Weep for Wales 9

It’s been a while since I wrote the previous instalment in this saga, August 6th to be precise, and even though I have no earth-shattering revelations for you, it’s clear that we are moving towards a conclusion.

But for newcomers – or even even regulars who may have forgotten how we got to where we are – here are links to the previous instalments: Weep for Wales, Weep for Wales 2, Weep for Wales 3, Weep for Wales 4, Weep for Wales 5, Weep for Wales 6, Weep for Wales 7, Weep for Wales 8.

In addition to this latest post being an update on the saga, I shall also use it to give some thought to what this incredible story tells us about the state of modern Wales. Basically, how the hell did Paul and Rowena Williams and their associates get away with so much for so long?

Because irrespective of what now happens to those you’ve been reading about over the past few months there are others who have questions to answer, and I might as well do the asking, because nobody else will.

WHY DID THEY GET A FREE RIDE?

The Daily Post‘s involvement in this saga is quite extraordinary in its willingness to publish any old nonsense. I have drawn up a list of the DP’s articles on Plas Glynllifon and the other Gwynedd properties since Paul and Rowena Williams first became involved.

Starting with this article on 10 June 2016 telling us that the mystery owner of Plas Glynllifon – speaking through property company Lambert Smith Hampton (LSH) – said that the renovation would take three years, and would cost an estimated £5m.

The next article was just a few days later on 14 June 2016, and this time we were told that the old pile was to be transformed into a luxury hotel and spa with the project managed by LSH.

Just a day later, 15 June 2016, there was another report, but it was little different to the one the previous day.

The new year brought this piece on 22 February 2017 in which the Daily Post was graciously granted access, to be told by Rowena Williams, “We hope that the project will hold dear to the Prince of Wales, who enjoyed his investiture ball here and also takes a very keen interest in our heritage and historic properties such as Glynllifon. We hope that he will be an asset to the project.”

We were not informed if Carlo had been asked to cough up a few quid towards the “£5.5 to £6.5” needed for the restoration. Maybe it wasn’t needed, for a finance package had been agreed with “Together in Manchester”. And Team Williams was also “in talks with the Welsh Government about grant support”.

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On 23 May 2017 we learnt that the owners of Plas Glynllifon had enlisted the help of Lord Newborough (whose family pile Plas Glynllifon had once been), and also helping Paul Williams were “Bangor University, the Institute for the Study of Welsh Estates (at Bangor Uni), Gwynedd Archives, and other bodies”. The more the merrier!

On 28 May 2017 the Daily Post invited us to take a look inside Plas Glynllifon. The accompanying film has Rowena Williams telling us that ” . . . outside, in the exterior, we’ve got lots of, um, plans going ahead with, um, with flower and fauna . . . “, to a backdrop of nineteenth century kitsch meets suburban Wolverhampton.

There was now a gap until 26 November 2017, and an article headlined, Take a look at stunning £16m transformation of historic mansion into five star hotel”, which was a bit naughty, because Paul and Rowena Williams have not spent anything approaching £16m at Glynllifon. There was no explanation for how the cost of renovating Plas Glynllifon had increased from £5.5m-£6.5m in May to £16m in November. Brexit, I suppose.

There was yet another video, this one without the Gruesome Twosome but with weird musical accompaniment. Then there were photos, of, er, scaffolding; while inside the building, we saw a bath, an organ, statues and a four-poster bed. This article, like previous ones, drew a number of positive comments, including one from ‘MarkoMarko’, who I suspect may not be local, and may even have been an employee of the Williams gang.

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The final plug report of the year was on 4 December 2017. Now the focus switched to the Seiont Manor Hotel , lined up for a £5m expansion. This would involve, ” . . . extending the restaurant with the provision of a new lake view terrace, expansion of the existing leisure facilities to improve the changing and spa facilities and add treatment rooms, a purpose built lake side function suite with bedrooms above and luxury lodges in the grounds”.

The first article in the new year appeared on 7 February 2018 and the focus switched again, this time to a snowy Plas Brereton and Plas Tŷ Coch, which we were told Paul and Rowena Williams were buying. The obligatory video introduced ageing juvenile lead Rikki Reynolds, general manager of the Seiont Manor Hotel.

This new project included, “a 100 bedroom hotel with a pool, spa, restaurants and bars”. There was to be a seafood restaurant, and holiday cottages, with the Daily Post adding, “They (Paul and Rowena Williams) said the residential parts of the project will help with funding for other parts of this 240 job scheme and the ongoing restoration at Glynllifon and expansion of Seiont Manor in Llanrug, which they also own.”

Two hundred and forty jobs! This is bullshit piled so high that it must have blocked out the sun. But by this stage if Paul Williams had said he was Jesus Christ come to give us all another chance the Daily Post would have reported it without question . . . and of course with a video.

Just three days later, on 10 February 2018, the Daily Post returned to Plas Brereton and Plas Tŷ Coch, for which, we were told, “project proposals have come and gone”; but things were to be different this time with Paul and Rowena Williams and the boy wonder. Maybe, but the video was the same one we’d seen three days earlier. We also heard of a new player in “Developer Plas Glynllifon Group”, of which no one has seen hide nor hair since.

On 27 April 2018 a fire was reported at Plas Tŷ Coch. ‘Disgraceful’ behaviour according to Paul Williams (a man who knows a thing or two about disgraceful behaviour). The Daily Post took the opportunity to remind us that Plas Tŷ Coch would be restored (sic) into luxury period apartments with low density housing in the grounds of the mansion and the restoration of walled and formal gardens.

I’m losing track now of how many apartments, houses, lodges, are involved with the Williams’ properties. Add them to the hotels, restaurants, pools, spas, bars and God knows what else and it’s getting bloody crowded!

Did it never occur to anyone that this bloke might be a sinister kind of Walter Mitty?

On to 11 May 2018 when we were told that Paul and Rowena Williams intended to part-fund their ambitions in the north through the sale of those properties they owned in Powys and over the border. This was the £10m ‘sale’ to convicted fraudster Keith Partridge, which was about as convincing as a ‘Welsh Labour’ Party manifesto.

The cost of renovating Plas Glynllifon was now £20m, up from £5.5m to £6.5m a year earlier. Inflation on this scale is no problem if you’re fluent in bollocks, pluck figures out of thin air, and are trying to wangle grants . . .

We only had to wait one day, to 12 May 2018, for the next intriguing episode headed, “Take a look inside stunning Plas Glynllifon as restoration continues”. And we were treated to yet another video and more photos of scaffolding and further examples of Victorian interiors at their worst.

Giving us an effect that is quite overwrought and claustrophobic. I can only assume that this bedroom would be the Edgar Allan Poe Suite. Who’s that in the mirror!

Courtesy of Daily Post, click to enlarge (if you dare!)

The Daily Post went for its hat-trick with three consecutive days’ coverage on 13 May 2018, with the emphasis now shifting to the parkland and pleasure gardens around Plas Glynllifon. For the headline told us “Mansion owners in ‘advanced talks’ to take ownership of Parc Glynllifon country park”.

If this carried on it was only a matter of time before Paul Williams approached Cyngor Gwynedd with an offer they couldn’t refuse to buy the whole bloody county.

The long-awaited news of open days at Plas Glynllifon was brought to us on 6 June 2018. There was yet another video, this one confirming that a number of deliveries had been received from the local garden centre, with photos of the happy couple, scaffolding, and the Edgar Allan Poe Suite.

Weep for Wales appeared 8 June 2018.

The cobwebs were blown away when, on 9 June 2018, we were back to the bracing air of Plas Brereton on the Menai Strait, and among fresh proposals for the site was a fishing village! So if we add that to the apartments, houses, lodges and hotels, how much accommodation does that give us? How much extra accommodation does the Caernarfon area need?

We made another slight detour on 16 June 2018 as Paul Williams’ house-trained “expert in land and heritage conservation”, dragged up specially from Cornwall, tut-tutted about the state of Parc Glynllifon and suggested that it was in such a mess it should be handed over to Paul Williams at a knock-down price.

Of the accompanying photos two were of scaffolding. (They can grow on you!)

Weep for Wales 2 appeared 19 June 2018.

Weep for Wales 3 appeared 29 June 2018.

Weep for Wales 4 appeared 3 July 2018.

Weep for Wales 5 appeared 8 July 2018.

Maybe my blog was being read at the Daily Post, for the uncritical plugs stopped and the first cloud appeared in the Williams firmament with the report of 11 July 2018 headlined, “Welsh Government considering whether grant funding to mansion developers can be recouped after hotels close”, a reference to the closure of the Radnorshire Arms Hotel In Presteigne and the Knighton Hotel in the town of that name.

For all I know there might have been other articles that I’ve missed, but the 18 I’ve listed here tell an alarming tale of a gang of shysters given free access to an important source of local news. For they were allowed to say anything they wanted with nary an awkward question, let alone any journalistic digging to find out who they really were.

And it wasn’t just the Daily Post that was guilty of unquestioning plugs. There was Business News Wales on 8 March 2017. BBC Wales 27 June 2018. The Caterer 29 June 2018. The Daily Mail 1 July 2018, etc., etc.

But as the local ‘paper the Daily Post is more guilty than others of not doing its homework on these crooks. Indeed, the other news outlets may have been attracted to Glynllifon by the endless plugs they saw in the Daily Post. Seeing as they got it so wrong with Paul and Rowena Williams we have to ask if the Daily Post will identify the next shysters arriving on its patch, or will it be more free and uncritical publicity.

