PLEASE APPRECIATE THAT I GET SENT MORE INFORMATION AND LEADS THAN I CAN USE. I TRY TO RESPOND TO EVERYONE WHO CONTACTS ME BUT I CANNOT POSSIBLY USE EVERY BIT OF INFORMATION I’M SENT. DIOLCH YN FAWR
While you’re recovering from Christmas, getting your breath back for further excesses at New Year, just take time to read this little piece.
BRYN BLAEN WIND FARM
Just over a year ago, I wrote Corruption in the wind?, which was primarily about the Hendy wind farm, but I also mentioned the linked Bryn Blaen installation. And it’s Bryn Blaen I’m concentrating on here.
The six turbines of the Bryn Blaen wind farm lie to the north of Llangurig, the village you pass by if travelling north-south on the A470, and through which you pass if leaving the A470 to take the A44 down to Aberystwyth.
Bryn Blaen wind farm is owned – in the first instance – by Bryn Blaen Wind Farm Ltd, which was Incorporated May 18, 2011, though the company was originally known as Development Securities (No 74) Ltd. The project was funded with five loans from Close Leasing Ltd, a Manchester finance company that seems to have a keen interest in renewables.
Hendy wind farm not far away is owned – ditto – by Hendy Wind Farm Ltd, which was also Incorporated May 18, 2011, this time as Development Securities (No 71) Ltd. Thus far there is just one charge with Close Leasing Ltd.
The immediate parent company in each case is DS Renewables LLP, which is in turn owned by U and I Group PLC. The U and I Group is a property company focused on London, Manchester and Dublin, but its portfolio extends beyond these cities and is not restricted to commercial and residential property.
Like most of its ilk the U and I Group pretends to be something better than just a property speculator. This clip from the 2019 accounts says it all.
Bryn Blaen appears on page 26, where we also find mention of Hendy and Rhoscrowther wind farms. The figures on the left are the ‘Previous target’ column while those on the right are ‘Realised gains/losses’.
We see that Hendy and Rhoscrowther have realised nothing; this is due to Hendy still being under construction, while Rhoscrowther was denied planning permission for a third time in April 2018 and appears to be dead in the water.
Bryn Blaen on the other hand has made a return of £4.7m, quite remarkable seeing as its turbines have never turned. This was being reported in January 2019 and little has changed, though I should report that some turbines have shaken the dust off recently . . . almost certainly powered by diesel generators, and done for the benefit of an increasingly sceptical local audience.
The reason Bryn Blaen is not generating electricity is hinted at in the image above, where it mentions ” . . . increased costs in connecting to the grid”. This alludes to a major problem. To wit, there isn’t the capacity on the existing local infrastructure to carry anything generated by Bryn Blaen.
Though a closer look at page 7 of the accounts (shown below) tells us that Bryn Blaen Wind Farm’s true assets are in fact just £2,076. The thirty-three million figure is made up of debts, and page 15 explains that these are £21,410,000 in bank loans and £12,934,555 owed to U and I Group PLC.
(Wow! If debts can be counted as assets then Jac is rolling in it!)
All of which means that Bryn Blaen wind farm is just a pachyderm of a very pale hue, desecrating the Welsh countryside for no discernible benefit to anyone. And yet . . .
On page 9, paragraph 2.2, of the Bryn Blaen Wind Farm Ltd accounts we read the passage below. The implication is that the debts (certainly the bank loans) will be repaid when Bryn Blaen is disposed of at the end of February 2020.
Which suggests that someone is going to buy a wind farm that cannot export any electricity it might generate . . . which is why it has generated nothing in the two years of its existence!
This episode raises a number of questions:
Why did the Planning Inspectorate overrule Powys County Council to give planning permission in August 2016 to a project that the most cursory investigation would have revealed was utterly useless?
Are there other examples like Bryn Blaen?
Turbines that have generated nothing for six months can be demolished, so will Lesley Griffiths now do as protesters request and have the Bryn Blaen turbines demolished at developers’ expense?
The U and I Group plans to re-submit a planning application for Rhoscrowther wind farm on Milford Haven Waterway; can we therefore assume that Lesley Griffiths will be instructed to approve this application?
The scandal of Bryn Blaen should be a matter of national concern, so don’t just leave it to the locals – you write to Lesley Griffiths, and to your local AM, asking what the hell has happened. Insist on Bryn Blaen being demolished. And demand more stringent checks on local grid capacity and other issues before planning permission is granted for any future wind farms.
For those who may not be familiar with this document, it is the supreme planning guidance for Wales to which plans such as councils’ Local Development Plans (LDPs) and all sub-national strategies must conform. I wrote about it in August.
The NDF is big on renewable energy, as the map below shows. What isn’t given over to wind and solar ‘farms’ is largely accounted for by urban areas, National Parks, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, the proposed ‘National Forest’, and the vast area north of Aberystwyth promised to the Summit to Sea ‘rewilders’.
But I can’t help wondering what’s planned for that area between the A5 and the A458, east of Dolgellau.
Though I suppose the really big question is – who is going to benefit from this National Development Framework?
The individual beneficiaries will be landowners (often absentee), property developers like the U and I Group, and other English ‘investors’. Proving yet again that wind power is more about cashing in on the subsidies than with replacing fossil fuels.
But over and above the individual beneficiaries the National Development Framework is for the benefit of England.
