It’s that time of year again when drunks will bawl out and mutilate a beautiful song. So if you’re going to ‘sing’ it tonight, why not try to get just some of the words right. Right!
Blwyddyn Newydd Dda i chi gyd.
AULD LANG SYNE
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And never brought to min’?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And auld lang syne?
For auld lang syne, my dear.
For auld lang syne,
We’ll tak a cup o’ kindness yet,
For auld lang syne.
We twa hae run about the braes,
And pu’d the gowans fine;
But we’ve wandered mony a weary foot
Sin’ auld lang syne.
We twa hae paidled i’ the burn,
From morning sun till dine;
But seas between us braid hae roar’d
Sin’ auld lang syne.
And there’s a hand, my trusty fiere,
And gie’s a hand o thine;
And we’ll tak a right guid-willie waught,
For auld lang syne.
And surely ye’ll be your pint-stowp,
And surely I’ll be mine;
And we’ll tak a cup o’ kindness yet
For auld lang syne.
Auld: old. Auld lang syne: 1 old days of long ago. 2 old friendship. Tak: take. Twa: two. Hae: have. Braes: hillsides. Pu’d: pulled. Gowan: mountain daisy. Mony: many. Paidled: paddled. Burn: stream. Dine: dinner. Braid: broad. Hae: have. Sin’: since. Fiere: friend or comrade. Gie’s: give (me). Guid-willie: 1 hospitable. 2 hearty. 3 kindly, generous, liberal. Waught: copious draught. Pint: a measure equal to two English quarts. Stowp: a jug with a handle.
Yes, I know, it’s Christmas, the season of goodwill to all men, but it’s only a temporary distraction from the realities of life in Wales. And that life is, quite simply, colonial.
The gullible among us believe that devolution has made things better. I’m at a loss to understand why anyone should believe that. We are poorer today – relative to other parts of this scepter’d isle – than we were in 1999. Devolution is a complete sham in which a bunch of appalling mediocrities, denizens of an outlandish building down Cardiff docks, are unwilling to admit, or too stupid to see, that their ‘advisors’ are nothing but conduits for policy directives from London.
If the directives don’t come via civil servants then we often hear about them by other means. We know that the Conservative regime wants to roll back the devolution process, just in case, at some future date, someone might decide to ignore the ‘advisors’ and use the powers gained for the benefit of Wales. So after thinking about it for a moment it was no real surprise to hear a man no one has heard of, representing a body no one knows about, suggest co-opting MPs into the ‘Welsh’ Government.
This was such an insane, anti-democratic suggestion, that it took many people by surprise. My first response was, ‘Who the fuck is Martin Warren, and what does the governance of Wales have to do with the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales?’ Then my cynical mind started turning and I realised that a professional body like this will almost certainly have ‘links’ with the Conservative and Unionist Party. What if they’re being used as a cat’s paw?
What I mean is that now the idea’s been publicly mooted, who’s to say that some time next year the Crabb won’t come out with, ‘Suggestions have been made . . . ‘ or ‘After considering proposals to include MPs . . . ‘ and use it to parachute a few Tory MPs into Carwyn’s multi-talented cabinet.
But note the organisation coming out with this bollocks, particularly note that it’s yet another Englandandwales outfit . . . the accountants have obviously taken no account of devolution. (Like hundreds of other bodies.) As we approach the seventeenth year of devolution Wales is more firmly integrated with England than ever before. And being integrated further every year, while Scotland – even without independence – pulls further away, in order to serve her own interests rather than England’s.
Next year sees the Assembly elections. Despite the lack of a Welsh media, increasing numbers of our people are finally waking up to the harsh reality that voting Labour achieves nothing. It only makes things worse. Plaid Cymru should be the major beneficiary of this new awareness (even if not to the same degree as the SNP). But if Ukip and Tories, Lib Dems and Greens benefit from this disillusionment more than – or even as much as – Plaid Cymru, then the time will have arrived to consider new means by which the nation’s interests are to be defended. 2016 must be Plaid Cymru’s last chance.
Some readers will consider my Christmas montage a little harsh, even unseasonal, but the realities don’t change because of some fat guy in a Coca Cola outfit. I shall return next year, refreshed and sobered up, loins girded, restocked with vitriol, ready to launch yet more trenchant attacks on the colonial system destroying our homeland.
