In a special meeting last night, the Vale of Glamorgan Council voted by 34 to 5 in favour of moving ahead with the next stage of the complex multi-million-pound so-called “City Deal”.
The deal commits the Vale of Glamorgan Council to working with Cardiff Council and eight other South East Wales local authorities to develop infrastructure – and particularly a new transport system for area – with the help of government grants and private finance.
The leader of Plaid Cymru Cllr Dr Ian Johnson (Plaid Cymru, Buttrills Ward, Barry) said he had “quite strong reservations about the scheme”.
Cllr Johnson said he was worried about the proposed transfer of powers over Housing and Planning which would be moved upwards to “the leaders of this authority” . Cllr Johnson said “I must be honest – the idea of putting Planning and Housing in the hands of the people who have massively inflated the numbers of required housing in the Vale of Glamorgan is quite scary”.
He said that the Growth Commission had estimated that 7,200 new homes over 20 years in the Vale of Glamorgan. he said “That’s 360 per year and that’s quite different from the 660 houses per year which are actually part of [ the Vale Council’s Local Development Plan]”
Cllr Johnson said there had been originally an 18-24 month timescale given for the council to consider its participation in the project. He suspected that the real reason it was all being done in a rush now – and this “Special Meeting” had been called – was to approve the deal in time for the First Minister Carwyn Jones pose for what he called a “contrived photograph on the 1st of March at Cardiff Airport [St David’s Day ].”
Cllr Johnson said there had been a lack of consideration about the governance of the proposed scheme. Whereas the Vale Council had had a large amount of time to discuss the [ultimately abortive] proposals to merge with Cardiff Council and Bridgend – the City Deal on the other hand had “snuck up on us from behind” and there had been no discussions on the various powers involved the deal and “where they should be lying” .
Cllr Johnson said the Vale Council would be “signing-up for 25 years of payments and discussions . I think that all 10 councils should really have left this until after we’ve had the elections in May” .
Cllr Kevin Mahoney (Independent Sully) said the scheme was not the huge deal that was being presented to the public. The vast majority of the money would be used on the so-called Metro transport system. Transport was the responsibility of the UK and Welsh Governments – and the franchise operators – rather than the local authorities. Once the Metro costs had been stripped out of the scheme, there would only be net receipts of £19,000,000 to be split between 10 councils . The council had been told the Metro system would not be coming unless the council signed up to the scheme – which was “nothing short of blackmail” . “Why shouldn’t we have decent transport links?” – he asked and “why shouldn’t the UK Government or the Welsh Assembly or the transport companies be paying for them ? “.
Conservative Leader John Thomas and Cllr Jeffrey James (Conservative Rhoose) spoke in favour of the scheme although Cllr James noted that questions such as who would audit the managing authority of the scheme were as yet unresolved.
Cllr Chris Franks (Plaid Dinas Powys) said he was concerned that the UK Government Treasury would be “calling the tune” .It seemed to him that the whip hand would be held by the UK Government and there would be “very little economic development in the Vale”. “Reading between the lines” he said, the documents appeared to show there would not be a Dinas Powys By-Pass.
Cllr Franks said “It is as plain as a pike-staff that with the focus on the airport and on aerospace, with Five Mile Lane being reconstructed there will be a direct link up the Ely Valley to Junction 34 of the M4”. He looked forward to the Conservatives stating their position in leaflets for the forthcoming election. At this point there was an inaudible interjection from the Conservatives to which a councillor replied “Tell your fellow Tories that in Dinas Powys!” . There was then a call for order from the chair.
Deputy Leader Cllr Lis Burnett (Labour St Augustines) attacked what she called the “scarcity mentality” of the scheme’s critics which was “focused solely on making sure we had big enough slice of the cake” . She urged councillors to “adopt a more abundant mentality where we all work together to make a bigger cake so we all get some”. “If the City Deal succeeds” – she said – “we all succeed”.
It was Cllr Nick Hodges (Plaid Cymru ) who again raised the issue of the suspect Welsh Government Population Projections which “informs this debate”.
He said the Welsh Government quoted the current population of the Vale of Glamorgan as being 127,985 – and forecasts this to rise – by the year 2036 – by just 730 people . Cllr Hodges said “Do you believe that?” “Do you believe that with our LDP [ Local Development Plan ? Do you believe that with the massive house-building that’s been going on in the Vale? – and Do you believe that with the loss of control that we will have over our land in this scheme when they will be going helter-skelter to build in the Vale of Glamorgan to further condemn us as a suburb of Cardiff? ”
However Cllr Hodges said the Cardiff and Vale LHB 2009 projections had indicated the population of Cardiff would actually rise by 76,000 (a 24% increase) and that the Vale of Glamorgan population would rise by 24,700 (a 20% increase) . Cllr Hodges said of the Welsh Government Population Forecast “If this whole [City Deal] document is based on fanciful and quite frankly ridiculous information such as that I just wonder where we are going with it”.
In the end the Vale Council’s involvement in the City Deal was approved by vote was 34 for and 5 (including all those Plaid Cymru councillors present ) voting against.
After the debate, the microphone of the Vale of Glamorgan’s Mayor Cllr Stuart Egan was left on – and Vale Council managing director Rob Thomas could be heard in private conversation with him:-
- Rob Thomas: “That was a very good debate wasn’t it?”
- Mayor : “Yeah . It’s wrong to stifle it”
- Rob Thomas : It’s strange isn’t it because you know that with the LGR , Plaid have been very firm that they want this regional approach . It’s very strange because it’s playing into the hands of what they’ve always asked for”
- Mayor “I don’t think they’ve done themselves any favours whatsoever”
At this point the microphone was turned off.