Housing in Wales

PLEASE APPRECIATE THAT I GET SENT MORE INFORMATION AND LEADS THAN I CAN USE. I TRY TO RESPOND TO EVERYONE WHO CONTACTS ME BUT I CANNOT POSSIBLY USE EVERY BIT OF INFORMATION I’M SENT. DIOLCH YN FAWR

The title tells you what this week’s article is about. I’m going to look at how the picture has changed in the past few years.

THE BIG PICTURE

Obviously, there are different types of housing, from mansions like Jac o’ the North Towers to more modest owner-occupied properties; then we have social rent properties, and properties rented from private landlords.

So let’s start by looking at how types of tenure have changed over the past two decades. (The year up to March 31, 2001 is the earliest I can find on the StatsWales website.)

The table I’ve drawn up is fairly self-explanatory. ‘Registered Social Landlord’ (RSL) is of course the official term for housing associations.

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The headline figure is that there are 163,067 more dwellings or housing units in 2020 than there were in 2001. Though in the same period the population rose from 2,910,232 to 3,152,879, while the average household size fell from 2.36 to 2.26.

In fact, if we multiply the total number of housing units by the average household size we arrive at a figure of 3,248,901.42. Almost a hundred thousand more than the population estimate. But of course calculations are complicated by people living in care homes, prisons and other institutions. And then there are holiday homes. And properties that have just been abandoned, where it’s often difficult to track the owner.

So, all things considered – and without taking my socks off to do some really serious figuring! – we have roughly the same availability of housing in relation to demand as we had twenty years ago. Maybe things are worse.

Something else we can extract from the table is that in 2001 19% of Welsh properties were social rents, whereas the figure today is just 16%.

But perhaps the biggest change has been the doubling in the percentage of properties now rented from private landlords.

If current trends continue then very soon more people, more families, will rent from private landlords than from councils and housing associations combined. This of course is what the Conservatives want, but why is it happening in ‘progressive’ Wales?

SOCIAL HOUSING

In 2001 we had 242,853 units of social housing. By 2020 this had fallen to 229,902, a decrease of 12,951. Found in this table.

Partly explained by 34,829 units being sold in this period under the Right to Buy legislation introduced in 1980 by the first Thatcher government, with this later supplemented by Right to Acquire.

Though offset by the building of 21,878 social rented housing units in the same period. Just over 1,000 a year.

Right to Acquire is Englandandwales legislation introduced by the Blair government and in operation from 18 January, 2005. Explained more fully here.

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At this point I should tell you that not all sales of social housing are accounted for by Right to Buy and Right to Acquire because this table tells us there have also been sales of “non-social housing”. Though I don’t understand why the figure for this category is only shown from 2013 – 2014. Though there’s certainly been a steady increase since then.

Building just over one thousand social housing units a year must be considered a failure after two decades of socialist administrations in Cardiff Bay. Especially when we remember that in 1979 – 1980 (immediately before Right to Buy was introduced) Welsh local authorities built 3,322 new council homes. (RSLs built a further 377.)

And a thousand a year looks even less impressive when we remember that in the period of devolution a couple of billion pounds in capital grant funding has been given to an ever-expanding galaxy of housing associations.

In the past five years alone, £574 million pounds of Social Housing Grant (SHG) has been paid to housing associations. Wales & West, Labour’s favourite, has seen £61m of it.

SHG is not the only capital grant paid. There’s also the Housing Finance Grant.

I’ve drawn up a table for SHG payments you can view by clicking here. It’s quite a big table, so please have patience.

(I should add that while the bottom line is correct I can’t vouch for every figure in every column. I may have made a mistake or two in transcribing them. So here are the figures I received.)

While the amount paid in SHG from 2015 – 2016 to 2019 – 2020 was 20% more than for the previous five years the stock of social rented housing increased in the same period by less than 2%.

We know that housing association executives like to pay themselves big salaries, and drive fancy company cars . . . shiny new offices are a must . . . and how can they miss out on all the conferences and other jollies, but these could never account for the increasing gulf between funding received and social housing built.

Something else must be going on.

If nothing else, Wales is following England in providing less social rented housing. So much for Rhodri Morgan’s, “clear red water”. So much for, “Welsh solutions for Welsh problems”.

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The Tories came to power in 2010, and that’s when the decline started. Clearly, the Labour management team in Corruption Bay is following Conservative directives when it comes to social rented housing.

MONEY, MONEY, MONEY

If we take the period 2014 – 2015 to 2019 – 2020 we see that it covers important changes in the way RSLs are regulated, and also how they operate.

I’m sure most people didn’t notice, but in the past five years Welsh housing associations were originally private bodies, were then made public, before being privatised again.

It was the Office for National Statistics that decided they should be public bodies due to the amount of public funding they were receiving. Plus the political involvement. But making them public bodies transferred their debts to the public ledger and so the parliaments in London, Edinburgh, Belfast and Cardiff quickly privatised them again.

It’s explained clearly and succinctly in the article below from Inside Housing, just click on it to make it readable. (Here’s a link to the original article.)

I bet you’re thinking . . . ‘If housing associations are now private companies, why are they still getting lashings of public funding?’ Funding that, as we’ve seen, has greatly increased since they were ‘re-privatised’!

The answer is that they’ve branched out into building private housing.

To such an extent that, in addition to the public funding, our housing associations are also taking out private loans with various financial institutions.

Here’s a report from May of United Welsh of Caerphilly, which has just 6,000 properties, borrowing £50m from Scottish Widows.

In July we learnt Coastal Housing Group of Swansea had entered into a £250m ‘refinancing’ deal with Aviva Investors.

In August, Cadwyn Housing Association of Cardiff did a deal with Westbourne Capital Partners of Chicago.

And other housing associations have done similar deals with organisations much sharper than them in the ways of the financial world. I do hope they’ve read the small print.

Though I suppose the only real collateral housing associations have is their housing stock. If they default, does this mean that Welsh social housing stock gets taken over by lenders? Or will the ‘Welsh Government’ step in with yet more money?

Talking of the ‘Welsh Government’, if RSLs need money for investment, why can’t they go to the Development Bank of Wales (DBW), which is already lending to other builders, many from over the border?

So let’s recap. Housing associations, now private bodies, still receive increasing amounts of public funding. Yet they also enter into arrangements with financial institutions around the world. And let’s not forget that the other major source of income – perhaps the major source – is rents from the housing stock they own. Most of which came free as stock transfers from local authorities.

Another noteworthy feature in this period is that most if not all of our housing associations have set up subsidiary companies, or companies that are not subsidiaries but still part of the group.

SUBSIDIARIES, PARTNERS, PRIVATE HOUSING

An example would be the relationship between Ateb (formerly Pembrokeshire Housing Association) and Mill Bay Homes Ltd (MBH). The latter, despite being a separate company, is a “wholly controlled subsidiary company of Ateb Group Ltd”.

The arrangement is that MBH builds and sells market properties and the profits go to parent company Ateb to build social housing or ‘affordable homes’. Which might be fine if Mill Bay Homes had its own money . . . but it hasn’t, it relies on loans from Ateb.

Which means that the ‘Welsh Government’ funds a RSL to build social housing but the money in fact goes to a subsidiary to build open market homes (that most locals may not be able to afford) with a fraction of the original money returning to the parent company.

What is the point of such a system?

While Mill Bay Homes is a company registered with Companies House the Ateb Group is registered with the Financial Conduct Authority.

As we’ve seen with other housing associations, the Ateb Group has also borrowed money recently. Last month from the Principality Building Society. Back in July it was a loan of £18m from bLEND Funding PLC.

Officially, a cash security trust deed.

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Eighteen bloody million! How much does a relatively small, rural housing association need? It’s already getting money from the ‘Welsh Government’, and seems to have stopped providing social rented housing.

A visit to the Ateb Group website turns up what you see below. Quite clearly, Ateb is now a private house builder with social rented accommodation an afterthought.

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Click on ‘homes for sale’ and you of course get taken to the Mill Bay Homes website.

And there seem to be some rum doings between the two.

I am indebted to Wynne Jones in Cardigan for these documents from the Land Registry website (from which I have redacted a few names in the second).

A property on this development in Cilgerran (Ceredigion) was built by MBH, with money borrowed from Ateb, then sold to Ateb for £164,950 in October 2019; the following month Ateb sold a 125-year lease on the property for £57,733.

What business model is this?

Mill Bay Homes makes no secret of the fact that it’s punting for retirees and ‘investors’. The latter category will include Buy-to-Rent landlords, and whaddya know – one of the new Cilgerran properties is already being advertised for rent.

Plot 3 at Maes Rheithordy, Cilgerran, is being rented for £670 per calendar month through Jac y Do Letting of Blaenporth.

A similar arrangement to that between Ateb and Mill Bay Homes exists in Gwynedd between Adra (formerly Cartrefi Cymunedol Gwynedd), which took over Gwynedd council’s housing stock some ten years ago, and its subsidiary, Medra Cyf.

A few days ago Adra put out this puff about building 1,200 new homes across ‘North Wales’. The “housing crisis” referred to is perhaps the lack of housing for commuters in the A55 corridor.