In the meantime, and to prove that I’m not a complete and utter Scrooge . . .
I have written many times about the national disaster that passes for a housing strategy in our rural areas, a ‘strategy’ that sees private properties built for which there is no local demand, or at prices most of us can’t afford, while in the social sector we have an allocations system that ensures just about anyone qualifies ahead of locals. Quite recently, thanks to the indefatigable Wynne Jones, I have become acquainted with yet another cause for concern, one that would boggle a mind less inured to the lunacies of devolved Wales.
This particular example comes from Pembrokeshire, and the cause for concern is Mill Bay Homes, a subsidiary of Pembrokeshire Housing. Or at least, that’s what it says on the Mill Bay Homes website, but there’s no mention of Mill Bay Homes on the Pembrokeshire Housing website. But as they share the same address in Haverfordwest we must assume they are known to each other.
If we go to this page on the Mill Bay Homes website we see that this subsidiary of the Pembrokeshire Housing Association Ltd operates no different to a private company in that it builds and sells property using the justification that it is “a business with a social purpose” because the money it makes will be invested in social housing built by the parent company.
Elsewhere on the Mill Bay website you will see the image reproduced above, so what is the Help to Buy – Wales scheme? Quite simply, it’s the local variant of a UK-wide programme to boost the building trade by helping prospective house buyers. A buyer needs to contribute only 5% of the purchase price, the ‘Welsh’ Government will then give a shared-equity loan of 20% if the purchaser can find an acceptable mortgage lender for the remaining 75%. An excellent idea, surely?
Certainly, and it gets even better when we open the ‘Welsh’ Government’s Help to Buy publication and scroll down to page six, where, in the right-hand column, we read, “The property purchased must be your only residence. Help to Buy – Wales is not available to assist buy–to–let investors or those who will own any property other than their Help to Buy – Wales property after completing their purchase”. (My emphasis.)
Yet despite the programme’s ban on those hoping to use public funding for private investment the Mill Bay Homes website actually encourages the “Investment Buyer”. (See panel below.) How can Mill Bay Homes offer investment buyers access to a scheme that specifically bars them! No doubt Mill Bay Homes would tell us that it differentiates between investors and owner-occupiers, and that Help to Buy is only offered to the former . . . but nowhere on its website does it say this.
I’ve already said that Help to Buy is a UK-wide scheme overseen in Wales by the ‘Welsh’ Government, but I wasn’t sure who actually implements it, who dishes out the lucre as it were. So I made some enquiries. The money is disbursed by Help To Buy (Wales) Ltd, company number 08708403, Incorporated 28.09.2013, and based at 1 Capital Quarter, Tyndall Street, Cardiff CF10 4BZ.
Help To Buy (Wales) Ltd has share capital of £1 held by Finance Wales Plc with the Ultimate Parent Company given as “Welsh Ministers”. Welsh Ministers! Does that refer to a vestryful of nonconformist divines or those buffoons down Cardiff docks? Unfortunately, it means the latter.
Why so many companies, and who are Staziker, O’Leary and Owen? Are they civil servants who (for the sake of public consumption) are answerable to the ‘Welsh’ Government or are they businesspeople or professionals employed by the ‘Welsh’ Government? Either way, what power do these people have to ensure that millions and millions of pounds of our money is properly spent? And if they simply dole out the money, then who does ensure that it’s properly spent?
I can see the Help to Buy scheme working just fine in England, and Scotland, and also in our towns and cities, though in our rural areas it risks exacerbating the problem I have discussed countless times, and that’s because anyone from anywhere can apply to the Help to Buy Scheme to purchase a new property in a Welsh town or village. No local connection is required.
This refusal on the part of the ‘Welsh’ Labour ‘Government’ in Cardiff docks to prioritise Welsh interests almost certainly explains the planning application for 30 new properties in Cilgerran, north Pembrokeshire, submitted by Mill Bay Homes Ltd. Here’s the planning application, I suggest you keep it open in another window or browser so that you can refer to it as I go along.
