West Wales News Review

Economy, environment, sustainability

Archive for the tag “Carmarthenshire County Council”

Opinion: Council in Clampdown on Recycling

A startling clampdown on recycling household waste has been announced by Carmarthenshire County Council.

The council is setting up a bureaucratic system to check identities of drivers and vehicles entering recycling sites, and to limit a wide range of vehicles to 12 visits a year.

The whole scheme seems an over-reaction to prevent businesses from taking commercial items to the county’s four recycling centres, at Nantycaws, Carmarthen; Wernddu, near Ammanford; Trostre, Llanelli; and Whitland.

The new identity check rules start on April 1st – I did for a moment wonder if this was an elaborate April Fool – and require every driver entering a council waste/recycling site to show their driving licence, council tax bill or recent utility bill, to prove they live in Carmarthenshire.

Permits will be introduced from June 1st. Cars, SUVs and people carriers, with or without a single-axle trailer, will not need a permit. Nor will compact pick-ups with rear side windows and a second row of seats, or car-type vans also with rear side windows and a second row of seats.

Restrictive permits

But vans of any size without rear side windows, and single-cab pick-ups, will have to carry a permit. The permits will be registered to vehicles rather than to drivers, and will allow up to 12 visits in one year.

Vans or pick-ups drawing trailers, and any vehicle towing a trailer with more than one axle, will be completely banned from recycling centres. Unless, it appears, the vehicle has been adapted for use by a disabled person.

Drivers will not be able to exceed 12 annual visits by travelling to another waste site in the county, because the permits will have 12 tabs, one of which will be removed at every visit. No one will be able to apply for a new permit until 12 months have elapsed since the last one was issued.  If you lose your permit, that’s it, you will not be able to obtain another until the lost one has expired after a year.

The permits themselves will not be issued unless applicants provide their personal information and vehicle details including a copy or scan of the VSC vehicle log book and proof of their address. That address must be the same as the one on the log book.

More fly-tipping likely

This severe, over-zealous new set of rules will, I argue, lead to more and more serious episodes of fly-tipping in quiet country locations where there are no cameras.  That’s a real shame in a county with a large tourism industry, not to mention diverse flora and fauna which could be damaged.

People living outside Carmarthenshire will be excluded from the country’s recycling centres, even if their own council’s centres are further away.  This needlessly increases vehicle miles and thus fossil fuel emissions, unless the vehicle is electric. Even so, we all need to travel less, not more. Why not have an all-Wales policy for residents and visitors to access their nearest recycling centre?

People feel strongly about recycling — this demonstration was outside the Llangadog household waste/recycling site in 2014. The county council wanted to shut the site. It is now closed.

 

Suppose you don’t own a vehicle but still have items to take to a household waste/recycling centre? You can hire a car, but the hire period must be for no more than three days, and the vehicle must have the hire company’s name written on it. You could ask a neighbour to take items for you, but if their vehicle is one requiring a permit, that good deed would use up one of the 12 visits allowed annually. You have a relative in another county who offers to transport your recycling load? Would they be allowed entry?

I put this latter query to the council’s press office, only to be told that they could not answer it because in their view West Wales News Review is not a ‘regulated media outlet’, and they respond only to ‘regulated media outlets’. By ‘regulated’ they mean belonging to a voluntary body such as Impress or IPSO, the Independent Press Standards Organisation.

The full list of questions put to the county council was as follows:

  1. How much will the scheme cost to introduce?
  2. How much will the scheme cost to run in its first year?
  3. Is there an impact assessment for the scheme (particularly on whether fly tipping is expected to increase and if so, by how much)?
  4. If a friend or relative of a Carmarthenshire resident offers to take items to a recycling centre in the county but himself or herself lives outside the county, would that be allowed?
  5. Households where the only vehicle is a van, even a small van, will require a permit and be limited to 12 visits a year, and barred if pulling a single-axle trailer, but other households with vehicles offering as much or more space for items to recycle or dispose of, such as a 4×4 with rear seats folded and drawing a trailer — will be allowed to visit as often as they wish. Could this be open to legal challenge?
  6. Why has a 3-day hire limit been imposed for hired vehicles?

The press office declined to answer any of these questions, but did say they would pass the queries on to the council’s customer contact centre, which has not yet replied.

Is it surprising that I got the impression the county council is not too keen to talk about these changes, which make recycling more difficult? Surely we need to make recycling simpler, so that we protect our environment and reuse as many resources as possible? Carmarthenshire’s decision to impose a restrictive and certainly not cost-free bureaucracy on the county’s households is, I fear, a backwards step.

PDR

Regulations Flouted? You Think Planning Authorities Must Act? WRONG!

It was news to me that planning authorities do not have to order rule-breakers to mend their ways. They can if they want to, but they do not have to.