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The subsidiary that will be doing much of the building is Medra . . . with a loan from Adra.

This loan between a Welsh RSL and its subsidiary was arranged by London law firm Trowers & Hamlins. I’ve seen that name in other loans I’ve looked at. Are there no lawyers in Wales?

Of course there are, so who’s directing them to that company?

Also worth highlighting from recent years, in addition to the proliferation of subsidiaries, is the strange partnerships we see being forged.

For an example of this we stay in the north, with Cartrefi Conwy, based in Abergele.

I’ve written about this lot a few times. Below you’ll read what I had to say earlier this year, in Housing Associations, a broken model. The Byzantine network of ‘partners’ also throws up a mystery investor.

“Cartrefi Conwy set up a subsidiary in 2015 called Creating Enterprise CIC (Community Interest Company). Then, in May 2018, Creating Enterprise went into partnership with Brenig Developments Ltd to form Calon Homes. (Assets at 31 May 2019 £37,853.)

From the Creating Enterprise CIC accounts for y/e 31 March 2019. Click to enlarge

As I wrote back in November: “There is a charge against Calon Homes LLP held by Creating Enterprise CIC, which in turn has a charge held by Cartrefi Conwy. Which means that, ultimately, housing association Cartrefi Conwy is in partnership with private company Brenig Developments.”

When we look at the directors for Brenig Developments Ltd we find Mark Timothy Parry and Howard Rhys Vaughan. Both are also directors of Brenig Homes Ltd.”

Another horse out of the Brenig stable is Brenig Construction Ltd. Just another local building firm, run by local people . . . so impeccably local in fact that it could have come from League of Gentlemen.

But then, in December last year, a new director joined, a man who might have been taking his life in his hands if he’d turned up in the Royston Vasey shop.

I’m referring now to Yin Han, a Chinese businessman, presumably bringing a lot of yuan. For when I say Chinese businessman I do not mean that he hails from Hong Kong or Taiwan. Yin Han is a resident and citizen of the People’s Republic of China.

How did Yin Han and Brenig Construction find each other? What do we know about him? I guarantee he did not get involved with Brenig Construction without permission from back home. And that means the Communist Party.

These subsidiaries and partners, together with the loans and investment, are needed to build private housing for sale on the open market.

But housing associations are now private entities, so why do they need subsidiaries and partners to build open market housing? Surely they could do it in their own names?

Of course they could, but that would make it too obvious and probably jeopardise the public funding. So we have this charade of public money for social housing being given to RSLs and then filtered through intermediaries to build private housing.

And the ‘Welsh Government’ is a willing party to this deception.

‘AFFORDABLE HOUSING’

As a student of history, I’ve always loved Palmerston’s quote: “Only three people have ever really understood the Schleswig-Holstein business – the Prince Consort, who is dead – a German professor, who has gone mad – and I, who have forgotten all about it.”

It comes to mind when I see the term ‘affordable housing’. Because there’s a great deal of confusion as to what it means.

It’s important to get a definition because it’s what RSLs now claim to be building, and what the so-called ‘Welsh Government’ is funding.

Is the ‘Welsh Government’ really proud of these figures? And ‘Rent to own’ in fact offers people a share of a lease! Click to enlarge

When I contacted the ‘Welsh Government’ I was referred to a publication wherein was found . . .

“The concept of affordability is generally defined as the ability of households or potential households to purchase or rent property that satisfies the needs of the household without subsidy (further guidance is provided in the Local  Housing Market Assessment Guide) 7 This could be based on an assessment of the ratio of household income or earnings to the price of property to buy or rent available in the open market in the required local housing market area.”

Which is interesting, and for two reasons.

If the concept of affordability is based on what local people on local wages can afford, then why is ‘affordable housing’ not reserved for those same local people? I ask because all the term means in practice is that a few properties in a development are labelled ‘affordable’ – but still put on the open market.

And if a small number of properties in a development are classed as ‘affordable’ then it must follow that the majority of the properties are regarded as unaffordable to most locals. So why are we building so many properties – with public funding! – beyond the reach of most local buyers?

The woolly term ‘affordable housing’ is just a fig leaf for the ‘Welsh Government’ and RSLs to disguise the fact that very little social housing is being delivered.

We are encouraged to believe that ‘affordable housing’ is for local people, or that it means social rented properties. Wrong.

CONCLUSION

This system, as I’ve argued before, is broken. It is broken because it consumes vast amounts of Welsh public funding for little or no Welsh public benefit.

Another cause for concern is that just as many third sector bodies are agencies of the Labour Party a similar picture emerges with housing associations.

In fact, housing associations and third sector bodies operate hand in glove, with the former housing the disruptive ‘clients’ of the latter, many of whom have been shipped into Wales. It’s collaboration like this that contributes to the problems we’ve looked at in Tyisha, Llanelli.

‘Welsh’ Labour’s little empire; stuffed with cronies and others dependent on political patronage and public handouts.

Take Wales & West, which I’ve referred to as Labour’s favourite. The CEO is Anne Hinchey, whose hubby Graham is a Labour Councillor in Cardiff. This explains why Wales & West has pulled down £100m in Social Housing Grant alone in the past decade.

And yet, let us remember that the reason the Office for National Statistics decided to put housing associations into the public sector was because there was so much governmental control!

As the June 2018 article from Inside Housing I reproduced above put it,

“In a letter to the Welsh Government sent yesterday, the ONS left open the possibility to reclassify individual associations as public should the level of state control increase.”

A strong case could be made for reclassifying a number of Welsh housing associations. Certainly Wales & West.

Where do we go from here?

I suggest that it starts with making it clear we do not want housing associations to build properties for sale to Home Counties retirees in Pembrokeshire, or to Manchester commuters in Denbighshire.

The sole duty of Welsh housing associations must be to deliver homes to Welsh people at sales prices or rents WE can afford.

If they are unable or unwilling to fulfil that role then I believe we should let our local councils provide social rented housing. Ensure they are well enough funded to provide decent accommodation to any and all local people wanting it. And make strong local connections the over-riding consideration in allocating those properties.

Then cut all funding to housing associations, which are, after all, private companies. Let them borrow from private lenders – as they are already doing – and cease being a burden on the public purse.

Whatever is decided, the present system is broken. Changes must be made. Even if you think this doesn’t affect you, just think what we could do with the money saved!

♦ end ♦

 

 




Social cleansing in the Wild West Show

PLEASE APPRECIATE THAT I GET SENT MORE INFORMATION AND LEADS THAN I CAN USE. I TRY TO RESPOND TO EVERYONE WHO CONTACTS ME BUT I CANNOT POSSIBLY USE EVERY BIT OF INFORMATION I’M SENT. DIOLCH YN FAWR

This week’s offering keeps to the bits and pieces format that’s popular in certain quarters; but there is a thread in that all the items below show Wales being taken advantage of in one form or another.

Worse, there are some trying to present our passivity and gullibility as virtues, cos we are ‘carin’, innit.

THE WILD WEST SHOW

I remember Paul Flynn, long-serving Labour MP for Newport West who died last month, use the term ‘Wild West Show’ to describe the planning system – or lack thereof – in Ceredigion back in the 1980s and 1990s. Those halcyon days when the council was run by Dai Lloyd Evans and his fraternity of landowner-farmers sitting as ‘Independents’.

No ordinary men these, but seers, with powers that allowed them to predict which land might in future be built upon and therefore increase in value. And so certain were they of their powers that some would buy worthless land that – hey presto! – became valuable through being favoured in local development plans and by other means.

Dai Lloyd Evans himself increased his already considerable wealth by buying a couple of fields outside of his native Tregaron that – as the visions had foretold – became earmarked for ‘development’. The populace marvelled at his prescience.

Those were indeed wondrous times. And the splurge of housebuilding, the detached four-bedroom houses, were defended by Dai and his gang with, ‘Our youngsters must have somewhere to live’.

If you want to know why the Welsh language has retreated so rapidly in Ceredigion then look no further than Dai Lloyd Evans and his gang encouraging the building of thousands of big houses . . . for local youngsters.

All the while Plaid Cymru stood by twiddling its thumbs. Or else, like Cynog Dafis, tried to put a positive gloss on the invasion by snuggling up to the Green element and pretending these colonialist enviro-shysters would be an asset to Wales.

The Wild West show is no longer confined to Ceredigion. It’s playing all over Wales (though Welsh involvement is now minimal). There’s a simple reason for this – it’s because in Wales you can get away with just about anything.

That’s why Wales attracts the leeches of the third sector bleeding the public purse to tackle issues that will never really be tackled because to do so would cut off the leeches’ blood supply.

It also explains why we get all manner of shysters and crooks coming to Wales – because they know they can tap into public funding and get planning permission and other support for just about any ludicrous ‘scheme’.

And even when people get caught out, nothing is done. Auditors, ombudsmen, politicians, media, police, just look the other way, and the Wild West Show rolls on.

CAMP VALOUR

The fun and games – and the lies – continue down in Milford Haven with Camp Valour’s plans for Fort Hubberston.