You will see – in Section 3 – that the application is for planning consent for 8 x 3-bed detached houses, 12 x 3-bed semi-detached houses, and 10 x 2-bed semi-detached houses. Scroll down to Section 18 and you will see that all thirty dwellings are described as “Social Rented Housing”. Which is odd seeing as this planning application was submitted by Mill Bay Housing, which only builds to sell, even inviting investors.
Something else worth remarking on is that in my experience very few detached three-bedroom houses are built for the social rental sector. Oh, and one other thing . . . Pembrokeshire Housing offers a Welsh version of its website, whereas Mill Bay Homes is strictly English only.
For those who don’t know Cilgerran, it’s a pleasant, scenic village upriver from Cardigan. In 1931 94% of the population of Cilgerran parish was Welsh speaking, today it’s below 50%, for the usual reason: economic decline disguised with the kind of tourism that does little for locals but encourages their replacement with a wealthier stratum of good-lifers, retirees, fleece jacket fascists and others drawn by the area’s physical and scenic attractions, an immigrant population having no regard for the area’s cultural heritage and national identity.
Though perhaps the major question is, why has Mill Bay Homes, a company that on its own website is described as specialising “in the development and sale of homes suited to the lifestyles of customers who range from those buying for the first time through to those looking to downsize or retire” now put in a planning application for rented social housing?
It could be that the answer lies with the use of words such as “lifestyles”, “downsizing” and “retire”. For they sound very odd if these properties are being built for locals to rent, but they’re just the kind of sales pitch I’d expect to see used if the Cilgerran development is targeting buyers from over the border.
So what is the truth about this Cilgerran development and Mill Bay Homes? I think we’re entitled to answers. Maybe the ‘Welsh Ministers’ or the troika named above can assure us that the operations of Pembrokeshire Housing and Mill Bay Homes are above board, and that our generosity isn’t being abused.
Specifically: Has Mill Bay Homes helped ‘investors’ access the Help to Buy scheme? Is public money being used to build properties in Cilgerran described as social housing but intended to be sold on the open market?
The relationship between Pembrokeshire Housing and Mill Bay Homes is one I have expressed concerns about before. (Here’s one example.) It sees a body in receipt of large amounts of public funding set up a subsidiary that operates in a way that is either difficult to track, or else in a manner barred to the parent body. The relationship is too often opaque and offers no guarantee that public funding to the parent body is not channelled to the unregulated and unaudited (by funders) subsidiary.
This is what we appear to have with Pembrokeshire Housing and Mill Bay Homes. Even though the latter piously claims that its “earnings will be covenanted to the parent company (Pembrokeshire Housing) for the express purpose of re-investment in the social housing development programme in Pembrokeshire” we have no guarantee of that, because Mill Bay Homes does not receive direct public funding it is not audited.
This parent and subsidiary arrangement should not be allowed where the parent body is in receipt of public funding unless the subsidiaries are covered by the same regulations and checks as the parent body. Ask yourself this, ‘How did Mill Bay Homes build its first properties? Was it with money given by Pembrokeshire Housing? And was that start-up money funding that the parent company had received in ‘Welsh’ Government grants? If so, who authorised this generosity?
In the wider context we now see a social housing sector that is costing Wales hundreds of millions of pounds every year for very little return. The reasons for this unsustainable situation are clear.
We have far too many housing associations. All paying inflated salaries and pension packages to their senior staff. Those same executives, understanding the dog-eat-dog world they inhabit, and fearful of being swallowed up by a rival, believe they must grow to survive, which inevitably results in increased levels of speculative building unrelated to local need. But don’t worry – it’s only public money! And Wales can afford it.
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)!
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
After posting my previous piece on colonialism, and using as an example the thwarted biomass plans of Welsh businessman Clive Hughes, I received some very interesting feedback naming Hughes’ nemesis as Robin Andrew Cammish. ‘Who him?’ you demand. Well, make yourself comfortable and settle back for a quite remarkable story.
First of all, read this Llanelli Star report from October 2012 in which Cammish explains how he got involved in the campaign against Clive Hughes’ proposed biomass power station at Coedbach, and how he became chairman of the group opposing the plan. Note that in the second paragraph it says, ” . . . the 58-year-old, who leads global purchasing and supply chain consultancy QP group”. So naturally, I checked up on the QP Group, and found that it had liabilities in excess of assets to the tune of £100,000 when it was struck off in June 2009. Which means that at the time the Llanelli Star piece was written, the QP Group had been defunct for over three years.
