Background to a Carmarthenshire Vendetta

In my post of November 24th, Wales, Colony of England, I mentioned multi-millionaire businessman Clive Hughes and his tribulations with Carmarthenshire County Council, due to that authority’s hostility towards his project for a biomass combined heat and power plant near Kidwelly.

In my follow-up post on December 1st, Meryl Gravell & Robin Cammish, Only in Carmarthenshire, I named Robin Cammish as Clive Hughes’ ‘nemesis’, and looked into Cammish’s business background, also his relationship with former council leader, Meryl Gravell, which seemed to explain him being appointed to the board of the Scarlets rugby region and then Pro Rugby Wales. Though his time at the latter body was short, he was forced to resign just before Christmas.

Since writing those pieces I have met with Clive Hughes, spoken with other people, done a little research, and I now understand even better that it wasn’t the council per se that caused Mr Hughes’ problems. The biomass plan was doomed because Clive Hughes fell foul of certain powerful individuals in Carmarthenshire County Council.

Carms trio

To understand what I’m referring to you must know something of the circumstances surrounding the local rugby club / region moving from its traditional home of Stradey Park to the new stadium, Parc y Scarlets, right next to the Parc Pemberton retail park. (And if you want to know why Llanelli town centre looks like an apocalyptic, post-nuclear wasteland, just look at the huge retail parks the county council has encouraged at Pemberton and Trostre.)

Council chief executive Mark James and sometime council leader Meryl Gravell enthusiastically supported the move from Stradey Park to Parc y Scarlets and used the clout and funding of the local authority to ensure it happened. To the extent that the Scarlets have been kept afloat financially ever since by very generous treatment from the council. (For further details on this generosity I suggest you go to the blogs named here and search under ‘Scarlets’, ‘Stradey Park’ or ‘Parc y Scarlets’, Y Cneifiwr and Carmarthenshire Planning Problems and more.)

So how does all this link with Clive Hughes? In a nutshell, Clive Hughes, a Carmarthenshire man, born and raised in Bethlehem, had supported Llanelli RFC all his life, he was a vice-president of the club . . . but he vociferously opposed the move away from Stradey Park. He became something of a fly in the ointment, an obstacle to county hall’s grand vision for the county’s premier sporting organisation and its largest town. By taking that position he made powerful enemies.

(This also explains how I met with Clive Hughes on New Year’s Day at the Liberty Stadium, for the Ospreys v Dragons game – he has now transferred his loyalty across the Loughor river.)

BACKGROUND & SUMMARY

When ‘regionalisation’ was introduced by the Welsh Rugby Union, through its then chief executive David Moffett, his original plan was for four regions, putatively and unimaginatively named North, South, East and West. (See panel below.)

WRU regions
Courtesy of Wikipedia (click to enlarge)

Basing the West region at Stradey Park was an odd decision which may have been an attempt to win over unenthusiastic Turks, but this arrangement was quickly overtaken by Swansea council’s decision to build a new 21,000 all-seater stadium at Morfa, for rugby and soccer. This, added to the proposed region’s geography, the outdated facilities at Stradey, and rumblings from Neath, meant that the new Swansea stadium would inevitably become home for the West region.

The news of the new stadium in Swansea, and its implications, served to evaporate further what little enthusiasm there was for the WRU’s grand vision among the power-brokers both at Stradey Park and on Jail Hill. It was bad enough that the town was losing the one name that took it to a wider world, but without the compensation of being home to the new entity there was little to recommend the region to those west of the Loughor.

And so Llanelli RFC decided – as did Cardiff – to reject the suggested amalgamation and become one of the so-called ‘stand-alone’ regions . . . which of course were not regions at all, just re-branded clubs. To its eternal shame the Welsh Rugby Union accepted this deception. Newport did something similar by unconvincingly re-naming itself the Newport-Gwent Dragons.

Having burnt their bridges with the proposed region the club and the council came up with the plan for a new stadium, partly to promote the ‘Llanelli-is-a-region’ message and partly to thwart any future attempts at merger. The people of Carmarthenshire have been paying the price ever since for this panicky rush into a project that was never economically viable and, ironically, only ever sees a full house when the Ospreys visit.

