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Calamity as joint committee cancelled

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A ROW between councillors and officers has escalated this week after a meeting intended to scrutinise the decision to close

Truth seeker: Jacob Williams

Truth seeker: Jacob Williams

Community Learning Centres was postponed at the eleventh hour.

The proposed joint meeting of the Older Persons’ Health & Well Being and the Children & Families Overview and Scrutiny Committees was called by Head of Legal Services, Claire Incledon. Her decision followed a call-in of the Cabinet’s decision to shut Community Learning Centres in Fishguard and Pembroke Dock by members of the Older Persons’ Committee.

Due to meet on Wednesday (Mar 3) the meeting was cancelled late on Tuesday (Mar 2).

The Pembrokeshire Herald became aware of a potential difficulty when preparing its preview of the joint committee meeting. The council’s constitution provides only for the Head of Legal Services to summon one committee to consider a call-in request.

We put our detailed observations on the point to the council. A council spokesperson told us subsequently that: “The Head of Legal and Committee Services has provided advice to members in relation to the call-in The advice clarifies that it is not a Joint Committee (or ‘new’ Committee) that has been created and that the calling of both committees to sit concurrently is not unconstitutional.”

A lengthy explanatory note from Ms Incledon, which The Herald has seen, was emailed to councillors at noon on Tuesday. That note maintained the position that the meeting was constitutional, but appeared to suggest that both committees would sit as two separate committees in the same room at the same time to discuss the same subject.

That note received a strong response from Cllr Mike Stoddart. Cllr Stoddart pointed out the express provision of the constitution and pointed out that: “The constitution does not allow the head of legal services to declare it a dead-heat and call a meeting of both committees.”

Ms Incledon’s advisory note also states that calling the meeting in the way would save ‘on officer and member time and unnecessary duplication, and ensures consistency in consideration of the matter; and provides a sensible and reasonable way forward’.

The Herald understands that the decision to cancel the meeting was reached following an intervention from Acting Head of Paid Service Ian Westley, citing ‘further consideration of Procedure Rules’.

The subsequent council statement read: “It was felt that procedurally the meeting would have been overly bureaucratic.”

After the publication of that statement, Cllr Jacob Williams said: “I think the public deserves to know the truth – that, as councillors have pointed out, the handling of this vital call-in was hopelessly flawed and the meeting, had it gone ahead, would have been unconstitutional.”

Responding, soon-to-depart Monitoring Officer Laurence Harding wrote: “The reason for the cancellation is not related to the fact that there was to be concurrent meetings of the O&S committees but due to perceived difficulties in the procedure for such a meeting.”

Mr Harding – whose role as Monitoring Officer was subject to a vote of no confidence following his interference in the debate on Bryn Parry-Jones’ future held on February 14 2014 and who has had a prickly relationship with some councillors – denied there were any problems with the constitutional position.

Undeterred, Jacob Williams wrote to the Monitoring Officer stating that Mr Harding’s rationale lacked credibility. He said: “I think that just about sums up the total reluctance to hold hands up at County Hall.”

Cllr Williams continued: “It would have been better to have said nothing at all than to have tried to spin the meeting’s cancellation on the claim that it would have been ‘overly bureaucratic.’ To expect anybody – let alone members – to believe that, especially when they are fully aware of the background and prior reluctance to accept that the matter was handled wrongly just insults our intelligence.”

The last word on the matter was given by Cllr David Simpson: “Mr Harding’s advice which members received yesterday seems to imply that the constitution can be interpreted anyway he, or the head of legal services, likes.”

He continued: “The way forward is to admit that a mistake was made in calling for a joint meeting and to refer this matter to Older Persons O&S as soon as possible.”

Cllr Simpson concluded: “Many members and the public have been hoping for a new dawn in Pembrokeshire, unfortunately it seems that while some of the players have changed the culture remains the same.”

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Heatherton expansion approved

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• Committee overturns officers’ objections

• Economic benefits outweigh other impacts

Conditions must not delay development

THE COUNCIL’s Planning Committee voted to approve plans to extend holiday accommodation at Heatherton at its meeting on Tuesday (June 15).

Officers recommended refusal of the plans.

During their discussions, the Committee’s members noted the reasons for refusal detailed by the planning report. They concluded, however, with appropriate conditions in place, the economic benefits of the development outweighed the bases outlined for refusal.

Addressing the meeting, the applicant, Charlie Davies, told Committee members that the changing holiday market meant Heatherton and the area around it would miss out on opportunities to meet the demand for holidays in Pembrokeshire. He added that the planned expansion – to include a further twenty holiday lodges – would secure year-round jobs at Heatherton and have a positive impact on the local rural economy.

Mr Davies said the existing lodge development, approved by the authority seven years ago, improved the viability of Heatherton as an enterprise and would further strengthen the business’ finances.

Officers objected to the plans because they said the development would be outside settlement boundaries and run contrary to environmental policy. 

The report, presented by the Head of Planning David Popplewell, set out a series of concerns regarding the lodges’ visual impact, a lack of screening, and the lack of detail about landscaping plans and construction controls during development.