Carmarthenshire County Council’s lawyers, Liverpool-based Weightmans, wrote in October 2016 that “the law of England and Wales does not allow an individual to recover compensation from a public body where the statutory duty or power involved did not itself confer a private law cause of action for a failure to exercise it.”

This information, in a letter to Trisha Breckman of Maesybont, told her in legal-speak that the county council’s reluctance to control industrial development on the farm next door did not entitle her to any compensation for noise/ harassment/ loss of amenity, because it was up to the council whether to allow or stop activities contrary to planning regulations.

The letter went on: “…there is the further point that the legislature had chosen not even to impose a duty but a discretion which is not justiciable in terms of the council’s decision to use the power or not.”

One implication of this ‘power not duty’ is lack of fairness. It’s easy to imagine a situation in which the planning authority forces a stop to unpermitted quarrying, say, next door to a Mr X, but allows similar activity next door to Mrs Y.

In this case, Trisha Breckman and Eddie Roberts, who live at Pantycastell Fach next to Blaenpant Farm, have spent 15 years fighting what was, in the judgement of many observers, unauthorised quarrying and haulage and the repercussions of that, and have suffered personal harassment and financial loss as a result. They bought their 6.5-acre smallholding in good faith in 2003, but have spent between £20,000 and £30,000 on legal fees and their health has deteriorated.

Trisha Breckman: a 15-year horror story 

Trisha was arrested six times on the say-so of Andrew Thomas and the late Karen Bowen Thomas of Blaenpant, and later received a full apology from Dyfed Powys Police, but no compensation.

Trisha and Eddie were also vindicated in 2012 by Peter Tyndal, the Public Services Ombudsman for Wales at the time, who said the couple had suffered an injustice and that Carmarthenshire council was guilty of maladministration.

The criticism did not open the council’s wallet, however. The ‘power’ but not the obligation to stop unlawful activities is a get-out-of-jail card for public bodies which want to avoid paying any compensation, but it also means that the victims of the unlawful activities can suffer severe financial loss with no opportunity of any recompense. This may be legal but it is not ethical. Public organisations are hard-up, yes, but a compensation fund could be started, perhaps financed by an additional premium on public bodies’ insurance policies.

A timely award from a compensation fund would have helped Trisha and Eddie to move on from the trauma and reshape their lives.

PDR

To read previous posts on this topic, type ‘Breckman’ into the search box.

Rubbishing Alternative Facts

Announcing the closure of the Llangadog recycling centre, operated by All Waste Services, Carmarthenshire County Council’s busy press office stated “Alternative arrangements are being made to provide recycling banks for residents at Llandovery Rugby Club”.

Not alternative at all, according to the rugby club, which has issued a sternly worded statement as follows:

“When CCC [Carmarthenshire County Council] approached the Rugby Club seeking an additional location for recycling skips in the Llandovery area the Club’s Directors asked whether it had anything to do with the future of the service available in Llangadog and we were assured by CCC officers that there was a need for additional facilities in Llandovery and the approach had nothing to do with the facility in Llangadog.

“The Club was willing to accommodate the request as it meant additional facilities for Llandovery and surrounding area.

“The Club was not aware that the Llangadog facility was closing until a press release was issued by CCC. We were not consulted on the wording of the press release issued by CCC which can be interpreted as implying that the new unit at the Rugby Club replaces the Llangadog facility.”

Llandovery Rugby Club’s statement also makes clear that cans, glass and paper will be the only materials recycled there, and urges the county council to “identify, at the earliest opportunity, adequate recycling facilities for the communities around Llandovery”.

The council’s unfortunate press release highlights the dangers of reporting to cast the best possible light upon events.

In this case, the rugby club saw not illumination but a mirage.

Alternative facts? A less polite term may come to mind.

 

Scarlets Plunge Deeper into Debt

Directors Remain Optimistic

The disappointing financial repercussions of the Scarlets’ super-sized stadium at Trostre, Llanelli, threaten the capability of Scarlets Regional Ltd to continue as a going concern, in the view of auditors Broomfield & Alexander.

The accounts for the year to June 30th 2016 show a pre-tax loss of more than £1.5 million, 50% greater than the previous year’s loss of just over £1 million.

The directors have invested in players, and the Scarlets have played pretty well in the current season. They stand 5th in the Pro 12 at the time of writing, below Leinster, Ospreys, Munster and Ulster – but 5th is not 1st, and there is still a way to go.

Broomfield & Alexander point out that, at the end of June 2016, the company’s net current liabilities exceeded assets by £2.718 million. In their view, this indicated “the existence of a material uncertainty which may cast significant doubt about the company’s ability to continue as a going concern”.

The auditors also question the £9.394 million value of the stadium as reported in the accounts, the implication being that the valuation is too high and may be impossible to realise if Scarlets Regional runs out of money. The stadium, which opened in November 2008, cost £23 million to build.

