Finding myself at a loose end I did what I often do to ward off ennui – I delved into StatsWales, a site I recommend to anyone with a strong stomach who is free from high blood pressure or problems with their cholesterol levels.
And here’s a link to the Buyer’s Guide. In a nutshell; you need to come up with 5% deposit, 75% mortgage, and then you apply for a 20% equity loan from Help to Buy – Wales to complete the purchase of a new-build home. It’s basically a programme to stimulate the building industry.
Going through the various tables, and making comparisons, certain anomalies began to appear, anomalies which, when I gave them some thought, were rather worrying, for it was difficult to think of an acceptable or innocent explanation for some of the curious data confronting me.
Diving in . . . why have there been 1,339 completions in Newport (population 151,485, 2017 mid-year estimate) but only 326 in Cardiff (362,756, ditto)? Or why should there have been 768 completions in Flintshire (155,155) but only 205 in neighbouring Wrexham (135,571)? Moving to the south west we see that Carmarthenshire (186,452) completed 645 while in neighbouring Pembrokeshire (124,711) it was just 191, while up the road in Ceredigion (73,076) it was a measly 21!
Moving down the list, a table I found very interesting was the one dealing with house prices, which is worth spending some time on because it raises more questions about the workings of the Help to Buy system. Let me explain what I mean.
Earlier we noted that there were many more properties bought with Help to Buy in Carmarthenshire than in Pembrokeshire and Ceredigion combined. The table suggests that this may be due to most of the properties sold in Carmarthenshire being under £150,000, which would suggest that there the scheme has been used to help first-time buyers, who reassuringly made up 80% of sales, one of the highest percentages in the country. By comparison, the first-time buyer figure for Torfaen was just 59%.
The figures for Merthyr I find very strange. Without wishing to do the area down, I was surprised to see that 68% of the Help to Buy properties there were priced at over £150,000. For Carmarthenshire – where property values are higher than Merthyr – the figure was just 24%. The figure for Swansea is 25%, and for Blaenau Gwent, the other Heads of the Valleys authority, it’s 22%.
So why are people buying such expensive houses in one of the poorest areas of a poor country?
For most areas – even Merthyr – there is a tailing off as we approach the £300,000 limit, which is to be expected. Yet in the following local authority areas the top price bracket shows an increase in completions over the cheaper band preceding it: Conwy, Denbighshire, Flintshire, Wrexham, Vale of Glamorgan, Cardiff, Torfaen.
For Flintshire, the figures are striking: 99 completions in the £200,001-£225,000 bracket, 105 in the £225,001-£250,000 band, and then a leap to 150 in the top £250,001-£300,000 band. Which means that 89% of the properties bought in Flintshire using Help to Buy were priced at over £150,000.
According to the Land Registry, the average house price in Flintshire in June 2017 was £162,703 (and has since dropped). For Merthyr the figure was £98,172. The figures for all local authority areas are available here, scroll down.
In the hope of pulling everything together I decided to compile a table of my own. (Available here in pdf format.) The columns show, from the left:
The local authority.
The area’s population from the ONS’ mid-year estimate for 2017.
A breakdown of the prices of properties bought with Help to Buy (split into four bands rather than the eight supplied by StatsWales).
The total number of Help to Buy completions.
The number and percentage of first-time buyers.
The average house price for each area in June 2017, supplied by the Land Registry.
The average price paid for a Help to Buy property.
The difference between 6 and 7.
So in addition to the questions already posed, why have there been so many Help to Buy purchases in some areas and so few in others? As mentioned, the most obvious stand-out is Newport, which with 4.8% of the population accounts for 18.7% of the Help to Buy completions.
Could it be that many, or most, of the Help to Buy purchases in Newport are investments in anticipation of the expected influx of Bristol commuters? Come to that, are many of these properties being bought by Bristol buyers thinking ahead? It’s difficult to explain the Newport anomaly without bringing Bristol into the equation.
But whatever the explanation, isn’t Newport taking up a disproportionate amount of the £170m available? Is there no mechanism to ensure that all parts of the country are treated fairly?
As for Flintshire, we can reasonably assume that many of the buyers there will have come from over the border, which points up another serious shortcoming in Help to Buy.
It would be nice to think that this scheme focuses on first-time buyers, local young people buying their first home. We have the excellent example set by the three south western counties but elsewhere the picture is patchy. With 83% of Help to Buy sales in Wrecsam and Cardiff being made to first-time buyers but just 59% in Torfaen, Newport’s hinterland.
Carmarthenshire also deserves praise for the fact that 76% of the properties sold in the county with Help to Buy were priced at £175,000 or under. Which when coupled with an 80% first-time buyer figure suggests that it’s young locals being helped.
You’ll notice that in three local authorities – Vale of Glamorgan, Pembrokeshire, Monmouthshire – the average Help to Buy price is lower than the average sale price for those areas. But Monmouthshire and the Vale have the highest property values in Wales so this is nothing to worry about. While for Pembrokeshire we see that 77% of the Help to Buy properties were £175,000 or less which, when coupled with an 85% first-time buyer rate, suggest that it’s on the same righteous path as next-door Carmarthenshire.
Though I’d like an explanation for why there have been so few Help to Buy sales in Ceredigion. (And I don’t want any Cardi jokes!)
And then there’s Merthyr. I can think of no good reason why most of the properties bought there with Help to Buy were priced over £175,000 when the average house price is £98,172. And why are only 67% of them first-time buyers? Somebody’s taking the piss.
Administered properly Help to Buy could have done a lot of good. If it had been limited to first-time buyers and those who had lived in Wales for a minimum of five years. But because the impetus was to build more houses, and because the more expensive the house the bigger the profit margin, ‘anomalies’ were guaranteed.
When we look at the list of participating builders we see a long list of companies, a list that contains quite a few outfits that I bet have never laid a brick in Wales.
Going back to the ‘Welsh’ Government website, those thinking of using Help to Buy are also advised to find, in addition to a builder and a lender, an approved financial advisor and an accredited conveyancer. Clicking on the links for these brings up the same long list of professionals, and again, many of them are outside of Wales. Bristol and Chester seem popular locations. (List available here in pdf format.)
As I say, properly applied and administered Help to Buy could have helped a lot of our people, and given a boost to Welsh companies, but like most legislation that passes through Cardiff docks and then into the hands of civil servants it is intended that as much as possible of the benefits spread over the border.
And inevitably, there will be some jiggery-pokery, as alliances are forged between builders, solicitors and lenders. Other may be drawn in, such as local government officials and councillors. Also, friends and family of those involved will be ‘helped’ to apply for Help to Buy.
Standing back, looking at the big picture, one thing becomes clear. By and large, the Help to Buy programme seems to have been implemented more sensibly, more fairly, and less wastefully, in those local government areas that are not controlled by the Labour Party.
