Showing posts with label Anglesey County Council. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Anglesey County Council. Show all posts

Sunday, 13 May 2012

How to resolve the Wind Turbine crisis on Ynys Môn

A resolution to the public outcry over wind turbines on Ynys Môn requires some clear strategic thinking coupled with political will.

Because of its flat landscape and the fact that Anglesey County Council has not updated its planning policies on wind energy for over a decade, Ynys Môn has over the past year been specifically targeted by wind farm developers — as testified by the extraordinary surge of planning applications for giant turbines.

Public outcry ensued and, despite having initially been caught with their pants down, Anglesey County Council did the right thing by speedily carrying out a public consultation on new wind energy supplementary planning guidelines (SPG) together with introducing a far more stringent planning 'checklist' for wind developers designed to reduce the number of speculative applications.

A leaked discussion document prepared by planning officers after the public consultation showed that planners were broadly opposed to introducing any blanket guidelines for wind turbines on Ynys Môn — including publicly supported minimum separation distances, maximum height restrictions, and the preservation of Anglesey's AONB together with a suitable buffer zone. The leaved document showed that in essence planning officers would prefer to be allowed to consider each turbine application on its individual merits. This is clearly unsatisfactory but we cannot really blame the officers as their role to merely interpret and be guided by national policy — in this case TAN 8 — and not to propose political fixes, which is the preserve of our elected Councillors.

TAN 8 is the Welsh Government's primary planning policy for wind energy, and establishes a number of geographically defined 'Strategic Search Areas' (SSAs) in which large-scale wind farms should be clustered. It also goes on to provide guidance on what local planning policies can and should be introduced by local authorities. As Ynys Môn falls outside any SSA areas, the most crucial part of TAN 8 to this discussion is as follows (emphasis mine):

"Most areas outside SSAs should remain free of large wind power schemes. Local planning authorities may wish to consider the cumulative impact of small schemes in areas outside of the SSAs and establish suitable criteria for separation distances from each other and from the perimeter of existing wind power schemes or the SSAs. In these areas, there is a balance to be struck between the desirability of renewable energy and landscape protection. Whilst that balance should not result in severe restriction on the development of wind power capacity, there is a case for avoiding a situation where wind turbines are spread across the whole of a county. As a result, the Assembly Government would support local planning authorities in introducing local policies in their development plans that restrict almost all wind energy developments, larger than 5MW, to within SSAs and urban/industrial brownfield sites. It is acceptable in such circumstances that planning permission for developments over 5MW outside SSAs and urban/industrial brownfield sites may be refused."

This essentially tells Councils that although they cannot introduce local policies which would "result in severe restriction on the development of wind power capacity" (which would, for example, rule out blanket height restrictions), they are able to introduce what would in effect become local mini-SSAs to restrict development to one area only ("there is a case for avoiding a situation where wind turbines are spread across the whole of a county"). The question therefore is: which part of Ynys Môn would be most suitable as a housing area for large-scale turbines whilst (a) providing minimum disruption to the Island's landscape and tourism industry; and (b) providing the largest possible public utility to Ynys Môn residents?

Existing wind turbines already visible from the Rhosgoch site
The answer is the 198-acre disused Shell site at Rhosgoch which was gifted to Island in the 1980s and is now administered by the Isle of Anglesey Charitable Trust. The area is fairly out of the way, close to the existing small-scale wind turbine farms in the north of the Island, and the contaminated land which has stopped any other development on the site would not be an issue for erecting wind turbines. Therefore, if a local planning policy was put in place which meant that all wind turbine applications above 15 metres tall were restricted to the Rhosgoch site, then all ground rents from these giant turbines could be captured — through the Isle of Anglesey Charitable Trust — for the public good and used to preserve the various public services, such as leisure centres, now being threatened by cuts. With just 198 acres available (not including the area several football pitches large that could be taken up by the proposed giant transformer farm on Rhosgoch to convert the wind energy coming off the Irish Sea wind from AC to DC) the administrators of the scheme would be able to auction parcels of land off in 25-year leases to developers thus even further maximising revenue.

The scheme could be set-up as a giant Social Enterprise, and even go a step further by allowing various community councils and other local groups first option to rent land, thus allowing them to erect turbines which would provide a regular income for their activities. The scheme would not affect micro-wind generation and farm diversification as smaller wind turbines of up to 15 metres tall would still be possible throughout Ynys Môn outside of the AONB.

Such a policy may be open to legal challenge by developers, but in reality such an outcome would be unlikely as any challenge would be costly and take years — during which time it is likely (bearing in mind the national public disquiet regarding wind turbines) that the current generous subsidy regime for wind energy will be ended. Developers would recognise that if they want to make money on Ynys Môn they would need to rent land on the Rhosgoch site. As per the report in this week's Holyhead & Anglesey Mail about developers 'threatening' planning committee members with appeal, it is clear that developers are keen to rush through their plans as soon as possible to escape whatever restrictions may eventually come via the revised SPG and due to any changes to national policy.

Having any giant turbines on Anglesey may be unpalatable to many residents, however the fact is that without the introduction of a scheme such as I've outlined above then there is no doubt that wind turbine will multiply throughout Ynys Môn and have a real effect on tourism on the Island (all available research shows that between 10-30 percent of holidaymakers will not return to rural areas whose landscapes have been ruined by wind turbines). However, to make such a scheme a reality requires political will and unity from Anglesey's councillors — something which would provide a perfect public showcase for their strategic thinking and care for the Island as the Commissioners prepare to start handing power back to them from October onwards. It would also make 'Energy Island' a far more intelligent concept as a share of money generated from energy schemes on the island would be directly captured for the wider public good.

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Light at the End of the Tunnel

Carl Sargeant, the Welsh Minister for Local Government, announced today that he could see light at the end of the Anglesey Tunnel. The Welsh Government's intervention on Ynys Môn will begin to be phased back from the end of September, said Sargeant, from which time power will gradually be transferred back to our own councillors. A smaller number of commissioners will stay on to oversee and advise, whilst members of the Executive will begin to receive their senior salaries again.

He applauds himself at the end of his statement by saying, "if Councillors and officers carry on showing the same commitment as they have so far, we will be able to complete a fundamental and swift turnaround on Anglesey in little over two years", conveniently forgetting the two previous years of Welsh Government intervention under David Bowles when things when badly backwards.

The full statement below.
Title: Isle of Anglesey County Council
Date: 9 May 2012
By: Carl Sargeant, Minister for Local Government and Communities

Last February, I updated the Assembly on the progress that the Isle of Anglesey County Council was making under the stewardship of my Commissioners. I was cautiously optimistic about the prospects for reducing and ending my intervention in the medium term.

Events since then have shown that that optimism was justified. My Commissioners have concluded that while there remain some concerns about the Council’s governance, there are no longer any serious risks. The Auditor General has reached a similar view, and recommended that I should begin planning how to end my intervention.

I agree with and accept the views of both. There is increasing evidence that a Council that was once a byword for misbehaviour, under-performance and petty squabbling is now concentrating effectively and consistently on the issues that matter to the island. Differences remain, as they always will in any democratic organisation. But the days of petty personal rivalries dominating the Council’s business seem to be largely over.

Recent developments have underlined that. In March, the Council had to set a budget and council tax rate in very difficult financial circumstances: it has operated on a shoestring for many years and has much less scope to make savings than many other local authorities. Yet Councillors approached that challenge with real maturity. They engaged fully with the Commissioners in formulating a draft budget and passed it almost unanimously after a sensible and focused debate. That would have been impossible just over a year ago.

