Snowdon Mountain Railway Ltd

Jul 032017
 

RESPECT WANTED

Tourism is a subject I’ve written about more than once, and so I think my views are pretty well known. But in case anyone’s failed to get the message . . . tourism in Wales is exploitive, tasteless, disruptive, damaging to Welsh identity and culture, destructive of our physical environment, and far too little of the wealth it generates reaches Welsh people. Tourism in Wales is one of the more obvious manifestations of colonialism.

Which is why I was encouraged to read this morning about Eryri in future being treated with “respect”. Remarkably, this is the very word I have used in my previous criticisms of the damage being done to the area by crude and exploitive tourism.

The word was used by Helen Pye, the Snowdonia National Park’s former head warden for Snowdon who is now manager of the Snowdon Partnership, a group representing various interests that has produced a draft plan for the area which invites comments. It’s a fascinating document and I urge you all to read it, and to submit your comments before Friday’s deadline.

The document tells us, for example, that Snowdon is a “national asset” . . . without stating which nation is being referred to. But as it goes on to say, ” . . . the most visited mountain in the UK.” it’s reasonable to assume that we are here discussing the mythic UKish nation.

A remarkable, and worrying, statistic may be found on page 20, which tells us that between 2013 and 2015 the percentage of first-time hill walkers attempting Yr Wyddfa doubled from 10% to 20%. Which no doubt contributes to some of the more alarming statistics found elsewhere in the report.

Page 43 bears out my criticism of tourism providing low-wage and seasonal employment, and contributing little to the overall economy of an area, with: “Tourism to Yr Wyddfa is estimated to contribute £69m of economic benefit per annum. There are low rates of full-time employment and low median wages in the Park”.

Though my spirits were briefly raised when I read, on page 48,“Invasive species are being controlled”, under the “Where do we want to be by 2030?” heading . . . only to realise that the draft was not referring to tourists.

All in all, it’s a very disappointing and unambitious document, with ‘compromise’ written through it like ‘Tenby’ through a stick of rock. Hardly surprising when we look at some of the ‘partners’: Visit Betws-y-Coed, The Outdoor Partnership, The National Trust, Beddgelert Tourism Association, Snowdonia-Active, Visit Wales, Snowdon Mountain Railway.

All of which can be grouped under the ‘Playground Wales’ umbrella. Organisations which insist that attracting unsustainable numbers of tourists, and encouraging many to settle, has no damaging consequences for Welsh identity, social cohesion, and the natural environment.

Not a lot different to tobacco companies back in the ’60s and ’70s arguing that cigarettes were not harmful to health. If you have a vested interested in denying what it is becoming clear to everyone else then that’s what you do . . . and just hope you get away with it.

TREN BACH YR WYDDFA

After writing the name I got to wondering a bit more about the Snowdon Mountain Railway, which not only owns the train to the summit but also runs the cafe close by the summit.

Reading the website one of the first things that struck me about the early days of the railway was the almost total absence of Welsh involvement. This was all happening in spite of us, or over our heads. But then, that’s colonialism; a whole nation treated as if it has learning difficulties, unable to do anything for itself.

The section below is taken from the website’s History section.

From ‘History of the Snowdon Mountain Railway’

The initial excursion in 1896 of No 1 Ladas, owned by the Snowdon Mountain Tramroad and Hotels Company Ltd, was not a great success, for the train left the track. Fortunately there was just one fatality, Ellis Griffith Roberts of Llanberis.

This episode is so wonderfully emblematic of ‘Welsh’ tourism. Not only were those making the money English, even the driver of the derailed train, William Pickles, was brought in from Yorkshire (with his nephew to serve as fireman). And as is the case 120 years later, it’s the Welsh who suffer.

The company number quoted on the website is 00042476 which, when typed into the Companies House site, takes us here. We can see that this company is based in Liverpool, and has been dormant for many years. Not only that, but since 2001 the company has got by without auditors. (You’ll note that this decision was taken at a meeting in Ripon, North Yorkshire. Perhaps in deference to Will Pickles and his nephew.)

Which means that one of Wales’ major tourism enterprises is run by an unaudited, dormant company. So who owns this outfit? Well, the answer seems to be, according to this document, that the shares – all 1,803,690 (10p shares) – are owned by Heritage Great Britain PLC of the same Liverpool address.

Heritage Great Britain plc is a holding company and we are also told that, “The Group undertakes the operation of various landmark and other day visitor attractions situated in the Isle of Wight, Cornwall, North Wales, and holiday accommodation in Scotland through a joint venture”.

So who owns Heritage Great Britain plc? According to this document, as at 5 April 2016 all 5,213,371 £1 shares are held by Cherberry Ltd. Which is where the trail almost goes dead. Because if you type ‘Cherberry Ltd’ into the Companies House website you draw a blank . . . for Cherberry was registered in May 1996 in Jersey.

