Jun 292017
 

But first . . .

A LESSON FROM HISTORY

Following victories over the Persians at Salamis (480 BC) and Plataea (479 BC), and with mainland Greece liberated, the Spartans withdrew from their leadership of the wartime alliance. Athens seized the opportunity and in 478 BC created the Delian League.

Athenian greed and heavy-handedness soon made the other city-states realise that what they’d thought was an alliance of equals was nothing of the kind. Everything now flowed to Athens and the other city-states were little more than colonies. The League’s treasury was used to enhance and glorify Athens, funding prestige projects such as the Parthenon.

Courtesy of Ancient History Encyclopedia

Eventually, the other city-states could take no more and rebelled. They appealed to Sparta for help and so began the Peloponnesian War, which ran, in three phases, from 431 BC to 404 BC. At the end of the war Athens was defeated and ruined, Thebes and Corinth even wanted to destroy the city and enslave its citizens, but Sparta said no.

The Peloponnesian War was bloody and destructive. Due to Athenian selfishness the other Greek states were even prepared to seek Persian help in bringing her down and ending the golden age of Greece.

Two news items this week have reminded me of Athens and the Delian League.

BACK TO THE 1960s

The first was that the ‘Welsh’ Government will not back the Circuit of Wales in Ebbw Vale. This is something most of us knew weeks ago, it’s why announcing the decision was postponed until after the general election.

But don’t worry! Economy and Infrastructure Secretary, Ken Skates, softened the blow with: “The Welsh Government is therefore today committing to building a new automotive technology business park in Ebbw Vale, with funding of £100million over 10 years, with the potential to support 1,500 new FTE jobs. We will begin this work with the delivery of 40,000 sq ft of manufacturing space on land currently in public ownership.”

So the ‘Welsh’ Government kills off the Circuit of Wales yet still plans to build an ‘automotive technology park’ in Ebbw Vale. Apart from Ferrari’s Cafe what links does Ebbw Vale now have with the automotive industry? Or to put it another way, after 18 years of devolution and ‘Welsh’ Labour rule we’ve gone back to the 1960s with depressed areas offered nothing better than industrial parks. God Almighty!

But this saga may not be finished, for what if the scheme’s backers are able to find full private funding for the venture, will the ‘Welsh’ Government then support the Circuit of Wales or continue to be obstructive? I know where my money would go.

Let’s be absolutely clear: The Circuit of Wales was not supported by the ‘Welsh’ Government because Ebbw Vale is too far from Cardiff and the project didn’t offer enough benefits to Cardiff.

MAJOR TRAUMA

The nearest major trauma centres to Wales are in Liverpool, Stoke, Birmingham and Bristol. Some time ago the decision was taken that south Wales should have its own trauma centre. The two candidate sites were Morriston Hospital in Swansea and the University Hospital of Wales in Cardiff.

On Wednesday we learnt that some anonymous panel had recommended that the MTC  should be located in Cardiff . . . despite Cardiff being so near to the existing centre in Bristol.

The centres in England are located where they are for the very good reason that patients suffering serious injury or sudden and serious debilitation benefit greatly from being treated within the first hour; in fact, it’s a matter of life or death. This period is referred to as the ‘golden hour’.

The maps (kindly supplied by BBC Wales) below show the ‘golden hour’ distances from those Major Trauma Centres closest to Wales together with the predicted ‘golden hour’ ranges for MTCs located in Cardiff and Swansea.

The first map, for existing MTCs, tells us that Cardiff and Newport are already within the ‘golden hour’ for the Bristol MTC, while anywhere west of Bridgend is not covered.

Turning to the second map, the Cardiff option, we see a slight improvement, in that Swansea Bay is now covered by the ‘golden hour’, but not western Gower, nor, I suspect, Llanelli. What’s more, rather than complementing the Bristol MTC to form a network of coverage – as we see in England – a Cardiff MTC would almost be in competition with Bristol. The overlap is huge.

The Swansea option, however, provides a real improvement, with the ‘golden hour’ now extending deep into Pembrokeshire and reaching the Cardigan Bay coastline. The ranges of the Swansea and Bristol MTCs overlap around Cardiff and Newport, but they don’t duplicate each other to anything like the same extent as the Cardiff option. Swansea and Bristol would complement each other perfectly.

Of course it’s being argued that, ‘Cardiff has this, and Cardiff has that’, to justify a MTC, but anything can be built or transferred. What cannot be changed is geography, and the critical and determining criterion for locating the Major Trauma Centre should be saving lives in the ‘golden hour’. You cannot emphasise the golden hour all the way through the process and then ignore it in order to locate the MTC in Cardiff.

To put a large area of the south west outside the ‘golden hour’ through handing Cardiff yet another prestige project – for that’s how it’s viewed in Cardiff – will be a difficult decision for politicians to defend.

The role of the ‘Welsh’ media in this debate has been somewhat bizarre, though predictable. On Wednesday WalesOnline ran this story. Putting the case for Swansea was Rob Stewart, leader of Swansea council. (Though the story was quickly updated and for some reason Stewart was replaced with Clive Lloyd, his deputy!)

Putting the case for Cardiff – which is what I assume he was doing – was a ‘speed flyer’ named Niall McCann. (Though by the time the story appeared this morning in Llais y Sais McCann’s contribution had disappeared.)

click to enlarge

McCann had shattered his spine speed flying off Pen y Fan and it had been put together by the University Hospital of Wales. McCann opined, “I’m 100% on board with anything that will improve the NHS services on offer. We are a capital city and we should be leading the way in Wales.”

So in the expert opinion of Niall McCann of Cardiff the new MTC should be in Cardiff, ‘Cos Cardiff’s the capital, innit?’ For reasons best known to itself WalesOnline even included in the article a video of McCann speed flying to remind us of the unnecessary risks he takes.

Perhaps the message we were expected to glean from this article was that having injured himself on the Beacons McCann would have been dead or crippled ere the donkey carrying him could have reached an MTC based at Morriston Hospital. If not, then I have no idea what purpose Trinity Mirror thought it was serving by including McCann’s cameo.

Then on Thursday, the BBC rubbed it in with a story headlined “Swansea ’10 to 15 years behind Cardiff’, think tank says”. Obviously unsuited to have a Major Trauma Centre.

TIME TO RETRACE OUR STEPS

But the problems of Wales today go beyond putting all the nation’s eggs in the Cardiff basket, they reach into every corner of our national life. Just look around you and ask what 18 years of devolution have achieved. Go on, and be honest!

Wales is poorer relative to other parts of the state, and other parts of Europe, than she was before we voted for devolution. Outside of Cardiff our urban and post-industrial areas are suffering managed decline, while our rural and coastal areas serve as recreation and retirement areas for England, with the Welsh population, and their identity, marginalised in both situations.

We have a self-styled Labour ‘Government’ in Cardiff docks that refuses to use even the limited powers it has for fear of upsetting anyone in London – including its own MPs and peers! Competing with Labour we have a Conservative Party currently in league with the Orange Order and the UDA, and a ‘national party’ that is, as Martin Shipton described it this morning, “a pressure group”. (And it’s not often I agree with Shippo!) Though it’s questionable whether Plaid Cymru really is challenging Labour.

‘Ah, but we’ve got devolution now, it’s something to build on’, I hear, from those who are in reality satisfied with this simulacrum of self-government, where free suppositories or some such nonsense qualify as radical initiatives. So who’s going to do the ‘building’? We know it won’t be Labour. It will never be the Conservative and Unionist Party. And there’s not a hope in hell of it being the pressure group.

Devolution has delivered a comfortable and undemanding level for ambitious councillors. To serve these politicians we now have a burgeoning and expensive bureaucracy. Because the party in control is Labour devolution has resulted in a vast and corrupt Third Sector sucking up billions of pounds to keep otherwise unemployable Labour supporters in jobs.

Yet we have no media to hold this juggernaut to account. (Though it’s debatable which is worse – the absence of a Welsh media or the constant bigotry exposed in the English media.) There is no real oversight or control of expenditure, and no justice for anyone wronged by this system. Yet if you investigate ‘devolution’ in any depth you soon realise what a sham it is.

For example, the ‘Welsh’ Government pretends it has its own Planning Inspectorate. The truth is that the Planning Inspectorate for Englandandwales answers to the Department for Communities and Local Government in London, it merely has a branch office in Cardiff. Which means that the Local Development Plans for Welsh local authorities are determined in London . . . and the ‘Welsh’ Government goes along with the charade!

P.S. Soon after publishing this post my attention was drawn to a perfect example of the ‘Welsh’ Government’s relationship with the Planning Inspectorate. This development at Llay is part of a wider strategy to turn our north east into commuter territory for north west England. And Carwyn Jones knows it.

The ‘Welsh’ Government and the whole apparatus of devolution soaks up money that could be better spent in Wales, and might be better spent if the useless edifice was swept away. Which is why I plan to start a petition to the UK Parliament asking for a referendum to be held to determine whether we should keep the Welsh Assembly and all that goes with it. (This will be done once a new Petitions Committee is formed.)

Yes, I know such a petition will attract Kippers and other BritNats, but I don’t care, there are bigger issues at stake. On almost every issue that matters we are still ruled from London anyway – so what do we stand to lose? Devolution is used to hide this fact, and to make us believe that we control our own affairs. It acts like some national dose of Prozac.

