This is something of a ‘shortie’ because I’ve had things to do and I’ve spent a lot of time in recent days looking for a new theme, an attempt to give a new look to this blog. I’m not happy with this theme – 2016 – but I’ll stick with it until I find summat better.
So if anyone can recommend a clean yet flexible blog theme, offering sidebars and plenty of options, let me know. I don’t mind coughing up a few quid for the right one.
Among a number of problems with this theme – post too narrow, too much space around the header, etc – is that comments don’t show on the home page, and the link to the comments is almost invisible, lying as it does at the bottom of the tags in the left sidebar.
But enough of my trifling problems.
For in this post I bring news that there may yet be life in two projects we assumed were on their way to the knacker’s yard – the motor racing circuit at Ebbw Vale and the Swansea tidal lagoon.
Let’s look at Ebbw Vale first.
IF ONLY FANGIO COULD HAVE LIVED TO SEE THIS!
The original scheme, you will recall, was the brainchild of one Michael Carrick, who ultimately revealed himself to be a bit of a lad.
He achieved this status by running up debts, buying a motor cycle parts firm with grant money he’d received, even paying his gardener from the same source, and by generally exposing himself to be a man with a vision . . . of making himself very rich out of spin and hyperbole.
Despite the backing of the equally avaricious Lord Kinnock it was eventually realised that the Circuit of Wales project pushed by Carrick’s Heads of the Valleys Development Company and Aventa Capital Partners Ltd was a pipe-dream that was never going to draw the tifosi to Ebbw Vale. (And to call it a ‘pipe-dream’ is being generous.)
But, wait! is that a highly-tuned engine I hear whining its way towards the Heads of the Valleys, powering a sleek Le Mans-style sports car? Yes, it is, and at the wheel we find Newport-born Roger Maggs, or possibly Mark Rhydderch-Roberts of Crickhowell. ‘Who they?’ you demand. Well read about them for yourself.
Their plan differs in a number of regards from Michael Carrick’s vision. Perhaps most notably in the declaration that they will not be trying to attract high-prestige events; their plan being along the lines of “providing state of the art laboratory and testing facilities for the global automotive industry”.
Which would obviously complement the ‘Welsh Government’s Automotive Technology Park at Rhyd y Blew.
Another major departure from the Carrick vision is that Maggs and Rhydderch-Roberts say they won’t be demanding vast amounts of public funding. Their project is priced at a modest £150m, roughly a third of the estimated cost of the Circuit of Wales, and would not seek “any direct financial support or underwriting from the Welsh Government”.
Though funding would be sought from the £1.2bn City Deal for the Cardiff Capital Region, which is where I fear they might run into difficulties.
To begin with, there are ten local authorities in the Cardiff Capital Region and some may not favour such a development on the northern edge of the region, especially, perhaps, the largest of those local authorities.
For £734m of the City Deal funding has been ring-fenced for electrification of Valleys’ railway lines so as to make it easier for people to travel from dormitory communities into Cardiff to work and spend money. If the developments we’re discussing take off they will be of little or no benefit to Cardiff. Yet whether or not a project benefits Cardiff is often the prime consideration for ‘Welsh Government’ funding decisions and so things may not bode well for the Maggs-Rhydderch-Roberts plan.
On the plus side, with the widening of the Swansea – Hereford A465 proceeding apace Ebbw Vale becomes more reachable from the English Midlands, heart of the automotive industry.
Yes, I know, I’ve just mentioned the Automotive Technology Park at Rhyd y Blew, but don’t get carried away. After building up people’s hopes by supporting the Circuit of Wales, and then pulling the plug, the ‘Welsh Government’ had to offer something to Ebbw Vale. Motivated not by guilt but by the consideration of saving Labour seats.
I wish both projects well. But if they are to truly benefit the Heads of the Valleys region, the most deprived part of a poor country, then we need assurances that local people will be recruited and trained and that as much as possible of the money involved stays in the area.
Let us now take that A465 to the city of my dreams.
WAVING OR DROWNING?
