Leader accuses Conservative party members of ‘hijacking and misusing’ public questions slot

THE leader of Carmarthenshire Council has accused Conservative Party members of “hijacking and misusing” a meeting’s public questions slot for political purposes.

Cllr Darren Price said three questions asked at a cabinet meeting were a “co-ordinated decision” by the Conservative Party to try to create a platform for themselves after they had “failed spectacularly” at the ballot box at last year’s council elections.

The Plaid Cymru leader repeatedly used the word “hijacking” and launched a wider attack on the Tories.

The three questioners were Havard Hughes, Charlie Evans and Tara-Jane Sutcliffe. Mr Evans said he had asked his question politely, that he was a member of the public, a council taxpayer and that Cllr Price was his county councillor. He said it greatly concerned him that Cllr Price “seems to be opening the door to restricting members of the public to asking questions based on their party political affiliation”.

Mr Evans had asked Cllr Price if the council had a preferred site option for a new Hywel Dda University Health Board hospital in the west of Carmarthenshire. Two of the proposed sites are in the Whitland area and one is in St Clears. The question included a line about a “severe downgrading of services” at Glangwili Hospital in Carmarthen which residents were “strongly opposed to”.

Cllr Price said the council saw the importance of Glangwili Hospital as being central to healthcare in the region, and then described the question as “pointless and shallow” as it did not address issues such as health and social care recruitment challenges or the transfer of patients from acute to community settings.

He accused the UK Conservative Government of “a spectacular failure to invest in both assets and people in health services” and that some of them were “on the brink of collapse”. The health service is devolved in Wales but the Welsh Government is reliant on Westminster funding. Cllr Price said whether a new hospital was five miles to the east or west “misses the point spectacularly”.

He went on to say that the council had not made formal representations to the health board about the three hospital sites but that councillors would be putting their views across to the health board on May 4.

The Plaid leader said he expected to be held to account by elected members of the council, prompting a laugh from one of the questioners. That led to Cllr Price saying that the Conservatives had been “universally rejected” in last year’s election in Carmarthenshire and their “raft of pointless questions” at the meeting had “wasted my time, my cabinet’s time and my officers’ time”.

Mr Evans said Cllr Price’s response seemed to be avoiding the question, and asked what formal input the council had had in in constructing a programme business case with the health board for the new hospital. The council leader said the authority engaged with the health board on a range of matters, and that this would continue.

Cllr Price said he welcomed questions from members of the public, prompting both Mr Evans and Mr Hughes to say: “I am.” Cllr Price said Mr Evans could have just emailed him about the council’s position about the proposed new hospital and that he would have replied with a “no”.

He went on: “That’s not what you wanted. You wanted to come here, you wanted to have your five minutes of glory and you wanted to make a show”.

Earlier Ms Sutcliffe had asked about the forthcoming closure of Llandeilo’s last bank – Barclays – and what the council was doing to protect and enhance the town’s high street as two former bank buildings in the town “remain vacant and in a state of decline”.

Cllr Ann Davies, cabinet member for rural affairs and planning policy, said the former HSBC bank has planning permission for a wine bar but that no work had taken place. She said the former Lloyds and Nat West building had been acquired by the owners of Llandeilo’s Cawdor Hotel and that she expected plans to be brought forward. Cllr Davies said she believed there was a clear need for rural bank branches to be protected and that the UK Government hadn’t done anything to prevent widespread closures.

She also said the council’s Plaid-Independent administration had just completed a £4.1 million conversion of Llandeilo’s former market hall building into a business space for small and medium-sized enterprises, and that the council had applied for UK Government funding to boost seven historic town centres in the county, including Llandeilo.

Meanwhile, Mr Hughes asked if the council supported a campaign for a new Dyffryn Towy Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), which is gaining traction because overhead power lines are proposed in the Towy Valley to connect a planned wind farm near Llandindrod Wells to Carmarthen.

Cllr Davies said AONB or national park status did not stop pylons from being built. She said she was determined to do all she could to protect special landscapes in the county while ensuring that farming and other rural enterprises prospered. She also said a more robust planning policy to strengthen special landscape areas was needed and that such a framework was part of the council’s revised local development plan, which has just been out for consultation.

Separately, Cllr Davies said campaigners for a proposed Cambrian Mountains AONB, which would include a northern part of Carmarthenshire, had submitted a formal application to the Welsh Government. She said the three community councils in Carmarthenshire which would be affected by the proposed Cambrian Mountains AONB objected to it. “Their main concerns were planning applications, as it’s perceived that obtaining planning for a second rural enterprise home and additional sheds for lambing and calving would be made much difficult in an AONB,” she said. Cllr Davies added that farming unions NFU Cymru also opposed the proposal.

Speaking after the meeting, Mr Hughes said: “Residents should be able to raise questions without receiving gratuitous abuse or discriminatory remarks about not being ‘genuine residents’.” Ms Sutcliffe said she felt unsettled and intimidated by Cllr Price’s remarks and that she had written to ask for an apology.


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