When you’ve taken a wrong turning you have two choices: either plod on until you fall off a cliff or sink in a bog, or else admit you made a mistake, retrace your steps, and next time make sure you know where you want to go.

Devolution was a wrong turning.

♦ end ♦

Jan 082017
 

I’ve argued many times that Wales is in a bad way, a condition I described in a recent blog as “a basket case country with a begging bowl ‘economy'”. We’re at the bottom of every table measuring the state of the nation – PISA results are woeful, GVA figure are terrible and the number of economically inactive people is worrying.

Devolution has achieved nothing; in my more cynical moments I think it’s just a distraction, or a placebo.

All that seems to matter is that the money keeps rolling in to prop up the edifice and keep the politicians and their legions of cronies in jobs; with Labour trying to soothe away every damning statistic or latest piece of bad news with yet more platitudinous bollocks. Despite having had almost 18 years to improve things, the truth is that ‘Welsh’ Labour has made things worse.

The only conclusion to draw is that the party is either incapable or unwilling to improve things for our people. (Or maybe that devolution is designed to fail.) Which makes you wonder why so many Welsh people have stuck with Labour for so long. But now, after a hundred years of failure, I sense that more and more people realise that these clowns will never deliver a democratic, prosperous and confident Wales.

Despite Labour’s countless shortcomings there always seemed to be little point in looking to Plaid Cymru for meaningful change. (Regular readers will know my views on that score.) Though that said, one new face among Plaid politicians has caught my eye, I’m referring now to South Wales Central AM Neil McEvoy.

Let me make clear that I have never met Neil McEvoy, but it’s obvious from a distance that he’s cut from a different cloth to most Plaid politicians. He comes from neither the cultural nationalist wing nor from the Left-Green wing. He seems to be a man with both feet firmly planted in his own community, not looking to save the planet or pander to Guardianistas. This rootedness makes it almost inevitable that he confronts Labour head-on, and exposes the corruption at the heart of the ‘Welsh’ Government.

In addition, he seems to be that rarity among Plaid politicians, a street fighter, a species of which Labour has always had plenty, but dear parchus Plaid always found rather, well . . . not neis.

I find this refreshing, because as I’ve always argued, there are too many in Plaid Cymru who allow outdated and discredited ideology to dominate their thinking, and then they pile one mistake on another by lining up with their Guardianista friends in seeing the Tories as the enemy. But the biggest party in Wales, and therefore the real enemy of Wales, is Labour.

As I said just now, McEvoy fights Labour on their own turf. And it’s working. In the May 2016 Assembly elections voters in the working class estates in the west of Cardiff turned out to get him within 1,000 votes of unseating Mark Drakeford, Labour Health Minister at the time. That means that the former seat of Rhodri Morgan, head of the Morgan dynasty, is now a key marginal for the next election.

Understandably, this has sent Labour into something of a panic, and it’s not solely attributable to the votes McEvoy’s taken from them. For example, since being elected AM he’s called for an official Welsh register of lobbyists. When Carwyn Jones said lobbyists had no access to Labour Ministers McEvoy produced photographic evidence of Labour Ministers meeting with lobbyists. Backtracking followed, and Jones had to confirm that lobbyists do have access, just not formal access. In other words, and like so much else with ‘Welsh’ Labour, it’s all done in the shadows.

I’m also glad to report that McEvoy has been asking questions about David Goldstone and his influence on the ‘Welsh’ Government’s property deals. Questions that other politicians should have been asking a long, long time ago. He exposed the scarcely believable loss of £1m on just 2 shops sold by the ‘Welsh’ Government, without a valuation, in Pontypridd. (My 9-year-old grandson could have got a better deal than that! Come to think of it, so could his kid brother.)

UPDATE, 13.01.2017: We were paying for Goldstone’s trips to Cardiff, and his stays at the Hilton Hotel.

Now I hear he’s chasing up something unearthed by the Public Accounts Committee, on which he sits. It seems Cardiff Aviation at St Athan doesn’t pay rent; one suggestion being that someone, somewhere, possibly belonging to a certain political party, gave the OK for Cardiff Aviation to enjoy the St Athan facilities rent free. Then there’s an issue with planes being unable to land in fog, which it seems lost Cardiff the EasyJet link. And if that’s not enough to get the bruvvers worked up, allegations of institutionalised corruption have been made against Cardiff’s Labour-controlled council.

Despite that litany of nasal intrusions what may have really marked the South Wales Central Member’s card with ‘Welsh’ Labour is his objection to the billions likely to be made on the Cardiff Local Development Plan. Labour campaigned on the promise to protect Cardiff’s green fields. As soon as they were elected they announced plans to build on most of them. Contrived population projections from the English Planning Inspectorate (dealt with more than once on this blog) being used as the justification.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, some of the land has already been sold off at knock-down, agricultural prices. Read my posts Pies, Planes and Property Development and Pies, Planes and Property Development 2.

Make no mistake, there is something very shady about the Cardiff LDP, and challenging it will make you a target. Though I don’t think anyone expected Labour to be so desperate as to try to tarnish McEvoy a racist for his objections (a default position for Labour politicos), with even the First Minister getting involved. Bizarre in the extreme given Neil McEvoy’s multi-ethnic family background.

So deeply under Labour’s thick hide has Neil McEvoy managed to wriggle that I have it on very good authority (a former Labour councillor) that up to a third of Labour group meetings in Cardiff are dedicated to plotting his downfall. I was unable to confirm if voodoo dolls and pins are involved.

So no one should be surprised that he’s now being investigated by Wales’ Public Services Ombudsman in a desperate attempt to find him guilty of bringing the Council into disrepute – after trying to stop a bedroom tax eviction! How could anyone be charged with bringing a Labour council into disrepute!

The ‘charge’ seems to be that he was overheard saying that he can’t wait for Cardiff Council to be re-structured after May’s election. ‘Welsh’ Labour’s hope is to get the Local Government Panel to ban him from council elections – for talking about a policy of restructuring! The PSO, Nick Bennett, is hardly politically neutral himself (see my previous article here).

The article linked to reminds us that in an earlier existence Bennett was the business partner of an up and coming Labour politician who went on to become a Minister. Combine this with his lobbying for the tobacco industry and his role in huge wage increases for executives at Community Housing Cymru – the umbrella group for our housing associations (of which he was then CEO) – and it all tends to tarnish his credentials as an impartial arbiter of behaviour in political and public life.

Nick Bennett is an insider, he’s part of the ‘machine’, and in a working democracy he would never have been appointed Public Services Ombudsman.

But things go beyond run-of-the-mill political corruption when we remember that twice in the last 12 months Neil McEvoy has been burgled. In 2016 he came home from a public meeting about a landfill site to find the house ransacked by intruders, but while they took a great deal of trouble to break in they ignored the money, jewellery and pocket-sized iPads. Preferring to rifle through his paperwork, stealing some documents.

And McEvoy’s ‘Welcome to 2017, you bastard!’ was an office burglary, with valuable items once again ignored, but papers rummaged through and locked drawers broken open. This is simply too much of a coincidence not to be coordinated.

When the two burglaries are linked to the persistent allegations of the stalking of his sister, with the boys in blue refusing to interview independent witnesses, to the mass theft of placards during his election campaign (some removed by a Labour-controlled housing association!), we begin to get an understanding of the breadth, the depth, and the bitterness of the campaign against him.

I cannot think of any Plaid politician who has got under the skin of Labour in the way Neil McEvoy has – too many haven’t even tried. No Plaid politician before has ever stood up in the Assembly and named just some of the Labour cronies earning huge salaries in the public and third sectors. And no other Plaid politician has had the guts to take on the corrupt land deals that the Labour Party waived through.

One bad apple may spoil the barrel, but one good apple doesn’t save the cider either. Plaid is still too cosy with the liberal, statist, anti-Brexit, ‘Isn’t Trump ghastly’ elite, so embittered since they learnt what ordinary people really think of them and their ideas. But whether you support Plaid Cymru or not, if you believe in honesty and democracy, then you should support Neil McEvoy.

If devolution is ever going to be more than a chimera then at the very least we need more AMs prepared to take on the corrupt establishment and stand up to the vested interests. If that establishment can be so rattled by one ballsy Plaid politician then it makes you realise what effect a few more could have.

But from where I’m sitting too many in Plaid’s hierarchy seem to be ‘uncomfortable’ with Neil McEvoy. Because there have always been people in Plaid Cymru reluctant to make a ‘fuss’, terrified of actually succeeding, some have even worked to undermine the party when success threatened.

By comparison, the Labour Party in Wales has always been ruthless in maintaining its hold on power in order to support its networks of cronyism and corruption. Labour has been so dominant for so long that people seemed resigned to these abuses, but times are changing, and with Labour losing electoral support – getting just a third of the vote in last May’s Assembly election – there’s a growing perception that a century of political control – and the power of patronage that goes with it – may be coming to an end.

Which is wonderful news for Wales, but this fin-de-siècle moment is not with us yet. The system is decayed and rotten, like a dangerous tree, but while we are trying to push it over there are still many people reliant on it for sustenance, and they’ll fight dirty to keep it standing. But it will fall, that’s now certain; so it’s up to us to make sure that when it comes down it topples on the right people.

Let it be clearly understood – in case any lawyers read this – that I am not for one minute suggesting that the Labour and Unionist Party was implicated in the break-ins suffered by Neil McEvoy. No, sir. It could well be that these offences were committed by an insomniac with an insatiable urge to read political documents by torchlight. If so, then that person clearly needs help.