*

And so it came to pass that Parc y Scarlets held its first game on November 15, 2008, when Llanelli (the club, not the region) fittingly played Cardiff (ditto). Over three years after the opening of the Liberty Stadium.

Earlier that same year, in June, Carmarthenshire Planning Committee saw Clive Hughes’ planning application for a biomass-powered CHP plant at the old Coedbach coal washery near Kidwelly.

Everything seemed to be proceeding just fine, there were no objections from the Environment Agency or the Countryside Council for Wales. The planning officers of Carmarthenshire council recommended approval . . . but then, in March 2009, and in what WalesOnline described as an “extraordinary U-turn” planning officers changed their minds, using the flimsiest of excuses. On March 19 the planning committee refused planning permission by 9 votes to 8.

Everyone I have spoken to believes that planning officials and councillors were ‘leaned on’, and that the ‘leaning’ was done by . . . Meryl Gravell had certainly opposed the plan and we can be fairly sure that she orchestrated the local opposition through Robin Cammish and the Coedbach Action Team. (Enquiries are ongoing into who paid the legal costs for the CAT.)

There is no doubt in my mind that the wrecking of the biomass project was ‘pay-back’ for Clive Hughes opposing the move to Parc y Scarlets (and associated retail ventures).

In the ITV Wales report above, uploaded to YouTube in September 2008, the reporter even says that Cammish formed CAT. It also establishes a) the linkage between Cammish and Gravell and b) the antipathy existing between Hughes and Gravell, who declined to appear in person. (But then, it’s usually best for the organ-grinder to stand back when the monkey has the crowd’s attention.)

If I’m right – and I’m not alone in suspecting this – then ensuring that Clive Hughes’ Coedbach project failed was an exercise in pure vindictiveness. Those pursuing this vendetta were quite happy to see the area denied the jobs and other benefits the project would have brought so that they could experience the very personal pleasure of getting the better of a man who had dared challenge them.

Perhaps realising that the “rabble” might guess the truth about Coedbach Meryl Gravell tried to cover it up by putting forward her vision for the area, her alternative strategy for jobs.

SUMMARY

By challenging Carmarthenshire Council Clive Hughes guaranteed that there would be a price to pay. That price was the scuppering of his biomass plant at Coedbach.

To further pursue the vendetta against Clive Hughes hit-man Cammish also opposed Clive Hughes’ biomass plant planned for Swansea docks. Then, in the hope of pretending that he had become a campaigner against biomass rather than the tool of James and Gravell, we saw the farce of Cammish opposing a biomass scheme in Bristol! The judge at the judicial review into this project quite rightly told him it was no concern of a group based in west Wales. 

In return for his loyalty Cammish was said to have had “the run of County Hall”, and was putting himself about as an ‘advisor’ to the council – as the video below from 2011 clearly suggests he was (go to 22:06) – though Mark James was forced to publicly deny this relationship.

As a reward for services rendered Cammish was placed by the council on the board of the Scarlets in September 2013. Mutual back-scratching of the kind with which we are all too familiar.

If the first video suggested a link between Gravell and Cammish then the second video should leave no one in any doubt that the link blossomed into a strong working relationship.

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At 3 minutes into the first video Meryl Gravell is quoted as saying that the economic future of the area lies with “leisure and tourism”. I have written about tourism many times, this post from October last year should give you an idea of where I stand.

Tourism is not an economic strategy, it is the absence of an economic strategy, or even the antithesis of an economic strategy. It is the ‘industry’ of last resort. It is what politicians pretend to believe in when they have run out of ideas on how to provide real jobs.

Which means that Meryl Gravell is offering the people of Carmarthenshire jobs that are low skill, low pay, and often seasonal – because she and others have no greater vision for the area than tourism, or else throwing grants at yet another retail development in Cross Hands promoted by a company so opaque as to be almost invisible, or maybe granting planning permission for untraceable shell companies to build unneeded homes on flood plains.

But then, when you conspire, for personal, vindictive reasons to deny genuine employment to the people you claim to represent, you must come up with an alternative, no matter how implausible. And nothing is more implausible, or insulting, than the suggestion that tourism is the economic salvation of Wales.

