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20200420a-EM-RICD-NPTC-CLEA-contam2008

Dear Councillor Jones,

We would like to formally raise our concerns regarding the historical handling of contamination at Heol Y Glyn, Glynneath; in which we believe that the council has not upheld its responsibilities with relation to the Environmental Protection Act 1990:

"Every local authority shall cause its area to be inspected from time to time for the purpose-

(a) of identifying contaminated land; and

(b) of enabling the authority to decide whether any such land is land which is required to be designated as a special site."


EVIDENCE OF CONTAMINATED LAND (2008) PROVIDED TO NPTC - 5/4/2020

In an email dated 5/4/2020, to which you were copied, we provided you with evidence from the Geo-Technical and Geo-Enviromental Report (20080500a-DO-TFIR-geo.rpt.cuddy) (prepared for Moore Knight Limited) and submitted to your planning department for planning application P2008/1462; that the ground on the proposed Enzo development (P2020/0195); was in 2008 found to be contaminated. The potential receptors for this contamination included neighbouring site users (local residents) and passers-by (local residents out walking, cycling, tourists to the area etc). Two of those contaminants, Benzo[a]pyrene and Arsenic are classified as grade 1 carcinogens; which means they can cause cancer.

REQUEST FOR INFORMATION - 5/4/2020

The email of this date was directed to Councillor Del Morgan and your planning department and we asked the following question:

"…please can you both provide evidence of how you worked together to ensure the removal of the land identified as contaminated in 2008 from the same area?"  20200405a-EM-RICD-NPTC-enzo14

INFORMATION PROVIDED BY NPTC

We have yet to hear from Councillor Del Morgan (Glynneath) but Steve Ball of your planning department has replied with the following statement on behalf of the NPTC:

"You also refer to the 2008 ground investigation which concluded that there was evidence of contamination. In response, I would wish to emphasise that the presence of contamination on sites is incredibly common on land within Neath Port Talbot, and this matter is routinely addressed in consultation with our specialists on land contamination matters, as well as in responses from Natural Resources Wales (NRW). In this respect it is important to understand that the presence of contamination does not make land “a danger to residents”. 20200409a-EM-NPTC-RICD-enzo16

The planning officer neglects to reference or provide any information with regard to a 2008 ground investigation; and launches directly into his personal opinions ("I would wish to emphasise") and present day generic processes ("in consultation with") about contaminated land; therefore, until evidence is provided otherwise, we have assumed that your council did nothing about the contaminated land that was identified in the previously mentioned 2008 survey. His personal opinion that the land is not “a danger to residents” conflicts with the evidence submitted in the 2008 survey/report on the land which states the potential receptors are neighbouring site users and passers-by. This being the case, the following carcinogens (Benzo[a]pyrene and Arsenic) are still present at the site.

FURTHER INFORMATION REFUSED (TWICE)

As you will see from the above response to the question asked, the planning officer Steve Ball avoided the relevant question. The question was about the actions of the planning department and County  Councillor Del Morgan in 2008, whereas the answers were his personal opinions and the current 2020 processes of the planning department. Later in this email he refused to provide further information on the subject should we request it:

"I also trust that the above detailed response covers matters raised to date, and that you will be able to restrict further communications to representations raising your main issues of your concerns relating to the application in question." (Steve Ball, NPTC Planning Officer email dated 9/4/2020)

This follows on from his previous refusal to provide information on 2/4/2020

"I must advise that we will no longer be able to respond to your requests for information or respond to your questions." (Steve Ball, NPTC Planning Officer email dated 2/4/2020)

This is the reason why, as the council leader we copied you to the directed question on 5/4/2020; so that you could either provide an answer yourself or delegate the responsibility down the council chain of command because the appropriate department had refused to answer it. 

NPTC CODE OF CONDUCT

I would refer you at this point to the reply of that email by the Planning Officer, Steve Ball and also to the NPT Council "Policy Statement and General Principles of Code of Conduct" which states: 

"The public is entitled to expect the highest standards of conduct from all employees…… The role of such employees is to serve the Authority in providing advice, implementing its policies, and delivering services to the local community. In performing their duties, they must act with integrity, honesty, impartiality and objectivity. Public confidence in the Authority and in an employee's integrity would be shaken if the least suspicion were to arise that an employee could in any way be influenced by improper motives." 

