Tywyn

Aug 302016
 

I have consistently argued that colonialism takes many forms. It’s not just England ripping off our natural resources, or using our homeland as a playground, there are a thousand and one less obvious ways in which Wales is exploited. Some of them are curious, even bizarre, while others are in ‘sensitive’ areas where we timid Welsh are often reluctant to raise our voices.Cancer Research complete

Last Thursday, I was sauntering along Tywyn High Street, nosing here and there, when a sign in the newsagent’s window caught my eye. I reproduce it here for you. I agree it’s not easy to read, due to the reflective qualities of glass combined with the professionalism of our local window cleaners. Even so, you should be able to read that a fund-raising event was organised locally by North West Cancer Research . . . north west England, that is.

I got home and tweeted Cancer Research Wales. Today, after the Bank Holiday, I received a reply, and a short exchange of tweets followed. (Just work your way down, and click to enlarge.) The final, unanswered tweet, was me asking Cancer Research Wales if they will be asking for the money collected last Saturday in Tywyn.

This fund-raiser was not a one-off, I have seen similar posters before, and as this one tells us, North West Cancer Research has a Tywyn & District Committee, which suggests regular fund-raising events.

Now a Britlander reading what I have written thus far would perhaps say, ‘Oh, do come on, don’t be so petty. Does it really matter where it goes – it’s all for the same cause!’. A response that would doubtless silence many Welsh people, while deliberately missing a number of points.

First, Tywyn is on the Cardigan Bay coastline, some 86 miles from Liverpool, so it’s reasonable to assume that if there is a fund-raising group for North West Cancer Research in Tywyn then there will be others as we get closer to Liverpool, especially along the north coast.

Unsurprisingly, there is a committee in Mold, covering Flintshire. There is also a Llanfairfechan, Aber and Bangor Committee for Gwynedd and Conwy, and even a Machynlleth Committee to cover Powys. Though, remarkably, for an organisation serving north west England, there seems to be no fund-raising group in Liverpool, where it’s based, or Manchester!

In fact, North West (England) Cancer Research has more fund-raising groups in Wales than in England! Which makes me wonder just how viable North West Cancer Research would be without the money it gets from northern and central Wales.

North West Cancer Research group

The North West Cancer Research website tells us that it funds cancer research “at the University of Liverpool, Bangor University and Lancaster University”. So that explains it – the money collected in Tywyn, and Machynlleth, Mold and Llanfairfechan, goes to Bangor university! Well, no, it actually goes to Liverpool, where it is doled out to those three universities.

But wait, Bangor University (despite what many involved with that institution may believe) is in Wales, and we have our own Cancer Research Wales, so why is Bangor University tied up with the Cancer Research group in Liverpool?

North West Cancer Research About Us

You may be thinking the answer is that people from the Machynlleth and Tywyn areas go to Bangor or Liverpool hospitals for cancer treatment. They don’t, everyone I’ve known in the Tywyn area who has needed treatment for cancer has gone to a hospital in the south . . . yet their donations go to Liverpool!

So the question remains: Why is money being collected in Tywyn and elsewhere in Wales for North West Cancer Research when people from those areas go to hospitals in southern Wales for cancer treatment?

But even if people from Machynlleth and Tywyn were going to Liverpool or Bangor for cancer treatment that still wouldn’t justify collections in Wales for North West Cancer Research. Bangor is in Wales and cancer research at the local university should be funded by money collected in every part of Wales by Cancer Research Wales. Any treatment received by Welsh patients in Liverpool could be handled by the usual cross-border arrangements.

Let’s be blunt about this. The Tywyn and District Committee of North West Cancer Research is a hangover from the pre-devolution days of ‘Merseyside and North Wales’. So we can’t criticise old dears in Tywyn or Machynlleth raising money for a good cause, the fault lies with a system that, seventeen years into devolution, still carves Wales up and attaches our dismembered parts to nearby regions of England.

