All legal avenues, to stop Monmouthshire County Council closing Abergavenny Livestock Market and selling the site to Morrisons, have now closed. With great sadness, the KALM group has withdrawn its appeals. This is terribly sad news for the town. The Council’s plan will have disastrous effects on the town, its local businesses and the surrounding communities. The thousands of people and local groups who oppose it remain utterly at a loss as to how the Council can justify it.
Meanwhile, the Welsh education inspectorate, ESTYN, has just reported on Monmouthshire’s education performance. They have judged it ‘unsatisfactory’ and Monmouthshire is facing ‘special measures’. What is clear from the Inspectors’ report is that Monmouthshire County Council suffers from deep-rooted and systemic failings in leadership, scrutiny and accountability. The exact same patterns of poor performance as we’ve seen in the market saga are endemic across the whole of the Council leadership.
And whilst the Welsh Government has acted swiftly to deal with education failings, we remain at a loss as to why it has declined to be ‘more curious’ (to use the phrase popularised by Leveson, the Savile Inquiry and others) about what’s gone behind the Abergavenny Market story. Is it too late to hope that the latest scandal about ‘horsemeatgate’ has prompted a new realisation that sustainable food needs sustainable farming systems – and effective, transparent, rigorous democratic systems…?
As well as all that we’ve highlighted in our previous blogs, here’s another instance of the differences between what goes on inside the Council and what Cllrs Greenland and Fox say in public.
Minutes of the Monmouthshire County Council meeting of 28th January discussed the livestock market.
1. Almost none of the quotations which appeared in the Abergavenny Chronicle of 31st January appear in these Minutes. In particular, the Chronicle’s quote from Greenland saying, “Without granting the auctioneers the long-term lease for the replacement site we couldn’t have acquired the current site for redevelopment” doesn’t appear in the Minutes. Do the Chronicle reporters attend meetings or do they rely on press releases or quotes supplied by the Council? So much for investigative reporting in Abergavenny.
2. The substantive motion that was approved by Council (page 4 of the Minutes) clearly specifies “only the funding of a livestock market, fit for purpose and compliant with current standards. Any additional facilities that are deemed to be useful should be provided from sources other than Monmouthshire County Council, or at a rate to provide a commercial return to the Council.” This is NOT the ‘state-of-the-art’ livestock market promised to the farmers. It is what could easily be provided on the present site by modernising it, and for less than the £5.5m now being quoted. What they are now promising is simply a tarted up version of what we already have, but moved 8 miles down the road to a greenfield site.
3. The substantive motion (p. 4) reneges on the ‘Memorandum of Understanding’ with the farming unions, which emerged during the CPO Inquiry in Jan 2012. That MoU promised to guarantee a market in the county for at least 50 years whether it was economically viable or not. This motion says, “Neither should the Council provide “open ended” support to run the market for the next 50 years, if it becomes apparent that the facility is no longer required by the farming industry.” We have always said the the MoU wasn’t worth the paper it was written on, but we didn’t expect to see the ‘about-face’ come so soon. Farmers unions and the auctioneers should reflect long and hard on what they’ve squandered in exchange for this weak commitment…
4. One of the bullet points – top of page 4 – says,
“Funding for the new market would not come from Council funds but from the sale of the current site.” This contradicts statements given to the CPO Inquiry that the £5M needed to build the market had been found from existing resources and was NOT dependent upon the sale to Morrisons.
5. A subsequent bullet point on page 4 says,
“In response to a question as to whether it would have been possible for the Council not to deal with Abergavenny auctioneers it was stated the AMAL had wanted the contract to run the new market.” What an utterly inadequate explanation of why ANMAL were awarded the contract to run Bryngwyn. What about competitive tendering? The fact that ANMAL wanted the contract is surely not sufficient reason as to why they were awarded it.
This whole saga has been characterised by secretive deals, and information withheld from voters at points when they could exercise their democratic choices. And also, it seems now, not disclosed to Councillors either, so they could exercise proper scrutiny. That Councillors have not done their own due diligence and asked better questions themselves is unfortunate. What IS clear is that the people leading this project, and who are responsible for properly briefing Council, have been, at best, economical with the evidence, in disclosing information to Councillors so that proper debate and scrutiny could be exercised.
