LABOUR EVADED PUBLIC CONSULTATION ON ST PAUL’S CHURCH – PENARTH CLLRS ARE TOLD

Last night councillors were told they should put an immediate freeze on plans to turn the former St Paul’s Church in Arcot St Penarth into a block of social housing apartments – pending proper consultations with the local community

The former Labour administration in the Vale of Glamorgan Council was accused last night of bending the rules in order to evade public scrutiny of its then-secret scheme to re-develop the site of Penarth’s St Paul’s Church for “social housing”.

The allegation came in last night’s meeting of Penarth Town Council’s normally hum-drum  “Democratic Services Committee”  which – very unusually-  was attended by about 17 members of the public – and even two Labour Vale councillors [ Cllr Neil Thomas (Labour St Augustines) and Cllr Sivaruby Sivagnanam (Labour St Augustines – an employee of Labour MP Stephen Doughty]

Some of the 17 local residents who attended  last night’s  Penarth Town Council committee meeting on St Paul’s Church wait in the lobby outside the council chamber

The reason for the unusually-high level of public interest was a scheduled presentation by the Newydd Housing Association – the organisation which was nominated by the outgoing Labour administration in the Vale of Glamorgan Council as its “preferred” developer for the St Paul’s scheme.

In fact the Newydd presentation revealed nothing new – and nothing that hadn’t already been revealed in its earlier public consultation exercise in September  – but the Newydd representatives later found themselves having to parry some awkward questions about the miniscule amount  of information about the scheme which they had sent to – it turns out – very few local residents.

Many of those in last night’s council meeting had attended the last month’s public meeting on St Paul’s Church at the Ex Servicemen’s Club

Most of the local residents attending last night’s Penarth Council committee meeting had also been involved in last month’s public meeting at the Penarth Ex-Servicemen’s Club were. By prior arrangement 3 of the residents were allowed to address the Penarth Councillors for up to three minutes each and did so in an admirably co-ordinated way.

The first speaker Kate Stokes Davies seemed to apply the forensic analysis of a professional barrister to the  dealings of the then Labour-run administration in the Vale of Glamorgan Council. She said  “local people are upset about St Paul’s because public engagement has been shocking for years”.   .

The rear of St Paul’s Church would be demolished and 15 social housing apartments built there. The front of the building will have a small “community space” on two floors – much smaller than the previous space which was used by the Penarth Boxing Club and Penarth Gym Club

Ms Stokes Davies  said that between March 2015 and Feb 2017 the Labour Vale Council’s cabinet there were no cabinet meetings about St Paul’s”  –  but yet two fundamental decisions had been taken in that period. These were:- 

  1. The rejection of proposals by a “Community Interest Company” for St Paul’s – and then..
  2. the cabinet [ apparently without ever meeting] then decided to approach  developers to bring forward proposals for a “mixed use development” – a strategy which – she said – represented a “U-Turn” from previous community use.
  3. In a Vale Council Scrutiny-committee meeting in 2016 [under the previous Labour regime] it had then been announced that the council would consider marketing the site  to a housing association.

Ms Stokes Davies  went on to say that the then Cabinet Member for Regeneration [Cllr Lis Burnett (then Labour St Augustines)]  had confirmed the importance of “proper engagement [with the public] – citing the example of Cowbridge Cattle Market as a “good example of getting it right”  .  However the Labour Vale Council Cabinet had already decided by that point – November 2016 – that:-

  • St Paul’s WOULD be used for social housing
  • AND that the Cabinet was aware of its responsibility to  engage with the public before making decisions

BUT despite this – Ms Stokes Davies told the assembled Penarth councillors –  “nothing reached  the public domain” .  She said “Nobody asked the community for their thoughts  or mentioned that the Vale of Glamorgan Council was heading in a new direction . The decision to market St Paul’s  to the RSLs [ Registered Social Landlords – a.k.a. Housing Associations] was made behind closed doors   – not in a cabinet meeting and not in the public domain. 

By this time, as the comments hit home, some Labour councillors present had taken to examining the elaborate plaster mouldings on the ceiling of the council chamber and the lighting arrays suspended overhead .  But, despite the embarrassment, the revelations kept on coming.

Ms Stokes Davies  then told the councillors that a request by the St Paul’s Action Group to see relevant correspondence relating to St Paul’s Church under the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act had been refused.   She said the St Paul’s group would like to know:-

  • How was the decision made to change the direction of the St Paul’s development from a community centre to a mixed use residential site?
  • Who made these decisions?
  • And why all the secrecy?

She said the brief for the project had been sent by the Vale Council to the Registered Social Landlords in January of 2017 [ when the Vale council was still in Labour control] but “this had included no assessment of the community needs at St Paul’s” . She asked why no one had attempted to look into “community thinking” in the area.

