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Badger and the balancing act

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badger knows bestSOME people, readers, who shall for the moment remain shameless, seem to think that newspapers and other media should not report news as it is but news as they would wish it to be. To them, every day is a good news day and every mishap, misstep or disaster is an ‘opportunity’. Well readers, over the last few years, readers, there have been plenty of chances for Badger’s chums at County Hall and Health Board HQ to avail themselves of some pretty catastrophic opportunities. Some believe that there should be more stories about diligent councillors doing their altruistic level best with nary a thought about preening their public image or grabbing an extra allowance or three. To those persons, readers, it’s all about ‘never mind the quality, feel the width’. Still, others believe that they and their organizations are misrepresented or represented unfairly by Badger and his ilk. They complain that negative news affects how the services they deliver are perceived and hamper their efforts at recruitment and improvement.

To those people, readers, there are no cuts there are only ‘efficiency savings’ and staffing problems cannot possibly be the result of crappy staff management and salami-slicing cuts. Apparently, readers, such is Badger’s power over the hearts and minds of the surface world that the merest flick of his claw sends shivers through bureaucrats and petty politicians with nothing better to do than take careful aim at the messenger, rather than act on their own faults and flaws. Nothing could be further from the truth, of course. Badger is a solitary creature tip-tapping away in his sett, pausing only to look up at the outside world and do some reading. However, those who complain the loudest have public servants on hand to prepare their carefully chosen words for them. Those without wordsmiths on tap are handsomely paid from the public purse, presumably on the basis they are able to string two words together and express themselves in a clear and clearly thought out way. Or so you would think. Words are slippery things, readers, and they do not always mean what you and Badger might believe. Badger wants, therefore, to show you, dear readers, the sort of sign posts that one should look for when questioning the pronouncements made by those in public authority. Here readers, Badger will provide three phrases to watch out for when you are trying to ascertain the amount of horse feathers being peddled on each occasion you might hear them.

1. ‘Everyone agrees that no change is not an option’ This phrase is especially beloved of those seeking to ram through a radical programme for which they have no democratic mandate on the basis that we’ve all gone to hell in a handcart and only they can operate the brake. It impliedly asks you to ignore the fact that they got us into this infernal truck in the first place. It is indicative of prejudgement of a substantive issue that precludes the chance of proper debate around alternatives. The meaning of the term ‘everyone’ in this case can vary from ‘the members of the ‘independent’ panel I appointed who have surprisingly agreed with my objectives’, through to ‘a policy think tank populated by people with ideas and no common sense’, ‘my cabinet colleagues and I’, and – as Badger suspects in Leighton Andrews’ and Mark Drakeford’s cases – ‘the voices in my head’.

2. ‘The level of service has fallen far short of the level of service we usually provide and is below expectations we set for ourselves’ Badger’s bugbear, if badgers have bugbears, readers, is the use of the above phrase in the context of the non-admission admission that the service provided has been appalling. Let’s look at the phrase critically for a moment or two. What is actually being said is that the person or body at fault is one which sets itself high standards and that – in this instance ONLY – those standards have not been met. It is asking you, the engaged reader, viewer or listener, to agree that – for example only – Abertawe Bro Morgannwg Health Board could not possibly have known about the level of elderly patient mistreatment and neglect at Princess of Wales Hospital, Bridgend, despite the fact that the course of alleged misconduct covered many years, was the subject of a number of complaints and involved a significant number of health workers, several of whom have now been charged with criminal offences. If they said what they mean in the way that they really feel about it, something like this would be more appropriate: “Our management systems are chaotic and we systematically ignored complaints and warning signs. Sorry.” (Jazz hands).