It’s been an interesting few months here at Jac o’ the North Towers, what with solicitors’ letters, getting mentioned in the London dailies, and generally pissing off those who so richly deserve it. So let’s recap.
My initial suspicion was that the spivs running Pembrokeshire Housing and Mill Bay Homes had gone to Hugh James demanding that their reputations be desullied, but after thinking about it, I wondered whether it might not have been initiated by the ‘Welsh’ Government.
Because Hugh James does very well out the public purse, having received over twenty million pounds in the past five years. Significantly, £4.34m of that was in March this year from the Housing Supply Division. (And we can assume there have been further payments in the current financial year.)
Another reason for suspecting those working for the ‘Welsh’ Labour Government is that having dealt with them for a number of years I, and others, have reluctantly concluded that they’re a bit ‘slippery’. This is because those involved with funding Registered Social Landlords (housing associations) have a vested interest in pretending everything’s hunky-dory in order to protect themselves.
Just think about it – you’re a civil servant who gives Cwmscwt Housing Association £20m to build accommodation for anticipated Mongolian refugees, fleeing mad yak disease. The sons of Genghis Khan do not materialise (yaks have calmed down), which leaves Cwmscwt Housing Association in grievous danger of going belly-up and, more importantly, embarrassing you. To avoid this calamity, you either pour in more money in a desperate attempt to save Cwmscwt Housing Association or you have it quietly taken over by another RSL, with the details forever hidden from the public gaze.
Sometimes the attempts at obfuscation are just laughable, but again, it’s a case of doing anything to avoid having to say, ‘Oops, we made a mistake’. Here’s another recent example concerning the aforementioned spivs down in Pembrokeshire and the protection given by civil servants.
In our investigations into Mill Bay Homes we (i.e. Wynne Jones, A. E. and myself) soon realised that this outfit – an Industrial and Provident Society – had filed nothing after the accounts for y/e 31.03.2013. The FCA confirmed more than once that this was the case.
Yet an e-mail I received from Simon Fowler of the ‘Welsh’ Government on July 18th declared: “We have had sight of a confirmation from the FCA that Pembrokeshire Housing and Mill Bay Homes submitted all their regulatory returns by the given deadline.” Had we got it wrong? Should I give up blogging and go back to my former career as a bingo caller?
After a few days scouring local charity shops for my purple jacket and bow tie I was saved further traipsing when, on July 21st, Wynne Jones was told by Nazmul Ahmed of the FCA (‘Supervisions – Retail and Authorisations’) that the accounts for the two missing years (2014 and 2015) had finally been received by the FCA – on June 2nd. Remember the date.
I relayed this news to Simon Fowler, who responded thus: “We are satisfied that the evidence we have seen from the FCA corroborates Pembrokeshire Housing’s story. Pembrokeshire Housing have kindly allowed us to forward you a copy of the letter of apology received from the FCA.” Here’s the ‘evidence‘.
You’ll see that it merely tells us that Pembrokeshire Housing, the parent company of Mill Bay Homes, sent two e-mails on June 8th and 15th – because given the lateness of the returns it was desperate to see them shown on the public register as quickly as possible. But nothing changes the fact that the returns were not received until June 2nd. So the returns were eventually made, 19 months late, and 7 months late.
When I suggested to Mr Fowler that his ‘evidence’ exonerating Mill Bay Homes was nothing of the sort, he replied: “We now consider the matter of closed, and will not respond to any further queries regarding PHA’s submission to the FCA.” Which is par for the course. Catch them out in a lie, or prove them wrong, and one guaranteed response will be the shutters coming down.
And if you thought that was bad . . .
To understand how far civil servants will go to avoid admitting that they, or anyone funded by them, has made a mistake, or broken the rules, then the next example I’m going to give is almost unbelievable. Breathtaking in its contempt for us, the public.
There is a scheme running now called Help to Buy, it’s a UK scheme but known here as Help to Buy – Wales. During our investigations into Mill Bay Homes we learnt that Nick Garrod, a head honcho at MBH, had built a bespoke house for a very good friend of his named Adam Uka. Not only that, but Mr Uka also availed himself of Help to Buy. All here in the title document from the Land Registry.
So A.E. wrote to those administering the Help to Buy scheme pointing out that according to their website, under the Builder Registration tab and the secondary tab FAQs, it says that builders, or ‘Providers’ – in this case Mill Bay Homes and Nick Garrod – “cannot sell to friends and family”.
More questions were asked and a great deal of side-stepping, flim-flam and bullshit came from those entrusted with administering the Help to Buy scheme, but we were assured that no rules had been broken. Which was perplexing. Because the facts seemed indisputable. (And to top it all, Adam Uka had even grabbed a bit more land after the property was completed!)
So what do you think happened next, boys and girls? Did the ‘Welsh’ Government send down to Pembrokeshire a highly-trained team of finger-waggers and tut-tutters to tell naughty Mill Bay Homes they were breaking the rules?
No. What they did was change the rules to remove the reference to ‘friends’ and change it to something much vaguer. So that it now reads:
Isn’t it reassuring to know that hundreds of millions of pounds are poured every year into social housing, that this is overseen by our wonderful civil servants, and spent by bodies like Mill Bay Homes, using public funding to build bespoke, four-bedroom, detached homes for friends of the company’s bosses?
It would be wrong to think of ‘Welsh’ Labour as being just another political party, like the Conservatives, or Plaid Cymru, because it’s so much more than that.
Having run Wales for decades the Labour Party can reasonably be compared to the old Communist Party of the Soviet Union. It controls the funding and the patronage, it makes the political appointments, and then there’s Labour’s private army in the Third Sector, which provides the party with foot soldiers, mouthpieces and candidates, and into which deposed or disgraced politicians can be absorbed.
Labour being in control of the gravy train predictably attracts those who view the party as ‘the way to get on’. This explains why ‘Welsh’ Labour has always had its Brown Envelope Faction and its Troughing Tendency.
But just as with their counterparts in the old USSR these shysters can be relied on to unquestioningly toe the party line and mouth the slogans because they are not really interested in ideology or policies. It’s all about the gravy train. In fact, from the perspective of those running the show, the brown envelope brigade is less trouble than those who might actually believe in something.
Over the decades Labour has built up a formidable system of nepotism and patronage. And whereas that influence was in many ways restricted to areas or regions where the party was strong, devolution has given us national organisations over which Labour can exercise its baleful influence, and reach those areas previously protected by their rejection of Labour at the polling booth. Devolution, which promised so much, has merely served to strengthen Labour’s stranglehold on Welsh life and, paradoxically, this has been happening while Labour’s support among the electorate dwindled.
If you want to know why support for Labour is dwindling, then consider Swansea. The party there has been wracked by in-fighting and factionalism for years, it has attracted carpet-baggers and single-issue obsessives, to the point where it has almost become a world unto itself carrying on its feuds with neither regard nor concern for the city it is supposedly running. Here’s my most recent post on this shower, Swansea Labour: The Farce Continues.
