Miscellany 26.11.2020

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

This is the roundup I promised last week before the Knighton piece just grow’d like Topsy and took over.

Here you’ll find updates on old favourites plus some new faces. Combined they’ll provide a sobering read and a reminder of what a mess Wales is in, due partly to useless, lying politicians down Corruption Bay.

PLAS GLYNLLIFON

This fine old mansion that I’ve written about so many times in recent years in the Weep for Wales series has been sold. Also, the Seiont Manor.

At one time both were owned by Paul and Rowena Williams, but they ran into problems and soon had ‘partners’ in their hour of need. In the form of Myles Cunliffe and his oppo, the ‘King of Marbella’, Jon Disley, always looking for companies in trouble.

And now they’re all gone.

Lest we forget, Paul and Rowena Williams. Click to enlarge

I look forward to learning the identity of the new owners, but I’m fairly sure that he / she / they will fall into one of the following categories. We can but hope that it’s the third.

  • More crooks looking to use the Plas for nefarious purposes.
  • Dreamers, with wonderful ideas but neither the ability nor the money to carry them out.
  • Somebody, or some company, with both the right ideas and the money to realise them.

TRANSPORT FOR WALES GOES OFF THE RAILS

You’ll remember that the Wales and Borders rail franchise was run for some years by Arriva Trains. There were many critics. So when the franchise came up for renewal a couple of years ago it was awarded to French-Spanish partnership KeolisAmey.

That didn’t work out either, with KeolisAmey being fined £3.2m in January for its poor service, with Covid adding more misery through falling passenger numbers. Now the rail service is being nationalised by the ‘Welsh Government’.

Despite my right of centre views on economic and other matters, I believe that essential services should be run by the state as national assets. With one condition, and that is that these services should be run by people who know what they’re doing.

That will not happen in Wales. The statist majority in Corruption Bay has taken over the railways not to provide a better service but because they’re control freaks. Don’t be surprised if the signalling system is handed over to a third sector body approved by lobbyists Deryn.

Unbeknownst to most of those who drive under Machynlleth’s railway bridge, there is a depot nearby where the trains from the Cambrian Coast and the Aberystwyth-Shrewsbury lines are brought overnight for cleaning, maintenance, and repair.

It’s a major employer in the town. (But perhaps not for much longer, thanks to Transport for Wales. An issue I might return to in a later post.)

Two men have been hanging around Mach’ railway station for a few weeks. For a while, no one knew who they were, or what they were doing. I think I now have the story.

As part of the Covid-19 arrangements extra portakabins were brought in for the staff. Hired from a company called W H Welfare, part of the Kelling Group of Normanton, in West Yorkshire, a few miles south east of Leeds.

The two mystery men are security guards who came with the portakabins. The problem being that the portakabins are inside the compound, behind the security gate, and the portakabin guards do have not have clearance to enter the compound. So they’re stuck outside, and to look useful, or just to while away the time, they seem to turn up to meet the trains.

But Machynlleth ain’t Grand Central Station. So that doesn’t give them much to do.

Now these two security men must be staying locally, which means that their wages and accommodation will be included in the portakabin hire charge.

The incompetence doesn’t end there. The portakabins run on a generator – a petrol generator. There is no petrol on site except in the workers’ cars. Everything else is diesel.

Am I making this up? No. Am I drunk? How dare you!

So, we have two men at a small Welsh railway station, doing sod all, but costing a lot of money. Because of course it’s all being paid for by Transport for Wales. Which means the ‘Welsh Government’. Which means you and me.

Portakabins1
Potakabins3
Portakabins2
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Shadow

It’s reasonable to assume that Machynlleth isn’t the only station or depot for which these portakabins were hired. Plus of course the security men. So how much money is being squandered in this way?

And come to that, is there nowhere in Wales where portakabins could have been sourced? And sourced cheaper? I’m sure there is. Which means that in addition to the incompetence we have the issue of a ‘Welsh Government’ agency sending money out of Wales.

It looks as if someone in Transport for Wales has made a massive cock-up. Or is someone getting a backhander from a firm in West Yorkshire?

MARGAM MOUNTAIN

Last month I brought you the tale of yet another foreign-owned windfarm being dumped on Wales with the enthusiastic support of the planet-savers in the ‘Welsh Government’ and Plaid Cymru.

You’ll find it here, just scroll down to the section, “Another ‘Community-owned, local benefits’ wind farm. Not”.