Wind and solar farms won’t provide jobs for Welsh people. And we already produce far more electricity than we consume; yet as with water, we are not allowed to make a profit from what we export. (Though ‘our’ water and electricity can be sold back to us at over-the-odds prices.)
The National Development Framework allows Wales to be exploited as never before, but rather than standing up for Wales our current crop of politicians will rhapsodise over it.
Labour, Plaid Cymru and Lib Dems will bleat about Wales ‘making its contribution’ to ‘saving the planet’, etc., when, in reality, they’ll be turning our beautiful homeland into an al fresco power station. What isn’t covered by wind and solar farms will be retirement and recreation areas for England. Zimmer frames and zip wires.
Tory and Brexit parties will of course support anything that makes money for their pals in the financial sector . . . no matter how shady the deal, no matter how heavy the price Wales has to pay.
The Union with England has never worked to Wales’ advantage, but then, that was never the intention. Yet devolution, we were told, would provide ‘Welsh answers for Welsh problems’; but as Bryn Blaen, the National Development Framework, and countless other examples make clear, devolution is just a pitifully transparent veneer of ‘Welshness’ for continuing exploitation.
If we are to survive and progress as a nation it can only be done by prioritising our interests and focusing on independence without any distractions or self-imposed divisions. So let’s continue building momentum in 2020 on the broadest possible front.
Since November last year Powys residents have been living an Alice in Wonderland adventure, though now we have perhaps moved on from Lewis Carroll to Franz Kafka.
To set the scene: planning regulations require construction in accordance with the permission granted. That means one should develop according to approved plans, within the red line boundary and abide by any conditions attached to the permission. If this is not followed development is unlawful and potentially the developer could lose their permission. At Hendy wind farm the developer also needs separate common land permissions for his access across Llandegley Rhos to the wind farm site. A planning authority can enforce against a breach of planning conditions, but only if it is expedient to do so. (Expedient: adjective meaning, “convenient and practical although possibly improper or immoral”.) That is in the real world; here we are in Powys, in Wales.
The developer is chasing a subsidy deadline of 31st January which apparently allows only one turbine erected out of seven to commission but it does not have to have a grid connection. So why bother with the niceties of regulations when pound signs beckon? Publicly Njord Energy Ltd or Hendy Wind Farm Ltd, anyway, Steven Radford, maintains he is not being unlawful and he’s a responsible developer and that those nasty local residents are victimising him.
Before the last of the discharge of conditions applications was submitted the developer had made a construction compound outside of the red line boundary. The public complained to Powys Development Management.
Next an access track appeared, still outside of the permitted development. The public complained to Powys Development Management and pointed out how their own department had relentlessly pursued enforcement of an adjacent landowner for over five years, even taking him to court. We received an email from the planning officer, it was fine, the developer had told them this was permitted development so Powys could not enforce, although a breach of conditions case was opened.
The developer “re-stoned” the track across the common. It rained and it rained but turbine foundation works progressed apace. The public complained to Powys Development Management. The public complained to Natural Resources Wales. Lots of round straw bales appeared in ditches and streams to catch sediment. Sheep on the common land could not believe their luck, graziers are not allowed to feed them on the common. Meanwhile the track across the common, widened by heavy use of lorries, turned to mud. A culvert collapsed. Natural Resources Wales made the developer repair it.
Meanwhile, Powys had sought counsel’s advice which is: there needs to be evidence of environmental harm otherwise it is not expedient to enforce.
Concrete pouring was imminent. The concrete would be irreversible damage to land at the headwaters of a river that is part of the River Wye SAC. Brecon and Radnor CPRW decided to apply for an injunction. A temporary injunction was granted until a court hearing three days later. The developer sent a letter to court stating that they believed that they had done nothing unlawful. The development was predicated on the subsidies and if they failed to commission by the deadline, they would have to apply for bigger wind turbines. Also, concrete pour must be completed by 4th January to allow for erection and commissioning of the wind turbine.
At the court hearing Justice Garnham agreed that concreting the foundation was irreversible nevertheless he asked what the cut-off date for concrete pour would be to get subsidy. Then, with miraculous timing, an email from NRW was sent to court stating the concrete pour would be okay as long as it followed the methodology submitted. That was the end of any injunction.
Concrete pour day, the 3rd of January, arrived and Powys residents turned out to meet and greet the mixer lorries whilst exercising their Open Access rights on the common track. The police and extra security drafted in to deal with the rabble found them a real handful. For goodness sake, they also exercised their right to use the bridleway which crosses the track on the common.
It all got a bit boisterous and a tragedy was narrowly averted when one lady ended up on the ground and if she had not been quick would have gone under the wheels of a lorry. The video, which was uploaded to YouTube, shows the lorry slowing then speeding away, yet Steven Radford when recently challenged by the local AM, Kirsty Williams, claimed the lorry stopped. Should’ve gone to Specsavers. This riotous assembly caused such a delay that a second meet and greet the mixer lorries had to take place on 8th January. Luckily, because NRW had okayed the concrete pour it was still not expedient to enforce.
What of Hendy Wind Farm’s letter to court stating that concreting must be completed by 4th January in order to allow the “cure” before erection and commissioning of the lonely wind turbine? Was that an honest misunderstanding of civil engineering technicalities?
After all that excitement a few days of gentle activity around the turbine base getting it all landscaped and ready for the turbine components lulled us all before the surprise appearance of abnormal load access plan “version 4” on 17th January. Why wait for daylight to arrive when you can work in the dark beside the A44? By the end of day hedges had been removed, trees felled, soil moved and a new track onto the common was almost made. Extraordinary that this just happened to be the same day as planning officers were at the monthly planning meeting. Please, do not be worried about these latest works because a workman on site told a community councillor it can be put back when they have finished.