If there is no help available then I shall set up the Welsh Insomniac Burglars Aid Society and whack in a grant application for a couple of mill to tackle this horrendous problem; then it’ll be a new motor . . . a few months of wine-tasting in Argentina, maybe go watch Boca . . . apartment down Mumbles . . . conferences in St. Petersburg, Hong Kong, Rio . . . Why not? That’s how Labour’s Third Sector operates.

I’d have to use a false name of course, and pretend to be an English Labourite luvvie who’s just arrived in Wales.

end ♦

Nov 012016
 

INTRODUCTION

In addition to the previous post on tourism I also put out a message on Twitter and Facebook last week reminding people that Gwynedd Council was consulting over whether, or by how much, to raise council tax on holiday homes. The ability to raise council tax on second homes and empty homes being just one of a number of changes we can look forward to in the housing market.

gwynedd-council-tax

Holiday homes also face the possibility of higher Stamp Duty Land Tax when this is devolved in April 2018. (As do Buy-to-Let properties.) Or rather, from that date, we shall see Stamp Duty replaced with a new Land Transaction Tax, to bring Wales into line with the Scottish and UK governments. There was a consultation process, but few responded, seeing as it was not well advertised and ran from July 13 to the end of August.

High summer is an odd time to hold a public consultation process, but while the rest of us were sipping mint juleps and humming Summertime, you can be sure that the organisations representing holiday home owners and private landlords were beavering away ensuring that those they represent had their concerns noted.

Another change is that the ‘Welsh’ Government is now empowered to introduce a tourist tax of the kind found across Europe in cities and regions experiencing large numbers of tourists, with the money raised then used to fund those local services that tourists use but otherwise would not pay for.

Taken together, and implemented imaginatively, as an integrated system, these changes could have wide-ranging and far-reaching implications, all of which would be beneficial to the national interest. Let’s look at these measures in a little more detail.

COUNCIL TAX ON SECOND HOMES

This is an issue that provokes a great deal of debate and passion, and tends to divide people along rather predictable lines. For example, how many second home owners will support increasing council tax on their properties? And how many of those attending one of the regular Meibion Glyndŵr Reunion Dinners (black tie affairs) will argue for anything less than a 500% increase?

A great deal of nonsense is talked in defence of second homes. Here are some of the arguments we’ve heard ad nauseum over the years.

‘To raise council tax on holiday homes in Wales would be racist’. Which is one way of confirming that they are overwhelmingly English owned.

‘Holiday homes put a lot of money into the local economy’. Which wants us to believe that a property lived in for two or three months a year puts more into the local economy than that same property would if lived in permanently by a local family.

‘Nobody else wanted to buy it’. Of course not, you conducted a comprehensive local survey, didn’t you?

‘People would stop coming here’. Why? And as I say, holiday homes often put little into the local economy. Something brought home to me a few weeks ago as I was a-sauntering through Aberdyfi.

A builder crossed the road and asked, ‘Are you Royston Jones?’ Despite not knowing him, and being unsure of his position, I nevertheless answered in the affirmative. After which he introduced himself and we discussed this and that. He’d been in school with my kids and he seemed an easy-going sort of bloke until, while discussing holiday homes, he made it clear that one thing that really pissed him off was holiday home owners bringing in tradesmen from their home area, rather than giving work to locals.

I knew exactly what he was talking about. My wife looks after a holiday home in our village for a family from the East Midlands (she has done for a few decades). Earlier this year there was a builder from the same area working on the property for months, and living in it while he worked. So here we had an example of local tradesmen denied work and local B&Bs denied business.

There is no doubt that raising council tax on holiday homes would encourage some owners to sell and deter others from buying. And the greater the increase then the greater the encouragement/deterrent. More importantly, increasing council tax on holiday homes would bring more properties into full-time use, and this would lead to more vibrant towns and villages, because shops, pubs and other facilities struggle to survive in communities with too many properties empty for most of the year. And this is not just a Welsh problem.

Consequently, there is no sensible or rational argument against raising council tax on holiday homes across Wales, which is why opponents of such moves are forced to employ absurd arguments. Here are a couple of examples that the Cambrian News (where else?) carried some three years ago, when the subject of council tax on holiday homes was being discussed. (Click to enlarge.)

cambrian-news-letters-1

According to Eric Richards of Aberdyfi, second homes are essential to the local economy. He seems to believe that a property ceasing to be a holiday home would remain empty and fall derelict. Another blind spot is failing to understand that Aberdyfi is not representative of Gwynedd. The economy of Bangor – the largest settlement – is based on higher education, administration, the retail sector, etc. The economy of north Gwynedd as a whole would hardly notice a doubling of the council tax paid on holiday homes.

While ‘Pat Beaumont’ believes that increasing council tax “borders on racism”, and might result in “property burning starting again”. Quite how tackling the problem of holiday homes would lead to “property burning” is not explained. Does the writer envision an arson campaign being waged by those feeling aggrieved because they’ve sold their holiday homes to locals?

LAND TRANSACTION TAX (FORMERLY STAMP DUTY)

The new Land Transaction Tax (from April 2018) offers another tool with which to reduce the numbers of holiday homes, or certainly to tax sales of holiday homes and invest the funding gained in the wider community. Of course there are issues to be resolved, fine tuning needed here and there, but a feel for the issues involved can be found in the Summary of Responses (to the consultation process).

As I suggested in the Introduction, those in the know, the property professionals and the business associations, made sure their views were known. The Summary tells us there were six, formal written responses, and these came from:

1/ Chartered Institute of Taxation and Stamp Taxes Practitioners Group

2/ Residential Landlords Association

3/ National Association of Estate Agents

4/ KPMG

5/ Central Association of Agricultural Valuers

6/ Wales Association of Self-Catering Operators

I bet you didn’t even know there was a Chartered Institute of Taxation and Stamp Taxes Practitioners Group (and it is ‘Chartered’, not ‘Charted’, as it says in the Summary).

Many of these organisations of course operate within an Englandandwales framework, which explains their wish that there “should be ‘only one rate throughout the UK’.” Though I suggest that the ‘Welsh’ Government be guided by what’s best for Wales, not what’s convenient for the National Association of Estate Agents.

The current Stamp Duty does not apply to the following categories: property purchases of £40,000 or less; caravans, mobile homes and houseboats; non-residential transactions; employer provided accommodation; and certain purchases of leasehold interests subject to specified conditions.

Seeing as those responding to the survey were asked if they agreed with these exceptions it’s reasonable to assume that these are not set in stone. Which would mean that it’s within the powers of the ‘Welsh’ Government to reduce the threshold to £10,000 or less and apply the new Land Transaction Tax to the sale of static caravans.

Another imaginative use of the new Tax would be to reduce the numbers retiring to Wales, or certainly make retirees contribute more to the country in which they plan to spend their declining years. There is nothing heartless or racist about this, it’s pure economics.

Everyone – and here I really do mean everyone – agrees that the ‘advanced world’ is facing a demographic time-bomb with its ageing population. With a decreasing percentage of the population in work, paying the taxes needed, it becomes more and more of a burden on the national purse to support the growing numbers of elderly people.

Therefore, any country or territory attracting elderly people from outside of its borders has problems. Any country actively encouraging another country’s older people to move in is behaving irresponsibly.

Yet in Wales, this is exactly what we do, by allowing, even encouraging, the building of tens of thousands of new properties in rural and coastal areas that planners – and here I include the Planning Inspectorate – know will not be bought by local people, some of them will even be marketed over the border as ‘retirement properties’. And yet politicians and civil servants refuse to publicly admit what they all know – attracting large numbers of elderly migrants inevitably results in an overburdened health service and other issues.

I know I’ve used this example before, but it explains perfectly what I’m talking about. In the area where I live, south west Gwynedd between Barmouth and Aberdyfi, the 2011 census told us that the 65+ age group makes up 30.1% of the population. And within that age group 65% was born in England.

The figure for the percentage of the population in the 65+ age group is 20.7% for Gwynedd as a whole. For Flintshire it’s 17.6%. For Cardiff 13.2%.

Gwynedd SW Wards merged

This is not natural. This is not sustainable. This is a recipe for disaster for our health service and our wider economy. Unless of course you believe that retirement homes and the like, paying the minimum wage or less, can be the foundation for a healthy economy.

A partial remedy lies in applying a higher level of the new Land Transaction Tax – why not double? – to persons over the age of 50 moving to Wales who have never previously lived here. The extra funding could go straight into the Welsh NHS.

TOURIST TAX

As I’ve said above, tourist taxes of various kinds can be found around the world and, increasingly, across Europe. This article from lovemoney.com explains the tourist taxes you can expect to pay in a variety of countries. If we look at the figures for Italy we see that – as in other countries – different cities and regions charge different rates. Rome charges €6 a night to stay in a four-star hotel whereas Palermo, on Sicily, charges just €2. Florence charges €2.50 a night for self-catering, Milan charges nothing.

venice

There is no reason why Gwynedd couldn’t charge £2 a head per night for self-catering, including static caravans, but Merthyr, or some other area wanting to attract more visitors, could decide against any charge at all. The system across Europe seems to be left to local authorities to decide and it could be the same in Wales.