Despite the Scarlets playing lively rugby, the average gate for Pro 12 home matches in 2015-16 was 7,353, including the 4,000 or so season ticket holders, although the stadium can seat 14,870. The wide expanses of empty seats show that the claim ‘build it and customers will come’, a refrain which has been heard inside Carmarthenshire County Council, is wide of the mark.

The Scarlets owe the county council £2.614 million, which is due for repayment in 2023. Total equity in the rugby company continues to fall and at June 30th 2016 was down to £2.640 million, against £3.826 million a year earlier and £4.169 million the year before that. The county council’s investment on behalf of the people of Carmarthenshire is looking uncertain, despite the fact that a top notch rugby side brings non-financial benefits such as sporting confidence and local pride.

The board of directors, who have dug deep into their pockets to keep the rugby region going, remain optimistic, according to the accounts. Chairman Nigel Short, of Penderyn Distillery, wrote of the board’s determination to “continue to invest in development of talent”, although this had led and could well lead again to the business making a loss.

The directors “have a reasonable expectation that the company has adequate resources to continue in operation for the foreseeable future”, they report in the accounts.

Those resources are likely to include more of their own money. Perhaps a lot more.

Approval for ‘detrimental’ industrial-style building in Ffairfach back garden

A planning decision last week was quite disturbing, I thought. It may well be correct, in a technical sense, but still disturbing. This was a case of the applicants’ rights trumping those of neighbours , especially the elderly lady next door. There are, we know, unscrupulous builders who target the elderly and fleece them. This is a different sort of case, in which the loss of amenity imposed on a long-standing resident was judged less important than the right of the applicants to construct a 50-square metre industrial building, 3.76 metres to the roof line, with grey steel-clad walls three metres high and nine metres long, right along the boundary with their neighbour’s garden.

Adverse impact on neighbours is a legitimate planning issue, but the weight accorded to it varies hugely. In this case, the impact on neighbours was disregarded. The planning officer argued that there were some commercial buildings nearby, that some people had double garages – but these points are irrelevant to the siting of this particular industrial-style building (which is entirely for domestic use, the planning officer stressed).

The applicants previously had permission from the local authority to put the building, far more appropriately, on the other side of their garden – but it would have been on top of a water main, a fact evidently not known to the planning department when approval was given.

The report is in the Carmarthenshire Herald, September 30, p.8

It will be big, steel-framed and steel profile-clad above concrete block walls, but it won’t be in an industrial or commercial location.

It will be in a back garden in Ffairfach, Llandeilo, to the distress of next door neighbour Mrs Annie Dorothy Jones.

Mr OEW James and Mrs HM James, of 5 Heol Myrddin, already had permission for a garage-cum-store, 9 metres long, 5.5 metres wide and 3.76 metres to the roof ridge, but on the other side of their garden, where it would still have been evident to neighbours but probably not so dominant.

Water main problem

Unfortunately the planning permission ignored the fact that the steel-roofed garage would be built over a water main, and so construction could not carry on.

Mr and Mrs James put in another application, to build the garage/store on the other side of their garden, right behind their semi-detached house and alongside the back garden of Mrs Jones next door in no.7. Even so, it still fell foul of the rule forbidding development for four metres either side of a water main.

Dŵr Cymru came to the rescue with a letter to Mr and Mrs James, which planning officer Graham Noakes reported to Carmarthenshire County Council’s planning committee on Tuesday (September 27). The letter, said Mr Noakes, agreed that the garage could go up only 3.5 metres from the water main. The cladding over the steel frame might be a trifle closer, the committee heard, but the steel columns on the nearest side would be 3.5 metres from the main.

Next-door garden overshadowed

For Mrs Jones next door, the permission means a nine-metre-long wall, three metres high to the eaves, adjoining the eastern side of her garden, shading it, overshadowing it, and not providing an aesthetically pleasing outlook. She engaged planning consultants JCR Planning of Cross Hands to present her case.

Craig Jones of JCR Planning, also representing another neighbour, had submitted a nine-page report, pointing out that the new building would be on the flood plain, and rain water would not be able to run off fast enough. The structure would be right on the boundary with Mrs’ Jones’s garden, and overbearing, wrote Mr Jones, “because the existing hedgerow/wall has already been removed”.

The building would be detrimental to the residential area, detrimental to the amenity enjoyed by neighbours, and not in accordance with the Local Development Plan, claimed Mr Jones, because it does not conform with or enhance the character and appearance of the site, does not use appropriate materials, has a big impact on neighbours, and does not provide for adequate disposal of surface water, a particular problem because of its flood-plain location.