What a way to run a council! What a way to run a country!

16 thoughts on “Background to a Carmarthenshire Vendetta

  1. As an elected Councillor in Carmarthenshire since 2008 I am used to constant disappointment as to the behavior of successive Council Leaders and leading Senior Officers. I even have the badge of honour of being restricted for some time by CEO Mr Mark James to only asking questions through his own office as I and my People First colleague were apparently asking more questions to officers than the other 72 members combined. He possibly was threatened by more junior officers giving us information without executive supervision?

    I have survived numerous complaints to the Ombudsman by Mark James , none of which were upheld and he was officially advised not be so sensitive to political criticism,The payments to the chief executive regarded by the Wales Audit Office as unlawful are not regarded as such by the current Plaid council leader nor his Labour and Affiliated Independent predecessors.

    The sometimes viscous nastiness and constant blocking can sometimes get you down, but I’ve become accustomed to it. The sad thing is that this shouldn’t happen at all and the losers are the people of
    Carmarthenshire who surely have a right to decent governance.

    Last Wednesday (13th January) there was a disgraceful show when at our monthly Full Council Meeting a group of members of the public asking formal submitted questions about their sports facilities were treated quite disgracefully by the Plaid Chair of Council, Cllr. Peter Hughes Griffiths. The archive copy of the live screening is not yet available but will be worth a look when (or even if) it is made available. i’ve been treated roughly by this chair but i’m a politician and can take the knocks., ordinary people should be treated more gently and hostilities suspended.

    Little would surprise me as more and more very questionable actions are revealed about this Council.Your post is interesting and seems well researched. i’m sure if any matters are inaccurate Mrs Gravell will put her side of the story to you.promptly.

    The most interesting question is of course why the Welsh Government tolerates the situation of Carmarthenshire County Council at all? Just merging it into Dyfed is not a solution.Systemic organisational failure can be infectious, especially when it affects the largest part of a new organisation.

    Cllr Sian Caiach

    1. As you say, we are used to the behaviour of James and Gravell but what’s interesting in this case is the role of Robin Cammish. While Meryl Gravell is an elected councillor, and Mark James the appointed chief executive, Cammish has no official connection to the council, yet he is / was clearly very close to certain big players. And there is a persistent rumour that his Coedbach Action Team was funded – unofficially – by the council. But as is the way in Carmarthenshire, this will be hidden, and no questions on the matter will be tolerated.

      Plaid Cymru’s performance since taking over is abysmal, and will make many people think twice about voting Plaid in May. Serves them right. The dire performance of Plaid in Carmarthenshire bears out what I’ve been saying about this shower for years. They shouldn’t be allowed to run a bath, let alone a county council, or a country. Absolutely useless!

      Though the big question is, as it has been for a decade or more, why doesn’t the ‘Welsh’ Government step in? Maybe the deadbeats down Cardiff docks hope it will all go away with local government re-organisation, but as you suggest, it might not. Furthermore, I believe there are criminal charges to be laid, and would be laid if we had a more powerful oversight body.

  2. Anonymous

    No right minded person could fail to see how an undemocratic Council like Carmarthen behaves. It is an utter disgrace in this day and age that the public and some elected councillors are treated by so called senior members of the Council.Once again Carmarthen Council appear to follow their own set of rules rather than follow procedures set out by the Government in Cardiff.A public enquiry into the workings of this Council is long overdue. Almost on a weekly basis we learn of further examples of favours granted with a total disregard of.any pertinent questions that may be made by members of the public.

  3. Chris Corrigan

    Sian Caiach has my complete admiration in her campaign to highlight what is wrong at Carmarthen County Council, and likewise her colleagues in their endeavours. I am sure you will be shown to be entirely vindicated.

    A big thanks to Jacothenorth for this article – his investigatory skills continue to put most of Wales’ mainstream media to shame. Jac’s blog is having an increasing and important impact in Wales, believe me.

