Jan 272016
 

Let me make it clear at the outset what kind of ‘care’ I’m talking about. This is not the ‘care’ that involves helping old dears out of bed, making them breakfast, and listening – yet again – to how Uncle Arthur single-handedly won the Boer War. No, this is an entirely different kind of ‘caring’, one that most people are only vaguely aware of.

In addition, this post pulls together a few threads that might otherwise be left as loose ends. For example, in my enquiries into the housing associations operating in the south west I’ve come across puzzling references to the ‘Ceredigion Care Society’ or the ‘Pembrokeshire Care Society’, as you might expect, these references provided an incentive to make further enquiries,

Then there was the reliable source who told me last year about young tearaways turning up in Cardigan, with families in tow, being placed in temporary accommodation before moving on to something more permanent, provided by housing associations or private landlords. Few if any of these arrivals seemed to have pre-existing connections to Ceredigion, or to any other part of Wales.

Finally we have the housing crisis in Aberystwyth I referred to in this recent post. No, this is not a housing shortage, this is the exact opposite: student flats built at the very time the number of students applying to Aberystwyth University went into sharp decline, coupled with houses of multiple occupation in the town – many owned by men of fraternal tendencies – standing empty or under-occupied for the same lack of bright-eyed young things thirsting for knowledge.

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Perhaps the best way to start would be with a list of the various bodies using the ‘Care’ label that have operated in Pembrokeshire, Ceredigion and Carmarthenshire in recent decades, some now defunct and one in the process of being wound up. After the name (containing link to website) you’ll see their Charity Commission number (with link to relevant CC page); date they were formed (and, where applicable, wound up); their company number (if applicable, also with link) and the date of Incorporation; finally, a link to the most recent available accounts.

  • The Dyfed Care Society, 506768, 22.09.1977 – 09.03.2000.
  • The Carmarthen Care Society, 508420, 05.02.1979 – 25.10.2001.
  • The Pembrokeshire Care Society (1), 508848, 18.06.1979 – 16.12.1996. 

The Cardiganshire / Ceredigion operation was clearly the earliest and its original remit was:

“1. The relief of poverty, the relief of sickness and the advancement of education and training amongst: A) Persons who have suffered a legal restriction on their liberty in the community, or any penal establishment or institution B) The families and descendants of such persons described in A) above C) Persons in need, hardship or distress.

2. The advancement of public education concerning all aspects of crime prevention.”

The Dyfed, Carmarthen and original Pembrokeshire societies used almost exactly the same wording. Telling us they were linked bodies helping ex-criminals . . . of whom there must be hundreds every year returning to the mean streets and gang life of Ystrad Meurig, Marloes and Ponterwyd.

Though I’m intrigued by the use of the word “descendants”. Does this mean that you could have demanded help if your great-great-great-great-grandfather was imprisoned for stealing a loaf of bread? I also love the term “Persons who have suffered a legal restriction on their liberty”, there are just so many euphemisms for being banged up.

The Constitution for the Ceredigion Care Society seems to have been changed (24.09.1999) and under ‘Activities’ on its Charity Commission page it now says, “PROVIDES HUMAN RESOURCES PROVIDES HOUSING SUPPORT PROVIDE INCREASED HOUSING OPTIONS TO THOSE THREATENED WITH HOMELESSNESS ADVOCACY”. I don’t know whether this is just unpunctuated or an attempt at shouted stream of consciousness. Either way, this change of emphasis brings it into line with the Pembrokeshire Care Society. The concern is no longer for ex-cons but the ‘homeless’ and others it can be claimed are in need of accommodation.

As I’ve said, the Ceredigion Care Society is currently being wound up in favour of  Cymdeithas Gofal The Care Society. Though this successor body is no longer restricted to Ceredigion as it claims to be operating in Carmarthenshire, Pembrokeshire, Ceredigion and even Powys.

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As you will have noticed above, the Pembrokeshire Care Society and Cymdeithas Gofal are also limited companies, with the trustees serving as directors. The Pembrokeshire outfit is headquartered in Haverfordwest, conveniently near to Pembrokeshire Housing. Here’s a link to the most recent Annual Return received by Companies House, listing the eight current directors. (While the Companies House form offers the option of giving Welsh as one’s nationality, all describe themselves as ‘British’.)

And here’s the latest Annual Return for Cymdeithas Gofal, based at 18 Chalybeate Street in Aberystwyth, but also owning or leasing 26 Cambrian Street (night shelter) and 21 Terrace Road. (The situation at Cymdeithas Gofal is not much better, with a distinctly English-looking board saved by what could be seen as a token Welshman in the form of Y Parchedig Cen Llwyd.)

And here are the most recent accounts. For Cymdeithas Gofal and Pembrokeshire Care Society. So what do they tell us? Let’s look at Pembrokeshire first. With charity accounts I tend to cut to the chase to see a) where the money comes from, and b) where it goes.

We see that £308,279 came from the ‘Supporting People Programme‘ administered by the ‘Welsh’ Government. It’s worth remembering that ‘vulnerable people’ as used in this context can mean “persons who have suffered a legal restriction on their liberty”, drug addicts, alcoholics, those who find themselves ‘homeless’ after being evicted from their previous home, and others you might not want as neighbours.

Update 22:48: I am indebted to Jacqui Thompson for guiding me to this report on the shambles in administering the Supporting People grant in neighbouring Carmarthenshire.

The other major source of income – accounting for £224,020 – is listed as “Advice, Pathway Letting & Bond Scheme”, which was new to me. However, I soon found Pathway Lettings . . . “Part of Pembrokeshire Care Society”!

Pathway Lettings

Seeing as this is ‘Welsh’ Government funding the next stop was obviously the website for that shower, where I found no reference to Pathway Lettings. Which was all very confusing until I scrolled further down in the accounts and found (top of page 15) a reference to ‘WG PATH’, clearly a reference to something, again linking to the ‘Welsh’ Government, but what, exactly?

PATH

Googling ‘PATH homelessness’ took me first across the Atlantic, where it is the acronym for Projects for Assistance in Transition from Homelessness, a federal programme designed to help those who are homeless and suffer severe mental issues. This seemed to fit the bill, but to confuse the picture the Pembrokeshire Care Society has in the past been known by the acronyms PASH and PATH, explained in the panel below.

Pembrokeshire Path

So what exactly is Pembrokeshire Action for The (sic) Homeless? Googling the name takes us straight to the Pembrokeshire Care Society. So despite the hype about a ‘forum’ it’s little more than another name for the Pembrokeshire Care Society.

Then it struck me that much of the funding involved here could be in the form of the “Bond Scheme” referred to, and sure enough, under the ‘Services‘ tab on the Pembrokeshire Care website I found this.

Bond certificate

And on the Pathway Lettings Home page you’ll find this, which at least acknowledges the support of the ‘Welsh’ Government.

Pembrokeshire bond scheme

All of which poses a number of questions:

  • How much homelessness is there in Pembrokeshire to justify this funding?
  • Are there figures available on homelessness in Pembrokeshire from a body independent of the Pembrokeshire Care Society?
  • Isn’t there an incentive for organisations being funded to combat homeless (or anything else) to exaggerate the scale of the problem in order to secure more funding?
  • In pursuit of that objective an obvious route to more funding is to ‘import’ homeless people from outside of Wales. Were this to be happening, what response – if any – could we expect from the ‘Welsh’ Government?
  • Why is the ‘Welsh’ Government giving funding to a “Social Lettings Agency”, Pathway Lettings, rather than to the Pembrokeshire Care Society? Is it to disguise the ultimate destination of the money? If not, why are we paying for an extra and unnecessary layer of bureaucracy? Or is the ‘Welsh’ Government funding the Pembrokeshire Care Society’s empire building?
  • Why can’t we have a body independent of the ‘Welsh’ Government and the Notional Assembly to monitor how public funding is spent in Wales?

Just one final thing that caught my eye in the Pembrokeshire Care Society accounts, under the heading ‘Designated Funds’ (page 19), was the figure of £100,000 for ‘Senior Management Succession Planning’. What the hell is that about!

Reassuring, I suppose, in that it suggests that if there’s that much money available for such a purpose then the homelessness situation in Pembrokeshire can’t be that bad.

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Moving on now to the accounts for the ever-expanding Cymdeithas Gofal The Care Society. As with Pembrokeshire Care, we see that over half of the money received is spent on salaries and pensions, a reminder that charities like this provide good jobs for those ‘on the inside’ and those they know.

The Cymdeithas Gofal accounts were certainly easier to follow than the Pembrokeshire Care accounts, and different in many ways. For example, the Bond Scheme accounts for only a very small proportion of the income and I was initially surprised to see no reference to the Supporting People Programme that is Pembrokeshire Care’s most valuable source of income. (I also found it odd, five years after the 2011 referendum, to see Cymdeithas Gofal, despite its Welsh pretensions, still referring to the ‘Welsh Assembly Government’.)