For those wondering what I’m talking about, let me explain that a bunch of chancers formed a company called Camp Valour CIC and came up with a scheme for a ‘veteran transition centre’ for 250 military veterans at Fort Hubberston, a 19th century fortification on Milford Haven Waterway.

If you want to catch up with the details, then read this post (scroll down to part 3) and this post (ditto). So what’s new?

As I mentioned in an update to my previous post, I had a silly e-mail, purporting to be from a solicitor, demanding that I take down everything I’d written about the gang. It was badly written, came from a Yahoo address, had no company logo or anything else to suggest it was authentic, but whoever wrote it thought they were being clever by using the name of a real solicitor! (That is a special kind of stupid.)

So I got in touch with the genuine solicitor, forwarded the e-mail I’d received, and she’s now following it up.

Most other developments are covered in the report below from last Friday’s Pembrokeshire Herald.

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Though there has been one other development. Last Thursday I received a notification from Companies House that on February 15th – just two days after my first posting on the subject – ‘Major’ Fabian Sean Lucien Faversham-Pullen resigned as director of Camp Valour CIC.

Which means that Camp Valour is now drifting, rudderless, without a single officer aboard. And for a company to have no officers might invalidate its registration with Companies House. I have reported this state of rudderlessness to Companies House.

This resignation is very strange, or very revealing. His defenders insist that Major Fabian Sean Lucien Faversham-Pullen is genuine and has not changed his name from Sean Keven Patrick Pullen. (They’re twins!) Also, that he really is a military veteran. Yet at the first sign of hostilities he legs it!

I can also report that the Walter Mitty and Bloaters Hunters Club is looking into Pullen’s history. This group exposes con men pretending to have served in the military. It seems the practice is more widespread than you might think, and the fantasists invariably claim to have served in elite units, rarely the Pay Corps or the Engineers.

The other thing worth mentioning is something that’s been nagging me for a few days now, probably because I don’t know how to interpret it. Let me explain.

The phoney solicitor’s letter arrived at 06:09 last Monday. Given that it was quite a long message (443 words) it suggests that whoever wrote it had risen early, or perhaps been up all night. But before that, at 02:22, I received another e-mail, this one telling me that a message had been sent to my Facebook page. But by the time I got up the FB message was gone, presumably the sender had deleted it.

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Did I get messages from two different people that night, or did one person begin with a Facebook message and go for broke with a phoney solicitor’s letter? Though another possibility would be that someone got access to another person’s Facebook account.

Even more perplexing is the case of the disappeared photograph. In this sequence of photographs from the Remembrance Day parade in Liverpool in 2016 there was a photo of a lad, “ . . . wearing his Dad’s medals and Parachute Regiment Beret”. There was a suspicion that the boy was Pullen/Faversham-Pullen’s son. Someone else who saw it – a former Para – claimed that the medals couldn’t be genuine for operational reasons.

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The picture of that boy has been removed some time in the past few days.

Finally, I cannot understand why the Port of Milford Haven is still taking these people seriously. In fact, I cannot understand why the Port of Milford Haven ever took these buggers seriously.

It would suffer no reputational harm if the Port of Milford Haven was to make a clear public announcement stating it will have no further dealings of any kind with Field Admiral Mitty-Pullen and his cohorts.

UPDATE 23:08: Below you’ll see a slightly redacted Facebook exchange that took place today between Pullen and a genuine ex-Para who knows him. The more I read it the more I realise that you cannot believe a word Pullen says. He even contradicts himself when, in column 2, he says that Camp Valour is finished but then, in column 7, he says he’s pulled out but others are carrying on! Which is it?

There’s an old saying that liars need good memories, and Pullen’s got a terrible memory.

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UPDATE 05.03.2019: I have received a reply from Companies House to my query about the status of Camp Valour CIC, seeing as it no longer has a director. (Click to enlarge.)

HIDDEN COSTS OF BEING ‘CARING’

Someone on Swansea Bay who knows of such things tells of growing concern at the number of individuals being dealt with that clearly have no connections with the area.

One recent case my source became aware of is that of a vulnerable woman from Birmingham now living in Neath . . . when she’s not in the custody suite at Swansea Central police station . . . or getting treatment in hospital . . . or being ferried around by police car or ambulance.

And yet those running the property where this woman lives would argue that she costs us nothing because ‘Birmingham’ pays for her accommodation; which is no doubt true, but ‘Birmingham’ doesn’t pay for police time, or the amount this woman and so many others cost the ambulance service and the Welsh NHS.

In the previous post I looked at the case of staff at a care home in Cwm-twrch Isaf being told not to speak Welsh because the residents were not familiar with the language, proving that the residents aren’t local. So where are they from and why are they in Cwm-twrch Isaf? And why aren’t our politicians and media asking these questions?

Other reports tell me that many of the desperate cases who’ve been housed in Neath and spend their days on the streets are not from the area, and didn’t move to the area of their own volition. So what’s going on?

Another worrying story was brought to my attention last week of someone sent to prison for brandishing a large knife in a Haverfordwest pub. The report tells us this person – who had previously been imprisoned in Scotland – had recently moved to the area. But who moved him? Is anyone asking this question?

Also last week, in the north, a convicted sexual pervert was sent down again, with no one asking how he found his way to the Dolgellau area.

There’s no question that Wales is being taken advantage of by English local authorities, third sector outfits, probation companies, misguided do-gooders, housing associations and other bodies, with this encouraged, and then capitalised on, by the Labour Party.

The Labour Party wants to keep Wales poor so that it can blame ‘London’/the Tories and keep us voting Labour. Which means that Wales will remain poor for as long as we keep voting Labour.

This social cleansing has similarities with the dispersal of refugees, an issue reported on recently by Newsnight, which found that the poorer areas of central and northern England see many more refugees under the UK’s dispersal policy than wealthier parts of southern England with higher property values.

While there are similarities Wales has a much larger, overall social burden, and it’s spread more widely, because in addition to social cleansing and refugees the well-heeled from Surbiton and Solihull do not retire to Stoke or Scunthorpe, nor do they buy holiday homes in such places.

Being taken advantage of is bad enough, but we have celebs defending this colonialist exploitation by encouraging us to engage in an orgy of self-congratulation for being so ‘caring’.

When you start congratulating yourself for being a mug then you’re in real trouble . . . and others will continue to take advantage of you.

REFUSED PLANNING PERMISSION? CHANGE YOUR NAME AND USE A HOUSING ASSOCIATION AS A STALKING HORSE

On the outskirts of Swansea, tucked behind Morriston Hospital, lies the hamlet of Pant-lasau, consisting of around twenty homes. Although in many ways it’s a secluded spot it is of course next to one of Wales’s busiest hospitals and very close to the M4.

So it was no surprise when, in 2015, Edenstone Homes Limited, a company with a Gwent address, applied to build 13 new houses in Pant-lasau. These were substantial properties of types known as ‘Farnham’, ‘Bamford’, ‘Ingleton’ and ‘Ashcombe’, names that gel seamlessly with Pant-lasau, Cwmrhydyceirw, Llangyfelach and Mynydd Gelliwastad.

The application – 2015/1581 – was refused by Swansea city council and the refusal was upheld in April 2016 by Clive Nield of the Planning Inspectorate. Read the decision here.

On November 27th last year another planning application was received for the same parcel of land from Coastal Housing Group, one of the major housing associations in the area. This time for 20 ‘affordable homes’.

So why am I boring you by writing about a small housing association development on the outskirts of Swansea?

Because, good people, Coastal Housing has a ‘partner’ in this project, a fact made clear with this report produced in September 2018. While Swansea council’s website insists that it’s Coastal Housing acting alone.

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So why the reticence to acknowledge the involvement of ‘Ashgrove Partnerships’? Come to that, who are Ashgrove Partnerships? All will be explained in a minute.

At the time of writing this, the Ashgrove website was still under construction, so the obvious conclusion to draw is that it’s a new company. But is it? For if we look to the bottom of the screen capture below we read, ‘Part of the Edenstone Group’, and it was Edenstone Homes that made the original planning application back in 2015.

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The truth is, as Companies House tells us, that Edenstone Partnership Homes Limited changed its name to Ashgrove Partnership Homes Ltd in January this year. (In fact, this company has had six different names since it was Incorporated in February 2004.)

The directors are Stuart James Rodden, Mark Julian Hugo Holden, Jeffrey Stanley Taylor and Martin Jeffrey Taylor. The Taylors are probably father and son with the father, Jeffrey Stanley, involved in what appear to be all of the Edenstone companies and the son branching out beyond Edenstone.

Quite obviously, Edenstone has come back to Pant-lasau for a second attempt using Coastal Housing as a proxy. With the January name change to Ashgrove an attempt to disguise its true identity.

Let Uncle Jac explain what’s going to happen at Pant-lasau.

Planning permission will be given to Coastal Housing for 20 fairly modest properties. Everything will then pass to Edenstone/Ashgrove and changes will be requested to the planning approval. There may be a number of such requests granted to the point where what is finally built is radically different to what originally received planning permission. (As we recently saw at Plas Pistyll in Wilmslow-sur-Mer.)

