Wilmslow-sur-Mer

INTRODUCTION

I remember, back in the 1960s, when I was a wild young thing, visiting Owain Williams (of Tryweryn fame) on his farm, Gwynus, and then heading down for a drink at the local hostelry, the Plas Pistyll Hotel. I remember it well because ‘G–‘ and I picked up a couple of girls from Birmingham and took them up the mountain to enjoy the view. (Who says we don’t welcome tourists?)

Ah! happy days.

Plas Pistyll, click to enlarge

The old pile, with its uninterrupted views of the sea, fell on hard times and was eventually abandoned to the elements. But even if it was no longer viable as a hotel, the location alone dictated that somebody would some day come along with a plan for the site.

And so it was. . . .

THE PLANNING APPLICATIONS

Let me start by explaining that I have drawn together all the planning references I can find relating to both Plas Pistyll and neighbouring Pistyll farm and caravan site, I’ve done this because as early as 2008 they had become one and the same project.

Here’s the link to the pdf version. Click on the planning reference number in the left-hand column to be taken to the Gwynedd planning site.

Below you’ll see a montage created for Natural Retreats by the Ark Company Landscape Architects of Middlesex, and although things have moved on the image gives the layout of the site.

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The obvious place to start is with the three earliest applications, which tell us that both the farm and the Plas are owned by Sustainable Leisure, a company I couldn’t find on the Companies House website.

Even so, I know that the properties were owned by a Bill Gleave of Greater Manchester. I know because by August 2009 he had hit the rocks owing local businesses money. You’ll note that in the Daily Post report I’ve just linked to the Pistyll site is called ‘Nature’s Point’ (A name I’m sure I recall from the Mabinogion.)

This catastrophe was confirmed when the Bolton News reported that Gleave company BGH had gone tits up, with Sustainable Leisure following.

It all went quiet for almost three years until, in August 2011, there was an application from new player Natural Retreats to demolish Plas Pistyll and replace it with 20 self-catering holiday units. These to be complemented with “16 self catering holiday units in lieu of the existing static caravan site” at the farm.

Plas Pistyll had been bought in April 2010 for £85,000 by Natural Land 3 Ltd, though a loan was taken out towards the end of 2014 with HSBC. (There will be more on the array of linked companies later.)

To begin with, I had the same problem with Natural Retreats as I had with Sustainable Leisure – I couldn’t find it on the Companies House website. But I found a Natural Retreats website and eventually unearthed Natural Retreats UK Ltd, which changed its name to The UK Great Travel Company Ltd 25 October 2017.

Permission was given in August 2012 to demolish Plas Pistyll with the condition that the same individual or family could not live in the new holiday units for more than three months in a year. Natural Retreats appealed against this decision and the appeal was allowed permitting unrestricted holiday use for the whole site.

I understand that the last time the planning committee met was to discuss C11/0661/43/LL, thereafter everything was delegated to planning officers. Some very important decisions were made that many feel should have been referred back to the committee, not least the decision to allow unrestricted holiday use.

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Having got the big prize Natural Retreats – usually operating now as Natural Land & Sea – chipped away over the next few years at more of the planning conditions imposed by Gwynedd’s planning committee, to the point where few remained.

For Gwynedd’s planning department seemed to bend over backwards to oblige: “. . . deletion of Conditions 8, 9, 10 (Code for Sustainable Homes) . . . vary the materials proposed for the external wall of the units on the farm site . . . Discharge conditions 20 (slate), 22 (stone) and 24 (external finishes) . . .  Discharge condition 2 (agree stone) on planning permission . . . “

Instead of stone and slate cottages in keeping with vernacular styles (including Pistyll farm), using local materials and labour, what are being thrown up now on the Plas Pistyll site are prefabricated units brought in from God knows where – Estonia being one suggestion – with no local benefits whatsoever.