Then I saw the entry ‘Ceredigion County Council – supporting’. I went to the council website for confirmation. So why is this funding administered on behalf of the ‘Welsh’ Government by the local authority in Ceredigion but given direct to the charity in Pembrokeshire?

Cymdeitas Gofal Incoming Resources

In fairness, Cymdeithas Gofal does raise some of its own money. Of its total income of £1,152,457 for y/e 31.03.2015, as shown in the panel below (from page 12 of the accounts) £427,898 is not in the form of direct grant funding. After the various grants, totalling £724,559, the most rewarding income stream is ‘Rents receivable’. This is, presumably, rents received for accommodation in the buildings Cymdeithas Gofal has bought, with public funding? If so, who holds the deeds on these properties, and if they aren’t in public ownership, shouldn’t they be?

Cymdeithas Gofal Incoming Total

One major source of funding we did not encounter in Pembrokeshire is the £175,408 ‘Welsh Assembly Government S180 Night Shelter Funding. (This page provides a link to further information on S180.) As I’ve mentioned above, this night shelter is at 26 Cambrian Street. Though if it’s been running since 2002 – as this clip from the Cambrian News tells us – why did the ‘Welsh’ Government need to dish out 175 grand last year, which may be more than a terraced house in the centre of Aber’ is even worth?

On the plus side, there is no six-figure sum allocated by Cymdeithas Gofal for ‘Senior Management Succession Planning’. So that’s something to be thankful for, eh?

My original thought when I approached this subject was that Cymdeithas Gofal was gradually taking over the south west, and that Pembrokeshire Care would be the next to go. But the more I’ve learnt about their relationship I now see something more  subtle and complex at work. Maybe I watch too many Mafia movies and TV series, but it looks like the rackets have been carved up in a way that satisfies both parties. (‘Yous can have construction an’ we’ll take da Teamsters. Capice?)

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Many of these Care societies’ clients of course move on to become tenants of the local housing associations, to justify more funding for housing associations, which clears up one loose end. Then there’s the young tearaways from God knows where turning up at some kind of ‘halfway house’ in Aberteifi, a border town where both organisations operate and where Cymdeithas Gofal has a £34,000 a year ‘Young Persons Project’. Finally, the housing problem in Aberystwyth, well, just think about, those empty student flats have to be filled somehow. See how it all fits neatly together!

The growth of the Third Sector in Wales was inevitable given that the only political parties (other than the Lib Dems) that have ever been in power down Cardiff docks are statist, anti-business parties. These parties – Labour and Plaid Cymru – are devoid of ideas when it comes to creating wealth, but their imagination knows no bounds when it comes to spending money. With this hostility to ‘nasty’ business comes the inevitable impulse to help those they view as the victims of a heartless capitalist system.

This ‘Throwing money around like a drunken sailor’, as my mamgu used to say (no offence intended to partying mariners), has been brought home to us this week with two cases that saw tens of millions of pounds of public money needlessly expended or lost. The first being the land deal on the outskirts of Cardiff and the other the purchase of Cardiff airport. Though in defence of the ‘Welsh’ Government let me state that the figures involved here are peanuts compared to what has been wasted in Cardiff since the dawn of devolution.

Cymdeith Gofal Objectives

The waste of public funding we have seen in Wales since 1999 could not have happened if the sham devolution we suffer had not brought together an unholy triumvirate to work against Welsh interests.

First we have the aforementioned politicians of the Left, believing that ‘helping those in need’ (even if they’ve been dumped on you) is the right thing to do; then we have the politicians of the Right, who will oppose anything that might disadvantage England, unconcerned that their position invariably disadvantages Wales; and finally, we have civil servants answering to London but ostensibly serving as ‘advisers’ to ‘Welsh’ Government ministers. (Though it should be understood that many politicians on the Left will also adopt an anti-Welsh position, and defend it by arguing that to do otherwise would be ‘narrow’, ‘insular’, ‘nationalistic’ or ‘racist’.)

The only way to change this is to reject all of the existing parties because none of them has either the capability or the will to curb the wasting of hundreds of millions of pounds every year on professional grant-grabbers – most of whom seem to originate outside of Wales – who exaggerate or import problems in order to keep themselves in cosy, well-pensioned jobs funded entirely by the Welsh public purse.

Wales needs a political revolution to overthrow the fools who fund the shysters and those who turn a blind eye because this system damages a country for which they have no real love, a country whose integration with England they will not oppose. Our country.

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Jan 202016
 

You will recall that up until the end of last year I had this widget at the top of my sidebar, asking for signatures to a petition urging the ‘Welsh’ Government to intervene when chief executives get too powerful and take control of local authorities. That petition was ‘discussed’ yesterday by the Petitions Committee.

But before considering the reaction it received from the Committee, it might be worth you reading the petition, the letter responding to the petition from Leighton Andrews, Minister for Public Services, and my response to his response to my petition.

Here are those documents in PDF format and merged into a single document, so scroll down. Essentially, Andrews says, ‘Nothing to do with us, it’s up to councillors to rein in over-powerful chief executives’. To which I respond, ‘But what if they don’t do it, what then?’

Chief Executive petition combined

I had hoped to download a copy of the video of the meeting, to paste into this post, but apparently this is not allowed. So I can only offer you this link to the ‘discussion’ of my petition.

From his general demeanour it’s pretty obvious that the chairman, William Powell, a Liberal Democrat AM for the Mid and West Wales region, believes that the petition addresses a serious problem and should be given the attention it deserves . . . the other two members of the Committee clearly disagree, and can’t wait to get on to the next petition on roundabouts, though their reactions were revealing.

Joyce Watson, a Labour AM for Mid and West Wales did all the talking, and, boy, was her delivery revealing. She was hesitant, her voice cracked a couple of times, and she swivelled uncomfortably on her chair. As for what she actually said, it was nothing but paraphrasing what Leighton Andrews had written in his letter, about everything being put to rights in the Draft Local Government (Wales) Bill, which is open for comments until February 15th.

I shall of course submit my suggestions, but I’m not optimistic. My reading of Leighton Andrews’ letter is that in the new legislation curbing the power of dictatorial chief executives will still be entrusted to the very councillors who allowed the problem to arise in the first place.

Joyce Watson applied the stun gun to the discussion with, “There is no way we can take this any further forward, and I would recommend closing it”. At which point a little voice could be heard, off camera, squeaking, “I agree”.

This thin and distant voice belonged to the other member of the Committee, Elin Jones, the Plaid Cymru AM for Ceredigion. Ms Jones had kept her head down throughout Watson’s stuttering monologue, riveted to the correspondence before her as if it revealed that Saunders Lewis had been identified as the man on the Grassy Knoll.

Then again, maybe she was just keeping her head down.

To his credit, William Powell tried to breathe life into the dying debate, “It (the petition) does raise some very serious issues” he said, before going to remind everyone that these problems have arisen in “certain councils” in Wales.

Which councils, exactly? Well, let me be frank – and surprise no one – by saying that when I decided to submit this petition I was thinking primarily of Carmarthenshire, with Pembrokeshire in the reign of Bryn Parry Jones not far from my thoughts.

Making the dismissive attitude of Joyce Watson rather surprising, with her being the regional AM for both Carmarthenshire and Pembrokeshire. But as I say, she had obviously been briefed by her Labour superiors.

Equally odd was Elin Jones’ reaction, seeing as her constituency shares a border with both counties. In her case the lack of concern might be explained by the fact that Plaid Cymru is now leading the coalition in Carmarthenshire, and so her party may not want to rock the boat ahead of the May Assembly elections.

Petitions Committee

A mistake. For I suspect that in the run-up to the May elections Labour will try to capitalise, in both Carmarthen East & Dinefwr (which Plaid holds) and Llanelli (where Labour has a majority of just 80), on Plaid’s refusal to rein in Mark James and Meryl Gravell. I can see it now on the hoardings, and plastered over the 198 Llanelli – Carmarthen omnibus: Plaid Cymru – the new broom that refused to sweep!’. It’s what I’d do.

Another factor worth considering from Plaid’s perspective is that very soon after the May elections Plaid Cymru hopes to again be Labour’s little helper in a coalition. Or could Plaid’s refusal to restore democracy to Carmarthenshire be attributable to something else?

I ask because in the age of devolution we have seen a shadowy clique remove Dafydd Wigley, the party’s most successful leader ever. Then in 2007 the party rejected a deal that would have seen a Plaid First Minister lead a ‘rainbow coalition’. And now, Plaid has been gifted the chance to make a name for itself by cleaning up the most corrupt and undemocratic council in Wales, but it does nothing.

It’s almost as if there is, deep within the party, a malign and self-destructive force at work. A successful force, for I predict that Plaid Cymru will lose votes and seats in May, and might even end up as the fourth party in Wales, behind Labour, Conservatives and Ukip.

In the meantime, I shall, as I’ve said, submit my comments to those working on the Draft Local Government (Wales) Bill, and I urge you all to do the same. It would appear that political parties are not much interested in preserving or restoring local democracy, and so the responsibility falls to concerned individuals like us to remind them that it matters.

