Ospreys

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!

Sep 212013
 

As you know, I’ve been home in Swansea for a few days. I was actually staying in Llanelli but the new roads make getting to Swansea a doddle. The problems start once you get to Fforestfach, and all the out-of-town stores. From there on, through Fforestfach Cross, on to Sketty Cross, past Singleton Hospital and on to Mumbles seems to be one long traffic jam. In addition, the major east-west route down town is undergoing ‘work’ that’s causing a lot of disruption and anger. Among those mightily pissed off is former Wales rugby skipper Colin Charvis.

Add to that the near permanent road works on the Jersey Marine (the main artery from the M4 into the city centre from the east), the shambles at the river bridges, and the extra pressure on that stretch of road from the new university campus, the SA1 development and other projects filling the gap between Swansea and Neath Port Talbot, and you can understand why some people start twitching nervously when they read ‘Swansea city council’ and ‘major development’ in the same paragraph. In short, with it’s dying city centre, traffic chaos, drug problem, reliance on the public sector for jobs, Swansea is a shambles, and a terrible indictment of Benito Phillips, Il Duce Abertawesuccessive councils.

But Thursday’s issue of the Evening Post carried what I assume is a regular column by the present leader of the council, David Phillips, a scouser who drifted into Swansea via Pembrokeshire a few years ago. It can be found here, and merits comment. The article is accompanied by a photograph of Phillips at the Swans’ new training facilities, reminding us of the old political rule – if you’ve run out of ideas get yourself photographed with children, animals, a worthy cause, or else try to associate yourself with some local success story that in reality has nothing to do with you. Second, according to Phillips the biggPhillips commentsest problem in Swansea is litter. Reminding us of yet another old political rule: give yourself some breathing space by finding an issue – like litter – that nobody will argue against. A final observation: at the time of checking this story on the Evening Post website – some 48 hours after it was posted – there had been not a single comment or recommendation. Which says a lot about the political vision and spellbinding prose of David Phillips.

Elsewhere in Thursday’s Post I stumbled across another familiar face, Councillor Mitchell Theaker, Cabinet Member for Children and Young People. (Click to enlarge.) Theaker is one of the ex-students from God knows where that help keep the Labour Party in power in Swansea. The report begins: “TheakerYoungsters are urging Swansea Council to support plans to make the city the UK capital of children’s rights”. It goes on to quote a 10-year-old saying, “We need rights to help us learn, get along and have a safer life. It will make Swansea a better place for children”. Have you ever read such bollocks! The Labour Party appoints a gimmicky cabinet post for children and young people that can only be justified by indoctrinating and exploiting kids, giving them silly titles and putting words in their mouths they have no way of understanding. Which reminds us of another important political lesson. If you hear the waters of Shit Creek lapping in the near distance, and find yourself bereft of any mode of propulsion, then gimmicks can be a useful smokescreen . . . especially if they involve children, etc., etc.

Swansea at present is suffering under a Labour administration made up of people from somewhere else who do not know Swansea, and don’t really care. All that seems to matter is that Labour is in power, stopping somebody else being in power – it’s just a political game with little or no relevance to the people of Swansea. This could be proven in the coming months if, as some predict, Phillips’ position is threatened by the recently elected former MP and public school Trotskyite, Bob Clay, another Englishman who knows sod all about Swansea but, like all the others, wants to be on the council to play silly games.

As if that wasn’t enough coverage of the local Labour Party, the Post had yet more, in the dispiriting form of Mike Hedges, former council leader and now AM for Swansea East. (Click to enlarge.) Unusually for today’s Swansea Labour Party, Hedges is actually from the city, Plasmarl, to be exact. I say that because earlier this year in an exchaHedgesnge on Twitter he suggested that I didn’t like him because he was from Plasmarl. I had to inform him that my late father, Idwal Jones, was born and bred in Plasmarl (played for Cwm Albion). The reason I don’t like Hedges is because he’s a Labour machine man who failed Swansea as council leader and is now failing her as an AM; a man with the charisma of a week-old lettuce, a hang-dog expression and a George Thomas voice, who puts loyalty to his gang of carpetbaggers above loyalty to his city and his country. But I digress.

