Twenty percent of all the letters sent to the Vale of Glamorgan Council supporting the planning application to develop a huge new housing estate on the grounds of Sully Sports and Social Club are probably forgeries – a council report has revealed.
Council investigators from the internal audit team appear to have discovered what looks like a co-ordinated attempt to exaggerate the degree of public support for the contentious project.
If the council’s suspicions prove correct, its investigators may have uncovered one of the most serious attempts ever made to interfere with the planning process in the Vale of Glamorgan .
The development proposals – to build 200 homes on the site – have been submitted by a large and reputable stock-market-quoted public company St Modwen PLC which acquired the bulk of the freehold in 2008.
The sports facilities would be concentrated in a smaller area than at present – with a replacement clubhouse, three grassed pitches, an all-weather pitch, a new bowling green, pavilion and a touring caravan site, The 200 new homes would be built in an adjacent area .
The discovery of the percentage of mass forgeries now raises doubts about the validity of a large proportion of the 782 letters submitted to the council which purport to be from members of the public supporting the scheme .
The first hint that something was wrong came when the Vale of Glamorgan Planning Department was contacted by a member of the public about a support letter which bore his name and address – but which he denied ever having written.
It was also established that no one else living at the same address had written the letter. The real author – who evidently forged the signature on the letter – remains a mystery.
The Vale Council Planning Department called in its internal audit team. Faced with a mound of 782 letters supporting the proposed St Modwen housing development, the team retrieved an initial batch of 378 of the letters – and then homed-in on a “randomly-selected” sample of 128 which were analysed in detail. Of that sample the audit team has concluded that 25 of the letters supporting the scheme (amounting to 20% of the sample) “may not be genuine” .
The St Modwen planning application comes up before the Vale of Glamorgan Planning Committee on Thursday November 3rd. The detailed internal Vale Council report warns councillors on the planning committee that “Members should be aware of all the above when applying weight to the support as conveyed in these letters. “
The chairman of the Vale of Glamorgan Planning Committee, Cllr Fred Johnson (Labour Cadoc Ward Barry) is listed at Companies House as being the Company Secretary of the Barry Plastics Sports and Leisure Company Ltd which operates the Sully Sports and Social Club.
As a matter of routine Cllr Johnson will be expected to declare an interest and leave the council chamber when this matter is discussed by the Vale of Glamorgan planning committee at its meeting on Thursday.
Getting public support for the proposal has been crucial for the developers St Modwen
A stall was to have been set up to promote the scheme at one of the regular weekend car-boot sales which are open to the public at the sports club at weekends – but getting those signatures wasn’t easy.
On May 20th a St Modwen project director Gareth Scannell sent an email to the club – sending a copy to a recipient whom he called “Fred” :-
“Dear All . I am writing as I understand that we are struggling to get 4 people to attend the car boot this Sunday to obtain signatures on the letters of support that are needed. Could you let me know whether you would be available or could advise of names of those that might be available to do this on the basis that the car boot sale is on this Sunday. We do not have many more opportunities for this so this weekend is very important to obtain as many letters of support as possible.
Please could everyone on this email return to me with their ability to do this or not and whether they could recommend anyone who normally attends the car boot that would be willing to do this – we need 4 people ideally. Many thanks. Regards Gareth Scannell Project Director.”
In the event it’s understood that this particular car-boot sale was postponed because of heavy rain and waterlogged ground. Despite that setback however , evidently St Modwen was eventually successful in obtaining no fewer than 782 signatures of support from the general public – but the Vale of Glamorgan Council is now saying the veracity of some of these should not be relied upon by councillors.