Or perhaps the Star meant QP Group (France) Ltd (based in Aldershot!). Or QP ES Group SA of Luxembourg. How about QP Group Sas, with an address in central Paris. Or maybe it’s QP Group Gmbh in Germany. There are even QP companies in the USA and Australia! So take your pick. In fact, Cammish has been involved with over thirty companies, some of which I shall explore below. (Note that the address given for him by Company Check is in Birmingham.)
Maybe I’m being a little unfair to Cammish, it’s so easy to get confused when one has so many companies using the QP name (an abbreviation for quality and performance). Perhaps what he told the Star was that he ran Quality and Performance in Development Ltd (Co. No. 03391150), which seems to be the main vehicle for his business activities and currently enjoys a net worth of £944,053.
Though Quality and Performance in Development Ltd threw up another mystery. Cammish’s address is Llandyri House, between Kidwelly and Trimsaran, but the address given for his main company is Coomb Mansion, Llangynog, a truly ugly nineteenth-century ‘mansion’ that has served as an approved school and a Cheshire home for ex-servicemen. In addition to Robin Cammish the other directors of Quality and Performance in Development Ltd are his partner, Pauline Bowers, and a Craig Thomas Henry Warrington of Wokingham, in Berkshire.
Naturally, I got to wondering who owns Coomb Mansion, so here is the title document. Coomb Mansion was bought by Robin Cammish for £200,000, 06.11.2012. I wonder what plans he has for this grotesque pile? And will he get planning permission? Read on for the likely answer to the second of those questions. (You’ll note that Coomb Mansion is in Cammish’s name alone, whereas Llandyri House is in both his and Bowers’ names.)
Cammish and Warrington have collaborated elsewhere, with Summit House Close Estate Management Ltd, also in Berkshire, Co. No. 08959266, Incorporated 26.03.2014 and apparently sold on 09.10.2014. Incorporated on the same date and from the same address was Summit House Close Flat Management Ltd, Co. No. 08959172. Cammish and Warrington resigned 24.09.2014 when five new directors took over.
Though I find it strange that Warrington is named as a director for both companies but Cammish appears as QPB Ltd, Co. No. 06687464. Seeing as Warrington is a long-serving director of QPB, why is he listed separately; or should the question be, why isn’t Cammish listed under his name, rather than the company’s? QPB was Incorporated 02.09.2008 with a debt of £1.3m, presumably mortgages, paid off with the sale of the two Summit House companies.
We shall return to Robin Cammish’s many companies anon, but for the time being I want to explore how successfully this man has put himself about in his adopted community, how he has found favour with local power-brokers, and how favour and patronage has resulted in some remarkable appointments.
To recap . . . As the Llanelli Star told us, Cammish began to make himself known in Carmarthenshire when he got involved with the protest against Clive Hughes’ plan for a biomass plant in the Gwendraeth valley. Those protesting against this project called themselves the Coedbach Action Team.
Though there was also a company set up, Incorporated 01.08.2008, called Coedbach Action Team Ltd, Co. No. 06662006. The sole director until the company was struck off in December 2014 was Robin Cammish. This company never had any assets and existed only on paper . . . but for what purpose? Was it for legal reasons?
I strongly suggest that you scroll down in this judicial review document from September 2010 to paragraph 18, and paragraph 19, in which we read, “Mr Cammish says that the Claimant (Coedbach Action Team Ltd) does not have the resources to fund its own costs in this judicial review and to pay the costs of an opposing party if it is unsuccessful. That is at odds with a letter sent to the solicitors for the Interested Party (Developer) dated 21 July 2010 in which the Claimant’s solicitor asserted that it did have the funds to pay the costs of successful parties if the claim for judicial review failed.”
Which suggests to me that in order to secure the judicial review Cammish said he / the group had the money needed to meet any costs, but when push came to shove he / the group claimed to be skint. Draw your own conclusions.
In fact, I strongly suggest that you read the document to the end. Essentially, Cammish was told to piss off because a biomass plant at Avonmouth had nothing to do with, and would have no impact upon, a bunch of people living in Carmarthenshire. They seem to have escaped payment of costs due to having formed a private limited company, with Cammish as its sole director. But why were they fighting this project in Bristol anyway?
