There were 30 of them in all, and they were very angry - very angry indeed. Tonight, I'd gone along to a meeting of architects, builders, agents and others involved in 'development', to hear their concerns about the planning process in Montgomeryshire. Because it looked as if the meeting might be a bit awkward to handle, I was asked to chair it - because I've done this sort of thing before. They asked me to write to the Chief Executive of Powys County Council outlining their concerns. I'm using words which extend my evening's attempts to calmify the general tone of tonight's meeting.
Firstly there is concern about the lack of local democracy in the planning process. Almost all decision making has been handed over from councillors to officials, and several opinions were that the whole approach has become unacceptably dictatorial. One councillor told me tonight that a request for a meeting with a planning official, with a developer, had elicited a blunt refusal informing him that it was not the department's job to advise developers, but to decide their applications for planning permission. How's that for public relations?
Secondly, there is concern that there is no mechanism for reviewing policy, even if a policy is clearly failing. Recently I asked about the process (on behalf of a local landowner) of seeking the inclusion of a plot of land in a development zone, and was told it would be well over a year before this could even be considered. There was a lot about this sort of frustration.
And thirdly, there is concern about the competence of the Department to deliver a planning service. This is strong stuff. Feelings are running high. The meeting asked me to write to the Chief Executive of the Council, and go public. After some discussion, we agreed that I copy the letter to every councillor in Montgomeryshire (in a metaphorical brown envelope). The meeting also wanted me to raise the failure of the Powys Planning Department with the National Assembly for Wales. I advised that it was too early for the 'nuclear option'. But I will be meeting Ieuan Wyn Jones on Friday morning , and I promised that I would mention the issue in an informal preliminary way - if I have the opportunity. It is deeply frustrating that so many jobs and enterprise is lying and dying in planning officers intrays. This is what instigated the anger at tonight's meeting. I wonder how widespread such anger is across Wales.