The Bevan Foundation discussed the issue in February and said, “We suggest that a tourism tax should operate in Wales as a per night charge on hotel room and holiday park stays, capped at seven nights. The tax would be collected and managed by local authorities, and the money raised would be allocated to fund local authority and police services.”

For once I find myself agreeing with the Bevan Foundation (God!), the money raised by a tourist tax must stay within the area where it has been collected and used for the benefit of the local people, the majority of whom derive no benefit from tourism. The money raised must not, as the tourism operators will demand, be spent on encouraging more tourists.

And as for something else we’ll hear –‘This will drive people away!’ The continental experience is that it doesn’t. It’s just a small surcharge that ensures tourism puts something back into the communities it affects. The greater that effect, then the more that should be put back. (And with the post-Brexit pound plummeting and hard times ahead, now is the ideal time for Wales to introduce a tourist tax, ready for the 2017 season.)

CONCLUSION

With a co-ordinated strategy using legislation already in place or soon to be enacted we could achieve a number of what I consider to be desirable objectives:

  • By increasing council tax on second homes, and also using the new Land Transaction Tax, we could greatly reduce the numbers of holiday homes and make the dwellings released available to the wider community.
  • By applying the Land Transaction Tax and a tourist tax to static caravans, but exempting serviced accommodation, we could take the first step on the long road to removing the hideous caravan sites that mar our coastlines and replacing them with hotels and other establishments that will provide more jobs and put more money into local economies.
  • By applying the Land Transaction Tax (and perhaps Council Tax) selectively to retirees we could reduce the pressures on the NHS and various services in many parts of the country. Again, this could be done by district. For example, increase the LTT for those wanting to retire to Pembrokeshire and Conwy, but not to Wrexham and Neath Port Talbot.

There will of course be obstacles to making any of this happen.

To begin with, there will be those who’ll argue, ‘Oh, but caravans and care homes are the basis of our local economy’. If anyone really believes that then what they consider to be ‘the local economy’ is no better than living in the shadow of a big house, surviving off scraps and cast-offs, and constantly being lied to about ‘generosity’.

Yet the defenders of caravan sites and care homes will not all be beaten and brainwashed, for some people make a lot of money from them. These will not give up easily. There will also be well-connected interests opposing Wales using the Land Transaction Tax, council tax and tourist tax in her own interests.

Finally we can guarantee opposition from the ‘Welsh’ politicians in London, who see their role as opposing anything that might benefit Wales . . . if there’s the remotest possibility it might harm England’s interests. Also the civil servants in Wales, advising our Assembly and ‘Welsh’ Government, but answerable to London. And with so many senior officers in local government having no loyalty to Wales we can expect hostility from that quarter too.

It will be an uphill struggle to change a system that has been in place for centuries in order to start running Wales in the interests of the Welsh. The tools are available; it’s now a question of having the will, the courage, to use those tools.

But it must be done, because living in the shadow of the big house has never served our interests. And nowadays, the big house is not what it was; cracks are appearing and they’re struggling to pay the bills. They’ve also started drinking, shouting at the neighbours and anybody else who comes too close.

It’s time to put up a little fence, nothing too intimidating, just enough to make them understand that this side of the fence belongs to us. They’re still welcome to come . . . but on our terms.

END 

Oct 202015
 

TRYWERYN (Click to enlarge photographs)

I went to the Tryweryn commemoration on Saturday. (I wouldn’t have botTryweryn 1hered, but two old friends came up, stayed with me Friday night, and so I went with them.) There was a good crowd there, but not many young people; though in fairness, I suppose an event like that was always going to attract what’s left of the Sixties generation. (God! am I that old!)

There seemed to be a great many, er, mature women there, with the uniforms and hairstyles of their age and class. Many of these had been sparky young things in mini skirts back in the 1960s, and had marched with placards held aloft before, rebelliousness spent, settling down to become Miss Pugh of Tryweryn 2Nantiestyn Juniors, and stalwart of Merched y Wawr.

So it should come as no surprise to learn that the Tryweryn commemoration was exclusively a Plaid Cymru affair, which meant that the small number of ‘militants’ that turned up was massively outnumbered, though of course some were in mufti, while other firebrands of yore – like the aforementioned ladies – have turned quite respectable. In fact, there was a rather parchus – almost bourgeois – overlay to the whole thing. I swear anybody who’d farted would have been stared down into the murky waters covering Capel Celyn.Tryweryn 3

This parchus overlay might have influenced the pervading air of elegiac nostalgia. There was a lot of hand-wringing and reminiscing, nostalgia for a lost bucolic paradise; but little to dissuade me from believing that the only reason we haven’t seen another Tryweryn is the fear – on the part of the British state – of unleashing forces more threatening to English colonialism than Plaid Cymru.

Speeches were delivered by former Plaid leader Dafydd Wigley, 60s protest siTryweryn 5nger and politician Dafydd Iwan (who also gave us a couple of songs), former and current MPs for Meirionnydd Elfyn Llwyd and Liz Saville Roberts, with it all compered, rather well, by councillor Elwyn Edwards, a native of drowned Capel Celyn.

Absent was Plaid’s current leader, Leanne Wood, up at the SNP conference in Aberdeen getting the kind of reception she can only dream of in Wales and, much more surprisingly, the man who’s been the local AM since the Assembly started, Dafydd Elis Thomas.Tryweryn 6

As I say, there was a curious atmosphere hanging over the whole event, as if no one was quite sure how to deal with celebrating what was obviously a defeat for Wales but which turned out to be one poke in the eye too many even for a defeated and complaisant people like us.

This strange and uncertain mood became even more obvious at the anti-climatic conclusion. Speeches over . . . and that was it . . . no singing of the anthem, no Yma o Hyd from Dafydd Iwan, just people milling around wondering what to do next. As it turned out, we Tryweryn 7were told to line up behind the ‘Cofiwch Dryweryn‘ banner and march back to the car park on other side of the dam.

I remarked to a local freelance photographer I knew that the crowd marching silently over the dam looked more like the type of procession one sees in Catholic countries than anything political. And I suppose it was a kind of pilgrimage, but many there were not sure exactly what they were supposed to be commemorating. Or how they were supposed to commemorate it.

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MORE ON ‘HAPPY DONKEY HILL’

In the previous post I referred to the property known as Faerdre Fach near Llandysul being re-named Happy Donkey Hill. I have since been passed information that throws more light on the woman responsible for this insult.

It seems that the proprietrix of Happy Donkey Hill is named Kate Clamp, and she’s into ‘animal welfare’, as this report from the Northern Echo (of Newcastle) tells us. Though this 2008 article also tells us that she was forced to give up the Ramshaw Rescue Centre at Low Garth Farm because of a neck injury. Mercifully she recovered well enough to bring herself to Wales and buy Faerdre Fach, which she re-named Happy Donkey Hill.

After moving to Llandysul Kate Clamp branched out into B&B and other holiday accommodation. Not only that but she tried to advertise her new venture with this appearance on Channel 4’s Four in a Bed, a show in which B&B owners visit and assess each other’s establishments (not what you’re thinking!). In part excruciating, in part embarrassing, this example of ‘Welsh’ tourism should chill the heart of any true Welsh person.

Clearly, the multi-chinned Ms Clamp sees herself as one of those big and bubbly ‘personalities’ we are all Happy Donkey Hillexpected to cherish. Anyone who doesn’t accept this depiction is often dismissed as a ‘snob’. A less generous interpretation might be that she’s a loud and domineering woman more concerned with animals than people. With the latter being used to fund her concern for – even preference for – the former. (It may be significant that visitors to Happy Donkey Hill can bring their dogs but not their children.)

I trust that the required planning permissions have been received for all the changes she and her young partner are making to Faerdre Fach Happy Donkey Hill, and that the RSPCA is keeping check on the welfare of the assorted animals there, for Kate Clamp is a very busy woman. (And it must be worth asking, ‘How many more animal ‘refuges’ are we going to allow?) Another concern should be for public health inspectors, for I’d be concerned about so many animals in close proximity to where food is cooked and people sleep.

But at the end of the day, this is ‘Welsh’ tourism. Crude and alien. The time has surely come to curb the excesses of this exploitive and colonialist activity; for tourism, and the colonisation that comes with it, are now the biggest threats to the survival of Welsh identity, the Welsh language, and even Welsh place names, in our rural areas.

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LEGISLATING FOR GOOD-LIFERS

Back in January last year I wrote a piece about the ‘Welsh’ Government transferring 15% of EU Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) funding from Pillar 1 to Pillar 2. (Read it here.) In other words, instead of this money going to Welsh farmers it would in future be given to ‘rural development projects’. (I think most people reading this will understand the code employed in ‘rural development projects’.) There have been many other assaults on Welsh agriculture recently. Here’s one I noticed in January this year.

On the one hand it would be easy to dismiss these attacks on farming as the behaviour of a political party whose ‘Wales’ is bounded by Llanelli, Ebbw Vale and Coedpoeth. Reasoning that, ‘Them buggers don’t vote for us so why should we do anything for them?’ But this argument doesn’t hold water because even areas that do vote Labour also get shafted. (Just think Valleys.)

One reason for these constant assaults on Welsh rural life is the advice received by the ‘Welsh’ Government in recent years from bodies such as the Wales Rural Observatory (WRO), which I wrote about back in September 2012. (I apologise for the lack of spacing, due to the formatting not transferring properly from my old Google Blogger blog.) Though since writing that piece I understand that the WRO may have had its funding pulled . . . I do hope it was something I said.

