MID WALES HOSPITAL SCANDAL
/ Overall accountability of the Parks
disposal of the Mid Wales Hospital has been the subject of
much publicity Wales
on Sunday and the Western Mail and
a recent two year investigation by the Auditor
General for Wales (AGW). However, the inquiry was both partial and classic. Some
of the most crucial evidence and witnesses were eliminated from the inquiry on
the grounds that it was outside the remit and jurisdiction of
the AGW. This meant that the planning authority (Brecon Beacons National
Park - BBNPA ), who had a very direct role and involvement with the development
plans and evaluations of the site,
was not investigated or cross-examined. This particular
case is of relevance to the present
Government's Action Plan and LUC Parks Review as it reveals gaps in the system concerning
governance and accountability at all levels. It is not only the
accountability of the executive to the authority and public
that is in question , but also a need to define the formal or
informal differences between the
new arrangement with the assembly
minister and civil servants, and that of the old Welsh Office. What seems to be
lacking in the system are fire walls, as the Parks still appear to be
open and exposed to various
forms of abuse. This might include
veiled opportunities for political
and personal expediency, and the
undermining of the democratic system. The following case history illustrates
these possibilities in a number of different ways and asks if the present
government is going to put measures
in place to ensure that there are checks and balances,
that will work for the
DISPOSAL OF THE HOSPITAL
Mid Wales Hospital was sold in October 1999. It was closely related to the Welsh
Office/Assembly as they were the official owners. For a number of years it was
occupied and used by the local Health Authority as a mental health
hospital. The sale seemed to have had all the hall marks of inside
trading. It was sold to one of its
former chief medical
officers and his wife. Alun
Michael MP, who was the Secretary
of State for Wales and then the
Assembly First Minister, was
implicated with having a direct involvement with the disposal and sale to the
successful purchasers. Although this was later refuted,
it was found that all normal procedures ,
including sealed bids,
inventories and district valuations were abandoned by the authorities involved
with the disposal. The AGW investigation
also uncovered what appeared
to be a pay back scheme , whereby the Health Trust
compensation payment of £128,000 to
be paid to the new owners a few months after completion. This meant that
a 43 acre site with 200,000 square feet of
hospital buildings and floor space, plus 5 large family sized houses,
a chapel , tennis court and cricket pitch,
was bought for a cost of only £227,000
(two hundred and twenty seven thousand
PLANNING / BBNPA
a planning authority drafts a development plan
for a 43 acre employment zone and does not
consult with thirteen privately owned homes that adjoin
that site, then this could
be seen as a serious blunder. If this development plan is then officially
adopted by the LPA and then later
omitted from the Local Plan Inquiry process and not laid before the inspector,
then surely this is incompetence. Then if this planning authority is
commissioned to do local searches on an area by solicitors for
conveyancing purposes, and
the site's development plan fails to surface,
then it would seem the plan
was either lost or purposely hidden. Then
again, at a later date if the
development plan happens to surface
or is cross
referenced and implanted into one of the new
local plan policies as a material consideration, (with a caveat that the
inspector and authority had endorsed it), then this could amount to malfeasance
, especially if the document was not laid before the inspector in the first
Mid Wales Hospital planning brief was adopted as supplementary planning guidance
in April 1997. It was the precedent document and development plan for the
hospital site before the Local Plan superseded it in May 1999. This was also
the exact period in which the hospital site was put on the market . As we
have learnt this adopted development
plan appears to have been unavailable
and not placed in the public domain. However,
was used by the planning
authority in consultations with prospective purchasers , and by
the selling agents as part of the sale's package. The development plan
maintained that any proposals to
split the site up and change the uses of the 5 houses into normal private homes
would not be supported. The restrictions effectively
made the site worthless to developers. Therefore there was little
interest in it and it was virtually
impossible to sell. Then after the sale , (and
unbeknown to the prospective purchasers and other bidders ) ,
it transpired that many of
the BBNPA planning restrictions
were not a reality and did not
apply. Therefore, we are looking at
the possibility of people being
misled and a chance that there
might have been a collusion between the various authorities to deceive the
public, contain the 43 acre site as one entity, and
ensure its selling price was kept well below its potential value. Even though the AGW
were well aware of the evidence,
and the fact that an LPA's planning status of
land is totally interlinked with its value , they were still unable to investigate the planning
authority on the grounds that they were outside their remit. However, what
motives could have led or driven the authorities to such lengths of what appears
to be inappropriate actions ?
