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Audit Committee in disarray

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Questions: One of the properties in Meyrick Street, Pembroke Dock

Questions: One of the properties in Meyrick Street, Pembroke Dock

THE COUNCIL’S continuing reluctance to release correspondence relating to its relationship with controversial Irish property developer Cathal McCosker is raising fears of another cover up at County Hall. Mr McCosker, the so-called ‘Baron of the Bedsits’, received hundreds of thousands of pounds in grants to renovate properties in Pembroke Dock. Instead of allowing scrutiny of his bank accounts when pressed, however, Mr McCosker reached a deal with the Council to repay a rumoured £180,000 to the local authority. It is the correspondence between the Council and Mr McCosker which was the subject of a motion calling for its disclosure, which was debated at a meeting of the Council’s Audit Committee on Monday December 1.

The meeting began inauspiciously. Lay member of the committee and its Chair, retired Morgan Cole partner Peter Jones, was absent.Normally, when a committee chair is unavailable the vice chair takes over handling the committee’s business. In this case, the vice chair of the committee is IPPG councillor Mike James. In the normal course of things, one would expect him to step into the vacant chair. However, the Audit Committee is a special case.

The rules governing the Audit Committee are covered by a piece of legislation called the Local Government Measure (Wales) 2011. It is a piece of legislation that has its own Guidance Notes which councils and their legal officers must make sure they follow. “It is permissible for only one of the committee’s members to be from the council’s executive, and this must not be the leader (or elected mayor). The council must have regard to this guidance when determining the membership of its audit committee. The chair of the committee is to be decided upon by the committee members themselves.

It can be a councillor or a lay member but, in the former case, must not be a councillor who belongs to a group with members in the executive.” The purpose of the guidance is, therefore, to make it clear that whoever chairs the committee it cannot be a member of a group with an interest in preserving the status quo. As one of the roles of the executive is to scrutinise a council’s internal financial controls, having a member of the ruling group deciding how that function should be transacted is inappropriate.

East Williamston representative Jacob Williams challenged Mike James’ chairing of the Committee and pointed out that correct legal position. He pointed out that it was for the committee members to appoint a chair for the meeting and that the chair could not be a member of the ruling group. Acting Head of Legal Services, Claire Incledon, was summoned from her garret to help the Committee reach a decision. Ms Incledon took the view that there was nothing in the rules to prevent the blameless Mike James from taking over the committee’s transaction of business on Monday.

The IPPG councillors on the committee ensured that her view was followed on nothing harder than the basis that Ms Incledon was a lawyer who should know her stuff, regardless of what the law actually said. So, Mike James chaired the meeting: a move which calls into question whether any of Monday’s business was lawfully transacted. The substantive order of business before the Committee related to Cllr Mike Stoddart’s motion to ensure that councillors had the chance to scrutinise how and in what circumstances the authority had decided to settle up with Mr McCosker.

Detective Sergeant Lewis of Dyfed Powys Police, who was attending the committee to assist it with its enquiries, confirmed that no arrests had been made, no charges brought, and no court proceedings were pending. Claire Incledon intervened. This move, she told the Committee, would involve the council breaking the sub judice rules. Since March, Council Leader Jamie Adams and others on the IPPG benches have repeatedly and persistently misused the sub judice rule to stifle debate on the grants scandal.

Experienced newspaper proprietor that he was, Mike Stoddart pointed out with some force that the Contempt of Court Act and the sub judice rule it enshrines was not applicable. The Contempt of Court Act only bites when arrests have been made, charges brought and court proceedings are either pending or ongoing. As none of those circumstances applied, the sub judice argument was nonsense. While the police objected to the release of records under Article 6 of the Human Rights Act, it was argued that the limited circulation of the material to which Cllr Stoddart wanted access would not lead to any unfair trial, as the material would be treated confidentially.

In similar circumstances in January of this year, Monitoring Officer Laurence Harding was compelled to acquiesce in the request to release documents for councillors’ examination. On that occasion, of course, the Committee was under the robust leadership of John Evans MBE, who later resigned in disgust at the failure of the Council to respond responsibly to legitimate public concerns. Speaking to The Herald, Mike Stoddart said: “What an absolute shambles! First the IPPG members used their 4:2 majority to elect one of their own as chairman despite having it explained to them by Cllr Jacob Williams that such an appointment was clearly against the law. This constitutionally defective committee then went on to reject my Notice of Motion on the basis of what were clear misrepresentations of the Human Rights Act and the sub judice rules.”

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Launch of Haverfordwest Castle Conservation Management Plan

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MEMBERS of the public are being asked to help shape the future of Haverfordwest Castle as a draft Conservation Management Plan (CMP) is launched.

One of Pembrokeshire’s most important historical assets, the Castle is owned by Pembrokeshire County Council, which has produced the CMP.