By a rather roundabout route I was recently made aware of yet more ludicrous advice being fed to the ‘Welsh’ Government, advice that, yet again, works against Welsh interests and also encourages further colonisation. I’m referring now to the ‘Planning for Sustainable Rural Communities’, set out in Technical Advice Note (TAN) 6 as ‘One Planet Development’. You will note that this was ‘prepared’ for the Planning Division of the ‘Welsh’ Government by Land Use Consultants and the Positive Development Trust. Although the address given for this lot on TAN 6 is in Bristol, their head office is in fact in London, so I presume that Bristol is the regional office for this part of Englandandwales.

I urge you to read TAN 6, especially if you want to expand your eco-babble vocabulary.

To cut a long story short, the civil servants who run the ‘Welsh’ Government’s Planning Department have accepted this guidance and imposed it on our local planning authorities. It demands that our local authorities give planning permission to projects meeting the criterion of ‘self-sufficiency’. The panel below is taken from TAN 6 and tells us that this directive does not merely apply to single properties, it can be used to build whole new ‘ecovillages’.

One Planet

The specific example I read about was in Carmarthenshire, planned for Rhiw Las, near Whitland. (Read more here.) While the source, West Wales News Review, is obviously published by environmentalists, it has some use in that it provides us with the name of Rhiw Las Ltd, Company Number, 08686077, Incorporated in September 2013. Rhiw Las Ltd has applied for what are, essentially, four new dwellings in open country, justified on the grounds that they will be self-sufficient smallholdings of the kind demanded by the One Planet legislation. (Read the planning application here.)

It was good to see Plaid Cymru (and other) councillors on Carmarthenshire council reject this application, but we can be sure of two things: 1/ The application will be allowed by the Planning Inspectorate on appeal, and 2/ No matter what the local councillors may think of it, Plaid AMs would have been falling over themselves to support this One Planet eco-bollocks.

The legislation set out in TAN 6 could result in whole new villages of hippies and other undesirables setting up anywhere in Wales. In fact, TAN 6 encourages it. All they’d need to do is form a small company, buy a bit of land (I’m sure the ‘Welsh’ Government will help) and whack in a planning application. It’s frightening to think that a government supposedly serving Welsh interests is agreeing to legislation like this. For no matter that this colonisation ploy originated in England, no matter that is was taken up and presented by the English civil servants controlling the Assembly, it still had to be agreed by those traitorous buffoons down Cardiff docks.

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Everywhere we look in rural Wales, and along our coasts, we see the same picture – Welsh identity being swamped under a tide of colonisation. Worse, the ‘Welsh’ Government is facilitating this ethnic cleansing by legislating against the indigenous Welsh and passing laws that can only benefit strangers. Also, by encouraging activities and industries that are guaranteed to work against Welsh interests.

We Welsh today are a nation without leaders or representatives, those we have put our faith in have betrayed us time and time again. And it doesn’t matter whether you’re a monoglot socialist agitator in Dowlais or a lover of the Welsh language in Dolgellau, you have been taken for granted and betrayed, time after time!

This system will eventually turn Wales into a larger version of Cornwall, with impoverished natives being told to rejoice as wealthy outsiders buy everything – for this is ‘investment’, this is ‘progress’. Only a ‘racist’ would fight against his people being marginalised and their identity destroyed in this way.

But ‘racist’ is just another convenient lie for politicians and media, it’s just another smear; like the ‘terrorists’ who fought to free their countries from English oppression. How can these ingrates, these scoundrels, be compared to the visionaries who set up the first concentration camps, the lauded commanders who took the decision to bomb Dresden, or our noble allies in Saudi Arabia – ideal human rights watchdogs!

With devolution we Welsh are confronted with the colonial appendage of a morally bankrupt system. As such, it deserves neither our respect nor our support. So start rejecting it, treat it with the contempt it deserves. Start today!

UPDATE: As I predicted, the English Planning Inspectorate overruled Carmarthenshire County Council to give these colonists planning permission for their hippy settlement. Not only that but the Inspector decided that the council should pay the colonists’ costs in preparing their appeal. No doubt we Welsh will be paying for lots of other things for these bastards in the years ahead because the ‘self-sufficiency’ they’re always banging on about never leads to them being independent of the public purse.

Feb 252015
 

After my previous post, Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon, I have been giving more thought to the subject, and doing a little digging; which has led to a disturbing possibility presenting itself. By which I mean that someone, perhaps even someone local to Swansea Bay, is trying to sabotage this project for their own selfish reasons.

Treading carefully, I have decided to present this post as a combination of incontestable facts, presented as FACT: and limited to the paragraph in bold type following, interspersed with paragraphs containing deductions, assumptions or informed guesswork, before concluding with a reasonable hypothesis extrapolated from what has gone before.

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FACT: The past week or so has seen a number of stories in the media unfavourable to the Swansea Bay tidal lagoon project. The first appeared in The Telegraph on February 15th, written by Energy Editor, Emily Gosden, and repeated in the Western Mail and WalesOnline on February 17th, about Cornish villagers up in arms over plans to quarry granite for shipping to Swansea Bay. Ms Gosden was at it again on February 21st, attacking on another front with this report arguing that the electricity generated by the tidal lagoon would be hideously expensive. This piece used as its source a submission produced by Citizens Advice.

So we see negative attention suddenly being paid to the Swansea Bay tidal lagoon. The really damaging attack of course came from Citizens Advice.

FACT: Those familiar with recent goings-on in Wales will recall that there was a plan to throw a massive barrage across the Severn Sea from Penarth to Weston-super-Mare. The company behind this project is, or was (it may be in liquidation), Hafren Power. A number of its leading figures left, the former chief executive to form Severn Tidal Energy.

Hain Spanglefish

CLICK TO ENLARGE

FACT: The leading political backer of the Severn Barrage project was, and remains, Peter Hain, Labour MP for Neath. In fact, Hain resigned from the shadow cabinet in May 2012 to concentrate on promoting the project. In June 2013 the House of Commons Energy and Climate Change Committee killed off the barrage proposal with a very critical report. Mr Hain attributed the rejection of his project to the influence of Bristol Port, one of whose owners, David Ord, was a substantial donor to the Conservative Party.

The Spanglefish website devoted to Peter Hain (from which the panel above is extracted) suggests that Hain hopes to resurrect the barrage project when there is a Labour government in Westminster. There is of course a general election in May. The website also suggests that ‘Welsh’ Labour is backing the barrage project.

FACT: In a WalesOnline article from September 2013, linked to above, and again here, “Mr Hain said that while he was convinced the project has no future at present, he hoped it could be resurrected under a future Labour Government.” While this article, from just last month, reported, “He (Hain) remains hopeful that the stalled Severn Barrage project, potentially creating tens of thousands of jobs, could be resurrected”.

Haywod Linkedin

LINKEDIN PROFILE (Click to enlarge)

FACT: The CEO of Citizens Advice is Gillian Guy, who is also chair of the Audit Committee of the National Audit Office.

FACT: Dr Elizabeth Haywood, aka Mrs Peter Hain, and another backer of the barrage project, was on the Remuneration Committee of the Wales Audit Office from July 2011 to March 2014. Since January of this year she has had a personal interest in electricity matters by becoming a non-executive director of Scottish Power Energy Networks Holdings Ltd.

Severn barrage

THE ONCE AND FUTURE SEVERN BARRAGE?

Given that the Wales Audit Office is probably no more independent of the National Audit Office in London than the ‘Welsh’ Government is of Westminster it is entirely reasonable to assume that Dr Haywood of Hafren Power and Gillian Guy of Citizens Advice are known to each other. And would be known to each other even if I’m being unduly cynical about the relationship between the two bodies. (For cynicism is not in my nature!)

FACT: Peter Hain and Elizabeth Haywood are both committed to the Severn barrage project. Additionally, Peter Hain has publicly voiced his opposition to the Swansea Bay tidal lagoon.

If the Swansea Bay tidal lagoon goes ahead, and is successful, others will be built. This will almost certainly be the final nail in the coffin of any Severn barrage, or any other major tidal barrage anywhere under the jurisdiction of the Westminster government. It seems to be a case of either / or but not both.

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The Severn Barrage project never went away, it has been lying dormant (much like the company behind it, Hafren Power). A cynic – something I’ve already made clear (if only parenthetically), I am not – might interpret the above information thus:

There are two very good reasons for supporters of the Severn Barrage to attack the Swansea Bay tidal lagoon project at this time. First, they are hoping for a Labour victory on May 7th, so in anticipation of that, now is a good time to ‘resurrect’ their project, as has always been the intention. Further, the rival tidal lagoon project is currently at the critical stage of waiting for the Planning Inspectorate to recommend acceptance or refusal to the UK government, after which there is a further three-month period during which the UK government must say yea or nay. So why not kill two birds with one stone by trying to influence the decisions of the Planning Inspectorate and the outgoing UK government, while also reminding a Labour government-in-waiting of the economic bounty that could be lavished by a Severn barrage? And doesn’t it tie in well with all the recent talk of a Cardiff – Bristol city region (with poor old Newport as the spread in the sandwich).