The biomass plant that made a star out of Cammish was planned for a location not far from Pembrey airport, and only a few miles from Ffos Las racetrack. Now keen watchers of Carmarthenshire County Council will be aware that this area is dear to the heart of Meryl Gravell, Mam to the Independent group on the council, former leader of the council, and right-hand woman to and mouthpiece for the man who runs Carmarthenshire, Mark James, the chief executive.
Which makes this the appropriate time to give some background information about this area and those entertaining grand ideas – who said ‘grandiose’? – for this part of Carmarthenshire.
UPDATE 15.12.2015: I have been directed to a film made for HTV in 2008 featuring both Clive Hughes and Robin Cammish.
Meryl Gravell – who does not appear – is quoted as saying that the area’s economic future lies with “leisure and tourism projects”, which as we know, will provide very few worthwhile jobs for locals, whereas Clive Hughes wants to create jobs for locals.
Cammish, who, it could be argued, has retired to the area, represents a type we find all over rural Wales nowadays. His rural idyll is more important than jobs for those who belong here.
It is alleged that during the filming of this programme Cammish claimed that Hughes owed £18m to his accountants. This was not broadcast.
Her affection for this area means that Meryl Gravell will tolerate nothing jeopardising her grand vision, be the threat a biomass power station, an opencast coal operation or a vast solar energy complex – against all of which Robin Cammish has taken up the cudgels in recent years. Only developments approved of by Meryl Gravell are welcomed, or allowed.
One such enhancement in the pipeline is Robbie Savage’s luxury hotel at Ffos Las, though earlier this year he had to apply for a planning extension, which makes many locals sceptical that it will ever be built. Then there are the executive homes in open country to further improve the Gwendraeth’s cachet. Though quite how either project will benefit locals is matter for conjecture.
For Pembrey airport, there was – and may still be – a plan to turn it into some kind of international duty-free business hub. As it was worded on the airport website until quite recently, Pembrey was “one of the few Airports in the United Kingdom that has 5000 acres of adjoining land available for joint venture with very little planning and environmental constraint”. (Unkind souls might suggest that ‘very little planning and environmental constraint’ could apply to the whole county.)
What’s certain is that by 2011 Cammish had his feet under the table with Meryl Gravell, literally, as this film shows (at 23 minutes in), where we see Cammish discussing with Meryl how Pembrey airport could be improved, and made more profitable. A carefully rehearsed bit of play-acting it may be, but it nevertheless tells us that Cammish was by this stage ‘in’ with those who dispense patronage, funding and planning consent thereabouts.
As was proven a few years later when on 06.09.2013 he was appointed a director of the Scarlets, one of the three vanity projects accepted by the Welsh Rugby Union as ‘regions’. Most people will know that the Scarlets are effectively bankrupt and largely kept afloat by Carmarthenshire County Council writing off debts and doing the Scarlets countless other favours. The most recent figure I can find gives the Scarlets a net worth of £-4,164,241.
Cammish’s appointment to the Scarlets’ Board is quite remarkable. For when we look at who has served as directors we see some great players of the past, Phil Bennett, Derek Quinnell and the late Ray Gravell, these supplemented by local worthies brought up at Stradey Park. By comparison, Cammish, the Englishman who has lived in the area for a few years, and may know nothing about rugby (certainly little about Llanelli), sticks out like a sore thumb. The only explanation is that he was appointed by the council . . . or rather, Meryl Gravell.
Cammish’s appointment to the Scarlets’ board may have been surprising, but what came next was almost unbelievable. Just a year after being imposed on the Scarlets by Meryl, he was appointed chairman of Regional Rugby Wales (RRW), since renamed Pro Rugby Wales, the body representing the Ospreys and the three vanity projects. An incredible promotion for an unknown after just one year at the Scarlets. What possible experience or understanding of Welsh rugby could he possess to qualify him for the RRW job?
UPDATE 23.12.2015: I’m hearing that Robin Cammish has today resigned as chairman of Pro Rugby Wales. Here is his e-mail of resignation.
Note that it was sent just a day after a meeting of Pro Rugby Wales at which it became clear he was being given the old heave-ho. Note in particular the reference to PRW wanting an “independent chairman”. So why wasn’t Cammish considered independent?