an adopted planning document is not placed in the public domain and made
accessible, then it can be assumed
that there was something to hide. The planning brief was a thorough document and
gave guidance on the acceptable future uses of the site . The only suggestion
that was onerous and potentially contentious
was for the site to be used
as a prison or remand centre. It would have been very suitable. With the
planning brief and local plan clauses in place
, (even though they now seem flawed and spurious),
obtaining planning permission for the hospital to become a secured premises
would have been virtually a
forgone conclusion. Perhaps the
authorities were trying to hide this from the local residents and community ?
During the late 1990's it was well known that Wales was under considerable
pressure from Whitehall to deliver
sites that could be secured. There was also the urgent and increasing need for
asylum seeker centres. It may well have been
a coincidence, but the
Secretary of State and First Minister Alun Michael MP was previously a Home
Office Minister. At the very least he would have been aware of the national
demand , and perhaps he was familiar with the
ear marked sites as well ? In addition
to this from 1996 - 1998 one
of Secretary of State Appointees to
the BBNPA was engaged as a senior
adviser in Bosnia, and was working alongside the UN, which has major responsibilities to
OFFICE / ASSEMBLY/ PARKS GOVERNANCE & ACCOUNTABILITY
may well ask :- Who was pulling the
strings ? Without a complete audit trail of all authorities and agencies
involved and placing them under
oath, this is difficult to prove.
However, there is no reason why the
Welsh Office/ Assembly estate's
division should not have been expedient , if they were doing their job and
trying to meet national
demands. Perhaps the BBNPA were merely trying to
oblige them, even though they may have been
breaking almost every rule
in the book. There could
have also been other and
more private forces at work. For a developer ,
a contract for a private prison, remand or ASD centre , would have been
very lucrative and worth well into tens of
£millions , with no
shortage of government assistance
that as it may, we need to look at
the present situation of governance
as well as the attached 'strings'
between the national parks and assembly government. On November the 3rd 2004 the
Minister Carwyn Jones announced in the assembly that his answer to
accountability was that he and his department
wanted closer contact and more meetings with the National Parks .
Will this be with officers or with the
authorities ? Will there be
a democratic representation of the authority present , or
will it consist of
assembly appointees and
officers only ? How formal will
this contact be with the government
, and what
protocols and procedures will they abide by ? And finally will the
minutes and agendas be placed in
the public domain ? What is
to make sure the system is
updated and there are no more loop holes left, and that all levels of governance connect and they are
accountable to each other. Finally is the present government willing to put
corrective measures in place to prevent the possibility of something
similar to the above ever happening again
MEETING WITH THE
the 2002 publication of the AGW report, and the Assembly Audit Committee's
inability to get to the roots of what went on, the local residents to the
hospital site conducted their own
investigation and audit trail of the BBNPA's
role in the planning and disposal of the hospital. Extensive
correspondence was also exchanged
and still the authority
failed to answer specific questions in a transparent manner. Finally the
group's former and present
MPs , Lord Livsey and Roger
Williams , responded and convened a meeting between the group and the authority.
The verbatim minutes with footnotes
are reproduced below.
FORUM: YOUR COMMENTS and Questions : (Click
MEETING AT BRECON BEACONS
on Friday 2 July 2004, 9.30am
Lord Livsey of Talgarth
Roger Williams MP (Brecon & Radnor)
CG.- Christopher Gledhill Chief
Executive, Brecon Beacons National Park
Mike Mullan (Local Resident)
three other Local Residents
10 local residents
Thank you to Chris for meeting us. Richard
will push us along.
The meeting is at your request to raise concerns, to find possible ways
to move forwards.
We are disappointed not to have Planning Officers here - why not?
And why no response to the
documentation and my email?
I only got it on Tuesday as
I had been away from the office. We are looking at the future, not the past.