What’s being done at Pant-lasau is deceitful and Coastal Housing is a willing participant in this deception. But who else is involved? For example, is Swansea council aware that Coastal Housing is fronting for a private developer?

Is the self-styled ‘Welsh Government’ aware of this deceit? Or is Pant-lasau an example of the kind of ‘partnerships’ I hear housing associations are being encouraged to enter into?

Sifting through the documents available I was unable to find a title number or any ownership details for the land in question. The only option was a post code search on the Land Registry website. And it worked.

The documents tell us that the owners are David Michael Vernon Thomas and Susan Daphne Thomas of Deepholm Farmhouse, Rockfield, Monmouth. But we also read . . .

“(08.02.2013) RESTRICTION: Until 24 February 2024 no disposition of the part of the registered estate shown edged red on Part 1 of the title plan (other than a charge) by the proprietor of the registered estate, or by the proprietor of any registered charge, not being a charge registered before the entry of this restriction is to be registered without a certificate signed by Edenstone Homes (Western) Limited (Co. Regn. No. 7110699) of Priory House, Priory Street, Usk NP15 1QN”.

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The Company mentioned in the Restriction above, Edenstone Homes (Western) Limited, is a shell company with Rodden and the Taylors as directors. All three give their address as First Floor, Building 102, Wales 1 Business Park, Newport Road, Magor, Caldicot, Wales, NP26 3DG. This address is home to a number of Rodden-Holden-Taylor companies.

The building itself is an ugly, new structure and obviously part of Alun Cairns’ Severnside nightmare.

So even though Edenstone/Ashgrove doesn’t own the land at Pant-lasau it obviously has some arrangement with the owners until 2024. Which again raises the question – why does this project need the involvement of Coastal Housing?

The answer, as I’ve explained, is to get planning permission. So I hope that when Swansea’s planning committee discusses this application on Tuesday the 5th it will reject what is an obvious attempt to get planning permission by deception.

And while they’re at it, Swansea’s planning committee might ask for an explanation from Coastal Housing for its involvement in this squalid ploy.

Or is this the shape of things to come?

P.S. I should add that Swansea’s planners seem to be complicit in this deception because even though the site is unsuitable for social housing the planners say it’s fine.

To begin with, there’s nothing in the way of public transport other than the bus service from Morriston hospital that runs down to Singleton hospital. Swansea’s planners say this constitutes good public transport.

On the issue of local facilities, shops and the like, the planners argue that the outlets in Morriston hospital – Subway, Costa and W H Smith – tick this box.

UPDATE 05.03.2019: To the surprise of absolutely no one Swansea council’s planning committee voted to approve this planning application. The vote was seven (all Labour) in favour, three (non-Labour) against.

DUMPING OF THE NUCLEAR VARIETY

You may be aware that the UK government is looking for suitable locations to dump nuclear waste. It seems the only areas being considered are in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Who’d have guessed!

In an attempt to be seen consulting the public the UK Government, through its agency Radioactive Waste Management, organised two public meeting in Wales, one in Swansea and one in Llandudno. Chosen for the obvious reason that each is central to its region and easy to reach by road and rail.

Well now we learn that the Swansea meeting is cancelled, and will be replaced by an online consultation. At the time of writing the Llandudno meeting is still going ahead on 14 March.

Picture by János Korom (CC BY-SA 2.0) click to enlarge

The self-styled ‘Welsh Government’ has volunteered Wales for nuclear dumping, which if nothing else is consistent, seeing as it welcomed the dumping of ‘nuclear mud’ off Cardiff last year. For the Labour Party in Wales will do whatever its London masters – in either of the major parties – tell it to do.

Plaid Cymru seems to be ambivalent. It was reluctant to oppose the Cardiff dumping because of the involvement of suspended AM and enfant terrible Neil McEvoy, and Plaid will dither on underground dumping because the party always shows two faces to nuclear energy.

The Swansea meeting may have been called off due to the hostile reaction locally, from such as Tory Suzy Davies the local regional AM and Lib Dem councillor and former AM Peter Black. The local bruvvers have also mumbled a bit but they’ll fall into line when their bosses in Cardiff and London crack the whip.

Whether it’s paedophiles, drug addicts, wrinklies, wind turbines, problem families, white flight, nuclear waste, Wales is where England looks to do its dumping.

There’s only one way to escape this abusive relationship, and that’s independence. There is only one political party promising independence and that’s Ein Gwlad.

♦ end ♦

 

Shorts 16.07.2018 (Well it is summer!)

I’m taking a wee break from the Williams-Partridge gang, but I shall return to them, you can count on it. Weep for Wales 6 is already forming itself in the old Jac noggin.

But as the Walrus said, The time has come to talk of many things . . . but we shall not stray far from my favoured themes of shysters and charlatans, colonialists and their facilitators.

THE GREEN, GREEN PARTY OF HOME (WHICH IS NOT WALES)

There is in Wales a political grouping calling itself the Wales Green Party. Over the years many people – myself included – have pointed out that despite the name it has no legal existence, being merely part of The Green Party (of England). Scotland has a separate party.

Those of a masochistic bent may choose to read some of my previous offerings on the subject: Plaid Cymru and the Green Party of EnglandandWales, More on the Green Party of EnglandandWales, Green Party of EnglandandWales, Wales Region AGM 2015.

This question of whether there is or should be a separate Welsh party has bedevilled the Greens in Wales for some years and so it was recently decided to lance the boil by having a vote on whether to become wholly independent or remain part of the Green Party (of England).

The result is in and 64.8% voted to remain part of the Green Party (of England), though the party leader in Wales, Grenville Ham, favoured treating Wales with respect by forming a separate party.

This result does not surprise me. The Greens I’ve met in my area, and others I know of who’ve moved to rural parts of Wales, tend to offer a ‘We know best’ kind of ‘enlightened’ colonialism. No less offensive when delivered by some malodorous little twat with a 2:2 in mycology than when it’s barked by the District Officer wearing shorts with a razor-sharp crease.

What I’m saying is that, in Wales, most Greens are English arrivals (many of them just passing through). This explains why – unlike Scotland – we do not have a separate and native Green Party. This also explains the vote I’ve just reported.

Greens in Wales must now stop the pretence that there is a Wales Green Party. There is not. What we have in Wales is the regional branch of The Green Party of England. Calling it the Green Party of England and Wales is no improvement, especially when we remember the position in Scotland.

Those who want a Welsh Green Party, those who wish to prioritise the Welsh national interest, had better do some hard thinking. A new, genuinely Welsh Green party could resonate with Welsh voters far better than the Green Party of England has done hitherto.

It could hardly do any worse.

WHO WILL BUY MY LOVELY HOUSES? – THE ‘WELSH’ GOVERNMENT OF COURSE!

And so to Pembrokeshire, which attracts a disproportionate number of those malodorous little gits with a 2:2 in mycology. But on a higher plane, far removed from the darkness and the copious amounts of shit, we enter the realm of Sol Invictus.

And it’s there, basking in the wealth he bestows, that we find Dr Glen Peters. Formerly of bean-counters PwC but now ensconced at Rhos y Gilwen mansion near Cilgerran, where he brings culture to this benighted corner of Wales through Menter Rhosygilwen. You can even get married there.

Courtesy of Linkedin, click to enlarge

But his real interest is making money through his company Western Solar Ltd. There is a solar farm on his land and when he’s not harvesting all that lovely sunshine on his estate he’s building houses . . . to harvest more life-giving sunshine. His footnote in history being assured with Pentre Solar, an ambitious scheme at Glanrhyd.

But ere it started, the ‘Welsh’ Government bunged Peters £141,000 for a factory in which to manufacture sections for the houses. Since then, the ‘Welsh’ Government has loaned the Ateb Group, formerly Pembrokeshire Housing, £900,000 to buy the six houses from Peters.

Yet according to this account in the Guardian, just four of the properties, ‘have “affordable” rents and are being offered to people on Pembrokeshire county council’s housing register who have lived in the area for five years’.

So how many of these houses are for social housing, six or four?

Either way, Glen Peters has made a tidy wodge from the ‘Welsh’ Government and a factory paid for out of public funds has been added to his property portfolio. Yet his Linkedin profile boasts that he has been “Eco Entrepreneur of the Year”.

An entrepreneur (for which there is no word in Welsh, incidentally) is someone who takes risks with his own money. How the hell can anyone be an entrepreneur when he’s feather-bedded by the public purse?

The Solar Village website makes a big thing of “employing locals”, yet closer inspection reveals that these people are ‘local’ only in the sense that they’ve moved to Wales. Just like so many other schemes in the Welsh countryside, especially where environmentalism is concerned, we see Welsh public money funding social engineering.

As for Glanrhyd, it’s a hamlet on a B road some five kilometres from Cardigan. I’m not sure how good the public transport links are, but even if they’re good Ateb might have had trouble finding tenants. Seeing as the houses are now occupied I’d like to know who lives in them, how many are social tenants, and how local those people are to the area.

