WEEK IN THE LIFE OF…15TH MARCH -25th MARCH.

The discussions that allegedly occurred between some officers and members before the March Planning meeting took place was going to risk a confrontation.  For the second time in fairly quick succession, Planning members had to decide whether or not to allow a new estate of some 46 houses to be built on an enclosed field that according to our highways experts could only be accessed through a well established cul de sac in an existing estate.  This one road leading into the proposed site had been used for the past twelve years as a play ground for numerous young children who lived in St Mary’s Park, Mold.  The thought of a movement of over 300 cars a day through this residential street was just not supported by Planning members who had already gone against our officers by rejecting a previous application. No one could explain why site construction traffic could break through from Ruthin Road for the years needed to build the houses and then be closed completely.  Highways officers had not made out their case & the local member, a town councillor colleague and a very active community group leader for the objectors had been led to believe that there was no technical reason why a Ruthin Road access could not be used permanently.  An uneasy stalemate followed as the meeting opened and one well briefed member immediately requested a deferment for further discussions.  This idea was “parked” to allow speakers on both sides to address us.  An imminent appeal that the developers had set up for May was worrying.  If we lost, the Authority would be penalised for rejecting its own officers’ advice for the second time and the safety of children playing in the street is of no concern to the Planning Inspectorate, and we would be clobbered heavily for costs. My vice chair, Patrick Heesom threw down the gauntlet to the developers.  ‘Let them give us some proposals’, he demanded.  Unsure of my powers, I decided to call the developers agent back to the table and offered him time to address us again.  I adjourned the meeting to allow rapid discussions to take place. Heading out for a break I walked straight into very frustrated developers & agent who was trying to  note what his principals wanted him to say to us.  The mens’ concerns  with officers both planning and highways was very evident to me:  “Let xxxxxxxxxx officers stand up and tell the xxxxx” was a remark I clearly recall.  I suggested to the agent that unless the committee was told the developers views, no progress would ever be made.  I urged them to return to the meeting as soon as possible as I could not delay forever.  As the chair of this committee my only aim is to be impartial and to find ways of making progress that satisfied all parties. I was confused by the St Mary’s Community group dossier of photographs showing junctions at various new developments across the area.  Several seemed to have shortcoming on visibility and other grounds; but I’m not a highways expert!. The local members and I spoke when I got home.  He thanked me for my help and said, “They really missed a trick”!  “Who”, I asked, “The officers”, he replied.  “Its not been fully explained why a permanent Ruthin Road access is not possible”.  I agreed. A most useful meeting has since taken place with officer and members and it is hoped that a way forward can still be found.  In my experience, life is all compromise and its must surely be worth going the extra mile to salvage something. If the developer does go to appeal there is no guarantee who will win.  The stance taken by Planning members in refusing the application is not perverse and may be sustainable even on appeal.  Safeguarding our residents children now so used to playing on the one road into a major new development must be worth a few dented egos and some head scratching sessions. AUDIT ANGST! The belated arrival of a 454 page very detailed dossier really had some members of the Audit committee in a tizz.  My feisty best mate ex banker Peter Pemberton and I exchanged moans at lunch time on Monday 21st March.  He had not yet received his audit papers & the clock was ticking down AND then past the three clear days we should be allowed statutorily  to read papers before the committee is convened.  I had just got mine in the nick of time and the cost £4.42 postage.  I normally give up the better part of a weekend to read my audit papers as this committee is the last fail-safe mechanism to ensure the public purse is being properly protected.  We all are deeply committed to serving Audit committee well.” Cllr Pemberton spoke with one of our legal officers about the late delivery. Was it not unfair to expect councillors to drop everything else to read them?  He was disgruntled by what was taken as a fairly unsympathetic reply. It was agreed the agenda was weighty but the papers had been served within the time allowed and thus officers had done their duty!  So bad luck!  Peter felt rebuffed but it’s the system that’s wrong not the officer’s lack of sympathy or otherwise.  If we had other meetings and constituency affairs that week, the time, the mid night oil must be burn to do justice to these papers.  How many officers read papers into the evening and throughout their weekends? By evening a real head of steam had built with talk of mutiny as the pattern of late delivery is now well developed and we had had enough  Why the late arrival?  Nothing to do with the front page of the Daily Post under a byline “£365,000 for housing benefit blunder” I presume?   Readers were faced with a glowering piccy of Cllr Bernie Attridge who allegedly demanded resignations and that heads should roll!  Bernie Attridge has a point!  The ever increasing financial gaffes flowing out of some of the County’s major spending departments is like watching a car crash in slow motion. Who ever calls officers to account?  Why are things going so wrong?  Why did our former auditors not pick up the failings?  Why no comment in the press from a Coalition spokesperson in an attempt to limit the damage or offer an explanation?  The silence from our CE and the Executive member for Finance is embarrassingly deafening! Perhaps its been recognised that if there is no excuse, it’s better to shut up & ride out the latest bad press comment. If it wasn’t so serious and huge sums of taxpayer’s money were not being blown away, I’d offer a prize for the number of times similar cash cock ups have not been reported in the press since the Coalition was formed. Of course, being in government is hard.  Labour members are doing what they are expected to do and call us to account.  It’s a pity that those who are supposed to protect us and lead us seem to be failing its members so badly.  My Group discussed this latest blunder and we are concerned that there are more in the pipe line. We will be demanding the introduction of a better  mechanism to look very carefully into what keeps going wrong with the handing of our money and seek an overhaul of how our financial department is operating!.  The Director of Finance is a respected,  professional officer.  Its sad that the people she commands seem to be letting her down.  This is a crucial department and mistakes are just too frequent! The schools overspend was bad which was followed by the £3333K over payments to staff and now we have this housing blunder.  It surely means that our officers and leaders are either seemingly incompetent or badly informed by more junior staff.  The recent dreadful sickness figures that was blamed on the bad weather is in my opinion yet further proof of poor supervision or a failure to put the systems to stop the rot.  As the new  Personnel ACC in Merseyside in 1983, I was faced with unacceptable sickness rates.  After the introduction of a Occupational Health Service and pressure on management to get a grip of the problem, things did get better.  Sadly FCC is desperate for new management at the top & for someone to get a grip too. Time for change in May maybe?

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