We have used one and a half members of staff on this issue over the past
year. There has been the Auditor
General’s investigation ( into the disposal of the hospital ). A complaint to
the Ombudsman and this group's inquiries. We do have other work to do and staff
have other priorities to deal with today.
Let’s look at the statements from the past.
I will ask Neil Bally to start, but please keep it succinct
Starting at 2.3 :(in the Agenda notes)
These are the 3 items to be covered.
Inspector’s Local Plan Inquiry Report and its links to the Planning Brief.
proposed Modifications to Deposit Local Plan: the words “and the
brief” were put in without justification but with apparent endorsement of the
Inspector and the Authority.
Planning Brief Adoption: It did not
receive full public consultation -
they did not approach us.
You quoted that “a tremendous amount of time had been spent” which
that you must have made mistakes in the past.
1995-96 I was heavily involved with
Trades Union and the Hospital, and I knew
everything that was going on. I
never heard of a Planning Brief. Was
I will come back to that.
No-one saw any Planning Brief, therefore there was a lack of meaningful
consultation. This means that there
was therefore no emphasis whatsoever on
“The Inspector’s endorsement” and it being brought into the Local Plan.”
have the minutes to show the discussion with the Inspector?
There were things in the Planning Brief that we didn’t agree with and
we could have actually advised.
We could have eliminated developers having
for prison buildings or secured units, for example. This is the
issue.- our Deeds have Rights of Way and drains running through the site.
Modification HO8 and the suggested change SCHO5 - why
wasn’t it endorsed ?
I will come back to that.
There were 3 SCH05 changes - 2 are understandable, but one is alien.
I can’t find any reason for the phrase “and the planning brief”
being added to Talgarth 4 of the Local Plan. Is it legitimate ?
The Inspector’s Local Plan Inquiry. The Authority have stated that the
against the Planning Brief’s guidance.” You yourself (CG) have written that
“the Brief was removed by the Inspector not the Authority.” There are 3 or 4 strange things - on
page 92 of the Inspectors report (documentary evidence).
mention the Planning Brief at all or anywhere else in his report. 4
It is not
included on the programme officer’s list.
complete silence from the authority about the Planning Brief at the Inquiry. It
was officially adopted
just before in April 1997, then some official, some member of the
Authority, should have surely
said “We have a Planning Brief, a solution to the peripheral land
problem.” (ref Health Authority objection
any record of the meeting ? And do
you have any detailed minutes or
witnesses to say that the Planning Brief was
it was and the final thing arrived
in the Local Plan ?
The Brief - it
was first with Brecknock Borough Council and it coincided with the Authority
coming into existence in 1996, (interjection by NB “April 1996”)
therefore, it was very much a Brief developed outside this organisation.
That is where it came from. 1
On the other
points raised, the extensive claims and counter-claims by aggrieved residents is
that the advice is, as it stands, must be recognised as a disagreement.
It has been to the Ombudsman who stated
that he is “satisfied that the parties dealt appropriately with the
Hospital site.” Therefore, we have exhausted all possibilities of going back
over a 6 year period. 2
adopted by the Authority and things have happened thereafter.
view has been
that we have acted incorrectly, that we have had other agendas running, and
you reported this to the Ombudsman. 3
Was the Inspector aware of the Planning Brief ?
My understanding is “yes” he was.
How could he not be? 4
Well he ought to have been.
Perhaps Roger can
help ? You were on the committee at the time.
I didn't sit in on the Public Inquiry. I
do not know.
The Officers around at that
time are no longer with the Authority.
Mr Roberts is - he was Head
of Development Control and Mr Bowles was in
of writing the Local Plan .
The Local Development Plan went through “Planning for Real” -
option to comment. All the
information would have been brought
We have not seen evidence of that.
The Chief Executive says the BBNPA was not responsible for the Planning
here in the adopted copy “prepared
jointly by Brecon Beacons
Park Authority and Knight Frank.” 6
CG The then Powys County
Council drew up the Planning Brief .
Correct, but that is a very fine point. The National Parks was a
committee of the
Council, although the new Committee drew up the plan. 1
Nobody now knows where the Planning Brief is.
