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A councillor in the Vale of Glamorgan has been suspended for a month for opening a cafe without planning permission.

Conservative Councillor Leighton Rowlands, representing the Dyfan ward in Barry, opened the Watering Hole coffee shop and wine bar in June 2019.

But the planning department at Vale of Glamorgan council ordered the business to close two months later and it eventually shut in early 2020 after a long legal wrangle.

Cllr Rowlands — who has sat on the council’s planning committee since 2017 — claimed he had limited knowledge of planning law and didn’t realise he couldn’t open the cafe without permission.

He said:

“Like most new councillors who sit on the planning committee, we have training but it’s always a whistle-stop tour, and the officers tend to use that phrase quite often. I had difficulty understanding planning law, like any member of the public would as well.”

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The Watering Hole, on St Nicholas Road in Barry, was opened by Cllr Rowlands with his then business partner Sam Lewis. Soon after the opening, the business attracted several complaints about noise, disturbance and parking overspill.

Planning law means that when a building changes use, in this case from a shop to a cafe, permission must be sought from the council for the change of use.

Cllr Rowlands had applied to the Vale council for the change of use but opened the business before any decision was made, in a clear breach of the rules.

After Cllr Rowlands was made aware he had broken the rules, he resigned from the business. But as well as breaching planning rules, last year the Public Services Ombudsman found he breached the councillors’ code of conduct, because as a planning committee member he should have known more about planning law and he brought the council into disrepute.

Now the standards committee at Vale of Glamorgan council has suspended Cllr Rowlands for one month, following a hearing on January 26.

He told the committee that planning rules are “very complicated” and admitted he should have asked for more advice.

He said:

“I’m a new councillor, and I don’t think the training was adequate. Planning rules are very complicated. I’m not a solicitor, I’m not a planning officer, and when I did ask advice from a planning officer it was very grey. In hindsight, I should have asked for more advice. I don’t know why I didn’t do that. Sorry — I should have taken more steps to do so.”

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