 

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Jan 142016
 

In my post of November 24th, Wales, Colony of England, I mentioned multi-millionaire businessman Clive Hughes and his tribulations with Carmarthenshire County Council, due to that authority’s hostility towards his project for a biomass combined heat and power plant near Kidwelly.

In my follow-up post on December 1st, Meryl Gravell & Robin Cammish, Only in Carmarthenshire, I named Robin Cammish as Clive Hughes’ ‘nemesis’, and looked into Cammish’s business background, also his relationship with former council leader, Meryl Gravell, which seemed to explain him being appointed to the board of the Scarlets rugby region and then Pro Rugby Wales. Though his time at the latter body was short, he was forced to resign just before Christmas.

Since writing those pieces I have met with Clive Hughes, spoken with other people, done a little research, and I now understand even better that it wasn’t the council per se that caused Mr Hughes’ problems. The biomass plan was doomed because Clive Hughes fell foul of certain powerful individuals in Carmarthenshire County Council.

Carms trio

To understand what I’m referring to you must know something of the circumstances surrounding the local rugby club / region moving from its traditional home of Stradey Park to the new stadium, Parc y Scarlets, right next to the Parc Pemberton retail park. (And if you want to know why Llanelli town centre looks like an apocalyptic, post-nuclear wasteland, just look at the huge retail parks the county council has encouraged at Pemberton and Trostre.)

Council chief executive Mark James and sometime council leader Meryl Gravell enthusiastically supported the move from Stradey Park to Parc y Scarlets and used the clout and funding of the local authority to ensure it happened. To the extent that the Scarlets have been kept afloat financially ever since by very generous treatment from the council. (For further details on this generosity I suggest you go to the blogs named here and search under ‘Scarlets’, ‘Stradey Park’ or ‘Parc y Scarlets’, Y Cneifiwr and Carmarthenshire Planning Problems and more.)

So how does all this link with Clive Hughes? In a nutshell, Clive Hughes, a Carmarthenshire man, born and raised in Bethlehem, had supported Llanelli RFC all his life, he was a vice-president of the club . . . but he vociferously opposed the move away from Stradey Park. He became something of a fly in the ointment, an obstacle to county hall’s grand vision for the county’s premier sporting organisation and its largest town. By taking that position he made powerful enemies.

(This also explains how I met with Clive Hughes on New Year’s Day at the Liberty Stadium, for the Ospreys v Dragons game – he has now transferred his loyalty across the Loughor river.)

BACKGROUND & SUMMARY

When ‘regionalisation’ was introduced by the Welsh Rugby Union, through its then chief executive David Moffett, his original plan was for four regions, putatively and unimaginatively named North, South, East and West. (See panel below.)

WRU regions

Courtesy of Wikipedia (click to enlarge)

Basing the West region at Stradey Park was an odd decision which may have been an attempt to win over unenthusiastic Turks, but this arrangement was quickly overtaken by Swansea council’s decision to build a new 21,000 all-seater stadium at Morfa, for rugby and soccer. This, added to the proposed region’s geography, the outdated facilities at Stradey, and rumblings from Neath, meant that the new Swansea stadium would inevitably become home for the West region.

The news of the new stadium in Swansea, and its implications, served to evaporate further what little enthusiasm there was for the WRU’s grand vision among the power-brokers both at Stradey Park and on Jail Hill. It was bad enough that the town was losing the one name that took it to a wider world, but without the compensation of being home to the new entity there was little to recommend the region to those west of the Loughor.

And so Llanelli RFC decided – as did Cardiff – to reject the suggested amalgamation and become one of the so-called ‘stand-alone’ regions . . . which of course were not regions at all, just re-branded clubs. To its eternal shame the Welsh Rugby Union accepted this deception. Newport did something similar by unconvincingly re-naming itself the Newport-Gwent Dragons.

Having burnt their bridges with the proposed region the club and the council came up with the plan for a new stadium, partly to promote the ‘Llanelli-is-a-region’ message and partly to thwart any future attempts at merger. The people of Carmarthenshire have been paying the price ever since for this panicky rush into a project that was never economically viable and, ironically, only ever sees a full house when the Ospreys visit.

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And so it came to pass that Parc y Scarlets held its first game on November 15, 2008, when Llanelli (the club, not the region) fittingly played Cardiff (ditto). Over three years after the opening of the Liberty Stadium.

Earlier that same year, in June, Carmarthenshire Planning Committee saw Clive Hughes’ planning application for a biomass-powered CHP plant at the old Coedbach coal washery near Kidwelly.

Everything seemed to be proceeding just fine, there were no objections from the Environment Agency or the Countryside Council for Wales. The planning officers of Carmarthenshire council recommended approval . . . but then, in March 2009, and in what WalesOnline described as an “extraordinary U-turn” planning officers changed their minds, using the flimsiest of excuses. On March 19 the planning committee refused planning permission by 9 votes to 8.

Everyone I have spoken to believes that planning officials and councillors were ‘leaned on’, and that the ‘leaning’ was done by . . . Meryl Gravell had certainly opposed the plan and we can be fairly sure that she orchestrated the local opposition through Robin Cammish and the Coedbach Action Team. (Enquiries are ongoing into who paid the legal costs for the CAT.)

There is no doubt in my mind that the wrecking of the biomass project was ‘pay-back’ for Clive Hughes opposing the move to Parc y Scarlets (and associated retail ventures).

In the ITV Wales report above, uploaded to YouTube in September 2008, the reporter even says that Cammish formed CAT. It also establishes a) the linkage between Cammish and Gravell and b) the antipathy existing between Hughes and Gravell, who declined to appear in person. (But then, it’s usually best for the organ-grinder to stand back when the monkey has the crowd’s attention.)

If I’m right – and I’m not alone in suspecting this – then ensuring that Clive Hughes’ Coedbach project failed was an exercise in pure vindictiveness. Those pursuing this vendetta were quite happy to see the area denied the jobs and other benefits the project would have brought so that they could experience the very personal pleasure of getting the better of a man who had dared challenge them.

Perhaps realising that the “rabble” might guess the truth about Coedbach Meryl Gravell tried to cover it up by putting forward her vision for the area, her alternative strategy for jobs.

SUMMARY

By challenging Carmarthenshire Council Clive Hughes guaranteed that there would be a price to pay. That price was the scuppering of his biomass plant at Coedbach.

To further pursue the vendetta against Clive Hughes hit-man Cammish also opposed Clive Hughes’ biomass plant planned for Swansea docks. Then, in the hope of pretending that he had become a campaigner against biomass rather than the tool of James and Gravell, we saw the farce of Cammish opposing a biomass scheme in Bristol! The judge at the judicial review into this project quite rightly told him it was no concern of a group based in west Wales. 

In return for his loyalty Cammish was said to have had “the run of County Hall”, and was putting himself about as an ‘advisor’ to the council – as the video below from 2011 clearly suggests he was (go to 22:06) – though Mark James was forced to publicly deny this relationship.

As a reward for services rendered Cammish was placed by the council on the board of the Scarlets in September 2013. Mutual back-scratching of the kind with which we are all too familiar.

If the first video suggested a link between Gravell and Cammish then the second video should leave no one in any doubt that the link blossomed into a strong working relationship.

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At 3 minutes into the first video Meryl Gravell is quoted as saying that the economic future of the area lies with “leisure and tourism”. I have written about tourism many times, this post from October last year should give you an idea of where I stand.

Tourism is not an economic strategy, it is the absence of an economic strategy, or even the antithesis of an economic strategy. It is the ‘industry’ of last resort. It is what politicians pretend to believe in when they have run out of ideas on how to provide real jobs.

Which means that Meryl Gravell is offering the people of Carmarthenshire jobs that are low skill, low pay, and often seasonal – because she and others have no greater vision for the area than tourism, or else throwing grants at yet another retail development in Cross Hands promoted by a company so opaque as to be almost invisible, or maybe granting planning permission for untraceable shell companies to build unneeded homes on flood plains.

But then, when you conspire, for personal, vindictive reasons to deny genuine employment to the people you claim to represent, you must come up with an alternative, no matter how implausible. And nothing is more implausible, or insulting, than the suggestion that tourism is the economic salvation of Wales.

What a way to run a council! What a way to run a country!

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Jan 072016
 

Happy Donkey Hill has been back in the news. Or rather, it made it onto the Today programme on BBC Radio 4 on Monday. (Click here and go to 1:22:32.) Then Kate Clamp popped up on Wales Today. And here’s another Kate Clamp revpiece from the BBC in which we hear from her again, and also a spokesman for Mynyddoedd Pawb . . . being rather ambivalent, I thought. He “completely understands” why people should want to change names and doesn’t want to “over-romanticise” the past!

In fact the spokesman for Mynyddoedd Pawb (whose name I didn’t catch) seemed to display all the symptoms of seimonglynphobia, or a mortal fear of saying too much and offending anyone. A condition perhaps best compared to expressing a desire to tackle flooding while simultaneously denying that an excess of water might be the problem.