Having made a site visit planning officers are pondering the expediency of enforcement for this new access because it has no planning permission, but if they can hang it out just a little longer the abnormal loads, temporary traffic restrictions for which seem to have been expedited, will be here after which it would not be expedient to enforce because all the damage has already been done.
Anyway, why use enforcement when they can just ask the developer to apply for retrospective planning permission to rectify all the misdemeanours. It will then be expedient to approve any application because the council is too poor to go around the merry go round again.
You may be wondering where are the politicians and press in all of this? UK newspapers are apparently not interested in the scam a FTSE listed company is pulling, enabled by an extraordinarily lax accreditation loophole. The local press has kept the story alive and BBC Wales have done a couple of short news items including one about Bryn Blaen wind farm not producing any electricity since it was finished in early February 2018. Ofgem claims this wind farm is not accredited but they do have submissions for electricity export for Feb and March 2018. Has Bryn Blaen registered for accreditation but not yet received that in full because of grid connection problems? But they must have had a grid connection at the time of commissioning or else how did they manage to submit output for two months? Anyway, news is, there is a flurry of activity on the wind farm. Will it really be operational by 31st January as promised? There is that all important date again.
Labour politicians in the “Welsh Government” are all hiding behind Brecon and Radnor CPRW’s S288 challenge to Lesley Griffiths decision to approve the wind farm. Can they really not differentiate between a challenge to the permission and questions from local residents about lawful procedure of enforcement?
Previously Lesley Griffiths, Labour, could not say anything but Julie James, Labour, Minister for Housing and Local Government now has planning in her remit but cannot say anything. Did our new FM spot a conflict of interest in the fact that under Carwyn Jones the Minister for Energy also had the power to decide energy projects? Eluned Morgan, Labour, one of our regional AMs is of course now a minister so cannot say anything. Joyce Watson, Labour, a regional AM has remained eerily silent. Kirsty Williams, Lib, Minister for Education and Brecon and Radnor AM, can and has supported local residents. Neil Hamilton, UKIP, regional AM has been supportive but encountered the same Alice in Wonderland experience.
Our local politicians, not to be outdone, have also entered the rabbit hole. The leader of PCC, Rosemarie Harris, keeps quoting “expediency” whilst at the same time has asked WG for more money to help finance the monitoring of the fiasco they themselves have facilitated.
The local County Councillor, in whose ward the wind farm sits, was sponsored to become a CC by a landowner with an interest in the wind farm. Before being elected as a county councillor in 2017 he was not a politician but has had a meteoric rise to Cabinet being the portfolio holder for Economy and Planning. Under which conflict of interest have his occasional visits to the wind farm site been made?
What of the contractors, Jones Bros of Ruthin? A visit to their website does not enlighten on the Hendy or Bryn Blaen projects yet they tell us all about other wind farm projects they have been involved in. Why would a high profile contractor knowingly work on an unlawful development?
Then there are those stalwart Guardians of the Common; local residents out there in all weathers and sometimes in the dark. At first the protests were amicable then Dyfed Powys Police turned up saying that they were in possession of a sworn affidavit from the landowner of the common. Since then their attitude changed. A quick trip to Carmarthen headquarters the same day failed to locate the affidavit. An FOI submitted on 12th December to see the affidavit has resulted in a reply on 14th January to say they need more time to decide if they are even prepared to confirm or deny that the alleged affidavit actually exists. Some locals have already seen it!
As they say, follow the money.
♦ end ♦
Jac adds: I can understand perfectly the involvement of developers and investors in onshore wind turbines – money in the form of subsidies from the UK government.
I also understand the motivation of the UK government in giving such subsidies. On the one hand it’s a bit of ‘greenwash’ to keep environmentalists happy, and on the other hand it puts a lot of money the way of important people like David Cameron’s father-in-law, the Duke of Beaufort, FTSE-listed companies, etc.
But what I cannot understand is why any body or individual claiming to be serving Welsh interests would help these parasites desecrate our country. Lesley Griffiths, in allowing the Hendy scam to proceed, argued that it was ‘in the national interest’. But how does Wales benefit?
So obvious is the scam that – as we see with Bryn Blaen – it doesn’t matter whether the turbines turn or not, the subsidies keep rolling in! So we are paying for turbines that aren’t even generating anything!
And on the subject of paying . . . I assume the developers are paying for the heavies they’ve brought in to rough up old dears, but who’s paying for the police? I guess it’s us, again.
So let’s recap: The ‘Welsh Government’ is encouraging the desecration of our country with wind turbines that produce negligible amounts of electricity – sometimes none at all – and we have to pay for it, not only in the damage caused by thousands of tons of concrete, and access roads driven across pristine landscapes, but also in the deaths of birds and bats (when the turbines turn). Yet this is all justified in the name of ‘environmentalism’!
As if that wasn’t bad enough, we have to pay for the subsidies through our electricity bills and now we also have to pay for Welsh police to ensure that this con can be perpetrated.
One great irony is that the Labour Party has always been luke-warm to wind energy (certainly the more ‘traditional’ elements in the party), yet here it is bending over backwards to force these monstrosities on us. Somebody is obviously applying pressure on the management team down Cardiff docks.