Jonathan-RobertsHedges’ half-page of wit and wisdom told us that in his considered opinion Swansea does not need a mayor. Really! Are we expected to believe that Swansea would be a worse place if run by an individual with ability, vision and energy; someone who knows and cares about the city; someone unwilling to play silly political games? It seems Hedges wants us believe that Swansea should aspire to nothing better than the incompetence of the shower we now see in County Hall. Proving what I said just now; his loyalty is to The Labour Party, not to Swansea, not to Wales.

Clearly Swansea Labour Party needs all the help it can get. For it would struggle to organise an evening of merriment in a building for the manufacture of beer. What passes for Labour’s ‘strategy’ to improve the city can be summed up thus: employ gimmicks and distractions; hope that the success of the Swans and the Ospreys results – somehow, anyhow! – in spin-off investment (then claim the credit); pray for good weather to bring tourists to Mumbles and Gower. With such a brilliant, proactive strategy the bruvvers must have been delighted when Jonathan Roberts took over as editor of the Beans on Toast, to give them the kind of uncritical support the Communist Party of the Soviet Union used to enjoy from Pravda. Something I predicted back in April, but I take no pleasure in being proved right.

Mar 272013
 

1/ Today the WM managed to run a front page story (continued inside) on what the rest of the media knows as the Swansea measles epidemic (even making an international disaster alert site!) . . . but the Mule managed to cover the story without  mentioning Swansea! Instead, the writer, Julia measlesMcWatt, wrote the report in terms of health board areas, which would have meant nothing to most people. Suggesting the story may have been written up from press releases by someone not familiar with the area involved. Though I’ve noticed over the years that the Mule is rather good at not mentioning Swansea, even in stories that obviously concern the city. Either that, or it gives a clunky reference that betrays the source of the story as being outside of Wales, as with the next example.

2/ For also in today’s issue (‘Business in Wales’ section) was a piece about house prices in UK cities – what is it with the Mule and property values? (Click to enlarge.) There was absolutely nothing of Welsh interest in the story, no Welsh references whatsoever, until the final paragraph, which said, Swansea in South Wales came in 11th place on the “most affordable list”, with prices at 4.43 times average local earnings. Though House pricesas it wasn’t in quotation marks, I assumed that the last paragraph was written by the claimed author, Siôn Barry. Almost certainly this piece was lifted from some external source, but Siôn Barry is Welsh so why would he think it necessary to tell his readers that Swansea is in “South Wales”!

And while most of us would regard Swansea’s relatively low house prices as a good thing, knowing how the Mule sees these matters – forever eulogising over property prices soaring beyond the dreams of locals in places like Solfa and Abersoch – this piece may have been an attempt to portray Swansea unfavourably. Moving on, and saving the best for last . . .

3/ Yesterday ‘The National Newspaper of Wales’, in a desperate attempt to fill pages, used up nearly two of them trying to identify who might be surprise Eli Walkerselections for the British & Irish Lions on their tour of Australia in June. According to Simon Thomas the “ultimate wild-card for selection” could be exciting young Ospreys wing, Eli Walker. We were even given a pic of the boy in full flight, with a would-be tackler sprawling in his wake. (Click to enlarge.)

Unfortunately, this piece turned out to be one of the worst timed articles in journalistic history, for on the very day it was published, young Eli Walker was undergoing scheduled surgery, which means he won’t be playing for anyone for around three months. Now if there’s one thing I thought we could depend on it was the Wasting Mule’s rugby Eli Walkercoverage. You know, more spies inside the Welsh game than the KGB used to have at Oxbridge. But if the Wasting Mule no longer has its finger on the pulse of Welsh rugby then what is there left to believe in? Oh! the anomie!