There have also been problems with the proposed development of Wylfa B, when the leading companies withdrew. The potential that Wylfa B has for the economic regeneration of the island means that is undoubtedly a major setback for the island. But the response from the Council has been sensible and serious, with a strong mutual interest in securing fresh involvement from another company. There have been none of the recriminations and accusations that we would have seen in the past.

Finally, Councillors have been working with the Commissioners, the WLGA and my officials to overhaul the Council’s constitution and to make sure that it embeds and sustains some of the improvements we have seen. Again, those discussions have been highly positive and productive. They have yielded some radical changes which will strengthen good governance and which other local authorities may well want to emulate. They have also been free of the jockeying for personal advantage which so bedevilled Council politics in the past. Indeed, one of the main aims of the changes is to prevent that from ever happening again. It is clear that almost everyone wants to move on.

That intention is sincere and commendable, but I am not yet convinced that the Council is able to fulfil it alone. I have said before that the recovery will not be complete until we have renewed democracy on the island, and until elections take place on terms which are more likely to yield a representative and accountable council. That cannot happen until next year.

The Council also needs to finish recruiting a new and strengthened senior management team to bring stability, capacity and expertise; and to tackle some intractable problems of service delivery. Progress so far on this has been very good, with a high level of interest from some highly-qualified and well-regarded public servants. But until that team is in place and clearly functioning well, I cannot be sure that the recovery will be sustained.

I will therefore be extending my direction to the Council from the end of May to the end of September, to allow that recruitment to finish. Commissioners will remain in full control until then. If at that point they and I are content that the senior team is ready to take charge, and if progress elsewhere continues to be maintained, then I will start bringing my intervention to an end.

That would initially mean reducing the Commissioners’ presence and responsibilities. Councillors would resume control, subject to being overridden by Commissioners if they proposed to act unwisely or unreasonably. Commissioners would also support councillors and officers; and they would continue to monitor progress and advise me on that. I will discuss with my Commissioners the level of their personal involvement under this approach; but it is unlikely to entail having five Commissioners with a continuous presence in the Council.

As a consequence, I will also be asking the Independent Remuneration Panel to consider restoring senior salaries for members of the Council’s executive. I withdrew these last year when I transferred the executive’s powers to Commissioners; it can only be right that they are returned in some form if and when those powers are handed back.

This approach will allow us to test the sustainability of change in a controlled environment. It will mean an early return to local decision-making, with appropriate safeguards. If that proves successful, I should be able to end my intervention completely soon after next year’s elections.

Those elections will take place using new boundaries, and I expect to receive the Local Government Boundary Commission’s final proposals on those boundaries shortly. Many within the Council did not support their initial proposals. They are of course also free to oppose the final proposals: they will have at least six weeks to make representations to me. I will consider all constructive representations seriously; and I trust that in approaching this issue, Councillors will display the same maturity as they have on other major issues recently.
All I am doing now is making appropriate plans to phase out my intervention. I could restore the Commissioners’ full powers at any time, and will do so if the recovery stalls or if Councillors prove unable or unwilling to resume proper control.

On the other hand, if progress continues under the Commissioners’ stewardship, and if Councillors and officers carry on showing the same commitment as they have so far, we will be able to complete a fundamental and swift turnaround on Anglesey in little over two years. I look forward to being able to do so.

I will make a further statement to the Assembly in due course.

Monday, 26 March 2012

Suspension of Island Democracy finally debated in the Senedd

Last Wednesday the suspension of local democracy in Ynys Môn was debated in the Senedd for the first time since Welsh Local Government Minister, Carl Sargeant, announced by diktat in January that local elections on Ynys Môn would be postponed until 2012 — one year after every other county in Wales goes to the polls. The debate was prompted by the Lib Dems tabling a motion to annul the Minister's decision.

The elections were postponed following the following recommendations by the Auditor General for Wales following his March 2011 re-inspection of Anglesey County Council:

"I also recommend that the Welsh Ministers direct the authority to develop and implement a strategy that promotes democratic renewal, and that Welsh Ministers provide assistance to the authority under section 28 of the Measure in pursuit of that renewal. In so doing, I also recommend that Welsh Ministers request the Local Government Boundary Commission for Wales to review its proposals published in 2010 to ensure that the changes proposed adequately address the need for democratic renewal in Anglesey in terms of the number of councillors and the introduction of multi-member wards. If it is not possible to complete and implement this review by May 2012, I recommend that the Ministers consider using powers under section 87 of the Local Government Act 2000 to delay the Council’s elections until 2013."

Whatever you may think of the postponement of elections on Ynys Môn in order to ensure that the next election is conducted under an entirely new electoral system, it is surely not right for such a major decision to have been taken on the recommendation of just one man, the Auditor General for Wales — who is, after all, unelected. I would even go further and say that Huw Vaughan Thomas, the Auditor General and former Chief Executive of Gwynedd and Denbighshire councils, went beyond his remit in:

  • recommending changes to the electoral arrangements which will result in Ynys Môn having uniquely different arrangements to every other county in Wales;
  • recommending postponing elections in order to facilitate these electoral changes.

Either way, to my mind it is surely entirely proper that these dramatic and far reaching decisions should be subject to proper examination and some degree of democratic accountability through the means of a debate in the Senedd. Well done therefore to the Lib Dems in tabling the motion!

This is not however a view shared by our own AM, Ieuan Wyn Jones, who told the chamber:

"I am disappointed that the Liberal Democrats have decided to bring up this issue."

...before going on to say...

"The auditor is independent, and we need to be very clear in our reasons for going against the truly independent views that he has expressed. If the auditor believes, in his advice to the Minister, that democratic renewal can best be achieved by ensuring that multi-member wards are created, the best thing that we can do is allow time for that to happen."

So, according to Ieuan Wyn Jones, there is no need to even debate or discuss a recommendation made by the Auditor General. In which case, why do we need politicians like him? Its also worth remembering that Ieuan Wyn's own Plaid Cymru councillors in Ynys Môn were unanimous in opposing the delay of elections. The Lib Dem, Peter Black, succinctly explained why Ieuan was wrong:

"I refer to the comments from the Member for Ynys Môn, Ieuan Wyn Jones, when he said that he was disappointed that this motion was being brought forward. I believe that, on principle, if we are going to defer elections, then at the very least, Assembly Members should vote on the matter. I think that that is responsible and is absolutely right.  The situation in Anglesey is unique, which is why we need to tread carefully and ensure that we do not forego the democratic principles, which is what we are doing by proceeding with this Order. The auditor general, who, by the way, is unelected, wants democratic renewal—that is precisely what we suggest and what we propose here as part of this motion."

Here are some other highlights from the debate.