Though one party that has had a decades-long love affair with these monsters is Plaid Cymru. It would be nice to report that the scales have finally fallen from their eyes and from now on Plaid will prioritise Welsh interests.
People contact me regularly asking, ‘Why don’t you write about wind energy, Jac, and about saving the planet, because we’re all doomed, doomed!’ To which I usually respond, ‘Sod off.’ But one recent request to look into wind energy was different, and after an hour or so of digging I realised I just had to write about it.
Essentially, this is the story of three, linked, wind farms, but it’s also a reminder of how easy it is for political decisions in Wales to be controlled by those who care nothing for us or our country. Those I’m talking of see Wales as an exploitable resource, while we can be brushed aside with, ‘What’s it gotta do with you, Taff?’
Few things remind us more forcefully of this state of affairs than decisions concerning ‘the environment’.
Whether it’s allowing hippies to set up camp anywhere they like under the One Planet nonsense, encouraging ‘re-wilders’ to force out Welsh farmers and take over vast swathes of our country, or allowing ugly wind turbines to produce their piddling amounts of electricity . . . but lots of money for those involved.
THREE WIND FARMS
Let’s start with Bryn Blaen wind farm near Llangurig, the village situated where the north-south A470 meets the A44 running down to Aberystwyth. Bryn Blaen was refused planning permission by Powys County Council, but the Planning Inspectorate overturned that decision in August 2016 and allowed the project to go ahead.
So on this one, the developers got their way.
Next stop is Rhoscrowther, near Milford Haven in Pembrokeshire. This was turned down by Pembrokeshire County Council in 2015, the appeal by the developers was rejected by the Planning Inspectorate, but then a High Court judge said that it must be reviewed by a different planning inspector. It was, and in April this year she upheld the decision to refuse planning permission.
In point 2 of the letter mention is made of the Developments of National Significance legislation under which the ‘Welsh Ministers’ have authority to rule on electricity generation projects with a maximum installed capacity between 10mw and 50mw. The three projects we’re looking at range from 12.5mw to 17.5mw.
Though according to the capture below from the ‘Welsh Government’s website the decision should be made by the Planning Inspectorate, which is what happened initially with Hendy, before Lesley Griffiths intervened.
So who’s promoting these schemes, who are ‘the developers’ I’ve referred to?
A director of all three companies is Steven John Radford who seems to take another slice of the Welsh wind farm cake through his consultancy, Njord Energy Ltd, which sounds comfortingly Scandinavian. (Though he obviously farmed out some work to Cunnane Town Planning of London and Manchester.)
In September Radford branched out again with Bute Energy Ltd, joining six days after its two founding directors. Bute Energy is in the electricity business, the production, transmission, distribution and trade of electricity to be exact. Will this be electricity generated in Wales?
Also involved somewhere in these projects has been Viento Environmental Ltd, of Shrewsbury, yet another consultancy, this one run by Fran Iribar, whose Linkedin profile mentions the three wind farm sites we’re dealing with here plus a number of others in Wales.
Have you noticed yet? Three projects in Wales – no Welsh involvement whatsoever!
What a system! You don’t need to be a nationalist to see how wrong this is. It’s basic economics.
We often come across shape-shifting and Lazarus-like resurrections on this blog. Think Paul and Rowena Williams, of Weep for Wales fame, with their Rural Retreats & Leisure Ltd and Rural Retreats & Leisure UK Ltd (which even confused an Employment Tribunal!); and recently, in Wilmslow-sur-Mer, we sobbed for Natural Retreats UK Ltd . . . only for it to be brought back to us by resurrectionists from ‘Ol’ Virginny’, who just happen to be closely linked with those behind the expired company.
I’m sure you’re as shocked as I was to learn that there might be something underhand, dishonest even, about tax havens and offshore hideaways. Whatever next!
Not only that, but U and I’s Welsh assets are already sold or up for sale. The panel below comes from the latest accounts (for y/e 28.02.2018) of the group received by Companies House 01.08.2018. It suggests that the Bryn Blaen wind farm has either been sold or is about to be sold, giving the group a profit of £6 – 8 million.
Perhaps more significantly, U and I is also confident of raising £10 -12 million from Hendy and Rhoscrowther. We now know that Hendy seems to be in the bag, but are they still holding out hopes for Rhoscrowther? Either way, how could they be so confident months ago? Did they know something we didn’t or was it just blind optimism linked to share prices?
Back in 2017, on April 27 to be exact, there was a curious scene played out at a meeting of Powys County Council’s planning committee. At a point in the meeting after the committee had refused planning permission for Hendy and was about to discuss further conditions for Bryn Blaen, a woman who had been sitting with the developers tried to hand a note to one of the committee members.
The woman had to be forcefully ushered away. She was recognised as a lobbyist, working for Invicta Public Affairs, a company based in Newcastle-upon-Tyne. The company is run by Mark Cummings, who boasts, “We specialise in advising private businesses how best to promote their commercial interests by overcoming barriers to enterprise caused by the UK national and devolved policy and regulatory framework.”
Cummings seems to operate in Wales through Invicta Public Affairs (Wales) Ltd, which has never been anything more than a name, with a Newcastle address, but clearly it has employees in Wales. So who was the mystery woman?
It was Anna McMorrin, who had been recruited by Invicta in October 2016 for no reason other than she was a Labour Party insider, having joined the party when she was a student, and as a result of her subsequent career she knew exactly who to approach to get things done.