A major piece of legislation went through Parliament - and the National
changed its status in 1996.(April)
of us are rightly concerned about the present situation, but it is important to
the present and go on to the future.
There are very specific notes. I
will ask Mike Mullan to state the core facts of 3.1 and what can be done.
What is the situation with all of the Planning Permissions granted at the
/ 02 ) ? Have all these been
Yes, if Planning Permission
was given and all conditions met, and if they complied, (and please give any
evidence of any non-compliances).
As far as I know, many are in breach and none have been enforced.
The 106 Agreement is in the hands of a senior officer, and we are waiting
for a reply from
We have all the conditions here.
If you feel that Officers are not carrying out their jobs, please write
to me and I
Landscaping, low- lighting, internal roads not complied with - all up and
to look to the future. The UDP is out now.
Scrap the Planning Brief
and start again.
The Members are working on a new plan
end of the meeting, I will explain the UDP progress. It is up to the members to accept recommendations or not.
If they are not accepted, then reasons will be given in the Minutes.
This can be challenged in a Public Inquiry - read the small print very
If there are breaches, and actions are not taken, it is of great concern
to me and I
We will establish action and they will be taken
with written evidence.
3.2: An attractive element
of the site is the Chapel. We must
preserve what is good. If you
pulled down the chapel - shipped it out - it is not listed - it’s just a
building in the open countryside- then there will be nothing, a huge hole.
And that goes for the main entrance as well. Good examples of period
architecture . Can you draw it to the attention of the Development Plan Officer
- site appearance is important.
(To the Chief Executive) Do you take that on board?
Now that it has been challenged, yes.The Press
Complaints Commission have censured the reporter’s articles. (ref unfavourable
press coverage about the owners, management , present
activities and uses of the site)
The complaint put forward to the Press Commission was not upheld. 5
You have that evidence ?
I can arrange for you to see it. It is in the public domain.
As a Planning Authority, the financial status of the proposed owner isn't
anything that we can look at. I
have been on site, prior to the planning meeting, and was very impressed by the approach to the Chapel.
I will see if there is any
way of safeguarding this - will
talk to the Building Conservation Officer. I
share your concerns.
During the lead-up to the Planning Application, your department said “to
pull the chapel down would leave too big a foot print.”
Could a Preservation Order be put on it ?
If anyone can find a way, our Building Conservation Officer will.
Agena item 3.3: There are
guidelines and all through the various preceding policies of Planning Policy
Wales, regarding supplementary planning
guidance, is the importance of
getting “emphasis” for it .
This planning document was written by 2
or 3 people, and shown to probably 2,
3 or only 4. Is the Brecon Beacons
National Park Authority
on with this sort of lax way of
UDP - are we going to have
proper consultations on this?
When the Authority was taking decisions on how to consult on Planning
Applications. the Electoral Role was one suggestion, but it is difficult to
identify everyone. For Planning Applications, it was decided
to put one big obvious notice on site.
From what has been said, it is evident it was not as consultative as it
Consultation for a minor extension is one thing, but the Local Plan
Guidance or something bigger is another.There is an intrinsic need to have
different consultative processes.
We will look at what happens to Planning Application local notices.
I'm sure there have been occasions
when they have been blown away
in the night.Resource levels
are improving within the Development Control Team, and also we are looking at
ways to put planning applications onto our web site.
We circulate local Ward members in the National Park with a weekly list.
is an issue. I would like to seek
views around the table on this.We have set up three Area Advisory Committees.
These are Sub-Committees of the National Park who advise the National
Park Authority - Local Councillors and Community Councillors are invited to
that. Local community groups are
also involved. Talgarth comes within the East Advisory Forum.
We have a revision of the Development Plan - I will come
back at the end of the
The length of timing of the consultation and type of consultation - is it
2 months or perhaps in the middle of August, the holiday period?
It is 2 months on the UDP.
We have lost 3 weeks ! Local community councils -
because of local elections.
This site was probably the largest site in the National Park area, it was
special and we should have been
consulted about it more carefully.
It would appear that despite the work done, residents were not informed.
is very important, as are other communities as well.
But other communities would not have had such a large site.
People living so close should be consulted individually.