On the principle that there’s no such thing as bad publicity, and seeing as the vast majority of those listening to Today would have been English, Kate Clamp is probably delighted with such coverage.

Even the company that made what she wore for her 15 minutes of infamy, Robinsons Equestrian clothing, got involved by tweeting, “Nice surprise to see one our Requisite garments on BBC TV earlier. Thanks !” I chipped in with, “Being associated with colonialist bigots must do wonders for your image.” Then there was a bit of banter with Clamp herself who opined that I should be ignored as my head is so far up my ares (sic) that Google couldn’t find it. (Ah, the wit!) In another tweet she called me “hideous” – moi! Eventually she sent me a DM in which she called me a very, very naughty name. At this point I decided, very reluctantly, and only to spare my blushes, that she had to be blocked.

BBC Happy Donkey Hill

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Another example brought to my attention of a name being changed from Welsh to “non-Welsh” is over on the border (the ‘Welsh border’, of course) near Hay-on-Wye. There the Maesllwch Arms, a listed coaching inn, was recently re-named Foyles.

This change was explained thus, “Taking pride in the literary history of the area, and the nearby town of books, Hay on Wye, Foyles (the former Maesllwch Arms) has been named after the famous chain of bookshops.” What ‘literary history’? As for Hay, it’s claim to fame is that a megalomaniac imposed himself on the town and took it over with second-hand bookshops, eventually declaring himself ‘king’, and Hay independent. All good fun and guaranteed to appeal to those who succumb to the myth of the ‘great English eccentric’.

The real problem with ‘Foyles’ though is not just that the owners decided Maesllwch was too Welsh, and that the name of an English book chain with no local links was an improvement, but that the ‘Welsh’ Government agreed, coughing up £150,000 of our money in a grant to ‘Foyles’.

Foyles 1

So my message to those believing that an appeal to the quisling puppet show in Cardiff docks will do something to stop this insidious form of colonialism is simple – you’ll be wasting your time.

*

The next example I want to use takes us to Ceredigion, and land owned by the English National Trust. One of the less-frequented beaches along that over-developed stretch of coast is to be found at Penbryn beach, between Tresaith and Llangrannog.

Perhaps not so well known to tourists, Penbryn beach was always popular with locals, youngsters especially. It was where they went for parties and barbecues. The lucky ones would get summer jobs at the cafe at the top of the quiet road leading down to the beach. A cafe called ‘Cartws’ (‘cart house’) run by a local, Welsh-speaking family.

Plwmp Tart comp

CLICK TO ENLARGE

That was then, now it’s been taken over by a couple from London and re-named ‘The Plwmp Tart’. (Plwmp is a hamlet not far away on the A487 trunk road.) The Plwmp TartPlwmp Tart sign is obviously someone’s idea of humour, a play on the various meanings of the word tart. On the one hand it’s a pastry dish, on the other it’s a vulgar and sexually provocative woman.

Seeing as this is a cafe it must surely be a reference to the pastry delicacy. Well, in that case, why use the image of a woman in traditional Welsh dress? And seeing as that is the image used (rather than any pastry dish) anyone seeing the sign is invited to imagine a fat Welsh scrubber from Plwmp. (Lesson 1 in ‘How to Make Friends With Your New Welsh Neighbours’ – Despite it being an English tradition, don’t make slanderous insinuations about the sexual behaviour of Welsh women.)

What we have here is not simply a change of name from Welsh to “non-Welsh”, but an added insult with the clear inference that Welsh women are lax in their sexual morals. A real echo of traditional colonialism, for ‘easy’ local women was one of the perks every young soldier in Victoria’s army expected from an overseas posting.

*

Finally, while Googling ‘Penbryn beach’ I came across another example of the problem in ‘Stallion Valley Holiday Cottages’. The traditional name is of course ‘Cwm March’. The cottages themselves are called ‘The Farmhouse’, ‘The Mill’ and ‘The Byre’.

Stallion Valley

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

No doubt the owner of ‘Stallion Valley’ would defend him/herself by arguing that the official name remains Cwm March, and that Stallion Valley is simply used for trading purposes, done, as Kate Clamp argued, because people – i.e. English people – can’t remember or pronounce the name Cwm March. Bollocks. Even it comes out as ‘Comb Mark’ that’s still better than callously throwing away a thousand years or more of someone else’s culture and identity.

You will have noted that the common denominator or link to all these cases is tourism. Tourism and the invasion it encourages. The tourism that is creating a country from which genuine Welshness has been hollowed out to leave a socially-engineered nightmare free of anything that could remind English tourists they are in another country.

Wake up, folks. This is what colonialist tourism is doing to Wales. And the truth is that our masters always intended that tourism should have this effect on Wales.

END

NEXT: Carmarthenshire County Council and the vendetta against Clive Hughes

 

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Jan 032016
 

Last month, in Social Housing, Time to End This Lunacy, I looked at social housing provider Pembrokeshire Housing and, more specifically, its subsidiary Mill Bay Homes.

Mill Bay Homes justifies its existence by arguing that it builds and sells properties on the open market to raise funds that allow Pembrokeshire Housing to build more social housing. But we only have its word for that because being a ‘subsidiary’ organisation means that no one, certainly not those funding Pembrokeshire Housing – i.e. the ‘Welsh’ Government – will ever make enquiries into the activities of Mill Bay. A worrying phenomenon I have encountered many times before in investigating the Third Sector.

Mill Bay Help to Buy

Mill Bay Homes offers Help to Buy – Wales

Another curious feature of Mill Bay Homes mentioned in my earlier post is that it offers buyers assistance under the Help to Buy – Wales scheme while also encouraging the “Investment buyer“. Helping people buy their own home while simultaneously encouraging those who deny people their own home might be regarded as somewhat contradictory aims. And it raises the obvious question – is it the job of publicly-funded housing associations – even via ‘subsidiaries’ – to be encouraging ‘investors’ in rural areas where locals have such difficulty in finding homes?

One specific Mill Bay Homes development looked at was in Cilgerran, north Pembrokeshire. There, according to the planning application form available on the Pembrokeshire council website, Mill Bay wants to build 30 social rented housing units.

Mill Bay 1

‘BEFORE’ (Thanks to Wynne Jones)

Or at least, that’s what the planning application said when I published my original post on December 14th, but, remarkably – and here I am once again indebted to the indefatigable Wynne Jones – this planning application has since been changed. The original version can be found above, the amended version below. The latter now reads 29 open market houses and just one unit of social housing, a two-bedroom house. There is no indication of when or why the change was made. And it must be worth asking if it’s permissible to make such radical changes to a planning application already submitted?

Mill Bay 2

‘AFTER’ (Thanks to Wynne Jones)

What’s going on here? Was a genuine mistake made with the original application, and is this now being rectified? Or was the change in response to the piece I posted on December 14th? Presumably the change was made by an employee of Pembrokeshire council, but it must have been requested by someone acting for Mill Bay Homes or Pembrokeshire Housing. Again, is this allowed?

Perhaps the most disturbing possibility is that the original planning application, for 30 social housing units, was an attempt to deceive, done in the belief that planning permission would be more likely to be granted for social housing. (See Update below.)

Between April 2008 and November 2015 Pembrokeshire Housing received £27.4m of our money in Social Housing Grant (see table below). Prior to that the SHG seems to have been allocated to local authorities, and between 2000 and 2008 the county of Pembrokeshire received £31.6m. See these figures for yourself (in Excel format) here. You might also find it worthwhile reading Housing Associations – The Great Deception in which I explain that there are other methods of funding social housing.

SHG 2008 - (Nov) 2015

Feel free to use this table but please attribute source

Another curiosity unearthed by Wynne Jones is to be found in the guide to planning applications issued by Pembrokeshire council. Open the document at section 18, which reads: “Social rented – includes rented housing owned by local authorities and registered social landlords for which guideline target rents are determined through the national rent regime, set out in the ‘Guide to Social Rent Reforms’ published in March 2001. Also includes rented housing owned by other persons and provided under equivalent rental arrangements to the above, as agreed with the local authority or funded with grant from the Housing Corporation, as provided for in the Housing Act 2004.

The format of this guide seems to be dictated by the Town and Country Planning Act 1990, and appears to have been updated here and there with references to subsequent legislation applying only to Wales. Which makes it a bit of a dog’s dinner. Surely, after 17 years of devolution we should be using specifically Welsh forms? If only to avoid references such as that in section 18 to the Housing Corporation, an England-only body . . . abolished in 2008.

Mill Bay Investors

From Mill Bay Homes website

Perhaps of more significance for our enquiry is the section I’ve underlined, in which I interpret “other persons” to mean privately-owned properties used as social housing. So does this explain why Mill Bay Homes, a subsidiary of a Registered Social Landlord, is encouraging investors? Is Mill Bay offering the properties they build to investors with the guarantee that Pembrokeshire Housing will supply the tenants?

