Friday, 6 March 2020

Too Big to Care - Taylor Wimpey asks for planning permission for a very dodgy wall,

We often hear the phrase "too big to fail", usually applied to banks and others whose financial organisations who get automatic bail outs from Central Governments.

But there are other huge companies who, sometimes like banks, may manage huge finances including large debts, who are also too big. They get automatic bailouts at a lower level of local and regional government, and their size and power allow them to brake rules and laws with impunity, and act totally selfishly.

Last month [21/02/2020] I called a community meeting in the Stradey and Sandy Area of my Council Ward. The main issue discussed was a local Housing Estate, recently completed, called  Parc Y Strade. As the name suggests, it was built on the site of the old Stradey Park Stadium in Llanelli. At the beginning of this century the rugby club was in major financial difficulties and had accumulated major debt. One of the club's directors had given it a multi million pound loan and he wanted his money back. Together with the Chief Executive of Carmarthenshire Council..Mark James. a plan was apparently hatched to build a new Stadium "out of Town" and sell the old site, practise pitches and adjacent plots of land suddenly acquired, perhaps by those "in the know," for development of a huge residential estate.355 homes have now been built there.

Parc Y  Strade  first phase Photo Sian Caiach


 The original land occupied by the Rugby Club, had been gifted to the People of Llanelli for recreational purposes by the Stradey Estate  The Scarlets plc went to court without informing the original donors, the Stradey Estate, and quite legally established ownership of the land through occupation. Of course this was simply in order to sell it on for profit very soon after.

Problem One was that the land was on an undefended C2 flood plain. According to the Assembly's official policy document, Planning Policy Wales, C2 land is too dangerous for building homes on. Only vital utilities, such as sewage pumping stations should be built on it.  On these grounds, the Assembly "called in" the planning permission and halted the process. Our Assembly Government has frequently been weak and this was no exception. Threatened by multi-million pound lawsuits from the developers Taylor Wimpey, Minster Jane Davidson threw in the towel with the support of local Assembly member Helen Mary Jones.

 Helen told a Llanelli Plaid Cymru meeting that the Assembly could be seriously financially damaged by the legal action and was more important to maintain the new devolved administration than a local issue. The reaction was a stunned silence, as I recall.

 It it did not bode well for "Planning Policy Wales" the book of instructions from the Assembly to Local Authorities, when a wealthy bully could dictate to the Assembly where they could build irrespective of community safety.


the southern boundary of Parc y Strade estate held up by a curtain pile wall - photo Sian Caiach  
To protect the new homes Taylor Wimpey was advised to raise the lowest areas of the site to 7 metres above sea level . This would raise the new homes out of the flood plain but also run the risk of flooding in the surrounding areas. The pile wall did not go well, the piles shattered the foul sewer main which ran in the lane below,

The wall was placed not on Taylor Wimpey's land but around 2 foot  over the boundary in Stradey Estate land, a lane through which the residents of  Sandy Road had legal access to their garages and back gardens. Narrowing the lane has caused access problems and in the retrospective planning permission now underway, Taylor Wimpey's agent  claims that the additional land was "acquired" from the Stradey Estate,There is no evidence that they have.

Patrick Mansel Lewis, the land owner, regards the placing of the wall on his land as theft, Taylor Wimpey declines to  answer his correspondence on the matter.

The pile wall already leaks and residents of the lane have impressive film on their phones showing water leaking through some of the piles' vertical joins as well as coming up underneath them, When Welsh Water dug up the lane to repair the sewer, 2 of the piles shifted and had to be re positioned to stand vertically after all the earth behind then had been removed. There appears to be no formal drainage behind the piles. Taylor Wimpey admits, in the planning documents, that they chose thin piles in order to maximise the land of surrounding their properties.

 By siting the piles on someone else's land Taylor Wimpey may have cleverly moved the piles and possibly liability of maintenance on to the owners of the appropriated/stolen land. I believe  the Stradey Estate has far less money than our National Assembly who capitulated to Taylor Wimpey's threats  before the estate was built. The local Planning Committee who now all know that the land is not Taylor Wimpey's are in a bind. 

The policy of the Council is to build as many homes as possible in Carmarthenshire to attract as many people as possible to move to the County and increase the council tax take.This has been supported by all major party groups including the current Plaid leadership. They normally bend over backwards to accommodate the big building companies. I hope for once, they will not allow this particular retrospective application. 