Because I can predict with certainty that the easy ride Paul and Rowena Williams received from the local media, the council and others, will encourage other crooks to chance their arm in Gwynedd.

Of course, I tried to post comments to the endless ‘Aren’t they wonderful!’ stories about Paul and Rowena Williams; trying to warn people, but I’m blocked from the Daily Post and WalesOnline websites.

The question for newspapers and other media outlets before repeating press releases, or running encomiums, must always be – ‘What do we really know about these people?’ And if the answer is ‘Nothing’, or ‘Very little’, then start digging!

THE FAT LADY IS WAITING IN THE WINGS

In the previous episode I told you that Leisure & Development Ltd was in the hands of receivers and the establishments involved locked, with CCTV installed. Since then I’ve heard that Paul Williams was still getting access to some of the buildings, for example, to the Knighton Hotel, either from the flat or ground floor showroom he still owns.

The latest information I have says that an offer has been made for the Radnorshire Arms by some local nobs who hope to start refurbishment work early next year. There is also interest in the Knighton Hotel and the properties in England and Cornwall, all of which might be offered for sale very soon.

In Gwynedd, things are also moving to a conclusion. For example, in the extracts you’ve just read from the Daily Post you’ll see that Plas Brereton and Plas Tŷ Coch crop up quite regularly, with ludicrous plans for fishing villages and God knows what else – but Paul and Rowena Williams never owned these properties!

They seem to have put down a deposit but never got around to paying off the balance. The deadline to complete the sale passed on Tuesday 18 September, and so, on the reasonable assumption that the balance was not paid, Paul and Rowena Williams are now left with Plas Glynllifon and the Seiont Manor Hotel, the latter run for them by drug-dependent Rikki Reynolds.

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The Daily Post couldn’t forget old habits and tried to put a positive spin on the story, as if the deal would be finalised . . . as if non-completion was a mere oversight . . . nothing to do with the money having dried up . . . the other properties being in the hands of liquidators . . . everything falling apart . . .

STOP PRESS: But, finally, on Wednesday 19 September the Daily Post was forced to submit to reality and admit that the deal had fallen through.

I now visualise Paul Williams holed up in Plas Glynllifon, something like Jean Gabin in Le Jour se Lève, chain-smoking Gauloises and ready to shoot it out with the flics receivers. (God! I must lay off the Malbec!)

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But enough of 1930s French movies and the Daily Post, what about other individuals and agencies we’ve encountered in this saga, how do their roles stand up to scrutiny?

UPDATE 21.09.2018: Today the Daily Post reported that Dyfed Powys Police had met with Powys County Council trading standards officers last week to discuss the now closed Powys hotels owned by Paul and Rowena Williams.

Paul Williams was quoted as saying, “We are unaware of any meeting allegedly held between the local authority and the police in Powys. However, we are pleased to hear that they are looking into matters as this will without doubt vindicate Rowena and I.”

The Daily Post‘s reporting was again abysmal. Just two days ago, Owen Hughes, the DP’s Business Correspondent – who has written all the puffs for Paul and Rowena Williams – told us that the deal to buy Plas Brereton and Plas Tŷ Coch had fallen through, but today he wants us to believe that they’ve “agreed the purchase” of these properties.

Can’t he remember what he’s written . . . or did somebody else write it?

Not only that, but he sticks to the Williams story about these Powys properties having been sold to convicted fraudster Keith Partridge, when everyone else knows this was just a ploy allowing them to slip away and lay the blame on somebody else.

UPDATE 22.09.2018: Daily Post reports statement from Paul Williams.

SUPPORTING CAST

Plas Glynllifon is a Grade 1 listed building. The Radnorshire Arms in Presteigne and the Knighton Hotel are both Grade II listed buildings. (Plas Brereton and Plas Tŷ Coch are also listed.) Which means that they come under the watchful eye of Cadw, or English Heritage (West) as it is more honestly known.

Cadw/EH(W) awards grants to those owning listed properties, and so, given Paul and Rowena Williams’ talent for sniffing out easy money, it would be reasonable to assume that they applied to Cadw/EH(W) for funding. And this is what I’m told happened. I’m further told that grant funding was given.

More specifically, large amounts were given to the Powys properties, enough for Williams to claim that grants had paid for the Knighton Hotel. While in Gwynedd, it’s reported that there was a dispute between Paul and Rowena Williams and Cadw/EH(W) over a grant given to Plas Glynllifon which appeared to have been diverted to the Seiont Manor Hotel.

In the hope of getting the facts I submitted a FoI request to Cadw/EH(W), but if the reply I received is to be believed then the Williams gang haven’t received a penny. Read it for yourself.

Which means that either my informants are mistaken, or else – and I hate to even consider this possibility! – Cadw/EH(W) is telling old Jac porkies!

With Paul and Rowena Williams’ empire now reduced to Plas Glynllifon and Seiont Manor it’s worth asking what roles have been played by the local council and Grŵp Llandrillo Menai which runs the adjoining Glynllifon Agricultural College.

Cyngor Gwynedd has remained tight-lipped, saying only that Plas Glynllifon is privately owned and has nothing to do with the council. Which I suppose is fair enough up to a point, but the council must have concerns when such a prominent local building is constantly changing hands between dreamers and crooks.

Grŵp Llandrillo Menai has said even less, which for me is more worrying, Because if we go back to 13 May the Daily Post was headlining a story “Mansion owners in ‘advanced talks’ to take ownership of Parc Glynllifon country park”. And the report went on, ” . . . discussions are underway with Gwynedd council and Grŵp Llandrillo Menai over taking control of parts of the vast estate grounds surrounding the mansion”.

Courtesy of Daily Post, click to enlarge

So how far did these talks progress? Were they concluded with an agreement to hand over land to Paul and Rowena Williams? In light of recent developments, how difficult would it be for Cyngor Gwynedd and Grŵp Llandrillo Menai to issue a statement assuring us that no deal was done? I suggest they owe it to us.

A name that has cropped up throughout this case is that of property company Lambert Smith Hampton, and in particular Dudley James Cross, who often seemed to act as a personal advisor to Paul and Rowena Williams, or perhaps even a partner, for at one time he was a director of Leisure & Development Ltd, the company that was ‘sold’ on 1 February to Keith Partridge, but then went tits up.

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You’ll notice that on his Linkedin profile Cross is Regional Head of LSH based in Northampton, but when he was director of Leisure & Development Ltd he was apparently resident in Wales, with his address given as Plas Glynllifon.

So what sort of a company is Lambert Smith Hampton that it gets involved with crooks like Williams and Partridge? Where is Cross now? Is his role in all this being investigated?

A LAND READY FOR THE TAKING

The deeper I dig and the more I learn about how modern Wales is run the more I realise how easy it is for crooks like Paul Williams to come waltzing in demanding this that and t’other. And demand that we pay for it!

Just recently I wrote about the new village of very expensive properties being built not far from Plas Glynllifon, apparently with the blessing and full co-operation of Cyngor Gwynedd.

Just a few miles away, at Nebo, a gang set up in a farm, and a benefit claimant threw up a seven-bedroom mansion! The police eventually raided the place. I understand this is another case from which Gwynedd’s planning department does not emerge with any credit.

All this is happening in Gwynedd, which many outside the area think of as some impregnable fortress of Welshness. The truth is its walls have been breached, and from the inside.

And yet, perversely, when I see how easy it is for people who are obviously greedy and corrupt, but none too bright, to get away with all this, then in a curious way it gives me hope.

For I see that the political machinery is old and broken, with few taking any interest in its running; the social structures that once seemed so permanent are in a state of flux; people are discontented and looking for something new; while the traditional media is discredited and dying before our eyes.

We are at a stage in the history of Wales where enough determined people, with the right message, can generate enough enthusiasm and public support to direct the political and social agenda.

Carpe Diem!

♦ end ♦

 

Wilmslow-sur-Mer

INTRODUCTION

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

Ah! happy days.

Plas Pistyll, click to enlarge

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

And so it was. . . .

THE PLANNING APPLICATIONS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE APPLICANT

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But it still doesn’t make sense.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

At this point the line went dead!

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

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

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

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

TIME TO DEFEND OURSELVES

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

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

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

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

But that is exactly what has been achieved incrementally!

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

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

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

Nothing.

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

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

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

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

♦ end ♦

 

Weep for Wales 7

The anguished cry goes up from Cemaes to Chepstow, from Talacre to Tenby – ‘Will this ever end!’ 

The short answer is, I hope it will; but for me to get back to reporting on local flower shows, and telling you what Sharon’s mother wore at the wedding before she got legless and started stripping, there will need to be action from the police and various levels of government.

And while there are encouraging signs, and a growing mountain of evidence, the Williams-Partridge gang remains at liberty.

Even so, you’re assuming that there must have been some developments otherwise I wouldn’t be writing this latest instalment, and indeed there have. Not least a tearful – if unwilling – return to the Radnorshire Arms Hotel for Paul and Rowena Williams.

For anyone joining us for the first time I strongly suggest that you get up to speed with: Weep for Wales, Weep for Wales 2, Weep for Wales 3, Weep for Wales 4, Weep for Wales 5, Weep for Wales 6.

Now read on . . .

WHAT A NUTTER!