28.03.2013: They just keep coming!: Today’s issue gave us another gem, this time in the Letters pages. Mynydd y GwairA writer warns of the damage done to peat bogs by wind turbines and makes a reference to Mynydd y Gwair, on the northern outskirts of Swansea. (Dealt with here, here and here.) Yet it was reproduced by the Mule as “Mynyddy Gwais”! How the hell can a rag calling itself ‘the National Newspaper of Wales’ allow such an obvious mistake to appear?

Feb 212013
 

Are you sitting comfortably? Good. Because what follows gets a bit complicated. That said, I believe there is now enough evidence to question the legitimacy of the decision taken by Swansea council on February 7th to allow RWE to erect wind turbines on Mynydd y Gwair, common land owned by the Duke of Beaufort on the city’s northern outskirts. My previous posts this month on Swansea council are, in chronological order, here and here.

Perhaps the first thing to make clear is that the long-serving local councillor, Ioan Richard, was not allowed to vote on February 7th because he had previously shown his opposition to the project. In other words, he’d been open and honest about his position. The same may not be the case for a number of those who voted to grant planning permission.

My attention has been drawn to the fact that RWE’s Renewables Developer for Mynydd y Gwair, Gwenllian Elias, tweets as @gwenll_elias, and among her 59 followers are Councillor Mitchell Theaker (@mitchelltheaker) and Councillor Pearleen Sangha (@PearleenSangha). She reciprocates Sangha 2by following them. (Another Swansea councillor Ms Elias follows is Nick Bradley (@CllrNickBradley) the council’s number one West Bromwich Albion fan.) On the night of (possibly the day after) the Mynydd y Gwair vote, Pearleen Sangha tweeted her joy at the outcome of the council meeting . . . and her tweet was almost immediately retweeted by Gwenllian Elias of RWE! Great minds, eh!

Now this may be harmless enough, perhaps nothing more than contact limited to Twitter. Alternatively, it could suggest that Elias, Sangha and Theaker were known to each other before the vote was taken. In which case it puts a totally different complexion on the matter. For if they knew each other before the vote then, seeing as both Sangha and Theaker voted for the bird and bat mincers, they were as ‘compromised’ as Councillor Richard in that their minds were also made up long before the discussion of the matter, and the vote, on February 7th. If that was the case then they should not have been allowed to vote.

Now let us turn to Llansamlet’s very own advocate of permanent revolution, Councillor Uta Clay, who has come in for a bit of a hammering of late, partly for stoutly defending the Duke of Beaufort’s financial interests, and partly for making silly remarks during the February 7th debate. This letter is just one of a number I am told have appeared in the Evening Post. As the letter suggests, how could this woman, who has only been in Swansea for five minutes, be so silly and insulting as to slur ordinary Welsh protesters as belonging to the “privileged few”. A category to which an English nobleman apparently does not belong! (Is this making sense?)

You also have to ask why, after the local party had the good sense to deselect her, and suspend her and her husband, some unnamed authority representing ‘London’ stepped in to insist the Clays’ suspensions be lifted and she be reinstated as candidate for the May 2012 council elections. What happened to devolution? What happened to ‘Welsh’ Labour?

Someone else who’s only been in Swansea for five minutes is New Zealander Andrew Hore, ‘Elite Performance Director’ at the Ospreys. (Not to be confused with the Andrew Hore who did the dirty on Bradley Davies last autumn) Hore was allowed to speak at the February 7th meeting in favour of the Mynydd y Gwair money machine. RWE sponsors the Ospreys, and a number of councillors are season ticket holders at the Ospreys; others have received ‘hospitality’. Which looks a bit . . . er . . . iffy? Here is a (PDF) link to an interesting exchange between Edwina Hart, a local AM, and Patrick Arran, Head of Legal, Democratic Services and Procurement at Swansea council, in which Ms Hart questions why Hore was allowed to speak at the council meeting. A good question.