Legally house owners have a particular interest.
We weren't able to give input because we were not consulted.
Reference the contact sheets - we at Wernfawr were on a list up to 2
years ago or so. As regards to
local knowledge, we have direct connections to that site,drains and rights of
Reference site visits :- The
protocol bans us from any site visits. People with
are not allowed to site
meetings, even people with close contact - those who could identify where drains
go - pipe lines - deeds for example. Things officers
and the committee wouldn’t have
the foggiest about .
The site owners have a covenant on our
I know the protocol is being reviewed at the end of this month. Will we
or the Town Council be invited to
site visits ( on the hospital
site ) ?
It will go to the September meeting - there are a number of new members
it is important for them to understand the details.
But site visits are requested by Members
to gain additional information. It
is not a process for interested parties to lobby Members.
I'm pretty certain there would be disagreement in the Community about
Ref the Town Community Council - Powys County Council and Brecon Beacons
National Park depend on the Town Community Council.
They may consult, but they don't consult people living in their town.
Can we establish the length of consultation for the UDP ?
One thing relates to us - the Town Council is to address 1.10 on page 3.
In the UDP “Supplementary Planning Guidance is published separately.”
But all supplementary planning
guidance it is not correlated anywhere . There is no “high-lighting” in the
document as said, and the Mid Wales Hospital doesn't appear. There will be an
objection about this.
This is a fundamental weakness of your strategy.
With regards to the Planning Brief, someone on the site is looking for a
Change of Use, but their consultant
can't find the Planning Brief. The
Authority says it hasn't got it !
Full circle again . We are not being
told the truth.
future, forget the employment programme. Now
mixed use, We all have ideas and we
want to be part of that decision process.
should really re-write the Planning Brief.
Should there be a Planning Brief for the Mid Wales Hospital? The old one
or a new one?
You’ll be expecting a submission from this group.
We don't do enough, we have a lack of resources.
Planning takes up 8- 10% of our work. The Welsh Assembly Government is
targeting more resources.
make sure that the Talgarth Hospital situation will be reconsidered.
delighted to sit round a table. It
would make more sense if we put it to constructive purposes.
First we must establish trust. Nothing
over the last 8 years has been straight
or above board , or should I say “
our opinion” ?
We have a completely new team - new Head of Department. He will lead.
Who will that be ?
Eric Bowles. I relate
to what you are saying. There has
been a lot of
and it is evident that we have not been communicating
and involved.Let's work together and build up that trust.
heads up all the people who can help.
You want the process - the UDP - in by 28 July 2004.
I have brought additional sheets for your comments.
Obviously, lots of people need as much factual information as they can
get. What is available to them? What
do they need to make informed representation to the UDP?
Correlation? It actually
says that it is “highlighted.” It
is not high-lighted.
It would be helpful if they (
The Mid Wales Hospital Neighbours Group ) get access to correlated documents.
If they put in representation to the UDP, is it acceptable to put in
positive, constructive suggestions to formulate the Planning Brief for the
That is a good way forward. We
have a Design Guide.
We haven't seen it
It is on how designs can be better incorporated.
A plea from the Chair - could it be in their hands by Wednesday of next
week? It is very important.
A Correlated Supplement Planning Guide, para 1.10.
not just one.
You will have at the end of July a document from this group with positive
suggestions about this site. Hopefully a synergy will emerge to produce
Meeting closed at 10.35am.
minutes approved by all those present.
The Brecon Beacons National Park Authority
(BBNPA) came into existence in April I996. It is evident that much of the
initial preparations and drafting of the Planning Brief
were carried out with Knight Frank in the few months before. However, the
finalising work happened
after April 1996. In September 1996
the BBNPA published its summary of the “
brief ” for distribution and public consultation purposes.
On December 3rd 1996 officers presented the BBNPA with the planning brief
on the pretext that it had been out to public consultations. It was
approved for adoption and in
April 1997 the authority officially
adopted it as supplementary
planning guidance (SPG). Therefore contrary to what the CEO has
said the above
appears to verify
BBNPA were entirely responsible
for the document.