Worth asking because the Ateb Group is a curious beast, a Community Benefit Society that includes Mill Bay Homes Ltd. I don’t understand how a private company can shelter under the umbrella of a Community Benefit Society; but then, all sorts of things are permitted, or overlooked, in the strange world of Welsh housing associations.

For example, Mill Bay Homes is no longer a Registered Social Landlord, which is hardly surprising seeing as it builds and sells property on the open market like Wimpey and Redrow; but it has over the years borrowed millions from its publicly-funded parent company Pembrokeshire Housing which now – re-branded Ateb – is buying properties from Mill Bay!

It’s all very complicated. Deliberately so.

Does that bank of solar panels feed into the grid when demand is low? If so, who gets the money? Picture courtesy of WalesOnline. Click to enlarge

Western Solar Power has plans for more villages. Another project lined up is for Coastal Housing in sun-blest Ammanford. Where no doubt the public purse will further enrich Glen Peters and Coastal Housing will have properties that attract positive publicity in obscure publications, but they’ll be expensive to build and might not serve the purpose used to justify the public funding – affordable homes for local people.

Glen Peters is obviously on a good thing. All he has to do is keep pressing the right buttons and the money pours into his bank account. But I can’t help thinking that social housing could be delivered a lot cheaper, in places locals want to live, which is why I’m sceptical of Pentre Solar and similar projects.

Bottom line is, it might be acceptable for Glen Peters to enrich himself playing the enlightened squire, and employing his cronies – but not with our money!

BERYL’S IN PERIL!

No doubt you’re all aware that there’s a by-election campaign under way in Cydweli’s Mynydd-y-Garreg ward. In fact, there are only two wards in Cydweli; Mynydd-y-Garreg and Castle, which might make life easy for some, but for your average punter, having eight or nine community councillors for his or her ward must cause confusion.

The council is Labour controlled, with a few Independents, one Tory, one Plaid Cymru, and Ukip represented by Gary Beer of Swansea Quality Lettings Ltd. (That has a certain ring to it, no?)

Standing for Labour in Mynydd-y-Garreg is Beryl-Ann Williams. I’m told her election literature is in English only, a great disappointment to see this on the home turf of the late Ray Gravell, where 62% of the working age population speaks Welsh . . . but only 21% of retired people. Now I wonder why that is?

Beryl-Ann works in the third sector as an ‘art psychotherapist’. (No, honestly, I did not just make that up.) This psychotherapisting may be done at the Kidwelly Community Hub, which seems to serve as a publicly-funded but unofficial Labour Party clubhouse.

Beryl-Ann Williams, Lee Waters AM on the left and Nia Griffith MP on the right, with mayor Phil Thompson behind the MP.

This being the Llanelli constituency, where Plaid Cymru has self-destructed, and Tories have never been thick on the ground, her sole opponent is Independent Ronald Carl Peters-Bond, whose literature is bilingual and has a powerful message:

“Kidwelly Town Council’s focus has been on building a new office costing over £500,000, the overspend on which has now left it in serious financial difficulties. We need to stop the rot.” and “Currently over 80% of the tax you pay to Kidwelly Town Council goes on administration and keeping that shiny building.”

Can you believe that a Labour administration would waste money on such things? And overspend?

I look forward to hearing from distant Cydweli that Grav’s old stomping-ground has rejected a Labour/third sector blagger who seems to have no love for Wales and her heritage.

‘I KNOW NOTHING ABOUT IT . . . MUST BE SOMEBODY ELSE’S GOVERNMENT RESPONSIBLE’

Back in May I wrote about BikePark Wales, yet another example of Welsh assets being handed over to a bunch of strangers in order that they can enrich themselves. In this particular case it was Natural Resources Wales leasing a large area of forested land near Merthyr Tudful to a company with the absurd name of Beic Parcio Cymru Ltd operating as BikePark Wales.

Something that particularly worried me was the fact that this company felt it had the power to fine locals found on the land it was leasing, and that these fines could be collected on the spot by ‘marshalls’ (sic).

click to enlarge

A regular reader of this blog tried to get a number of politicians interested in this surely unacceptable behaviour; Labour and Plaid Cymru couldn’t be bothered and the only politician who came through was Mostyn Neil Hamilton, the Ukip AM for the Mid and West Wales Region.

Last week, in Plenary at the Assembly, Hamilton raised the issue with first minister Carwyn Jones, who professed complete ignorance. (Available here at 22:05.) Now put aside any antipathy you may have towards Ukip, or Hamilton, and consider the issue on its merits. And think about Carwyn Jones’ response.

In that irritating I’m-a-tidy-bloke-but-cleverer-than-you manner Carwyn Jones tried to laugh it off and almost seemed to suggest that Hamilton was making it up. But if what Jones said was right, then BikePark Wales is acting illegally. That being so, then surely something has now been done about it?

No. I’ve just checked the BikePark Wales website and it reads the same as it did before. Which suggests that Carwyn Jones and his management team really doesn’t care about such colonialist arrogance.

When strangers take over a country, exploit it for their own ends, when the indigenous population is elbowed aside, and when a collaborationist administration encourages and funds such behaviour, then that, my friend, can not be dressed up as ‘investment’, or disguised as an ‘economic strategy’.

It is colonialism; and to deny it is no different to the Green Party (of England) refusing to accept that Wales is a country in its own right, just an economically underdeveloped region of England or Britain.

By any criteria you care to apply Wales is a colony. What are you going to do about it?

♦ end ♦

 

Welsh Social Housing, A Broken System

My previous post dealt with offshore property company Link Holdings (Gibraltar) Ltd and housing associations leasing properties from it, though I made passing reference – just a paragraph – to another publicly funded housing association, Pembrokeshire Housing, and Mill Bay Homes, the latter a subsidiary of the former that builds houses to sell to anyone.

This brief mention was enough to send someone scampering to Hugh James, the ‘Welsh’ Government’s favourite legal firm. (Indeed, to judge by the amount of business Carwyn’s civil servants put the way of Hugh James you’d think there were no other lawyers in Wales.) And so on Friday evening I received another threatening letter from Ms Tracey Singlehurst-Ward.

It says: “You are required to remove the statement from the website and any other location (either in hard or soft copy) in which you have published it by no later than 9am on Monday 23 October 2016. (Monday is actually the 24th.) You are also required to confirm in writing by way of undertaking that the allegation will not be repeated.” Read it for yourself.

Hugh James logo

You will see that the period of grace I am allowed in which to recant left me no opportunity to seek advice from other members of Ms Singlehurst-Ward’s profession. So I have had to rely on my own counsel, which directed me to refuse capitulation but to amend the offending paragraph. If it still offends, anyone, hard luck, because that’s all you’re getting.

In many ways, Mill Bay Homes is a curious beast. To begin with, it is a Registered Social Landlord (No L124) and yet (as far as I can tell), it receives no funding from the ‘Welsh’ Government. But then, this is as it should be, for Mill Bay Homes does not build or rent social housing . . . so why is it a Registered Social Landlord?

The answer is that Mill Bay Homes ‘inherited’ its RSL number when Pembrokeshire Housing 2000 – a craft that never launched – changed its name to Mill Bay Homes in February 2012. After which Mill Bay Homes took off to become one of the leading house builders in the county, using money transferred from Pembrokeshire Housing – which of course does receive public funding.

This paragraph is directed to the ‘Welsh’ Government, more specifically, the Housing Directorate.

If Mill Bay Homes applied to become a Registered Social Landlord tomorrow you would, quite correctly, turn down the application for the obvious reason that MBH neither builds nor rents social housing. (This explains why it does not receive Social Housing Grant or other funding.) That being so, why do you allow MBH to retain the RSL number of its predecessor?’

Anomalies abound when we consider the relationship between Pembrokeshire Housing and Mill Bay Homes. We can even add Pembrokeshire County Council to the mix, for both have a close relationship with the local authority. Take, for example, this S106 agreement drawn up just before Christmas last year between MBH and the council.

The agreement deals with “four Social Rented Housing Units” and “two Intermediate Housing Units” in the Newton Heights development totalling some 55 properties at Kilgetty. Later in that document, in Schedule 4, we encounter the paragraph below.

mbh-s106

“The RSL” has to be Pembrokeshire Housing, if only because Mill Bay Homes does not receive grant funding (and wouldn’t be buying from itself). Which means that, having transferred millions of pounds to Mill Bay Homes for it to build homes for sale, Pembrokeshire Housing will then use grant funding to buy one (or more?) of those properties.

I can’t help thinking that something ‘clever’ is going on here. Maybe too clever for old Jac. Another one for the Housing Directorate? So let me frame it as a question.

‘Publicly funded Pembrokeshire Housing shuffles money to its subsidiary, Mill Bay Homes. Mill Bay Homes builds private dwellings. Now it appears that Pembrokeshire Housing buys properties from Mill Bay Homes with grant funding.

Why doesn’t Pembrokeshire Housing just build its own social housing with the money it receives from the ‘Welsh’ Government for that express purpose?’