There are just so many questions to be answered about the operation of Pembrokeshire Housing and Mill Bay Homes, also other housing associations and their unaccountable subsidiaries, because they take such a huge chunk out of a total Welsh budget of only some £15bn per annum.

Another disturbing case unearthed by Wynne Jones is upstream of Cilgerran, at Cenarth. There, Tai Ceredigion put in a planning application for 15 social housing units at Maes Awmor. There was considerable opposition from those already living in an adjacent private estate on grounds of increased traffic and a belief that locals would be low on Tai Ceredigion’s allocation list.

Help to Buy

From ‘Welsh’ Government’s Help to Buy – Wales Buyers’ guide

This latter concern might be explained by looking at the plans and seeing how many of these properties are designed for those with special needs. (Click here and enlarge.) Is there really a demand for so many such properties from within this rural area? Or has Tai Ceredigion done a lucrative deal with an English local authority or some other agency that will pay well to move people to Wales? As I say, such a deal would be lucrative for Tai Ceredigion, but could only put further strain on the Welsh NHS. But maybe I’m being cynical, so let Tai Ceredigion convince us that there is a demand for these properties from within the local population.

Perhaps we should be flattered by how many agencies in England believe in the therapeutic and reforming qualities of Welsh country air. It seems that once relocated to Wales the elderly cease to wrinkle and the obese become obsessive joggers, ‘disaffected’ youngsters join the Boy Scouts and criminals transform into model citizens, drug addicts get their highs from watching Hinterland and former problem families can be seen every Sunday trooping to the Tabernacle of the Happy Clappy Outsourcing Agents for Local Authorities Ltd . . .

Then again, this belief in Welsh country air could be nothing more than cynically dumping your problems on your neighbour. But that would at least be understandable, what is neither understandable nor acceptable, is that there are those within Wales co-operating in this scam – and that they are able to use Welsh public funding to do it! 

Cenarth housing

Maes Awmor, Cenarth. The Tai Ceredigion development is planned for the land in the foreground

The latest news from Cenarth (December 14, 2015) is that six of the properties are now to be sold on the open market. But planning permission was granted for 15 social housing units. And Tai Ceredigion is a Registered Social Landlord, it cannot build houses for sale to the highest bidder. What the hell is going on?

Here are some questions for the ‘Welsh’ Government. These questions are not in any way rhetorical, I really would appreciate some answers. Because what’s been reported here, from Duffryn Teifi, is happening all over the country.

  • We can safely assume that money given to Pembrokeshire Housing to provide social rented accommodation has reached its subsidiary, Mill Bay Homes, so how does the ‘Welsh’ Government feel about public funding being used to build new properties for sale to ‘investors’?
  • Given that Mill Bay Homes on its website advertises the Help to Buy – Wales scheme and also encourages ‘investors’, what guarantees can the ‘Welsh’ Government give us that no ‘investors’ have secured Help to Buy funding? (To answer this will require a thorough, forensic and, most importantly, independent, investigation into the workings of Pembrokeshire Housing and Mill Bay Homes.)
  • With its use of terms such as “lifestyle” and “retirement” it would appear that Mill Bay Homes is targeting buyers from outside of Wales. Is the ‘Welsh’ Government comfortable with funding it has provided to Pembrokeshire Housing being used by Mill Bay Homes to further the colonisation and anglicisation of rural Wales?
  • Turning to the development at Cenarth, many of these properties have wheelchair access and are in other ways adapted for the disabled, adaptations that are expensive to design and construct. So will the ‘Welsh’ Government confirm that these properties are to meet a local demand rather than being the result of a deal or understanding struck between Tai Ceredigion and agencies outside of Wales?
  • If publicly-funded housing associations are allowed to build open market properties, placing them in direct competition with local companies not enjoying public funding, then, quite clearly, they have an unfair advantage over those local companies. Is this another example of the ‘Welsh’ Labour Party’s hostility to private business, and perhaps, more generally, the countryside?
  • Finally, how many tens of millions of pounds does the ‘Welsh’ Government estimate could be saved every year by a) reducing the number of housing associations, b) properly monitoring their spending, and c) implementing a three-year local residency rule to qualify for social housing?

UPDATE 7pm, 04.01.2016: Received the message below in a comment. I am now happy to accept that the original Cilgerran planning application was a simple slip of the pen or the cursor on the part of whoever filled in the form. Though if that is what happened, why didn’t the planning application change from 30 social housing units to 30 private dwellings, rather than to 29 private and one social? Something I did not mention in my original post is that Trevor Hopkins Associates is also involved with the Tai Ceredigion project at Cenarth.

Dear Sir,

I refer to the content posted on your web page/twitter account regarding the Planning Application we submitted on behalf of Mill Bay Homes for 30 dwellings on Land Adjacent Holly Lodge, Cilgerran. The reference to Social Housing on the Planning Form was an error on our part and this has now been corrected to open market dwellings. The modified forms are available to view on the Planning Portal.

I trust you will now update your social media/website accordingly.

Yours faithfully.

Trevor Hopkins Associates.

UPDATE 06.01.2016: Even though planning permission has not yet been granted for the Cilgerran development this sign was erected this morning. Making it look as if Pembrokeshire County Council has already agreed to grant planning permission and has also decided to disregard in advance the objections from local residents that will follow the granting of planning permission. So much for local democracy!

Mill Bay sign

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Dec 312015
 

It’s that time of year again when drunks will bawl out and mutilate a beautiful song. So if you’re going to ‘sing’ it tonight, why not try to get just some of the words right. Right!

Blwyddyn Newydd Dda i chi gyd.                                                                       

 

                                            AULD LANG SYNE

 

                                                 Should auld acquaintance be forgot,

                                                        And never brought to min’?

                                                 Should auld acquaintance be forgot,

                                                        And auld lang syne?

 

                                                             For auld lang syne, my dear.

                                                                    For auld lang syne,

                                                             We’ll tak a cup o’ kindness yet,

                                                                    For auld lang syne.

 

                                                 We twa hae run about the braes,

                                                         And pu’d the gowans fine;

                                                  But we’ve wandered mony a weary foot

                                                         Sin’ auld lang syne.

 

                                                  We twa hae paidled i’ the burn,

                                                         From morning sun till dine;

                                                  But seas between us braid hae roar’d

                                                         Sin’ auld lang syne.

 

                                                  And there’s a hand, my trusty fiere,

                                                          And gie’s a hand o thine;

                                                  And we’ll tak a right guid-willie waught,

                                                          For auld lang syne.

 

                                                  And surely ye’ll be your pint-stowp,

                                                          And surely I’ll be mine;

                                                  And we’ll tak a cup o’ kindness yet

                                                          For auld lang syne.

 

                                                                              Robert Burns

 

Auld: old. Auld lang syne: 1 old days of long ago. 2 old friendship. Tak: take. Twa: two. Hae: have. Braes: hillsides. Pu’d: pulled. Gowan: mountain daisy. Mony: many. Paidled: paddled. Burn: stream. Dine: dinner. Braid: broad. Hae: have. Sin’: since. Fiere: friend or comrade. Gie’s: give (me). Guid-willie: 1 hospitable. 2 hearty. 3 kindly, generous, liberal. Waught: copious draught. Pint: a measure equal to two English quarts. Stowp: a jug with a handle.

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 Posted by at 13:04 on 31/12/2015  Uncategorised
Dec 232015
 

Yes, I know, it’s Christmas, the season of goodwill to all men, but it’s only a temporary distraction from the realities of life in Wales. And that life is, quite simply, colonial.

The gullible among us believe that devolution has made things better. I’m at a loss to understand why anyone should believe that. We are poorer today – relative to other parts of this scepter’d isle – than we were in 1999. Devolution is a complete sham in which a bunch of appalling mediocrities, denizens of an outlandish building down Cardiff docks, are unwilling to admit, or too stupid to see, that their ‘advisors’ are nothing but conduits for policy directives from London.

If the directives don’t come via civil servants then we often hear about them by other means. We know that the Conservative regime wants to roll back the devolution process, just in case, at some future date, someone might decide to ignore the ‘advisors’ and use the powers gained for the benefit of Wales. So after thinking about it for a moment it was no real surprise to hear a man no one has heard of, representing a body no one knows about, suggest co-opting MPs into the ‘Welsh’ Government.

This was such an insane, anti-democratic suggestion, that it took many people by surprise. My first response was, ‘Who the fuck is Martin Warren, and what does the governance of Wales have to do with the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales?’ Then my cynical mind started turning and I realised that a professional body like this will almost certainly have ‘links’ with the Conservative and Unionist Party. What if they’re being used as a cat’s paw?

What I mean is that now the idea’s been publicly mooted, who’s to say that some time next year the Crabb won’t come out with, ‘Suggestions have been made . . . ‘ or ‘After considering proposals to include MPs . . . ‘ and use it to parachute a few Tory MPs into Carwyn’s multi-talented cabinet.