3. ‘Lessons must be learned; and they will be learned’ Now, readers, this is a phrase that can be deployed in almost any circumstance in which the speaker or writer needs to verbalise contrition while signalling that they want to brush a scandal under the carpet. It is most often deployed by those seeking to demonstrate that, no matter what previous failings there may have been, they are committed to sorting them out and hope that you will not notice that they are the group or individual responsible for the cock up in the first place. A special ‘sad’ voice is used to deliver this phrase, possibly to distract attention from some pretty lumpy carpets about the place. Jamie Adams used to love this one when he rattled on about the failings in our county’s education system that his administration had put right. Did you know, readers, that the administration that piloted Pembrokeshire’s education system into the mire is the same one that seeks your approval for digging it back out of the mire with the help of the Welsh Government? Did you know that Jamie Adams was Deputy Leader of the council for four years and a deputy Cabinet and Cabinet member for three or four years before that? Because if you didn’t, readers, Jamie isn’t about to tell you. Otherwise there is a risk that, unlike some of his Cabinet colleagues and IPPG stooges, you will be able to work out how many beans make five and where the buck must ultimately stop. No wonder it was once said ‘I have seen the future and it smirks’. Looking at Jamie Adams one can see the future is now. Badger is not demonstrating bias here, readers. Badger thinks that statements coming from authority should be forensically examined. After all, readers, policies mean pounds – and pounds mean you and me are going to pay policies’ prices. It is right to approach a statement with an open mind in the hope of judging whether, on balance, one agrees with a policy or not. It is our duty to read and listen critically and to question authority. Sometimes authority will be right, but we must always test it first and judge it. Badger is a sceptic, but that does not mean he is a pessimist. Badger always travels hopefully, readers, when reading a pronouncement, listening to a speech, following a debate. It is hardly Badger’s fault that it is usually better to travel hopefully than to arrive.

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Approval recommended for dockyard plans

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A CONTROVERSIAL plan to develop part of Pembroke Dock’s Royal Dockyard comes before the County Council’s Planning Committee next week.

Despite many objections from heritage organisations, Council planning officers recommend the development’s approval.

However, the Planning Committee will only indicate whether it is ‘minded to approve’ the proposal instead of giving it the go-ahead.

The Welsh Government has called in the application for decision by the next Welsh Government minister responsible for planning and infrastructure developments.

That means the Welsh Government will consider the Report presented to the Committee and weigh it against the objections received.

HERITAGE ASSETS VERSUSECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT

The application is to develop a brownfield site within the former Royal Dockyard.

It seeks outline planning permission for the demolition or part demolition and infill of various buildings and structures, modification of existing slipways, erection of buildings and ancillary development. 

The development is intended for port-related activities, including the manufacture of marine energy devices, boat manufacture, repair and erection of plant.

The application is for outline planning permission. All matters relating to access, appearance, landscaping, layout, and scale are reserved for consideration as part of reserved matters applications. In practice, as many councils – including Pembrokeshire – have discovered, once outline planning is granted, reserved applications tend to proceed despite potential negative impacts.

A similar situation arose with Milford Haven Port Authority’s hotel development at Milford Marina, where councillors’ concerns were largely overruled by the existence of outline planning permission for the development.

Part of the proposal would see the former graving dock and timber pond infilled, the part demolition of existing slipways, and some buildings on site.

Both the graving dock and timber pond are Grade II listed. Buildings near the development are also listed, including the iconic Sunderland flying boat hangars.

The existing caisson gate currently in situ at the dock’s southern end would be removed and conserved. It is unique in Wales and a rare example. The planning report states that the caisson gate would remain within the marine environment without development and deteriorate. 

The development would include a new ‘super slipway’ built over the land extending into the River Cleddau and the construction of massive new industrial sheds to accommodate new marine technology.

JOBS AND THE CITY DEAL

The planning report claims the facilities erected will support anywhere between 288 and 975 full-time equivalent jobs in Pembrokeshire and make a substantial contribution to the local economy. However, the report also notes that the numbers of jobs claimed cannot be corroborated.

This proposal is linked to the establishment of the Marine Energy Test Areas (META), the Marine Energy Engineering Centre of Excellence (MEECE) and the Pembrokeshire Demonstration Zone (PDZ). These collectively comprise the Pembroke Dock Marine (PDM) project. 

The project forms part of the Swansea Bay City Deal to facilitate the next generation of marine renewable energy technology.

Companies who could potentially gain from the development have signalled their support from the proposal.Although their enthusiasm is predictable, the economic potential for local businesses cannot be ignored.