Naturally – you know me, nosey bastard! – I went to the website of the Jersey Financial Services Commission to see what I could learn about Cherberry Ltd . . . which was not a lot. Other than the fact that the trail goes on to Dukla Ltd of Gibraltar, as set out in this document. The Dukla Articles of Association are dated August 2015. Having paid out £4 for the Jersey documents I was in no mood to splash out more than thirty quid a time for the Gibraltar docs.

And even if I’d bought some Gibraltar documents then I might have found that they led on to the Caymans or the British Virgin Islands. Which raises a few questions.

Hafod Eryri. All the architectural charm of a public urinal from communist East Germany

First, the Snowdon Mountain Railway Ltd leases the cafe at the summit, Hafod Eryri, from the Snowdonia National Park. This ‘visitor centre’ opened 12 June 2009 and was built at considerable cost. Given who owns it it’s safe to assume that a great deal of public funding was involved. How do those funders – probably using your money and mine – feel about this publicly-funded asset now being leased to a company based God knows where?

Second, the Snowdonia Mountain Railway ferries a few hundred thousand people between Llanberis and the summit every year. In the event of an accident, how easy would it be to hold to account a company we’ve traced to Gibraltar, a company that through yet more changes of name and ownership may ultimately be located even further afield?

Are Cyngor Gwynedd and the ‘Welsh’ Government satisfied that adequate insurance is in place to cover all eventualities? Satisfied that culpability can be apportioned and justice satisfied when the guilty party or parties may be beyond UK jurisdiction?

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DRAMATIS PERSONAE

The principal characters in the Snowdon Mountain Railway, in the forms of the three current directors are, Gary Johnson, Allan James Stuart Leech and Peter Miles Johnson-Treherne; the last of whom can be founded listed on other documents as Peter Treherne or Peter Johnson-Treherne.

The same three crop up running the Snowdon Mountain Tramroad and Hotels Company Ltd (where Gary Johnson now becomes Gary Andrew Johnson). You’ll remember that this is the name of the company for which the luckless William Pickles and his nephew worked back in 1896. (Though of course they were lucky compared to poor Ellis Griffith Roberts.) So what does this company do?

In a word, nothing, for it became dormant almost from the date of its Incorporation on 22 May 2013. And as we read in the Annual Report and Accounts dated 31 January 2014, “The company is a wholly owned subsidiary of Heritage Great Britain plc which is registered in England and Wales. The ultimate parent company, Cherberry Ltd, is registered in Jersey . . . “. 

Something that puzzled me was, given the ages of the three I’ve named, and their relatively late entrances, who was running the show before they got involved? Part of the answer came from the former directors of the Snowdon Mountain Railway Ltd, for among them I found the information below.

Kevin Ronald Leech (born August 1943) is probably the father of current director Allan James Stuart Leech (born October 1972). Leech Senior’s Jersey address is the same address given for Cherberry Ltd.

UPDATE 04.07.2017: I am indebted to Simon Hillman for providing (in a comment below) more information on Kevin Leech. I suggest you read this Telegraph article from October 2002 and this Guardian piece from January 2014. This is the man who might still own the Snowdon Mountain Railway through a network of offshore companies, and the man to whom the Snowdonia National Park has leased Hafod Eryri. Cause for concern.

RESPECT HAS TO BE EARNED

The fundamental problem exposed here is one we find in other parts of Wales, and indeed, around the world. To wit: A beautiful area attracts tourists, the more tourists that come, the more degraded and less beautiful that area becomes. This combination of tourism and degradation is unavoidable.

Among those refusing to concede this universal truth we may find some denying that there is a limit to how many tourists an area can accommodate, especially when they don’t live in the area and run their businesses through offshore companies.

If Ms Pye and her Snowdon Partnership are serious about showing respect for Yr Wyddfa then the answer is simple: rather than searching for the alchemist’s stone of attracting a limitless number of tourists and expecting them to cause no harm, accept that the problem is too many tourists and start limiting the numbers.

By all means encourage responsible walkers to ascend the mountain, but for God’s sake don’t make it easy for every lazy bastard to get there on a bloody railway – and then encourage them to fill their fat faces in the cafe at the top!

So make a start by demolishing the pissoir at the peak, after all, this is owned by the Snowdonia National Park Authority and was paid for from the Welsh public purse. With the visitor centre gone there’ll be less incentive for the obese and the idle to get the train to the summit.

If money was found for the carbuncle now desecrating the skyline then money can be found to buy out the Snowdon Mountain Railway, by compulsory purchase if necessary. Once bought, the rolling stock can be flogged off and the tracks torn up to restore Yr Wyddfa to something approaching its natural state.

Anything less is simply tinkering with the problem; so if that’s what’s happening then don’t build people’s hopes up by using words like ‘respect’. Use the word that I fear already describes the Snowdon Partnership and its draft plan – fudge.

♦ end ♦