The latest news is that the Clays, a Trotsyite couple, both councillors for the Llansamlet ward, he English, she Austrian, are stepping down ahead of next May’s council elections. The word is that he – possibly both – have been offered some position by Jeremy Corbyn. Bob Clay certainly seems to be running Momentum in the city. So who’s replacing them?
One is a young woman named Jordan Elizabeth Pugh (aka Jordan Elizabeth), who graduated from Swansea University this year in Social Work. I’m told she’s a single mother, 24-years-old, and originally from the Valleys. Whether she lives in the Llansamlet ward is not known, but even if she does, she can hardly know it well.
The other replacement is Mo Sykes, of whom I have written more than once. (Here, here and here.) Two years ago she left her job with the YMCA in rather mysterious circumstances. Many thought there’d be a court case, but apparently not. Sykes is from the Six Counties, and so she’s another with minimal knowledge of the city.
But that’s not the point, because Sykes and Pugh, ‘Len’ Summers in the Uplands, the student-councillors, the Clays and all the others are not there to serve Swansea – they’re there to keep Labour in power! But as Labour’s support evaporates, and the party gets more desperate, Labour’s representatives take on the appearance of a freak show.
As with similar regimes, ‘Welsh’ Labour must have control of the media, and in Wales this is just so easy.
UPDATE 06.10.2016: I am now informed that, following her appointment as a social worker in the city, Jordan Elizabeth Pugh will not be standing for the council next year. So Labour found her a job by another route.
It goes without saying that the BBC, the state broadcaster, is a disseminator of all things British and – outside the sphere of sport – regards Welshness as a subordinate or regional identity. To understand how bad BBC Wales has become just think Jason ‘Jase’ Mohammad.
As for ITV, I can only repeat what I wrote in Wales Colony of England, last November: “ITV Wales continues to plod along, a curate’s egg of a channel ranging from the engaging Adrian Masters to reporters and newsreaders who look and sound as if they’d have trouble locating Aberystwyth if they were dropped on top of Constitution Hill”.
The immediate threat to S4C seems to have passed, but with the language’s heartlands being destroyed and no one defending them the language and S4C are doomed. A glorious colonialist irony at work here: those with access to the means of exposing and combating the destruction of the Welsh language are funded by the same power that directs the destruction.
In radio, for Radio Cymru read S4C. Radio Wales is Radio West Britain, which leaves only ‘local radio’, most of the output being about as local to Wales as it is to East Anglia.
If that’s not bad enough, then the print media is a true disaster area. We have just a few daily newspapers, most of them very local in their circulation. The biggest-selling Welsh-based newspaper is the South Wales Evening Post, covering the Swansea region. The others are the South Wales Echo (Cardiff and the central valleys), South Wales Argus (Newport and the Gwent valleys), the Wrecsam (or Chester) edition of the Leader, and the Daily Post, a morning ‘paper covering northern and central parts of the country.
The only newspaper available all over the country (if you can find it) is the Western Mail. Now I’ve said a lot about this rag down the years, I’ve referred to it as ‘The Wasting Mule’, ‘Llais y Sais’ (voice of the English). Much of my criticism has been almost good-natured but I now believe we’ve passed that stage, and the time has come to view it for the malevolent influence on Welsh life it really is.
There have been worrying incidents in recent years that have seen the Western Mail go out of its way to defend the Labour Party, or attack Labour’s critics (including me), and one of the worst incidents came to light very recently, and concerned that scion of a famous Labour House, Stephen Kinnock.
The bottom line is that Stephen Kinnock was selected as the Labour candidate for Aberavon in March 2014 by 106 votes to 105 because he withheld the truth about his daughter’s private education at Atlantic College. By deliberately asking the wrong questions, Martin Shipton of Llais y Sais was complicit in that deception.
This trickery was almost certainly done to please those multi-pensioned socialists and party legends, Baron Kinnock of Bedwelly and Baroness Kinnock of Holyhead.
If ‘Welsh’ Labour can be compared to the Communist Party of the Soviet Union then the Western Mail is surely its Pravda.
HOW FAR DOES THE INFLUENCE SPREAD?
I’ll finish with another example of how vindictive ‘Welsh’ Labour can be . . . though this case throws up deeply concerning possibilities. I shall have to tread carefully.
Back in April I wrote about the intriguing case of Carolyn Harris, the Labour MP for Swansea East and her reported assault on Jenny Lee Clark, in November 2014. The case made the London dailies, here’s the Sun‘s account of the incident, here it is in the Telegraph, the Daily Mail, and, finally, Wales Online.
Note that the London ‘papers came out with the story on March 7. Unable to ignore it the Western Mail ran it a day later – but with a totally different slant. It is now less about an assault, or a hate crime, and more an allegation against the victim of the assault. And who wrote this piece – why! it’s Martin Shipton again.
Without I hope complicating this story too much, here’s the background. The (alleged) assault took place on 24 November 2014, when Clark and Harris were both working for the MP for Swansea East, Siân James. In May 2015 Harris succeeded James as MP. But the incident wasn’t reported to the police until 27 January 2016. The following day Lee was dismissed by Harris.
The police did not pursue the assault complaint because it was made outside the six-month time limit for common assault allegations. Or rather, no prosecution took place due to someone’s decision to class the incident as common assault. A more serious charge could have been laid and the six-month time limit would not have applied.
A charge of fraudulently increasing her salary then appeared against Jenny Lee Clarke. This offence is alleged to have been committed in August 2015, but no one heard of it until March 2016, when ITV phoned Carolyn Harris MP about the assault on Lee.
What is more worrying than Swansea Labour Party in-fighting is the possible role of the police. For example . . . Just after posting Swansea Labour: The Farce Continues, I e-mailed Jenny Lee Clarke to check on something.
Her reply, timed at 01:52 on July 24, said: “I’ve also still not had 1 phone call nor a visit from anyone remotely related to south wales police +their so called investigation against me. 6months +nothing.”
But then, in an another e-mail, timed at 17:55, she wrote: “How coincidental now I’ve just been contacted by Bethan Bartlett who is on her way 2 pick me up 4 questioning.” (Bethan Bartlett is a police officer.)
Jenny Lee Clarke was taken to Swansea Central police station, interrogated for an hour and, despite having gone voluntarily, was kept in the cells for five hours, getting home at 01:30 and is now on bail until September 19.
Which strikes me as a rather crude attempt at intimidating a middle-aged woman with little experience of dealing with the police, and none of being banged up. Or maybe the message was for somebody else.
It was obviously pure coincidence that Jenny Lee Clarke was whisked downtown after I had been in touch with her for the first time in months. I mean, no one’s reading my e-mails, are they?