    It is always a giveaway when “Dignitaries” seize upon leisure/tourism as offering a viable economic future for an area. There are, of course, lucrative grants, and nicely-paid advisory jobs for well-placed people, when the Welsh tourism bureaucracy can be involved – though I’m sure there is no suggestion of that in this instance.

    Kid Cardiff

  4. Bad as it is, the way to make it worse would be to join with Pembrokeshire, another officer led unit completely untroubled by the ‘indeoendent’ majority of councillors.

    1. At least there were councillors in Pembrokeshire prepared to stand up and be counted. And then there’s the ongoing investigation of the grant money dished out in Pembroke Dock. Pembrokeshire was a ramshackle banana republic with enough stroppy buggers around to ensure that it couldn’t develop into a fully-fledged totalitarian hell; by comparison, Carmarthenshire is Stalin’s Russia.

  5. Y Cneifiwr

    As this piece suggests, Coedbach is but one small episode in the much bigger story of the gombeen culture which has flourished for nearly 20 years under Meryl Gravell (Trimsaran) and Mark James, who, it will be remembered came to Carmarthenshire having kicked off what is now known as the Princess Royal Arena in Boston, Lincolnshire.

    The Boston “it won’t cost you a penny” white elephant eventually attracted the attention of the Audit Commission, which produced a highly critical report pointing out out procurement and contract procedures had been bypassed, councillors kept in the dark, etc. Unfortunately, by the time that came out, Meryl’s boy was already working on his next masterpiece in Llanelli.

    There’s no money to run the county’s leisure centres, libraries, parks, etc, and many of the historic buildings in the council’s care have not seen a lick of paint or any basic maintenance in years, but rejoice! £5.2m has just been found to build a new primary school in Trimsaran even though there’s nothing wrong with the existing buildings which all date from the second half of the 20th century, and the school is running at 50% of capacity. And halleluia, Mark and Meryl are very excited about a new £60m “wellness centre” in Llanelli. One of the contractors tipped to win is the Simons Group from Lincolnshire. Mark James appeared in their promotional literature, and it was they who built the white elephant arena in Boston as well as the new shopping centre in Carmarthen, the council being undeterred by news that Simons was fined a hefty £838,000 for contract rigging.

      1. dafis

        An expensive gym-type place with saunas and assorted treatments bolted on, where fatties and others who like flaunting their lycra and other “high performance fabrics” go for a few hours before adjourning for a high calorie meal !!! Now that may be a nasty overstatement because there are genuine users of these places who do a good job of rebuilding their health and fitness but there is also a significant proportion of attendance that is down to posing and cruising.

        1. Sixty bloody million! Has she finally lost her marbles? “There is a lot of loneliness, especially in rural areas. People want company and stimulation and this could allow them to access so many different services”. Llanelli is a sizeable town, not a rural area. And if people want company or stimulation they can go down the pub or the massage parlour.

  6. Anonymous

    It will be interesting to see who “wins” the tender to build this new school in Trimsaran, probably a local construction company that sponsors the Scarlets……
    Perhaps when it’s built there’ll be a huge brass plaque with Meryl’s name on it – For services to the community!
    I for one am looking forward to the day when this disgraceful and despicable excuse for a Council Member stands down or gets thrown out, hopefully she will bugger off and crack on with her sucking-up to the Swansea Bay enterprise quango and the blowing of fresh air up Sir Terry Mathews arse.
    Why the likes of Sir Terry Mathews and Sir Roger Jones are tolerating this woman is quite odd, unless she’s pulling strings with Edwina, Meryl is not there on merit that’s for sure.
    I for one would gladly pay for the brass plaque just to see the back of this woman and while I’m on, typical Welsh “government” in-action again, totally impotent, useless and pathetic, including Carl Sargeant who has been out classed by the Meryl & Mark show in County hall every time, either that or Welsh government won’t admit that they are powerless in stopping the cancer that it rotting our Councils.
    (Or perhaps the first minister blames this on the UK government too!!! Pathetic)

    1. I’m told that she’s standing down at the 2017 elections.

      Something else I learnt today is that the farm next door to the old Coedbach Washery site – called Muddlecwm – is owned by a Dai Gravell, who in 2013 bought the Coedbach Washery site. Makes you wonder.

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