Image: Beryl Richards. Mynydd Margam. Click to enlarge

As I wrote in that earlier piece, “this particular project is a joint English-Irish venture. From Ireland we have state-owned ESB, while from England (possibly Scotland) we have Coriolis Energy Ltd.”

As you can see from the link, the website is very basic, perhaps explained by the fact that Companies House tells us Coriolis Energy is almost £100,000 in debt.

It’s difficult to figure out why ESB needs Coriolis. Maybe it’s to fulfil a similar role to that of Invis Energy of County Cork, which has been working on Meenbog wind farm, on the Donegal-Tyrone border.

Where there was recently a massive slippage of peat into the Mourne Beg river, part of the Foyle system. Just watch the trees go sailing by in the video!

 

The lesson here is that erecting bloody big wind turbines, each one sunk into thousands of tons of concrete, will have consequences when such idiocy is encouraged in sensitive environments.

Such as Irish peat bogs, and Welsh hillsides from which thousands upon thousands of rain-absorbing trees have been cut, and from which acres of equally absorbent peat has been removed.

Another worry for those living close to the proposed development on Mynydd Margam is that the planned turbines will be 750 tall. As any child playing with blocks will tell you, the higher you try to build it, the more difficult it gets to keep it standing.

Which is why I was not surprised to learn from a regular correspondent in northern Sweden – who took time off from herding his reindeer – that a 755 foot turbine in his neck of the woods had recently come crashing down. Here’s a report from ABC News.

I believe a re-think is needed. Not just on this development on Margam Mountain but on all onshore wind developments in Wales. Because . . .

  • No permanent jobs have resulted from the dozens of wind farms desecrating our countryside. 
  • No manufacturing has been encouraged by the ‘Welsh Government’ so that we can build the turbines here – they’ve all been imported.
  • First by smoky ships, and then by huge, diesel-powered trucks and trailers, before trees are felled and peat removed to accommodate them in concrete bases the size of football pitches. Making a nonsense of wind turbines’ claimed green credentials.
  • In fact, before a blade turns, each wind turbine will have caused more damage to the environment than it can make up for in its short and fitful life.
  • No Welsh companies have emerged to run or own wind turbines other than tiny, ‘hippy’ enterprises reliant on public largesse.
  • No skills base has been developed that Wales could benefit from and export.
  • And it’s increasingly likely that wind turbines contribute to flooding.

The ‘progressive’ parties have allowed – even encouraged – Wales to be exploited and cheated in this way just so that they could look virtuous to a certain lobby.

When it comes to serving England’s interests, things in Wales are not a lot different in the 21st century to earlier times. Just disguised by the gloss of devolution, and bullshit about ‘Wales saving the planet’.

But it’s the same old exploitation.

BRYN LLYS

Where would a roundup like this be without a trip to Bryn Llys or, more specifically, Caernarfon magistrates court.

The latest of the Duggan gang to appear has been Jon Duggan himself, on November 16. His large dogs got out – again! – and attacked neighbours’ poultry. But of course, in the parallel universe inhabited by these clowns, it was probably the chickens’ fault.

I’m afraid I can’t link to any press report because I can’t find one. But Duggan was fined £300. Then there was compensation of £30, victim surcharge of £32, and CPS costs of £640. Making a grand total of £1,002.00.

Bryn Llys, aka ‘Snowdon Summit View’. Click to enlarge

I know those are the facts because my source is reliable, and I have even been supplied with a case number.

In related news, Bryn Llys Ltd is threatened with strike-off by Companies House. Though I suppose this company might have already served its purpose.

By which I mean the Duggan gang’s MO is to start a company, open bank accounts, sign up for credit accounts with assorted suppliers and then order goods and equipment, sell it all on, then let the company be struck off, or liquidate it, without paying for anything.

Finally, the deadline for Duggan to comply with the Enforcement Order and remove the unauthorised roadway he has laid on his recently acquired land was Friday, November 20. He has of course made no effort to comply. Cyngor Gwynedd has been informed.

This episode was covered in September, in ‘Bryn Llys, the Liverpool connection‘. That Liverpool connection was solicitor Kathryn Elizabeth Parry. She’d had her own company, Parry and Co Solicitors Limited, since liquidated; and now she’s a partner in a company formed in October last year, Victor Welsh Legal Limited.

A dicky-bird tells me that when Duggan appeared before the bench to answer for the Great Chicken Massacre he was accompanied by a female solicitor from Liverpool.

