Are you sitting comfortably? Good. Because what follows gets a bit complicated. That said, I believe there is now enough evidence to question the legitimacy of the decision taken by Swansea council on February 7th to allow RWE to erect wind turbines on Mynydd y Gwair, common land owned by the Duke of Beaufort on the city’s northern outskirts. My previous posts this month on Swansea council are, in chronological order, here and here.
Perhaps the first thing to make clear is that the long-serving local councillor, Ioan Richard, was not allowed to vote on February 7th because he had previously shown his opposition to the project. In other words, he’d been open and honest about his position. The same may not be the case for a number of those who voted to grant planning permission.
My attention has been drawn to the fact that RWE’s Renewables Developer for Mynydd y Gwair, Gwenllian Elias, tweets as @gwenll_elias, and among her 59 followers are Councillor Mitchell Theaker (@mitchelltheaker) and Councillor Pearleen Sangha (@PearleenSangha). She reciprocates by following them. (Another Swansea councillor Ms Elias follows is Nick Bradley (@CllrNickBradley) the council’s number one West Bromwich Albion fan.) On the night of (possibly the day after) the Mynydd y Gwair vote, Pearleen Sangha tweeted her joy at the outcome of the council meeting . . . and her tweet was almost immediately retweeted by Gwenllian Elias of RWE! Great minds, eh!
Now this may be harmless enough, perhaps nothing more than contact limited to Twitter. Alternatively, it could suggest that Elias, Sangha and Theaker were known to each other before the vote was taken. In which case it puts a totally different complexion on the matter. For if they knew each other before the vote then, seeing as both Sangha and Theaker voted for the bird and bat mincers, they were as ‘compromised’ as Councillor Richard in that their minds were also made up long before the discussion of the matter, and the vote, on February 7th. If that was the case then they should not have been allowed to vote.
Now let us turn to Llansamlet’s very own advocate of permanent revolution, Councillor Uta Clay, who has come in for a bit of a hammering of late, partly for stoutly defending the Duke of Beaufort’s financial interests, and partly for making silly remarks during the February 7th debate. This letter is just one of a number I am told have appeared in the Evening Post. As the letter suggests, how could this woman, who has only been in Swansea for five minutes, be so silly and insulting as to slur ordinary Welsh protesters as belonging to the “privileged few”. A category to which an English nobleman apparently does not belong! (Is this making sense?)
You also have to ask why, after the local party had the good sense to deselect her, and suspend her and her husband, some unnamed authority representing ‘London’ stepped in to insist the Clays’ suspensions be lifted and she be reinstated as candidate for the May 2012 council elections. What happened to devolution? What happened to ‘Welsh’ Labour?
Someone else who’s only been in Swansea for five minutes is New Zealander Andrew Hore, ‘Elite Performance Director’ at the Ospreys. (Not to be confused with the Andrew Hore who did the dirty on Bradley Davies last autumn) Hore was allowed to speak at the February 7th meeting in favour of the Mynydd y Gwair money machine. RWE sponsors the Ospreys, and a number of councillors are season ticket holders at the Ospreys; others have received ‘hospitality’. Which looks a bit . . . er . . . iffy? Here is a (PDF) link to an interesting exchange between Edwina Hart, a local AM, and Patrick Arran, Head of Legal, Democratic Services and Procurement at Swansea council, in which Ms Hart questions why Hore was allowed to speak at the council meeting. A good question.
Then, today, a letter appeared in the Wasting Mule from a Swansea councillor – one who actually knows the city, and can pronounce Mynydd y Gwair! What Councillor Tyler-Lloyd is (perhaps unwittingly) alluding to is a system now becoming dominant in Welsh political and public life. It begins with civil servants in London or Cardiff issuing diktats. When this is done in London it’s invariably done on the instructions of politicians; when it’s done in Cardiff it’s too often done on orders from London and presented to the self-styled Welsh Government as a fait accompli. (Well, what do you expect? If Welsh Labour won’t stand up to ‘London’ on matters of internal party discipline do you really think they’re going to challenge Sir Humphrey in Whitehall?) These diktats then become Gospel for senior officers in local government who use them – and the threat of the expense involved in challenging them – to silence debate and stifle opposition. R.I.P. Welsh local democracy.
As it takes hold we see this process leading to situations such as that which has been played out in a London courtroom this week, as Fuehrer James of Carmarthenshire County Council sues – with public money – a blogger who dared criticise his regime. Or the cabinet of Labour-controlled Caerffili council meeting behind closed doors to give whopping pay rises to senior officers . . . at the insistence of the chief executive – i.e. the major beneficiary!
The wider and more worrying picture though is of a Wales in which we have the chimera of devolution while the reality sees us Welsh becoming increasingly marginalised and silenced across the land. In the rural areas the picture is stark, and villages and small towns are taken over by English colonists, but even in the city of Swansea we see it happening.
For one interpretation of that vote on the 7th of this month would be thart it was a victory for those who view our homeland as a resource to exploit, or else the political equivalent of a sandpit, somewhere to start one’s political career. On the one hand we had an English lord whose family has been robbing us for centuries, a German company here to milk the absurd subsidies paid for so-called ‘renewable energy’, a bunch of ex-student politicians that include a GLTB fanatic, a Californian, a West Brom supporter, another with an interest in cadets, then there’s a New Zealander working for the local rugby team (most of whose supporters still don’t understand what his bloody job is), and assorted other drifters, misfits and parasites who know fuck all about the city I love.
All these were allowed to speak, despite many if not all having already made up their minds on the issue or, worse, having a vested financial or other interest in seeing wind turbines on lovely Mynydd y Gwair. Yet, the councillor in whose ward Mynydd y Gwair is to be found, who had no financial or other interest, who had been open and honest in his opposition, and who represented the views of the overwhelming majority of his constituents – that is, those directly affected by the industrialisation of Mynydd y Gwair – was thrown out of the council chamber.
Where does this leave democracy, local or otherwise? And given that virtually all those on the one side of this debate were foreign, and almost all those on the other side were Welsh, what does it tell us about our country today? And our place in it?
UPDATE 23.02.2013: Interesting comments to the post from Jeff Jones and James Dunkley. Both question whether Councillor Ioan Richard was given the correct legal advice by the council officer(s). (Jeff Jones is the former leader of Bridgend Council who now works as a local government consultant.) They aren’t the only ones asking these questions. If Cllr Richard was wrongly told to leave the chamber then it must call into question either the competence or the impartiality of the person who gave that advice. (Patrick Arran. See the link in the post to his exchange with Edwina Hart AM.)
Gwenllian Elias, the RWE Npower project officer for Mynydd y Gwair’s CV reads: 2007, left Cardiff University with BSc in Geography and Planning. September 2007 to September 2008 Planner with Newport City Council. September 2008 to August 2009 Planner with City and County of Swansea Council. August 2009 to April 2010 Planning Liason Officer with the Environment Agency. April 2010 to present Renewables Developer with RWE Npower Renewables Ltd. Looks like a planned career course: gain the background knowledge and contacts in the public sector before heading into the private sector and the serious money. And all done in less than three years.
The behaviour of certain councillors at the February 7th meeting, the near certainty of them being predetermined to vote in favour of the Mynydd y Gwair development, plus their established links with RWE’s project officer, has been referred to the Local Government Ombudsman for Wales.