A coincidence, just like four solicitors’ letters arriving in a matter of days . . . none before, none since.
‘Welsh’ Labour corrupts everything it comes into contact with because it is a totalitarian party that must hang on to power at all costs. Power for its own sake, rather than exercising power for the public good.
Internally, Labour is a party held together – if that’s the right word! – by bullying and harassment, misogyny and anti-Semitism, nepotism and favouritism, plus all manner of corruption.
The price the party pays is in falling support at the ballot box and failing to recruit, or hold on to, decent representatives. The latest example came a few days ago in Cardiff, where councillor Gretta Marshall left “vicious” and “divided” Labour to join Plaid Cymru.
The price Wales pays is inefficiency and corruption resulting in deprivation. Money is squandered on white elephants by civil servants and Third Sector apparatchiks who are above the law, given free rein by ‘Welsh’ Labour politicians who are too busy engaging in feuds, or fighting each other on the greasy pole.
Thankfully, all is not doom and gloom. The Labour Party is splitting, and cannot survive in its present form. Before long, and for the first time in almost a century, we shall be able to breathe the clean air of a Wales no longer dominated by Labour.
Late in the afternoon of Tuesday May 31st I received an e-mail from Tracey Singlehurst-Ward of Hugh James Legal in Cardiff. Ms Singlehurst-Ward was of the opinion that I’d been a naughty boy for saying things about her clients, Pembrokeshire Housing and its ‘subsidiary’ Mill Bay Homes. I of course responded.
Ms Singlehurst-Ward’s letter threatened me with a deadline of 4pm on June 3rd, just three days away. If I had not drastically re-written the offending posts by that time then all manner of unpleasant things would befall me. Being a reasonable man, I offered the compromise of taking down the offending pieces by June 10th, by when I would have published a ‘clarification’ post. Having heard nothing from Ms Singlehurst-Ward by the afternoon of June 2nd I thought I’d better get in touch again, to see if my offer had been accepted.
Finding that my offer had been rejected I had to accept that I was in a somewhat tricky position, and so I decided upon a tactical withdrawal by taking down the offending pieces rather than redacting the offending passages and making them unintelligible.
For there were things I’d written that could be misinterpreted, some of what I’d written might have been wrong (usually due to misinformation, often from official sources). And then Ms Singleton-Ward had produced a litany of earth-shattering inaccuracies such as someone described as a ‘former councillor’ by Pembrokeshire Housing not having been a councillor in Pembrokeshire, as I had reasonably assumed, and stated.
There followed a third round of correspondence between us and, hopefully, that’s the end of it, otherwise we’ll have enough material for an epistolary novel. But wait! – Ms Singlehurst-Ward and her clients haven’t read this post yet!
It seemed fairly obvious from the initial salvo that someone had gone to Ms Singlehurst-Ward with a dossier of posts from my blog. This was, basically, what she sent me; screen shots from my blog topped and tailed with her listing my heinous crimes. It probably didn’t take her long to put together.
But seeing as this assault on me is being funded out of the Welsh public purse, and seeing as Ms Singlehurst-Ward charges £260 an hour, maybe we should be thankful she hasn’t been asked to do too much work.
WHERE I’M COMING FROM
In this blog, which has been running since January 2013 (and in the blog that preceded it on the Google platform), I have consistently criticised the Labour Party and the cronyism and nepotism associated with it; a system of patronage that has seen billions of pounds of public money wasted, a system that does so much to condemn Wales to relative poverty.
One of the great weaknesses of this system is that there is no effective oversight or monitoring of the bodies receiving large amounts of public funding. Much is left to self-evaluation and self-regulation, an approach that served the public interest so well with MPs, newspapers, banks, etc. On the other hand, one of the system’s strengths, certainly from the perspective of the Labour Party, is that it helps spread Labour’s influence.
Because if a Labour regime in Cardiff ultimately controls the purse strings of a body in an area where the Labour Party is weak, then a passive ‘loyalty’ of the not-biting-the-hand-that-feeds-you variety can be assured. Which is rewarded with the ‘light touch’ regulation referred to in the previous paragraph.
Another reason this system flourishes is due to the lack of an effective political opposition. Plaid Cymru occasionally threatens to hold Labour to account but invariably falls into line because too many in that party still view Labour as comrades in arms against the real enemy of the Tories, or the here-today-gone-tomorrow ‘threat’ of UKIP.
But beyond that, Plaid Cymru is fundamentally weak. Even in the dictatorship that is Carmarthenshire Plaid Cymru, the larger party in the ruling coalition, refuses to oust, or even curb, Mark James, which tells us that the chances of Plaid Cymru seriously threatening Labour’s entrenched hegemony in Wales are close to zero.
Another factor that allows Labour to chug on unworried by criticism is that Wales has no media to talk of, virtually nothing that is not owned or controlled from outside of Wales. What masquerades as our ‘national newspaper’ exists to promote Cardiff, to donate page after page to the Welsh Rugby Union and, despite having a readership plummeting towards man and dog proportions, is kept financially afloat by official announcements, legal notices and advertisements paid for by – the ‘Welsh’ Labour Government.
And yet, despite having no real opposition, and with no media to hold it to account, Labour is still losing its grip on Wales. Perhaps it’s an example of the old adage ‘You can’t fool all of the people all of the time’; but whatever the reason, Labour gained just a third of the vote in last month’s Assembly elections.
Wales in 2016 lives under a corrupt political system that generates little wealth and is over-reliant on hand-outs; but these hand-outs, rather than being used for the purposes the money was given – education and training, building of infrastructure, encouragement of twenty-first-century businesses – are instead used to build up a network beholden to those doling out the money.
Which results in Wales today having more in common with the developing world than with Western Europe. In a couple of weeks we’ll be voting on whether to stay in the EU, maybe we should be voting on whether or not to join the African Union.
The issues arise when we consider Pembrokeshire Housing’s subsidiary, Mill Bay Homes, and to appreciate my concerns we need to go back a bit. In 1998 Pembrokeshire Housing formed a subsidiary called Pembrokeshire Housing Two Thousand Ltd, the sort of name popular at the time as we prepared for the Millennium.
Though it does perhaps raise the question of how a company that had never traded came into possession of any assets.
The nature of Mill Bay Homes
So what is Mill Bay Homes, why was it set up and what does it do? Apparently it was set up to do exactly what PH2000 Ltd never got round to doing: “undertake trading activity outside the charitable objectives of parent association”. In that case, why change the name?
The home page of the Mill Bay Homes website spells out quite clearly what it thinks it does, it seems to be all about that overworked word, ‘lifestyle’:
Elsewhere the website tells us, under the ‘Purchasers’ tab, that Mill Bay Homes seeks ‘First Time Buyers’, ‘Moving Up Buyers’, ‘Retirement Buyers’ and ‘Investment Buyers’. So that’s downsizers and upsizers catered for.