The plan:

▪ sets out the significance of the castle and describes how the building will be protected with any new use, alteration, repair or management; 

▪ will help with the planning of maintenance, conservation and repair work and adaptation of the site to meet new or changing uses; 

▪ will help promote understanding of the site and look at improving public access and activities for local people and visitors; 

▪ will support proposals to conserve the castle and adaptations of the site in response to climate change; 

▪ and underpin funding applications to support improvements

An engagement exercise has been launched alongside the Plan, giving members of the public with an interest in the historic and/or environmental significance of the castle an opportunity to comment on the document and share their views.

To take part in the engagement exercise, please click on the following link: 

https://haveyoursay.pembrokeshire.gov.uk/regeneration-communities

The deadline for responses is Sunday, March 28, 2021.

 

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Natural Resources Wales approves Ireland-UK interconnector licence

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GREENLINK INTERCONNECTOR LIMITED says it welcomes the decision by Natural Resources Wales (NRW) to approve its application for a Marine Licence for the Greenlink electricity interconnector project, which will link the power markets of Great Britain and Ireland.

An important project for Pembrokeshire, and the UK as a whole, NRW’s go-ahead is one of several consents required for the construction of the project and covers installation of the marine cable in UK waters.

The approval is a major milestone for Greenlink and joins the onshore planning consents granted unanimously in July last year by Pembrokeshire County Council and Pembrokeshire Coast National Park Authority.

Greenlink’s proposed 190km subsea and underground electricity cable will run beneath the Irish Sea to connect National Grid’s Pembroke Power Station in Wales and EirGrid’s Great Island substation in County Wexford, Ireland. It will have a nominal capacity of 500 MW.

The Wales-Ireland link is just one of four interconnectors being installed

Nigel Beresford, CEO for Greenlink Interconnector Limited, said: “We are delighted by Natural Resources Wales’s decision to grant this licence. This marks a significant milestone for Greenlink and another important step towards project construction, which we expect to commence later this year.

“The Greenlink team has worked constructively with Natural Resources Wales and Welsh marine stakeholders to find workable solutions to the many technical and environmental challenges facing a large infrastructure project like this, and this has been reflected in the quality of the final proposal.

“The thorough environmental and technical assessments we have undertaken, supported by the practical and value-adding feedback we have received from key marine stakeholders, have ensured that we move forward confident that we are delivering a well-designed project with the interests of the Welsh marine habitat at its core.”

The subsea section of the cable will be approximately 160km in length and uses high voltage direct current (HVDC) technology. The preferred route and installation methods were chosen following the conclusion of subsea surveys and consultation with key stakeholders.

In Ireland, a Foreshore Licence application was submitted to the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government (Foreshore Unit) in 2019 and the onshore planning application was submitted to An Bord Pleanála in December 2020.

Greenlink is one of Europe’s most important energy infrastructure projects and brings benefits on both sides of the Irish Sea for energy security, regional investment, jobs and the cost-effective integration of low carbon energy. The project will offer important local supply chain opportunities and plans are being drawn up for ‘meet-the-buyer’ events in the local area prior to construction.

Once fully consented, Greenlink is expected to have a three-year construction programme, with commissioning planned by the end of 2023.

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Appeal from Fire and Rescue Service to install working smoke alarms

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AT 01:17am this morning, Tuesday, March 2, 2021, crews from Milford Haven were called to a property fire in the Hakin area of Milford Haven.

The fire was confined to a pan on a stove in the kitchen area and extinguished by firefighters using two breathing apparatus, a hose reel jet and a thermal imaging camera.

Crews also ventilated the property and fitted smoke alarms within the property.

The Fire Service left the incident at 02:00am.

Watch Manager Alun Griffiths, Mid and West Wales Fire and Rescue Service, said “This fire was the result of cooking left unattended. It is so important to remove all pots and pans from a heat source when you are called away from the cooker.

“Thankfully, the occupiers of the property managed to exit the property before our firefighters arrived, but it could have ended very differently as there were no smoke alarms fitted in the property.
“I cannot stress enough the importance of installing working smoke alarms in your homes and testing them regularly. In the dreadful event of a fire, they can alert you to the danger sooner and could mean the difference between life and death.

“As a Fire and Rescue Service, we provide Home Fire Safety advice which is free of charge. We also offer Safe and Well Visits which you can arrange by phoning us on 0800 169 1234 or by visiting the Mid and West Wales Fire and Rescue Service website.”

For further Home Fire Safety advice or to talk about the possibility of a Safe and Well Visit by Fire and Rescue Service personnel, please phone us on 0800 169 1234.​​​ Alternatively please complete an online Request a Safe and Well Visit​ form on the Mid and West Wales Fire and Rescue Service website: https://www.mawwfire.gov.uk/eng/your-safety/in-your-home/

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