Hain barrage

HAIN QUOTED IN ARTICLE (BY MARTIN SHIPTON) IN WALESONLINE JANUARY 21, 2015

The barrage is said to have, or possibly had, powerful supporters, among them, Tony Blair, Rhodri Morgan and the Notional Assembly. And of course, the Western Mail / WalesOnline, which will support anything that has Labour backing. Making this the ideal time for ‘Welsh’ Labour to clear up the confusion over whether a motion supporting the barrage was passed in the 2014 conference, as is suggested by the Peter Hain tweet below from March 29, 2014. (For some reason I’m blocked from Hain’s Twitter account!) The current briefing against the Swansea Bay tidal lagoon also provides ‘Welsh’ Labour with an opportunity to make clear its position on the project. The same opportunity naturally extends to the Labour MPs and AMs around Swansea Bay . . . though of course we already know where Peter Hain stands.

Hain Labour tweet

PETER HAIN TWEET FROM MARCH 29, 2014. (SUPPLIED BY ‘STAN’)

FACT: Peter Hain and Elizabeth Haywood obviously have considerable experience and contacts in business and politics; in addition, they have a company, Haywood Hain LLP, that specialises in ‘Media and Political Communications’.

I fear there may be more to the recent attacks on the Swansea Bay tidal lagoon project than concern for the tranquility of a Cornish village, or a commendable regard for electricity consumers being ripped off. Big money is at stake, and – speaking for our hypothetical cynic – it could be that certain persons of influence are trying to kill off a very worthwhile and beneficial project for the Swansea Bay region.

Any further information to admin@jacothenorth.net

UPDATE 26.02.2015: As predicted above, Peter Hain has used the report produced by his wife’s former colleague to rubbish the Swansea Bay tidal lagoon and promote the Lazarus Severn barrage in this piece. I know none of us think much of Llais y Sais, but does it have to be so predictably obsequious and revolting!

Feb 232015
 

My attention was drawn yesterday to a piece in the Sunday Telegraph, by Emily Gosden the Energy Editor, about the proposed Swansea Bay tidal lagoon. (Read it here.) The ST piece itself did little more than quote from a report, ‘Response to call for evidence on Swansea Bay tidal lagoon proposals’ produced by Citizens Advice and submitted to an unnamed agency, presumably a UK government department tSwansea Bay 1hat had requested submissions, possibly the Planning Inspectorate. (Read it here.) A similar piece, attributed to ‘Rupert Denholm-Hall Business Reporter’, was in this morning’s issue of Llais y Sais, and WalesOnline. (To be found here.)

According to Citizens Advice, the price guaranteed – by the UK government – for electricity generated by the Swansea Bay installation will be higher than other forms of generation and is therefore a bad deal for the consumer. In addition, alleges Citizens Advice, the process for arriving at the agreed price is unduly secretive. All damning stuff from experts in the field. For the alternative interpretation, check out the developers’ – Tidal Lagoon (Swansea Bay) plc – website here, pay particular attention to the ‘Project benefits’ section. Now I’m going to make a few contributions of my own in response to Citizens Advice.

Swansea Bay 2The Citizens Advice report is very narrow in its vision, and simplistic and superficial in its conclusions. It says, basically, ‘This is big business ripping off Joe Public when there are cheaper ways of generating electricity’. It focuses exclusively on price. So my first response would be that this price is not set in stone, so don’t get your knickers in a twist over something that hasn’t yet happened and can be changed. If this is a ploy to pressurise the UK government into hard bargaining with the developers, then fine, though my worry is that Citizens Advice may be acting in the interest of discredited forms of electricity generation such as wind and solar: expensive, unreliable, and offering none of the benefits of a tidal lagoon in Swansea Bay. Benefits that the Sunday Telegraph overlooked, but I would have expected to be highlighted by the ‘National Newspaper of Wales’.

So what are these benefits’ of which I speak? Well, to begin with, let’s us look at the alternatives. Oil supplies are finite, as is gas (unless we rely on Mr Putin, and successors who may be even more unfriendly towards the West), Swansea Bay 3many people are unhappy with nuclear energy, there is opposition to fracking, coal is being phased out, wind and solar energy are expensive and unreliable . . . which leaves us with, what? Well, there is a reliable source of energy that can – unlike wind and sunshine – be predicted years in advance and harnessed at countless points around our coasts. Swansea Bay is ideally located because it has the second highest tidal range on earth – so why not harness this power?

Then, the lagoon is going to be a big contract, providing over a thousand jobs during construction, using local suppliers, and putting a lot of money into the local economy. There will even be permanent jobs, on site, when the contract is completed. This is a direct benefit of the kind that is never provided by wind and solar ‘farms’. As this is a relatively new technology Swansea Bay could build up a wealth of expertise, both human and corporate, that could bring considerable economic benefits to an area where they would be most welcome. Benefits that need not be confined to Swansea Bay.

Swansea Bay SA1

SA1 DEVELOPMENT, EAST OF RIVER TAWE

Staying local, the lagoon fits in well with other developments on Swansea’s hitherto neglected East Side and the docklands east of the river Tawe, while further infilling the gap between Swansea and Neath Port Talbot (the most obvious of all council mergers). Not only does it complement the SA1 development (see image) but the lagoon will also reach to the new Swansea University Bay Campus, which actually lies outside the city boundary in Neath Port Talbot.

As the images also show, the lagoon will be rather more than a generating plant. It will be an amenity for local people, where they can go walking, cycling, angling, etc; the lagoon itself would provide a perfect location for water sports. (Obviously the lagoon will have to compete with all the fun-filled leisure opportunities available at power stations, open-cast sites and wind farms, but I think it will manage such competition.) And those amenities will not just be for local people, for I can see the lagoon becoming something of a ‘celebrity’, attracting visitors from a wider area, and from around the world. In fact, the Swansea Bay tidal lagoon could be viewed as a leisure and recreation facility that just happens to generate a lot of electricity as well!

Swansea Bay Campus

SWANSEA UNIVERSITY BAY CAMPUS (FOREGROUND) WITH SA1 DEVELOPMENT IN BACKGROUND

And who’s to say that the lagoon won’t become known to a wider audience who may never even visit the area. For Swansea Bay has a growing reputation as a location for movies and television series. The old Ford plant on Jersey Marine, which would overlook the lagoon, is now being used as a studio, and the steelworks in Port Talbot are an old favourite for ‘inferno’ backdrops and dramatic night skies. Then there’s Gower . . . Yes, Swansea Bay is more than Twin Town, great though that movie was.

Finally, despite what Citizens Advice would have us believe, the Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon is not entirely a conspiracy of big business against the downtrodden masses of energy consumers. The project invited local investors, and I have family and friends back home who have put in thousands of pounds. Obviously most of the funding will come from institutional investors, but don’t overlook the Jack pound. A lot of local people, of modest means, are also backing this project.

For these reasons I tell Citizens Advice to report the whole picture, not focus on one aspect and, by so doing give a very selective and prejudicial view, that risks creating the impression that the project is being slammed in order to promote discredited hippy technology or the Severn Barrage. I’m sick and tired of Wales being ordered by Englandandwales organisations, however worthy and well-intentioned.

And to those running parent company Tidal Lagoon Power Ltd I say, having your corporate headquarters in Gloucester, with subsidiaries such as Tidal Lagoon (Swansea Bay) plc being no more than parentheses is a big mistake. The project upon which the future of your company hangs is Swansea Bay, so stop acting in a colonialist manner and get your corporate presence down there and recruit local staff!

Aug 022014
 

After just over two years as head of the Planning Inspectorate in Wales Richard Poppleton is to leave. I have written about Mr Poppleton a couple of times in the recent past; first, on December 30 last year in Richard Poppleton, ‘Organ Grinder’, and again on April 1 this year with Richard Poppleton, On Tour. Seeing as he took up his position as recently as April 2012 this is a rather early – and indeed, sudden – departure. Is he retiring, being re-assigned, or recalled to Berlin London?

I took an interest in Poppleton and his agency for two reasons. First, I wanted to know why the Planning Inspectorate forces through Local Development Plans that demand new housing in excess of local need. Second, I hoped to establish the relationship between the ‘Welsh’ Government and the Inspectorate. The first question is answered below. As for how the buffoons down Cardiff docks interact with the Planning Inspectorate, well, the reality is that the Planning Inspectorate is an Englandandwales outfit and an executive agency of the Department for Commuities and Local Government in London.

The Inspectorate operates in Wales on orders from the DCLG; the only contribution from ‘Welsh’ ministers is to nod in agreement when required, and to read from scripts prepared for them by the Inspectorate’s apparatchiks and other English civil servants. Summed up in this clip from the Gov.UK website entry for Mr Poppleton. The website clearly says ‘Director of Wales, Planning Inspectorate’; not ‘Director, Welsh Planning Inspectorate’; not even ‘Director, Planning Inspectorate Wales’. Clearly, he runs the Wales office for the Planning Inspectorate in London. Anyway, Poppleton is history, he will soon be replaced by another English civil servant.

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Thickett Planing Resource

TONY THICKETT, THE NEW GAULEITER

When I heard the name of his successor, Tony Thickett, it rang bells, so I started searching through my blog, and sure enough, I found him. On March 13, in my post, Bodelwyddan and the Bigger Picture, Thickett’s name emerges as the planning inspector responsible for forcing through the Denbighshire LDP. I urge you to read the blog post and the planning inspector’s report, especially pages 16 – 27, ‘Housing; Need and Supply’, pages 28 – 31 ‘Affordable Housing’ and page 35 where, under ‘Other Matters’, the Welsh language, social and cultural fabric is dealt with.