As her Wikipedia entry tells us, “After graduating, McMorrin worked in public relations and communications. After working as a part-time communications officer for the Labour Party between 1996-1997, she worked for public affairs consultancy Hill and Knowlton. In 2006, McMorrin became Campaigns and Communications Director for Friends of the Earth Cymru. In 2008, she joined the Welsh Government as an appointed Specialist Advisor, working with Ministers including Jane Hutt AM, John Griffiths AM and Alun Davies AM.”
While she was working for Alun Davies they began an affair which resulted in both leaving their long-term partners. They now live together.
In the general election of June 2017 Anna McMorrin was elected Labour MP for Cardiff North.
U and I and/or Development Securities planned three wind farms of a size so that even if the local planning committees voted against them then their bacon could be saved by the Planning Inspectorate or, as a last resort, the ‘Welsh Government’.
To help them carry through this plan they employed Mark Cummings, useful for his expertise in dealing with devolved administrations. Cummings then needed someone who was a Labour insider, so he recruited Anna McMorrin.
No doubt, the developers had hoped to get planning permission for all three developments, netting them as much as £20 million. Being more realistic, they were probably prepared to settle for two out of three. But the High Court going against them on Rhoscrowther in September meant they were left with just Bryn Blaen, and so they were only going to make a small profit.
The High Court couldn’t be challenged over Rhoscrowther so pressure was applied to Lesley Griffiths to overturn the Hendy decision. And she came good.
Who applied the pressure to Lesley Griffiths? Well, Anna McMorrin fits the identikit picture issued.
Another reason I suspect Lesley Griffiths hadn’t planned on making the Hendy intervention is because the Energy, Planning and Rural Affairs Secretary couldn’t even come up with a plausible reason for her action.
We’ve just read that she argued the Hendy wind farm was in the ‘national interest’, but in point 4 of that letter to Aaron and Partners of Chester she also quoted from the Well-Being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015 which, ” . . . requires the Welsh Ministers, as a public body, to ensure the development and use of land contributes towards improving the economic, social, environmental and cultural well-being of Wales”.
I have a question for you, Lesley Griffiths.
Will you please explain how Wales benefits from being exploited by London property developers and their assorted hangers-on all over England?
There is no Welsh benefit whatsoever from the Hendy wind farm, or the other two; Wales already produces more electricity than we need, so I can only assume that Lesley Griffiths is acting in the ‘national interest’ of some other country.
Which makes her clumsy and questionable behaviour another example of London’s management team in Cardiff making sure that Wales does what it’s supposed to do – serve the interests of England.
The truth is that Lesley Griffiths made an indefensible decision under undue and possibly illegal pressure. If I’m wrong, let her justify overturning the planning inspector’s decision on Hendy wind farm.
With her earlier support for those seeking to dispossess Welsh farmers, dealt with here in The Welsh Clearances, and now with this decision to further serve alien interests, Lesley Griffiths has, in just over a month, proven herself to be the enemy of Wales and its people.
There should be no way for this wretched and duplicitous woman to hold any position, even in a body as discredited as that which masquerades as the Government of Wales.
The Labour Party and its various appendages are a poison corrupting Welsh public and political life. There is no hope for honesty and openness, progress and prosperity, until this poison is drawn and Wales is made healthy.
♦ end ♦
UPDATE 19:50:I am indebted to Karen Roden for her comment to my Facebook page telling me that Lesley Griffiths did something very similar earlier in the year with her decision to over-rule a planning inspector who had supported Denbighshire County Council’s refusal of Pant y Maen wind farm on the Denbigh Moors.
This development was promoted by Pant y Maen Wind Ltd of Oxfordshire. Though this company seems to have been controlled by Brenig Wind Ltd, a company run by Chinese citizens giving an address in France. The accounts are overdue at Companies House and I suspect we shall hear no more of Brenig Wind.
Though victory was claimed by Natural Power, which has an office in Aberystwyth. Note that the report I’ve linked to thinks that Lesley Griffiths is part of the UK Government!
In April, soon after Lesley Griffiths gave consent for Pant y Maen wind farm, control passed via a couple of LLPs to Guy and Julia Hands, residents of Guernsey.
Once again, no Welsh involvement, and I guarantee that those I’ve mentioned don’t give a toss about the environment – it’s all about the money. So we despoil our country, inflate our electricity bills, to enrich bastards like these.
Is Lesley Griffiths too stupid to understand how she’s being used?
You will recall that in the previous post dealing with the highly questionable disposal of publicly-owned land by the Regeneration Investment Fund for Wales we encountered two Guernsey-based companies, Imperial House Investments Ltd (Incorporated 30.11.2013) and South Wales Land Developments Ltd (Incorporated 01.02.2014) both of which had just two directors, Langley Davies and Jane Pocock.
It became clear that South Wales Land Developments was set up to serve as a vehicle for the real purchaser in the land deal with RIFW, Sir Gilbert Stanley Thomas, originally of Merthyr, but now resident in Guernsey. So what might be the purpose of Imperial House Investments Ltd?
The obvious question, to me, was, ‘Is there a specific Imperial House that might answer the question?’ Yes, and unsurprisingly it’s to be found on Imperial Park in Newport, listed among the publicly-owned assets disposed of by the Regeneration Investment Fund for Wales.
As I shall explain below, Imperial House was bought by Langley Davies and South Wales Land Developments on behalf of Stan Thomas in the controversial ‘portfolio disposal’ of RIFW assets. But is there anything in the pipeline – as with the housing planned for the Lisvane land – that might affect its value in an upward direction? And come to that, does SWLD still own Imperial House?