However, addressing the Committee as one of the local members whose Ward would be affected by the development, Cllr Phil Kidney said St Florence Community Council vigorously supported the application as being of direct benefit to businesses in the village. 

He pointed out that the economic benefits were not only Tenby centric but affected businesses elsewhere in the County.

Phil Kidney told the Committee his visit to a laundry in Pembroke Dock, by chance, revealed that laundry he delivered would be delayed because of laundry being done for the accommodation already on site. 

Cllr Kidney added that, bearing in mind the current furore over second homes, the provision of holiday accommodation on sites such as Heatherton could reduce the demands on local housing and open-up opportunities for local people to live locally.

He fully endorsed the proposal and said he could see no downside to permitting further expansion of a business that delivered jobs to local people, especially young people entering the jobs market for the first time.

Cllr Jonathan Preston agreed with Cllr. Kidney. 

He observed that the regulations regarding what constituted ‘a caravan’ were out of date and out of touch with reality. 

Although the proposed lodges were technically caravans; they were a world away from what most people would expect a caravan to look like and beyond the vision that informed the current rules regarding the term.

Cllr Mark Carter said the problems identified in the planning report could be addressed through the imposition of conditions on the development to offset them.

Mark Carter pointed out issues regarding the detail of landscaping works and lighting could be subject to conditions drafted by officers.

His opinion was warmly welcomed by both Cllrs David Pugh and Vice-Chair Tony Wilcox.

David Pugh said Heatherton was a successful business, employing local people and should be encouraged to continue to offer job opportunities for locals.

Tony Wilcox said Heatherton was one of the three main jewels in Pembrokeshire’s tourist crown. 

He noted the other two destinations – Folly Farm and Bluestone – both recently applied to extend their facilities, and he could see little or no difference between what Heatherton proposed and what officers were prepared to accept elsewhere.

Cllr Tim Evans developed Cllr Wilcox’s theme, observing that officers barely raised an eyebrow about a further eighty pieces of holiday accommodation at Bluestone, which he said had ‘whizzed through’. 

Subject to conditions being brought back to the Committee, he fully supported the application.

Cllr Jacob Williams, Chair of Planning, asked whether the proposed conditions would be back before the Committee for its next meeting in July. 

Having received an equivocal answer he moved that if the Committee approved the scheme, with the proposed planning conditions to offset officers’ objections must come before the Committee on July 27.

Cllr Pugh endorsed that approach by saying nobody wanted the proposal kicked into the long grass.

Councillors approved the plans unanimously by 14 votes to nil, and officers must prepare conditions to attach to the planning permission ahead of the Committee’s next meeting.

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Milford Haven: Christmas cosmetics thief caged

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A MIDLANDS shop lifter caught stealing £2200 worth of cosmetics and skin care products from Boots in Milford Haven just before Christmas, has been jailed.

Magistrates sitting at Haverfordwest Court on Tuesday (Jun 15) accepted a guilty plea from 53-year-old Ion-Gabriel Maimut of Perrott Street, Birmingham.

He was jailed for what the bench described as “offending so serious because the defendant has a flagrant disregard for people and their property.

“And because of the high degree of planning and the high value of the theft.

“And because the theft was aggravated by the defendant’s record of previous offending.”

Maiumut, bang-to-rights, pleaded guilty at the first opportunity to a single theft of goods from Boots to the value of £2204.91 on December 4, 2020.

The court confirmed that the defendant’s guilty plea was considered when imposing sentence.

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Blue Gem Wind begins digital aerial surveys for 300MW Valorous floating wind project

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BLUE GEM WIND, the joint venture between TotalEnergies, one of the world’s largest energy companies, and Simply Blue Energy, has begun offshore digital aerial surveys for a proposed 300MW floating wind project.

APEM Ltd have been chosen by Blue Gem Wind to deliver 24 consecutive monthly bird and marine mammal surveys of the early-commercial scale Valorous site. The high resolution data obtained will support baseline environmental characterisation of the site and environmental impact assessments for key ecological receptors.

The survey programme commenced in March 2021 and four of the 24 monthly surveys have been completed
to date.

Sean Evans, Environmental Specialist at Blue Gem Wind said, “It is important for us to begin long-lead in items
such as bird and marine mammal surveys as early as possible. These surveys will provide crucial species specific
data on the number, spatial distribution and activity of individuals across the Valorous site. This enables us to
undertake robust environmental impact assessments ahead of our planned consent application submission in
2023.”

Matt Rohner, Senior Consultant at APEM, “APEM Ltd are delighted to be able to support Blue Gem Wind’s
proposed Valorous offshore wind farm with our best-in-class survey design approach. Imagery captured using
state-of-the-art cameras is of ultra-high (1.6cm) resolution, providing industry leading image quality that is
essential for species level identification.”

The Celtic Sea is poised to play a key role in Net Zero, the Committee on Climate Change’s 100GW offshore
wind target, and crucially, the UK Government’s target of 1 GW of floating wind by 2030. The ORE Catapult also
estimated that the first GW of floating wind in the Celtic Sea could potentially deliver over 3,000 jobs and
£682m in supply chain opportunities for Wales and Cornwall by 2030.

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