With reference to Chief
Executive’s remarks that the authority
and Ombudsman “have exhausted all possibilities”
“extensive claims and counter-claims by aggrieved residents ” and
that these issues should
now be “recognised as a
have not been “exhausted” as many
questions remain unanswered. There
could be legal proceedings , a further ombudsman’s inquiry, public inquiry
or a judicial review. In addition to this
there is concern over the future
and the statutory duty of the BBNPA
to foster the economic and social well-being
local community. This
community surrounds a very
large employment zone which presently
potential threat in terms of adverse impacts. The authority’s
development plans have clearly not worked.
After five years there has been virtually
in terms of employment
creation and the majority
of the site remains empty
and exposed to serious dilapidation.
mentioned Ombudsman case was conducted
on behalf of one
local resident, not a group.
The file was closed in March 2003
and was not conclusive. In fact the
Ombudsman declined to investigate
issues going back six years
to 1996. Afterwards the
residents formed a group and
conducted their own
an audit trail of the authority’s files and the
hospital’s planning history. This
resulted in a new
set of allegations
documentary evidence. The
procedure and the public consultations
concerning the planning brief and
the adoption of the
related local plan clause 4.15. To date,
the authority has not refuted the evidence presented to them, but neither
have they been forthcoming with
requests to clarify many
of the procedural anomalies that happened. Therefore, the situation seems
to be more of an
than a “ disagreement”.
allegation that the authority has “acted incorrectly” is a
general opinion held by the residents
group and others. The most serious of these could
as it has been identified that the
words “and the planning brief” were
implanted into the adopted Local Plan
(para 4.15 - Talgarth 4). To
date the Authority has not explained
what modification procedure facilitated the above words being added to the
adopted Local Plan. In addition to
this there is
no evidence to show from the
documentation of the proceedings,
that the above words
were legitimately proposed or aggreed to by the Inspector or the
authority . Furthermore, the
authority has not given a full explanation about
why local residents were not
consulted over the “brief” and
why the document itself
was not presented to the Inspector at the Local Plan Inquiry.
respect of the above findings and
the CEO’s comments about
the allegations that the
authority had “other agendas running”,
there are a numerous reasons
to believe there was a hidden agenda and
the hospital was being
ear marked for a remand
or asylum seekers centre. At the time the
national demand was
there and the authority proffered the idea in the 1996 planning brief
as being acceptable, but
possibly unpopular with the local community.
Suspicions were first
aroused in 1999 when various rights
of way across
the site were obsrtucted , and one resulted in a court case. Later there was an inquiry
into the hospital’s disposal by the Auditor General for Wales, which
did not investigate the
BBNPA as they were not within the AGW’s jurisdiction. When
an overview is
the circumstances and related
events , and then set
against the BBNPA’s
consistent lack of transparency with the hospital’s development plans and its evasion of
public consultations, then the above allegation
seems very plausible and not without grounds.
Contrary to the impression given through various officers’ reports since March
2002, that the Inspector was aware of the planning brief, it
the Inspector did not refer to or mention the “ brief” in any
Local Plan Inquiry assessments. Neither was the document included in the
programme officer’s list. Therefore,
very doubtful that the
Inspector assessed the “ brief” at
the local plan inquiry.
of this ruling can be obtained from the Press Complaints Commission or directly
from the Editor, Western Mail, and Cardiff. Tel: 02920 583 667. The complaint
was not upheld.
Printed inside the back sleeve of the September 1996 summary of the
planning brief was the following consultation document.
OPPORTUNITY TO COMMENT
National Park Authority is now
seeking your views on the planning
in accordance with its policy of involving the community in planning
Your views will be reported to the Park Planning
Board when it
in December 1996. Comments can be addressed through the
Action Group, The Talgarth Regeneration Group, Talgarth Town
to Ian Roberts at the National Park Authority.”
Wales Hospital is half a mile
outside the settlement area of Talgarth.
Surrounding the hospital and
adjoining its grounds is a community of
13 privately owned houses. The National Park Authority
failed to consult any
of these householders about the hospital plans . Consequently no one knew
of the planning brief or its
recommendations until five years later.
compiled by the Mid Wales Hospital Adjacent Neighbours Group (MWHANG) October