Antoinette Sandbach AM (Conservative):

"People have a regular democratic right to give their verdict on their council at the ballot box, and this mandate has been removed from the voters of Ynys Môn. Meanwhile, the Welsh Government and Ynys Môn County Council have made decisions that will have a huge impact on the residents of Anglesey, and which those residents are powerless to do anything about this year because they have been denied the right to judge the council at the ballot box. 
If there was an election in May, would the council have imposed the biggest council tax hike in the whole of the United Kingdom, at 4.5%? I do not think so. Would it have decided just days after this announcement to advertise four brand new senior management posts with a combined salary of more than £400,000 a year? I do not think so. Who is footing the bill for all of this? The answer, of course, is the council tax payers—the voters of Anglesey. Clearly, there are problems in Ynys Môn, but is the democratic process one of those problems? At the last council election, 25% of the council seats changed hands. The council was refreshed by the voters, so it is not as if the electorate did not use their democratic right to give their verdict on the conduct of the council at the ballot box. The people of Anglesey have the right to ask why its council is the only one in Wales to have multi-member wards imposed on it by the Welsh Government. Does this make the system more democratic, or do multi-member wards serve to widen the gap between the councillor and the constituent? Does this make political campaigning prohibitively expensive for independent candidates? Is the imposition of multi-member wards by the Minister really happening because the Minister does not like the results of the election in Anglesey? Postponing the election does not solve any of the problems; all it does is to remove the democratic right of the electorate."

Peter Black AM (Lib Dem):

"Democracy is about empowerment and not about diktats from the centre. The question is: what do we mean by 'democratic renewal’? In my view, it means a democratic election in which voters can judge matters for themselves. Yet the residents of Ynys Môn are being denied that, which is why we believe that this Order has to be overturned. We have supported the intervention and the auditor general’s judgment on this issue, but it is argued that we cannot allow this issue to continue without elections. If elections took place, it would not mean the end of the intervention board, as the Minister indicated, but would give the board the opportunity to work with councillors with a fresh mandate and those councillors could demonstrate the support of the electorate. Decisions are being taken that would not have been considered if there were elections this year. That cannot be right and we believe that if we are to restore any credence to the democratic process, we have to have elections in Anglesey along with the other 21 councils on 3 May."

Mark Isherwood AM (Conservative):

"The Isle of Anglesey council has been dogged by scandal since its formation in 1996. Serious allegations relate mainly to planning and to grants, and specifically to the council’s senior management and corporate governance. However, only in his statement last month did this Minister finally acknowledge that these areas need radical reform. Until now, the rhetoric from Welsh Government has all been about democratic renewal to tackle 'chronic political infighting and misbehaviour’. Three weeks ago, the Public Services Ombudsman for Wales dropped a case against Anglesey councillor Elwyn Schofield on the grounds that the evidence was contradictory and largely uncorroborated. This case was brought by the former interim managing director, who also obliged council group leaders to sign terms of engagement that forced them to publicly and robustly condemn this councillor and other named councillors. That ultimately led to the appointment of commissioners, the postponement of local elections and drastic local boundary changes. Last March, the Minister announced that he was replacing the elected executive with commissioners paid £500 a day. The first two commissioners he announced were a Flintshire Labour colleague, criticised for presiding over a series of scandals at Flintshire County Council—all documented by independent reports—and the man who was chief executive of the then Labour Cardiff County Council when it was rocked by a multi-million pound scandal over unlawful expenses. When I met leading Anglesey councillors last December, they told me that
'the problem was always corporate governance in an Officer led Council, not members with horns on their heads’.
They said:
'Councils in the rest of Wales are being allowed four years to change their electoral boundaries, but Anglesey was only being given 4 weeks just before Christmas’."

Aled Roberts AM (Lib Dem):

"Our reason for bringing forward this motion is that it is our judgment that the boundaries are not the reason for the political challenges facing the county. Many county councils that consist entirely of single member wards do not face the same political difficulties that led to the imposition of commissioners. Similarly, there are multi-member ward councils that do not operate effectively.The council has just had to pass a budget recommended to it by the commissioners. Given the situation, and the fact that the council is under heavy supervision from the Government, in reality it would have been impossible for the council to reject the budget. This has led to an increase of 4.5% in council tax next year, which is the highest of any council in England and Wales. If there are no elections this year, and the commissioners remain in place, an additional budget will be passed next year by the council based on representations made by the commissioners. We believe that this denies the people of Anglesey an opportunity to vote for an administration of their choice to take the island forward for the next few years. Furthermore, there is little evidence in the council’s internal minutes to suggest any real action taken with regard to efforts of democratic renewal with the current councillors. Therefore, the position will be that, if democratic elections are held next year and the same councillors are returned, to all intents and purposes, no real effort will have been made to change behaviours that have, quite clearly, been in place in that county for a number of years.A delay of a year before elections are held on the island is unacceptable. If any council is in need of democratic renewal, it is Ynys Môn, and the best way of ensuring democratic renewal is through holding elections."

The motion was defeated 33 votes to 17.


Friday, 9 March 2012

Found: 21 of the endangered 30 Anglesey Teaching Assistants

Just days after being coerced by the Welsh Government and its Commissioners to rubber stamp the highest council tax rise in the United Kingdom — a rise supposedly necessary to save the Island's swimming pools and 30 Teaching Assistants from the axe — Anglesey County Council yesterday started advertising for the following entirely new senior management positions:

£113,630 p.a.

£98,581 p.a.

£98,581 p.a.

£79,683 p.a.

None of these are replacement positions, these are all brand new posts which did not previously exist. In total they add an extra £390,475 to the senior management salaries bill, which is equivalent to 1.5 percent points of this year 4.5 percent council tax rise. I don't know how much the endangered species of Teaching Assistants get paid, but I would imagine it is not far off the median wage for Ynys Môn of £18,331 — which means that Anglesey County Council could secure the employment of 21 Teaching Assistants for this sum. No doubt it could have also gone some way towards preserving the Beaumaris leisure centre which the council seems intent on spinning off.

Are these new positions really necessary? Do we really need to pay someone almost £100K to "develop, lead and deliver Anglesey’s community outreach, engagement and support function" (Director of Community)? And even if they are needed, as the Commissioners in their wisdom seem to believe, in what parallel universe are salaries of this magnitude even remotely justifiable in the third poorest county in the United Kingdom? These sums are an insult not only to Anglesey ratepayers in general, but also to the vast majority of council workers getting by on far less inflated salaries.

Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Anglesey's "Schofield-gate": raised in First Minister's Questions

The Ombudsman's decision to drop a controversial case against Cllr Elwyn Schofield, made by the Welsh Government's appointed troubleshooter to Anglesey Council, David Bowles, was raised today in Cardiff by Mark Isherwood AM during First Minister's Questions:

Question By Mark Isherwood AM :
"How do you respond to the Public Service Ombudsman for Wales decision at the end of last week to drop a case against Anglesey Councillor, Elwyn Schofield on grounds that the evidence was contradictory and largely uncorroborated. A case brought by the Welsh Government appointed former Interim Managing Director, who also produced a Terms of Engagement obliging council group leaders to sign which forced them to 'Publicly and Robustly' condemn this Councillor and other named Councillors, which led to, ultimately, the appointment of the Commissioners, the postponement of the local elections and the drastic boundary Changes."

Answer from Carwyn Jones, First Minister:
"Well [splutter, splutter]. I don't wish to comment on something that's been done by the Ombudsman or finding made by the Ombudsman, that's a matter for the Local Authority."

(Watch it for yourself here from about 20 minutes in).

Carwyn Jones sidesteps the question as he wasn't being asked to comment on the Ombudsman's decision, but on the judgement of the then most well paid civil servant in Wales, David Bowles, who had been sent in by the Welsh Government to solve Anglesey County Councils problems but ended up making them far, far worse. 

The issue was raised for a second time later on during Business Questions when Janet-Finch Saunders AM called on Carl Sargeant, the Welsh Minister for Local Government, to make a statement on the matter.

Had what happened on Ynys Môn under the direction of a Welsh Government Viceroy happened in any South Wales council it would have been a major scandal. Because it happened in Anglesey it has been largely ignored. That might be about to change.