Fancy that!

COMPANIES HOUSE

Over the years I’ve complained about Companies House being toothless, nothing more than a filing system, or a box-ticking exercise. Here’s a recent example that came to my attention in a roundabout sort of way.

Someone got in touch because they were angry at certain new properties in Llanarthne, a village just off the A40, roughly midway between Llandeilo and Carmarthen. These were four- and five-bed ‘executive homes’ in the Mulberry Grove development.

The development’s name, and the prices being asked, suggested that the developer was not anticipating many local buyers.

Click to enlarge

The company behind it was GS6, formed as recently as May 2018. The project had been funded, in part at least, by Emma Ruth Developments Limited. And it’s when I looked at this company that I got a bit of a shock.

The last accounts filed were for year ending 30 October 2016! And these showed a net book value of just £949.00.

Companies House made the gesture of compulsory strike-off towards the end of 2018, but it was discontinued after an objection. But in 2019 – nothing! And nothing in 2020 until I contacted them. The company is now scheduled for strike-off to begin December 1st.

The response I got a few days ago reads:

“I can advise that the company has already been reminded accordingly to deliver the outstanding accounts in accordance with the Companies Act 2006.

Our records show that accounts for the period ending 30/10/2017, 30/10/2018 and 30/10/2019 and also the confirmation statement for the period ending 14/06/2020 remain overdue and we are currently taking action to remove the company from the register. 

In order to proceed with this course of action it is necessary to issue statutory letters to the company leading to a publication in the London Gazette.

Any objections against the proposed dissolution will be considered once the notice of our intention has been published in the London Gazette. All creditors and interested parties should be aware that objection must be in writing and need to be provided with supporting evidence.

Also, if you believe that the company or any of its employees have acted fraudulently then this matter should be reported to Investigation and Enforcement Services. The Company Investigations team within the Insolvency Service has the power to investigate limited companies where information received suggests corporate abuse; this may include serious misconduct, fraud, scams or sharp practice in the way a company operates. They have investigatory powers to look into the affairs of a company where this is evidence of fraud or misfeasance and can be contacted at
Intelligence.live@insolvency.gsi.gov.uk”

I’m not sure if Emma Ruth Developments has acted fraudulently but I’d like to know how a company that shouldn’t even be in existence is allowed to lend money to another company.

I might also ask why Companies House has done sod all for so long . . . but I’d be wasting my time.

KNIGHTON HOTEL

Last week we were in Knighton, reading about a bunch of selfless people on a civilising mission. En passant I mentioned the Knighton Hotel, where once Paul Williams was cock o’ the walk . . . or something.

A source informs me that the old pile has been sold. And the new owner is Na’Ím Anís Paymán. A 26-year-old German citizen of German and Iranian Baha’i origins who grew up in Albania and studied at Cambridge. More in this brief autobiography.

The two-part Knighton Hotel. Click to enlarge

In fact, he seems to be quite the self-publicist, with a number of videos online. But he still comes across as a likeable young man.

Paymán has formed a number of companies since 2015 and I have no reason to suspect that he’s anything other than a genuine young entrepreneur looking to make himself rich. An ambition that causes me no sleepless nights.

In the hope that it riles lefties, I’ll say it again: a genuine young entrepreneur looking to make himself rich.

If he does that by providing work for local people, if he uses local companies, tradesmen and suppliers, then all well and good.

If he takes a wrong path, then I’m sure I’ll be writing about him again.

RSL FUNDING

I recently gave you the figures for amounts of Social Housing Grant (SHG) received by our Registered Social Landlords, otherwise known as housing associations. Here’s a link to the table I put together. (Scroll left?)

In the ten years 2010-2011 to 2019-2020 the headline figure for SHG was £966,608,902. Obviously, some RSLs got more than others, and none got more than Labour’s favourite RSL, where the CEO is the wife of a Cardiff Labour councillor.

For Wales & West Housing was handed the princely sum of £99,483,507.

I have since received the figures for RSL funding in addition to SHG, for the period 01.01.2010 to 31.10.2020. The funding covered is: Housing Finance Grant, Affordable Housing Grant, Rent to Own, Physical Adaptation Grant, Innovative Housing Programme (grant and loan), Land for Housing Scheme (loan) and Registered Social Landlord Loans.

Eleven local authorities received a total of £19,969,000. While our RSLs were given £370,738,000. Once again, the big winner was Wales & West, with £39,341,000.