Detrimental to neighbours

Despite this catalogue of reasoned objections, Mr Noakes recommended approval and the majority of the committee agreed. Cllr Anthony Jones (Labour, Llandybie) and Cllr Kevin Madge (Labour, Garnant) both felt sympathy for neighbours, though. “This is detrimental to the neighbours, no doubt,” said Cllr Madge. Cllr Anthony Jones was concerned at the large area of the building – almost 50 square metres – and asked why it had to be so big.

Why indeed? To store a caravan, the committee was told. No one commented that caravans are designed to cope with outdoor conditions.

Craig Jones of JCR Planning had already pointed out that the footprint of the garage/store was “bigger than the house”, and also wondered why the building’s roller shutter door would be three metres high. “The excessive height of the proposed structure suggests a storage use for ‘items’ other than domestic”, Mr Jones had written in his report.

‘Well-known failings of current enforcement procedures’

He was not happy with a proposed planning condition to limit the use of the garage/store to domestic purposes only, stating that “The Local Authority’s reliance on a condition that seeks to prevent a future use will of course be dogged by the well-known failings of current enforcement procedures. Any incremental development away from domestic use will be difficult to monitor and enforce.”

This barbed comment led planning officer Mr Noakes to reply that “The stated lack of faith in the Authority’s Planning Enforcement Section is disappointing, particularly as the objector’s agent is one of the agents who regularly corresponds with the Authority, including an interaction with the enforcement officers”.

Mr Noakes had concluded that “the proposed garage is of a scale and design that is acceptable in a residential setting and will not have a significantly detrimental effect upon the amenity of the occupiers of the neighbouring dwellings”. Natural Resources Wales were not concerned about flooding risk, he said, leading him to advise the committee to approve the plan.

PDR

 

 

Seven candidates contest county council seat in Cilycwm

See also the Carmarthenshire Herald, September 2nd 2016, p.4

Seven candidates are competing hard to replace the late Tom Theophilus as county councillor for Cilycwm, in north-east Carmarthenshire.  The hotly contested by-election is on September 22, and the winner will have just seven months in post before campaigning starts all over again for the full council elections on May 4 2017.

The sprawling Cilycwm ward covers almost 50 square miles but has an electorate of only about 1,160 people, of whom between 40% and 50% are Welsh speakers. At the last election in 2012 the turnout was nudging 60%.

The ward has not a single open school, the last two – Llansadwrn and Llanwrda – closing in 2016, illustrating the withdrawal of public services from rural areas. Public services are apparently not ‘sustainable’, but their removal threatens the whole fabric of rural life. The seven candidates are all up for the challenge.

Plaid quick off the mark – Dafydd Owen Tomos

Plaid Cymru was quickly out of the blocks, selecting farmer Dafydd Owen Tomos of Penyfedw, Cilycwm, one of the directors of Cilycwm Community Association and former clerk to Cilycwm Community Council.

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Dafydd Owen Tomos

“I’m standing to be the next councillor for the communities of Cilycwm, Llansadwrn and Llanwrda as I believe I have the experience, the commitment and the passion to advance the needs of the area, and deliver tangible benefits to the residents of north Carmarthenshire,” he said, adding that in the past residents have “too often been ignored”. His priorities include faster broadband speeds and better mobile network coverage.

Conservatives back listening sportsman – Steven Andrew Holmes

The Welsh Conservatives have Steven Andrew Holmes, a keen runner and secretary of the Sarn Helen Running and Cycling clubs, from Nant y Llyn, Ffarmers. Steven, whose professional background is in hotel management, including at the London Hilton, and also as a health and fitness consultant, grew up in Northern Ireland, which he says has much in common with rural West Wales.

Steven Holmes

Steven Andrew Holmes

Aiming to be an approachable and effective bridge between local people and County Hall, “with a good listening ear”, Steven’s priorities include better access to healthcare and other public services, and infrastructure improvements such as broadband, mobile network coverage and transport, to aid rural businesses to invest for the future.

Social care critical for Labour – Maria Rose Carroll

Labour’s candidate is Maria Rose Carroll, whose daughter runs Llanwrda’s shop in the village centre. Maria, who has lived in Llanwrda for 12 years, trained as a nurse and was a council member of the Royal College of Nursing, and also a manager in the NHS responsible for a £300 million acute care budget. “We must engage the community in decision making,” she said. Maria is anxious to protect public services, and in particular to speed up and enhance the home care provided to elderly people so they do not have to languish unnecessarily in hospital, and to improve rural road safety and school transport.

Maria said she is appalled at the financial cuts to local government, and the lack of high-quality local jobs to keep young people in the area. She favours a National investment Bank to support business and entrepreneurship.