Watch this space.

Thursday, 23 February 2012

++ Ombudsman drops case against Cllr Elwyn Schofield ++

The Public Services Ombudsman for Wales has dramatically decided to drop its case against Elwyn Schofield, the County Councillor for Llanerchymedd.

A section of the Terms of Enagagement: Coucillors were encouraged to publically
name and shame Cllr Schofield before the case was even submitted to the Ombudsman!

The case against him was put together by David Bowles, the Welsh Government appointed interim Managing Director to Anglesey County Council until last year. Not content with just referring Cllr Schofield to the Ombudsman, Mr Bowles also effectively ordered Councillors to "robustly name and shame" Cllr Schofield, eject him from their Groupings, and "take any and all opportunities to expose and marginalise" him as part of the controversial 'Terms of Engagement' he had drawn up to regulate councillor behaviour. It was the introduction of this disastrous document which caused an extraordinary and irreparable fissure amongst councillors, leading over time directly to the Welsh Government's decision to impose Commissioners on Ynys Môn, the unprecedented decision to postpone local elections here, and the outright attempt to 'rig' the local electoral boundaries on the Island.

A document from the Public Services Ombudsman for Wales, dated 20th February 2012, which summarises their decision not to pursue the case against Mr Schofield any further says:
"The evidence obtained did not conclusively support the allegations in the complaint or completely exonerate Councillor Schofield of the allegations against him. The evidence in the main was contradictory and largely uncorroborated. In these circumstances the Ombudsman found that a referral to the Standards Committee or Adjudication Panel for Wales was not appropriate."
It is known that Mr Bowles, the most well paid Civil Servant in Wales at the time, spent a great deal of public money pursuing this case against Cllr Schofield — therefore for the Ombudsman's office to now say that the evidence was "contradictory and largely uncorroborated" and that pursuing it any further was "not appropriate" seriously calls into question the judgement of Mr Bowles and those in the Welsh Government who appointed him.

Considering the dramatic and unwelcome knock-on effects Mr Bowles decision making has had on our governance here in Ynys Môn it must surely be time for those within the Council who were party to the drafting of the Terms of Engagement to consider their positions. Likewise it is now also absolutely clear that the Welsh Government's interventions into Ynys Môn been both ruinously expensive and disastrously inept. Will they take any responsibility for the mess they have been more than partially responsible in creating?

Mr Bowles' full 'Terms of Engagement' are below:
Terms of Engagement

Monday, 20 February 2012

Elections denied, Anglesey hit by LARGEST Council Tax rise in entire United Kingdom

Today Anglesey's Commissioners and the Shadow Executive agreed to raise next year's Council tax by 4.5 percent. This means that while we are denied an election, the third POOREST county in the United Kingdom will be hit with the LARGEST council tax rise not just in Wales, but in the entire United Kingdom.

Council Tax rises from April this year

In fact a rise of 5 percent was supported by Labour and Plaid Cymru — it is only thanks to pressure from the Independents that it was eventually reduced down to a still massive 4.5 percent. In the council press release, Commissioner Byron Davies justified the rise by arguing it is necessary to safeguard the Island's three swimming pools and also spare public toilets from the axe.

However thats not the explanation for the this extraordinary rise. These are the real reasons:

  • The Commissioners have failed to deliver on £1.2 million worth of savings they were mandated to make this year. As a consequence of this, £600,000 has had to be covered by dipping into the council's bank account, £281,000 was judged to have been unachievable anyway, and the remaining £368,000 now needs to be found in addition to the further savings required next year. As £250,000 is roughly equivalent to one percentage point on Anglesey's council tax, this failure to deliver by the Commissioners has added an extra one and half percentage points to next year's bills.
  • The Commissioners, under direction from Cardiff, have further decided to spend an additional £1 million on 'strengthening' the 'Corporate Centre'. £300,000 of this will go on improving Children's services — something nobody will quibble with — however the remaining £600,000 (worth two and half percentage points on your council tax bill) will mostly be spent on hiring more HQ staff.
  • Despite the above additional costs being placed on Anglesey by Cardiff, Ynys Môn council this year received the second worse funding settlement from the Welsh Government — a cut of -1.2% compared to an average increase to other Welsh councils of 0.58%.
  • The Welsh Government has long complained that Ynys Môn has kept its Council Tax too low. In my view this has always been justified by the fact that Ynys Môn has long been officially the poorest place in the country. However, by sanctioning the largest council tax rise in the United Kingdom, the Commissioners have clearly shown that they are here not to do their best by the residents of Ynys Môn, but to best serve the interests of the Welsh Government in Cardiff.

Furthermore, despite being more than partially responsible for the need for such a large rise, both the unaccountable Commissioners and Carl Sargeant, the Welsh Minister for Local Government, have strong-armed Councillors into acquiescing to the largest Council Tax rise in the UK by stressing that it would be an "acid test" of their political maturity (a lack of debate apparently shows maturity). The carrot of a partial return of powers (and special allowances) was also dangled before the shadow executive.

This budget will now go to a vote before the Full Council on March 6th. Despite opposition from Labour and Plaid who supported the original 5 percent rise, the Independents have done well to get it cut down to 4.5 percent — however they have shied away from provoking any further confrontation with the Commissioners and Cardiff. However, with completely new local boundaries being forced onto Anglesey next year specifically to get rid of Independent councillors, I wonder why they feel they have anything more to lose? They cannot be penalised any further by Cardiff — it would be better for their electoral chances next year if they returned to their traditional low tax roots and made a stand on behalf of Anglesey residents by voting against this rise on March 6th. These rises are not purely to safeguard services and facilities, therefore it surely cannot be right to impose the single largest council tax increase in the entire United Kingdom on its third poorest area.

Friday, 10 February 2012

Ynys Môn Council wind turbine consultation - last chance to take part TODAY

If you have strong feelings either way about wind turbines on Ynys Môn, you still have until 5pm today to take part in the consultation on the subject behing held by Anglesey County Council.

All details are here. You don't have to use the consultation form provided, you can respond by simply emailing your thoughts to: planningpolicy@gwynedd.gov.uk

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Whither 'Energy Island' as 250 protest wind turbines (& other energy projects) outside Anglesey County Council

Over 250 Ynys Môn residents joined this afternoon's mass demonstration outside the Council offices to protest against the large number of planning applications which have been submitted on the Island for ‘monster’ wind turbines of up to 100 metres (330 ft) in height — the equivalent of almost four Marquis of Anglesey’s Columns stacked one on top of the other. The large turnout on a weekday furthermore proves that Ynys Môn residents are far more concerned about wind turbines than they are about Wylfa B.




The protesters sought to highlight Anglesey County Council’s lack of preparedness for dealing with these industrial-sized turbines and to encourage residents to participate in the council’s ongoing consultation on new planning guidelines for wind turbines. The demonstration was timed to coincide with the last meeting of the council’s Planning Committee before the end of the consultation on February 10th.