Whatever the answer to that, this is good news and it could mark the start of Cammish being exposed for the bullshitter he surely is. But it still leaves the concern that this man is dangerously close to the centre of power in Carmarthenshire. He must be removed.
As a follow up (sic) to the PRW Ltd board meeting on 22nd December 2015, I offer you my resignation as Chairman of Pro Rugby Wales Ltd, and I would propose to make that effective from 7 January 2016, which will enable to me complete some previously arranged meetings associated with the Welsh Rugby cost down and revenue up opportunity analysis.
I fully understand your desire to have an independent chairman of PRW Ltd , and during my short tenure as Chairman I have worked diligently and with complete integrity to ensure that I have acted objectively and impartially in all aspects of the PRW role when discharging my responsibilities and conducting myself on behalf of PRW and the Welsh regions.
It is ironic that having worked hard in the background to identify the collaborative opportunities across the 4 Welsh regions and the WRU, which if implemented, has the potential to deliver £+1million in cost down and revenue up in 2016-7, it is clear from our discussions on 22nd December that I do not have your full support as Chairman of PRW Ltd.
As I’m sure you will understand this position leaves me with no alternative but to offer you my resignation.
I am, and will remain, a very strong advocate and supporter of having 4 strong financially sustainable high performing Welsh regions, and as we discussed on the 22nd, previous management in the WRU created a set of relationships and behaviours which we described more associated with being at war. This is now changing to a much more collaborative environment, which has significant implications for the way that you lead and manage the regions affairs going forward.
Wishing you all the best for Christmas and the New Year
Pro Rugby Wales
What else has Cammish been up to since he first graced us with his presence? Well, for one thing, he joined forces with Julian Ruck, the Welsh-hater who was recently badly injured when hit by a car. They teamed up to run an e-literature festival in 2011 that flopped badly, some suggesting its failure was due to it being held at Ffos Las racecourse, rather than somewhere easier for visitors to reach by train and bus. But then, by 2011, Cammish was best buddies with Meryl Gravell, and Ffos Las is her baby, to be nourished with all manner of bookings. Or it could have been the combination of Ruck and Cammish that ensured local attendance was zero. Among those booked to perform at this disaster were the Three Welsh Tenors.
Read Ruck’s response to the Tenors when they asked to be paid. He came out with one anti-Welsh barb after another, ‘. . . bastions of Welsh language birdsong . . . my insistence on the reduction of Welsh language songs . . . Welsh hymns and nationalist rugby songs . . . one of them is a North Walian (sic) . . . go and sing for your money . . . rugby ditties . . . a tenner for each of you. A tenner for a tenor!’ What an odious little rucker he is, easy to understand why he’s banned from his local Spar store.
I wonder if Robin Cammish found this anti-Welsh diatribe funny, did they perhaps share a chortle or two? Whether he laughed or not, for a man trying to ingratiate himself with his new Welsh neighbours Cammish made a serious misjudgement by getting mixed up with the odious Jools. Though if you hurry you can buy some of his books through Amazon for . . . a penny! (Postage £2.80.) What am I saying! There’s no need to hurry at all, they’ll still be there in 2025.
When he’s not consorting with yet another Labour Welsh-hater Cammish gets himself into scrapes, either through indiscretion or else an overweening desire to promote himself. Here are a couple of examples of the latter.
The first comes from 2000 and an article entitled ‘Man on a Mission’, to be found on a site called Supply Management. It’s such a shameless puff that it could only have been written by Cammish himself. As he modestly puts it when talking of how his company has grown, “The site is the second that the consultancy has occupied. The first quickly became too small, not long after Cammish set up the company as a one-man band five years ago. He quickly found that he needed to take on more consultants and since then the firm has doubled in size every nine months or so. It now has offices in four other countries – the US, France, Germany and Australia – and employs more than 100 consultants. It’s long list of clients includes Viagra-producer Pfitzer, Cable and Wireless, Cathay Pacific, Caterpillar, BT, Carlsberg and Glaxo Wellcome.” He employs more than “100 consultants”!
I hate to sound pedantic, but the name of the massive pharmaceutical company is Pfizer, not Pfitzer as Cammish spells it. You think he’d know the name of the company that is one of his “doubling in size every nine months or so” empire’s major clients.