LibDems choose agriculture specialist – Catherine Nakielny

The Liberal Democrats are backing agricultural adviser Dr Catherine Nakielny, who lives at Blaennant, Talley. Catherine’s profile on the AgriPlan Cymru consultancy website says she is a technical specialist in sheep production, providing consultations to individual producers and to Innovis Ltd. She gives presentations, has delivered a winter forage cost calculator, and is engaged in estimating the reduction in methane emissions from genetic improvement of the Welsh national flock. Previously she was breeding programme manager at Innovis Ltd, Aberystwyth.

Whistle-blowing blogger represents People First – Jacqui Thompson

Llanwrda blogger and community councillor Jacqui Thompson, of Cae Brwyn, Hafod Bridge, is standing for People First – Fighting for the Community.  Jacqui Thompson is no fan of the leadership style of county council chief executive Mark James. The two have an acrimonious history, the most recent chapter this year when Mr James asked Dyfed-Powys Police to investigate her for harassment and perverting the course of justice. The investigations have been dropped for lack of evidence. Jacqui Thompson’s blog, often critical of the council, has been both a finalist and a winner in the Wales Blog Awards.

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Jacqui Thompson

“A long-time community campaigner, I am a strong, independent, determined voice, standing up for the best interests of local people. As a county councillor I will be easy to contact and hold surgeries. Most of all, I’ll listen to your concerns, be your champion and not take no for an answer,” is among her messages to voters.

Two independents joined the fray – farmer Thomas Arwel Davies, former chair and current vice-chair of Cilycwm Community Council, of Berrisbrooke Farm, Porthyrhyd, and barrister and Herald columnist Matthew Graham Paul, whose base is Penlan Farm, Siloh, Llandovery. Mr Paul has previously stood for election to Parliament and the Welsh Assembly, representing Welsh Conservatives.

Farming Independent seeks affordable housing for local people – Thomas Arwel Davies

Policy priorities for Thomas Arwel Davies – always called Arwel — include rural housing, road safety, and the planning system.

“I am particularly interested in understanding local housing needs, with the aim of ensuring that local people can afford to continue to live in their own communities,” said Arwel, who has lived in the ward for all of his 48 years.

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Thomas Arwel Davies  

He calls rural roads “extremely hazardous” and would like dangerous bends to be improved. As for the planning system, he argues that there is “growing resentment” over planning applications, because of the “very many instances” in which decisions favoured by community councils are overruled “despite the wishes of the local council-tax payers”.

Independent will campaign for local state education – Matthew Graham Paul

Barrister Matthew Graham Paul deplores the closure of local schools, and in 2012 represented the Ysgol Pantycelyn Action Group free of charge in the High Court and the Court of Appeal to try to keep Llandovery’s Pantycelyn comprehensive school open. “Cilycwm residents have unreasonably long journeys to school. I will campaign for secondary education to return to Llandovery, so that we can once again have a local state secondary school,” he says, adding that it is in Cilycwm’s interests for Llandovery as a town to succeed, and to help achieve this, the county council should allow two hours free parking in the car park.

He would work to achieve a county council which responds to local needs. “Carmarthenshire County Council too often overlooks or ignores the north-east of the county,” he says. “Whichever party is nominally in charge of the council, its elected members have completely failed to change the council’s culture.” Matthew feels that his work as a barrister is an asset. “I understand how local government works and how to resolve problems effectively,” he said. “I spend my professional life helping people sort out their difficulties with local authorities, and I have assisted a substantial number of Cilycwm residents for no charge.”

He plans to campaign for micro-generation and the expansion of hydro, solar and small-scale wind power (not large industrial wind turbines). He wants taxpayers’ money spent more effectively, lower council tax, and every effort to avoid wasteful use of resources. Planning decisions should “sustain the viability of farms and rural business, and permit future generations to live and work where they were brought up”. He would work to meet the needs of older Cilycwm residents, in dealing with care home admissions and the services delivered to people in their homes.

“Above all”, he says, “I believe that a councillor should have an open-door policy, and I will respond quickly to constituents’ concerns. I will be an effective, approachable and independent representative for local residents.”

PDR

I do not yet have photographs of Maria Rose Carroll, Catherine Nakielny or Matthew Graham Paul

 

 

 

 

 

Central Procurement Plans Labelled “Absolute Abomination”

It is an “absolute abomination”, declared Cllr Pam Palmer.

The object of her ire is the innocently named Welsh Procurement Policy, which the Welsh Government has put out for consultation.

Cllr Palmer (Independent, Abergwili, and joint Deputy Leader) told other members of Carmarthenshire County Council’s Executive Board, meeting on Monday June 20th, that the policy, focused on a National Procurement Service (NPS), would raise procurement costs and could damage the council’s efforts to increase local employment.

Cllr Dai Jenkins (Plaid Cymru, Glanaman, joint Deputy Leader) was just as incandescent. The new policy could have an adverse impact on Carmarthenshire’s regeneration strategy, he said, stressing that “it will take freedom from local authorities and impose costs.”