And lo, it came to pass that on Friday July 20th Paul and Rowena Williams did return to the Radnorshire Arms Hotel in Presteigne whereto they had been summoned by Powys County Council, and the ‘Welsh’ Government; the former checking on what insults had been inflicted on this listed building and the latter ensuring that the money showered on the Gruesome Twosome for the ‘Rad’ and the Knighton Hotel had been properly spent.

Radnorshire Arms Hotel, click to enlarge

As yet, we don’t know what was said at the meeting (my Russian office is working on it), but things certainly got a bit heated when Paul Williams emerged. There were a few locals waiting for him. He approached one, and demanded, “Who are you, I’ve never seen you in here, have you ever drunk or eaten here, its people like you that forced me to close it down”.

He was clearly not in a good mood. He got particularly belligerent with this one particular local, and ended up belly-bumping him before head-butting him!

The gallery below shows a few scenes from last Friday’s tête-à-tête. Left to right: Paul and Rowena Williams, Paul Williams with the guy he nutted, two suits who arrived at the same time. Assure me they’re not working for the Williams-Partridge gang and I’ll remove them.

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From Paul Williams’ demeanour it would be reasonable to assume that the meeting with Powys County Council and the ‘Welsh’ Government did not go well, for him. Good.

Elsewhere, the Mid Wales Journal ran another piece, but the story has now been relegated to page 2. It also carried a reader’s letter pointing out the absurdity of Partridge in last week’s edition attributing the closure of the hotels to the hostility that had built up after their closure. The same arse-backwards logic employed by Paul Williams on Friday.

THE SCAM ADMITTED AND PROBLEMS PILING

Ignoring the distraction of the confrontation Paul Williams’ little outburst is interesting, and revealing, on a number of counts.

First, the man being addressed (and then nutted) was a regular drinker and diner at the Radnorshire Arms, but Paul Williams wouldn’t have known that because he was hardly ever there. I suppose when you’ve got a property empire to oversee, hotels to buy (often from yourself at ludicrous prices), and money to launder, you haven’t got much time to shoot the breeze with locals.

Second, Williams admits that he closed these establishments, so the ‘sale’ to Keith Partridge was a sham, as I always suspected. But maybe it’s worse than that because the more I think about it the more convinced I am that there was no intention to ever reopen the Radnorshire Arms or the Knighton Hotel.

The ‘sale’ to Partridge was a ploy to distract attention from Paul and Rowena Williams. And even without Paul Williams’ outburst last Friday, the evidence has always been there, staring us in the face.

Remember the letter staff received from Keith Partridge? It said: “Your employer is still the company, RRL UK Ltd” (Rural Retreats & Leisure UK Ltd). Confirmed by Rowena Williams’ letter of 28 March. (Read both here.)

Yet on 1 April the gang (acting through or in the name of Michael Jones) tried to strike off Rural Retreats & Leisure UK Ltd. So those letters to the staff should have read: ‘We’re telling you you’re  employed by RRL UK Ltd – but we’re liquidating the company. Ha, ha!’

As I’ve mentioned before, the strike-off was halted by an objection from a public-spirited individual. Yet the Companies House website makes clear that the gang still wants to strike off this company.

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Some might argue that liquidating RRL UK Ltd could be the best option. The Radnorshire, the Knighton and the other properties would then be auctioned off and might be bought by people who want them to be successful.

The flaw in this reasoning is that they might be bought at auction by another Paul Williams. For he himself has bought properties this way; one was the Fronoleu, near Dolgellau, which we looked at in the previous instalment, work started we were told in 2015, and yet it remains an empty shell.

Further evidence that Partridge is simply fronting for Paul and Rowena Williams, is that the letter from heartbroken-to-be-leaving Rowena and ‘new owner’ Partridge were almost certainly written by the same person. The clue is in the bizarre date format “01st February” appearing in both letters.

And of course, with the portfolio including the Radnorshire and the Knighton not being sold to Partridge it means that Team Williams did not receive the £10m Partridge was said to have paid them for those properties.

Yet Paul and Rowena Williams are talking of spending £20m on Plas Glynllifon and £5m or more on Plas Brereton and Plas Tŷ Coch, so where’s the money coming from?

The truth is they have no intention of completing the restoration of Plas Glynllifon. They’ll spend a little money on cosmetic effects, bring in some antiques and other fixtures, but as with so many of their ventures, from the Scottish border to Cornwall, the prize may be the land adjoining Plas Glynllifon.

Which is why I was so concerned to read, “Mansion owners in ‘advanced talks’ to take ownership of Parc Glynllifon country park”.

So I call on Cyngor Gwynedd and Grwp Llandrillo-Menai to tell us exactly what is being discussed, or has been agreed, with regard to handing over land to Paul and Rowena Williams. I can understand the silence, it’s often difficult to talk with egg on your face, but the people of Gwynedd, Powys, and the rest of Wales are entitled to know the truth.

Aerial view of the estate with Plas Glynllifon in the centre, click to enlarge.

The other element of the scam will be raising money against the asset of Plas Glynllifon. With a building that size, and the land around it, they could hope to raise many millions of pounds in mortgages and loans. And when they took it over in 2016 – fresh from their triumphs in Powys – they were also expecting a few million pounds from the ‘Welsh’ Government and/or Cyngor Gwynedd.

PAUL WILLIAMS, SOME MORE FACTS

Here are some random and often unrelated facts from a number of sources that nevertheless help to fill out the profile of Paul Williams.

  • In the previous instalment I quoted Paul Williams’ Linkedin profile (here in pdf) and his claim to have worked for eleven years for the Royal Mail, handling their property portfolio. Now I’m told this is yet more bullshit. Which raises the question, ‘What was Paul Williams doing before he emerged circa 2001 at Mortimers Cross Inn?’
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  • I mentioned the Goa connection in Weep for Wales 5, now I hear that Paul Williams’ father has a hotel there, but comes home three or four times a year. I’m also told that if you meet the father you’ll understand why the son is what he is.
  • The Badminton Club in Ebbw Vale was bought with cash. The attraction being the one-arm bandits and other gambling allowed at a private club. My source says that Paul and Rowena would travel down to Ebbw Vale regularly to empty the machines. (The income from which could be exaggerated?)
  • The Williams’ faithful lapdog Rikki Reynolds, now ‘running’ the Seiont Manor Hotel near Caernarfon, first worked for Paul and Rowena Williams at Mortimers Cross Inn. Later, either at the Knighton Hotel or the Radnorshire Arms, he was sacked for stealing some of the money that was lying around everywhere. Reinstated he is now part of the gang. Rikki is none too bright, a heavy drinker, a drug user, but loyal.
  • The Mortimers Cross Inn is also where they made the acquaintance of John Duggan the thieving accountant they have used to hide their crimes for a number of years. Can’t you just imagine the conversations Paul and John might have had of a winter evening around a roaring log fire, with Rikki swaying gently behind the bar!
  • The ‘Welsh’ Government has stated in a reply to Kirsty Williams AM that the Knighton Hotel received grants totalling £254,200 and Radnorshire Arms £225,000, but a source insists these figures are wildly inaccurate. The source is convinced that the Knighton alone received over one million pounds, and that Paul Williams used to boast that grants had paid for the place. Did the ‘Welsh’ Government focus on a single funding stream in order to mislead us?
  • For let’s not forget that even though Kirsty Williams is the local Lib Dem AM she also props up the minority Labour regime down Cardiff Bay. So she might not want to embarrass her coalition partners. Also worth remembering is that the reply she received came from Dafydd Elis Thomas, former Plaid Cymru AM, who is also helping keep Carwyn Jones and his gang afloat.
  • Fronoleu near Dolgellau was bought at auction in 2015 and paid for in cash. Over three hundred thousand pounds. A loan was then taken out against the property in 2018 with Together Commercial Finance Ltd. In the previous instalment I showed you plans that had been drawn up by an architect suggesting that work had started on Fronoleu in 2015. It was a lie, of course. Everything is a lie with Paul Williams. But worse, I’m told that this architect signs off projects funded by the ‘Welsh’ Government, saying that they have been satisfactorily completed. The architect concerned had worked for Paul Williams before Fronoleu, and possibly since.
  • But they had no intention of re-opening Fronoleu. It was just a way of laundering £300,000+. (And because it’s money laundering they’ll willingly pay over the odds.) This is how to get rid of dirty money and make more money on what you’ve bought. Money laundering also explains buying property from themselves at greatly inflated prices.
Fronoleu, click to enlarge
  • There was a delivery of new televisions to the Knighton Hotel one day, and even though hawk-eyed Paul Williams was on the premises – they were all stolen!
  • Paul Williams dismissed one member of his staff at 11pm on Christmas Eve in a telephone call from an airport where he was about to jet off for three weeks in Egypt!
  • One of his staff found a payroll file on a computer used by Paul Williams. Instead of names and numbers staff were identified by insulting descriptions of their physical appearance. I find this really weird, and disturbing.

PAUL WILLIAMS, THE MAN

Anecdotes and hard evidence continues to flow in from those who’ve had the misfortune to be involved with or work for Paul and Rowena Williams. (I used just a fraction of it in the previous section.) All of it helping to build up a character profile for Paul Williams.

To begin with, I’m convinced he’s a pathological liar for whom lies come easier than the truth. You just cannot believe a word he says. Often, he might not even realise that he’s telling lies.

When dealing with authority his strategy is to wear down the enemy by not replying to letters, e-mails and phone messages. Worryingly, this often results in the problem going away. Here’s a good example from Cornwall of how Paul Williams operates.