The blame for the persistence of this colonialist hangover lies with our politicians and our civil servants, with those who run our higher education and our health authorities, many of whom are alien and most of whom operate within an Englandandwales mindset.

But then there’s Cancer Research Wales, why does it pretend it’s a national body when it only operates in the south? Has it surrendered all the territory north of Aberystwyth?

Cancer Research Wales

While writing this piece connected questions kept arising. For example, I’ve given money to Cancer Research at local funerals (I’m sure you have), now I’m wondering where that money ended up. And if this situation persists in one charity, how many other charities are there collecting money in Wales and sending it to England? But this problem is not restricted to charities.

There are countless other ways in which money leaves Wales. One I was told about last week will never appear in any economic survey or report, it’s just too off the wall. In the Tywyn area, and along this stretch of coast, are many caravan ‘parks’, ugly, depressing places that should be phased out. Anyway, many of the seasonal denizens of these places are now having their groceries and other supplies delivered from ASDA’s Shrewsbury store, 70 miles away!

In fact, ASDA vans from Shrewsbury are now a daily sight in the Tywyn area. It makes you wonder how much money the thousands of people who stay in local caravans really put into the local economy. I bet it’s a fraction of what we are told tourists contribute, but that’s a story for another day.

Like I say, colonialism – i.e. Wales subsidising England – comes in many forms. But you aren’t supposed to know about them. As a loyal little Britlander you are expected to hitch up your union jack underpants and swallow the ‘Wales couldn’t manage on her own’ line.

Thankfully, as Brexit and other recent examples of the expressed popular will have shown, fewer and fewer people believe what they’re told by politicians, mainstream media and ‘experts’. Wales needs more of such cynicism, more questioning of things as they are, if we are to bring about the changes this country needs.

Among those changes is a full range of national institutions serving the whole country; institutions that reflect our nationhood and respect the border. Cancer Research Wales reclaiming the ‘lost lands’, funding research at Bangor University, and becoming a genuinely national body, would be one place to start.

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May 082014
 

Regular followers of this blog may recall that back in 2012 (on the old Google blog, now, sadly, demised) I was able to give out some good news. Which was . . . that for properties to be built by Cymdeithas Tai Clwyd on a new development in Tywyn, “Prospective tenants must have lived and worked Tai Clwydin the area for at least five years”. I learnt this, first, from a piece in our local edition of the Cambrian News, in July (left, click to enlarge), and then it was confirmed in an e-mail I received from Tai Clwyd in September (below, ditto). These two pieces of information can only be read as saying, ‘these properties are reserved for local people’. Or, to be more specific – as Tai Clwyd was in its e-mail – a Section 106, local occupancy, restriction. (Though S106 can deal with other issues.)

Fast forward to 2014 and the word on the mean streets of Tywyn is that these properties are now to be allocated to “people from away” and “people on benefits”. In other words – welcome to Wales’ social housing allocation system: social housing either built in excess of local demand or, where there is local demand – as in Tywyn – locals being passed over in favour of people who have never been to Wales in their lives. A system I have explained more than once, and I shall do so again later in this piece.

In order to find out what has happened between the good news of 2012 and the sobering realities of colonial Wales in 2014 I decided to contact Cymdeithas Tai Clwyd . . . only to learn that it had recently merged with Cymdeithas Tai Eryri to form Grŵp Cynefin, which is “the only housing association to operate across all six north Wales counties plus north Powys”. My initial enquiries with Grŵp Cynefin (GC) drew a blank because it was denied there ever had been a S106 applying to Pendre Gardens, and therefore no guarantee could be given that locals would be offered any of the properties there. After e-mailing GC a copy of the September e-mail my query has now been passed to the Housing Manager.

In a follow-up phone call to GC I was told that it must be the fault of Cyngor Gwynedd that there was no S106. So I next checked the planning consent given by the council (because of course Tywyn is outside the Snowdonia National Park) and could find no mention of a S106. This full planning consent is dated July 23, 2012. So why did the Cambrian News run that piece telling everyone that these new dwellings were for locals only? And why was I told the same thing in September 2012 by Tai Clwyd, two months after that body had been granted the – S106-less – planning permission?