Openly ignoring and refusing to address our legitimate concerns regarding planning at the Heol Y Glyn development brings into question the planning departments integrity, impartiality and objectivity. This behaviour constitutes a breach of your code of conduct and erodes our confidence in the council. We should expect that in future communications that our concerns are not ignored in the same way the concerns regarding contamination and other issues have been systematically ignored in the past.

NPTC LEGAL REQUIREMENT & PUBLIC PROTECTION STATEMENT

To refer back to the Environment Protection Act 1990, your Environment Strategy publication also dated 2008 states that the NPTC have had a legal responsibility towards contaminated land since 2001. It is recorded that you also had a Contaminated Land Team in situ in 2008. 

In the "What we will do" section relating to contaminated land, your council said in 2008 that your aim was:

"To identify, remove and prevent significant harm occurring from contaminated land to people, property, animals and the environment"

This publication also states that:

"Council owned and privately owned land are always treated in the same manner." 

This being the case, it would seem from the planning department's response to the question is that they have provided evidence of negligence within that department. That is; in 2008, the NPTC Planning Department failed to report identified contaminated land to the Contaminated Land Team.

We would welcome a response from the Neath-Port Talbot Council leader Rob Jones and also the Glynneath Town Council leader Simon Knoyle (copied to this email) on: 

• What (if any) procedures were in place for the planning department to report contaminated land to the appropriate department or relevant authorities in 2008? 

• We would also request any evidence to suggest that these guidelines were followed or any evidence that the contamination was dealt with and/or investigated if at all? 

• If no evidence can be provided we would like the council's response as to what can be done to remediate this? 

• What steps will now be taken to properly investigate and record the contamination? 

• Finally what steps the council will now take to address the contamination at this land?

We would also welcome an answer to the previously unanswered question directed to Councillor Del Morgan and the Planning Department:

• "… please can you both provide evidence of how you worked together to ensure the removal of the land identified as contaminated in 2008 from the same area?"

regards - Dai Richards

(on behalf of the Glynneath residents "say enz-NO" group)

cc - Cllr Haulwen Jones (Glynneath Town Council) to this email for the purpose of printing this information and placing it on record with the Glynneath Town Council.

20200420a-EM-NPTC-CLEA-RICD-contam2008

Dear Mr Richards,

I acknowledge receipt of your email and will pass it to the relevant officers to be included in the planning applications report.

I feel I need to point out to you certain information as a result of the content of your email.

Planning is a non-executive function of the authority and as such I do not get involved in its decision making or process at an executive level for the purpose of preventing accusations of unfair process by members of the executive. You are however always at liberty to appeal any decision made by the authority through application to appeal to the planning inspectorate ( an independent body not connected to the authority) or Judicial review (the courts)

I note your referral to Glynneath town council. They have no statutory decision making powers or can interfere with the planning process of the county borough. They are statutory consultees in the process only. (as such they should act in the best interests of the people of Glynneath if the planning department are or have been negligent they should point this out to the council)

Finally you make serious allegation against a senior member of the planning department of the County Borough in relation to a breach of the Officers Code of Conduct, within your email. I must refer this matter to an appropriate officer within the authority to deal with, and you will be contacted by them in due course. As a result of your allegation you have now prevented me from responding either now or in the future with the points you raise (can he provide evidence that clarifies this), as you have placed me in this position by your accusation of the officer.

Yours - Cllr R Jones, Leader of the Council

20200424a-EM-NPTC-RICD-contam2008

Subject: RE: Are Neath-Port Talbot Council contravening the Environmental Protection Act 1990?

Dear Mr Richards,

Further to your email below (dated 19th April 2020) directed to the Leader of this Council, I write to confirm that your complaint has now been passed to me to conduct an investigation into the matters you raise.

I will endeavour to provide you with a written response on the findings of my investigation within 20 working days. If this however proves to be not possible, I will keep you informed in writing of the progress of the investigation and provide you with a revised date for the completion of the investigation.