For those who don’t have the time . . . The council argued, quite correctly, that the 2011 Census and other recent figures had superseded the original LDP and clearly indicate that Denbighshire now needs to plan for fewer new dwellings. Thickett’s response was, in effect, ‘Yes, quite right . . . but we are pushing ahead with the original figure anyway, so shut up!’ In the original LDP there had been provision for 2,250 – 3,000 ‘affordable homes’, but Thickett believed that “around 1,874 affordable homes could be delivered”. On the Welsh language, he made it clear that in his opinion it didn’t really count for anything.

Thickett was accompannied on his excursion to Denbighshire by a Gwynedd Thomas, another planner, obviously Welsh, but clearly outranked by Thickett. How does Gwynedd Thomas feel about being used to give a little local colour to this squalid exercise in colonialism?

More information on Thickett can be found in the panel on the right (click to enlarge) it comes from planningresource.co.uk. Note the announcement was made by the Planning Inspectorate, not the ‘Welsh’ Government. Though I find it strange that this press release, taken from the GOV.UK website, should imply that the appointment means Thickett is “returning to Wales” – where the hell is Denbighshire?

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Thickett’s work in Denbighshire, his report that says, ‘We can do whatever we damn well like, no matter what the evidence and statistics say’, is a warning of what is to come, especially when two new pieces of legislation are enacted: the Planning (Wales) Bill and the Housing (Wales) Bill.

For those who have not been following my countless posts on this new legislation, let me quickly bring you up to speed. The housing bill is, basically, a load of flim-flam for the Left about looking after gypsies and regulating private landlords, yet the main purpose is to integrate social housing allocation in Wales with that in England. Which will mean that a deliberately homeless family of scruffs with no connections with Wales whatsover could be moving to a property close to you in the very near future. (Yeah, I know it already happens but, believe me, when the new legislation comes into force, the floodgates will be opened.)

The changes to the planningStrategic Development Plans laws have been welcomed by builders, developers, estate agents and even lower forms of life not discussed in polite society. Development plans will cover larger areas than the existing local authorities and councillors will be squeezed out to give more power to council officers (too many of whom are not Welsh) and ‘appointees’. Taking power away from Welsh councillors is something I would normally applaud, but a return to the quangoes – which is what the Bill advocates – cannot be supported. The basic reasoning of the new legislation is that planning should be left to the professionals with as little input as possible from those who will be affected by the decisions made by these professionals.

To whet your appetites further, I have included an illustration (click to enlarge) taken from a paper by Nathaniel Lichfield & Partners published in December 2013, to help their clients understand Strategic Development Areas in Wales. You will see that our two main cities are shown, presumably as the hubs of their planned city regions (yawn!), but what is that red gash snaking across the north from the border to end in a blob somewhere near Bryngwran? It is described as “the A55 Corridor”, and can only be a commuter corridor . . . not for northern Welsh people to work over the border, but to facilitate the movement into Wales of English people already working over the border, for which thousands and thousands of new homes will be built. (I added Bodelwyddan to the map to help you get the fuller picture.) All this, remember, before the legislation is even passed. The vultures are circling!

You must not think that this is confined to Swansea, Cardiff and the north, for the whole country is under threat, as Cneifiwr recently reminded us with another illuminating post from Carmarthenshire. There, despite the most recent statistics making it clear that population increase will be far lower than previously anticipated by the LDP, and household size (across Wales) larger than predicted, the number of new dwellings planned for has actually been increased! Then, further mirroring Denbighshire, the number of affordable homes to be built in Carmarthenshire has been reduced. Even attitudes towards the language follow the Denbighshire lead; protection for the language will now apply only to those communities where more than 60% of the population speaks Welsh, of which there are just five left. How can the Planning Inspectorate and council planning officers (invariably operating in concert) say, ‘Yes, we agree, the demand for new housing has reduced . . . so we’re going to build even more new houses!’.

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The only answer to that question is that housing in Wales – private and social – has little to do with what we Welsh need. Housing is now quite blatantly being used to increase the English population of Wales and thereby weaken Welsh identity, done in order to reduce the demand for further constitutional change. Then Wales can, to all intents and purposes, be assimilated into England . . . even if the pretence of ‘Wales’ is maintained in sport and other ‘bread and circuses’ spheres. The English Planning Inspectorate is a major player in this ethnocidal strategy. As are the other civil servants, with their hands up the backs of the dummies in the ‘Welsh’ Government, making these wretches say whatever London wants them to say.

We Welsh are on the point of becoming a minority in our own country. This trend has been observable for almost half a century, unsurprising because it began in response to the national awakening of the 1960s. It takes in not just housing, but higher education, the Third Sector, tourism, discrimination in employment, lack of training opportunities, reducing funding to Welsh farmers, highly selective grant funding, the ‘managed decline’ of the Valleys and other areas . . . in short, anything that can be used to disadvantage, sideline and minoritise us Welsh. Others see it, and comment on it without inhibition or sense of guilt; but we Welsh must not discuss it – for to do so makes us ‘racist’. The great taboo subject of contemporary Wales! Compared to this threat to our very existence as a nation nothing else matters: not fracking, not M4 ‘improvements’, not saving the planet, and we certainly shouldn’t concern ourselves with which set of puppets is on stage down Cardiff docks.

Organising an effective resistance to the colonisation strategy cannot be done overnight. Remember that our enemies have taken forty years and more to get to the position they are in today. But the resistance must start with people talking to each other, for there are too many groups and individuals scattered about the country achieving very little because they are precisely that – disparate and dispered groups and individuals. So start putting out feelers, talk to each other, look for common ground, start co-operating, with the aim of finding candidates to give the electorate a clear nationalist alternative on the regional lists in the Assembly elections of 2016.

I advocate this because more important than all the groups and individuals I refer to are the many thousands who have lost faith in the established parties. Many of these were so desperate to show their contempt for the Lab-Con-LD-PC cabal that they voted in large numbers – even in the Valleys! – for the clowns, cretins and crooks of Ukip on May 22. Provide a rallying-point for these who have lost faith and it will be rewarded. Make the elections of 2016 the springboard for a new movement that will start reclaiming our country!

May 012014
 

‘Jac writing about Cardiff!’ I hear you exclaim, before dropping your coffee in your lap. Yes, and I’m not even going to gloat over certain sporting matters. I’m writing this post because the Cardiff LDP could have implications well beyond the city itself. Before getting down to it let me acknowledge that the post was inspired by Councillor Neil McEvoy’s article on Daily Wales. I only know Neil through social networking but he seems the type of energetic and awkward (in the best sense of the word) politician Wales needs. The kind of man who enjoys making life difficult for those who think their decisions should be accepted without question.

First, a brief explanation. Every local authority has to produce a Local Development Plan telling us how it proposes meeting the future needs of its area in terms of population growth and housebuilding. This is done with the ‘guidance’ of the Planning Inspectorate, an executive agency of the Department for Communities and Local Government in London. Statistics and projections are supplied by StatsWales via the Knowledge and Analytical Services of the same London department. Both the PI and KAS have civil servants based in Cardiff, which allows the ‘Welsh’ Government to claim that it alone is responsible for planning matters in Wales. In this, as in so much else, I fear, the ‘Welsh’ Government deludes itself and misleads the rest of us.Cardiff LDP Map

Local Development Plans across Wales cover the period 2006 – 2026 and are at different stages of acceptance and adoption, so the Cardiff Plan is already way behind schedule. Something else worth saying about LDPs is that they were first compiled before the figures from the 2011 Census became available (from July 2012). Which is odd, seeing as the Census results contradicted many of the assumptions and projections on which the LDPs were predicated.

One of the great mysteries of LDPs in Wales is why they were pushed through even though it was known that the presumptions and calculations on which they were based could be undone by the findings of the 2011 Census. It’s not as if the 2011 Census sneaked up on us, everybody knew it was coming, so why not wait for the hard facts it provided. It’s almost as if certain interests wanted to rush the LDPs through before the figures used could be proved wrong by the Census.

The Deposit LDP for Cardiff can be found here and if you scroll down the page you’ll find a link to the Background Technical Paper on Population, Households and Dwellings. On page 17 of the latter document you’ll find the table below. According to this table the population will increase by 71,612 between 2006 and 2026; resulting in 42,363 new households requiring  41,132 new dwellings. These figures are interesting, but even more interesting is the source for the 2026 figures, the ones used to determine how many new dwellings Cardiff will ‘need’. The Population figures for 2006 and 2011 come from the Office for National Statistics’ Mid Year Estimates (MYE). The Household figure for 2006 comes from StatsWales because household projections are contracted out by the ONS to Knowledge and Analytical Services (i.e. StatsWales). But the all-important 2026 figures are attributed to the “Edge Report”, so what is this? Well, it refers to Edge Analytics, “the specialists in demographic modelling”.

Cardiff LDP summary table

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Which then raises the question: ‘Why would Cardiff council recruit expensive consultants? The council already employs thousands of people, it has access through electoral rolls, council tax ledgers, planning and other data to a wealth of information about the city and its people; and all this can be supplemented by the population projections and other figures provided free by the ONS and StatsWales. So why employ outside specialists?