Come to that, how many social housing units could Pembrokeshire Housing have built with the millions it’s passed to Mill Bay Homes? Is there no demand in Pembrokeshire for more social housing? If not, why is Pembrokeshire Housing still receiving grant funding?

Something is not right down west. Money goes into Pembrokeshire Housing from various sources, gets mixed up, and comes out the other end, with over £6m going to MBH (by the end of the financial year 31.03.2015).

Yet we are asked to believe that none of this money comes from grants received from the ‘Welsh’ Government. In other words, it is not public funding. Maybe the source is rents received from PH’s tenants, or money from sales of social housing. But who paid for that housing in the first place?

All of Pembrokeshire Housing’s assets and income ultimately derive from the public purse. That being so, should any of it be used to build open market housing?

As I say above, my mention of Pembrokeshire Housing and Mill Bay Homes was little more than a passing reference in a piece about Link Holdings (Gibraltar) Ltd, a company that owns a few thousand properties across southern Wales, from Llanelli eastwards, so let us return to the main dish.

I contacted the Coastal Housing Group in Swansea, one of the housing associations leasing properties from Link Holdings, but the exchange ended with the message below. Clearly, the shutters have gone up.

coastal-housing

In the hope of getting more information on the relationship between housing associations and offshore companies I tried another angle by writing to the First minister, Carwyn Jones. Within a couple of days I received this response from the Housing Directorate.

We can do naught but wait, and hope . . .

Looking at this latest threat from Hugh James I can’t help wondering who exactly triggered it. Was it really Pembrokeshire Housing and Mill Bay Homes? If so, then they were a bit slow off the mark, because the post had been up for a week before Ms Singlehurst-Ward swung into action.

Picture it, gentle reader; there I am, blogging merrily away, exposing the scandal that housing associations are dealing with property companies registered in tax havens, and that money is passing from a publicly-funded RSL to its subsidiary, for that subsidiary to build private housing, and wham! – out of a clear blue sky comes another threatening letter from Hugh James, a company that itself has grown fat off the public purse.

An unkind soul might say they’re all in it together, civil servants, RSLs, lawyers, etc, all sucking on the teat of the public purse, so why not watch each other’s backs, hang together lest they hang separately?

Which raises the possibility that certain persons know about the arrangement in Pembrokeshire, and are quite happy to fund it. And perhaps these same people also know that housing associations are dealing with companies hiding in tax havens that could be run by gangsters, and they also support this arrangement.

Because imagine the embarrassment in certain quarters if it became known that homes were being built in Pembrokeshire by a company funded by a housing association that has received tens of millions in grants from the ‘Welsh’ Government, and that some of these properties are sold to English retirees or used as holiday homes. Or that housing associations are officially encouraged to deal with faceless companies in tax havens!

This would explain why such people, instead of responding with, ‘Thank you, Jac, for drawing this to our attention, your OBE is in the pipeline, regularly set the dogs on me!

I have argued for some time that the system of publicly-funded Registered Social Landlords is unsustainable in the long run. We are, effectively, giving public money to what are in many cases unaccountable private companies. As I see it, there are three options:

1/ Cut RSLs adrift and let them support themselves by raising private funding. (After all, they are asset rich.)

2/ Return the role of social housing provision, together with the current stock, to local authorities. 

3/ Let the ‘Welsh’ Government take over the social housing stock and set up a national body along the lines of the Northern Ireland Housing Executive.

The more I learn of RSLs the more convinced I become that the existing system of social housing provision in Wales is broken. For anyone to pretend otherwise is to be wilfully blind or else defend known practises that would shock and outrage most people if they gained wider publicity than they get from my blog.

Which might be the answer to everything.

END 

Link Holdings (Gibraltar) Ltd: An Open Letter to Carwyn Jones

October 17th 2016

First Minister,

You may have read my previous post, ‘Link Holdings (Gibraltar) Ltd‘. If not, then I suggest you read it, if only to help you understand what follows.

Your government gives a great deal of public money to housing associations. These bodies are largely unregulated and, as a consequence, a law unto themselves. (One reason so many of them run into ‘difficulties’.) For example, Pembrokeshire Housing – a body that receives a great deal of money from the public purse – funds its subsidiary Mill Bay Homes in the building of private houses for sale.  

The emergence of this particular scandal is due entirely to dedicated individuals rather than to the media, politicians, or those answerable to you who claim to be overseeing the Registered Social Landlords you so lavishly fund.

Now it emerges that housing associations funded by your government are leasing – perhaps also renting – property from Link Holdings (Gibraltar) Ltd, a company that is registered in a tax haven to hide the identity of those behind it, also to escape UK regulations and of course to avoid paying UK tax.

On Sunday, the Guardian told us that Arron Banks, funder of Ukip, friend of Nigel Farage and financial backer of his recent Leave.EU campaign, also makes use of Gibraltar. (Read it here.) When I read the story bells rang because details of Banks’ Gibraltar connection seemed familiar to me.

That’s because both Link Holdings and Arron Banks use Parliament Lane Nominees as directors, and both also use STM Fidecs Management Ltd as secretaries. (Check Link Holdings’ company profile from Companies House in Gibraltar to confirm this.)

Coincidence? Probably, but the Guardian article raises the possibility that Welsh housing associations, funded and supposedly regulated by the Welsh Government, could be leasing properties from Arron Banks.

Despite the blog post I refer you to focusing on Swansea this problem is not confined to that city, or to Link Holdings. To begin with, Link Holdings owns property across southern Wales, so it’s reasonable to assume that RSLs in other areas have an arrangement with Link. Then, knowing that Link is one of many offshore companies owning property in Wales makes it equally reasonable to assume that housing associations have dealings with companies other than Link. (Read this.)

It doesn’t matter which possibility we consider, neither does your government or the housing associations involved any favours. Link Holdings (Gibraltar) Ltd could be owned by Arron Banks, or it could be owned by the Mafia, the Moonies, or money-launderers, we just don’t know.

Successive Labour administrations in the Assembly have told us they believe in ‘openness’, they’ve also reminded us how responsible they are in their handling of the public purse. You now have an opportunity to prove that these claims are more than empty rhetoric.

Unless, that is, you see nothing wrong with housing associations passing on public funding to property companies registered in tax havens. But I find that difficult to believe.

I also believe that no right-thinking Welsh politician would sanction what I have explained here, so we are entitled to know who is behind Link Holdings (Gibraltar) Ltd. We are also entitled to know if you and the housing associations involved are unable to identify who is behind this company.

Someone also needs to explain why the Welsh Government allowed publicly-funded bodies to do business with companies registered in tax havens. Before, finally, promising that such behaviour will be brought to an end.

It’s clear from the Link Holdings case, from what’s happening in Pembrokeshire, and from other evidence, that the social housing sector is in one hell of a mess. A well-funded but almost completely unregulated mess.

The answer to this problem lies in genuine reform, not in encouraging housing associations run by Labour Party members to take over faltering RSLs in order to increase Labour’s stranglehold on Welsh public life. (I am of course referring here to the recent Wales and West takeover of Cantref.)

Let me conclude by suggesting that you, First Minister, practise what your party preaches about openness and concern for the public purse by making sure that no more of our money reaches secretive companies registered in Gibraltar or any other tax haven.

END

UPDATE 18.10.2016: I have now decided to write directly to the First Minister. Here’s my letter.

Link Holdings (Gibraltar) Ltd

Regular readers of Private Eye – and perhaps those who abjure Lord Gnome’s organ – will know there is now a database available that tries to list all property in Wales and England owned by overseas registered companies. You can browse it here.

Naturally, my interest was in Wales, and so I extracted the Welsh properties from the database and these can be viewed here, grouped by local authority, and then, within each LA area, ownership is shown alphabetically.

It soon becomes clear that different companies can be found operating in different areas, some in more than one area; but one particular company stood out for the sheer number of properties it owns.

I’m referring of course to the company of the title, Link Holdings (Gibraltar) Ltd. Here’s a list of Link’s properties, again, grouped by local authority, and in date order with the most recent purchases at the top. Though you’ll see that Link also owns a few houses (and a garage!) in Colchester, Essex, which seem to be the only properties the company owns outside of Wales. I’d love to know the explanation for the Essex outlier.

Perhaps the most striking thing about the Link properties is that a great majority of the title documents, almost all, in fact, bear the same date, July 24, 2006. There are so many titles bearing this date that I think it must signify the transfer of a large property portfolio to Link Holdings (Gibraltar) Ltd on that date. Which raises the question, whose portfolio was it before Link bought it? Alternatively, it could just be a change of name. In which case, what was the previous name of Link?

Although my interest was aroused by reading the articles in Private Eye and checking out the map, what really kick-started this investigation was someone in Swansea contacting me through Facebook to say that a number of the properties listed for Link in fact belonged to a housing association, which I thought was odd.

The properties my source was referring to are in Penmaen Terrace in Mount Pleasant, three- or four-storey houses, once homes to the local bourgeoisie now broken up into self-contained flats of the kind popular with students. (The picture below shows the kind of properties I’m talking about, though not necessarily the one I shall now focus on.)

penmaen-terrace

My informant referred me to No 5, which she assured me was rented out by the Coastal Housing Group. Nearby properties were also said to be rented out by Coastal. The obvious thing to do was check with the Land Registry, where the mystery was cleared up . . . sort of.