And again, predictably, searching the Companies House website turned up nothing for Natural Land & Sea. Either there is no such company, or it’s registered outside the UK, or it’s the trading name of another entity (in which case we should know the name of that entity). But Cyngor Gwynedd and its planners don’t seem to know or care who they’re dealing with.

It should be standard practice for any elected or public body dealing with a commercial entity to insist on that entity identifying itself with a Companies House, Charity Commission, FSA, etc number or some other form of identification, or else explain why it cannot meet this requirement.

Relevant digression: I’ve been helping a neighbour who’s lived the village all his life renew his blue parking badge, but he still had to provide his birth certificate and other proof of identity. If he’d rocked up claiming to represent Intergalactic Con Men Inc, and wanting to build 5,000 holiday apartments in tower blocks around Llyn Tegid I suppose Cyngor Gwynedd would have rolled out the red carpet, like they’ve done for Paul Williams, Natural Retreats, and God knows how many others.

I’ve told you that Natural Retreats UK Ltd renamed itself The UK Great Travel Company Ltd on 25 October 2017. On that very same day a company was born named NRML Technology Ltd. The sole director was soon joined by another gentleman from Bobby Lee’s home state of Virginia and in June the company name was changed to Natural Retreats UK Ltd.

Why would Natural Retreats UK Ltd be resurrected under American ownership? We shall consider this in just a minute.

THE APPLICANT

Before that, let’s take a closer look at who’s behind this disaster at Pistyll, on the very site where a young Jac downed pints and chatted up young ladies. (Though I use the most generous application of that epithet.) As we’ve seen, there can easily be confusion about the name of the company involved. Hardly surprising when you read on.

For at the same address in Wilmslow, in Cheshire’s Golden Triangle, where footballers, soap stars and successful criminals from Manchester and Merseyside choose to live, we also find: NR Partners No. 2 Limited Partnership (Natural Retreats Limited Partnership until 20 June), NR Investors LPNatural Retreats Pension LLP, Project Natural Retreats Ltd, Natural Assets Investments Ltd, Natural Land 1 LLP, Natural Land 3 Ltd, Natural Land 3 Management Ltd, NL 3 Cottages Management Ltd,

That’s not all. There are yet other companies at the same address that do not carry the ‘Natural’ tag but are run by the same people. These are: Dol Park Ltd (Dissolved 31.07.2018), JOG 3 LLP, JOG Highlands LLP, John o’ Groats Highlands Ltd, K2 Equity Partners LLP, Mini Gems Ltd (Dissolved 31.07.2018), N A Lews Castle Ltd (Formerly Snowdonia Land Ltd, ), North York Moors Ltd, Pentire Fistral Beach Ltd (Dissolved 31.07.2018), Worldwide Private Residences LP.

There may be other companies for all I know but the people involved with almost all of those I’ve listed are: Matt Spence, Anthony Wild and Ewan Kearney.

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The founder and driving force is Matt Spence, who was born on a Yorkshire sheep farm where – he tells us – it was a struggle to survive, so he and his brothers looked for alternative ways to make money. Spence hit on the idea of high quality accommodation in national parks and other areas of great natural beauty.

A noble ambition that he’s partly met in finding the right locations. But in reality Spence’s business is raising money in the form of investments – the minimum seems to have been £50,000 to join NR Investors LP (check out the document for 16.01.2008) – and whether all the money raised goes on lodges and chalets is a moot point, for he and his associates have their fingers in so many pies.

But whatever the company or partnership the bottom line remains making as much money as possible. And this often seems to mean cutting corners, for I’ve heard from a number of quarters that the ‘Natural’ empire is not always a good neighbour, or employer. Here are reports from the Cairngorms, and Yorkshire.

There are even suggestions that the empire may not be in the best of financial health. But with so many interlinked commercial and financial entities constantly changing addresses and names it’s not easy for anyone to keep track.

I earlier alluded to an intervention from the Commonwealth of Virginia, so maybe it’s time to expand on what I’m sure you found to be a tantalising reference.

