilo. William Powell AM and about two and a half dozen members of the public bothered to write in to say ‘No, thank you’. The Co-operative objected too, which was to have been expected because the Co-op has a supermarket near the site that Sainsbury’s wanted.
Retail consultants, Nathaniel Lichfield & Partners (NLP), carried out an assessment for Carmarthenshire County Council of the likely impact of three new food stores – Sainsbury’s at Cross Hands and Llandeilo, and an application for Ammanford which the council turned down – and came to the following conclusion, reported in the agenda for the Planning Committee’s meeting on March 29th 2012:
“In terms of sequential assessment, NLP are of the opinion that it is not possible to make a preference between the three proposals because they serve different needs/catchment areas. Based on the CRS (Carmarthen Retail Study), NLP has undertaken an analysis of different scenarios to assess the cumulative implications on expenditure capacity ie assessing the implication of two or all three stores being developed. NLP concludes that in quantitative terms there is insufficient convenience goods expenditure capacity to support more than one food store. The two store scenarios create a combined convenience goods expenditure deficit of between -£19.49m to -£36.15m. The two and three store development scenarios suggest there will be a very high cumulative impact on existing convenience shopping facilities both within and outside town centres.”
Therefore it is surely wrong for Cllr Madge to claim, as he does in his letter, that objectors to a Sainsbury’s in Llandeilo are “complicit in destroying opportunities for as many as 250 jobs in the locality”, because the consultants engaged by the council itself concluded there would be “a very high cumulative impact on existing convenience shopping facilities both within and outside town centres”.
Of course, you have to decipher the jargon: “very high cumulative impact” means severe damage to existing traders; business closures; and JOB LOSSES. Any new jobs created would be largely counter-balanced by current jobs disappearing, because the incomes of Carmarthenshire’s shoppers do not expand magically every time a new store opens. There’s proof enough of this in Llanelli.
It appears that the Sainsbury’s in Cross Hands is proceeding, and according to Cllr Madge “will serve as a permanent reminder to the people of Llandeilo and the surrounding area of the glorious opportunity that was lost to them, thanks in part to the meddling of their AM and MP”.
This accusation has a flavour of misinformation spread for a political purpose, creating a murky fog in which inaccuracies, half-truths and even outright lies may shelter and multiply, to the detriment of popular confidence in our local democracy.