The additional expense includes a levy of 0.45% on all spending on contracts awarded under the NPS, which has cost £5.9 million to set up.

The strongly-worded consultation response approved by the Executive Board was particularly damning about the prospect of central contracts which local authorities and public bodies would be obliged to accept.

“This proposal represents a major threat to our local economy in South West Wales and how we currently link up with SMEs (small and medium enterprises) who are often very well placed to provide a quality service at a competitive price in a highly sustainable way and often with opportunities to deliver genuine valued community benefits,” said the response document.

In contrast, centrally negotiated contracts could be more expensive. “There is evidence that framework prices in relation to consultancy under NPS are significantly more expensive than our existing contracts,” the response says. “A requirement to use NPS contracts is unacceptable and takes away the democratic role of unitary authorities and elected county councillors. Also the imposition of an additional 0.45% levy just adds to the unfairness in mandating that NPS contracts would have to be utilised.”

The Welsh Government’s big idea for central procurement is intended to increase fairness and transparency, and minimise the scope for local collusion between purchasers and sellers, but if the policy is brought in without major amendments, small businesses would be disadvantaged. In addition, public bodies would lose autonomy over which suppliers to select, while paying for the dubious privilege through the levy.

And any policy which privileges corporations large enough to take on central contracts is likely to damage small enterprises which may be very important in, and to, their own communities.

PDR

Wales’ Answer to a Sicilian Cartel? Where? Oh, Carmarthenshire!

Outgoing incumbent Christopher Salmon’s reflections, after defeat by Dafydd Llywelyn in the election for Dyfed Powys Police and Crime Commissioner, were gracious and contemplative, but his comments suggest that one county council, Carmarthenshire, was a painful thorn in his side.

Recounting the few aspects of the job he would not miss, Mr Salmon wrote that a certain county council was on the list:

“Carmarthenshire County Council.  Wales’ answer to a Sicilian cartel. It’s everywhere you look (thankfully only in Carmarthenshire – so far as I can tell). It extracts vast amounts of money from residents which it showers on favourites, hordes property, bullies opponents, co-opts friends and answers to no one, least of all local councillors.”

This is from the man who was Police and Crime Commissioner for four years.

These words are, if anything, harsher than those which landed Llanwrda blogger Jacqui Thompson into terrible trouble with the county council, leading to a lost libel claim and a massive bill which she cannot pay because her no-win no-fee insurer revoked the policy after Mr Justice Tugendhat gave her the verbal equivalent of savage mauling.

Jacqui objected to the county council’s chief executive, Mark James, criticising her on the ‘Madaxeman’s’ blog for a “campaign of harassment, intimidation and defamation”.  Mr James said on the  blog that the “campaign” followed the planning committee’s refusal to allow them to “develop their land at Cae Brwyn near Llanwrda for housing”.

The use of the word “housing”, which to me suggests more than one dwelling, is emotive because, as I understand it, the application was for a forestry worker’s bungalow.

In response to Jacqui Thompson’s decision to accuse Mr James of libel – a decision which, in the light of later events, backfired disastrously – Mr James set about making a counter-claim, citing words such as “slush fund” and “Pinocchio” which had appeared in Jacqui’s blog. He was protected from financial loss by the indemnity granted to him by Carmarthenshire’s councillors – an indemnity which the Wales Audit Office concluded was unlawful.

Jacqui Thompson lost, Mark James won. The implication from the judgement is that the county council is a shining beacon of democratic accountability.

But in the view of the departing Police and Crime Commissioner, it is Wales’ answer to a Sicilian cartel.

PDR

Impossible Cuts: Carmarthenshire’s Schools Told to Slash Budgets

Are We Seeing the End of Effective State Education?

Time to speak up, loudly, if you want to protect education in Carmarthenshire’s state schools.

New proposals out for consultation appear to suggest that by 2019, the average annual cost per pupil across all the county’s schools could fall from about £4,060 to £3,362 – a cut of 17.2%.

What sort of education would this provide, when independent schools charge vastly more? Llandovery College’s day fees range from about £8,625 in Reception to £16,800 in Year 13. At St Michael’s, Llanelli, parents of Reception children pay about £4,962 and for parents of Year 13 students the annual cost is around £11,890. Before any extras.

How on earth are children in state-maintained  schools supposed to experience a broad and deep education when the amounts spent on them would be so paltry?

The county council’s executive board is consulting on a colossal cut in the budgets delegated to schools, which run their own finances. Schools are being asked to slash £18.28 million from their budgets over the three years to 2018-19, more than half of the £36.23 million total savings which the council is seeking.

Losing £18.28 million would be a 13.85% cut, from £109.844 million in 2015-16 to about £94.634 million by 2018-19. If schools also had to shoulder staff redundancy costs, at current estimates this would increase the cut to 14.4% — and it is more than possible that, given such huge savings to achieve, many more staff would be made redundant.