Here’s another OTT self-encomium from the QP Group UK website. This website is current because if you click on the History tab you’ll find, “In 2014, we partnered with Procurement Academy to provide a world-class blended learning Procurement offering to the market.” Very impressive, until you remember that the QP Group Ltd, of Llanydri House, Llanydri, Kidwelly, was struck off in June 2009 with a net worth of £-100,000. So why is the website still being updated as if QP Group UK was a going concern? Is this another example of the ‘confusion’ arising from having so many companies sharing the QP element in their names?
Read the two puffs together and just look at the companies he claims to have worked for or ‘advised’, they are some of the biggest companies in the world, which is no more than we should expect from Cammish. On the QP Group UK website go to Training > Overview and scroll down to the ‘Testimonials’. Do you believe those are genuine testimonials?
As for his indiscretions, these seem to be spawned by the same devil, Ego, that takes control when he attempts to write anything about himself. He has to exaggerate his own importance, his contacts, what he knows. After the famous dialogue with Meryl at Pembrey International it is rumoured that he was describing himself as an ‘advisor’ to the council, and Mark James had to put the record straight.
Then, before a London audience, he accused Clive Hughes of using bribery to promote his biomass project. What’s more, he claimed to have been told this by “the council”. Unfortunately all this was recorded, and while Cammish himself refused to say any more, Mark James, Carmarthenshire’s chief executive, was forced to issue a statement, part of which said, “I am perturbed to hear what Mr Cammish says. I am not aware that the council has made any such comments to Mr Cammish. As you are aware, Mr Cammish does not work for the council and I am therefore not in a position to control or question what he might say.”
I find it intriguing that Mark James says, “As you are aware, Mr Cammish does not work for the council”. ‘As you are aware!’ Does this refer to the previous such statement I suggested above? Even though Robin Cammish may not have been on the county payroll, there’s no question that he was close to Meryl Gravell and, according to one well-connected source, “had the run of County Hall”.
Ironically, it was Cammish who took legal action against Hughes, alleging that the Welsh businessman had suggested Cammish’s business record was less than spotless. (Surely not!) Cammish won, but I’m told Clive Hughes is refusing to pay.
Another avenue explored, perhaps with the encouragement of La Gravell, was the Kidwelly Heritage Trust, Charity Number 1153260, formed by Robin Cammish 15.08.2011. When I read what this lot planned to do – take over the Town Hall (owned by the County Council) and turn it into ‘community space’ – it was like deja vu all over again. This piece from the Llanelli Star (August, 2013) shows the Trust members standing a respectful distance behind Cammish while in the blurb the man himself mentions what has been done in Llandovery as one of his inspirations.
What happened in Llandovery was that a bunch of English drifters saw the chance to pull in hundreds of thousands of pounds of public money (including salaries and pensions for themselves) to create ‘community space’ not for locals but for them and their friends to hang out drinking Fair Trade coffee, swapping tales of Kathmandu while listening to Joni Mitchell and planning the next organic Morris dancing festival. Scams like this are happening all over Wales. I wrote about the Llandovery racket in The Impoverishment of Wales 26.08.2014 (scroll down to ‘YMCA Wales’), and more fully in Ancestral Turf 02.09.2014.
I’m reasonably certain that this was the path Cammish intended to follow – he was certainly looking for funding – but then came the call from Parc y Scarlets, soon followed by promotion to Regional Rugby Wales. Cammish jacked in the Kidwelly Heritage Trust Ltd in April 2015. The company, No 07741052, struggles along with just two directors and £40 in the bank.
Let us return now to Robin Cammish the businessman. As I said earlier, he has been involved with over thirty companies. Most of these have been liquidated, struck off, dissolved, often with big debts. None more so than the company I mentioned earlier, the one referred to in the screen capture, Hacer Consulting Ltd.
In my years of blogging – and indeed in the years before I started blogging – I have made many enquiries into assorted individuals’ business dealings, some of these individuals have been absolute rogues, but never have I come across a company like Hacer, that started life in 2003 with a net worth of £-762,000, then rose to the giddy heights of a net worth of £6,521,00 in 2005, before plunging to a net worth of £-18,651.00 in 2006. Hacer was struck-off in June 2009 with a net worth of £-18,643,595. (See panel below, click to enlarge.)