Combining the funding from various pots gives us £1,337,346,982. That is £1.34bn.

Of which Wales & West has received £138,824,507. Just over 10% of all the funding given to some 30 or more active RSLs.

WHAT’S NEXT FOR MILFORD HAVEN?

The Milford Haven Waterway is one of the finest deep-water anchorages on Earth, and has been recognised as such for centuries. In recent times it has attracted oil and gas companies because their huge tankers can be easily accommodated.

The area also attracts its share of con men. Who can forget Admiral Wing Commander of the SAS Fabian Sean Lucien Faversham-Pullen VC, Croix de Guerre, Iron Cross (1st Class), Purple Heart and the Order of Lenin, who planned to turn Fort Hubberstone in Milford Haven into a home for ex-service personnel.

The Last Post was blown for Camp Valour CIC a year ago. Read about it here.

Hot on the heels of the Camp Valour project at Fort Hubberstone came a group of ‘investors’ looking to buy a different fort, The Old Defensible Barracks in Pembroke Dock. I wrote about that in Old Defensible Barracks, and the imaginatively titled sequel, Old Defensible Barracks 2.

Old Defensible Barracks. Click to enlarge

Those involved had not yet bought the Barracks when I first wrote about them, or certainly, the Land Registry had not been informed of a change of ownership. This has now been registered and we can see from the title document that the owners are Walker Property Developments Limited.

This company was launched 14.08.2018 as Muniment Yorkshire Ltd. It became Walker Property Developments 06.07.2019, before changing its name again 02.10.2019 to VR 1844 Limited.

I assume that VR stands for Victoria Regina and 1844 tells us that the Old Defensible Barracks was built in that year.

Despite the developers saying they planned to turn the old place into apartments (see the article below, and here in pdf format), I suspected that the real attraction was the closeness to the estuary, connecting with Brexit and the need for space to park lorries. Because there is an extensive piece of land between the Barracks and the water, clearly visible in the image above.

Click to enlarge

And of course, the Pembroke-Rosslare ferry is almost next door.

This suspicion was strengthened by the Singapore connection found with the directors of Walker Property Developments – including the eponymous Walker, who lives there – and Singaporean connections with another coastal site, in the Six Counties, and again, very close to ferry ports.

Lorry parks may still be the objective, but as I mentioned towards the end of the second article, there is also the possibilty of Milford Haven, or the whole Waterway, becoming a freeport. Which, again, could account for the interest from Singapore, which is perhaps the biggest freeport in the world.

Others have also been buying sections of the Waterway shoreline. With interest coming from equally exotic locations: Cyprus, Jordan . . . Carmarthenshire.

Let’s start in September 2015, with WalesOnline gilding a press release – no questions, no critical analysis. To believe the report, a company nobody’d heard of was going to bring 560 jobs to Milford Haven over the next five years through, “£685 million in a Centre of Renewable Energy Excellence”.

The company named in the fable was, “Cypriot-owned energy company” Egnedol Ltd. We were told it had bought the former Gulf refinery at Waterston and the neighbouring RNAD mine depot at Blackbridge.

The biomass facility planned for Blackbridge was turned down in June 2018.

Click to enlarge

There are a number of Egnedol companies, with the Blackbridge site owned by Egnedol Pembroke Eco Power Ltd, according to the Land Registry title document.

The old refinery site nearby appears to be owned by Egnedol Bio-Energy Limited. Certainly, that’s what the Land Registry document suggests.

I hedge my bets because there are caveats attaching to the ownership of both sites.

The Blackbridge site has received loans from Suleiman Al Daoud, of Amman, Jordan. Who in September became a director of Egnedol Wales Limited. So he could be said to now own the site. By the same token, he could also be said to own the oil refinery site.

UPDATE: I got to wondering about Suleiman Al Daoud. The Al Daoud Group is an established company that seems to concentrate on residential properties and retail complexes in Jordan.

I can’t find any evidence of the Group operating outside of Jordan. So what attracted Suleiman Al Daoud to Milford Haven?

Then there is yet another company, Egnedol UK Limited, which uses a Milford Haven address but with directors Dr Robert Prigmore and Steven Whitehouse living in the Ammanford area.

Prigmore and Whitehouse appear in the other Egnedol companies, together with Antonis Andrea Antoniadis, who maintains the Cyprus connection.