DOCKYARD ESSENTIAL TO TOWN’S EXISTENCE

However, a raft of objections also exists.

The Council received representations from, among others: The Victorian Society; The Georgian Group; Hywel Dda University Health Board;  Pembroke Dock Heritage Centre; Pembrokeshire Historic Buildings Trust; Pembroke Civic Trust; Naval Dockyards Society; The Commodore Trust; Ridgway History Group.

Not all of those organisations objected to the principle of development. For example, Hywel Dda expressed concern about the potential effect on access to South Pembs Hospital and patient care. However, most criticised the impact on the historic environment of the Royal Dockyard. Individual objections also expressed the same concerns.

The Naval Dockyard Society points out that the Dockyard construction was the reason for Pembroke Dock’s creation as a town. Without it, the town would not exist.

The Society continues: ‘The proposed scheme would severely damage Pembroke Dock Conservation Area and crucial listed buildings. 

‘The Grade II* Graving Dock would be infilled and partially built over, the Grade II Timber Pond infilled and built over, and the Grade II Building Slips Nos 1 and 2 partially demolished and removed. It would also be detrimental to the adjacent Grade II Carr Jetty setting, which adds to the group value of these threatened structures at Pembroke Dockyard.

‘These structures are the last and most important features of the magnificent and unique assemblage of thirteen slips, graving dock and timber pond constructed and functioning 1809–1926. 

‘Pembroke Dock specialised in building warships during the transition from wood to iron and steel, sail to steam and turbines. 

‘While the eastern slips were sacrificed in 1979 for the Irish ferry terminal and the deep-water berth Quay 1, we now live in a more responsible era, when significant community assets merit planning protection.

‘The Royal Dockyard established at Pembroke Dock from 1809 was unique: the only one in Wales, the only one on the west coast of Britain, and the only one created solely as a shipbuilding facility. 

‘It built over 260 warships for the Royal Navy, including many of the most prestigious warships of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, as well as five royal yachts. Many of these vessels were built on the two large slipways at the western end of the yard threatened by the current development proposal’.

THE COMMUNITY’S VIEW

William Gannon represents Pembroke Dock Town Council on the Milford Haven Port Authority. Mr Gannon recently hosted an online event that reviewed the application and gave local people the chance to express their views.

We asked him what the public had to say about the plans.

Listening to the community: David Gannon (photo credit: David Steel)

William Gannon told us: “The feeling of the Community following our Zoom Meeting was that we welcome the 1800 jobs and the £63 Million of investment that the Pembroke Dock Marine Project has promised. 

“However, the Community is concerned about the Pickling Pond and The Graving Dock’s loss, which will be buried beneath the new slipway. Both The Pickling Pond and The Graving Dock are Grade 2 Star listed heritage assets.

“The Community are also concerned about the size of the two ‘super sheds’ that may be built. It is felt that these sheds are both too large and ugly, and they will damage the appearance of the Dockyard and The Haven and could damage Pembroke Docks plans to develop Tourism in and around the Dockyard.

“Our Community is looking to strike a balance between the need to develop the Dockyard and to preserve our Heritage Assets. 

“We believe that we can do this by working with The Port to develop a solution that allows for both.”

The Port Authority plans to infill the dock and pond in such a way as to preserve the structures and excavate them in the future. Once they are built over, however, the circumstances that would be possible or even likely are unclear. 

The Port Authority also proposes to use digital media to provide an ‘augmented reality’ experience to show visitors what the Royal Dockyard looked like before its development.

The Port says that part of the land, the Carriage Drive, would be enhanced and restored under its plans for the site.
The balance between preserving heritage and creating future jobs in one of its pet project areas is one the Welsh Government will wrestle with on this application and others.

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Primary school teacher would ‘moan’ as he touched female pupils, court hears

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A HAVERFORDWEST primary school teacher would “moan” while he touched his female pupils in a sexual way, a witness said in Swansea Crown Court.

In total, 11 former pupils, who were all under 13, have come forward and accused James Oulton, 34, of sexually assaulting them.