Peboc biomass protesters
Significantly, for the first time, members of all the major energy project protest groups on Anglesey joined forces. Wind Turbine protesters were joined by people from Bodffordd against the Anaerobic Digestion plant and also Llangefni residents protesting against the massive proposed Biomass plant at Peboc. This highlights the fact I have stressed before that Anglesey County Council has got itself into a real mess with its Energy Island strategy because the majority of energy projects actually coming to Ynys Môn:

  • are massively oversized — whether a 100m wind turbine or a 180,000 tonne biomass plant 
  • deliver no discernible green benefits considering the long distances the source materials need to travel (wood coming from Nova Scotia, Canada, in the case of the proposed Peboc plant; abattoir waste from Powys in the case of the Bodffordd AD plant)
  • ultimately provide relatively few low-skilled, manual jobs without a proper assessment of the overall net effect on jobs (wind turbines in particular will generate no jobs at all on Ynys Môn)
  • require the shipping into Anglesey of large amounts of unpleasant waste (the Peboc biomass plant alone estimates 78 daily deliveries of wood; 5 daily deliveries of tallow and vegetable oil, and 88 trips related to the shipping of pellets. Thats a helluva lot of HGVs everyday)
  • do not lead to Ynys Môn becoming a 'Centre of Excellence' in any of these technologies
  • potentially have a dubious effect on tourism and other businesses

A senior councillor candidly admitted to me today, "the council has been caught with its pants down with these turbines". I agree. Now, as today's joint protests prove, its time for a major rethink of both Anglesey's planning and Energy Island policies. Ynys Môn needs a coherent strategy which will both protect existing industries (such as tourism) whilst also leading to the Island becoming a Centre of Excellence for emerging renewables technologies (like the tidal schemes at the Skerries) — and not a dustbin for unwanted, over-large, under-employing and inappropriately sited energy projects.

UPDATE: Some remarkable photos of the protest have been posted by Glyn Davies, Ynys Môn's most celebrated landscape photographer. More on his blog here.

Photo: Glyn Davies

Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Anglesonians, to the barricades...!

Monster Turbines, coming soon
to random spots all over Ynys Môn?
Whatever your views on the effectiveness of wind turbines, I don't think anyone would argue that they shouldn't be appropriately sized and sensitively sited if we are to have them. 

Accordingly I would hope that most people would recognise that the directionless and ad-hoc manner in which Anglesey County Council is currently attempting to deal with applications for a number of wind turbines of up to 100m (330 ft) in height is not ideal. 

To make matters worse the planning guidance for on-shore wind turbines which the Council is currently consulting on is so wooly that it would allow any kind of turbine, of any height, virtually anywhere on the Island. 

For a county which markets itself as an 'Energy Island' and which is about to become an Energy Enterprise Zone, this lack of any coherent strategy simply isn't good enough. Accordingly, I urge everyone who is free, to join the protests planned for tomorrow (or today, depending when you read this!) in Llangefni with the aim ensuring that councillors and relevant officers get the message that they need to think deeper about how to deal with the large influx of planning applications for these monster turbines.

Date:         Wednesday, 1st February
Time:        11.30 - 13.00
Location:   Outside Anglesey County Council offices in Llangefni.

Everyone welcome.

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

++ Official: Ynys Môn local elections postponed to 2013 ++

Welsh Local Government Minister, Carl Sargeant, has today issued a statement saying that he WILL postpone the local elections on Ynys Môn by one year until May 2013. He further goes on to say that the Commissars Commissioners he appointed to run the council will continue in place with NO timetable for removal.

In this way he hopes to bring about the Orwellian sounding aim of "democratic renewal" on Ynys Môn by suspending the democratic process and removing any kind of democratic oversight of the Executive — possibly even beyond the delayed 2013 election.

The full statement is below.
Sargeant statement delaying Ynys Môn elections

Monday, 16 January 2012

Slaying the Golden Goose with a Rotor Blade.

How Kyffin Williams might have been forced to
paint Ynys Môn in two or three years time.
The Welsh Government is committed to delivering a three percent annual reduction in CO2 from 2011 onwards. Part of the way it hopes to achieve this is through promoting the development of renewable energy in Wales such that it will deliver 4TWh of electricity per annum from renewable energy to 2010 and 7TWh to 2020. (For comparison purposes, in 2010 UK’s total electricity generation stood at around 26TWh.)

In 2004 the Welsh Government identified that there was an installed renewables capacity of only around 380MW (equating to around 1TWh; for comparison purposes Wylfa A has a capacity of 900MW and Wylfa B will generate 3300MW) in Wales and therefore reviewed the various forms of renewable energy technology which would allow it to reach its 4TWh target:
"Offshore wind is an emerging technology and cannot compete commercially with onshore wind at present without grant support as demonstrated by Round 1 offshore windfarm projects. All substantial hydroelectric power in Wales has already been developed and there remains little scope for further development. Utilising Biomass to produce electricity at competitive prices remains a challenge and Wave and Tidal Technologies are still emerging technologies in the developmental phase and are a considerable distance from commercial applications. Photovoltaics are interesting at the small scale, but not currently commercially viable outside of building systems."
Accordingly it concluded (somewhat prematurely perhaps) that onshore wind was basically the only "commercial renewable energy technology" which would allow Wales to reach its targets. As onshore wind has very obvious land planning implications — they require large amounts of open land on which to site turbines, sub-stations, and pylons to provide a grid connection, in addition to visual impact issues of, in some instances, 140m tall wind turbines — the Welsh Government in 2005 rushed through Technical Advice Note 8 (TAN8) as the main planning instrument to enable the development of onshore wind farms in Wales.

The seven "Strategic Search Areas" defined in TAN8 to be 'sacrificed' to large-scale
wind farm development shown in red above.
The closest to Ynys Môn is Clocaenog Forest on the Conwy and Denbighshire border.

TAN 8 basically defines seven opaquely named "Strategic Search Areas" (SSAs) within rural sections of Wales which, subject to empirical evidence gathering and scrutiny before they were identified, the Welsh Government decided could be 'sacrificed' to the development of large scale (over 25MW) wind farms. Clustering large scale wind farms in geographically defined areas was supposed to minimise the visual and environmental impact and also provide for efficiency in connecting them to the national grid. Also, given that such areas would be changed out of all recognition, this strategy also helps the Welsh Government restrict and contain the public discontent that was sure to follow the plans to a few relatively sparsely populated areas. 

As you can see from the above map, there are no SSAs on Ynys Môn — the nearest one being in Clocaenog Forest on the Conwy and Denbighshire border. Ynys Môn was not identified as being suitable for large-scale wind farm development, no doubt due to it being encircled by the largest Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) in Wales amongst other reasons.

TAN 8 clearly states that the Welsh Government wants to protect such landscapes. It states: 
"Large areas of Wales were excluded from consideration as SSAs by features that militate against larger wind power developments. In particular large wind power proposals within a National Park or designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty would be contrary to well established planning policy and thus SSAs have not been considered for these areas".  [Section 2.7]
Unfortunately however, TAN 8 does not rule out the development of wind farms outside of SSAs. Although it explicitly states that "most areas outside SSAs should remain free of large wind power schemes", it encourages Local Authorities to consider the development of wind farms up to 25MW on urban or brownfield sites in addition to "smaller community based wind farms schemes (generally less than 5 MW)". However, crucially for Ynys Môn Council, its says that each Local Authority must do so through:
"a set of local criteria that would determine the acceptability of such schemes and define in more detail what is meant by 'smaller' and 'community based'. Local planning authorities should give careful consideration to these issues and provide criteria that are appropriate to local circumstances." [Section 2.12]
By 'community based', the Welsh Government clearly means that smaller schemes should be managed both with the consent of and for the advantage of communities. Ynys Môn has not yet prepared any such local criteria, nor has it defined how it proposes to define the meanings of 'smaller' and 'community based'. 