In the meantime the residents of Sandy Road have a rusting, leaking wall behind their homes which has already, during construction, left some of them without sewerage services for weeks. Some can no longer get their vehicles easily into their garages and parking spaces. The bin lorries now struggle to  reverse down the narrowed,long lane to pick up bin bags, and some are left  behind squashed. If the piles fail and collapse residents of the lane will lose access and amenity.

Although it is technically legal to ask for planning permission on land you do not own, I doubt it is actually legal to build on land you do not own with the objection of the real owner. Add the jeopardy of building a wall holding back tons of soil  and showing signs of leaking already. The residents are fearful of what may happen despite the claims of Taylor Wimpey that the wall will last 100 years.

 Siân Caiach

Update:
Having corresponded with Councillor Alun Lenny, Plaid Cymru, and Chair of the County Planning  Committee, he has asked me the following question:



Cllr. Alun Lenny

Sun, Mar 15, 9:33 PM (22 hours ago)
to me

Hello Sian
 .
As this is obviously an inquiry about a legal issue, would you be happy for me to forward your e-mail to the lawyer who usually advises the planning committee at the council’s legal department?

Best wishes,
Alun


I have replied that I am happy for him to take legal advice. I have asked for information as to the identity of the Lawyer concerned but have had no reply.

LATEST NEWS
An objection by the land owner Patrick Mansel Lewis, on whose land the pile wall was placed without permission, is available on line as a submission to the planning department among the papers for the retrospective planning permission. As well as the issues discussed above it is claimed that some of the pile sheets are no longer perfectly vertical. 
Mr Mansel Lewis asks for the planning permission to be rejected and the wall to be removed from his land by Taylor Wimpey.



Tuesday, 14 January 2020

Adam Price gives up? - Carmarthenshire Council Plaid Group side with Council Officers, not their voters

Update:14/02/2020
Still no word on the proposed meeting between Mr Price and Mr Dole to discuss Trisha's case.

ADAM PRICE WANTS TO HAVE HONEST POLITICS.

In his proposed Representatives (Prohibition of Deception)Bill Adam Price is careful to include MP’s and Assembly Members but excludes County Councillors. This is especially relevant to the local Plaid Cymru position in Carmarthenshire County Council where the Plaid Leader and Plaid Executive board appear to have got well into a habit of accepting lets say, less than the truth.

Adam Price AM Leader of Plaid Cymru


ADAM HAS FAILED TO PERSUADE HIS OWN LOCAL COUNCILLORS

Adam is well aware of this. The Plaid Leader of Council, the Reverend Emlyn Dole, is said to have refused to meet with his Party Leader and explain his behaviour. A Plaid Executive Councillor has explained to Mrs Trishia Breckam , a lady about to lose her home after 16 years of County Council mismanagement, that unfortunately the Council Leader, Emlyn Dole, seems primarily influenced by the Council’s Head of Legal, Linda Rees Jones, and not by his party. Emlyn appears happy to repeat statements now exposed as untrue and still maintains that even talking about Mrs Breckman’s case will lead to the whole council losing its liability insurance. 

FORCED TO GIVE UP ON HIS LOCAL CONSTITUENT

Adam’ Price's office has now emailed Trisha, his constituent, declining to help her any further. Clearly he has no power or influence over Emlyn Dole, the man who is supposed to run the Council. It's an honest admission of failure. Adam Price appears totally impotent on the matter.

Emlyn is hardly the first politician to put self interest before Party loyalty. In my previous blog it is obvious that Adam is outraged by Tricia's treatment by the Council, but unable as yet to stop his councillors blocking a settlement for this elderly couple.

Tragically I beleive these Plaid Councillors who are blocking Adam's quest for justice for Tricia are  are just more scared of Council Officers and Emlyn Dole tahn Adam Price, This is a battle in which Councillor Emlyn Dole intends to beat his party leader and so far it looks like he has the upper hand. All if the senior Plaid Councillors seem to be backing Emlyn, and betraying Adam, I suspect through fear rather than any other motive.

A BASKET CASE COUNCIL?

Now the County Council in Carmarthenshire may always have been officer lead since its formation in 1999 and my observation when I was a councillor there for 9 years, 2008-17, was that the Chief Executive and senior officers were definitely in charge, rather than elected members. As in many dysfunctional organisations, deceitfully concealing mistakes takes up much time and energy and admissions of failure are not allowed.