Grŵp Cynefin also referred me to Gwynedd’s Housing Options Team (GHOT), which seems to act as a link for the various social housing providers in the county while also serving as first contact for would-be tenants. The man I spoke with there was courteous and helpful, but could only point me in certain direTai Clwyd replyctions and suggest that an S106 would need to have been agreed between the council and the housing provider.

In another attempt to get answers I phoned the council’s planning department, where it took me a while to explain – or make the woman answering my call understand – that I wanted to know why something was not in an approval granted by the council. Having had my request accepted it could now be 15 days before I receive a response.

I suppose I could have waited until I got answers before writing this post, but my worry is that I’m not going to get the answers I’m after. If I had to bet on it, I’d say I’m in for a game of blame ping-pong. So I’m writing this post half-hoping it might get a better result than yet more phone calls and e-mails. Even so, the questions I would ask are these:

  1. Was it ever proposed to have a Section 106 local – 5-year residency – qualification attaching to the Pendre Gardens development?
  2. If it was, why was the proposal dropped, or the decision changed?
  3. Who authorised the change?
  4. For what reason(s) was the change made?
  5. If there was never any intention of attaching a S106 to Pendre Gardens why was everyone misled (if not lied to); why did no one from the council step in and give the correct information?

The main reason we’re in this mess is that to all intents and purposes Wales and England now operate a single, integrated social housing system. Just like one vast council, or housing association. Which means in practice that if there is a vacant property in Wales, and someone in England – anywhere in England! – has more ‘points’ than local applicants, then the English applicant could be allocated the property. Local connections count for very little. So if you are a law-abiding local, in regular employment, and have any kind of roof over your head, your chances of being allocated social housing are slim. My advice to you is start taking drugs, causing trouble and, best of all, make yourself homeless.

Of course, there will be those who argue that this is a two-way street, for Welsh people can move to England. Yeees . . . but given that England has 53 million people against our 3 million, it’s a two-way street with a bicycle travelling west to east and a 40-tonne juggernaut hurtling east to west. And I’m not just talking quantity, I’m also talking quality. For many of those being moved to Wales will be people that no self-respecting country would allow in. Here’s a selection. But bear in mind that this post I refer you to only deals with those who have made the news. The problem families, the pit bull fanciers, the casual criminals, the anti-social, the wife-beaters, the congenitally irresponsiblePendre Gardens sign, the ‘Ten-pints-and-I’m-Mike-Tyson, me’ types, the ‘breeders-for-benefit’ with their stupid, uncontrollable kids, the all-night party-holders, the fat, ugly women who think smoking ciggies keeps their weight down, these and others go unreported.

So I just cannot understand how this system that is so damaging to Wales and Welsh people has been accepted without resistance. I can only assume that housing associations are doing well out of it financially, and don’t really give a toss about the communities or the country in which they operate. Which might make sense; for Cartrefi Cymunedol Gwynedd (after taking over Gwynedd council’s housing stock) gave the maintenance contract for its properties to an English company that in turn employs sub-contractors from over the border who can only spend a short time actually working because of the distances involved travelling to and from work!

It cannot be right that someone who has never heard of Tywyn, or Tredegar, or Treaddur can qualify for social housing in these communities ahead of people who have lived there maybe all their lives. It cannot be right that Wales is used to help solve England’s housing problems. For as Gwynedd’s Common Housing Allocation Policy makes clear, “The scheme also complies with requirements of the legislation by providing priority or additional priority to: transferring tenants who will release accommodation in short supply . . . “ So if, say, Stoke-on-Trent council, or housing associations in that city, are experiencing pressure on their housing stock, then they can ask – maybe demand – that Welsh local authorities and housing associations give priority to those the Potteries would like to get rid of ‘transfer’ in order to make housing available. Some system, eh!