Furthermore, according to TAN 8, Local Authorities should:
"consider the cumulative impact of small schemes ... and establish suitable criteria for separation distances from each other and from the perimeter of existing wind power schemes or the SSAs. In these areas, there is a balance to be struck between the desirability of renewable energy and landscape protection. Whilst that balance should not result in severe restriction on the development of wind power capacity, there is a case for avoiding a situation where wind turbines are spread across the whole of a county." [Section 2.13]
Ynys Môn Council is not considering the cumulative impact of the 50 plus applications for wind turbines which have been made on the Island as it says it plans to deal with them on an individual and ad-hoc basis; criteria for separation distances have not been established; and, as the below map of wind turbine locations clearly shows, they are already spreading across the whole of the county — a situation with TAN 8 explicitly warns Local Authorities to avoid.

Wind Turbine applications: spread across the whole of Ynys Môn, despite TAN 8
instructing Local Authorities to avoid this.
Furthermore, despite all these applications being dealt with individually,
are they not in effect turning Ynys Môn into a de-facto Wind Farm?

© OpenStreetMap contributors, CC-BY-SA

TAN 8 was introduced by the Welsh Government six years ago in 2005. Ynys Môn's 'Energy Island' strategy was officially launched two years ago in 2010. Yet Anglesey Council did not issue for consultation its Supplementary Planning Guidance (SPG) for onshore windfarms — i.e. a local policy on how to deal with wind turbines — until just last month. The document itself sets out in great detail the planning process for applicants, but crucially is entirely devoid of any strategic consideration of how to deal with wind turbines on Ynys Môn:

  • It does not address the issue of avoiding wind turbines spreading across the whole Island as TAN 8 says it should
  • It allows for wind turbines to be erected in the AONB — what therefore is the point of having an AONB?
  • It does not establish any criteria for separation distances from residential properties, again despite TAN 8 saying that it should
  • It considers cumulative impact only from a visual impact standpoint — rather than recognising the need to consider all applications in the round. The current situation means that Ynys Môn in its entirety is being turned into a large-scale wind farm by default, yet each application is being considered individually. This what TAN 8 meant when it stipulated that regard should be had to the potential cumulative effect of smaller proposals.
  • It contains no consideration of "smaller community based schemes" whatsoever. 

In contrast, the joint SPG on onshore wind issued by Conwy and Denbighshire councils (issued in 2006 - take note Ynys Môn planners!) is a model of clear and strategic thought:

  • It strategically sets out policies on how to deal with large (over 25MW), medium (5-25MW) and small wind farms (<5MW)
  • It strategically limits all large-scale wind farms to the TAN 8 SSA of the Clocaenog Wind Farm Zone. 
  • Medium wind farms can only be developed within the Clocaenog Wind Farm Zone or on urban or brownfield sites
  • Both large and medium size wind farms must be a minium of 500m from the nearest residential property
  • Small wind farms are defined as being either 'Community' schemes or 'Domestic' schemes. In the case of domestic schemes, only one turbine no more than 15m in height is allowed. Community schemes must be owned by a community group, be composed of no more than three turbines no more than 70m tall, and must be a minimum of 500m from the nearest residential property. 
  • No windturbines are allowed in an AONB.
  • The number of small developments will be limited and consideration given to the cumulative impact of them.

Quite frankly, Ynys Môn's draft SPG is so lacking in any strategic thought it would be better if they quietly binned it and adopted Conwy and Denbighshire's grown-up one instead. 

This is what  Jonathan Jones CBE, the head of Visit Wales had to say about wind turbines recently:
"There is a growing recognition of the grave threat that wind turbines represent for the natural environment of Wales — the basis of our tourist economy. All our research consistently shows that the main reason for coming to Wales on holiday is the beautiful, natural and unspoilt environment. If we kill that then we kill an industry." 
Unless Anglesey Council changes direction rapidly we are in danger of turning Ynys Môn into a large floating wind farm — one which will destroy a tourism industry which, even according to the council's own estimates, brings in £215 million of income to the Island every year. In light of figures like this, those who criticise the campaign group Anglesey Against Wind Turbines as being anti-jobs are extremely wide of mark.

There is still time to stop the worse happening. Please respond to the consultation on Anglesey's SPG for onshore windfarm before 10th February (click here). Furthermore, please join the Anglesey Against Wind Turbines protests outside the Council's Llangefni offices at 11.30am on the 1st February — the date of the next Planning Committee meeting. 

Friday, 13 January 2012

Anglesey Plaid: "surprised and disappointed" with Ieuan Wyn Jones

The Daily Post headline
The Leader of the Plaid Cymru group within Anglesey County Council, Cllr Bob Parry, has slammed Ieuan Wyn Jones's decision to support postponing elections on Ynys Môn.

In the Daily Post he says, "It is very disappointing and surprising that the party have gone against the views of its local members who have opposed the delay". As Cllr Parry apparently didn't know about the decision until afterwards, one has to wonder who Ieuan Wyn Jones consulted prior to making his decision. The Daily Post reports that he wrote to the Minister supporting the postponement "on behalf of the party's constituency committee". Judging by Cllr Parry's surprise, we can only conclude that this committee is too august a body to include Cllr Parry, who is after all only Deputy Leader of the council and Leader of the Plaid Cymru group.

Ieuan Wyn Jones's letter to Carl Sargeant apparently says that the delay in the presentation of the Boundary Commission's proposals for Ynys Môn meant that there was little option now but to defer the elections for 12 months. A better question surely would be to ask, "why have the boundary commission's proposals been so delayed?" Or "why are these far reaching boundary changes being rushed through on Ynys Môn with only four weeks consultation when the rest of Wales will have four years?"

It is the Welsh Government and Boundary Commission's responsibility to meet the deadlines of local democracy, not vice versa.

Thursday, 22 December 2011

An ill wind blowing across Ynys Môn

Wind Turbine locations on Ynys Môn
(source: AAWT)

Considering that Ynys Môn has been promoting itself as an 'Energy Island' for a few years now (and will soon become an Welsh Government sponsored Energy Enterprise Zone), the council itself seems remarkably ill-prepared and lacking in direction when it comes to any forms of energy other than Nuclear.

For example, the proposed 25,000 tonne Anaerobic Digestion plant in Mona has been criticised as being far, far too large. With only 35,000 tonnes of appropriate biodegradable industrial and abattoir waste in the whole of North Wales, the plant would need to ship in source materials from as far away as Mid Wales according to Friends of the Earth (a body which normally supports AD plants!). The Welsh Government enshrined a 'Proximity Principle' in TAN21, which states that waste should be treated or disposed of as near to the source of origin as possible. What therefore is the logic of placing an AD plant of that size in Mona? Indeed, in what appears to be a tacit acceptance of this fact, the developer has since hired several hundred acres of land in Valley to grow silage to feed the plant when it is approved. Not only is this pushing up the price of silage on the Island for farmers who need it to feed livestock, the application was originally given planning approval on the grounds that it would divert waste from landfill; now we learn that he is going to have to grow a crop to feed it. Thats the equivalent of erecting a wind turbine and then placing a enormous electric fan opposite to blow air at it!

The Biomass Plant proposed on the Peboc site in Llangefni is a remarkably similar story. It will apparently burn up to 180,000 tonnes of "locally sourced" timber every year. Seen any huge forests around Ynys Môn lately? Me neither. Instead the developer will be shipping it from Scotland and, amazingly, Nova Scotia in Canada. What's green about that?