RESIDENTS AND COUNCILLORS TREATED WITH CONTEMPT WHERE IT SUITS

Linda Rees Jones, with Emlyn Dole’s support appears to have instructed senior Plaid councillors that giving an ex gratia payment to the Breckman’s would result in the entire Council losing liability cover from Zurich insurance , their insurance provider. Also any discussion of the case by Councillors would also lead to all liability insurance to be withdrawn. Trisha Breckman asked Zurich to check their records. This information given verbally to the councillors was said to be in a legally privileged letter that Linda Rees Jones could not show to anyone, they had to take it on trust. All this to prevent a payment, although planned to be given without admission of fault, which might suggest a council failure. After all, letting a couple lose their home due to Council mismanagement is better than any admission of less than perfect conduct?

EVIDENCE FROM ZURICH INSURANCE THAT SOMEONE MAY BE FIBBING!

Below is confirmation from Zurich that the letter does not exist and that they have not corresponded with the officers of the council on these matters in the terms described by Emlyn Dole and his legal adviser Linda Rees Jones.

Excerpt from letter from Zurich to Trisha dated 12th December from Zurich’s Joanne O’Donnell who checked the entire Breckman case file.

I can also categorically state there is no evidence within the file of papers that we have told anyone within the Council l that we will not allow them to grant an ex gratia payment. There is no evidence that we have told anyone in the Council that they are not allowed to discuss your case with anyone”

THE MYSTERY OF THE LETTER

So Linda's letter is still a mystery. All Trisha has been able to establish is that there were no threats by the Council’s Insurers, Zurich, as claimed orally by Linda Rees Jones and Emlyn Dole .What was contained in that letter allegedly from Zurich Insurance? 
The council is in no danger of losing insurance cover if Councillors discuss the matter. Neither have the insurers threatened to block an ex gratia payment by withdrawing their cover if one is made. The ex gratia payment comes from the Council’s own funds, so its difficult to see how it effects insurance. In this council some officers are expert in influencing councillors, and as it is Senior Councillors , not Council Officers,who are actually liable for the actions of the Council its a win-win situation for the Officers - no consequences as the executive board councillors or even just the leader told us to do it.
 Apparently Council Chief Executive Wendy Walters is said to have seen "the letter" and said it was "strongly worded." Of course that "letter"  may well not even refer to Trisha's case  and as it is "privileged" she cannot discuss it. Is it a clever forgery,or a letter in vague and general terms only, and even if so, why bully the Plaid Executive Board into silence using it but declining to show what it says?
 Reverend Emlyn Dole, Leader of Carmarthenshire County Council.
WHAT HAPPENS NOW TO EMLYN DOLE?
Rumour has it that several members of the Plaid Executive Board were not pleased by these events, Neither the failings of the Council  in not protecting Trisha from a violent and disruptive neighbour;s actions nor the reluctance to finally put the matter "to bed" via an ex gratia payment. One reason why they do not displace the Reverend Dole may be that no-one wants the job.The remuneration for the Leader of Council is around £50,000 with expenses, but even that is obviously not  temptation  enough to take this particular job.
DID EMLYN READ THE NOLAN PRINCIPLES BEFORE HE SIGNED UP TO THEM?
Emlyn seems to have ignored some of the 7 Nolan Principles of Public life that all elected councillors  promise to uphold, signing their documents of acceptance of election,. Maybe he should refresh his memory?
they are: honesty,accountability, leadership,transparency, objectivity,openness and selflessness  

WHERE DOES EMLYN GO FROM HERE?
If the Plaid Councillors in the County Council are reluctant to change their leader, and if Plaid Cymru the Party of Wales, are unable even to arrange a meeting with him to discuss his actions, Emlyn Dole is likely to remain in post and continue to collect his salary.
 He could certainly follow the orders/advice of the senior council officers and refuse to give an ex gratia payment  to Mrs Breckman. He may well prefer to believe that a letter exists, which he is not allowed to read, specifically forbidding any ex gratia payments to be made, despite  Zurich's denial. He would continue silencing every Plaid Councillor from mentioning Mrs Breckman's case as it could surely lead to the Council's insurance being cancelled completely, despite Zurich's claims to the contrary Who should he believe? A big insurance company or a group of Senior Council Officers who won't even trust him by showing him the letter? Better the devil you know and fear deep enough to abandon the humanity you once had?
There appears to be little compassion in the Plaid Group for Mrs Breckman and her partner who have suffered for the last 16 years because a County Council could not deal with her bullying neighbours. Unable to run the cattery when her access road was blocked by her neighbours and failing to get the Council to move the Lorry containers blocking light coming into her windows, or stop the unlawful haulage and quarrying, her savings are gone and her hopes of a productive life in retirement as well. In fact the Council dealt with the situation in part by blaming the elderly couple who chose to move to Carmarthenshire, even getting Trisha arrested by the police. Its not fair. Its time for someone to step up and stop the circus. 

 Siân Caiach