Saturday, 22 July 2017

Gesture Politics

Update 23 July

Huw Prys Jones, who was commissioned to produce an independent linguistic impact assessment of the Gwynedd/Môn LDP, has written a strongly worded piece for Golwg360 (here) ahead of a vote next Friday by councillors. There are some striking parallels with what happened in Carmarthenshire, including what he describes as the council's own feeble attempt at an impact assessment written after key decisions had been made in order to justify the plan.

Whether or not you care about the impact of LDPs on the language, the development of huge housing estates way beyond the needs of existing local communities, whether it's in Bangor, Cardiff, Llanelli, Carmarthen or the eastern side of Carmarthenshire, should give all councillors pause for thought.

Adopting an LDP is probably the single most important vote any county councillor will ever be asked to make. What we got in Carmarthenshire was a brief and confused debate, with most councillors there only as silent voting machines, and the consequences in places such as Bynea are now there for all to see.


The words Local Development Plan will cause many eyes to glaze over. The process by which these plans come about is byzantine and drags on for years, with numerous consultations and consultations on changes made in response to consultations. The public and local groups have the right to make representations, but the complexity of the process and the time and effort required to participate in this marathon give a significant advantage to developers and the planning consultants who are employed by them.

A key phase in the LDP process is the adoption of candidate sites for housing or commercial and/or industrial development. Once a site has been adopted, the cards are heavily stacked in favour of developers and against local people who may wish to object to future development.

The best hope residents and communities have is that their interests will be looked after by their elected representatives in the shape of county councillors, and a quick look around the council chamber will show that some of us are better represented than others.

Councillors worried about potential developments in their wards are relatively well-placed to object to the inclusion of sites in an LDP and, whisper it quietly, councillors who are members of a ruling group on the council have more leverage than opposition councillors when it comes to lobbying.

This brings us to a recent battle at Genwen Farm in Bynea where a developer is planning to build 240 houses on a greenfield site.

Bynea has seen more than its fair share of development in recent years, and the plan aroused significant opposition from residents and political representatives across the political spectrum, with Cllr Derek Cundy (Lab) taking a leading role as the ward councillor.

The objectors have many valid concerns, not least the impact this large development will have on creaking local infrastructure.

The Genwen site was earmarked for housing development under the UDP (Unitary Development Plan) which preceded the LDP, but an application for outline planning permission in 2007 was later withdrawn.

As is usually the case, the site was then included in the new LDP for housing development, and it was at that point that the council could have had a re-think. What if any representations were made to remove Genwen from the LDP is not clear, but Genwen joined all the other myriad sites earmarked for development when the county development plan was given the green light in December 2014.

This blog recorded the chaotic and underwhelming grand finale to all those years of turgid meetings, consultations and consultations on consultations here, and that post is well worth a read, immodest though that recommendation may sound.

Back in December 2014 the council was led by Kevin Madge, with Labour and the Independents in coalition. Concerns about the undemocratic nature of the plan were expressed by several Pliad councillors, including the Plaid leader, Emlyn Dole. This was recorded in the otherwise very uninformative official minutes of the meeting:

Concern was expressed that the Welsh Government sets the targets for Carmarthenshire as this took away the Authority’s right to recognise local need and identify how many houses are required, where and what kind. The Leader was asked whether he could raise this issue with other Leaders and the W.L.G.A. to try to change this before the next LDP is considered, as it was not fair that the Welsh Government sets those kinds of targets. A recent poll indicated that 72% of people feel that the Local Authority should set the targets.

All concerns were swept aside, and as Y Cneifiwr noted, apart from speeches by Kevin Madge and Meryl Gravell congratulating officers for their hard work and calling for the plan to be approved, the Labour and Independent benches had nothing to say, apart from former Labour councillor Terry Davies, who rose to curtail debate and get the whole thing over and done with.

Readers with long memories may recall that Terry Davies was one half of the notorious Keri and Terry double act, two Labour councillors who sat for years on the planning committee rubber-stamping everything that was put before them and determined to keep meetings of the planning committee as brief as possible.

All Labour and Independent councillors voted in favour of the LDP, while in the confusion presided over by Chair Elmer Fudd (Daff Davies), the Plaid group managed to vote three different ways.

By coincidence, on 18 November 2014 a few weeks prior to this fiasco, the Planning Committee had met to consider a revised application for Genwen. Despite vigorous objections, outline planning was granted, although it was not given the final seal of approval by the then head of planning, Eifion Bowen, until over a year later in December 2015.

An application for detailed planning consent (known as "reserved matters" in the jargon) finally came before the Planning Committee on 11 July of this year. As before, there was strong local opposition, and this time the Labour Party which had enthusiastically voted in favour of the plan back in 2014, decided to throw its lot in with the residents - two and a half years too late.

Joining Derek Cundy, who had up till then been something of a lone voice (although he too voted for the LDP), were Sharen Davies and Rob James for Labour and Gwyneth Thomas for Plaid. Sharen Davies, who had also voted for the LDP, called for the application to be rejected, while Rob James (a very occasional attendee of Neath Porth Talbot council back in 2014) had nothing to say.

Discussion ground on for two and a half hours, with all of the objections made back in November 2014 being given a second airing. Perhaps the most interesting interventions came from Kevin Madge who had clearly undergone something of a conversion since 2014, as he spoke about something called "The Structural Plan", known to everyone else as the LDP.

He acknowledged that he had been leader when the "structural plan" had been adopted, but the "structural plan" could be changed, he argued.

Perhaps in a parallel universe an LDP could be changed, although undoing what Kevin Madge piloted through as leader would be a very time-consuming business and a very expensive one from the council's point of view because the developer, in possession of legally valid outline planning, would be able to go to court and sue for significant damages on the basis that the goalposts had been moved, stripping the company of a very valuable commercial opportunity.

He went on to recommend that the application be rejected, despite repeated warnings from officers and the chair that unless councillors could identify new material reasons for rejecting the application, the council would face a costly appeal (and one which it would certainly lose).

And so at length, the committee voted narrowly to approve the plan to the dismay of the people of Bynea and the satisfaction of 'Welsh' Labour which once again had done its best to convince voters that it had stood up for "the many, not the few" to protect them from a policy it had championed and pushed through, while making a futile and doomed last minute gesture knowing that Genwen's fate had been sealed years ago.

Bynea's residents now join public sector workers ("scrap the cap") and young people ("abolish tuition fees" in June, put them up in July) in realising that what "Welsh" Labour says and what it does bear very little relation to each other.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

History repeating itself with Labour, particularly the Labour circus in Llanelli.

1. National policy and CCC policy to increase welsh education stream. They then oppose their own policy in Llangennech.

2. National manifesto pledge to scrap tuition fees. They then increase them in Wales.

3. National manifesto pledge to nationalise the railways. They now plan to privatise them in Wales.

Rob James is the new ringmaster of the Llanelli Labour circus. Groomed for the future but pathetically playing politics with Parc Howard, Ysgol Dewi Sant and now in Ammanford. I sense a lot of hope in the circus for his success as if he fails its just the deadwood and detritus of decades of inept Labour members to fall back on.