With regards – Ceri.  -  Mr Ceri Morris

Head of Planning and Public Protection - Neath Port Talbot Council  -  Tel / Ffôn: 01639 686681  -  c.morris1@npt.gov.uk

20200428a-EM-RICD-NPTC-CLEA-contam3

Subject: The Council Leader's error of judgement

28/4/2020

Dear Council Leader,

In our email of 19/4/2020 we informed you that your council has known that our families have probably been living next to land contaminated with the classified grade 1 carcinogens Arsenic and Benzo[a]pyrene since 2008. Our email clearly stated that its purpose was to gather further information about the actions your council took following the identification of these carcinogens in the vicinity of our properties and what assurances your council would give on the remediation of the land if they still exist on the site.

Your email received on 20/4/2020 states that you "passed our email on to be included in the current planning application". The purpose of our email was clear in its intentions, to raise our concerns and identify the actions of your council in 2008 following the identification of the contaminated land. Its purpose was not a planning objection.

We would suggest you look at the purpose of your council and its values as written in your council's corporate plan, to which you wrote the foreword, these include:

"We will conduct the work of the Council in an open and accessible way, ensuring we are properly accountable for the decisions we make."

Your reply clearly misses the point of our email and what worries us as a group is that your email has followed the same pattern of those received from your planning department. You have avoided the relevant questions we have asked; and in return you have responded with irrelevant information and have also refused to correspond with us in the future. This we believe provides further evidence of your council's failure in its 'duty of care' to the residents of Glynneath. You actions show a complete lack of empathy for the life threatening situation in which your council has placed our families; and it could be suggested by some that you are attempting to brush your council's negligent actions under the carpet.

You have clearly made an error of judgement with your actions relating to our email and it is possible you have been ill advised to take this course of action. With this in mind we are offering you one last opportunity to answer the questions set to you in our email dated 19/4/2020 before we start the complaints process against you personally.

I trust this email finds you safe and well, our initial email follows:

regards - Dai Richards

(on behalf of the Glynneath residents "say enz-NO" group)

20200428a-EM-RICD-NPTC-complaint-no

Dear Mr Morris

Further to your email dated 24/4/2020,

We refer to the council leader's final paragraph in his email of 20/4/2020 in which he states.

"Finally you make serious allegation against a senior member of the planning department of the County Borough in relation to a breach of the Officers Code of Conduct, within your email. I must refer this matter to an appropriate officer within the authority to deal with, and you will be contacted by them in due course. As a result of your allegation you have now prevented me from responding either now or in the future with the points you raise, as you have placed me in this position by your accusation of the officer"

We should make you aware that the purpose of our email to the Council Leader was to inform the council leader of the actions of his council in 2008 and to gather further information about the council actions at this time, not to make a complaint. If you refer to the opening paragraph:

"We would like to formally raise our concerns regarding the historical handling of contamination at Heol Y Glyn, Glynneath; in which we believe that the council has not upheld its responsibilities with relation to the Environmental Protection Act 1990:"

We are confused that the council leader should consider this a complaint because if you re-read our email you will see that we do not make any allegations against any individual within the planning department during the email. What we did was we provided information about the actions of the planning department and gave our opinions about why we believe they made these actions. The council leader has taken these opinions as allegations against a senior officer. This is not the case, if we were to make allegations against an individual with the NPTC we will use the correct complaints procedure and identify the email as a complaint. We would not complain direct to the Council Leader.

We refer again to the council leader's final paragraph in which he states:

"As a result of your allegation you have now prevented me from responding either now or in the future with the points you raise, as you have placed me in this position by your accusation of the officer"

We are sure that some people, when viewing the council leader's statement would consider that the council leader has considered our email as a complaint so that he is able to avoid our questions and refuse to deal with us again in future, and that he only mentions allegations against a senior officer so that he can ignore the possible negligence of his council in 2008 as identified by our email. It may be that someone has ill advised him on this course of action because clearly it is an error of judgement.

We refer you to one of the council's 'values' in the Neath-Port Talbot Council Corporate Plan 2019-2022 which states:

"We will conduct the work of the Council in an open and accessible way, ensuring we are properly accountable for the decisions we make."

The council leader has been informed of a serious breach of protocol between two of the council's departments and has done nothing to investigate our concerns. He is accountable for this decision; however we are giving him an opportunity to change it.

We have copied this email to the Council leader and will now re-send our original email to him so that he can answer the questions we asked. If he refuses to answer our email or fails to answer these questions in his reply then it is plainly obvious that he, like the planning department, lack integrity at which point we will start the complaints process against the Council Leader in the correct manner.