The answer to the first question is that Imperial Park will be very close to the projected M4 relief road / ‘black route’ announced by Edwina Hart in July 2014, which is bound to increase its value. ‘But wait!’ I hear you cry, ‘Imperial House Investments Ltd of Guernsey was created in November 2013, a full eight months before Redwina spoke’.
Which could suggest that Stan Thomas and Langley Davies are gifted with second sight . . . or there may be a more mundane explanation
The answer to the second question is where it gets interesting. For Imperial House – or at least, part of it – is now owned by yet another Guernsey-based company involved in these shenanigans.
Here are the details and the documentation.
Imperial House was bought on July 13th, 2012, from South Wales Land Developments Ltd by Imperial House Investments Ltd – a company that didn’t officially exist until November 2013 – for the sum stated on title number WA701104 as being £1,750,000. Here is a link to that document, and here’s a link to the plan of the site, showing the land bought bordered in red.
Then, on October 26th, 2015, it appears that part of the Imperial House site – known as “Phase II” – was sold for £3,853,823 (title number CYM664986) to Oxenwood YPL (Investments) Ltd of PO Box 25, Regency Court, Glategny Esplanade, St Peter Port, Guernsey GY1 3AP. Here’s a link to the title document, and here’s a link to the plan of the site, with the Oxenwood purchase bordered in red. It’s worth comparing the two plans.
So what do we know about Oxenwood? Not a lot. I couldn’t turn up anything for Oxenwood YPL (Investments) Ltd. (And what does YPL stand for anyway?) There is however an Oxenwood Real Estate LLP based in London which might or might not be connected. Though Imperial House doesn’t show in its portfolio.
The building is shown above, with Unit 6 being the ground floor. Is this still owned by Stan Thomas or was it part of the sale to Oxenwood Real Estate LLP, which might have been no more than Stan Thomas selling from one of his Guernsey companies to another?
(To save you taking your socks off, 4,134 sq ft x £15.00 = £62,010.)
Or is this a new build on the “c1a (circa one acre) development site” that was part of the Imperial House transaction? And if “Unit 6” is offered in this ad can we assume that there are at least five other units?
Another big question is – how much did SWLD pay the RIFW for Imperial House? Whatever the answer we can be sure that it will be a very good deal for Sir Gilbert Stanley Thomas.
Reminding us that while the Lisvane site may be the ‘jewel in the crown’ there are a number of other lucrative elements to this portfolio sale by the RIFW that the media may have overlooked.
THE DELOITTE REPORT, INTRODUCTION
One thing that’s become clear as I’ve looked at the RIFW story is how the ‘Welsh’ Labour Party and its laughable ‘Welsh’ Government has procrastinated and dithered, how hard it has tried to stop the truth emerging while simultaneously trying to distance itself from the fall-out. Among the tactics employed has been to regularly trot out the line that the RIFW is an “arms-length” organisation.
The Deloitte report that we shall now consider might also be seen as another bit of procrastination, another effort to buy time in the hope that the critics would get tired and give up. The report was presented to the ‘Welsh’ Government on August 8th, 2013. Its findings are so conclusively damning that it should have resulted in immediate action, but those clowns down Cardiff docks continued to dither.
Before progressing with a detailed look into the Deloitte report I also recommend that you read Owen Donovan’s Oggy Bloggy Ogwr blog, where you will find an excellent analysis of this scandal stage by stage and learn how the Assembly and the ‘Welsh’ Government have handled it. Here’s a link to his most recent contribution, Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap VI: The Debate and you can work back from there to read the earlier pieces.
Click on the title to open the full report, Welsh Government Peer Review – RIFW Asset Portfolio Disposal and keep it open in another window. I know I always say this, but this time I really mean it – please set aside an hour or so to read the report through. I should warn you that it is redacted, but not so heavily as to detract from the seriousness of its findings. (Though of course it did make me wonder, given what is left, how damning were the redacted parts.)
I shall now list what I consider to be the most important of Deloitte’s findings, page by page, but before that maybe I should explain who’s who, and what their roles were.
Chris Munday is the civil servant behind the creation of the Regeneration Investment Fund for Wales. There is surely a knighthood awaiting Mr Munday . . . or possibly a posting to the Gurnos community centre (personal injury insurance provided).
Lambert Smith Hampton is the commercial property consultancy that advised the RIFW on the sales, through its Cardiff office headed by Lee Mogridge, with input from Jeremy Green who is based in London.
Amber Infrastructure was the other RIFW adviser and is now considering taking action against LSH. (The second link contains the sentence, ” . . . they [the Public Accounts Committee] were concerned that one of the company’s [LSH’s] employees was working for both RIFW, which was selling the sites, and South Wales Land Developments, which was buying the site.” This is also referenced in this report from 2013 into the internal governance of the RIFW – page 29 iii – but the individual is not named.)
The public interest was supposed to be have been safeguarded by the five people appointed to the RIFW Board by the ‘Welsh’ Government. These were Richard Anning, of the Institute of Chartered Accountants in Englandandwales; Ceri Breeze, a ‘Welsh’ Government civil servant; Richard Harris, another apparatchik; Chris Holley, the former Lib Dem leader of Swansea council; and Jonathan Geen, of Acuity Legal, the Endgame Group, and, more recently, Bellerophon Scotland, plus of course, South Wales Land Developments Ltd and, ultimately, Stan Thomas.