The first, and only, returns that I can find for Mill Bay Homes are those for 2012 / 2013, made to the Financial Conduct Authority. It will be seen that Mill Bay Homes has assets of over £300,000, of which £294,390 is “Work in progress”, presumably the development of 11 properties at Letterston, helped with a “Loan from parent company” of £245,000. This seems to be the only sizeable debt – but enough to build eleven new houses?
In the now removed posts I made the mistake of suggesting that Mill Bay Homes was not a Registered Social Landlord because I couldn’t find it on the ‘Welsh’ Government’s website where RSLs are listed. That was because the website did not include subsidiaries. I am happy to clear that up and direct you to the relevant page.
This registration, and the very number, L124, were inherited from Pembrokeshire Housing 2000 Ltd, which some might argue legitimises Mill Bay Homes as a RSL, being nothing more than PH2000 Ltd after a name change. Whereas others might say, ‘Ah, but Pembrokeshire Housing Two Thousand Ltd never traded, consequently there was neither need nor opportunity to challenge its right to be a RSL’. Others, that is, not necessarily me.
Because I’m sure that some people reading this article are wondering whether Mill Bay Homes – which to all intents and purposes is a private house builder – should be a Registered Social Landlord. A question motivated by nothing more than curiosity and a wish to see everything ship-shape.
So let me suggest that the ‘Welsh’ Government clears this matter up. All it needs to say is:
‘We are perfectly happy for Mill Bay Homes to remain a Registered Social Landlord while selling four-bedroom, detached properties, and building other dwellings that target buy-to-let investors and retirees from England’.
What could be easier than that, just to set the record straight?
Financial Conduct Authority
A similar problem presents itself with Mill Bay Homes status via-à-vis the Financial Conduct Authority, where – I am given understand – Mill Bay Homes is registered as an Industrial & Provident Society. And yet, things are not clear-cut.
I can’t help wondering if this conundrum might have something to do with the Co-operative and Community Benefits Societies Act 2014. This new legislation seems to suggests that Industrial and Provident Societies are now a thing of the past – replaced by ‘registered societies’ – though the label may be retained by an I&PS in existence when the Act came into force.
Where I’m really confused – and here perhaps Ms Singlehurst-Ward or one of her colleagues can help – is by the information contained in the panel below. Under the new legislation is Mill Bay Homes is ‘”bona fide” co-operative’ or a ‘for the benefit of the community’ organisation?
I’m genuinely confused, so I shall write to the FCA asking for clarification of Mill Bay Homes’ status. I’m sure officials at Mill Bay Homes have already written to the FCA, demanding an explanation as to why two years’ returns fail to show on the FCA website.
My confusion is not helped by Ms Singlehurst-Ward being unable to provide any evidence of the FCA receiving those submissions beyond an unspecific automated response. And while the Mill Bay Homes return for y/e 31.03.2014 is in the name of Mill Bay Homes alone, for y/e 31.03.2015 the return was made for MBH by Pembrokeshire Housing.
Is the difference in procedure between end of March 2014 and end of March 2015 somehow linked with the new legislation that came into force on August 1st 2014?
Help to Buy – Wales
In the posts now committed to the Outer Darkness I wrote of the Help to Buy – Wales scheme, and Mill Bay’s involvement. Specifically, I drew attention to the fact that one of the beneficiaries of HtB on the Pentlepoir development, Adam Karl Uka, is a close personal friend of Nick Garrod, Land and Construction Manager for Mill Bay Homes.
Ms Singlehurst-Ward had this to say: “For the avoidance of doubt the connection between our client’s employee (Garrod) and Mr Uka could not have had any impact upon the latter’s application to the Help to Buy scheme because our client does not administer that funding”.
So there you have it. Being buddies with the builder is unconnected with being allowed to buy the most desirable property on the development, a property offering access to Help to Buy, and one that, furthermore, was extensively modified to Uka’s personal specifications.
UPDATE 21:26 (see image, click to enlarge)
There were quite a number of other Help to Buy properties at the Pentlepoir development. Many more than at all Mill Bay Homes’ other developments combined.
This talk of Pentlepoir brings us to an issue covered in one of my now lost posts that clearly annoyed Ms Singlehurst-Ward’s clients. I’m referring to my claim that Mill Bay Homes were, in the specific example I used, ‘Neighbours from Hell’. So let me explain why I used that emotive term.
‘Neighbours from Hell’
The property bought by Adam Karl Uka underwent considerable modifications, and these changes caused a lot of anguish and no little suffering to the family most directly affected.
Before going into details of their plight let me clear up the issue of planning permission, for Ms Singlehurst-Ward seems to believe there was no deviation from the original planning permission. This document makes it clear there was deviation. The ‘Plot 10’ referred to in the document became 35 Coppins Park, Adam Karl Uka’s residence.
What Ms Singlehurst-Ward actually said in relation to planning permission was, “All properties (at Pentlepoir) were constructed in accordance with the planning permission granted”. Maybe, but in the case of 35 Coppins Park, it was not in accordance with the original planning permission.
As you can work out from the ‘Variation’ document, the new property became both higher, raised by at least a metre, thereby overlooking neighbouring properties, and it also moved closer to the property most directly affected. This resulted in work being carried out by Mill Bay’s contractors right up to the boundary of a neighbouring property, resulting in damage.
Both proximity to the boundary and some of the damage caused are clearly visible in the photographs below. (Click to enlarge.) Other problems were subsidence and damage to a boundary fence.
As if that wasn’t bad enough, the contractors showed they had a sense of humour (or something) with this almost unbelievable incident in which a digger bucket was deliberately swung towards two neighbours. Just watch this video. The neighbours could have been seriously injured or even killed by this idiotic stunt. Here’s a still showing how close the bucket came to the head of the woman.
There is no question that for one family at least, Mill Bay Homes definitely proved to be the ‘Neighbour from Hell’. Read these neighbours’ chilling account of what they had to put up with here.
It may be significant that for Phase 2 at Pentlepoir, which included Mr Uka’s house, and where neighbours experienced such problems, the contractors did not register with the Considerate Constructors Scheme, as they had for Phase 1. I wonder why?
The relationship between a ‘parent’ organisation such as Pembrokeshire Housing and a subsidiary like Mill Bay Homes is one I’ve encountered many times before in my delving into the Third Sector and other publicly-funded outfits.
These subsidiaries are often known as ‘trading arms’. After many years investigating the use of public funding by all manner of imaginative organisations I still get a little frisson when I encounter the term.
It’s quite a complicated picture of an organisation receiving public funding but with money and tangible assets passing between it and subsidiaries, with subsidiaries folding and debts being written off. But the worry here, and this applies to other groups I’ve looked at, is that the funder – in this case, Sport Wales – seems only interested in the parent body because it is the one receiving the moolah. Nobody seems concerned about subsidiaries that may be indirect recipients of public funding.