I trust that this email finds you safe and well.

regards - Dai Richards

(on behalf of the Glynneath residents "say enz-NO" group)

Distribution:

Mr Ceri Morris, NPTC Head of Planning and Public Protection,
Mr Rob Jones, NPTC Council Leader,
Mr Del Morgan, NPTC County Councillor,
Mr Simon Knoyle, NPTC County Councillor,
Glynneath Town Council,

Dear Mr Richards,

I acknowledge your receipt of the below email.

In your email of the 19th April 2020, you refer to a number of concerns regarding the Council where you feel that it has not upheld its responsibilities in relation to the Environmental Protection Act 1990 and as part of this, I note that you highlight concerns that an officer has not answered a question that has been raised to him. This would require investigation and even though you do not class it as a complaint, it would be appropriate for the Council to deal with the same via its Complaints process to ensure your views can be considered and responded to accordingly in an open and transparent manner. A Head of Service has been appointed to oversee this investigation and respond to you to demonstrate the seriousness as to how the Council takes such matters and to ensure your views are considered in detail.

In the response of the Leader of the 20th April 2020, it was of course highlighted Planning is a non-executive function of Neath Port Talbot Council and as such the Leader would not get involved in its decision making or process at an executive level for the purpose of preventing accusations of unfair process by members of the executive. It is appropriate therefore for your concerns to be forwarded to officers of the Council to investigate and respond to you accordingly.

As highlighted, you are however always at liberty to appeal any decision made by the authority through application to appeal to the planning inspectorate (an independent body not connected to the authority) or Judicial review (the courts). However, I trust that the response that will be issued by myself in due course will provide you with the information and assurances that you require. You will also be entitled to refer any complaint you have concerning my response to the Public Service Ombudsman for Wales.

If you have concerns regarding the Leader, you are welcome to raise the same with the Council’s Monitoring Officer, who will advise you of potential actions that might be open to you.

Please be assured however that a full response will be provided to you in due course which I trust will provide the appropriate assurances you require.

With regards – Ceri.

20200428a-EM-NPTC-RICD-griffiths-intro

Dear Mr Richards

By way of introduction my name is Craig Griffiths and I am the Council’s Head of Legal Services and Monitoring Officer.

Your recent emails have been forwarded to myself and I am presently in discussion with the Council’s Head of Planning and Public Protection as I understand he has been tasked to investigate your concerns and respond to you accordingly.

In your email of the 19th April 2020, I see that you refer to a number of concerns regarding the Council where you feel that it has not upheld its responsibilities in relation to the Environmental Protection Act 1990. I also note you have identified some times where you have not been provided with the requisite information from officers and clarification that you have required which in turn is contrary to recognised Codes of Conduct.

Although not specifically addressing this as a complaint, it was felt that to ensure that you have a detailed response to your concerns, it would be appropriate for the Council to deal with the same via its Complaints process to ensure your views can be considered and responded to accordingly in an open and transparent manner. It would also provide you with the avenue to pursue any appeal to the Public Service Ombudsman for Wales should you then wish to do so.

The Head of Planning and Public Protection is specifically overseeing this to demonstrate the seriousness as to how the Council takes such matters and to ensure your views are considered in detail.

In the response of the Leader of the 20th April 2020, it was of course highlighted Planning is a non-executive function of Neath Port Talbot Council and as such the Leader would not get involved in its decision making or process at an executive level for the purpose of preventing accusations of unfair process by members of the executive. This is line with legislative requirements that stipulate the role of the planning process.

Accordingly, it is appropriate for your concerns to be forwarded to officers of the Council to investigate and respond to you accordingly, which has now been actioned. This is line with the Council’s standard practice. It would be inappropriate for the Leader of Council or any other member of the Council’s executive to respond on allegations or concerns in respect of issues concerning officers as this will be considered as part of the response given to you.

If you wish to pursue a complaint against the Leader then there is a process that must be followed. There first needs to be a referral to the Public Service Ombudsman for Wales who will determine whether there is a case to answer against individual Councillors, who in turn will then refer the matter to the Standards Committee of Neath Port Talbot Council to determine. As Monitoring Officer, unfortunately I am not able to make that referral in my own right. In order to make the complaint you need to visit the website www.ombudsman.wales and follow the process there for registering a complaint.