Another ‘character’ who has been entertaining us for a few years now, in many ways a contemporary and rival to Michael Carrick, is Mark Shorrock of a host of companies under the Tidal Lagoon umbrella. His particular vision was for a tidal lagoon in Swansea Bay tapping into Neptune’s bounty.
It’s enough to make an old Sea Scout like me nostalgic for the smell of brine and Robert Newton impersonations, ‘Arr, Jac lad’. But enough of that.
This project also went mammaries skyward when the UK government refused to fund it. Though Shorrock, a man with a number of unfulfilled dreams to his name, believed it could still proceed. Like the man who has covered the floor in broken crockery he insists that given one more try he really can do this trick with the tablecloth.
Our Glorious Leader mumbled something about his mob getting involved, but like most of what he says ’twas naught but piss and wind. (As Ms Sturgeon and countless others can testify.)
More plausible perhaps was the salvage attempt mooted by Holistic Capital. And this may, or may not, be the scheme favoured by Swansea council and involves one of the local degree factories. Certainly the council is showing enthusiasm for pushing ahead with the project it has dubbed ‘Tidal Lagoon 2.0’, even setting up a ‘task force’.
The Circuit of Wales would have made Michael Carrick very wealthy (and has certainly enriched him considerably), the Swansea tidal lagoon would have showered even greater wealth on Mark Shorrock and his nearest and dearest. Perhaps especially his wife’s company, Good Energy.
At one stage, on the understanding that the UK government would fund the lagoon, the Welsh Local Government Association promised to invest in the project. Then there’s possible funding from the Swansea Bay City Region deal. There are also recent reports that private funding is being sought.
Your guess is as good as mine as to the state of play now.
Though I hear that Swansea Labour’s inner circle recently discussed pushing ahead with the lagoon by investing some of the council’s own money in the scheme. Possibly pension funds. How those with money in the pension scheme feel about this has yet to be ascertained.
But I’m sure they have nothing to fear. If this goes ahead it will be an investment made after due deliberation by the finest minds in the Swansea Labour Party – what could possibly go wrong?
Again, joking aside, I wish this project well. As with Ebbw Vale, I hope it takes off and benefits the local community. In fact, I look forward to visiting in a few years and viewing the whole shebang from the new cable car running from Kilvey Hill.
FROM THEM THAT HAVE NOT SHALL BE TAKEN
The uncomfortable fact is that Wales attracts far too many like Carrick and Shorrock for the simple reason that Wales is a colony of England. Let me explain.
As a colony, the last thing either the ‘Welsh Labour Government’ or their masters in London want is to encourage Welsh initiative. With many in Labour it’s due to an atavistic, leftist aversion to ‘capitalism, innit’; while with their London bosses it’s a desire not to give the natives any thoughts about being able to do things for themselves.
The second being classic, ‘You couldn’t manage without us’ colonialism.
On a more prosaic level there is the purely economic consideration. By which I mean, if the UK government gives the the ‘Welsh Government’ a sum of money every year – let’s say £18bn – then the UK administration will want to recoup as much as possible of that funding, or in other ways take advantage of what cannot be sucked back over the border.
This may be achieved by flooding Wales with English retirees, persuading the ‘Welsh Government’ to put up wind turbines to help the UK meet emissions targets, allocate social housing to those who’ve never set foot in Wales, get said ‘Welsh Government’ to accept and fund bankrupt luxury car makers, improve the M4, or direct to Wales con men or dreamers with half-baked schemes that might just work.
The word soon spreads via the Con Man’s Chronicle and other outlets that Wales is a soft touch for funding and lunatic schemes. You want dosh to built a 900 foot helter-skelter atop Cader Idris? – then all you’ve got to do is get your ten-year-old nephew to put together a bisnuz plan, tell Ken Skates it’ll pull in the tourists better than the Flint Sphincter and he’ll embarrass your pockets with big wodges of folding.
And that’s without considering the third sector, where we find thousands upon thousands of self-righteous shysters who’ve moved from England to ‘help’ nobody but themselves – to our money!
Such is life in a colony. Woe to Wales!
♦ end ♦