But if he is pinned down then he will agree to a meeting – but not turn up. Or agree to make a payment and not do so until he’s threatened with bailiffs or prosecution. With tradesmen and suppliers to whom he owes money he either ignores them or he threatens them with violence.

A number of people who’ve worked for Paul Williams tried to give him the benefit of the doubt, and attributed his lack of empathy to autism, before realising he’s just a complete cunt.

He likes to go to the limit, he likes to see how much he can get away with. It’s brinkmanship. He’s a gambler, a risk-taker. He might even get a rush from it.

He certainly enjoys cutting corners, cheating, putting one over on people, whether it’s his employees, the UK government, the ‘Welsh’ Government, local authorities, banks, tradesmen, suppliers, even taxi drivers delivering him home drunk.

I introduce the taxi driver because of a story I’ve been told about Paul, Rowena and Rikki Reynolds. A while ago a taxi delivered them to Seiont Manor and the taxi driver had to struggle to get his money because Paul Williams haggled over a £15 taxi fare!

Some might view Paul Williams as a likeable rogue for taking on public officials, banks and others, but when you learn of the little people he has hurt, humiliated and robbed, you realise he’s just a piece of shit.

APPEAL

A number of people over the years have had unhappy experiences with Paul and Rowena Williams. I’m already receiving information from many sources, but I suspect there are others who are no longer in Wales who could also provide information.

So I’d like to hear from Dan Pricop, Phil Higgerson, Mark McNicol and Paul Field. Get in touch with me at editor@jacothenorth.net. But the offer is open to anybody and everybody who will help to get this man and his associates their just desserts.

ROGUES GALLERY

The montage below shows, in the big picture, Paul Williams’ sister Debra Yvonne Oswald with her husband Stuart. Top right is Keith Partridge. Bottom right Sukhbinder Singh Heer, who is the other director of Leisure & Development Ltd along with Partridge and Williams. Quite what he brings to the party is yet to be established.

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You’ll note that Part(d)ridge and Heer became directors of Leisure & Development Ltd on 1 February 2018, which is the date Partridge is supposed to have taken over the Radnorshire Arms Hotel, the Knighton Hotel and other properties. But in both letters we’ve seen, staff are told they still work for Rural Retreats & Leisure UK Ltd, of which Partridge and Heer are not directors.

Has somebody slipped up, got confused with similarly named companies?

UPDATE 24.07.2018: There seems to have been a belated and rather clumsy attempt to resolve the anomaly of Paul Williams remaining a director of Leisure & Development Ltd following the alleged takeover by Partridge. Documents dated last Saturday (21.07.2018) but received at Companies House today (24.07.2018) tell us that Paul Williams has resigned as director. Also, that 10,000 shares in the company have been transferred from Plas Glynllifon Ltd to Partridge.

Which is just paperwork, designed to deceive. For I guarantee that no properties have been transferred from Paul and Rowena Williams to Partridge.

BOTTOM LINE

As I say, this is primarily a money laundering operation. The only question is whether Paul Williams is laundering money for others or for himself and his extended family. Maybe it’s a bit of both. We can add mortgage fraud and other crimes to the mix.

Properties are bought at auction, paid for with cash, or people in difficulty with their mortgage are ‘helped’ . . . before being elbowed out. Those properties, and nearby land, are then used to raise loans, sold to Williams companies at absurdly inflated prices, which then means they can take out more loans.

So dirty money is successfully laundered and more money is raised through loans against properties they have no real interest in, but it also means a growing mountain of debt, unless of course Together Commercial Finance Ltd is part of this scam.

Whatever the answer, if I was a business partner of Williams I’d be pissed off with him for attracting a lot of unnecessary attention. All he had to do was keep the Radnorshire Arms and the Knighton Hotel open and I would never have heard of Paul Steven Williams.

But then, I’ve described the sort of ‘fuck-’em-all‘ man he is, and because he thinks he’s smarter than everybody else, he’s become over-confident, and when you’re over-confident you make mistakes.

In Swansea, we call this hubris.

♦ end ♦

 

Weep for Wales

OUR STORY BEGINS IN PRESTEIGNE . . .

I am indebted to an anonymous source for the basis of the tale you’re about to read. I’ve contributed some supplementary digging and a number of interpretations. The original information I received was also sent to a couple of police forces, a number of media outlets, and other agencies, but I doubt if any will act on the information, so it’s up to Jac to extend his scrawny old neck, again.

Let the story begin in the pleasant little border town of Presteigne. To be even more specific, in the Radnorshire Arms Hotel, a half-timbered building dating back to the late 16th century.

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As told to me . . . this establishment was bought in 2006, or thereabouts, by a Paul Steven Williams for a price close to £400,000. It was then leased to a succession of tenants at an unreasonably high rent, with the predictable result that none of the tenants was able to make a go of it.

The last of these unfortunates seems to have been Gianni Roberto d’Aniello of Cora Berry Hotels Ltd. A company registered in January 2014 at the Radnorshire Arms, and put into the hands of Cardiff liquidators in November of that same year.

RESCUE!

But then! when all seemed lost, this by now neglected building was sold in August 2015 for the princely (and surprising) sum of £3,487,049 to Leisure and Development Ltd, a company with an address in nearby Knighton. A company Incorporated only a few months earlier on 19 January 2015.

And it wasn’t just the Radnorshire Arms that was bought by the new company, for in June and July 2015 Leisure and Development Ltd went on a spending spree and acquired seven properties, with another two added in February 2016, one of them the Beaufort Sports and Social Club in Ebbw Vale. (To see them all click on the ‘Charges’ tab of the Companies House entry I’ve just linked to.)

The founding directors of Leisure and Development Ltd were Paul Steven Williams and his wife Rowena Claire Williams. The charge referring to a loan from NatWest Bank suggests that the Radnorshire Arms had been transferred to Mrs Williams prior to the sale to Leisure and Development Ltd (see panel below).

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UPDATE 21:52: It may be worth spelling out that the Radnorshire Arms Hotel was sold by Rowena Claire Williams to Leisure and Development Ltd (Directors: Paul Steven Williams and Rowena Claire Williams) for at least twice what the property was worth. This is very odd; I mean, how can you ‘sell’ something to yourself?

Something else that struck me about Leisure and Development Ltd was the number of changes of address it saw in such a short time. Incorporated January 2015 with an address at the Knighton Hotel, Broad Street, Knighton; then in February 2016 to just over the border in Craven Arms; in February 2017 the company re-crossed the border from Craven Arms to Plas Glynllifon, Caernarfon; and finally, in April 2018, it moved back to Craven Arms.

There’ll be more on Plas Glynllifon and other properties in north Gwynedd later. They can’t be ignored because Plas Glynllifon Ltd now owns all the shares in Leisure and Development Ltd, and I’m sure you don’t need me to tell you who the directors are of Plas Glynllifon Ltd. Though they have ceased to be directors of Leisure and Development Ltd.

But the Williamses still own Leisure and Development Ltd through their ownership of Plas Glynllifon Ltd. It’s one way of operating – set up a company, then set up another company, resign from the first company but retain ownership through the second, then set up a third company, resign from the second, and so ad infinitum.

The person now nominally in charge of the Leisure and Development Ltd portfolio, named on the Companies House website as “person with significant control” from 30 April 2018, is Keith Harvey Partdridge. An interesting character, Partdridge, of whom more in a short while.

Though I suspect that spelling may be a recent affectation, if not a mis-spelling, because he has previously been known by the more usual spelling of Partridge. As in Museums (Norfolk) Ltd and Health Choice Hotels Ltd, both of which appear to be dormant.

Another example of Partridge’s business acumen, or perhaps his probity, may be found with Turnholly Ltd, owing some two hundred thousand pounds to various creditors.

SO WHO’S WHO AND HOW ARE THEY CONNECTED?

Well, we’ve met Paul Steven Williams and his wife Rowena Claire Williams, and I’ve also introduced their business partner Keith Harvey Partridge. And as I suggested, Partridge has a colourful past.

From 1992 to 1997 he owned the Midlands Motor Museum in Bridgnorth, Shropshire. But towards the end of 1999 he was jailed for stealing a Bentley Azure worth over a quarter of a million pounds. In March 2008 his home was up for sale with an asking price of £2,000,000.

But the Williamses are no paragons of good business practice either. Despite being repeatedly warned they carried on advertising the Radnorshire Arms as having AA and Visit Wales ratings, until they were eventually fined £1,250 with £4,250 costs.

(Incidentally, let me make it clear that despite the name the Williamses are not Welsh. They describe themselves as ‘English’ (not British) on documents submitted to Companies House, and I’m told that Paul Williams is a particularly unsavoury Kipper.)

Paul Steven Williams and Rowena Claire Williams. Credit: Wales News Service

In terms of companies, so far we’ve encountered Leisure and Development Ltd and Plas Glynllifon Ltd, plus some of Partridge’s solo ventures. Now it’s time to list a few others, without I hope causing too much confusion.

Paul and Rowena Williams were directors of Rural Retreats and Leisure UK Ltd, also listed among the directors was their company Leisure and Development Ltd (which bought the Radnorshire Arms Hotel). Rural Retreats and Leisure UK Ltd is now run by their associate Michael Adrian Jones, with his address given as Polvellan House in Cornwall.

On April 1 Jones – who owns all the shares since they were transferred to him from Leisure and Development Ltd – made an application for Rural Retreats and Leisure UK Ltd to be voluntarily struck off, but someone objected and the strike-off has been suspended.