Considering where the source materials are coming from, neither of these plants seem to have any logical reason whatsoever to be located on Ynys Môn — other than because Anglesey is promoting itself as an Energy Island and is possibly being thought of as a soft touch by grant-seeking developers. Furthermore the benefits of having them here are also not entirely clear — especially when you consider how few local jobs they will produce. For example, the developer of the Peboc biomass plant claims it will create 250 temporary jobs and 150 permanent jobs. Curiously their own Transportation Assessment mentions that the plant will only require 25-30 staff... furthermore there is no analysis of what effect building a massive incinerator (because that's what a 'biomass plant' actually is) will have on present and future employment in Llangefni — let alone on the tourism industry. What will be the net effect on jobs?

Then we come to the recent proliferation of planning applications for Wind Turbines on the Island. Personally I am yet to be convinced of their effectiveness as a means of reducing carbon emissions — especially when they anyway require fossil-fuel plants running on permanent standby to produce energy when the wind doesn't blow.

More than any other 'energy' development on Ynys Môn, wind turbines have created the largest popular opposition movement in the shape of Anglesey Against Wind Turbines. Around 200 people attended a stormy Penmynnydd Community Council meeting last week to object to an application to build some 100m-tall wind turbines in the area. Significant numbers also attended a similar meeting of the Llanfair-Mathafarn-Eithaf community council this week when a similar application was discussed in Brynteg. CAP reform and the 'greening' agenda will see farmer's incomes squeezed so they legitimately need to diversify and find other revenue streams, but it is difficult to argue that 100m-tall turbines will not be a massive blot on the landscape, are hugely unwelcome to those who live near them, and could potentially effect the wider tourism industry.

The Council has now announced a public consultation into Supplementary Planning Guidelines governing Onshore Wind Energy applications — but it seems a little late in day considering there are currently already over 50 planning applications for turbines on the Island, each of them being considered independently of the rest. It seems to me that the Council needs a clear strategy for wind farms. Like Conwy, which only allows extremely tall turbines to be erected in one defined area and has imposed a fairly low height restriction on them elsewhere, Anglesey council needs to do some serious thinking rather than letting them proliferate throughout the island on an ad-hoc case-by-case basis.

So in my view, apart from the preparations for Wylfa B, the council has got itself into a real mess with its Energy Island 'strategy'. With the exception of the underwater turbines off the Skerries, the developments being proposed so far:

  • deliver no discernible green benefits considering the long distances the source materials need to travel
  • ultimately provide relatively few low-skilled, manual jobs without a proper assessment of the overall net effect on jobs
  • require the shipping into Anglesey of large amounts of unpleasant waste (the Peboc biomass plant alone estimates 78 daily deliveries of wood; 5 daily deliveries of tallow and vegetable oil, and 88 trips related to the shipping of pellets. Thats a helluva lot of HGVs everyday)
  • do not lead to Ynys Môn becoming a 'Centre of Excellence' in any of these technologies
  • potentially have a dubious effect on tourism and other businesses

So what is the point being an 'Energy Island' if we don't gain anything from it? Surely the vision behind the Energy Island strategy originally was to promote Anglesey as a Centre of Excellence in energy technology, not a dumping ground for dubious, grant-seeking, "dirty" developments. The same is true of wind turbines: they are not a new technology, the community as a whole does not benefit from them, and we can't compete with the Danes or Germans in the development and manufacturing of them as they already have the expertise, experience and economies of scale.

Ynys Môn needs to be looking to utilising its unique Island resources and promoting renewable technologies in their infancy — as with the Skerries underwater turbines. In other words we need some vison, better strategic long-term thinking, and higher aspirations.

UPDATE: You can now register your objection to the Peboc biomass plant here.

Saturday, 17 December 2011

Commissioners: agreeing 5% council tax hike crucial for returning democratic control to Ynys Môn

The Anglesey Commissioners roadmap to recovery

The Anglesey Commissioners released their second quarterly report to the Minister yesterday, covering the period July to September this year. Below are the key passages (emphasis mine):

4.1 During the Quarter, whilst Commissioners have continued to exercise the responsibilities previously reserved to the Executive, they have followed a process of gradual re-engagement of the Shadow Executive and Elected Members in the work of the Council. Relationships with Commissioners are good, and Elected Members have adopted a much more positive approach. 
4.2 Commissioners have involved Shadow Portfolio Holders in regular meetings with Officers and this has been received well, allowing constructive relationships to develop and providing mentoring for Officers and Executive Members. In this way the Executive has been re-engaged to work alongside Commissioners to observe the way in which they are operating. 
4.3 Members have also contributed effectively to building a consensus around the Corporate Plan and Budget Planning process. [...]
4.5 The experience to date is that the majority of Councillors have been supportive and have demonstrated a willingness to work with Commissioners and Officers to put the Council on a more business like footing for the future. Re- engagement will progress during Quarter 3 in order to test sustainability. 
6.0 The issues to be addressed during the next Quarter (September to December) and the longer term prospects up to May 2012 and Beyond 
6.2 The milestones for Quarter 3 will be to:- 
  • Prepare the budget strategy for 2012/2013;
  • Agree the strengthened corporate management arrangements; Establish the Improvement Board and implement the Performance
  • Management Framework;
  • Make substantial progress to improve poor performing services; Progress citizen engagement;
  • Make further progress in economic renewal;
  • Strengthen the Constitution;
  • Establish constructive relationships with Regulators;
  • Develop an agreed plan to develop the Corporate Centre; Implement risk reporting for the Council.
7.2 At this stage there are positive signs that the improvement process has commenced, but there is still a great deal of work to be done to deliver against the recommendations of inspection reports, as well as further developing the fundamental strategic issues.
7.3 The most urgent issues have been addressed and a stable platform for improvement has been created. However, the limited capacity of the corporate centre has meant that some important developments have taken longer than the Commissioners consider ideal and action has been taken to secure additional capacity. 
7.5 The Commissioners are satisfied that their 10 Key Themes will address the concerns of regulators and the perceived weaknesses identified by Commissioners, in order to secure improved services to the people of Anglesey. It is too early to say when sustainability will be achieved, but Commissioners will continue to work with Officers and Elected Members in developing their capacity and capability to resume control of the Council. 
7.6 Progress against the tasks agreed for Quarter 3 will be an indicator of when the Council is likely to be ready to return to democratic control. 
59.0 It is too early to say when sustainability will be achieved, but Commissioners will continue to work with Officers and Elected Members in developing their capacity and capability to resume control of the Council. Progress with the tasks agreed for Quarter 3 will be an indicator of whether the Council is likely to be ready to return to democratic control in the Spring of 2012.
For me two key points come out of this document:

1. There are continued references throughout the report to the weakness of the 'corporate centre' and how this has delayed improvements. The report enlarges on this point in the following section.
"The limited capacity of the corporate centre has been a factor in delaying progress in key areas. There have been continuing issues in ICT and HR and the need to make a number of interim appointments in Finance at short notice have delayed important milestones The improvement process in Children‟s Services was slowed down by the need to make interim appointments and to obtain external advice. These risks have been mitigated to some extent by the excellent quality of those inputs but this highlights the need to create a staffing structure for the future which will attract suitably skilled employees, able to met the challenges of the improvement agenda."
So this is not a problem with the councillors but with weaknesses in the permanent corporate functions themselves. Which begs the question what on earth was achieved by the two whole years of Welsh Government intervention in Ynys Môn prior to the introduction of the Commissioners — including the highest paid civil servant in Wales, David Bowles, and a whole 'Recovery Board' staffed by the Great and the Good?