Yes, 5 Penmaen Terrace is owned by Link Holdings (Gibraltar) Ltd, but there is a leasehold agreement with Coastal. The details can be found here in the freehold title document, and here in the leasehold title document.

Though remember that Coastal is a relatively new organisation, registered on April 1, 2008 and formed through the merger of Cymdeithas Tai Dewi Sant (1991) and the Swansea Housing Association (1978). Which means that although Coastal is named as the registered owner and proprietor (of the lease) on 04.02.1983 this must have been the Swansea Housing Association.

The two ‘Restrictions’ dated 23.04.2008 would appear to be some kind of recognition that the merger and reorganisation had taken place.

Scrolling to the end of the leasehold document, under the ‘Charges’ (loan, mortgages, etc.) heading brings us to this entry: “(04.02.1983) Proprietor: The Housing Corporation of 149 Tottenham Court, Road, London W1T 7BN.” This quango was the body that oversaw and funded housing associations between 1964 and 2008. I assume it ceased to have any authority in Wales after devolution.

An assumption that seems to be confirmed by a later entry reading: “(12.10.2000) A Deed dated 4 October 2000 made between (1) National Westminster Bank Plc (2) The National Assembly For Wales and (3) Swansea Housing Association Limited relates to priorities as between the Charges dated 12 January 1983 and 4 October 2000 referred to above as therein mentioned.”

In order to find out exactly what this meant, I contacted the ‘Welsh’ Government with a FoI. I submitted the request on Sunday, October 2, which meant that no one would have read it until Monday, then I had a phone call on the Tuesday from a Regulation Manager at the Housing Directorate! Here’s a section from the written reply that arrived a couple of days later.

link-5-penmaen-terrace-welsh-gov-deed

The answer to my question, ‘How much did the ‘Welsh’ Government chip in?’ would appear to be that the ‘Welsh’ Government put in no money but instead acts as some kind of guarantor for housing associations taking out or revising loans.

Having satisfied myself as to who owns and who leases 5 Penmaen Terrace I decided to look at another property in Swansea owned by Link Holdings (Gibraltar) Ltd, one mentioned in the freehold of 5 Penmaen Terrace, where it says, almost at the end, “(24.07.2006) Registered Charge dated 29 June 2006 affecting also other titles. NOTE: Charge reference WA99891”.

WA99891 takes us to a part of town with which I am more familiar, for this title number refers to the freehold of 379 Neath Road in Plasmarl, the neighbourhood where my father was born and raised. Once a busy road, in fact, the main road from town to Morriston, it has become something of a backwater due to the new road that now runs past the Liberty Stadium and on up to the M4.

The property on Neath Road is a just a terraced house but, again, it’s owned by Link Holdings (Gibraltar) Ltd, though unlike the one in Penmaen Terrace it belongs to those properties bought, or registered, after 24.07.2006. To be exact, 06.10.2006. Another difference is that the lessee in this instance is the Family Housing Association Wales Ltd. And the money to fund the lease came from Orchardbrook Ltd.

family-housing-association

I couldn’t get a great deal of information on Orchardbrook, for one thing, it doesn’t seem to have a website, but I did turn up minutes from a 2009 meeting of the York Housing Association, which say, “The Chair explained that Orchardbrook (a subsidiary of the Royal Bank of Scotland) took over all Housing Associations loans and the interest rate specified was high.” Suggesting that when the Housing Corporation was wound up in 2008 its assets, in the form of loans made to housing associations, were sold off.

So the Charge entered against the leasehold title of the Neath Road property in 2014 probably means that Orchardbrook ‘revised’ the terms of the loan it had inherited from the Housing Corporation.

We don’t want to get bogged down in the minutiae of Land Registry documents so to explain a little more I’ll use the Zoopla website. Link Holdings (Gibraltar) Ltd owns hundreds of properties in Swansea and many more across the south (but none west of Llanelli).

For example, Link owns many properties on relatively new developments in the Llansamlet area, in Brynteg, Ryw Blodyn, Lon Brynawel and Clos Eileen Chilcott and other streets. Using the data I’d compiled and cross-referencing with Zoopla and other property websites we find that most of these properties are leasehold.

link-clos-eileen-chilcott

Obviously I can’t check all Link’s properties, there are just too many, but I suspect the same picture will be found elsewhere: older properties – especially large ones and Houses of Multiple Occupation like those in Penmaen Terrace – are leased or rented to housing associations, with newer properties – bought as buy-to-lets – are privately leased or rented. Though I’m not ruling out that newer properties might also be leased or rented to RSLs.

Which leaves the big question – what exactly is Link Holdings (Gibraltar) Ltd, and who’s behind it? Against my better judgement – knowing I wasn’t going to learn much – I shelled out £15 for a company profile from Companies House in Gibraltar.

While the big question – ‘Who owns Link?’ – goes unanswered, the profile does advance our knowledge in other areas. It tells us, for example, that Link was incorporated in Gibraltar on September 11, 2003.

Digging around in the FCA website turned this up, which tells us that on 24.02.2006 Cymru Investments Ltd of Jersey changed its name to or merged with Link Holdings (Gibraltar) Ltd. This might explain the rush of registrations with the Land Registry a few months later, for this could be the Cymru Investments portfolio being registered under the new name.

link-fca-info-name-change

Though given that Link was Incorporated in Gibraltar in September 2003 what was it doing in the intervening period?

You’ll also see that the name Cymru Investments Ltd had only been used for a year or so, so was there a previous name? Yes there was, as this document from the Jersey Financial Services Commission tells us. From 10.09.1991 to 15.02.2003 Cymru Investments was known as Rastlebeg Investments (Jersey) Ltd, and before that, from 14.03.1974, the company went by the name of Gwalia Investments Ltd.

Something you may have picked up on is that there’s a gap of 23 months between Jersey saying the name Rastlebeg ceased to be used (15.02.2003) and the FCA telling us that the name Cymru investments was adopted (08.01.2005). Is this a typo, or was another name used in this period?

link-jfsc-name-change

In the hope of getting to the bottom of things I decided to buy the original registration document for Gwalia Investments Ltd from 14.03.1974 from the Jersey Financial Services Commission. Here it is. You’ll see that despite what we’re being told, the company was originally registered as Castlebeg Investments (Jersey) Ltd not Gwalia Investments Ltd. Yes, that’s Castlebeg not Rastlebeg – another typo? Well, no.

Because further Googling turned up this entry (below) from Hansard. Castlebeg and Rastlebeg are one and the same, so why the different spellings, was the name changed in an attempt to confuse, or is it a repeated typo?

link-castlebeg-hansard

Here’s a link to another Commons exchange from 1986 concerning Castlebeg Investments (Jersey) Ltd. The company was clearly behaving in improper and even underhand ways. There seems to have been some reluctance on the part of the then Conservative government to introduce leasehold reform. The kind of reforms recommended in the Nugee Report.

Having started the previous section by saying I didn’t want to get bogged down in the minutiae of Land Registry documents I’m now in danger of getting us bogged down in information from other sources, so I’ll just refer to a few more scraps of information before trying to pull the various threads together.

This first document, from the FCA, is the one that confirms Link Holdings (Gibraltar) Ltd as the successor to Cymru Investments Ltd of Jersey (see panel above), but there are tabs on it we have yet to explore. If we click on the ‘Principals’ tab we bring up the name of Brian D Thomas Insurance Services Ltd of Swansea. Here’s the Companies House entry.

This company goes back to May 1977 and was chugging along quite comfortably, with total assets less current liabilities of £399,517 at year end 31.03.2005. But then, this thoroughly Swansea company, soon after it gets involved with Link Holdings, is taken over by the Jelf Group of Bristol, undergoes a few name changes, is moved to Bristol, goes dormant, and is finally put out of its misery by being dissolved 07.09.2010.

Interestingly, one of the many names Brian D Thomas briefly traded as in this period was Gwalia Insurance Services. It’s strange how the name Gwalia keeps cropping up, and those of you familiar with the social housing scene will know that there’s a Gwalia Housing Group in Swansea, which recently merged with the Seren Group to create Pobl. Is there a connection?

link-brian-d-thomas-fca-gwalia

You will have noticed that the Principal Place of Business given on the FCA document for Link Holdings (Gibraltar) Ltd is, ‘Cymru Investments Ltd., Po Box 232, Jersey, Channel Islands JE4 8SF‘.

At that same address we find Cymru Management Ltd, Company Number 91117, Registered 06.09.2005. The date of Registration fits perfectly with all the moving and shaking going on, and Link Holdings in the wings waiting to take over. The Annual Return for 2016 informs us that Cymru Management has just two £1 shares issued to Mrs Deanne Mary Pascoe.

Mrs Pascoe is a woman pushing 80 and a director of GUKL Ltd, which I guess is run by another director, Paul Henry Barron Pascoe, a solicitor, who I take to be her son. The registered office is in London, and yet, if you scroll down on the ‘People’ page you come to a couple of names and addresses from the city of my dreams.