However, the response from the Head of Planning and Public Protection will hopefully provide you with any assurances that you require and will I hope negate any concerns you might have concerning the Council’s approach in this matter.

Yours sincerely

Mr Craig Griffiths - Head of Legal Services - Neath Port Talbot County Borough Council

20200428a-EM-RICD-NPTC-comp-griffiths

Dear Mr Griffiths, I would refer you to a recent email I sent Mr Morris reference his earlier communication,........... (forwarded Ceri Morris email from earlier in the day - 20200428a-EM-RICD-NPTC-complaint-no  - CLICK HERE)

20200504a-EM-NPTC-RICD-contam2008 (Our notes in red - only a partial analysis of this document has been completed - this is a backup - original analysis on FIRST AND LAST - CLICK HERE)

Dear Mr Richards,

Further to your correspondence below, please find attached my letter of response – I trust you will find my comments of assistance.

The Council has treated your concerns as a Stage 2 Complaint under our Complaints Process. Although you have not deemed your concerns a complaint, it was felt that this was the best process to consider your concerns and to ensure you had a response on the issues you raised.

In the event you are dissatisfied, you are of course able to make a referral the Public Service Ombudsman for Wales via their website (www.ombudsman.wales).

With regards – Ceri.

The letter was attached as a .pdf - the information from the .pdf is contained below.................

Mr D Richards, On behalf of: Glynneath Residents “say enz-NO” Group

BY EMAIL ONLY

Dear Mr Richards,

Re: Heol Y Glyn, Glynneath – Are Neath Port Talbot Council contravening the
Environmental Protection Act 1990?

In your email of the 19th April 2020 directed to the Leader of Neath Port Talbot Council (“the Council”), you refer to a number of concerns where you feel the Council has not upheld its responsibilities in relation to the Environmental Protection Act 1990 and as
part of this, you highlighted concerns in regard to the conduct of my Development Manager, Mr Steve Ball, specifically the handling of the (current) planning application at the above mentioned site and the fact that Mr Ball had not answered questions that had
been raised with him. In line with the Council’s protocols, these concerns were forwarded to me for me to consider and respond to you accordingly. As Head of Service, I was appointed to oversee this investigation and respond to you to demonstrate the seriousness as to how the Council takes such matters and to ensure your views are considered in detail.
Notwithstanding the fact that in a subsequent email to myself (dated 28th April 2020), you indicated that you did not wish to make a complaint, I have since advised that the matters you have raised in your email of 19th April would nevertheless require investigation in order to ensure your views can be considered in an open and transparent manner. As part of my investigation, I have held discussions with all relevant officers and reviewed the extensive and continued correspondence that you have submitted to the
Planning Department in respect of the current planning application associated with the Heol Y Glyn site.

Dealing first with the conduct of Mr Ball, you have referred to the ‘Policy Statement and General Principles of Code of Conduct’ which states:

"The public is entitled to expect the highest standards of conduct from all employees……The role of such employees is to serve the Authority in providing advice, implementing its policies, and delivering services to the local community. In performing
their duties, they must act with integrity, honesty, impartiality and objectivity. Public confidence in the Authority and in an employee's integrity would be shaken if the least suspicion were to arise that an employee could in any way be influenced by improper motives”.

I note that you then state that Mr Ball has been ‘openly ignoring and refusing to address [your] legitimate concerns regarding planning at Heol Y Glyn’ and allege that this ‘brings into question the planning departments integrity, impartiality and objectivity’ and
‘constitutes a breach of your code of conduct [which] erodes [your] confidence in the Council’. You have further inferred in your email that Mr Ball is not ‘impartial’ because he has stated that he sees ‘no reason why matters of land contamination cannot be
addressed in the usual manner through imposition of conditions’. (if the NPTC were to impose conditions on the site then they should have done so in 2008 when the contamination was first discovered and not then allowed the Cuddy Group to submit a new survey without chemical testing)

In response, I would advise that Mr Ball is a highly qualified and respected Planning Officer with considerable experience of the Development Management process, and I am wholly satisfied that both in general terms, and on this case in particular, that he has
and continues to uphold the highest standard of conduct at all times. (personal opinions)