Santa complete copy

But note the organisation coming out with this bollocks, particularly note that it’s yet another Englandandwales outfit . . . the accountants have obviously taken no account of devolution. (Like hundreds of other bodies.) As we approach the seventeenth year of devolution Wales is more firmly integrated with England than ever before. And being integrated further every year, while Scotland – even without independence – pulls further away, in order to serve her own interests rather than England’s.

Next year sees the Assembly elections. Despite the lack of a Welsh media, increasing numbers of our people are finally waking up to the harsh reality that voting Labour achieves nothing. It only makes things worse. Plaid Cymru should be the major beneficiary of this new awareness (even if not to the same degree as the SNP). But if Ukip and Tories, Lib Dems and Greens benefit from this disillusionment more than – or even as much as – Plaid Cymru, then the time will have arrived to consider new means by which the nation’s interests are to be defended. 2016 must be Plaid Cymru’s last chance.

Some readers will consider my Christmas montage a little harsh, even unseasonal, but the realities don’t change because of some fat guy in a Coca Cola outfit. I shall return next year, refreshed and sobered up, loins girded, restocked with vitriol, ready to launch yet more trenchant attacks on the colonial system destroying our homeland.

In the meantime, and to prove that I’m not a complete and utter Scrooge . . .

Nadolig Llawen

 

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Dec 142015
 

I have written many times about the national disaster that passes for a housing strategy in our rural areas, a ‘strategy’ that sees private properties built for which there is no local demand, or at prices most of us can’t afford, while in the social sector we have an allocations system that ensures just about anyone qualifies ahead of locals. Quite recently, thanks to the indefatigable Wynne Jones, I have become acquainted with yet another cause for concern, one that would boggle a mind less inured to the lunacies of devolved Wales.

This particular example comes from Pembrokeshire, and the cause for concern is Mill Bay Homes, a subsidiary of Pembrokeshire Housing. Or at least, that’s what it says on the Mill Bay Homes website, but there’s no mention of Mill Bay Homes on the Pembrokeshire Housing website. But as they share the same address in Haverfordwest we must assume they are known to each other.

If we go to this page on the Mill Bay Homes website we see that this subsidiary of the Pembrokeshire Housing Association Ltd operates no different to a private company in that it builds and sells property using the justification that it is “a business with a social purpose” because the money it makes will be invested in social housing built by the parent company.

Mill Bay Help to Buy

Elsewhere on the Mill Bay website you will see the image reproduced above, so what is the Help to Buy – Wales scheme? Quite simply, it’s the local variant of a UK-wide programme to boost the building trade by helping prospective house buyers. A buyer needs to contribute only 5% of the purchase price, the ‘Welsh’ Government will then give a shared-equity loan of 20% if the purchaser can find an acceptable mortgage lender for the remaining 75%. An excellent idea, surely?

Certainly, and it gets even better when we open the ‘Welsh’ Government’s Help to Buy publication and scroll down to page six, where, in the right-hand column, we read, “The property purchased must be your only residence. Help to Buy – Wales is not available to assist buy–to–let investors or those who will own any property other than their Help to Buy – Wales property after completing their purchase”. (My emphasis.)

Yet despite the programme’s ban on those hoping to use public funding for private investment the Mill Bay Homes website actually encourages the “Investment Buyer”. (See panel below.) How can Mill Bay Homes offer investment buyers access to a scheme that specifically bars them! No doubt Mill Bay Homes would tell us that it differentiates between investors and owner-occupiers, and that Help to Buy is only offered to the former . . . but nowhere on its website does it say this.

*

I’ve already said that Help to Buy is a UK-wide scheme overseen in Wales by the ‘Welsh’ Government, but I wasn’t sure who actually implements it, who dishes out the lucre as it were. So I made some enquiries. The money is disbursed by Help To Buy (Wales) Ltd, company number 08708403, Incorporated 28.09.2013, and based at 1 Capital Quarter, Tyndall Street, Cardiff CF10 4BZ.

Help To Buy (Wales) Ltd has share capital of £1 held by Finance Wales Plc with the Ultimate Parent Company given as “Welsh Ministers”. Welsh Ministers! Does that refer to a vestryful of nonconformist divines or those buffoons down Cardiff docks? Unfortunately, it means the latter.

The three directors of Help To Buy (Wales) Ltd are Dr David James Staziker, Mr Kevin Patrick O’Leary and Mr Michael Owen. A fourth director, Ms Siân Lloyd Jones, resigned on September 30th. They are also directors of FW Capital Ltd (07078439), and North West Loans Ltd (07397297). In addition, there is FW Development Capital (North West) GP Ltd (08355233). All share the Help To Buy address and all link back to ‘Welsh Ministers’. In fact, there are lots of companies linked to Finance Wales Plc and O’Leary, Owen and Jones seem to have been directors of most of them.

Help to Buy 1

Why so many companies, and who are Staziker, O’Leary and Owen? Are they civil servants who (for the sake of public consumption) are answerable to the ‘Welsh’ Government or are they businesspeople or professionals employed by the ‘Welsh’ Government? Either way, what power do these people have to ensure that millions and millions of pounds of our money is properly spent? And if they simply dole out the money, then who does ensure that it’s properly spent?

*

I can see the Help to Buy scheme working just fine in England, and Scotland, and also in our towns and cities, though in our rural areas it risks exacerbating the problem I have discussed countless times, and that’s because anyone from anywhere can apply to the Help to Buy Scheme to purchase a new property in a Welsh town or village. No local connection is required.

This refusal on the part of the ‘Welsh’ Labour ‘Government’ in Cardiff docks to prioritise Welsh interests almost certainly explains the planning application for 30 new properties in Cilgerran, north Pembrokeshire, submitted by Mill Bay Homes Ltd. Here’s the planning application, I suggest you keep it open in another window or browser so that you can refer to it as I go along.

You will see – in Section 3 – that the application is for planning consent for 8 x 3-bed detached houses, 12 x 3-bed semi-detached houses, and 10 x 2-bed semi-detached houses. Scroll down to Section 18 and you will see that all thirty dwellings are described as “Social Rented Housing”. Which is odd seeing as this planning application was submitted by Mill Bay Housing, which only builds to sell, even inviting investors.

Something else worth remarking on is that in my experience very few detached three-bedroom houses are built for the social rental sector. Oh, and one other thing . . . Pembrokeshire Housing offers a Welsh version of its website, whereas Mill Bay Homes is strictly English only.

Cilgerran

For those who don’t know Cilgerran, it’s a pleasant, scenic village upriver from Cardigan. In 1931 94% of the population of Cilgerran parish was Welsh speaking, today it’s below 50%, for the usual reason: economic decline disguised with the kind of tourism that does little for locals but encourages their replacement with a wealthier stratum of good-lifers, retirees, fleece jacket fascists and others drawn by the area’s physical and scenic attractions, an immigrant population having no regard for the area’s cultural heritage and national identity.

Though perhaps the major question is, why has Mill Bay Homes, a company that on its own website is described as specialising “in the development and sale of homes suited to the lifestyles of customers who range from those buying for the first time through to those looking to downsize or retire” now put in a planning application for rented social housing?

It could be that the answer lies with the use of words such as “lifestyles”, “downsizing” and “retire”. For they sound very odd if these properties are being built for locals to rent, but they’re just the kind of sales pitch I’d expect to see used if the Cilgerran development is targeting buyers from over the border.

So what is the truth about this Cilgerran development and Mill Bay Homes? I think we’re entitled to answers. Maybe the ‘Welsh Ministers’ or the troika named above can assure us that the operations of Pembrokeshire Housing and Mill Bay Homes are above board, and that our generosity isn’t being abused.

Specifically: Has Mill Bay Homes helped ‘investors’ access the Help to Buy scheme? Is public money being used to build properties in Cilgerran described as social housing but intended to be sold on the open market?

*

The relationship between Pembrokeshire Housing and Mill Bay Homes is one I have expressed concerns about before. (Here’s one example.) It sees a body in receipt of large amounts of public funding set up a subsidiary that operates in a way that is either difficult to track, or else in a manner barred to the parent body. The relationship is too often opaque and offers no guarantee that public funding to the parent body is not channelled to the unregulated and unaudited (by funders) subsidiary.

This is what we appear to have with Pembrokeshire Housing and Mill Bay Homes. Even though the latter piously claims that its “earnings will be covenanted to the parent company (Pembrokeshire Housing) for the express purpose of re-investment in the social housing development programme in Pembrokeshire” we have no guarantee of that, because Mill Bay Homes does not receive direct public funding it is not audited.

This parent and subsidiary arrangement should not be allowed where the parent body is in receipt of public funding unless the subsidiaries are covered by the same regulations and checks as the parent body. Ask yourself this, ‘How did Mill Bay Homes build its first properties? Was it with money given by Pembrokeshire Housing? And was that start-up money funding that the parent company had received in ‘Welsh’ Government grants? If so, who authorised this generosity?