At the same time, numbers of pupils are expected to rise. Welsh Government forecasts indicate that between 2015 and 2019 the number of children aged between 0 and 15 in the county will rise by 3.3%. If this is accurately reflected in the numbers in maintained schools, the 27,055 pupils in January 2015 would increase to 27,948.

The proposals take account of future inflation, but only to a modest extent. The council expects general inflation to be 0.6% in 2016-17, 1.4% in 2017-18 and 1.8% in 2018-19. It is assumed that electricity and gas will rise by 3.0% a year, and that fuel costs will fall 12.5% in 2016-17 before rising by 3.0% in each of the two subsequent years. Pay inflation is calculated as 1.0% a year.

By even suggesting such a draconian cut in schools’ budgets, the county council seems to be implying that head teachers and their staffs are profligate spenders, but parents of my acquaintance know this is not true.

How can schools provide a better education with much less money per pupil? They can’t. Not even a monolingual education — and Carmarthenshire is a bilingual county, requiring teachers to be proficient in Welsh and English as well as in their specialist subjects.

Soon that could be, Carmarthenshire was a bilingual county.

Carmarthenshire was a county offering a good education.

It won’t be in future, unless school budgets are protected.

PDR

Carms Planners Censor Field Shelter (Allowed Elsewhere in England and Wales)

Carmarthenshire’s planners have caused consternation all over England and Wales by insisting that a moveable field shelter, also called a mobile field shelter, must have planning permission.

This is contrary to custom, to the advertising of field shelter manufacturers, and to the view of the UK’s Department for Communities and Local Government.

Oaklands Equestrian Buildings of New Tredegar says “no you do not need planning permission for a mobile field shelter. They do not constitute any ground work and sit on their own base”. Prime Stables Ltd, of Rudgwick in West Sussex, says “No planning permission is required for the Prime Stables range mobile shelters”.

Manufacturers, though, are a little less emphatic than they used to be, because of Carmarthenshire’s out-on-a-limb decision. The Colt Stables firm of Bridgnorth, Shropshire, notes:

“In 2011, in a well publicised case, a horse owner from Wales was fined over£1,000 for failing to move his mobile shelter frequently enough. The case was thought to be the first conviction of its kind and shone a light on an ambiguous ruling that has many people confused and unsure of their responsibilities.”

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‘Council’s shock ruling’: Carmarthenshire County Council makes the cover of Horse & Hound

The horse owner was Mr Andrew Robinson-Redman, and the ‘moveable shelter’ was in his field, Cae Derwen, at Broad Oak near Llandeilo. Carmarthenshire County Council had not given him time to move his mobile kit ‘frequently enough’ because, Mr Robinson-Redman said, it arrived in the first week of October 2010 and the council issued an enforcement notice with alacrity, on November 7th.

Carmarthenshire’s crackdown on moveable shelters contrasts with a much more permissive attitude to far more intrusive developments in the county’s countryside, such as two industrial-style buildings near Laugharne, constructed as a cattery without permission, but allowed to remain; a new four-bedroomed house in countryside at Henfwlch Road; and damage to the Cernydd Carmel Special Area of Conservation which proceeded in full public view.

Andrew Robinson-Redman and his wife Meg-Anne moved to Carmarthenshire from Oxfordshire in 2010 and rented a field of 6.2 acres with access from a minor road, about five miles from their home in Milo.  They bought the field late in the year, and subsequently moved to Capel Isaac, within half a mile of the field — but, said Mr Robinson-Redman, the council told the Conservative AM Nick Bourne that they were not resident in the area.

The couple thought that normal practice elsewhere in England and Wales would be normal in their new county. Field shelters on metal or timber skids, and not on an artificial base, are generally regarded as ‘equipment’ and not as ‘buildings’ because, like a trailer or a water tank, they can be towed to another location. Moveable field shelters must be on skids or wheels, have towing hooks, be fully moveable, not be connected to mains water or electricity, have moveable flooring (if any), and not be on hard standing.

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The Cae Derwen field shelter was on metal skids and had towing hooks (one is clearly visible in the photo). It was not connected to mains water or electricity, and sat directly on the field.

The odd council here and there has tried to act against moveable field shelters. Purbeck District Council in Dorset issued an enforcement notice in 2001, telling a Mr Bennet to remove his newly acquired moveable field shelter because in their view he had changed the land use from grazing to the keeping of horses with the addition of a shelter. Mr Bennet appealed, and the planning inspector said the shelter did not amount to operational development as defined in section 55(1) of the 1990 Town and Country Planning Act, and the inspector also said that grazing horses was not a change of use but fell within the definition of agriculture in section 336(1) of the 1990 Act, and so by virtue of section 22(2)(e) of the Act, planning permission was not required.  This ruling gave livestock owners confidence that moveable shelters did not and would not require planning permission.