THE DELOITTE REPORT (by page and column heading)
Page 12: Note that the original value put on Imperial House was £5.2m, yet SWLD was able to sell the property to Imperial House Investments Ltd for £1.75m, so I ask again, how much did SWLD pay for Imperial House? And remember, the £5.2m value was given before anyone knew of the M4 ‘black route’ coming right by Imperial House.
Page 14 Observations: January 31st, 2011: “The Investment Manager’s Report and the Minutes of the Board Meeting at which this document was discussed make no mention of consideration of a portfolio disposal”. Suggesting that the original intention was to sell the lots individually, or perhaps in batches.
The reference in the lower box to Imperial House could be interpreted as someone trying to drive down the asking price.
Page 15: This theme of driving down the supposed value of Imperial House continues.
Page 17 Description: The reference in the lower box makes it clear that by March 28th, 2011, an offer has been received to buy all the properties in a “portfolio disposal”.
Page 21 Observations: It seems clear that Deloitte cannot understand why the Realisation Value of Imperial House has fallen since 2011, and no explanation is offered.
Page 24 Description: This tells us that in the early part of 2011 there were a number of companies interested in the RIFW land, it lists them. Legat Owen, for example, had a client interested in all the sites in the north. But the job lot had already been promised to Stan Thomas.
Page 25 Observations:Lambert Smith Hampton – the Investment Managers to the RIFW, entrusted with securing the best possible deal for these public assets – has not advertised the properties but has “informally canvassed” likely purchasers.
Also note something I commented on in my previous post. Jonathan Geen is dealing with Langley Davies of South Wales Land Developments, Stan Thomas’ front man, but SWLD didn’t officially exist!
Page 26 Observations: Read it all. “No advertising took place” says Deloitte. Though there are more vague references to “informal canvassing”, making it clear that the deal was already done and dusted.
Page 27 Description: Some time before April 21st, 2011 it was known that an offer had been made by Stan Thomas. May 10th, 2011, Langley Davies says that Stan Thomas (through GST of Guernsey) will be lending him the money to make the purchase “at 3% over interbank rate”. So Langley is the real purchaser, with Stan just lending him the money?
Observations: On April 21st, 2011, Board member Jonathan Geen declares a “potential conflict” (of interests). AT WHICH POINT HE SHOULD HAVE BEEN GIVEN THE OLD HEAVE-HO FROM THE RIFW.
Page 28 Description: Here we learn that the “portfolio offer letter from GST Investments Ltd” was received on March 4th, 2011.
Also that, “LSH met Sir Stanley Thomas and Langley Davies to discuss the sale” on March 30th, 2011. Was no one else present?
Page 29 Description: Value of Imperial House downplayed, again.
Page 30 Description: At 20th April, 2011, we learn of the first written evidence of LSH recommending acceptance of the Stan Thomas offer. We also learn that Carwyn Jones and the “IM” were informed of this development.
We also see yet another mention of no due diligence carried out with regard to GST or SWLD.
Pages 32 & 33: With a few minor caveats the Board decides by the end of April 2011 to (officially) accept Stan Thomas’ offer.
Page 38 Description: Lambert Smith Hampton “writes to Martin Pollock of Barclays Wealth (acting for Stan Thomas) accepting an offer of £22.5m based on three staged payments” on June 15th 2011. Anyone who’s been paying attention will have noted that this purchase figure has changed a few times.
Observations: Note Deloitte’s curious and rather worrying mention of the Board’s recorded vote.
Here’s some more information on the Board, “From January 2011, the Board comprised five voting members: two Welsh Government officials (one of whom served as Chair), a Welsh Local Government Association representative and two external members appointed following an advertised public appointments process. Although Welsh Ministers appointed the Board members, under the LLP modelall of the Board members had a legal responsibility to act in the interests of RIFW, even if those interests were not entirely aligned with those of Welsh Ministers(?). LSH told the Committee that they felt the composition of the Board contained the right expertise for this venture.”
I’m quoting there from the January 2016 report by the Assembly’s Public Accounts Committee (page 18). Which goes on to say, “The small size of the RIFW Board meant that its capacity to discharge its responsibilities was weakened when a conflict of interest regarding the portfolio sale to SWLD arose when one of the external members, Jonathan Geen, started to act as the legal advisor to SWLD on the sale transaction.”
Further documentation on the Public Accounts Committee investigation is available here.
Page 39 Description: It is noted on July 22nd 2011, Redrow offers “£2m unconditionally for the Bangor site”. This offer was made to Lambert Smith Hampton’s Manchester office. Why didn’t Redrow go to the Cardiff office handling the sale? Did they know something?
Whatever the answer, this offer seems to have slipped through the floorboards, though of course we should remember that the deal with Stan and Olly had already been stitched up by then.
Page 40 Description: Heads of Terms between RIFW and Newco Ltd (acting for Stan Thomas), July 15th, 2011,“describes the sale of 18 properties, but it also states that RIFW may not be in a position to dispose of Imperial House and Garth Park”.
Observations:“Jonathan Geen is noted as the purchaser’s solicitor”.
Page 44 Description: Against the date November 15th, 2011, we read, “Purchaser is now TBC – a Guernsey Registered Holding Company wholly owned by St Lawrence Property Investments Ltd, registered in UK and funded by GST”.