The RNAD site is marked with the red spot and the oil refinery site is to the right of it. Click to enlarge

And if Cyprus and Jordan weren’t enough overseas involvement, Prigmore and Whitehouse have yet another company, Azolis UK Ltd, formed as recently as September this year, where we find two French directors.

Explained by the fact that this latest company is an offshoot or subsidiary of French renewables company Azolis, which has offices in Fontainebleau and Casablanca.

So, all this overseas interest in Milford Haven Waterway, what does it mean? What does the future hold? The possibilities appear to be:

  • Brexit-related, possibly lorry parks.
  • Hoping to cash in on the Swansea Bay City Deal.
  • Anticipating a freeport and getting in ahead of the rush.
  • A home for nuclear subs when Scotland goes independent.

One thing I guarantee. Whatever happens, it’ll be strangers reaping the benefits, as always. That’s the way Wales is run, and devolution has brought no improvement.

In fairness, the ‘Welsh Government’ may have no influence over what’s happening on the Milford Haven Waterway. It could all be planned at a higher level and those clowns might be told at a later date.

Then again, why bother!

♦ end ♦

 




Gardening for Merchant Bankers

A Guest Post by ‘Blodyn Tatws’

(Illustrations supplied by ‘Green Fingers’ Jac showing some of the gems you might encounter at the Garden)

The National Botanic Garden of Wales germinated as an idea in the 1990s and opened its gates to the public in May 2000. In common with so many of the other projects which saw the light of day under Tony “Things can only get better” Blair, it was sold to the public on an entirely unrealistic prospectus that it would become financially self-sustaining and shower economic benefits on Wales. It has never come close to achieving either of those objectives, and it never will.Common Flim-flam Flower

To what extent the Garden can claim to be a national garden for Wales is also debatable, and it bears all the hallmarks of those countless third sector charities and trusts whose primary purpose seems to be to find something to do for members of the British establishment now that the market for sahibs and memsahibs has dried up.

Faced with low visitor numbers and dependent on annual subsidies from the Welsh Government and Carmarthenshire County Council, the Garden is now attempting a new throw of the dice to reverse its fortunes with a £6.7 million scheme based on a truly weird reading of Welsh history, which on closer inspection seems to have rather more to do with celebrating the history of merchant banking and the arcane world of the City of London.

UP THE GARDEN PATH

In June of this year, Carmarthenshire’s county councillors were treated to a 30 minute Powerpoint presentation by Dr Rosie Plummer, Director of the National Botanic Garden of Wales, as she took them on a whistle stop tour of claims, few of which were backed up by evidence and some of which simply don’t stand up to scrutiny.

Dr Plummer is nothing if not enthusiastic, and after a few words in Welsh (Rosie is proud of the O Level she took when she moved here), the rest of the spiel sounded like a games mistress addressing the Roedean junior lacrosse team with a sideline in corporate bullshit-bingo doublespeak. Our Rosie is very fond of words such as terrific, fantastic, cutting-edge, collaborative, strategic, tremendous and massive. “We are strategic!” she exclaimed at one point in what she obviously considered to be a slam-dunk argument, and the councillors duly gave her warm applause.

In an oblique reference to an earlier row about the Garden’s attitude towards the Welsh language, Dr Plummer declared that the Garden was massively respectful of the Welsh language, but failed to explain why her marketing manager had effectively told a well-known local broadcaster to bugger off when she asked politely for a bilingual version of a newsletter, or why the Garden had taken to putting up English-only signs to advertise various events.

MORE DOSH, PLEASE

Rosie was clearly much too well brought up to mention to rank-and-file councillors that she would be heading back to County Hall shortly to ask the council’s top brass for some of the cash for the £6.7 million scheme, an extension of the garden’s £1.3 million interest-free loan and a commitment to renewing the council’s annual subsidy.

By the by, there is also an interesting arrangement with the council whereby if the local authority ever sells three farmhouses currently occupied for free by the Garden, the capital recOffshore Orchideipts will go to the Garden, rather than the council.

And so, a couple of weeks later the Executive Board of Carmarthenshire County Council sat down to consider Rosie’s request. To its credit, and for the first time in recorded history, the word “consider” did not mean “rubber-stamp”. The council decided that future funding of the Garden should be dependent on a less cavalier attitude to the Welsh language, and that Dr Plummer should consider offering all-year discounted entry tickets to the local peasantry rather than allowing them in once a year for free in January when there is nothing to see.

If that was not embarrassing enough, the council also opined that the Garden needed to become more financially self-sustaining by attracting families and improving its marketing.

