Rhondda Cynon Taf

Jun 222017
 

Most of you reading this will by now be aware that Tesco is closing its call centre in Cardiff and concentrating its operations in Dundee. Inevitably, this has caused Labour politicos to weep and wail but equally predictably the buggers are also lying, because they will never admit to the political realities at work here.

Don’t get me wrong, this is, fundamentally, an economic decision by a major company, but I guarantee that political influence has been exerted in favour of Dundee, not because those exerting the influence give a toss about Dundee or its people, but Tesco having its major call centre in Dundee, creating more jobs in the city, can be exploited for political advantage. What do I mean by that?

If Scottish nationalism has a heartland, then obviously it’s not in the south, nor is it in the Highlands and the islands, or even the three biggest cities of Glasgow, Edinburgh and Aberdeen. No, if the SNP and Scottish nationalism have a stronghold, then it’s in Scotland’s fourth largest city, Dundee.

In the September 2014 independence referendum, Scotland voted 55% No 45% Yes, but in Dundee the result was overwhelmingly Yes.

This was followed up by the elections for the Scottish Parliament in 2016, that saw the SNP gain close to 60% of the vote in both of the city’s constituencies.

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The Scottish Parliamentary elections were of course followed in June by the EU referendum. Although Dundee voted to remain it was by less than the national figure due to Dundee being – in Scottish terms – something of a depressed area.

The Gross Weekly Pay for Dundee City for full-time workers (2016) was £484.20 against a Scottish average of £536.60. By comparison, the averaged out Gross Weekly Pay for Rhondda Cynon Taf, where many of the staff at the Cardiff call centre live, was £495.40. The figure for Cardiff itself was £532.80, and the Welsh average £492.40.

(Surprisingly, the figure for Swansea was just £470.80, for Merthyr £447.80, Blaenau Gwent £433.90, which suggests that many residents of RCT benefit from Cardiff pay rates, but the benefits of the never-ending investment in Cardiff don’t stretch much further afield.)

After that wee diversion let us return to Dundee and consider the most recent election result, those for the UK general election earlier this month.

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As we know, the SNP lost votes and seats across the country, but we can see that Nicola Sturgeon’s party still managed to hold the two Dundee seats with comfortable majorities.

Just as in medieval warfare so in contemporary politics, if your enemy has a citadel, then weakening or capturing it provides a great psychological boost for your troops and damages the morale of your enemy. Equally effective can be winning over the inhabitants, or sowing doubt in their minds. There will be others living far from it who will also be affected by the loss of a citadel.

Which explains why Tesco is concentrating its call centre resources in the SNP stronghold of Dundee and why the move will be subtly presented thus, ‘This is the call centre for the whole of the UK, but of course, if Scotland goes independent it will move south of the border’. The hope being that this will weaken support for the SNP and independence.

The message here is quite clear: the strength of the SNP and the threat of a second independence referendum guarantees that Scotland will be treated well. Not only by direct government intervention, but also by political pressure being exerted on private companies like Tesco to favour Scotland.

But political and economic leverage attaching to considerations of the Union are not confined to Scotland; for we also have to witness the political representatives of murderers, drug-dealers and terrorists demanding £2bn from the UK government for lending their support.

‘Welsh’ Labour’s alleged leader Carwyn Jones splutters and whines but knows there’s nothing he can do about it – nobody’s listening to him because he hasn’t got a single card to play. (Though I wonder how him and the boys would look in balaclavas . . . and I’m sure they could find baseball bats in Cardiff?)

In fact, in a situation like this, Carwyn Jones’s instinctive response is to expose a bit more of his ample belly for tickling, as with his offer to accept nuclear submarines in Milford Haven. Go find something useful to do, Jones, like being clerk to Cwmscwt council, because you’re doing nothing for Wales.

So here’s where I’m going with this. To all of you who voted Labour on June 8th – weren’t you clever!

For the benefit of Labour’s donkey voters, let me try to explain it as simply as I can. Ew votes Labour, right. Now, if there’s a Labour gov’ment up in Lundun, they ignores ew and takes ew for granted. But if there’s a Tory gov’ment up in Lundun, well, they just ignores ew’.

And here’s a special message for Blaenau Gwent, which is a perfect example of the system I’ve just described operating at a more local level. You voted Labour again on the 8th, and now that Carwyn and his gang know you’re no threat, they’re going to shit on you over the Circuit of Wales. And you’ll have no one to blame but yourselves! 

But the real culprits in all of this are Plaid Cymru. Because if Plaid Cymru had a message that resonated with the Welsh people then we wouldn’t be in this mess, and people in the poorest part of the country wouldn’t still be voting for the party responsible for their poverty. And Cardiff wouldn’t be losing jobs to Dundee.

Which is why from now on this blog will encourage the creation of a new movement, that might or might not contest elections, but will certainly promote Welsh patriotism and the defence of the Welsh national interest. It will be Wales and Welsh people first and foremost; and will regard all political parties, all Englandandwales organisations, all media outlets, etc., as inimical to the Welsh national interest unless they prove otherwise.

A fresh start is the only way Wales can make progress.

♦ end ♦

Dec 072015
 

CHINA TO RHIGOS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pen y Cymoedd, Amethyst, Swansea docks

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

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

*

ABERYSTWYTH, THE NEXT RHYL?

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

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

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

Aber student accommodation

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

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

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

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

*

A LETTER FROM CEREDIGION

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

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

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

And there are more exciting developments on the drawing board.

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

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

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

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

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

Cultural heritage

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

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

Spin cycle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*

TRAGEDY IN PONTYPRIDD

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Morning Star reviews

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

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

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

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

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