Oulton denies all the charges – saying the case was a “witch-hunt” and that he had behaved appropriately all times.

One of the pupils, who was in year four at the time, opened day four of the trial by giving evidence via a video link.

The girl told the court: “He would put his arm around by back and backside.”

Under cross examination Chris Clee QC, for the defence, asked the witness: “Did you tell the police that you were touched in an inappropriate way?”

The witness answered: “Yes, teachers should not be touching in that way.”

James Oulton

Asked if what he was doing wrong, the witness replied:

“Yes, very wrong”

In cross examination letters and cards were produced, made the witness whilst in school, where she had said Mr. James Oulton was “the best teacher in the whole world.”

One of the cards said: “You’ve made my life complete”.

Another card said: “Thank you for being so nice, and thanks for everything that you’ve done for me.”

The witness added: “Despite what he did do, he was a good teacher.  

“He used to buy us treats.

“He was nice caring and a sweet and fun teacher – but not what he was doing.

Referring to the cards, she said: “I would definitely not be saying that stuff now.”

Explaining how she told her parents the witness said: “Once I realised that [x] was in his class, I asked her ‘did he do this stuff to you?’

“She said yes.

“I realised more and more it was wrong and it was time to grow up now, and to speak.

“As soon as I found out that this was happening to [x] I stood up and told my parents.

Asked if she had seen inappropriate behaviour happening to anybody else the witness answered: “He did it to most of the girls in the class, but he had his favourites.

Asked if she had spoken to other girls about the touching, the witness said: “Yes, I was just curious was it just me, or was it normal?”

“Teachers should most definitely not be doing that to students.

“Doing what?”, the witness was asked, “You said in your police interview that he would pull you off your chair and make you sit on his lap, is that true?”

“Yes,” was the reply.

“Did you try and stop him?” she was asked.

“Yes, I tried to push him off sometimes and said, ‘get off its weird’, but I didn’t want to make a scene.

“He would make me sit on his lap whilst he was marking my work.”

When asked by the defence barrister how she was sat on her teacher’s lap, and if it was under a desk, the witness answered: “No, not under the desk, as both of our legs wouldn’t fit under.”

The witness also said that when she was sat on the defendant’s knee he would make “a low grunting noise.”

Asked if she had spoken others about this case, the girl said: “Police told my mum and dad that there were very many people involved in the case.

“I thought it was just me and [x] that was going to be at court, I only recently discovered that others had come out.”

A second female pupil was also giving evidence via video link. She was 9-years-old at the time of the alleged offending.

Firstly, a pre-recorded interview was played in court in which the witness said: “My teacher, Mr. Oulton always put his hand up my leg like that and up my t-shirt.”

She added: “If he calls you over and he pulls you onto his lap, if you don’t, he pulls your chair over and makes you.”

“How would he make you?” the QC asked.

“He would grab your arm, push you, and then pull you in”, she replied.

When asked if this was a one off, the witness said that the defendant “did it every day.”

“How would you be sat on his lap?”, she was asked.

“He would have one arm on my stomach, then the other arm would be rubbing my leg.”

“He would swap arms and then put one arm up my t-shirt.”

When asked to clarify if it was under her t-shirt the girl explained: “Yes it was under my t-shirt rubbing his hands up and down.”

The witness added: “If I tried to get up for work, he would just grab my arm.”

“He would make a funny sound like a hissing airplane.”

“We had a helper in the class, and when he came in, he would stop, and then I could go and sit down.”

The trial continues.

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New trees planted to help town

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SEVERAL new trees have been planted on Riverside Avenue in Neyland.

They were planted by Grandiflora, courtesy of the Town Council which recently pledged to plant more trees in the town in an attempt to help the environment.

As well as helping the environment, the trees will prevent vehicles from being parked on the grass verges on Riverside Avenue, which had been severely churned up over the winter and looked unsightly.

The Town Council will be working with Pembrokeshire County Council regarding parking issues in Neyland.

The trees will be tended and watered over the summer period to ensure they reach their maximum potential and enhance the area for residents and visitors alike.

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