I am not for one minute suggesting that this is the sort of thing that happens between Pembrokeshire Housing and Mill Bay Homes, I merely use it as a warning of the kind of problems that can arise when a publicly-funded body sets up subsidiaries or ‘trading arms’.
That said, there is one area where Pembrokeshire Housing and Mill Bay Homes could certainly learn from Canoe Wales. After publishing the first post I had a telephone call from a representative of the paddlers. A charming Caledonian gent named Mark Williamson. He even invited me over to their White Water Centre on Afon Tryweryn.
I was tempted, but then I thought, ‘What if it’s a dastardly plot to drown old Jac!’ Because I’ve heard that there are one or two people out there who’d like to do that! (Difficult to believe, I know, but there you are.)
The point is that Mr Williamson didn’t run to a £260 an hour solicitor, he fronted up like a man and said, ‘Let me put you straight on a few things’. Just think of all the misunderstandings that could be avoided, all the problems that could be resolved, and all the public money that could be saved, if more people adopted that approach.
A PLAGUE OF LAWYERS
For a sensitive soul such as I it was quite disconcerting to be on the receiving end of a sudden and unexpected assault from Hugh James, but I soon learnt that I wasn’t the only one getting attention.
At around the same time I received my initial letter from Hugh James my server Systemau Cyfrifiadurol Cambria also received a threatening letter from Ms Singlehurst-Ward. It read ” . . . website hosted by you . . . defamatory . . . Jac utter bastard”. Almost certainly done in the hope that it would lead to the plug being pulled on my blog. Gwilym, of SCCambria, gave a robust response.
But it didn’t end there!
For on Friday June 3rd I learnt that the family in Pentlepoir that had suffered so much, they who had the digger bucket swung at them, had also received a letter from Ms Singlehurst-Ward of Hugh James. Her clients obviously knew who had been giving me information. (Which says a lot, if you think about it.)
I loved the bit in the letter that read, “Whilst out clients have no desire to stifle free speech or indeed honest debate . . . “. Sorry, Tracey, love, but that’s exactly what your now embarrassed clients are trying to do.
The aggrieved couple referred the threatening Hugh James letter to both their solicitor and Dyfed Powys Police.
Then, to cap an extraordinary week, Gwilym received a second letter, from another solicitor, this time a Wayne Beynon of Capital Law in Cardiff. This letter had nothing to do with Pembrokeshire Housing or Mill Bay Homes.
The strange thing about this was that the complaint came down to a single comment made to this post by a third party. So why not write to me? I would have removed it, as I did when Gwilym told me about it. (Here’s my reply.)
While writing this I’ve heard from Gwilym, telling me that he’s had a reply from Beynon. It says, “I have also been contacted by your client, Mr Jones, who has removed the unlawful statements from his website.” And there was me thinking that decisions on what was unlawful involved the police, judges, courts, juries. Perhaps we should do away with the rest of the apparatus and hand the legal system over to lawyers.
What are we to make of the events of last week? If it had just been a letter to me then I would have assumed that I had pissed off Pembrokeshire Housing and / or Mill Bay Homes. But the letters to my server, and the people in Pentlepoir? And then the letter on behalf of Leighton Andrews?
If I wanted to be generous, then I suppose I’d dismiss it all as coincidence. But on reflection I think it could be an attempt to a) deter anyone from associating themselves with this blog and, b) get this blog closed down.
Which I find rather encouraging; for it suggests I might be doing something right!
I do not know any of the leading players in Pembrokeshire Housing or Mill Bay Homes, so there can be no question of me being motivated by personal animus. I have had no dealings of any description with PH or MBH. I have never even lived in Pembrokeshire. And I stand to make no personal gain from my writings on PH and MBH.
My motivation in my enquiries into PH and MBH – and countless other organisations I have investigated – has always been protection of the public interest and defence of the public purse; these ambitions being inseparable from the desire to see transparency in the operations of devolved government, local government and the Third Sector.
I find myself writing this on the anniversary of the attack on the toll gate at Yr Efail Wen. A banner often carried by ‘Rebecca’s followers read ‘Cyfiawnder nid Cyfraith’ (Justice not Law). As appropriate now as it was back then, because not a lot seems to have changed in almost two hundred years.
Wales is still a land with too much law and too little justice. And as ever, it’s those with deep pockets who can afford lawyers – but too often nowadays their pockets bulge with our money!
Mill Bay Homes justifies its existence by arguing that it builds and sells properties on the open market to raise funds that allow Pembrokeshire Housing to build more social housing. But we only have its word for that because being a ‘subsidiary’ organisation means that no one, certainly not those funding Pembrokeshire Housing – i.e. the ‘Welsh’ Government – will ever make enquiries into the activities of Mill Bay. A worrying phenomenon I have encountered many times before in investigating the Third Sector.
Another curious feature of Mill Bay Homes mentioned in my earlier post is that it offers buyers assistance under the Help to Buy – Wales scheme while also encouraging the “Investment buyer“. Helping people buy their own home while simultaneously encouraging those who deny people their own home might be regarded as somewhat contradictory aims. And it raises the obvious question – is it the job of publicly-funded housing associations – even via ‘subsidiaries’ – to be encouraging ‘investors’ in rural areas where locals have such difficulty in finding homes?
One specific Mill Bay Homes development looked at was in Cilgerran, north Pembrokeshire. There, according to the planning application form available on the Pembrokeshire council website, Mill Bay wants to build 30 social rented housing units.
Or at least, that’s what the planning application said when I published my original post on December 14th, but, remarkably – and here I am once again indebted to the indefatigable Wynne Jones – this planning application has since been changed. The original version can be found above, the amended version below. The latter now reads 29 open market houses and just one unit of social housing, a two-bedroom house. There is no indication of when or why the change was made. And it must be worth asking if it’s permissible to make such radical changes to a planning application already submitted?
What’s going on here? Was a genuine mistake made with the original application, and is this now being rectified? Or was the change in response to the piece I posted on December 14th? Presumably the change was made by an employee of Pembrokeshire council, but it must have been requested by someone acting for Mill Bay Homes or Pembrokeshire Housing. Again, is this allowed?
Perhaps the most disturbing possibility is that the original planning application, for 30 social housing units, was an attempt to deceive, done in the belief that planning permission would be more likely to be granted for social housing. (See Update below.)
Between April 2008 and November 2015 Pembrokeshire Housing received £27.4m of our money in Social Housing Grant (see table below). Prior to that the SHG seems to have been allocated to local authorities, and between 2000 and 2008 the county of Pembrokeshire received £31.6m. See these figures for yourself (in Excel format) here. You might also find it worthwhile reading Housing Associations – The Great Deception in which I explain that there are other methods of funding social housing.