In the wider context we now see a social housing sector that is costing Wales hundreds of millions of pounds every year for very little return. The reasons for this unsustainable situation are clear.

We have far too many housing associations. All paying inflated salaries and pension packages to their senior staff. Those same executives, understanding the dog-eat-dog world they inhabit, and fearful of being swallowed up by a rival, believe they must grow to survive, which inevitably results in increased levels of speculative building unrelated to local need. But don’t worry – it’s only public money! And Wales can afford it.

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Dec 072015
 

CHINA TO RHIGOS

Not so long ago I wrote about the Pen y Cymoedd wind farm project, and developer Vattenfall’s use of bribery to win over or silence the local populace. (Click here and scroll down to the section Vattenfall of Money.) Well now I know the route by which the turbines for Pen y Cymoedd will be arriving . . . from China. Yes, China.

Because despite what it says on the Pen y Cymoedd website about, “Siemens, our turbine supplier”, they were not made in Germany, or anywhere else in Europe. We have here a Swedish nationalised industry with a German partner importing wind turbines from China! A journey of some 10,000 nautical miles by the quickest route and taking 22 days at 20 knots. Twenty-two days of a huge ship belching smoke, spilling oil, ‘accidentally’ emptying the bilges, and all manner of things falling overboard.

Though in fairness, it is suggested that these turbines, each in three sections (plus blades and spindle), will be shipped from China to Immingham (the major container port just south of Hull) in one consignment, before being broken down into smaller cargoes for trans-shipping to Swansea. The distance from Immingham to Swansea is 606 nautical miles so if, as suggested, coastal vessels are used, each carrying the component parts of a single turbine, this adds up to a further 92,000 nautical miles (counting return trips)!

CLICK TO ENLARGE

With its turbines shipped in from China to Immingham and then shipped on to Swansea, with a total distance covered of some 102,000 nautical miles (plus 532 return lorry trips between Swansea docks and Rhigos), the Pen y Cymoedd wind farm project has the environmental credentials of a dozen coal-fired power stations, each run by a thousand spectacularly flatulent cows. Perhaps we might get a comment on this from La Bartolotti or those competing to succeed her as regional mouthpiece for the Green Party of Englandandwales.

Consider this, also . . . The European steel industry is suffering from Chinese steel being ‘dumped’ on the global market at prices with which European producers cannot compete. These Chinese-made turbines for Pen y Cymoedd will be landed in Lincolnshire, yet just a few months ago, and not far south of Immingham, it was announced that steel production will cease at Redcar with the loss of 1,700 jobs, and there are to be more redundancies at Scunthorpe. On top of which, the turbines are to be landed at Swansea docks, within sight of Port Talbot steelworks! Insult upon injury.

The turbines for Pen y Cymoedd are built in a country where environmental considerations are laughed at, then lugged across oceans, around coasts, and up steep gradients, before each of them is implanted in a concrete base the size of a football pitch in what had previously been virgin moorland. These turbines will provide no permanent jobs in Wales and the profits they generate will go to Sweden or Germany. All we shall see is the annual bribe, the pretty beads paid to the backward natives while their land is raped, again.

Let’s face it, ‘Green energy’ is a massive con. And few projects are proving to be a bigger, or a more insulting con, than Pen y Cymoedd. The turbines there will probably have to run for about 300 years just to pay off the ‘debt’ to the environment incurred by making and transporting the bloody things.

UPDATE 21:00: On Friday the 4th, a few days before posting this, I sent an e-mail to Vattenfall at Pen y Cymoedd asking where the turbines for the site were made. This afternoon I received a ‘phone call from Emily Faull of Vattenfall, a charming young lady who was able to give me a few more facts.

First, she confirmed that the turbine towers were made in China, but the blades and the spindles were made in Denmark and Germany. When I asked whether the turbines had come in through Immingham Ms Faull said no, and that on November 22nd she was at Swansea docks to see “64 sections” arrive on the good ship Amethyst from China. Though if this is the right ship, then it does not appear to have docked in Swansea on November 22nd, though at that time it was en route from Spain to the Netherlands.

Whatever, 64 sections represents 16 turbines (they come in 4 sections, not 3 as I thought), so there would still need to be another four similar voyages to bring the rest of them from China. Though Ms Faull was able to confirm that the transformers were landed at Immingham, and moved by road to Pen y Cymoedd. I’m not sure where the blades and spindles were landed, or how they reached Pen y Cymoedd if they weren’t landed at Swansea.

In a part of the conversation I had some difficulty following, Ms Faull said that it had been hoped to build the turbines at the Mabey Bridge works in Chepstow, but Mabey Bridge felt it was not worth taking on workers only to lay them off again after the Pen y Cymoedd contract was completed. There was also mention of the ‘Welsh’ Government, but what role those clowns played I have no idea.

I have sent Ms Faull another e-mail (07.12.2015) to clarify the remaining details.

UPDATE 18.12.2016: I received the reply today from Ms Faull. It reads:

“Many thanks for your email and apologies for the delay in responding.

Amesthyst landed on 22nd November and I visited the ship on 24th November. The attached photo was taken at Swansea Docks on 23rd November and 64 tower sections were on board. The remaining tower sections will also come via this route. As I said on the call Mabey Bridge were lined up for the tower manufacture, but subsequently withdrew from the bidding process.

The ship came from China and the only stops required would have been for refuelling and personnel changes.

The blades have not yet been shipped, but 192 of these will come from Denmark, with 26 coming from Canada and will again be off-loaded at Swansea Docks.

The size of the wind farm means that means that the operations and maintenance team of around 30 individuals will be based on-site and early next year the team will make a special effort to recruit skilled individuals locally.

With regards to the transformers, these were manufactured at ABB in Bad Honnef, Germany, each of which weigh in at around 125,000 kg and are around 6 metres wide and 8 metres long.”

Pen y Cymoedd, Amethyst, Swansea docks

So in addition to China, Denmark and Germany, we now have components for Pen y Cymoedd also coming from Canada. The environmental credentials of this project, never good, are now compromised beyond redemption. The jobs referred to “early next year”, for which it is hoped to recruit some locals, is not a “maintenance team” at all, this team is on site solely for the erection and installation of the turbines. Once that’s done there will probably be no jobs at Pen y Cymoedd.

The Pen y Cymoedd wind farm is all about money, it’s not about the environment, or even about the generation of electricity. The hundreds of thousands of miles taken up in transporting the components from around the world, by sea and by land, means that the project’s contribution to the environment is entirely negative even if it were to run at optimum output for centuries. Pen y Cymoedd is the most blatant ‘green energy’ rip-off I have ever encountered.

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ABERYSTWYTH, THE NEXT RHYL?

Some of you may recall reading about five or so years ago that there was a terrible shortage of student accommodation in Aberystwyth, the poor dabs were dossing on the promenade, or else the lack of accommodation had driven them to outlandish places such as Corris where, it was rumoured, locals stared at strangers. Here’s one tale from the BBC in August 2011, and another from Aber Student Media a month later.

To answer this shortage of accommodation there seem to have been three separate responses. One was the university itself embarking on a building programme of ‘student villages’. The second response was that of investors buying up more large properties in the town for student lodgings. Third, local housing associations got in on the act – using public money, of course.

But now I hear that the bubble has burst, leaving the university with under-occupied ‘student villages’ that make 1960s East German architecture look attractive; private investors with Houses of Multiple Occupation suffering a dearth of multiple occupants; and overstretched housing associations . . . for example, the word on the street is that Tai Cantref is already docked up Shit Creek with its crew roistering in local taverns.

Aber student accommodation

What had once been attractive and easy-going Aberystwyth University, three years by the seaside for an undemanding 2:2, started slipping down the league tables a few years ago. In July 2014 the decline was being reported in the Times Higher Education Supplement and by October even the students were getting worried. The continuing decline was reported in May 2015. Inevitably, this resulted in a drop in the numbers of students applying to Aber’ – at the same time as there was more accommodation for them than ever. What to do?

I suggest one doesn’t need to be a soothsayer to predict that with so many properties now available in a Welsh seaside town, properties almost all of which are designed to house single people, it’s only a matter of time before the problems start arriving from over the border. (Thank God there’s still a railway line from Birmingham to Aberystwyth.) I’m thinking now of the drug addicts and the petty criminals, and of course those recently released from prison, because some of the bigger properties in the town will be ideal as ‘halfway houses’ and bail hostels. (See ‘Tragedy in Pontypridd’ below.)

All this results from Wales having a higher education sector that is too big, a higher education sector that has been encouraged to grow irresponsibly, with no reference to the effects of this unwarranted growth on host communities. While the universities willingly played along, adopting a ‘stack ’em high’ philosophy dictated by business models and profit margins that inevitably resulted in falling standards. Leaving Aberystwyth caught in a vicious circle, a refuge for third-rate academics and students who can’t gain admission elsewhere, with this inevitably deterring those who can read walls.

