RUNNING FAST TO STANDSTILL.

Like buses that always arrive 3 at a time, my council meetings invariably all stack up into a three day whirl of committee papers and meetings followed by a fallow meeting-free week. So, the last days of September have found me immersed in Planning, County Council and Audit committee papers, and then on the Monday 7th, October, planning site visits followed straight away that afternoon by a meeting with Chairs of Scrutiny Committees & then on to chair our Audit Committee. Not bad for one who retired in 1992 as a colleague said.

The 25 September was however a black day in my personal councillor calendar, when on strong constitutional grounds and on this occasion a very last minute delivery of the committee papers, I agreed with some members advice that the meeting needed to be postponed as we simply had no time to do justice to a massive document which had some highly challengeable reports and recommendations. We had only seen it in draft form as the committee cycle operated, a few weeks earlier, and when we finally got the papers much had changed. As Chair, I simply could not recommend it to full Council. The rest is history. Immediately as we have come to expect, a Labour heavy weight proposed voting in a new chair and as was intended the accounts flew through Council with minimum discussion This also I have to say sadly, with the backing of our Wales Audit Office who though saying that generally they were OK, they in turn acknowledged that they were complex, At Audit Committee on the 7th, with the deeply disapproving body language emanating from both senior officers present who had little option but to mask their fury with me over my ethical Statement of Accounts stance, we actually had what turned out to be a useful meeting.

Scrolling through my Job Blackberry later, I had to swallow hard when I read a message from an Audit member pleased to see me back in the Chair. As a newly elected Cllr, he worked hard to master heavy slabs of financial detail and he’s proved himself a star at getting stuck in the quest and probing officers. That simple message of support meant so much to me in these hostile times.

More hostility also I am afraid at Planning Committee on 9th October. Since the new intake of Cllrs in 2012, the atmosphere has changed for the worst. Combative, nasty and at times bordering on being political which never seemed to happen when I was chair. I don’t think this change is down though to the new chair David, but we have seen the advent in this council now of what we jokingly call ‘masterplanners’. who are on their feet on any issue laying down policy as they see it. A new beast on the Labour ranks appears to have taken over from the more cerebrally endowed “Mr Planning”, Chris Bithell, as now the opening bat for Labour at Planning Committee. Chris clearly read his papers & his interventions were often sound, not a trend immediately associated with the new master planner “Derek the Dictator”, if judged on his performance last Wednesday.

Having served in the same party in my first stint as a Cllr, I steered clear of the bearded one, plimsolls and all. We weren’t bosom pals then & nothing has changed. He subsequently lost his seat but has now got back in. Sadly there is clear evidence that whatever application I support, the ” Beast” will immediately challenge.

True to form on this occasion, he was first up on his feet to move refusal against a strong officer recommendation for acceptance of a fishing pools/touring caravan site in my ward. He told us the River Dee was full of fish and he had never seen such an unsustainable business plan? The original application had been lost on a small majority some months ago, but the land owner had worked closely with officers and every angle had been covered, including the very rare demand in this case, for a business plan.

The reasons given in the debate for a refusal of the application were frankly amazing. Muck spreading activities we were told would be threatened and we all needed food. We need jobs, leisure, tourism, and helping the local economy too, but muck spreading rules proved supreme. Hydrology and water tables we were told would wreck water supplies & devastate the countryside & touring caravans, even allowed only in the summer months, would be the worst blot on the landscape imaginable!

According also to Cllr Butler, the business plan was truly dreadful, not sustainable, and this was his reason to refuse it. I had no idea that the Cllr had any particular skills in business plans or whether he’d ever run a business as had the fishing ponds applicant. The applicant was the successful owner of Castle Garage in EWLOE. So successful in fact and well run, it is used by Flintshire to do MOT-testing on a wide range of public vehicles.

Most of the negative comments made by members, & especially the business plan gaffe by Cllr. B, were not of course planning issues, only wild opinions that completely flew in the face of all the professionalism of a senior planning officer. To go against an officer recommendation once is not good, to throw it out again on spurious grounds is serious. An appeal victory with heavy costs is now anticipated. Officers did their best to steady the ship by reminding Cllrs of our planning policies but Derek was having none of it. His all consuming contempt for that business plan, rarely required in most applications, killed the application stone dead.

One Labour member pleaded for the politicking to stop and asked members to remember the good things about the application. A place for families to enjoy the country side and fishing; a place to relax, and a place for jobs in the local economy. “Well said, David.” That contribution was far more sensible and positive than that off the wall rant from a member who could and should have supported both officers and our planning policies.

Just 2 days after his demolition of the business plan, the news is that this same Cllr Butler so dismissive of enterprise and community interests, has now been given the economic development portfolio and has been elevated to the Cabinet. Congratulations are in order but a crash course in business and financial matters is urgently needed or our economy is in deep danger. I just hope he gets a good tutor and he chooses his mentors well. One crazy minister, Edwina Hart with her speciality of denying the North in favour of the South and who has done little to move forward the Northern Gateway project, is more than enough. My trusty spell checker is on leave. Excuse any typos.

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