Then, today, a letter appeared in the Wasting Mule from a Swansea councillor – one who actually knows the city, and can pronounce Mynydd y Gwair! What Councillor Tyler-Lloyd is (perhaps unwittingly) alluding to is a system now becoming dominant in Welsh political and public life. It begins with civil servants in London or Cardiff issuing diktats. When this is done in London it’s invariably done on the instructions of  politicians; when it’s done in Cardiff it’s too often done on orders from London and presented to the self-styled Welsh Government as a fait accompli. (Well, what do you expect? If Welsh Labour won’t stand up to ‘London’ on matters of internal party discipline do you really think they’re going to challenge Sir Humphrey in Whitehall?) These diktats then become Gospel for senior officers in local government who use them – and the threat of the expense involved in challenging them – to silence debate and stifle opposition. R.I.P. Welsh local democracy.

As it takes hold we see this process leading to situations such as that which has been played out in a London courtroom this week, as Fuehrer James of Carmarthenshire County Council sues – with public money – a blogger who dared criticise his regime. Or the cabinet of Labour-controlled Caerffili council meeting behind closed doors to give whopping pay rises to senior officers . . . at the insistence of the chief executive – i.e. the major beneficiary!

The wider and more worrying picture though is of a Wales in which we have the chimera of devolution while the reality sees us Welsh becoming increasingly marginalised and silenced across the land. In the rural areas the picture is stark, and villages and small towns are taken over by English colonists, but even in the city of Swansea we see it happening.

For one interpretation of that vote on the 7th of this month would be thart it was a victory for those who view our homeland as a resource to exploit, or else the political equivalent of a sandpit, somewhere to start one’s political career. On the one hand we had an English lord whose family has been robbing us for centuries, a German company here to milk the absurd subsidies paid for so-called ‘renewable energy’, a bunch of ex-student politicians that include a GLTB fanatic, a Californian, a West Brom supporter, another with an interest in cadets, then there’s a New Zealander working for the local rugby team (most of whose supporters still don’t understand what his bloody job is), and assorted other drifters, misfits and parasites who know fuck all about the city I love.

All these were allowed to speak, despite many if not all having already made up their minds on the issue or, worse, having a vested financial or other interest in seeing wind turbines on lovely Mynydd y Gwair. Yet, the councillor in whose ward Mynydd y Gwair is to be found, who had no financial or other interest, who had been open and honest in his opposition, and who represented the views of the overwhelming majority of his constituents – that is, those directly affected by the industrialisation of Mynydd y Gwair – was thrown out of the council chamber.

Where does this leave democracy, local or otherwise? And given that virtually all those on the one side of this debate were foreign, and almost all those on the other side were Welsh, what does it tell us about our country today? And our place in it?

UPDATE 23.02.2013: Interesting comments to the post from Jeff Jones and James Dunkley. Both question whether Councillor Ioan Richard was given the correct legal advice by the council officer(s). (Jeff Jones is the former leader of Bridgend Council who now works as a local government consultant.) They aren’t the only ones asking these questions. If Cllr Richard was wrongly told to leave the chamber then it must call into question either the competence or the impartiality of the person who gave that advice. (Patrick Arran. See the link in the post to his exchange with Edwina Hart AM.)       

Gwenllian Elias, the RWE Npower project officer for Mynydd y Gwair’s CV reads: 2007, left Cardiff University with BSc in Geography and Planning. September 2007 to September 2008 Planner with Newport City Council. September 2008 to August 2009 Planner with City and County of Swansea Council. August 2009 to April 2010 Planning Liason Officer with the Environment Agency. April 2010 to present Renewables Developer with RWE Npower Renewables Ltd. Looks like a planned career course: gain the background knowledge and contacts in the public sector before heading into the private sector and the serious money. And all done in less than three years.

The behaviour of certain councillors at the February 7th meeting, the near certainty of them being predetermined to vote in favour of the Mynydd y Gwair development, plus their established links with RWE’s project officer, has been referred to the Local Government Ombudsman for Wales.