Wednesday, October 07, 2009

No Local Voices on St Athan

I was disappointed at hearing the quality of debate in the Vale of Glamorgan’s Planning Committee recent approval of the plans for St Athan’s Defence Training College.

Just two councillors spoke on the plans, Llantwit First councillor Gwyn John and Plaid Cymru’s Nic Hodges.

Whatever your thoughts on the concept of the Defence Training College, there are a large number of outstanding issues in the planning applications that will impact negatively upon current local residents in St Athan, Llanmaes, Eglwys Brewis and surrounding areas.

They have very legitimate concerns regarding, for example, the northern access road, the proposed firing range and the fact that, with a brand new village being built on a Green-field site in the rural Vale, there will be barely any green space left between St Athan, Eglwys Brewis and Llantwit Major.

And that’s ignoring possible other effects upon other parts of the Vale, such as congestion in the Cowbridge area or going through Llysworney.

It is a shame therefore that with the county councillor for St Athan, a Conservative, claiming a conflict of interest in the debate, there was no-one to actually represent local residents in the debate.

Those people should be able to hear their voices represented properly in the council chamber when it comes to debates such as this, and the councillors who vote should set out their reasons for doing so in front of the general public.

As it is, those attending will have been disappointed that the council effectively rubber-stamped the plans without discussing them in detail, in public.

In one respect, this shows the failure of one member wards at a council level – one conflict of interest and there’s no-one there.

To avoid this in future, we’re calling for the Vale of Glamorgan to allow local councillors and residents to be allowed to speak in planning meetings - so-called ‘third party representation’ - something they recently refused.

More than two-thirds of unitary authorities in Wales allow community councillors or those who are affected by the planning decision to speak at the meeting and give their opinions to the planning committee.

By not allowing this in the Vale, the council are creating a democratic deficit and leaving people shut out of a decision making process which impacts upon them on a personal and everyday level.

Local people should be heard in the council chamber, not just have their names read on a petition.