I understand that Rowena Williams was outraged on finding that some scallywag had pinned the notification to the front door of the Radnorshire Arms.

A similarly named company is Rural Retreats and Development Ltd, of which Paul and Rowena Williams are both still directors. Former directors were Debra Yvonne Oswald, Paul Williams’ sister, and Polvellan Manor Ltd. There are a number of Charges against this company for loans and mortgages, including one against the Fronoleu Country Hotel at Tabor, just outside Dolgellau.

The mortgages, or more likely second mortgages, are with Together Commercial Finance Ltd, which seems to offer the commercial equivalent of pay day loans to those who find it difficult to raise money anywhere else.

click to enlarge

Turning to Partridge, since his release from prison he has formed a number of companies called Coast 2 Coast. There’s Coast 2 Coast Land Ltd, Coast 2 Coast Shores Ltd, Coast 2 Coast Developments Ltd, Coast 2 Coast Resorts Ltd, and Coast 2 Coast Care Ltd. The last of them is now dissolved but was formerly known as Coast 2 Coast Leisure, with Gwynedd directors following the change of name.

I find this last entry intriguing because it suggests an attempt by Partridge to break into the granny farming racket in Gwynedd.

WHERE WOULD WE BE WITHOUT TOURISM?

I’ve already mentioned Plas Glynllifon, but the Williamses and/or Partridge also own Seiont Manor, Plas Brereton and Plas Tŷ Coch.

Plas Glynllifon has a chequered recent history. You may recall a few years ago someone trying to market it as ‘Wynnborn’. That previous owner was Gavin Lee Woodhouse, a spiv from Yorkshire. I wrote about Woodhouse in English Tourism in the Colony of Wales and Colonial Investments. (Paul and Rowena Williams also got a mention.)

After pissing people off in Caernarfon and beyond with his insulting ‘Wynnborn’ nonsense Woodhouse seems to have sold out to the Williamses and turned his gaze south. After linking up with Bore Grylls and then – to give the project some credibility – Peter Moore, former MD of Center Parcs, he unveiled the Afan Valley Adventure Resort.

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Quite an ambitious undertaking for a man who was then six million quid in debt, but the ‘Welsh’ Government gave the trio everything they wanted – land, planning permission, infrastructure, money, you name it.

It’s impossible to know what the future holds for the four properties around Caernarfon, we can only be guided by the record of those who now own these fine old buildings. And that record is not encouraging.

A FEW WORRYING FACTS

Since April 16 the Radnorshire Arms in Presteigne has been closed. On Monday 16 April staff were told by Paul Williams that Leisure and Development Ltd – comprising seven pubs, hotels, restaurants – had been sold to Coast 2 Coast and was being ‘re-branded’.

In other words, convicted thief Keith Harvey Partridge had somehow managed to raise“more than £10 million pounds” Williams claimed the deal was worth. Partridge whose companies are either in debt or mere shells.

On Sunday April 22 Partridge appeared in person at the Radnorshire Arms to tell staff that all the company’s establishments would be closed for 6 – 8 weeks for refurbishment. Staff were being laid off but could reapply for their jobs later. Over 70 staff were affected at the various locations.

Nothing has since been done to the Radnorshire Arms, and no planning application has been submitted. The building has instead been gutted and left to decay. There are broken windows and slates have fallen into the street. This, remember, is a 16th century, Grade II listed building.

In saying that the Radnorshire Arms has been “gutted”, what I mean is that it has been stripped of everything that can be sold off. The panel below is taken from the latest accounts for Leisure & Development Ltd submitted to Companies House at the end of April. Or rather, the unaudited financial statement.

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You’ll see that between 1 February 2017 and 31 January 2018 almost seven million pounds worth of plant and machinery plus fixtures and fittings somehow slipped off the balance sheet. Leaving the companies assets confined to freehold property, in other words, mere structures, decaying structures, all of them mortgaged and re-mortgaged, and perhaps overvalued.

Earlier I mentioned Polvellan Manor in West Looe, Cornwall, now owned by Polvellan Manor Ltd. On April 1 Paul and Rowena Williams transferred the 5000 shares they each owned to Keith Partdridge. They ceased to be directors on the same day, leaving Partdridge in sole control.

Polvellan Manor is another fine building that has been gutted and left to rot by Paul Williams, Rowena Williams, Keith Partridge and the rest of the gang. Cornwall Live featured Polvellan Manor in March this year, when it was listed among, “23 derelict buildings in Cornwall at risk of disappearing forever”.  

Paul Holden, chair of the Cornish Buildings Group, told the CL reporter, “We have applied unsuccessfully to get the building listed, the rejection notice said that much of the historic interior had been lost.” I wonder where the interior could have gone? Did it just walk out the door?

The Fronoleu Country Hotel, just outside Dolgellau, is now closed, just like Polvellan Manor and the Radnorshire Arms. So is the Beaufort Sports and Social Club in Ebbw Vale. I guarantee that most if not all of the properties owned by this gang are closed. What sort of business can this be?

And here’s a thought . . . has anyone from Cyngor Gwynedd or the ‘Welsh’ Government been inside Plas Glynllifon lately?

Another thought; by stripping and neglecting these buildings the gang is almost certainly breaking the conditions of the loans and mortgages, the conditions that insist these buildings be properly maintained and looked after. Intact.

And what do the insurers think of this behaviour?

UPDATE 14.06.2018: Here are the letters received by the staff at the Radnorshire Arms Hotel and the other establishments owned by Rural Retreats and Leisure Ltd. The first from Rowena Williams of RRL and the second from Keith Partridge of Coast 2 Coast. (Here in pdf format.)

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According to these letters the deal was done 1 February, so why did it take eight weeks to inform the staff?

Note how optimistic Rowena Williams sounds, “At the moment we do not have any more information that (sic) what we have shared with you except that they (Coast 2 Coast) want to move quickly in order to be open for the summer period”.

But the Williamses have been dealing with Partridge for years, and they knew exactly what the plan was.

And as for the “summer period”, well, it’s mid June, Whitsun has come and gone, and in the northern hemisphere it is now definitely summer . . . but the Radnorshire Arms Hotel and the other establishments remain firmly closed, with no sign of them opening any time soon.

How could anyone ever trust these people?

COUNT THE SPOONS!

You’ll have noticed that Paul and Rowena Williams and their sidekick Partridge buy property almost indiscriminately, and then they just strip them to the bare bones and let the buildings deteriorate.

This is because they have no interest in actually running hotels. The racket is to buy a property, with a loan or a mortgage; announce a big investment, lots of jobs; then strip the building of anything valuable; sell it on within the gang at an inflated price (or simply transfer it); dissolve indebted companies; pull down whatever grants are available, use these grants and new loans to service old loans; while paying yourself handsomely behind this fog of deceit.

With all the debts accrued, this is a house of cards. Collapse must surely be imminent.

Consequently, to have any dealings with these people would be foolish. To give them money would be insane. And yet, this is what I’m told has happened, and probably explains why they’ve moved their operations to Wales. For it’s claimed the gang has already received hundreds of thousands of pounds from the ‘Welsh’ Government, with more in the pipeline.

I have submitted a Freedom of Information request to Visit Wales, but I have already been told that the Radnorshire Arms received a grant of £370,000, plus a smaller grant; while the Knighton Hotel (formerly Norton Hotel) received an even larger grant.

God knows how much they’re getting, or anticipate getting, from their foray into Gwynedd.

In case anyone is in doubt, let me make it absolutely clear: These people are liars, chisellers, scammers, asset-strippers, con men, crooks; so cut off all public funding immediately and demand repayment of what they have already received; insist on a thorough inspection of the buildings they ‘own’; and then refer them to the police. 

Weep for Wales that we keep attracting people like these, scavengers drawn to a fallen beast. A once noble beast brought down by a colonial system that will always favour strangers, and exploitation; a system that will never encourage native initiative lest it gives us ideas about our place in the great scheme of things.

This system, and those who promote and operate it, must be swept away. Do that and I won’t have to write about Paul and Rowena Williams, Keith Partridge, Bore Grylls, Gavin Woodhouse and the occupying army of which they are just a small detachment.

♦ end ♦

 

Respecting Snowdon

RESPECT WANTED

Tourism is a subject I’ve written about more than once, and so I think my views are pretty well known. But in case anyone’s failed to get the message . . . tourism in Wales is exploitive, tasteless, disruptive, damaging to Welsh identity and culture, destructive of our physical environment, and far too little of the wealth it generates reaches Welsh people. Tourism in Wales is one of the more obvious manifestations of colonialism.

Which is why I was encouraged to read this morning about Eryri in future being treated with “respect”. Remarkably, this is the very word I have used in my previous criticisms of the damage being done to the area by crude and exploitive tourism.

The word was used by Helen Pye, the Snowdonia National Park’s former head warden for Snowdon who is now manager of the Snowdon Partnership, a group representing various interests that has produced a draft plan for the area which invites comments. It’s a fascinating document and I urge you all to read it, and to submit your comments before Friday’s deadline.

The document tells us, for example, that Snowdon is a “national asset” . . . without stating which nation is being referred to. But as it goes on to say, ” . . . the most visited mountain in the UK.” it’s reasonable to assume that we are here discussing the mythic UKish nation.

A remarkable, and worrying, statistic may be found on page 20, which tells us that between 2013 and 2015 the percentage of first-time hill walkers attempting Yr Wyddfa doubled from 10% to 20%. Which no doubt contributes to some of the more alarming statistics found elsewhere in the report.