2. The Commissioners will not make a recommendation as to whether the improvements are sustainable and the council is ready to return to democratic control until the end of the third quarter (i.e. after the period from October - December 2011). Furthermore, the decision will be based on councillors accepting without too much fuss the Commissioners recommended budget for 2012/13 which will controversially see council tax on Ynys Môn increasing by 5% — very likely the highest percentage rise in Wales. By witholding their decision until after December (and by making it contingent on Councillors agreeing to large council tax rises) the Commissioners seem to be purposely making a May 2012 election extremely unlikely. The lack of certainty means that with just five months until the local government polling day in May (remember Carl Sargeant hasn't yet said that the election on Ynys Môn will definitely be postponed), possible candidates aren't able to prepare properly. Indeed just this week I received an email from a someone who wants to stand as an Independent candidate at the next election. She said:
"...uncertainty about the date would make it more difficult for new people who did not have party political back-up, as they will need to start their campaigns early but they could not be certain as to the area they needed to canvass, and could not make plans to ensure that they timed their door-to-door campaign to best effect. As there are currently few women elected to the Council that would also discriminate against women being elected for the next term."
So, even if the Commissioners do decide in January that the council can be returned to democratic control, it seems likely that the very fact there will be so little time between that point and the official Wales local election date in May, it will be used as an excuse to force a very unsatisfactory postponement. 

The full report and annex are attached below.
Quarter 2 Report to Minister Appendix 3 Corporate Governance Priorities (Q2 Position)

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Schism: Ieuan Wyn Jones and Ynys Môn's Plaid Councillors

IWJ: deliberately avoiding
the question
As reported in yesterday's Daily Post, Ieuan Wyn Jones has sought to completely sidestep the question of the whether he supports the postponement of local elections in Ynys Môn or not. This is what he is quoted as saying:

"Plaid Cymru’s Constituency Committee for Ynys Môn is carefully considering the plans for local government electoral changes on Anglesey. The document presented by the Boundary Commission needs to be thoroughly evaluated in view of the far-reaching proposals contained within it.
"We will not give a knee-jerk reaction like some other parties but give the proposals the consideration they deserve. We will be presenting our response before the deadline early in the New Year."

There is no question that the proposed boundary changes need to be considered carefully and in detail — nobody disputes that. However the issue is why is Ynys Môn only being given four weeks (over the Christmas period too) to consult on them whereas the rest of Wales will have four years? If Ieuan Wyn Jones considers that they should not be responded to in a "knee-jerk" manner and, indeed, that they will lead to "far-reaching" changes then why would he accept that we are only being given four weeks to consult on them? 

The fact remains that these boundary changes are being rushed through by the Minster in order to facilitate a postponed election in 2013 under new electoral arrangements designed purposefully to eliminate Independent councillors. This is not how proper, sustainable, organic "democratic renewal" should be brought about. Even Plaid Cymru's Ynys Môn councillors — those who notionally will gain the most from the proposed changes — have taken a principled stand against them. Furthermore Plaid Cymru's former Party Chair, John Dixon, has said unequivocally that he thinks the proposals amount to "rigging the electoral system" and has spoke out against them. Yet it seems clear from Ieuan Wyn Jones' side-stepping response to the Daily Post that he is prepared support a postponement and in so doing is ignoring both his own local Plaid Cymru councillors, and the best interests of Ynys Môn, in favour or securing narrow party advantage at a rigged and postponed local election in 2013.

In the meantime, certain commentators on this blog and elsewhere continue to support the proposed boundary changes and delayed elections on Ynys Môn. Below are the reasons why I feel they are wrong:

  • The proposed reduction down to 30 councillors leaves too few for the council to operate effectively. Although a smaller reduction in numbers is warranted, a council of just 30 members will require that, on top of their duties to constituents, virtually all of them will need to take executive and portfolio positions, staff the various committees, attend to statutory obligations on police and fire associations, etc. This will mean in the short-term that being a councillor will become a full-time job; and in the long-term it will simply pave the way for rolling Anglesey up into Greater Gwynedd — something that is not in the best interests of Ynys Môn residents.
  • For the above reason, younger people with jobs, mothers with small children etc. will not find it possible time-wise to fulfil their obligations as councillors and will thus be discouraged from standing for election. Reducing the amount of people able to stand for election is not conducive to 'democratic renewal'.
  • A reduction down to just 11 new multi-member 'super-wards', spanning both urban and rural areas, could mean that all the elected members in one ward could come from just one small part of the ward (likely the urban parts) and thus be unfamiliar with the rest of their ward. This is not in the best interests of constituents.
  • Similarly, these larger wards make it impossible for Independent councillors without Party backing to get elected. For example, the proposed ward of Central Anglesey has 5,829 electors and therefore approximately up to 3,000 households. Independent members will have no chance to canvass all of these households and sending out a leaflet would could cost upwards of £2,000 in printing and postage charges. Again reducing the pool of people able to stand for election is not conducive to 'democratic renewal'.
  • As already discussed, why are these proposals being rushed through? The rest of Wales will get four years to consult on their boundary changes, Ynys Môn is getting just four weeks (over the Xmas period too thus effectively making it shorter). 
  • Postponed elections will not allow issues like next year's council tax rises, cuts to services etc to be discussed and debated, nor will it allow all the Parties and candidates to set out their policy stalls in an election.
  • Finally, as the WLGA says, all Welsh counties should be treated equally. The Minister is attempting to introduce an electoral system unique in Wales to achieve his own desired election result. That is wrong.

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Decision time for Ieuan Wyn Jones

At an Extraordinary Meeting of Ynys Môn council this morning councillors unanimously agreed to resist both the proposed boundary changes and mooted postponement of next year's local elections on the Island. Significantly the two Labour councillors present, J Arwel Roberts and Raymond Jones, went against both Senedd colleague Carl Sargeant and their (absent) Labour leader on the Council, John Chorlton, in supporting the motion to reject the proposals.

Most importantly however for Carl Sargeant's chances of pushing his measure through the Senedd, Plaid Cymru's Ynys Môn Leader Bob Parry, and members of his group, also spoke passionately against the Welsh Government's proposals. Ieuan Wyn Jones told the Daily Post today in response to the news that both the Welsh Conservatives and Lib Dems will oppose the move, that he was "in discussions with Plaid councillors on Anglesey to consider a response". Now that his local councillors have clearly shown on which side they are on, will Ieuan Wyn Jones listen? And if so will he join the Welsh Conservatives and Lib-dems in blocking these proposals in the Senedd?

So, to help Ieuan Wyn Jones make up his mind, here is a ready reckoner of who is now for and against Carl Sargeant's proposals:

Against:

  • The Welsh Local Government Association (WLGA)
  • The Welsh Conservative Party
  • The Welsh Liberal Democrats
  • All Independent councillors on Ynys Môn council
  • All Plaid Cymru councillors on Ynys Môn council
  • At least two of the five Labour councillors on Ynys Môn council
  • A clear majority of Ynys Môn's town and community councils
  • The former Plaid Cymru National Chair, John Dixon

For:

  • Carl Sargeant
  • The Welsh Labour Party (presumably, though Labour members in the WLGA unanimously voted against the proposals, as did at least two Labour councillors on Ynys Môn)
  • Holyhead Town Council

Those who apparently can't make up their mind even three weeks after Carl Sargeant made his announcement:

  • Ieuan Wyn Jones