As you might expect, I paid for and downloaded the accounts for Hacer, and for the period when the company’s fortunes deteriorated by £25m, leaving the company valued at £-18.6m. You’ll find the accounts here. It seems to have been a company with no assets, a company that just shuffled shares around. I would appreciate feedback. An incomplete list of the companies he has been involved with can be found here. Check them out for yourself.
The only companies listed with Company Check as active are: Earls Removals Ltd, Pro Rugby Wales Ltd, QPB Ltd and Quality and Performance in Development Ltd. Of these, the only company that is his, and worth anything, is Quality and Performance in Development Ltd. Here are the abbreviated and unaudited accounts up to September 2014. They tell us that the ‘assets’ of Cammish’s sole viable company are made up of debts. In other words, debts that were either bought or inherited and will probably never be paid. But in the crazy world of UK business these count as ‘assets’ and can be used to misrepresent the financial health of a company
UPDATE 04.12.2015: QPB Ltd is being wound up. “First notification of strike-off action in London Gazette (Section 652)” on 12.11.2015. Which leaves Cammish with just two companies. The removals firm in Brum and Quality and Performance in Development Ltd, a company whose ‘assets’ are made up of debts unlikely to ever be paid.
Other than that, what have we learnt about Robert Cammish? I could be generous and dismiss him as a bullshitter, because he certainly is a bullshitter, but there might be more to him than that.
I don’t entirely agree with Clive Hughes that Cammish having so many failed companies to his (and his partner, Pauline Bowers’) name is in itself damning, but this pattern might suggest a ‘business’ that most people would find unpalatable.
The value of Cammish’s companies seem to consist largely of share issues and debts; nothing is produced and there is little to show in the way of assets. He advertises himself as someone who ‘advises’ other companies, he even lists blue chip multinationals like Cathay Pacific, SmithKline Beecham, you can believe that or not, but what does he really do?
When I asked someone more au fait with such matters to look into Cammish’s affairs his description of Cammish’s activities involved the use of a large, scavenging bird. Alternatively, a woman paid to disrobe in public.
Whatever the truth of that suggestion, I am perhaps more concerned with Cammish’s relationship with Carmarthenshire County Council. I think we have established that he came to the attention of then council leader Meryl Gravell through his opposition to Clive Hughes’ biomass project for Coedbach. Cammish then further endeared himself to Meryl by opposing other unwanted developments. Was there a quid pro quo?
What did Cammish get in return for acting as Meryl’s rottweiler when she pointed him at anything threatening to sully her vision for the Gwendraeth? I think we can assume that the appointment to the board of the Scarlets was one ‘biscuit’. Maybe Meryl even believed Cammish’s bullshit and thought he might be able to staunch the flow of money out the gates of Parc y Scarlets.
Then there’s Coomb Mansion. No sane person would have bought that Hammer House of Horror, and taken on the expense of maintenance and upkeep, without clear promises of planning permission, clearance for change of use, and who knows what else. It will be interesting to see what Cammish does with Coomb Mansion.
Then there’s the film I linked to, that excruciatingly staged ‘discussion’ between Meryl and Cammish at Pembrey International Airport. Cammish was claiming at that time to be an ‘advisor’ to the council, he is said to have “had the run of County Hall”, he was recorded in London saying that he had been told by the council that Clive Hughes was bribing people in order to facilitate his biomass project.
All this tells me that Carmarthenshire County Council, or certainly, Meryl Gravell, fell for Cammish’s shameless self-promotion and the fanciful stories of his glittering business record. Given that she is the chief executive’s representative on earth how much confidential council business has she involved Cammish in? How many council decisions has Cammish influenced? What is his relationship today with the Council?
And yet, there is something so quintessentially Carmarthenshire about this story. A smooth-talking stranger turns up, no one knows anything about him – so they accept what he tells them about himself! – and before you know it he’s got the key to County Hall, and those running the council are hanging on his every word! Sod background checks! Ignore probity! Bugger democracy!
There must come a point when even the size of Mark James’ redundancy package is no longer a deterrent to the ‘Welsh’ Government taking Carmarthenshire County Council into special measures. God knows they’ve done it with less cause in other areas.