Spence is something of an evangelist and so we should not be surprised to learn that he spread the ‘Natural’ gospel to the USA, where they have a hell of a lot more open spaces than us. This bore fruit in Natural Retreats USA. And yet . . .

Those who have raised Natural Retreats UK Ltd from the dead appear to have no connection with Natural Retreats USA. And yet, under its original name of NRML Technology Ltd the company was formed by a Christopher Holden who gave his correspondence address as, ‘Natural Retreats, 675 Peter Jefferson Parkway, Charlottesville, Virginia, United States, 22911’.

Holden works with venture capitalists and investors, Court Square Ventures of Charlottesville, which has no obvious connection with Natural Retreats USA, it’s certainly not listed among CSV’s clients. He was later joined as a director by Douglas Burns. On the CSV website Holden is described as a ‘General Partner’, whereas Burns is ‘Principal & CFO’.

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Unless they plucked the Natural Retreats UK Ltd name out of thin air, and found Manchester by sticking a pin in a map, there has to be a connection between Court Square Ventures and Matt Spence and his associates.

But it still doesn’t make sense.

Because if we read the CSV website, and the biographies of the partners, then we see that their backgrounds are in media, technology, communications and the like – not a sasquatch-terrorised log cabin to be seen!

And yet, Court Square Ventures is an investment company, so it’s reasonable to suggest that the boys from Charlottesville come bearing greenbacks, which inclines me towards three options:

  1. They have come to get a slice of the action, at Pistyll and elsewhere, perhaps by investing in one or more of Spence’s many financial vehicles.
  2. They have come to help Spence out of a financial hole.
  3. They have come to take over.

And if you think about, it could be a bit of all three; or maybe options 1 and 2 culminating in option 3.

In the hope of clarifying the situation I e-mailed Natural Retreats USA on Friday with, “There are companies of the same name operating in the UK, in Wales, Scotland and England. I see that Christopher Holden is a director of Natural Retreats UK Ltd. What exactly is the connection or relationship between the US and UK companies?”

The reply said, “Thank you for your inquiry into Natural Retreats. I would be happy to offer some more information as to how the different companies are related. You may also view our website for further clarification: https://www.naturalretreats.com/about

Natural Retreats was originally founded in the UK by Matthew Spence, and started with a few luxury lodges in the Yorkshire Dales. Over time, Natural Retreats grew to include destinations in the Eastern and Western United States as well. At this time, the US and UK now operate separately; they only share the name of Natural Retreats. The US main office is located in Charlottesville, VA and the Western Support Office is located in Park City, UT. 

If you have further questions, please do not hesitate to reach out. Thank you, again, for your inquiry; we hope you will stay with us at one of our luxury retreats in the near future!”

To which I responded with, “I am grateful for your speedy response.
 
As I mentioned in my original query, I was a little confused seeing Christopher Holden of Charlottesville, Virginia listed as a director of Natural Retreats UK Ltd (Co No 11031026). A company formed in October 2017.
 
This would appear to be a UK presence for the US operation, or is there some other interpretation?”

At this point the line went dead!

So we are no nearer to knowing why venture capitalists from Virginia with no obvious expertise in tourism have set up in Manchester using a company name previously used by those building at Plas Pistyll. But it’s surely no coincidence that Rural Retreats USA’s eastern office is in Charlottesville. Which throws up other questions.

I’ll ask again, does Cyngor Gwynedd and its planners really know who they’re dealing with? Not just because of the find-me-if-you-can company names but also because Spence specialises in getting others to invest in his plans, and even though I’m sure he scrupulously screens each and every investor, the fact remains that the money to develop Plas Pistyll could be coming from anywhere.

Court Square Ventures is another company that invests money for third parties.

And does Cyngor Gwynedd know that Project Natural Retreats Ltd owns Tŷ Mawr at Abergeirw, and not just the house, but also land around it. These title references apply: WA634099, WA894641, WA930505. One to watch I would suggest!