The Council’s unwillingness to engage with its citizens who ask difficult questions is beautifully illustrated by this exchange between Phil Bowyer, who lives opposite the Market in Abergavenny, and Cllr Peter Fox, Council Leader. Peter sent a leaflet to farmers asking for their support (the response to which is highlighted in an earlier blog – in short, he didn’t get it). It took Phil 9 months and repeated prompts to get a reply to his letter. And when it eventually comes, it simply declines to answer any of the questions.
15th December 2011
Dear Councillor Fox,
I was very pleased to be given a copy of your leaflet.
After hearing on numerous occasions from supporters of the Bryngwyn project that the ‘silent majority’ is in favour, it was very pleasing to see you, as leader of MCC, actually asking people what they think.
Good initiative. Congratulations.
As you write, a livestock market as a permanent feature of our fantastic county …is non-negotiable. I could not agree with you more. Although I have different views about where it should be sited I agree with you that it is important to have a well informed debate about this.
So without going into too much detail about the content I would like to point out that there are a number of misleading statements
‘The current one is past its sell by date.’ It might have been helpful to point out that the MCC as the landlord of the current site has failed to carry out its responsibilities to ensure that the site is maintained and kept up to date.
‘The Council does not have the money to upgrade the current site.’ It might have been appropriate to point out (as you did to me in a previous correspondence) that you have never ‘considered ‘ this option.
Its a bit difficult to say the MCC does not have the money if it does not know what the price is and has never looked at means for financing the costs of upgrading the site.
‘Unloading/loading stock is a nightmare at the moment.’ It might have been appropriate to point out that the MCC has fenced off about a third of the available space including another entrance/ exit to the site. Like the lack of maintenance this looks like a self inflicted wound. Opening up the whole site and with a little traffic management the situation could be improved beyond recognition, I am sure you would agree.
‘Animal welfare and hygiene standards are not to the standards that we all want.’ It is a nice appeal to the animal lobby and difficult to argue against. We all want ensure that animals are treated properly.
Except of course that the situation is a result of MCC self imposed neglect and a proper upgrading of the site would solve the problem.
I was also wondering to whom the message was sent. I acquired it by accident but I assume (from the text of the message itself) it was targeted at a particular group of farmers. I am not sure which farmers. Was it those around Portskewett or those around Abergavenny who rely on the market – or all the farmers in Monmouthshire who use the market? And what about people like me who live next to the Abergavenny market or those who live close to the Bryngwyn site? Was it your intention to consult us?
I am afraid that after taking such a good initiative it might be spoiled by being rather restricted in terms of the people consulted.
You write at the end of the message ‘I need your support.’ Does that mean that this is a personal message? As a personal appeal, it is hardly appropriate that the MCC should be shown as having the copyright, is it?
Just one final observation. Towards the end of the message you wrote:
‘We all want to make sure that making this huge financial investment has your support.’ I take it that it is a Royal ‘we’, but more importantly if people are asked to support this ‘huge financial investment’ would it not be appropriate to tell people how much the investment is?
In that spirit I would ask you again:
1. How much has the MCC spent so far on the Bryngwyn project including the price of the land, architects, lawyers and other specialists fees?
2. How much more does it intend to invest in the Bryngwyn site overall?
3. Where can I find the business plan for the Bryngwyn market? Given the huge investment involved it might be easier for people to support it if they can see how much the market will make in revenue in the future, how maintenance will be ensured and paid for in order to avoid the neglect such as has occurred in Abergavenny.
4. How much did the leaflet ‘Your market etc..’ cost to produce and distribute and who is paying for it?
5. And finally when will you be publishing the results of this consultation? I think it could be interesting for everybody concerned.
Once again congratulations on a good initiative and sorry about the questions. I am sure you will agree it is best to clarify these issues so that people will know exactly what they are being asked to support.
When you publish the results of your enquiry, in case it was not clear, you should count me as one preferring to modernise the Abergavenny market and against the Bryngwyn project.
I hope to hear from you soon.
Philip Bowyer, Kings St, Abergavenny
14th September 2012
Hello Mr Bowyer
Sorry for the delay but thanks for your polite prompt.
Whilst it is correct that there is no legal impediment stopping us from making progress with our plans for the new market near Raglan the fact is that KALM are still pursuing legal actions against the council and I note your own quotes in the Chronicle this week and as such my position is as it was in my email of the 3rd February this year where I am unable to furnish you with the information you are asking for. I do look forward to being able to have a deeper conversation in due course.
Leader, Monmouthshire County Council