She then addressed the crucial financial issue on the project [which had only come to light for the first time in last month’s public meeting]   and asked why there were now plans to invest more Section 106 cash [ from Penarth Heights] in Belle Vue Park – whilst St Paul’s was being “downgraded”.  She asked “Is the community need greater in the affluent Belle Vie area than in the poorer St Paul’s area”

Ms Stokes Davies  said  that over he last 6 years there had been three obvious stages where community engagement would have been the right thing to do . She said the site had been “a long-standing headache for the council”  and it was “arguably easier not to engage the community”  but – she said- “that doesn’t make it right and it’s certainly not democractic”.

In conclusion she asked Penarth Town Councillors “as elected representative of the town  to exercise democratic vigilance here  on behalf of your constituents. Find out how it got to this stage without the community having any opportunity to engage and please do what you can to make it right”

Mr Tim Land – was one of the members of the public who spoke at the meeting

Tim Land – who had been involved last month’s public meeting on St Paul’s -criticised the consultation process carried out by White Young Green WYG the consultants who are working with the housing association Newydd  .  He said WYG had the “commerical obejctive of securing planning approval for its clients” – and this had shaped the management of the consultation process.

Newydd – it turned out – had sent letters and questionnaires to only a very small proportion of local residents in a “leaflet-drop”delivered to only 120 homes (out of the many hundreds in the St Augustines Ward). This undersampling –   it was alleged – had produced a skewed result from which Newydd had claimed the development was “uncontroversial and that people were in favour of the proposals” . Following representations the firm had then distributed 500 further leaflets.- However Mr Land pointed out that there are actually well over 1,200 dwellings in a 500 metre radius of St Paul’s. “It is” – he said “one of the most densely populated areas of Penarth”.

Many residents – he said- had not received any consultation documents. He did not think that the consultation carried out to date properly understood  the purpose and functions of a community centre or has assessed the issue of the integration of more dwellings in the area.

Sarah Sweeney – who had co-chaired last month’s public meeting – then re-emphasised the inadequacy of the consultation process. She said Newydd were under the impression that the 2013 consultation – which had consisted of just 2 questions   – had identified local need  and “informed the community facilities element  of the brief”.

There had been “mixed messages and confusion around the council’s operations on St Paul’s “.

Ms Sweeney said she would like to ask the Penarth Town Councillors and the Vale Councillors (2 of whom were present)  to provide the people of St Augustine’s Ward with the open, comprehensive, inclusive community facilities consultation  that has been markedly absent in the area since the building of Penarth Heights and  closure of St Paul’s – and that this is done before any further planning is carried out on the St Paul’s proposal.

Cllr Mike Cuddy (Labour St Augustines) Leader of Penarth Town Council is a shareholder in the Newydd Housing Assocation which wants to re-develop St Paul’;s Church for social housing

Cllr Mike Cuddy (Labour St Augustines) L:eader of Penarth Town Council, who chaired last night’s meeting of  Penarth Town Council’s Democratic Services Committee said it was unusual for so many members of the public to be present at a copuncil committee meeting and hoped those present would come again

Cllr Cuddy had also declared an interest in the matter saying that he was “once and for many years” a member of the Newydd Housing Association and said he was still a “share member” in the Association.

He said  “This does not mean I make any money out of it.” It was necessary to have a shareholding if one was to “attend AGMs  and participate in any vote that takes place”  .

 

 

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11 Responses to LABOUR EVADED PUBLIC CONSULTATION ON ST PAUL’S CHURCH – PENARTH CLLRS ARE TOLD

  1. Penarth resident says:

    Dear penarth daily news. please can you correct a few things in your article. It was actually between March 2015 and Feb 2017 that there were no cabinet meetings about st Paul’s. Also. The first speaker was actually called Kate Stokes Davies not Katherine Russell.

  2. Philip Rapier says:

    This is now should be a matter for investigation by the Ombudsman and the residents should submit a complaint without delay.

  3. Anne Greagsby says:

    If the ombudsman wasn’t so bias for labour it would be worthwhile.

  4. Geoff Skinner says:

    I must laugh at the assurance given by the then Cabinet Member for Regeneration that a proper public engagement would be given even though it was a fete-compli
    This is what happened with the railway path, she promised full public consultation, then it turned out it was a few posters in the Paget Rooms explaining what WOULD HAPPEN LIKE IT OR NOT
    So much for public engagement!