TIME TO DEFEND OURSELVES

The properties at Pistyll are now being advertised on Rightmove and other sites. So let’s consider what we’re dealing with, and its implications.

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For a start, I note that these properties are being sold leasehold. Yet England’s management team down in Cardiff docks – those clowns that hope to be mistaken for a ‘Welsh Government’ – has turned against leasehold, except, apparently, when it’s used by RSLs or, more secretively, by unregistered private subsidiaries of publicly-funded RSLs. And of course by the likes of the ‘Natural’ empire.

Then again, just imagine Matt Spence and his gang turning up and saying, ‘Oi, Taff, we want to build a new holiday village overlooking the sea. We ain’t gonna use local materials, suppliers or labour. Then we are gonna give it some idiotic English name and there’s fuck all you can do about it’.

There would have been an outcry, even Plaid Cymru might have been roused to mumble something.

But that is exactly what has been achieved incrementally!

This development at Pistyll is only a few miles from Plas Glynllifon where dwells our old friend Paul Williams of Weep for Wales fame. Yet Plas Pistyll and Plas Glynllifon represent for the ‘Welsh’ Government ‘high end’ tourism, which must be unquestioningly encouraged.

For it is all set out in TAN 13: Tourism (1997) . . . which observant readers will have noted was two years before the Assembly first sat. That’s really thinking ahead!

Yet from what I can see, ‘high end’ tourism only attracts the smarter shysters and the outright crooks. Though if we are to attract high end tourism then what is being done to phase out the barrel-scraping tourism represented by mile after mile of ugly coastal caravan parks that can only deter the high rollers?

Nothing.

Because we are expected to believe that in a tiny country like Wales we can have all kinds of tourism and unlimited numbers of tourists without causing catastrophic cultural and environmental damage.

This is because it’s what England wants, due to the fact that a) money spent in Wales will make its way back to England, and b) tourism and the population influx it encourages makes Wales less of a ‘worry’.

As for the aforementioned clowns down Geiger Bay, well they’ll always do what London tells them, and some of them are even stupid enough to believe that a healthy economy can be based on tourism. Not forgetting that many in the Labour Party would be happy to see the death of Welsh identity.

‘As long as we got a rugby team, innit!’

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Plaid Cymru and Escapist Politics

THE UNTUTORED MOB

I’ve never met Ifan Morgan Jones but he do seem a tidy boy, what with his blog, and his books, and now he’s branched out with Nation.Cymru.

I withheld judgement on this new venture because with so many different contributors it was difficult to get a handle on where it stood on things close to my heart, such as the Swans, or the price of laverbread. Another issue was that my comments – or certainly those submitted as Jac o’ the North – disappeared into the ether. I accepted the explanation that this was due to some glitch rather than to censorship . . . but even so, a suspicious old bastard like me will still mutter to himself when in his cups.

Over time I have attuned myself better to the eclectic nature of Nation.Cymru accepting that I won’t agree with everything I read there; an example being the recent article defending Cyngor Gwynedd’s surrender to the Planning Inspectorate. But then, Nation.Cymru is there to give a platform to divergent views and it balanced Dyfrig Jones’ lamentable piece with this counter-argument by Huw Williams.

As I say, I was already warming to Nation.Cymru and then I read Why the Welsh national movement needs Brexit voters by the man himself, Ifan Morgan Jones. Quite simply, this is one of the best political analyses I have read for a long, long time. And nothing sums up what’s wrong with the ‘national movement’, and Plaid Cymru in particular, better than this sentence.

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But recent experiences of mine suggest that the problems with ‘the national movement’ may go beyond a disconnect between it and the greater part of the Welsh nation. For I see a split within the movement itself.

Or maybe those I’m going to deal with now are examples of what Ifan meant when he wrote, “Ironically, the people who currently make up the Welsh national movement are also the group that’s probably one of the least likely to vote for Welsh independence.” He continued . . .