St Lawrence Property Investments can be found at Unit 6, Imperial Courtyard, the property for rent we looked at earlier. Its directors are Langley Davies and Jane Pocock, but as a new face we have a Karen Davies, who could be Langley’s wife or, given that she was born in the same month as him, his twin sister.
This company, Number 07545621, was Incorporated February 28th, 2011, and before moving to Newport its address, until August 17th, 2011, was 3 Assembly Square, Britannia Quay, Cardiff Bay. The same address as Acuity Legal, where Jonathan Geen is listed as “Partner – Real Estate”.
If St Lawrence Property Investments was registered at 3 Assembly Square, the address of Jonathan Geen’s company, Acuity Legal, and Incorporated on February 28th, then it’s reasonable to assume that Geen was representing Stan Thomas and Langley Davies some two months before he confessed to his “potential conflict” on April 21st. It may have been longer.
The ‘Welsh’ Government seems to think that the RIFW fiasco was all over with the Public Accounts Committee report in January. That was certainly the opinion of Lesley Griffiths AM, Minister for Communities . . . the very communities that have lost out by RIFW not realising anything like the potential of the assets it was entrusted with.
We have since learnt that the ‘Welsh’ Government is getting tough, and earlier this month it was announced that there are plans to take legal action against Lambert Smith Hampton, which has also been referred to the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors.
This is the very least the ‘Welsh’ Government could do, because the performance of LSH leaves only two possibilities:
1/ Those allocated by LSH to the RIFW contract were so utterly inept and unprofessional that they should never be given another job more complicated than a house sale.
2/ The company, or one or more of its employees, was in the pay of Langley and Stan, which is what is suggested by more than one source. If an employee of LSH was simultaneously working for the RIFW and the Langley and Stan show, then surely that person can be prosecuted?
It is therefore wholly correct that Carwyn and his posse should ride off into the sunset in pursuit of the LSH gang. But I don’t understand why Jonathan Geen has been allowed to leave town unmolested. I’m assuming he’s left Cardiff, for as I suggested just now, he seems to have moved to Scotland, where he is currently starring on the Bellerophon Scotland website, now calling himself ‘Jon’ Geen but using the same, Acuity, photograph. (Open out for full profile.)
Jonathan Geen was appointed to the RIFW Board in December 2010. The Terms and Conditions of his appointment can be found here (page 31). I’m linking again to the somewhat neglected report, published in April 2013, into the governance arrangements of the RIFW, written by Gilbert C. Lloyd FCA CPFA. You can read it for yourself, but I can save you the trouble by telling you that Mr Lloyd concludes that the RIFW is a bit of a shambles.
The penultimate Duty reads, “Acting in the best interests of the Fund”. Was it possible for Jonathan Geen to act in the best interests of the Fund while also serving Langley and Stan? His responsibility to the Fund should have meant maximising its profits, yet the gruesome twosome wanted to pay as little as possible for the land.
The final Duty says that the Committee on Standards in Public Life’s Seven Principles of Public Life are adhered to. Read them and you may think that Jonathan Geen broke most of them while acting as a Board member of the RIFW, supposedly safeguarding the public interest.
So why was Jonathan Geen allowed to take the high road?
The Regeneration Investment Fund for Wales was a cock-up from the outset. A perfect example of what goes wrong when civil servants and politicians with no knowledge of the real world try to deal with ‘businessmen’. Setting up the RIFW in the manner it was done was like tethering a goat and waiting for the predators to appear.
Another contributing factor was that, despite its grandiose ambitions, Cardiff remains a relatively small city, and those in particular sectors – such as property sales and development – will almost certainly know each other. Not only professionally, but also socially. Perhaps they’ll belong to the same Lodge or golf club.
While I consistently argue for contracts and jobs to be given to local companies, in the case of the RIFW land disposal, the contracts should have been dispersed to people unknown to each other. This must be borne in mind for all similar business in future and, indeed, more generally when awarding contracts.
For as I travel around Wales I notice signs on development sites telling me that the architect, or the surveyor, or the agent involved, is based in Cardiff, and almost certainly got the contract because he is close to the ‘Welsh’ Government, perhaps in more senses than one.
So let’s learn from the RIFW scandal and in future spread the contracts and the wealth they generate around the country.
All that said, the ultimate blame for the Welsh people being deprived of £200m or more does not lie with Langley Davies or Stan Thomas, Jonathan Geen or anyone at Lambert Smith Hampton, for these were simply being true to their natures. No, the blame lies squarely with the ‘Welsh’ Labour Government down Cardiff docks.
The Regeneration Investment Fund for Wales was a disaster waiting to happen, and it was obvious as early as March 2011 that the disaster was playing out, that there were conflicts of interest, that companies showing interest in doing deals were being cold-shouldered in favour of a single buyer, who seemed to be known to all involved, and was at the very same time making a tidy profit out of selling Cardiff airport to the ‘Welsh’ Government!
And while this tragedy was unfolding those buffoons were hiding behind the ‘arms-length’ defence. Yet the RIFW was their creation and they could have stepped in at any time to protect public assets. And that’s exactly what they should have done. It was their duty.
The response of the wretched Lesley Griffiths sums up not only the ‘Let’s move on’ attitude of her administration, but also ‘Welsh’ Labour’s complete lack of ambition for Wales, which could be summed up with, ‘Ooo, we’ve got about 5% of what these assets should have realised – isn’t that wonderful’!
As I’ve said, these clowns will be asking for your vote again in May. Anyone who votes Labour does not – cannot – have the best interests of Wales at heart. Vote for anyone but Labour!