Change is needed. Social housing providers in Wales can no longer use the ‘Nuremburg Defence’ to implement an iniquitous system that so obviously works against Welsh interests. Social housing provision in Wales must be disentangled from that in England. A five-year residency qualification must be introduced for all social housing in Wales, with the only exceptions being genuine refugees and those who will be of benefit to Wales. Finally, those clowns down Cardiff docks need to realise that calling themselves the ‘Welsh Government’ must mean more than obeying civil servants and nodding through essentially English legislation with ‘(Wales)’ stuck in the title . . . like the Housing (Wales) Bill, and the Planning (Wales) Bill.

Feb 122014
 

Last night’s Week In Week Out on BBC 1 Wales, presented by Tim Rogers, dealt with long term problems posed by erosion or sea encroachment around our coasts, and came with the stark warning that some communities will have to be abandonded, largely because the cost involved in holding back the sea greatly outweighs the value of what is being protected. (Here is a link to the BBC iPlayer version of the programme.)OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

One of the communities visited was Fairbourne, which is, like most of the others consigned to ‘managed retreat’, a somewhat artificial settlement, built on land reclaimed for the purposes of tourism and retirement. The Fairbourne Wikipedia page says it all: the area was previously known as Morfa Henddol (morfa = fen or sea marsh) and the outcrop on which today stands the Fairbourne Hotel was known as Ynysfaig (ynys = island). Clearly, our ancestors knew this land alongside the Mawddach estuary for what it was. (And will soon be again.)

Also investigated was that sinkhole for Welsh public funding, Rhyl. There we saw a couple who, to judge by the accents, came from the Birmingham conurbation, had been flooded out of their bungalow and were now living in a trailer home. Tim Rogers asked if anything had been mentioned about flooding when they purchased their property. “No, nothing”, was the reply. Which made me think to myself, ‘If I am a shifty developer or estate agent, selling properties I know are vulnerable to flooding – and almost always to people who don’t know the area – am I going to tell these prospective buyers that their dream home might one day be under six feet of water?’ Of course not. This is clearly a case of caveat emptor.

Down here, on our stretch of the coast, Tywyn’s new sea defences worked excellently . . . though there are some in Tywyn that will never admit this as they harbour an irrational hatred for Gwynedd council and all its works, because it’s a) too Welsh and b) run by the wrong party. They would rather gripe and snipe at everything the council does, however beneficial.

Speaking of gripers and snipers, I hear that part of Aberdyfi golf course has joined Neptune’s realm. Sad though this news may be, there can be no justification for spending Welsh public money to preserve what is a private and exclusive asset. Either the club itself pays for new sea defences or else Nature must Tywyn sea defencesbe allowed to take its course (‘course’ – geddit!), leaving the Ukipistas to find another rendezvous. Further south, Borth and Aberystwyth also featured in Tim Rogers’ investigation. Now, obviously, Aberystwyth must be defended, but how strong is the case for Borth? It certainly seems that land just north of Borth – curiously enough, another golf course! – is to be surrendered.

Though the bigger picture here, especially when we remember the Towyn floods of 1990 and similar events, is that for a century and more we have allowed, even encouraged, the building of new properties on inadequately defended coastal plains and salt marsh, land on which building should never have been allowed. So why did this happen? The fundamental cause is tourism. Since the coming of the railways over 160 years ago English people have visited coastal Wales for their holidays, and this led to the growth of resorts where little or nothing had existed before the arrival of the iron horse. Many of those tourists wished to settle permanently, perhaps retire to, where they had enjoyed their holidays, so new homes were built for them . . . with the inevitable consequences.