Another curiosity unearthed by Wynne Jones is to be found in the guide to planning applications issued by Pembrokeshire council. Open the document at section 18, which reads: “Social rented – includes rented housing owned by local authorities and registered social landlords for which guideline target rents are determined through the national rent regime, set out in the ‘Guide to Social Rent Reforms’ published in March 2001. Also includes rented housing owned by other persons and provided under equivalent rental arrangements to the above, as agreed with the local authority or funded with grant from the Housing Corporation, as provided for in the Housing Act 2004.“
The format of this guide seems to be dictated by the Town and Country Planning Act 1990, and appears to have been updated here and there with references to subsequent legislation applying only to Wales. Which makes it a bit of a dog’s dinner. Surely, after 17 years of devolution we should be using specifically Welsh forms? If only to avoid references such as that in section 18 to the Housing Corporation, an England-only body . . . abolished in 2008.
Perhaps of more significance for our enquiry is the section I’ve underlined, in which I interpret “other persons” to mean privately-owned properties used as social housing. So does this explain why Mill Bay Homes, a subsidiary of a Registered Social Landlord, is encouraging investors? Is Mill Bay offering the properties they build to investors with the guarantee that Pembrokeshire Housing will supply the tenants?
There are just so many questions to be answered about the operation of Pembrokeshire Housing and Mill Bay Homes, also other housing associations and their unaccountable subsidiaries, because they take such a huge chunk out of a total Welsh budget of only some £15bn per annum.
Another disturbing case unearthed by Wynne Jones is upstream of Cilgerran, at Cenarth. There, Tai Ceredigion put in a planning application for 15 social housing units at Maes Awmor. There was considerable opposition from those already living in an adjacent private estate on grounds of increased traffic and a belief that locals would be low on Tai Ceredigion’s allocation list.
This latter concern might be explained by looking at the plans and seeing how many of these properties are designed for those with special needs. (Click here and enlarge.) Is there really a demand for so many such properties from within this rural area? Or has Tai Ceredigion done a lucrative deal with an English local authority or some other agency that will pay well to move people to Wales? As I say, such a deal would be lucrative for Tai Ceredigion, but could only put further strain on the Welsh NHS. But maybe I’m being cynical, so let Tai Ceredigion convince us that there is a demand for these properties from within the local population.
Perhaps we should be flattered by how many agencies in England believe in the therapeutic and reforming qualities of Welsh country air. It seems that once relocated to Wales the elderly cease to wrinkle and the obese become obsessive joggers, ‘disaffected’ youngsters join the Boy Scouts and criminals transform into model citizens, drug addicts get their highs from watching Hinterland and former problem families can be seen every Sunday trooping to the Tabernacle of the Happy Clappy Outsourcing Agents for Local Authorities Ltd . . .
Then again, this belief in Welsh country air could be nothing more than cynically dumping your problems on your neighbour. But that would at least be understandable, what is neither understandable nor acceptable, is that there are those within Wales co-operating in this scam – and that they are able to use Welsh public funding to do it!
The latest news from Cenarth (December 14, 2015) is that six of the properties are now to be sold on the open market. But planning permission was granted for 15 social housing units. And Tai Ceredigion is a Registered Social Landlord, it cannot build houses for sale to the highest bidder. What the hell is going on?
Here are some questions for the ‘Welsh’ Government. These questions are not in any way rhetorical, I really would appreciate some answers. Because what’s been reported here, from Duffryn Teifi, is happening all over the country.
We can safely assume that money given to Pembrokeshire Housing to provide social rented accommodation has reached its subsidiary, Mill Bay Homes, so how does the ‘Welsh’ Government feel about public funding being used to build new properties for sale to ‘investors’?
Given that Mill Bay Homes on its website advertises the Help to Buy – Wales scheme and also encourages ‘investors’, what guarantees can the ‘Welsh’ Government give us that no ‘investors’ have secured Help to Buy funding? (To answer this will require a thorough, forensic and, most importantly, independent, investigation into the workings of Pembrokeshire Housing and Mill Bay Homes.)
With its use of terms such as “lifestyle” and “retirement” it would appear that Mill Bay Homes is targeting buyers from outside of Wales. Is the ‘Welsh’ Government comfortable with funding it has provided to Pembrokeshire Housing being used by Mill Bay Homes to further the colonisation and anglicisation of rural Wales?
Turning to the development at Cenarth, many of these properties have wheelchair access and are in other ways adapted for the disabled, adaptations that are expensive to design and construct. So will the ‘Welsh’ Government confirm that these properties are to meet a local demand rather than being the result of a deal or understanding struck between Tai Ceredigion and agencies outside of Wales?
If publicly-funded housing associations are allowed to build open market properties, placing them in direct competition with local companies not enjoying public funding, then, quite clearly, they have an unfair advantage over those local companies. Is this another example of the ‘Welsh’ Labour Party’s hostility to private business, and perhaps, more generally, the countryside?
Finally, how many tens of millions of pounds does the ‘Welsh’ Government estimate could be saved every year by a) reducing the number of housing associations, b) properly monitoring their spending, and c) implementing a three-year local residency rule to qualify for social housing?
UPDATE 7pm, 04.01.2016: Received the message below in a comment. I am now happy to accept that the original Cilgerran planning application was a simple slip of the pen or the cursor on the part of whoever filled in the form. Though if that is what happened, why didn’t the planning application change from 30 social housing units to 30 private dwellings, rather than to 29 private and one social? Something I did not mention in my original post is that Trevor Hopkins Associates is also involved with the Tai Ceredigion project at Cenarth.
I refer to the content posted on your web page/twitter account regarding the Planning Application we submitted on behalf of Mill Bay Homes for 30 dwellings on Land Adjacent Holly Lodge, Cilgerran. The reference to Social Housing on the Planning Form was an error on our part and this has now been corrected to open market dwellings. The modified forms are available to view on the Planning Portal.
I trust you will now update your social media/website accordingly.
Trevor Hopkins Associates.
UPDATE 06.01.2016: Even though planning permission has not yet been granted for the Cilgerran development this sign was erected this morning. Making it look as if Pembrokeshire County Council has already agreed to grant planning permission and has also decided to disregard in advance the objections from local residents that will follow the granting of planning permission. So much for local democracy!
I have written many times about the national disaster that passes for a housing strategy in our rural areas, a ‘strategy’ that sees private properties built for which there is no local demand, or at prices most of us can’t afford, while in the social sector we have an allocations system that ensures just about anyone qualifies ahead of locals. Quite recently, thanks to the indefatigable Wynne Jones, I have become acquainted with yet another cause for concern, one that would boggle a mind less inured to the lunacies of devolved Wales.
This particular example comes from Pembrokeshire, and the cause for concern is Mill Bay Homes, a subsidiary of Pembrokeshire Housing. Or at least, that’s what it says on the Mill Bay Homes website, but there’s no mention of Mill Bay Homes on the Pembrokeshire Housing website. But as they share the same address in Haverfordwest we must assume they are known to each other.