Page 43 bears out my criticism of tourism providing low-wage and seasonal employment, and contributing little to the overall economy of an area, with: “Tourism to Yr Wyddfa is estimated to contribute £69m of economic benefit per annum. There are low rates of full-time employment and low median wages in the Park”.

Though my spirits were briefly raised when I read, on page 48,“Invasive species are being controlled”, under the “Where do we want to be by 2030?” heading . . . only to realise that the draft was not referring to tourists.

All in all, it’s a very disappointing and unambitious document, with ‘compromise’ written through it like ‘Tenby’ through a stick of rock. Hardly surprising when we look at some of the ‘partners’: Visit Betws-y-Coed, The Outdoor Partnership, The National Trust, Beddgelert Tourism Association, Snowdonia-Active, Visit Wales, Snowdon Mountain Railway.

All of which can be grouped under the ‘Playground Wales’ umbrella. Organisations which insist that attracting unsustainable numbers of tourists, and encouraging many to settle, has no damaging consequences for Welsh identity, social cohesion, and the natural environment.

Not a lot different to tobacco companies back in the ’60s and ’70s arguing that cigarettes were not harmful to health. If you have a vested interested in denying what it is becoming clear to everyone else then that’s what you do . . . and just hope you get away with it.

TREN BACH YR WYDDFA

After writing the name I got to wondering a bit more about the Snowdon Mountain Railway, which not only owns the train to the summit but also runs the cafe close by the summit.

Reading the website one of the first things that struck me about the early days of the railway was the almost total absence of Welsh involvement. This was all happening in spite of us, or over our heads. But then, that’s colonialism; a whole nation treated as if it has learning difficulties, unable to do anything for itself.

The section below is taken from the website’s History section.

From ‘History of the Snowdon Mountain Railway’

The initial excursion in 1896 of No 1 Ladas, owned by the Snowdon Mountain Tramroad and Hotels Company Ltd, was not a great success, for the train left the track. Fortunately there was just one fatality, Ellis Griffith Roberts of Llanberis.

This episode is so wonderfully emblematic of ‘Welsh’ tourism. Not only were those making the money English, even the driver of the derailed train, William Pickles, was brought in from Yorkshire (with his nephew to serve as fireman). And as is the case 120 years later, it’s the Welsh who suffer.

The company number quoted on the website is 00042476 which, when typed into the Companies House site, takes us here. We can see that this company is based in Liverpool, and has been dormant for many years. Not only that, but since 2001 the company has got by without auditors. (You’ll note that this decision was taken at a meeting in Ripon, North Yorkshire. Perhaps in deference to Will Pickles and his nephew.)

Which means that one of Wales’ major tourism enterprises is run by an unaudited, dormant company. So who owns this outfit? Well, the answer seems to be, according to this document, that the shares – all 1,803,690 (10p shares) – are owned by Heritage Great Britain PLC of the same Liverpool address.

Heritage Great Britain plc is a holding company and we are also told that, “The Group undertakes the operation of various landmark and other day visitor attractions situated in the Isle of Wight, Cornwall, North Wales, and holiday accommodation in Scotland through a joint venture”.

So who owns Heritage Great Britain plc? According to this document, as at 5 April 2016 all 5,213,371 £1 shares are held by Cherberry Ltd. Which is where the trail almost goes dead. Because if you type ‘Cherberry Ltd’ into the Companies House website you draw a blank . . . for Cherberry was registered in May 1996 in Jersey.

Naturally – you know me, nosey bastard! – I went to the website of the Jersey Financial Services Commission to see what I could learn about Cherberry Ltd . . . which was not a lot. Other than the fact that the trail goes on to Dukla Ltd of Gibraltar, as set out in this document. The Dukla Articles of Association are dated August 2015. Having paid out £4 for the Jersey documents I was in no mood to splash out more than thirty quid a time for the Gibraltar docs.

And even if I’d bought some Gibraltar documents then I might have found that they led on to the Caymans or the British Virgin Islands. Which raises a few questions.

Hafod Eryri. All the architectural charm of a public urinal from communist East Germany

First, the Snowdon Mountain Railway Ltd leases the cafe at the summit, Hafod Eryri, from the Snowdonia National Park. This ‘visitor centre’ opened 12 June 2009 and was built at considerable cost. Given who owns it it’s safe to assume that a great deal of public funding was involved. How do those funders – probably using your money and mine – feel about this publicly-funded asset now being leased to a company based God knows where?

Second, the Snowdonia Mountain Railway ferries a few hundred thousand people between Llanberis and the summit every year. In the event of an accident, how easy would it be to hold to account a company we’ve traced to Gibraltar, a company that through yet more changes of name and ownership may ultimately be located even further afield?