WELSH NOT

For several weeks all went quiet, but the leopard was not about to change its spots, and at the end of July it emerged that Dr Plummer had refused to meet representatives of Cymdeithas yr Iaith unless they provided their own interpreter at their own cost, adding that she would be willing to participate in such a meeting only as long as this process did not restrict the free exchange of ideas.

Separately, Dr Plummer told Cymdeithas that they should stop sending her e-mails in Welsh as English was her preferred language. When it was pointed out to her that the garden was committed to providing a service in Welsh under its language policy, Dr Plummer replied that the policy had been entered into voluntarily.

When the BBC tried to interview her about this, they were told that Dr Plummer’s busy schedule meant she had no time.

Cymdeithas has now written to Carwyn Jones to remind him that his government’s agreement on continued funding of the Garden contains conditions about the use of the language, and asking him to take steps to make the Garden meet its commitments.

Being the National Botanic Garden of Wales does not extend to paying anything more than lip service to the Welsh language or culture, and in reality it is much more interested in marketing itself to visitors from England.

WEEDS AND STALE BARA BRITHLaburnum

Visitor numbers have been on the slide since Dr Plummer took over the running of the Gardens. The Garden is understandably reluctant to publish details, but according to a council report there were just 147,000 in the year to March 2015, despite 2014 being an unusually warm summer. That works out at about 400 per day. Back in 2009-10 income from admission fees was £445,000. In 2013-14, the most recent year for which published accounts are available, it was down to just £368,000. In 2013-14 the Garden received subsidies and grants from national and local government to the tune of £1,335,000, and without that and dipping into its reserves, the Garden would have to close its gates for good.

The closest Dr Plummer got to talking about visitor numbers in her pep talk to councillors was a picture of a little girl skipping for joy, but she was in no doubt that the Garden was vital to the local economy.

A more realistic picture of what visitors think of the Garden can be gained from Tripadvisor. Some enjoy their days out, and some are positively ecstatic, but then they would probably have given rave reviews to Basil and Sybil after a weekend at Fawlty Towers.

More worrying for the Botanic Garden is a thread which runs through most of the less positive reviews: this is a Garden which suffers from a distinct shortage of plants, with vast areas given over to grass, and a surprisingly shabby entrance area.

“It was all rather drab, and that was on a bright day,” said one visitor, while a couple of others noted their disappointment after a trip in March to see what the Garden’s promotional literature said would be 50 kinds of daffodil. Others complained of stale bara brith and weeds in the vegetable garden.

As amateur gardeners in Carmarthenshire know, unless you have a very favoured spot, most of us won’t see daffs in our gardens much before the end of March.

Mawrth a ladd, Ebrill a fling (March kills and April flays), says the old Welsh proverb. And they knew what they were talking about.

But Dr Plummer and her board have a big idea to transform the Garden’s fortunes.

A VISION

Dr Plummer’s presentation did include a reference to a £6.75 million project called “Middleton: Paradise Regained” (geddit, all you readers with English A Levels?) which has won initial funding from the National Lottery and a pledge of around £1.4 million from a businessman called Richard Broyd, the Mercers’ Company in the City of London and a couple of other charities.

The lottery grant was awarded in 2014, but the Garden is still about £5 million short of its target, and Dr Plummer warned that if the additional funds could not be found, there was a risk that the dosh could go to Kent.

If the project does get the go-ahead, it will join the once state-of-the-art bio sciences centre aPetuniat the site in Llanarthne, now unoccupied and looking for new tenants. It was built under the Welsh Government’s disastrous Technium scheme which was enthusiastically overseen by Cllr Meryl Gravell, the veteran former leader of the county council. Technium may have gone the way of Nineveh and Tyre in an orgy of what in some cases amounted to large scale fraud, but Meryl is still with us and is enthusiastically backing her new friend Rosie.

Dr Plummer was pretty miffed about the first round of criticism of the Garden’s attitude towards the Welsh language in April, and issued a regal statement at the time to tick off the ungrateful locals:

“It is therefore enormously disappointing to be subject to such vigorous approaches that largely seem to overlook the very wide range of ways in which the garden actively contributes to bringing the unique importance of Wales to everyone who visits”, she declared.

So how Welsh is the garden and its vision for the 21st century?

