I return to a local issue in Montgomeryshire, which I believe is of national significance. Firstly, because it concerns a hugely controversial conflict between protecting a Grade 2 listed building from flooding, and increasing the risk of flooding to several neighbouring properties. And secondly, because potentially, costs in excess of £1,000,000 may have to be paid out by the taxpayer. The issue involves the Pool Quay Argae - a saga about the rebuilding of a flood embankment by the owner of Trewern Hall, near Pool Quay in Montgomeryshire.
Lets recap. Some time ago, permissions relating to the raising of this argae were refused by the Environment Agency and by Powys County Council. There was much courtroom activity which led to various refusals and a conviction against Thomas Till, the agent representing the owner. Eventually, an appeal was made to Welsh Ministers under Section 110 of the Water Resources Act. An Inspector was appointed and the Inquiry sat for 9 days, after which the Inspector recommended in favour of the appellant. He also criticised the Environment Agency and awarded full costs to all those involved with bringing the appeal. The Minister accepted the Inspector's recommendations. My first blog on this issue attracted some criticism. I was thought to have been too harsh on the EA. This time I will remain absolutely factual. You can make up your own minds.
I'm copying from what's called the 'Disclosure Log' which has been made public following a FOI request. The following quotes are from the Civil Service's report to the Minister, advising her on what response she should make following the Inspector's Report to her.
Page 5, para 19 - "The Inspector's overall conclusion was that the benefits of providing improved protection against flooding to Trewern Hall, a building of national importance, are so great that they outweigh the slightly increased risks caused to other properties in the area".
Page 5, para 20 - "He considered that the Agency's unreasonable behaviour resulting in unnecessary expense......had been demonstrated and he therefore concluded that a full award of costs to the appellant is justified".
Page 7, para 31 - "In his Report, the Inspector highlighted flaws in the Agency's handling of the consent application.........This represents an important failure on the part of the EA..."
Page 7, para 32 - "The Inspector highlighted......There can be no reasonable excuse for the Agency's failure to take into account the benefits to the listed building, a matter which I found in my main conclusions to be of such importance as to outweigh all other matters."
Page 8, para 33 - "The Inspector also stated that the Agency also failed to take into account the detrimental effects of the work.......This represents yet another shortcoming in the EA's decision making process."
Page 8, para 34 - "Officials are concerned at the shortcomings in the Environment Agency's procedures as evidenced by the Inspector's Reports.....officials consider that these shortcomings...mean that the consideration by the Agency of the scheme put to it was was flawed and inadequate and cannot be considered to be reasonable in the circumstances....Officials propose to write to Environment Agency pointing out the flaws in its procedures and asking them what steps the Agency is taking to remedy the situation."
Page8, para 35 & 36 - "Officials agree with the Inspector......Officials note the Inspector's analysis and conclusions....and see no reason to disagree with them."
Page 9, para 46 - "officials agree with the Inspector that the refusal of the consent was unreasonable."
The allowing of the appeal did not mean that planning permission was granted. So a planning application was submitted to Powys County Council. The Council did not deal with the application as quickly as the applicants considered reasonable, so they went ahead anyway, and raised the Argae without permission. And that's where things stand today. The Argae has been raised, many local families are furious, and the taxpayer is going to be clobbered big-time. This blog will try to find out what the final costs to the taxpayer is - but it will be difficult. I may never find out how much the Environment Agency have to pay out to the appellants - and I don't suppose the Agency will ever tell us what it's own costs were. My guess is that we're talking about a million pounds. If I do find out, you'll be able to read it here.