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I suppose it could be extrapolated that the middle class national movement, with so many of its members dependent directly or indirectly on the UK state, has a vested interest in not engaging with the untutored mob to create an effective national movement. Self-interest with a dash of snobbery.

Though I first suspected this back in the 1960s. Those I associated with most closely wanted independence and nothing less; independence for the good of Wales and all her people. Yet I soon grasped that there were others hanging around, some egging us on, and using the unrest to press for personal advancement.

The ‘language movement’ seemed to contain more than its fair share of those whose antipathy to England and all her works could be vanished away by a cushy number at the BBC or a quango. Little different to socialists accepting peerages and arguing that henceforth they would be working against the system from within. Right on, comrade!

Yes, I’ve known a lot of hypocrites in my time. All prepared to do their bit for Wales . . . as long they didn’t lose out. And yet the ultimate test of an individual’s principles is that he or she is prepared to suffer for them, otherwise they’re just vacuous dinner party spoutings.

As a student of history, one thing I’ve learnt is that it is invariably the case that empires are brought down, governments are overthrown, and new countries brought into existence by those who have little or nothing to lose, not by those who’d like to tinker with a system to their own advantage.

DON’T WELSH LIVES MATTER?

Every so often I have a little run-in on Twitter or some other medium with those of a younger generation and a more leftward political orientation. It amuses me until my opponents become irrational – to the point where I can visualise the spittle on the keyboard or phone – and then I just block them.

This week I’ve enjoyed a couple of exchanges that I think are worth sharing with you. On the one hand, they’re illuminating of themselves, but equally, I believe they link with what Ifan Morgan Jones wrote.

First, let me introduce @PollyLizManning. I’m not entirely sure how our little contretemps started, I think she joined an exchange I was having with someone else. Anyway, it centred on my use of the term ‘wimmin’, which I’d been told was a feminist word used to avoid the ‘men’ element in women.

But that’s not really important, what might interest you is how she framed her response to me after I’d said that I reject political correctness. Here it is.

“White bloke”! Yes, OK, I’m white, I confess; but I blame my parents, and their parents, and their parents’ parents . . . Joking aside, what possible relevance is the colour of my skin? Is she so involved with the politics of race that she subscribes to the view that all white people are racists?

Or is she trying to sound black, maybe identify with black people in the patronising way the Left always has done? Well, maybe she is, because this is the tweet proudly pinned to the top of her Twitter timeline.

“Croeso i Refugees” the placard reads. But Wales has no power to admit refugees or refuse admittance. And as for the ‘Black Lives Matter’ poster she’s holding, I can only assume that this is protesting about all the black folks being shot down by redneck sheriffs in Powys.

What I’m asking is – what the hell has this got to do with Wales? And the reason I’m asking is because Polly Liz Manning is the Women’s Officer for Plaid Ifanc. This is the future of Plaid Cymru.

On the face of it, standing up to racism would be commendable . . . if this was Mississippi in the 1960s. But when you package it up with other issues, such as immigration and Donald Trump, and then argue that anyone who isn’t in favour of unrestricted immigration or impeaching Trump must be a racist, you are no different to the fascists in using the combination of corrupted arguments and vilification.

Below you’ll see a photograph from the ITV website of the march that Polly Liz Manning attended. I think it makes my point. (I think we can see Ms Manning behind the police officer.)

Though if racism is such a concern why don’t Polly and her comrades confront white flight into Wales? The answer to that is simple: to deal with white flight would mean discussing English colonisation, which is a taboo subject because to discuss it will a) alienate Plaid’s English allies in the fight against ‘international fascism’ and b) bring down the wrath of the English redtops.

Far safer to ignore Wales and ‘fight’ faraway issues.

Another with whom I exchanged words was @Wales4Europe. I don’t know who this is, but whoever it is he or she is another fighting against Brexit, supposedly on behalf of Wales.

I’d seen a tweet somewhere quoting Viktor Orbán, the prime minister of Hungary, so I re-tweeted it and encouraged the curious response below. Which raises quite a few questions.