And now there may be a heavy price to pay. Which would be sad, because like most people, I’m very fond of Aberystwyth, I’ve had some good times there, drunk and sober. But if Aber’ is on its way to becoming the Rhyl of Cardigan Bay, in order to protect the investments of local big shots and housing associations, who will dare challenge this development?

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A LETTER FROM CEREDIGION

It’s been a while since this blog visited Cardigan Castle, but Lady Tucker and friends have been busy, and the results will take the project even further from the trust’s stated objectives of preserving the place “for the benefit of the people of Cardigan and the nation”.

The main contractors, Andrew Scott Ltd, have long since departed with their loot, leaving a very long snagging list of botched jobs behind them. A professional painter and decorator who visited recently commented that it was hard to believe from the state of some of the paint and plasterwork that the site had been handed over little more than six months ago.

But the departure of Andrew Scott has not meant that building work has ceased. Tucked away behind the main house and a small cottage is an outbuilding which was renovated by Andrew Scott Ltd to serve as a garage for guests staying in the 5 star self-catering East Wing. This is now being converted into accommodation for disabled visitors, and when it is finished early next year, it will join the three B&B rooms above the usually empty restaurant, the East Wing (sleeps six) and the Gardener’s Cottage (sleeps two).

And there are more exciting developments on the drawing board.

The old stable block which was restored from its ruined state at huge expense to serve educational purposes has been ear-marked by Lady Tucker for conversion into yet more tourist accommodation. This will not come cheap, and expect building work to continue well into 2017.

Also offering exciting potential for reconversion into tourist accommodation is a small house over on the eastern fringe of the castle complex.

Converting these buildings will mean ejecting the current occupants, including a popular cynghanedd class, and the removal of the only locally based groups still using the site to be re-housed well away from the castle by mid-2016.

No longer will well-heeled paying guests have to face the awful prospect of mingling with scruffy locals speaking gibberish, and the Cadwgan Trust can get down to the serious business of marketing the place as luxury tourist accommodation and a venue for weddings and corporate jollies. Or what we locals call a posh hotel.

Paving the way for this is a Wedding Fayre on 6 December, a time of the year when all but the most self-obsessed brides and their mothers will have other things on their mind.

Cultural heritage

The cultural bit will be confined to a few events (Gilbert and Sullivan, Shakespeare, etc.) in the summer, while as a sideline, non-resident visitors willing to part with a fiver will be allowed in to gawp at the large expanse of lawn and spend a few minutes in the couple of rooms containing exhibitions of old tat. “Look Jeremy, a smashed up old 1940s typewriter which once belonged to the old girl who used to live here!”

After an injection of £12 million plus, including all the funds raised locally and countless thousands of hours of unpaid voluntary work, the people of Cardigan will find that just a year after opening, the castle will to all intents and purposes have reverted to being a private fiefdom, this time run by Lady T and her friends from Aberporth.

Spin cycle

Other recent developments include a parting of ways with Equinox, the Cardiff-based firm which tried to steer the castle through the PR catastrophes which dominated much of 2015.

PR is now being handled in-house by Sue Lewis whose portfolio of responsibilities also includes “facilities”.

When not working for Cadwgan, Sue moonlights for the dire Cambrian News, which also employs her hubby to report on local news.

Not long after it ran its notorious “Incomers are Nazis says Plaid candidate” headline, the Cambrian News was at it again with a piece which suggested that Hefin Wyn, the respected local author, journalist and prominent critic of the Cadwgan Trust, had run a campaign of harassment and “virtual persecution” against Glen Johnson, who has resigned from Cadwgan’s board and various committees more often than most of us have had hot dinners.

It subsequently turned out that the newspaper had published these very serious accusations, including a claim that Mr Johnson was having to resign to protect his family, without actually checking the facts or asking the castle’s history man for evidence to back up his claims.

The paper has refused to disclose who wrote the offending article or to hand over to IPSO, the press complaints body, what it says are e-mails citing persecution and harassment it received from Glen Johnson some weeks later.

Whoever wrote the offending article, Sue has clearly been reading a copy of “Teach Yourself PR”, including Lesson One: The Importance of Creating a Narrative because it is now being put about that she feels threatened in Cardigan, and is reluctant even to drive in from Aberporth on her own.

The narrative is that critics of Cadwgan Trust are a bunch of dangerous bigots and fanatics who, we are asked to believe, are lurking behind every lamp post and municipal litter bin between Pendre and Pwllhai in this small market town.

If it’s not the wicked Hefin Wyn and the snipers Cyfeillion Rhys ap Gruffydd have posted above Siop y Cardi, it’s the stiletto-wielding assassins of Cymdeithas y Chwiorydd and the suicide bombers of Merched y Wawr.

We’ll probably be able to read all about it soon in “Wales’ biggest selling weekly newspaper”.

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TRAGEDY IN PONTYPRIDD

Some of you will have read accounts from the trial of two men recently convicted of murder in Pontypridd. One of the killers, and the victim, were residents at the Morning Star Inn, on Llantrisant Road. (The second killer was said to be of no fixed abode, but I suspect he too has a connection with the Morning Star.) As you might expect, I got to wondering about the Morning Star, and it’s quite a story.

The Morning Star was, until closed after the murder on February 28th, run as both a pub and a bail hostel or halfway house for released criminals. Owned and / or run by “former Egyptian police officer Saad Taha”. Here’s a report from July 2013 of a public meeting organised so that various authorities and local politicians could hear locals voice their concerns about the Morning Star. They relate things they have witnessed first-hand only to be met with a wall of denials and evasions.

According to DePlod despite reports of knife-carrying, discarded needles and bad behaviour in and around the Morning Star “there is little evidence this came directly from the Morning Star”. Of course not, it was pure coincidence. The incredulity increased when I read that Taha wants us to believe that even though these ex-cons are living above a pub, they are not allowed to drink in the pub! I battled through this storm of bullshit and made further enquiries.

In July 2007 there was a planning application (07/1389/10) for a “raised patio / bar extension – beer garden”, and in March 2008 (08/0393/10) for a “rear balcony”. The first application was submitted in the name of a Mr D Watkins and the second in the name of Saad Taha, so is it reasonable to assume that the Morning Star was still being run as a pub in 2007 but the premises changed hands some time in late 2008 or early 2009 and was then run as both a pub and a halfway house? Both applications were withdrawn.

Next, on September 20th 2011, Taha made an application (11/1140/10) for “Conversion of existing bar areas into bedrooms (Change of use).- amended plan received 25/11/11 – reduction in total number of bedrooms from 17 to 16 – amended location plan received on 26/01/12.” With the first floor already being used to house ex-convicts it appears Taha now sought to convert the ground floor (pub) area and even the basement (cellar). This plan was very wisely turned down by RCT council.

But then, on December 14th, 2012, another application (12/1293/09) was lodged, “Application for a Lawful Development Certificate for an Existing use as a public house and hostel.” Which I take to mean that Taha was now asking for retrospective planning consent for a building already being used – without permission – as a hostel. Planning permission was refused.

I find it significant, and rather confusing, that in his rejected planning applications of September 2011 and December 2012 Taha is asking for a “change of use”. Also confusing, is that the earlier of those applications states that there are already 16 bedrooms at the Morning Star, yet according to the WalesOnline report of the July 2013 public meeting the place only has only “seven beds”. Which is right?

Morning Star reviews

So here’s the question. Seeing as retrospective planning permission for a change of use to a hostel was refused in 2011 and 2012, why was the Morning Star allowed to operate as a hostel? Everybody in the area knew what the building was being used for, including the police and the council, so was it somehow allowed to operate as a hostel without the required planning permissions? If not, then perhaps someone at RCT council can direct me to the approval for the Morning Star to be used as a halfway house for criminals.

Another teaser is, who owns the Morning Star? Having checked on the Land Registry website using the correct post code I can find nothing under Morning Star or 59 Llantrisant Road. So we can’t be sure if Taha actually owns the property (as he claims) or if he’s merely an agent for someone else. Presumably Rhondda Cynon Taf council knows who owns this place, and if it is Saad Taha, why doesn’t he register his ownership with the Land Registry? He’s had long enough.

There’s something odd about the Morning Star saga. Not least, how does a former Egyptian copper end up running a halfway house in Ponty? And what checks were done into his background? Where do his ‘clients’ come from? And who supplies them?

Anyway, undeterred by the minor inconvenience of a man being beaten to death on the premises, and before those charged with the murder had been tried, Saad Taha was again thinking of profiting from the Morning Star when, on August 26th this year, he submitted a planning application (15/1170/10) that reads, “Proposed change of use from existing public house and bedrooms to 6 no. self contained flats”. Wording that raises yet more questions.

For example, why does it describe a home for ex-cons as “bedrooms”? Or is this more evidence that no permission was ever granted for the property to be used as a hostel? Though a bigger worry for the local residents should be, who is going to live in these flats? Given the record of Saad Taha, Rhondda Cynon Taf council, and the pooh-pooh police, locals have every reason to be concerned.

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