Are Cyngor Gwynedd and the ‘Welsh’ Government satisfied that adequate insurance is in place to cover all eventualities? Satisfied that culpability can be apportioned and justice satisfied when the guilty party or parties may be beyond UK jurisdiction?

~~~

DRAMATIS PERSONAE

The principal characters in the Snowdon Mountain Railway, in the forms of the three current directors are, Gary Johnson, Allan James Stuart Leech and Peter Miles Johnson-Treherne; the last of whom can be founded listed on other documents as Peter Treherne or Peter Johnson-Treherne.

The same three crop up running the Snowdon Mountain Tramroad and Hotels Company Ltd (where Gary Johnson now becomes Gary Andrew Johnson). You’ll remember that this is the name of the company for which the luckless William Pickles and his nephew worked back in 1896. (Though of course they were lucky compared to poor Ellis Griffith Roberts.) So what does this company do?

In a word, nothing, for it became dormant almost from the date of its Incorporation on 22 May 2013. And as we read in the Annual Report and Accounts dated 31 January 2014, “The company is a wholly owned subsidiary of Heritage Great Britain plc which is registered in England and Wales. The ultimate parent company, Cherberry Ltd, is registered in Jersey . . . “. 

Something that puzzled me was, given the ages of the three I’ve named, and their relatively late entrances, who was running the show before they got involved? Part of the answer came from the former directors of the Snowdon Mountain Railway Ltd, for among them I found the information below.

Kevin Ronald Leech (born August 1943) is probably the father of current director Allan James Stuart Leech (born October 1972). Leech Senior’s Jersey address is the same address given for Cherberry Ltd.

UPDATE 04.07.2017: I am indebted to Simon Hillman for providing (in a comment below) more information on Kevin Leech. I suggest you read this Telegraph article from October 2002 and this Guardian piece from January 2014. This is the man who might still own the Snowdon Mountain Railway through a network of offshore companies, and the man to whom the Snowdonia National Park has leased Hafod Eryri. Cause for concern.

RESPECT HAS TO BE EARNED

The fundamental problem exposed here is one we find in other parts of Wales, and indeed, around the world. To wit: A beautiful area attracts tourists, the more tourists that come, the more degraded and less beautiful that area becomes. This combination of tourism and degradation is unavoidable.

Among those refusing to concede this universal truth we may find some denying that there is a limit to how many tourists an area can accommodate, especially when they don’t live in the area and run their businesses through offshore companies.

If Ms Pye and her Snowdon Partnership are serious about showing respect for Yr Wyddfa then the answer is simple: rather than searching for the alchemist’s stone of attracting a limitless number of tourists and expecting them to cause no harm, accept that the problem is too many tourists and start limiting the numbers.

By all means encourage responsible walkers to ascend the mountain, but for God’s sake don’t make it easy for every lazy bastard to get there on a bloody railway – and then encourage them to fill their fat faces in the cafe at the top!

So make a start by demolishing the pissoir at the peak, after all, this is owned by the Snowdonia National Park Authority and was paid for from the Welsh public purse. With the visitor centre gone there’ll be less incentive for the obese and the idle to get the train to the summit.

If money was found for the carbuncle now desecrating the skyline then money can be found to buy out the Snowdon Mountain Railway, by compulsory purchase if necessary. Once bought, the rolling stock can be flogged off and the tracks torn up to restore Yr Wyddfa to something approaching its natural state.

Anything less is simply tinkering with the problem; so if that’s what’s happening then don’t build people’s hopes up by using words like ‘respect’. Use the word that I fear already describes the Snowdon Partnership and its draft plan – fudge.

♦ end ♦

 

Odds and Sods (emphasis on the latter)

DAVIES THE DENIER

Reading the Daily Post a couple of days ago I saw that the new MP for Vale of Clwyd, Dr James Davies, campaigned hard on “the decline of Rhyl” and “the NHS”. Which got me wondering . . . how could an anti-devolution Tory possibly benefit from concentrating on these two issues?

The decline of Rhyl is attributable to the growth in cheap, overseas package holidays leading to ‘bucket and spade’ resorts like Rhyl losing their popularity. But this still need not have resulted in the town being surrendered to slum landlords and cross-border agencies to use as a dumping ground for criminals, drug addicts and other undesirables. Such people obviously put a greater strain on local health resources than those who enjoy a less ‘hectic’ lifestyle.DrJamesDavies

Another reason that the health service is under pressure is because large numbers of elderly people move – or are moved by relatives – to Wales. In the area where I live, the coastal stretch between Barmouth and Aberdyfi (including both communities), the 2011 census told us that two-thirds of the population in the 65+ age bracket (which makes up 30.1% of the total population locally) was born in England. (Click here for details.)

A third component becoming ever more apparent is the thousands of people with ‘learning difficulties’ or permanent medical conditions that are being relocated to Wales. This can be attributed to various charities, social housing providers and private landlords lured by the lucre paid by English local authorities and others to take on these vulnerable people, with the burden obviously falling on local services such as health that see none of that money. (This recent piece from Private Eye provides an insight into how councils “package up their vulnerable elderly or disabled people . . . and put them up for online tender”, which can involve moving to another area.)

Given that all these issues put strain on the Welsh NHS, especially in the Vale of Clwyd constituency, and given that all these issues are attributable to our colonial relationship with England, how could an anti-devolution Tory capitalise on them? Who or what did he blame for the problems? The EU? Little green men?

Open your mind to this unbeatable example of surrealist irony: Rhyl drug dealers and the English wrinklies of Prestatyn storming the polling booths to vote for James Davies because they’re angry – bloody angry! – at the decline of Rhyl and the state of the NHS. Only in Wales!

*

STAYING IN RHYL

The title to this section does not mean that I’m suggesting people actually stay inKevin John Norman the town (good God!) it just means that this piece is about Rhyl and, in a sense, carries on from the previous section.

I have decided to bow to public demand and compile a new photo collection for my sidebar, to be entitled ‘Residents of Rhyl’. Here’s a specimen who’s been in the news recently for “pleasuring himself” in a public place and will most definitely figure in the new album. (And to think that only last year he was a contender for the ‘Best Dressed Man in Rhyl’ crown.)

For younger readers, ‘pleasuring oneself’ is a rather archaic way of referring to masturbation. Though some sentimentalists may find it rather nice to see these terms of yesteryear being revived.

In his defence, he may have misunderstood the sign for the ‘Pleasure Beach’, perhaps thinking that the ‘Self-‘ bit had fallen off in the wind. And even if it hadn’t, Rhyl and Pleasure in the same sentence would be enough to confuse anyone.

*

A PLAGUE OF DAVIESES

Observant readers will have noticed that the three new Tory MPs elected last week are all named Davies. In addition to Jimbo (above) there was Byron in Gower and Chris in Brecon & Radnor. There was already David Davies as MP for Monmouth, and of course there’s Glyn Davies in Montgomeryshire. Which means that five out of the eleven Tory MPs elected in 2015 are named Davies. And if that wasn’t bad enough, the leader of the Conservatives in the Assembly is Andrew R T Davies! And who’s the Deputy Leader – Paul Davies!!

This is not good. I mean, having so many Tory politicians in Wales is bad for a start, but that so many of the buggers are called Davies takes us into the scary realm of premonition and plagues. For I seem to recall that there’s an obscure Nostradamus quatrain that predicts all sorts of disasters befalling the land when this happens. I’ll try to dig it out for you.

*

STAYING WITH BUGGERS

The late and unlamented George Thomas, Lord Tonypandy, is still making the news. The most recent allegation to surface is that he inappropriately touched a young man on a London to Aberystwyth train many years ago. Well, you’ve got to do something to while away the time, train journeys can be sooo boring.

OK, sorry, but it’s so easy to take the piss, a closet homosexual who gave the game away with his love of the leggings, wigs and all the other nonsense he got to wear as Speaker of the House of Commons and a peer. (Not for nothing was he known as ‘The Danny La Rue of the Rhondda’.) Then there was his truly odious fawning over young Charles Saxe-Coburg-GothaGeorge Thomas during the Investiture period. (Though I bet they never left him alone with the boy!) What’s not so funny is that this bastard was a very influential politician, who had powerful friends and allies, both within Wales and beyond.

When considering cases like Thomas we must remember that all MPs are investigated by the intelligence services. Ostensibly done as security checks this process also uncovers an individual’s likes and dislikes, peccadilloes and weaknesses. Once a weakness is identified, and the embarrassing evidence is gathered, then whoever holds that information has great power over the politician concerned. I think we can be certain that George Thomas’ liking for boys and young men would have come to the attention of such people very early in his political career.

But you mustn’t think that this is a one-sided arrangement, for the ‘victim’ in this situation does not have to worry about being publicly exposed as long as he plays ball. Also, any attempts at blackmailing him will be dealt with. Documents and files can be ‘lost’. People like George Thomas are then free to carry on abusing.

Such arrangements help explain how judges, high-ranking military men, top civil servants, MPs and others could meet regularly for orgies at which young boys were abused and even killed. It was because those involved almost certainly enjoyed the protection of a certain agency and in return did what they were told when those running this agency wanted the favour returned. A practice perhaps developed in Northern Ireland, at the infamous Kincora Boys Home, used for decades as a honey trap.

The United Kingdom is a sick, corrupt and increasingly unequal state. The sooner we get out of it the better.

 *

REVOLVING DOORS

I am indebted to ‘Stan’ of the Neath Ferret site for this latest news from within the Labour Party on the east side of Swansea Bay. Councillor Ms Cari Morgans, who represents the Tonna ward on Neath Port Talbot council, was the office manager for outgoing Neath MP Peter Hain. She is now office manager for Stephen Kinnock, the newly-elected MP for Aberavon. Seeing as we are dealing here with the Labour Party this switch in masters could only have been effected after a full and open selection process . . . a very speedy selection process indeed.

UPDATE 17.05.2015: I am now informed that jobs for new MPs’ staff should be advertised. (Read this.) This is unlikely to have been done in this case because Ms Morgans registered her interest (as Kinnock’s office manager) with Neath Port Talbot council very soon after Kinnock was elected. Which would have allowed no time for advertising the post and selecting the successful candidate after May 7th. Which suggests that any ‘selection process’ was probably completed before Stephen Kinnock was elected MP for Aberavon, or else there was no advertisement and no selection process at all. Which would almost certainly be wrong, if not illegal.

An MP’s office manager, working outside of London, is paid in the range £26,000 – £38,121. But then, I suppose it’s fair in a way that Ms Morgans gets this salary, because I doubt if Port Talbot will see any more of Stephen Kinnock than the Islwyn constituency saw of his father.

*

THE INLAND RHYL?

When I first visited Blaenau Ffestiniog back in the 1960s it was quite unnerving. ‘This can’t be north Wales’, I told myself, ‘with its rows of terraced houses and enormous slag heaps this place belongs in the Valleys’. It was my introduction to the slate-quarrying region of the north west, or what, even by that time, had become the former slate-quarrying region.

The slate industry has all but gone, Blaenau’s population has halved, while successive governments in London and Cardiff have done nothing to halt the decline. One result of that decline is thaCN Brennant Blaenau Ffestiniog now has some of the cheapest, if not the cheapest housing to found in Wales outside of the Heads of the Valleys. Cheap property – as in Rhyl – attracts buyers who have no intention of living in Blaenau themselves but are adept at finding tenants of the kind that local authorities and other agencies over the border will pay a lot of money to get rid of. ‘Out of sight, out of mind . . . and somebody else’s problem’. (So look out Heads of the Valleys!)

This week’s Cambrian News (no, I didn’t buy it) carried the latest story about a thug who’s been dumped in Blaenau Ffestiniog. Read it for yourself by clicking to enlarge the image on the right. In addition to what the report tells us Carl Martin Brennan has stabbed a local boy with a bottle, mugged an alcoholic (though not charged), and beat up his girlfriend. Not a welcome addition to any community, so how did he get to Blaenau Ffestiniog, who ‘encouraged’ him to move from Birmingham?