For a start, what was the thinking behind giving my name? Was it an attempt to expose me? Was the writer trying to intimidate me – ‘We know who you are, pal’? Or was it just showing off? Whatever the answer, my name is no secret, so nothing was achieved except making the writer look a little weird.

As for Voice of Europe, I’ve no idea who or what this is. As I say in my reply, I was showing support for Viktor Orbán. What is a national leader supposed to do but protect his or her people? Though of course I wouldn’t expect that to be understood by Leftist members of the ‘national movement’.

I found the reference to the Arrow Cross, a fascist organisation of the 1930s and ’40s, intriguing. For remembering the Arrow Cross but ignoring the Muslim invasions and occupations that colour Hungarian attitudes to Islam is another example of the Alt-Left’s selective interpretations of history to serve its own political agenda.

And it goes without saying that the heroic national uprising against the Soviet Union in 1956 will never be mentioned by Welsh Leftists, too many of whom still have a lingering affection for the old USSR.

Onwards and upwards.

“FAR RIGHT” IN BARCELONA

Leanne Wood, leader of Plaid Cymru, made a monumentally stupid and insensitive remark following the recent atrocities in Catalunya committed by Muslim extremists. I’m sure most of you are aware of it, but in case anyone missed it, here it is.

What I think she was trying to say was, ‘These people are no different to the extreme Right you saw last week in Charlottesville’. Certainly her defenders argued that her use of the term “far right” made sense because both are violent and intolerant of the views and beliefs of others. Which may be fair enough . . . up to a point.

That point is passed when you realise that she’s likening law-abiding political opponents to terrorists. And by suggesting that the evil people in the world all belong to the far right she lines herself and her comrades up on the side of the angels (not that such enlightened and progressive beings subscribe to primitive superstitions).

I say that because fundamental to interpreting her remark would be an understanding of who exactly Leanne Wood regards as “far right”. I suspect that for many who share her views anyone to the right of the Liberal Democrats is flirting with fascism. This is certainly close to what we’ve heard from within the party when working with the Tories has been suggested.

Though to fully understand why Leanne Wood made that stupid remark you have to put yourself in her position.

She leads a party going nowhere, a party that has gone backwards since it deposed Dafydd Wigley. Her own position as leader is under threat from more Wales-focused elements within the party, which means that she needs to rally the Left around her to stay at the helm.

But it goes beyond Plaid Cymru, because for a socialist and an ‘internationalist’ like Leanne Wood things have not gone well lately. First there was Brexit, and then came Trump, followed by the return of Theresa May. Bitter blows for the Left, represented in Wales by the likes of Polly Liz Manning, WalesForEurope, and of course Leanne Wood herself.

The lesson most observers drew from Brexit and the election of Donald Trump was that a majority of voters on both sides of the Atlantic reject the views held by Leanne Wood and her cohorts. But they can’t accept that.

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Seeking to rationalise or explain away these defeats has led many to persuade themselves that Brexit and Trump were victories for racists and fascists. That’s why Charlottesville was such a godsend, and played for all it was worth by the Alt-Left and its media allies – ‘We told you so! Look! there they are on the streets, carrying guns – Trump supporters.’

Which elevated a couple of hundred saddoes into the manifestation corporeal of tens of millions of Trump supporters. Which made the ‘horror and revulsion’ that filled our television screens complete theatre.

If we add the political escapism above to Ifan Morgan Jones’ ‘national movement’ then what we have is a socialist party that just happens to be located in Wales, but with little or no interest in improving the lives of the vast majority of Welsh people. Which of course disqualifies it from being a national movement.

More damningly, it confirms that these people do not aspire to be a national movement.

If those in Plaid Cymru who care about Wales more than Wood, Manning and the rest, have any sense they’ll get rid of their leader and try putting their party on a different course in order to appeal to more of our people. Personally, I’m past caring, as I believe Plaid Cymru is now beyond saving.

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