I’ll leave that question for a while to focus on the most recent national projection released by StatsWales / KAS, which says that the population of Wales in 2026 will be 3,238,000, an increase of 164,000 on 2012. At the 2011 Census Cardiff’s population of 346,090 accounted for 11.3% of Wales’ total. So 11.3% of 164,000 would mean Cardiff’s population increasing by 18,532 to 2026. This, I concede, is unrealistic, so let us assume an increase in Cardiff of double the Welsh average, giving a figure of 37,064 and a population in 2026 of  383,154. This, I think, is reasonable, because if we see anything more, such as the 30% of Wales’ total population increase predicted by Edge Analytics (or Cardiff city council), then the rest of the country needs to start asking serious questions of the ‘Welsh’ Government about investment levels and employment opportunities in other areas of Wales.

Cardiff LDP 4

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Which may give us one reason Cardiff city council decided not to use official figures – they didn’t allow for a big enough increase in the city’s population. (Though, in fairness to them, it seems that Edge did suggest reducing certain of the counci’s predictions – see panel – but the council rejected these recommendations!) Although we have the national projection to 2026, StatsWales / KAS needs to pull its finger out and produce the breakdown by local authority, no matter how unwelcome that will be to certain people connected with Cardiff city council.

Having dealt with population projections the other big issue is the number of new homes the council extrapolates from that figure. To be exact, 41,132 to cope with a projected 71,612 more people. Many factors go into determining how many new dwellings will be needed but the two principal considerations are household size, that is, the average number living in any dwelling; and new households forming, that is, people leaving the parental home to live alone or with a partner, marital break-up, etc.

The current average household size for Wales is 2.31 though higher for Cardiff due to its much younger age profile; and there has been a reducing rate of new household formation for a number of years, even before the recent economic crisis. (See the panel above.) One factor is that more people in their twenties and thirties are living with their parents, as this article explains. Another factor will be the changes in benefits payable to, for example, young single mothers. Finally, we need to consider the 3% of the population living in communal establishments, not households. Add it all up and it makes the claimed 42,363 new households from a population increase of just 71,612 difficult to accept, perhaps suggesting that it contains an element of wishful thinking or speculative housing. I would have thought that Cardiff had seen enough of the latter in recent years. Worse, to stick with the housing figure knowing that the population increase itself is exaggerated could mean that the whole exercise is driven by speculative housing interests.

Other factors also need to be considered in explaining why both the population and household projections are unrealistic. First, the city’s student population of some 37,000 accounts for many houses of multiple occupation (HMO), the large number of buy-to-let mortgages, and also helps push up Cardiff’s household size. But there is surely a limit to how many students Cardiff can attract without standards falling and / or too many students alienating the resident population. Second, the population increase figure between 2001 and 2011 was heavily influenced by immigration from the ‘new’ EU states, mainly Poland. The Poles are going home, and they will not be replaced because there is no large country poised to join the EU.

Cardiff LDP Household gibberish

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I conclude that the true purpose of the Cardiff LDP is to increase the size, and importance, of the city at all costs, with one eye on speculative building. This to be done with no heed paid to damage inflicted on the city’s own green spaces nor the economic health of the wider region and Wales. To achieve this grandiose aim the LDP then has to pick and choose which statistics suit the purpose and, indeed, which recommendations of is own consultants can be used. This is one reason Edge Analytics was retained – to serve as a whipping-boy or scapegoat if the opposition got organised – ‘Our consultants advised us . . . ‘. But as we’ve seen, the council was very selective in what it accepted from its consultants.

This all results in hundreds of pages designed to confuse the curious and discourage those minded to oppose the LDP. Partly achieved by passages of near-gibberish, such as the one reproduced in the panel above. There were not “346,100 households in Cardiff” in July 2012, that was the city’s population (though I don’t recognise the figure). While the 2008-based household size projection for Cardiff is actually 2.36, so I have no idea where the 2.35 and 2.33 figures quoted come from. Edge Analytics? Though it may be worth remembering that the smaller the household size then the more new dwellings that will be ‘needed’.

In many respects the Cardiff Local Development Plan is no worse than other LDPs I have looked at, such as those for Carmarthenshire, and Denbighshire. The main difference being that with Cardiff it’s difficult to detect the behind-the-scenes insistence of the Planning Inspectorate on building more houses than an area needs, presumably because Cardiff city council, unlike many other authorities, needed no encouragement. Consequently the Cardiff Local Development Plan is a compendium of carefully selected statistics plus ‘statistics’ that seem to have been plucked from thin air. As a work of the imagination it might be worth entering it for some literary award. But it should never be implemented; for to do so would be damaging both for Cardiff and for Wales.

STOP PRESS: Last night there was a referendum in the Fairwater-Pentrebane area of Cardiff on the LDP. The question posed was: ‘Do You Think That The Deposit Local Development Plan Should Be Adopted For Cardiff?’ The result: Yes 31 votes (2%), No 1,311 votes (98%) Turnout 13.55%. Read about it here in Daily Wales.

Apr 152014
 

At the risk of repeating myself . . . There is an issue I touched on in an earlier post that has been nagging at me to the point where I think it needs another post to elaborate and explore it better.

In my attempts to explain the machinations of the Planning Inspectorate I have often used the example of Denbighshire. Partly because I like (inland) Denbighshire and partly because it serves the purpose well. In particular, I drew attention to the anomaly of Denbighshire being told – by the Planning Inspectorate – to build 8,500 new housing units (some of which have already been built) between 2006 and 2021 despite the population being projected to increase by only a further 2,927 between 2014 and 2021.

In an earlier post, Bodelwyddan and the Bigger Picture, I drew attention to a Planning Inspectorate report of 2013 into Denbighshire’s Local Development Plan, and the report’s rejection of the county council’s very reasonable attempts to get the new housing figure reduced in line with the revised population projections. What the inspectors said can be found in part 4.8 of their report, reproduced in the panel.4.8 What I neglected to explain fully in the earlier post was what is meant by “the LDP’s objectives and aspirations”, which expose the absurdities behind forcing a Welsh local authority to plan for some four or five times the number of new housing units it actually needs. So what are the “objectives and aspirations” of the LDP?

In essence, the LDP argues that because Denbighshire has an ageing population it must remedy this by bringing in to the county a younger population. The Planning Inspectorate is therefore saying, ‘Because you attract so many elderly English people to Denbighshire you must improve the county’s age profile by attracting a younger English population’. This is the insane ‘aspiration’ of the LDP, this is the double whammy I refer to in the title.

Yet at the 2011 Census the percentage of the county’s population in the 65+ age bracket was just 21% (the figure for Wales is 18.4%). But only 42.7% of Denbighshire’s 65+ population was born in Wales. While the figure for the 0 – 49 age group was 67.8%, and well over 70% away from the coastal towns. So the 65+ figure for Denbighshire isn’t really high enough to justify the numbers of new dwellings being demanded by the Planning Inspectorate. Strengthening the suspicion that the county is being forced into allowing thousands of new dwellings, close to the A55, for commuters from Merseyside, Manchester and Cheshire. Nothing at all to do with correcting a generational imbalance, that is merely a pretext.

Using the Denbighshire argument the Planning Inspectorate could demand excessive numbers of new housing in any area with an above average percentage of the population in the 65+ age bracket. Which would mean Gwynedd SW Wards mergedjust about any rural area. This is clever, and naughty, considering that it was the Planning Inspectorate that very often insisted on the flats and retirement bungalows that attracted the retirees and the elderly in the first place. Making the Planning Inspectorate’s solution a bit like ‘treating’ a hangover by getting drunk again and repeating the process endlessly. (Something I read about, somewhere.) There has to be a better way – the planning equivalent of not getting drunk in the first place.

In the area where I live the 65+ age group accounts for 30.1% of the total population, and of that group just 31.6% was born in Wales. (Click to enlarge panel.) By the Inspectorate’s own reasoning, this is not healthy, and something should be done to remedy the problem. But a younger element cannot be attracted to the area a) because there is little or no work and b) southern Gwynedd – unlike Denbighshire – is too far away for English commuters. So either we remedy the generational imbalance by bringing in a non-working younger population or we curb the numbers of retirees and elderly moving in. The answer is becoming obvious, especially when isolated.

The whole Western world admits to the accelerating problem of a falling birthrate / ageing population and wonders how to cope. Yet here, on the periphery of Europe, one of the continent’s poorest countries is actually encouraging elderly people to move in! This will result in the death of the Welsh language and the loss of Welsh identity, it will push the NHS and other services beyond breaking point while, economically, this house of cards cannot endure, because the idea that it’s possible to have a healthy, functioning society when the bulk of the adult population is economically inactive is simply delusional. While to misrepresent this phenomenon as proof of ‘Caring Wales’, or to make a virtue of it by arguing that it shows how ‘attractive’ Wales is to outsiders, is no better than telling a rape victim she should be flattered that someone found her so irresistable.

Curbing the numbers of retired and elderly people moving to Wales must henceforth be a priority for the ‘Welsh Government, because if this is not done then the costs will rise, and eventually engulf us. Now, obviously, the ‘Welsh’ Government, even if it was so minded, could not pass legislation stating this as an objective, but it could certainly introduce legislation to ensure that the flats and retirement bunglaows aimed specifically at buyers of a certain age, living outside of Wales, are no longer built in the numbers, and the concentrations, of the recent past.

Curbing this unsustainable influx would also ensure that the Planning Inspectorate could not engage in the black arts of planning as it has in Denbighshire – using one form of colonisation to demand another.