Last year two local men were jailed for over three years each following a vigilante attack on Brennan. Commenting after their trial Detective Sergeant Gerwyn Thomas of North Wales Police said: “I welcome the sentence and hope it will provide the victim and local community with reassurance that North Wales Police will relentlessly pursue those individuals who commit offences of this nature which fortunately are not common in the area”. Which is not how people in Blaenau see it. They want protection against Brennan, not against local lads who were doing the police’s job in protecting them.

In fact, the people of the town are becoming increasingly angry at the charmed life Brennan leads, they wonder who’s protecting him, and how he manages to stay out of prison. They also wonder what sort of system we live under when two young fathers from their community are languishing in prison while Brennan is still strutting the streets of Blaenau, bullying and intimidating people.

Before this saga causes any more misery maybe North Wales Police should start doing its job by looking out for the people it’s supposed to protect rather than baby-sitting a dangerous and violent criminal, for reasons that can only be guessed at. And maybe it’s also time for Cyngor Gwynedd to stop Blaenau turning into a housing benefit sink-hole full of relocated misfits and criminals. Perhaps the newly-elected MP might have something to say on the matter. I certainly don’t pay my council tax to keep the likes of Carl Martin Brennan in a town where no one wants him.

*

‘DON’T AFFECT US ROUND ‘ERE’

What I’ve written about Rhyl and Blaenau Ffestiniog is of course not confined to these towns, the problem of undesirables being shunted from England can be found in Colwyn Bay, Barmouth, Holyhead, Fishguard and countless other communities that have seen better days. As for the influx of elderly people this tends to take place in the more agreeable towns and the countryside, though those that move directly into retirement homes can be found anywhere.

People living elsewhere in Wales, particularly city dwellers, might take the view that this doesn’t affect them a) because they’ve already got enough of their own criminals and b) few people retire to Swansea or Cardiff. Wrong. The NHS could almost certainly be providing a better service in Cardiff, Swansea and other major centres if so much of Wales’ NHS funding was not being diverted to hospitals and services in the west, the centre and the north to treat people, many of whom weren’t even living in Wales 10 years ago. It all comes out of one pot.

Another drain on Welsh funding is housing benefit, that bonus for greedy and unscrupulous private landlords. A few figures extracted from this table I used in my recent post To Those That Have Shall Be Given – Housing Benefit! will explain the problem. Powys has a population (mid-year est. 2013) of 132,705, Conwy’s population is 115,835. Yet last year Powys paid out just £8.66m to private landlords in housing benefit while Conwy coughed up £18.11m. Why the difference? Because Conwy contains Llandudno and other coastal towns. Even starker is the difference between Monmouthshire (92,100 & £6.16m) and Denbighshire (94,510 & £17.65m). What’s the difference here? Rhyl is in Denbighshire. But the whole of Wales is paying for Rhyl and similar towns because the ‘Welsh’ Government has to give more in grants to areas being inundated with undesirables from England and this means less for other councils.

On top of which, there is the endless funding poured into Rhyl and other towns for ‘regeneration’ schemes. And those who’ve been brought over the border and dumped in some slum in Holyhead or Denbigh can then jump the housing queue ahead of locals! Which means that Registered Social Landlords such as housing associations are, in many areas, building far more new properties than the local population needs. And who pays for this? YOU DO, no matter where you might be living in Wales. Because of course the ‘Welsh’ Government gives out Social Housing Grant. In the six years 2008 to 2013 the figure was £692m.

This is colonialism of the crudest and most offensive kind. A large country dumps its criminals, its elderly and other dependent groups on a small neighbour – and then gets the neighbour to pay for all this out its own stretched resources! The dumped-on neighbour is too afraid to speak out for fear of being called ‘unwelcoming’, or ‘racist’. (Though it must be said that there are many who welcome this cross-border trafficking as an anglicising strategy; in addition, there are many doing well out of it, not least ‘Welsh’ Labour’s client class in the Third Sector.)

So while there may be a temptation to dismiss what’s being done to Rhyl, Blaenau Ffestiniog and other places as someone else’s problem, it’s not. It’s YOUR problem because it’s happening in YOUR country and one way or another YOU are paying for it, no matter where in Wales you live.

*

‘HA, HA, HA, THEY DON’T HAVE THESE IN AUCHTERMUCHTY!’

To end on a lighter note . . . or is it? Judge for yourselves. We all know that the BBC is now thoroughly discredited as an impartial conveyor of news. Its bias was plain for all to see in the Scottish referendum campaign last summer, not so much party political as thoroughly English and Unionist. Well, it was at it again this week, the culprit being Newsnight, and again, it was having a go at the SNP . . . but hoping to get away with it due to its ‘humorous’ approach.

Newsnight on Monday May 11th ran a piece about the new intake of MPs, but then concentrated entirely on the SNP contingent, and had a laugh showing them struggling with complicated things like revolving doors and ticket machines on the Tube. See it here for yourself on BBC iPlayer and start at 43:20. This strikes me as the twenty-first century equivalent of old Punch cartoons showing African chiefs with bones through their noses visiting the imperial capital and being overawed by English superiority and white man’s magic.

Newsnight SNP

Social Housing: Led up the Pendre Gardens Path

Regular followers of this blog may recall that back in 2012 (on the old Google blog, now, sadly, demised) I was able to give out some good news. Which was . . . that for properties to be built by Cymdeithas Tai Clwyd on a new development in Tywyn, “Prospective tenants must have lived and worked Tai Clwydin the area for at least five years”. I learnt this, first, from a piece in our local edition of the Cambrian News, in July (left, click to enlarge), and then it was confirmed in an e-mail I received from Tai Clwyd in September (below, ditto). These two pieces of information can only be read as saying, ‘these properties are reserved for local people’. Or, to be more specific – as Tai Clwyd was in its e-mail – a Section 106, local occupancy, restriction. (Though S106 can deal with other issues.)

Fast forward to 2014 and the word on the mean streets of Tywyn is that these properties are now to be allocated to “people from away” and “people on benefits”. In other words – welcome to Wales’ social housing allocation system: social housing either built in excess of local demand or, where there is local demand – as in Tywyn – locals being passed over in favour of people who have never been to Wales in their lives. A system I have explained more than once, and I shall do so again later in this piece.

In order to find out what has happened between the good news of 2012 and the sobering realities of colonial Wales in 2014 I decided to contact Cymdeithas Tai Clwyd . . . only to learn that it had recently merged with Cymdeithas Tai Eryri to form Grŵp Cynefin, which is “the only housing association to operate across all six north Wales counties plus north Powys”. My initial enquiries with Grŵp Cynefin (GC) drew a blank because it was denied there ever had been a S106 applying to Pendre Gardens, and therefore no guarantee could be given that locals would be offered any of the properties there. After e-mailing GC a copy of the September e-mail my query has now been passed to the Housing Manager.

In a follow-up phone call to GC I was told that it must be the fault of Cyngor Gwynedd that there was no S106. So I next checked the planning consent given by the council (because of course Tywyn is outside the Snowdonia National Park) and could find no mention of a S106. This full planning consent is dated July 23, 2012. So why did the Cambrian News run that piece telling everyone that these new dwellings were for locals only? And why was I told the same thing in September 2012 by Tai Clwyd, two months after that body had been granted the – S106-less – planning permission?

Grŵp Cynefin also referred me to Gwynedd’s Housing Options Team (GHOT), which seems to act as a link for the various social housing providers in the county while also serving as first contact for would-be tenants. The man I spoke with there was courteous and helpful, but could only point me in certain direTai Clwyd replyctions and suggest that an S106 would need to have been agreed between the council and the housing provider.

In another attempt to get answers I phoned the council’s planning department, where it took me a while to explain – or make the woman answering my call understand – that I wanted to know why something was not in an approval granted by the council. Having had my request accepted it could now be 15 days before I receive a response.

I suppose I could have waited until I got answers before writing this post, but my worry is that I’m not going to get the answers I’m after. If I had to bet on it, I’d say I’m in for a game of blame ping-pong. So I’m writing this post half-hoping it might get a better result than yet more phone calls and e-mails. Even so, the questions I would ask are these:

  1. Was it ever proposed to have a Section 106 local – 5-year residency – qualification attaching to the Pendre Gardens development?
  2. If it was, why was the proposal dropped, or the decision changed?
  3. Who authorised the change?
  4. For what reason(s) was the change made?
  5. If there was never any intention of attaching a S106 to Pendre Gardens why was everyone misled (if not lied to); why did no one from the council step in and give the correct information?

The main reason we’re in this mess is that to all intents and purposes Wales and England now operate a single, integrated social housing system. Just like one vast council, or housing association. Which means in practice that if there is a vacant property in Wales, and someone in England – anywhere in England! – has more ‘points’ than local applicants, then the English applicant could be allocated the property. Local connections count for very little. So if you are a law-abiding local, in regular employment, and have any kind of roof over your head, your chances of being allocated social housing are slim. My advice to you is start taking drugs, causing trouble and, best of all, make yourself homeless.

Of course, there will be those who argue that this is a two-way street, for Welsh people can move to England. Yeees . . . but given that England has 53 million people against our 3 million, it’s a two-way street with a bicycle travelling west to east and a 40-tonne juggernaut hurtling east to west. And I’m not just talking quantity, I’m also talking quality. For many of those being moved to Wales will be people that no self-respecting country would allow in. Here’s a selection. But bear in mind that this post I refer you to only deals with those who have made the news. The problem families, the pit bull fanciers, the casual criminals, the anti-social, the wife-beaters, the congenitally irresponsiblePendre Gardens sign, the ‘Ten-pints-and-I’m-Mike-Tyson, me’ types, the ‘breeders-for-benefit’ with their stupid, uncontrollable kids, the all-night party-holders, the fat, ugly women who think smoking ciggies keeps their weight down, these and others go unreported.

So I just cannot understand how this system that is so damaging to Wales and Welsh people has been accepted without resistance. I can only assume that housing associations are doing well out of it financially, and don’t really give a toss about the communities or the country in which they operate. Which might make sense; for Cartrefi Cymunedol Gwynedd (after taking over Gwynedd council’s housing stock) gave the maintenance contract for its properties to an English company that in turn employs sub-contractors from over the border who can only spend a short time actually working because of the distances involved travelling to and from work!

It cannot be right that someone who has never heard of Tywyn, or Tredegar, or Treaddur can qualify for social housing in these communities ahead of people who have lived there maybe all their lives. It cannot be right that Wales is used to help solve England’s housing problems. For as Gwynedd’s Common Housing Allocation Policy makes clear, “The scheme also complies with requirements of the legislation by providing priority or additional priority to: transferring tenants who will release accommodation in short supply . . . “ So if, say, Stoke-on-Trent council, or housing associations in that city, are experiencing pressure on their housing stock, then they can ask – maybe demand – that Welsh local authorities and housing associations give priority to those the Potteries would like to get rid of ‘transfer’ in order to make housing available. Some system, eh!

Change is needed. Social housing providers in Wales can no longer use the ‘Nuremburg Defence’ to implement an iniquitous system that so obviously works against Welsh interests. Social housing provision in Wales must be disentangled from that in England. A five-year residency qualification must be introduced for all social housing in Wales, with the only exceptions being genuine refugees and those who will be of benefit to Wales. Finally, those clowns down Cardiff docks need to realise that calling themselves the ‘Welsh Government’ must mean more than obeying civil servants and nodding through essentially English legislation with ‘(Wales)’ stuck in the title . . . like the Housing (Wales) Bill, and the Planning (Wales) Bill.