One is Zoe Teresa Brooks of Killay, and the other is James Christopher Coughlan of Llansamlet. Both served as directors for just six weeks, from 15.05.1995 until 30.06.1995. And when appointed Ms Brooks was only 18 years of age! Mr Coughlan is a builder, and had his own firm for a short time. It appears Ms Brooks did not trouble Companies House ever again.

Digging into the history of GUKL tells us that it began life in March 1990 as Cruisebase Plc, but the name was soon changed, in July 1990, to Golfads (UK) Plc, and again in October 2015 to GUKL. Would it be reasonable to assume that the current name means Golfads UK Ltd? And if so, what the hell does such a company have to do with Link Holdings (Gibraltar) Ltd?

It might be worth adding that even though a number of sources suggest Cymru Investments morphed into Link Holdings it still exists in some ethereal form, using the same number, 8431, as this Annual Return for 2016 to the Jersey authorities tells us. Five thousand £1 shares held by Link Holdings (Gibraltar) Ltd.

I feel a bit like old Gildas writing De Excidio, where he talks of having made a ‘heap’ of all he’d found, because I’ve collected a lot of information but I’m still not sure what it tells us. Anyway, let’s try to make sense of it. (And I need your help.)

We know from Hansard, quoting Ron Davies and Nicholas Edwards, that there was a leasehold company operating in the mid-1980s named Castlebeg Investments (Jersey) Ltd. This company was also and variously known as Cymru Investments (Jersey) Ltd and Gwalia Investments (Jersey) Ltd. Though the jury is out as to whether it also called itself Rastlebeg or whether this was a clerical error. As the names suggest, all these companies were based on Jersey in the Channel Islands.

This company leased both to private individuals and bodies such as housing associations. It may or may not have also rented properties. Then, after being Incorporated in Gibraltar 11.09.2003 (but, according to the FCA, still using the Jersey address of Cymru Investments Ltd) Link Holdings (Gibraltar) Ltd took over or became the latest incarnation of Gwalia/Cymru/Castlebeg. Probably confirmed with the splurge of Land Registry registrations of 24.07.2006.

It doesn’t matter how many sidetracks we follow, or from which angle we choose to approach this subject, there always seems to be a path back to Swansea. Whatever we are dealing with has its origins in or close to that city. But what is it? If Link Holdings is now a massive buy-to-let portfolio, then there is one outstanding candidate for the man behind it. I won’t name him, but everything fits.

It could even be that the Link portfolio today is an amalgam of an older leasehold business, Castlebeg, and more recent purchases by another party of newer properties, such as those in Llansamlet and other parts of Swansea which look as if they could have been bought off plan. So please look at the Private Eye map and the data I’ve compiled, what kind of properties does Link own in your area?

And yet . . . I have this nagging worry that some of the properties now owned by Link Holdings (Gibraltar) Ltd may once have belonged to social housing providers. I hope not. Equally, I hope that Link is not a social housing portfolio that has been moved offshore.

link-gibraltar

What we can be sure of is that Link Holdings (Gibraltar) Ltd is registered where it is a) to pay as little tax as possible, b) to escape the UK regulatory system, and c) to hide the identity or identities of whoever owns the company. That in itself arouses suspicion.

More worrying is that Link and other offshore companies own so much property in Wales. But worse, is that housing associations, bodies receiving hundreds of millions of pounds in public funding, are doing business with Link.

My enquiries covered just one local authority area, and I looked into only one (admittedly large) offshore property company. But I doubt if the picture will be very different in other areas and with other companies. So go through the information I’ve linked to, have a look around your area, and send me your feedback.

We are entitled to know how much Welsh public funding ends up with companies registered offshore. The ‘Welsh’ Government also needs to explain why these deals were entered into. Finally, we must have a promise that there will be no more of these deals, and that Welsh public funding will no longer enrich those who view Wales as a country to be exploited.

END

UPDATE 16.10.2016: The online Guardian today carried a piece about Arron Banks, big buddy of Nigel Farage and funder of both Ukip and the Leave.EU campaign. Unsurprisingly, Banks has accounts in many a tax haven, including Gibraltar, where Link Holdings also hides its loot.

But the connection doesn’t end there, for Banks also uses Parliament Lane Nominees Ltd as directors and STM Fidecs Management Ltd as secretaries, just like Link Holdings. (Read Link Holdings’ company profile.) Probably just coincidence, I suppose, but what if . . .

The Leaving Of London

There has been a lot of discussion on Twitter and elsewhere in recent days of a video discovered on YouTube that advises Londoners to leave the Great Wen for other cities and areas under the ‘Out of London‘ scheme. The video itself focused on a man who had used the programme to move to Swansea. So view the film first and then I shall look at a few of the issues raised by this and other recent cases that have come to my attention.

Update 19:20: Credit where it’s due. I now learn that the video was discovered by the Welsh National Rights Movement and brought to the attention of a wider audience following the launch meeting of the Swansea-Llanelli branch in Gorseinon on Saturday afternoon.

The first thing to notice is I suppose that this man almost certainly does not work. If you think about it, few people are going to give up a job in London to move to Swansea or anywhere else. Which means that this scheme is aimed at the unemployed (and the unemployable), the long-term sick and disabled, and other ‘non-productive’ elements of society. Amongst these will be many criminals and other undesirables. Just as well that the video was presented by a pleasant young lady of mixed race, rather than a white man, or else more people might see this project for what it is – social engineering.

That being so, where is the benefit to Wales in encouraging people like this to move here? Obviously they will not be contributing anything in taxes, their spending power will be limited, they will become a burden on an NHS service that in Wales is already close to complete collapse. Accepting people like this is therefore insane. Though note that the man used as the example in the video seems acceptable enough . . . but of course those who made the video wouldn’t show a problem family, or an ex-con.

The problem here, I suspect, is that the London boroughs involved in this project are linked with housing associations in Wales. Swansea has more than its fair share of growth-obsessed housing bodies run by greedy and irresponsible people with no regard for the communities in which they are based. I am in no doubt that these housing associations get paid a nice bonus for taking in Londoners – and others – who, due to the problems I’ve just mentioned, then become a liability for someone else. Basically, Wales.

At its worst, this social engineering project, this population transfer, can result in the kinds of tragedy I highlighted in my recent post, Neighbours From Hell.

You will note that the video also says that moves can be arranged through private landlords. This is important in areas where there may be responsible social housing providers or a lack of social housing provision. Something brought home to me a week or so ago in a post on Oggy Bloggy Ogwr. This particular post dealt with demographic and other changes observable in Bridgend county from the 2011 Census findings.

Nantymoel is a former mining community in the north of the county, and one of the poorest wards. Yet the 2011 Census showed a sharp rise in the percentages of both the English-born and English-identifying elements of Nantymoel’s population. Clearly, there has been an influx of English people . . . into an area with little work. Also, with very few social housing units. But cheap house prices. Other figures, such as the higher than average percentage of households with dependent children and lone parent households, suggest that the ward has seen an influx of a mostly young population from outside of Wales into private rented accommodation. Property that may even have been bought by London boroughs or English social housing providers.

While we can see the advantages in this scheme for London and other parts of England, let’s not blind ourselves to the reality that too many Welsh politicians, at both local and national level, will also support this kind of influx. For a falling population is always interpreted as a sign of political failure – as we have recently seen in Detroit – so anything that can keep up the numbers in places such as Nantymoel will be welcomed.

Something else that struck me in the video was the section showing the collaborating areas outside of Out of LondonLondon. These are listed on the right of the ‘still’ I grabbed. (Click to enlarge.) While English counties, towns andOut of London 2 cities are listed individually, for us there is just ‘Wales’. Yet the leaflet ‘Out of London’ shows Swansea and Cardiff. (Click to enlarge.) So what is the real picture; is it just our two major cities or does the scheme operate across Wales? Note also that the leaflet suggests the areas to which Londoners are being moved have a surplus of social housing. I don’t know the situation in Cardiff but there’s certainly no surplus in Swansea. If there was, why are Coastal Housing, Grwp Gwalia and the rest throwing up new properties everywhere? Or is this specifically to meet demand from London and other parts of England?

Finally – and I’m sure you’ve noticed! – this scheme for London boroughs to get shot of what they consider to be the undesirable and economically unviable does not extend to Scotland. Why? Is it due to legislation in Scotland that insists on housing providers meeting local need, not engaging in schemes profitable for them but adding an extra burden on services already buckling under the strain? If so, then we need such legislation in Wales.

P.S. This post is in a sense an update on a post from last November, The London Clearances. There I linked to a story in the Guardian, which specifically mentioned Merthyr Tydfil as one of the places where “London councils have acquired rental properties”. Note also that while last November’s Guardian story dealt with ‘homeless families’, the more recent video appeals to anyone “registered for social housing in any London borough”. That’s the new capped welfare legislation kicking in.

Regrettably there are no comments with this earlier post. This is due to Google Blogger killing my previous blog, and although I was able to salvage the posts themselves they came without the comments. That’s Google for you.