If I owned a home in an area being ‘surrendered’ to the sea, I think I would be asking a few questions. Principally, ‘Why was planning permission granted for my property and others when the risk of flooding must have been known?’ Then, perhaps, ‘Do I have a justifiable claim for negligence or culpability against the body that granted planning permission’? (With this of course extending, particularly in the case of local authorities, to successor bodies.) For no matter what we may think of communities like Rhyl, Towyn and Fairbourne, the people suffering from flooding in such places aPuppet show, captionre innocent victims and have, to all intents and purposes, been conned into buying the properties under threat.

So, in the hope of avoiding any repetition of such miseries, can the puppet show down Cardiff docks, and our local authorities, confirm that no more building will take place in areas that might in future be susceptible to coastal flooding or erosion? (This must also apply to trailer parks and other developments.) More, will these bodies also confirm that any outstanding planning approvals for dwellings in such areas will be revoked? And will the ‘Welsh’ Government also promise us that there will henceforth be a binding national presumption against building any more communities like Towyn and Fairbourne?

Oh, yes, something else that would be very welcome would be a promise from the Planning Inspectorate that in future it will not – in order to follow its over-arching policy of attracting English settlers to Wales – overrule planning bodies that turn down applications for housing in flood-prone areas.

Fairbourne 1868UPDATE 12.03.14: I am indebted to the person who sent me a copy of this 1868 watercolour claiming to be a view across the Mawddach from Barmouth, showing where Fairbourne would eventually be built. You will note that there is nothing there apart from what looks like a temporary structure, perhaps a fisherman’s hut. Suggesting that the locals had better sense than to try to build anything permanent there. (Click to enlarge.)

Apr 192013
 

Earlier this week a party of schoolchildren from Tywyn, Meirionnydd, returning home from  a trip to France, was delivered by mistake to Towyn on the north coast, almost 80 miles away. The story provided the local edition of the Cambrian News with its front page lead, and the story also made it to the BBC News and Wales Online.

A spokesman for the company that owns the bus, Llew Jones International Coaches of Llanrwst, explained the mistake by saying that the driver was “not from the area” and put Towyn not Tywyn into his SatNav. By ‘area’ I suspect the Llew Jones spokesman means Wales, for any driver familiar with northern Wales would, on hearing the name, ask himself, ‘Is that Tywyn or Towyn?’ And having established which one it was, would not need SatNav.

An irony here is that at one time the name of Tywyn was spelt the same way way as the other place, but partly to avoid confusion the Meirionnydd community reverted to its correct Welsh spelling over forty years ago. The native Welsh welcomed the change, but there is noticeable resistance from the English who’ve moved to the area. Many of whom view the change of spelling as a concession to extremists, and perhaps the first step on the slippery slope to English colonists being murdered in their beds.

This resistance makes itself manifest in the names of those organisations with – how can I put it? – a very ‘British’ outlook, or run by persons susceptible to this unfortunate attitude. Such as the Towyn and Aberdovey Royal Air Forces Association. When at one go you can corrupt two Welsh place names then you know it’s due to more than just carelessness. For there is something fundamental at stake here – the Englishman’s ancient and God-given right to go abroad and mangle the local languages.

I guarantee that this week down in the bar of Abbaduvet golf club local RAFA members and others have been harrumphing into their whisky and sodas and reminding all and sundry that this would never have happened in ‘their day’, perhaps when returning from a raid on some defenceless German city. Never for one minute conceding that their intransigence and hostility to things Welsh is still contributing to the confusion that results in cock-ups like this.

Before finishing, another irony I’ve just noticed is that the Cambrian News made a big thing of coach company Llew Jones’ driver getting Welsh spellings wrong but, at the foot of their online version of the story, I found this:

Cambrian News

UPDATE 20.04.13: I hear that the driver involved has been dismissed. Some might think that’s a bit harsh. Maybe the fault lies with his employer, for recruiting someone to drive around Wales who clearly doesn’t know our country. But nowadays, ignorance of Wales seems to be no obstacle to landing a job here, whether it’s as a coach driver, a council chief executive, a policeman or a postman. Which means cock-ups are inevitable; most of which – unlike this one – can be brushed under the carpet.