If we go to this page on the Mill Bay Homes website we see that this subsidiary of the Pembrokeshire Housing Association Ltd operates no different to a private company in that it builds and sells property using the justification that it is “a business with a social purpose” because the money it makes will be invested in social housing built by the parent company.
Elsewhere on the Mill Bay website you will see the image reproduced above, so what is the Help to Buy – Wales scheme? Quite simply, it’s the local variant of a UK-wide programme to boost the building trade by helping prospective house buyers. A buyer needs to contribute only 5% of the purchase price, the ‘Welsh’ Government will then give a shared-equity loan of 20% if the purchaser can find an acceptable mortgage lender for the remaining 75%. An excellent idea, surely?
Certainly, and it gets even better when we open the ‘Welsh’ Government’s Help to Buy publication and scroll down to page six, where, in the right-hand column, we read, “The property purchased must be your only residence. Help to Buy – Wales is not available to assist buy–to–let investors or those who will own any property other than their Help to Buy – Wales property after completing their purchase”. (My emphasis.)
Yet despite the programme’s ban on those hoping to use public funding for private investment the Mill Bay Homes website actually encourages the “Investment Buyer”. (See panel below.) How can Mill Bay Homes offer investment buyers access to a scheme that specifically bars them! No doubt Mill Bay Homes would tell us that it differentiates between investors and owner-occupiers, and that Help to Buy is only offered to the former . . . but nowhere on its website does it say this.
I’ve already said that Help to Buy is a UK-wide scheme overseen in Wales by the ‘Welsh’ Government, but I wasn’t sure who actually implements it, who dishes out the lucre as it were. So I made some enquiries. The money is disbursed by Help To Buy (Wales) Ltd, company number 08708403, Incorporated 28.09.2013, and based at 1 Capital Quarter, Tyndall Street, Cardiff CF10 4BZ.
Help To Buy (Wales) Ltd has share capital of £1 held by Finance Wales Plc with the Ultimate Parent Company given as “Welsh Ministers”. Welsh Ministers! Does that refer to a vestryful of nonconformist divines or those buffoons down Cardiff docks? Unfortunately, it means the latter.
Why so many companies, and who are Staziker, O’Leary and Owen? Are they civil servants who (for the sake of public consumption) are answerable to the ‘Welsh’ Government or are they businesspeople or professionals employed by the ‘Welsh’ Government? Either way, what power do these people have to ensure that millions and millions of pounds of our money is properly spent? And if they simply dole out the money, then who does ensure that it’s properly spent?
I can see the Help to Buy scheme working just fine in England, and Scotland, and also in our towns and cities, though in our rural areas it risks exacerbating the problem I have discussed countless times, and that’s because anyone from anywhere can apply to the Help to Buy Scheme to purchase a new property in a Welsh town or village. No local connection is required.
This refusal on the part of the ‘Welsh’ Labour ‘Government’ in Cardiff docks to prioritise Welsh interests almost certainly explains the planning application for 30 new properties in Cilgerran, north Pembrokeshire, submitted by Mill Bay Homes Ltd. Here’s the planning application, I suggest you keep it open in another window or browser so that you can refer to it as I go along.
You will see – in Section 3 – that the application is for planning consent for 8 x 3-bed detached houses, 12 x 3-bed semi-detached houses, and 10 x 2-bed semi-detached houses. Scroll down to Section 18 and you will see that all thirty dwellings are described as “Social Rented Housing”. Which is odd seeing as this planning application was submitted by Mill Bay Housing, which only builds to sell, even inviting investors.
Something else worth remarking on is that in my experience very few detached three-bedroom houses are built for the social rental sector. Oh, and one other thing . . . Pembrokeshire Housing offers a Welsh version of its website, whereas Mill Bay Homes is strictly English only.
For those who don’t know Cilgerran, it’s a pleasant, scenic village upriver from Cardigan. In 1931 94% of the population of Cilgerran parish was Welsh speaking, today it’s below 50%, for the usual reason: economic decline disguised with the kind of tourism that does little for locals but encourages their replacement with a wealthier stratum of good-lifers, retirees, fleece jacket fascists and others drawn by the area’s physical and scenic attractions, an immigrant population having no regard for the area’s cultural heritage and national identity.
Though perhaps the major question is, why has Mill Bay Homes, a company that on its own website is described as specialising “in the development and sale of homes suited to the lifestyles of customers who range from those buying for the first time through to those looking to downsize or retire” now put in a planning application for rented social housing?
It could be that the answer lies with the use of words such as “lifestyles”, “downsizing” and “retire”. For they sound very odd if these properties are being built for locals to rent, but they’re just the kind of sales pitch I’d expect to see used if the Cilgerran development is targeting buyers from over the border.
So what is the truth about this Cilgerran development and Mill Bay Homes? I think we’re entitled to answers. Maybe the ‘Welsh Ministers’ or the troika named above can assure us that the operations of Pembrokeshire Housing and Mill Bay Homes are above board, and that our generosity isn’t being abused.
Specifically: Has Mill Bay Homes helped ‘investors’ access the Help to Buy scheme? Is public money being used to build properties in Cilgerran described as social housing but intended to be sold on the open market?
The relationship between Pembrokeshire Housing and Mill Bay Homes is one I have expressed concerns about before. (Here’s one example.) It sees a body in receipt of large amounts of public funding set up a subsidiary that operates in a way that is either difficult to track, or else in a manner barred to the parent body. The relationship is too often opaque and offers no guarantee that public funding to the parent body is not channelled to the unregulated and unaudited (by funders) subsidiary.
This is what we appear to have with Pembrokeshire Housing and Mill Bay Homes. Even though the latter piously claims that its “earnings will be covenanted to the parent company (Pembrokeshire Housing) for the express purpose of re-investment in the social housing development programme in Pembrokeshire” we have no guarantee of that, because Mill Bay Homes does not receive direct public funding it is not audited.
This parent and subsidiary arrangement should not be allowed where the parent body is in receipt of public funding unless the subsidiaries are covered by the same regulations and checks as the parent body. Ask yourself this, ‘How did Mill Bay Homes build its first properties? Was it with money given by Pembrokeshire Housing? And was that start-up money funding that the parent company had received in ‘Welsh’ Government grants? If so, who authorised this generosity?
In the wider context we now see a social housing sector that is costing Wales hundreds of millions of pounds every year for very little return. The reasons for this unsustainable situation are clear.
We have far too many housing associations. All paying inflated salaries and pension packages to their senior staff. Those same executives, understanding the dog-eat-dog world they inhabit, and fearful of being swallowed up by a rival, believe they must grow to survive, which inevitably results in increased levels of speculative building unrelated to local need. But don’t worry – it’s only public money! And Wales can afford it.