  5. Paul Fenton says:

    Isn it nice to see someone like Kate Stoke Davies to take the effort, professionalism and preparation to question all parties concerned of how the previous Vale of Glamorgan Council came to their decision to basically change from a community based building ending up as a mixed use residential site and who made these decisions behind closed doors. To be perfectly honest the whole thing stinks. Why all this secrecy? Who made the decision to refuse the request to answer the Freedom of Information questions?
    It was reassuring to see that Cllr Sivaruby Sivagnanam Labour St Augustine’s – an employee of Labour MP Stephen Doughty present as I’m sure she will be reporting back to Mr Doughty and giving him a full brief of what happened in this meeting as it is such an important subject in his constituency. Let’s hope we see him getting involved and see if he supports the St Pauls Action Group on this important community subject. Unfortunately I suspect he’s more involved in his obsession with Anti – Brexit than local issues in his constituency.
    Finally I fully accept what Cllr Cuddy has said but personally don’t feel happy that he can possibly be impartial on this subject when he is a shareholder in the Newydd Housing Association which actually wants to re- develop St Pauls Church.I personally feel it very strange for him to to chair this meeting bearing in mind his connection with Newydd Housing Association. Hopefully Mr Cuddy can give assurances that he was not present or in anyway connected with the decision making process in any of the ‘ secret meetings’ and he does not stand to gain any monetary benefit. Also that he was not in any way involved in the refusal to grant information requested of the request the Freedom of Information.
    The quicker the minutes of all meetings involved in the decision making are disclosed as its got all the signs of ‘Penarth’s Watergate’

    • Penileaks says:

      Yes, it was good to hear Kate, Tim and Sarah speak and good points they all made, but despite all the questions contained in their speeches, none were answered, nor will they be.
      To those Councillors present on Wednesday night, allowing members of the public to speak was purely a tick box exercise to allow them to say that they had listened to the local community, just like the recent exhibition in the Paget Rooms and the circulation of questionnaires by WYG. Decisions have already been made and unless someone can find some long buried radioactive material under the St Pauls site, what the Labour controlled VoG have had planned for this site for many years, will go ahead. The current VoG council will not change anything because they can now tick two boxes, the one for providing more social housing and the one for blaming the previous Labour controlled council of getting them into this position of having to allow the demolition and redevelopment of this site because now it is in such a poor state.
      The meeting that was held in the Ex-Serviceman’s Club a few weeks ago was also mostly a waste of time.
      It was held under the impression that the re-development of St Pauls for social housing was inevitable. There was a vote on whether the attendees considered the church should be retained solely as a community centre/Boxing Club/Gym Club, but despite there being a fairly large vote in favour of that (as there was in the postal referendum in the locality some years ago), that was passed over and the discussions then all centred around what was actually going to go on the site.
      So, it appears to me that the local community, the local council and the Vale council have all accepted that the site will be developed into social housing and any fight by the likes of Nick Chandler and others is useless sadly. Continuing to ask questions on how this came to be is a waste of time.
      The whole debacle has been a betrayal by our local and Vale councillors and we as voters and members of the local community should remember how we have been steamrollered and when the re-development is complete and the cars that the possible 33 residents plus visitors will not have (according to Newydd), clog our surrounding streets and lanes, the community centre that cannot be used for anything noisy and only between 9 – 7pm for anything at all because of the proximity of the residents living behind the community area and the amenity area to the rear becomes the new meeting place for all and sundry of an evening, some in the area might regret rolling over and accepting what is coming, instead of supporting Mr Chandler and others in their valiant attempts to retain the building for clubs and societies that support our children particularly, in doing something constructive and healthy with their spare time.

      • Kate says:

        I hear a lot of people feel let down, as you rightly say Penileaks. But if we do nothing to hold the decision-makers to account, doesn’t that mean they’re off the hook with no consequences? We have no idea yet what the outcome will be, but we know that the community still cares about St Paul’s, still wants a democratic voice in its future and is fed up with being ignored.

      • Penileaks says:

        I agree with some of what you say Kate, but when you say ‘We have no idea yet what the outcome will be……..’, I think that we do, don’t we ?
        It WILL become social housing when it should have been the home for the Penarth Gym Club – who have done wonderful work with children in this town for so many years and have been pushed from pillar to post by various Vale Councils, to the point that they are now struggling to survive at all – and the Penarth Boxing Club, plus other sports such as Table Tennis, Badminton, dancing, etc., with the opportunity to provide most, if not all of these, now to be lost in this location.
        The money is available to restore the facilities there if the Vale chose to go down that route, but it seems that all concerned – Penarth Council, Vale Council, local residents, have all accepted that this will not now happen.
        Messrs Roberts and Burnett + others, should hold their heads in shame, but they won’t, they will be smug in the fact that they have managed to provide social housing on this site, by fair means or foul.
        Still, look on the bright side, some of those kids that have been denied the facilities that could have been provided here, can always be housed there when they start their rehabilitation from drink, drugs and prison in later life !

  6. Kevin Lawrence says:

    Really pleased that this matter is finally getting the publicity it deserves. Living in a street 60 second walk from St Pauls I was shocked not to have any letters or leaflets from Newydd or WYG. This has been the best kept secret for years. Welcome PDN for your coverage.

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