While I note that Mr Ball has advised you that the Department would not be able to continue to respond to you, citing your continued and extensive correspondence, he has nevertheless sent you a very comprehensive email on 9th April 2020 seeking to address the issues you have raised. While you might disagree with Mr Ball, I consider this to be very good service on his part. Furthermore, I wish to advise that I am fully supportive of the general stance taken by Mr Ball to cease further responses to you and instead to deal with matters in the Department’s assessment of the application in question, not least because even in ‘normal’ times officers are unable to respond to emails on individual applications, and in these extraordinary times officers simply do not have the capacity to do so. I would also add that the comments made by Mr Ball in respect of land contamination are his professional views (professional views = personal opinions what chemical qualifications does he hold) at this time based on the information the Department has available, and based on his considerable experience and the fact that this site has an extant planning permission – i.e. material operations comprising the development or the use authorised by the permission at the site have been initiated before the time limits set by condition have expired. (he is using bullshit terminology because he is trying to confuse, there is no evidence of planning approval within the last 5 years)

Accordingly, I find that Mr Ball has undertaken his duties to date in a highly professional manner and that there has been no breach of any code of conduct. 

Turning specifically to the issue of land contamination at the site and whether the Council has historically contravened the Environmental Protection Act 1990, I would advise that this legislation no longer applies when a site is going through the planning
process; by definition therefore the Council has not at any point contravened its duties under this legislation, as it is not relevant once the planning process has commenced.

What is relevant however, is that through the planning process, the Council is required to address land contamination to ensure sites are safe and suitable for use after development has been completed. Mr Ball has already quite rightly drawn your attention
to the fact that these matters are routinely addressed throughout the process in consultation with the Council’s specialist officers on land contamination matters, as well as in responses from Natural Resources Wales (NRW).

I note that the Geo-Technical and Geo-Environmental Report to which you refer, which supported planning application P2008/1462, did find low levels of contamination (personal opinions what chemical qualifications does he hold) and concluded that clean cover should be provided in residential gardens which would mitigate all risk posed by any contamination present at the site.

As part of ongoing consideration of the current application therefore, my officers will be giving full regard to all available information, and given the date of the historical report referenced above, will need to make a judgement call as to whether a new updated study is required. 

In conclusion, while I appreciate that you are concerned about the development of the site in question, and wish to ensure that matters such as contamination and wider impacts on amenity are appropriately considered, I am wholly satisfied that a decision
on the application will be made in due course in an open and transparent manner, and that all matters raised will be appropriately considered through the determination process. 

Furthermore, I would note that the application has been ‘called-in’ by your local Members for a decision by members of the Planning Committee and through their review of the report (which would be publicly available for inspection in advance) they will ensure that they are satisfied that local concerns are adequately addressed before reaching their decision.

Should however you consider at a later stage that the Local Planning Authority has failed to act properly, then it would be open to you to raise this first as a formal complaint to the Council and then, if you remain dissatisfied, to the Public Services Ombudsman. Alternatively you are of course able to pursue a judicial review of the Council’s decision. However, please be assured all legal and procedural processes will be complied with in decision making.

At this time however, I reiterate that I am wholly satisfied with the conduct of my officers and of their ongoing assessment of the application in question. Moreover that when the application is reported to members of the Planning Committee in future (in whatever
form that exists at the time due to Covid-19), I am confident that your concerns will be appropriately addressed in their report and, in the event of a positive recommendation, in any relevant conditions they would recommend are imposed.

Finally, while writing, I would wish to reiterate the advice given by Mr Ball that the Department will no longer respond to your requests for information or respond to your questions. Instead, I give you the assurance that any representations you make or have 
made expressing any issues or concerns with the development will be considered as part of our assessment of the application in question.

I trust you will find my response of assistance. The Council has treated your concerns as a Stage 2 Complaint under our Complaints
Process. Although you have not deemed your concerns a complaint, it was felt that this was the best process to consider your concerns and to ensure you had a response on the issues you raised.

In the event you are dissatisfied, you are of course able to make a referral the Public Service Ombudsman for Wales via their website (www.ombudsman.wales). 

Yours sincerely, - Mr Ceri Morris - Head of Planning and Public Protection

 

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