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Close up of metal skid.

In Carmarthenshire, Mr and Mrs Robinson-Redman grazed their horses, bought a moveable field shelter and two moveable stables, and placed them in the field. Later they acquired some pigs, sheep and poultry to raise, got an official agricultural holding number and applied for the necessary animal movement licences. But everything was already fast unravelling. An adjacent landowner complained. Mr Robinson-Redman thinks the complaint likely to be linked to the fact that a previous owner of the field wanted to build a house on it, but failed to get planning permission.

An enforcement officer from the county council told Mr Robinson-Redman to take the shelter and stables away. Why? Apparently because he had put some washed river stone on part of the field to try and reduce waterlogging and, because the equipment had only just arrived, he had not shifted it around the field.

Carmarthenshire’s planners were adamant that no part of the field’s surface could be changed in any way, and that mobile shelters must be moved at least five or six times a year (although they had evidently decided not to allow time for this to happen).

 

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Andrew Robinson-Redman: argues that the field shelter conforms to requirements for moveable equipment which does not need planning permission. 

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The field shelter in October 2015, in its final position before removal, near the roadside hedge (right). 

A long battle ensued. The Robinson-Redmans sold the two moveable stables, leaving just the field shelter. This must go too, said the planners. The Robinson-Redmans applied for planning permission for the 24 feet by 12 feet open-fronted shelter (which elsewhere does not need permission), but were turned down. They appealed, but lost. The notice from the inspector, PJ Davies, dated October 1st 2015, did not refer at all to ‘moveable’ or ‘mobile’ structures but to ‘building’ and ‘shed’. The fact that the planners had insisted on a planning application for a moveable structure which normally does not require it probably further confused the already tangled issue. The inspector, to judge from the wording in the appeal rejection notice, may not have known that the ‘building’ was in fact a moveable shelter which is normally permitted without planning permission.

The rejection notice said: “I acknowledge the appellants’ case that enforcement issues have curtailed agricultural activity, but nevertheless, this should not prevent the submission of adequate evidence to demonstrate the need for the building  (my italics) in an otherwise unsustainable location where new development should be strictly controlled.”

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This tall hedge separated the shelter from the road.

The meaning of the word ‘unsustainable’ is not at all clear. The county council’s case appears to be that Cae Derwen is not, in their view, sustainable as a farm business because the activity of grazing a few livestock could not yield an income sufficient for the Robinson-Redmans to live on. The field is too small to allow an agricultural building to be constructed with permitted development rights, because the threshold for this is 5 hectares (12.36 acres), almost double the size of Cae Derwen.

But, then, moveable shelters are not, officially, buildings.

So what rights do people have in Carmarthenshire if they buy fewer than 5 hectares of farmland and want to keep livestock as a hobby, and maybe to supply a supplementary income stream? Most livestock need some shelter and some handling equipment. The UK’s Department for Communities and Local Government in London allows for this and told the magazine Horse & Hound* that “field shelters are considered temporary and do not need planning permission if they are fully mobile. But it depends how long they’ve remained static, the degree of portability and if they’ve changed the use of the land”. In the Robinson-Redman case, the shelter was recently moved within the field and the land use remains agricultural.

The impasse with Carmarthenshire’s planners has cost the Robinson-Redmans a shedload of money. They paid more than £4,350 an acre for the field. They have had to pay nearly £3,000 in fines for losing, so far, their battles with the county council. Their moveable stables and shelter have had to be sold at a loss. They still have the field but without a shelter or livestock handling equipment there is little they can do with it.

The implications of this saga are serious, both for the Robinson-Redmans and more widely.

  1. Public confidence in the impartiality of the planning system is further damaged.
  2. Planners’ opinion of what constitutes ‘agriculture’ is revealed, in this case, as a stereotypical view in which agriculture is a full-time business activity. In reality ‘agriculture’ includes crop and livestock production at every scale from the hobby field to the landed estate of hundreds of acres.
  3. Opportunity is denied to new arrivals in the county, through insistence on planning permission when it is not normally required elsewhere in England and Wales, and through refusal of planning permission for ventures which meet all the requirements of the relevant planning policies (as in the case of Rhiw Las near Llanboidy).

Underlying these contrary planning decisions there may be a genuine if inexpressed wish to protect the Welsh language, still widely spoken among the established farming community, from dilution by non-Welsh-speaking newcomers. The other side of the coin, though, looks like a dog-in-the-manger antipathy to the interests of incomers, which harms community relations and, by implication, the long-term prospects for Welsh language and culture.

PDR

* June 23rd 2011, ‘Councils target field shelters’ by Amy Mathieson

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