CARMARTHENSHIRE OLD SPICE

Rather than spending a bit of time and money on those planty things and weeding, the great and good who run the place have hit on the idea of putting a lot of the site under water and doing a bit of archaeology to recreate a vision of Regency England Wales which will somehow incorporate the massive glass and steel dome designed by Norman Foster when he was in his glass and steel dome phase (see the Berlin Reichstag).

This historical justification for this is set out in a gushing press release to celebrate the backing of the Heritage Lottery Fund. The project aims “to tell the story of more than 250 years of East India Company influence that shaped the landscape of this part of Wales”, it purrs.

According to Rob Thomas, the Garden’s Head of Development, this is an “incredible story of pirates, plague and plants for health”, set at a time “when nutmeg and mace were worth more than their weight in gold”.

As we shall see, this is indeed a truly incredible yarn.

The chair of the HLF’s Welsh committee added that the project would help people learn about the history of the site and “the little known links the East India Company had to the area”.

So little known that they had escaped the attention of everybody else, including the late Dr John Davies, whose magisterial History of Wales does not contain a single reference to the Company or its influence on Wales.

A HISTORY LESSON

As far as the Garden is concerned, the history of the site began in the first half of the 17th century when the estate was bought by a Mr Henry Middleton.

The Middletons, or Myddletons, were municipal bigwigs in Chester under the Tudors, possibly originally from Oswestry, and a couple of them spotted an opportunity to cash in on the burgeoning spice trade under Elizabeth I. The most famous of these was Sir Henry Middleton whoSassafras led a series of very lucrative and often violent expeditions to Asia. Sir Henry died childless after his final adventure, and his money was distributed among the large Middleton brood.

The Middletons’ association with the East India Company appears to have stopped at the death of Sir Henry, who as far as we know never went anywhere near Llanarthne. The Henry who bought the estate was probably a nephew.

The extent of the estate’s links with the East India Company up to the end of the 18th century was therefore that it was once owned by someone whose uncle made a lot of money out east.

Henry built a house on the site, and eventually the Middletons fizzled out. The Gwyns of Gwympa succeeded, but they lived beyond their means and the estate came up for sale in 1789 when it was acquired by William Paxton.

MONEY BAGS

Paxton was a Scot who rose up through the ranks of the East India Company to become Master of the Bengal Mint. In common with other Brit officers of the company, he amassed a huge fortune while running bits of India, and he ran a very lucrative sideline in helping other ex-pat plunderers to transfer their money back to Blighty.

Thus, it is claimed, Paxton laid the foundations of what was to become merchant banking, a branch of the banking industry which eventually morphed into investment banking, or as it is sometimes popularly known, casino banking.

Paxton’s main hobby was money, and there is nothing whatsoever to back up the Garden’s claim that the story of the estate is a tale intertwined with nutmegs, cloves and cinnamon.

East India Company men who made lots of money were known as ‘nabobs’ back home, and were about as popular with people at the time as investment bankers are today, although unlike their modern counterparts, they tended to wreck only the economies of other countries.

Nabobs generally liked to spend a few years out in India accumulating as much cash as they could before heading for home, where they would build mansions and buy their way into politics. Just like many modern Conservative Party donors, in fact.

This is exactly what Paxton did. Although he had never set foot in Wales before, he ended up buying the estate at Llanarthne in 1789, and shortly afterwards work began on a new neo-classical mansion.

The old Middleton Hall was turned into a farmhouse and then demolished, with much of the fabric being recycled for use in Paxton’s building projects. A study a few years back by the National Botanic Garden concluded that very little of the old house Cedar of Libornonremained to be uncovered apart from some foundations and bits of rubble, and yet uncovering what is left is one of the ideas behind the £6.7 million project.

Having built himself a house, Paxton turned his attention to the grounds, which he improved with a series of lakes and waterfalls.

His attempts to break into politics were less than successful, and he notoriously spent £15,000 (almost £500,000 in current values) on food and drink in the 1802 election trying, unsuccessfully, to become MP for Carmarthen. His investment paid off the following year, however, and he held the seat briefly until 1806.

To the horror of the National Dictionary of Biography, Paxton was the subject of scurrilous leaflets written by one of Jac o’ the North’s spiritual forbears in the 1807 election. There he was described as “an upstart nabob heedless of the interests of our native land”, a description which could be applied to a good many modern Tory and Labour MPs.

Paxton died in 1824, and the estate was sold on to a family which had made its fortune in the slave plantations of the West Indies, although that’s a bit of the garden’s history we are unlikely to be told about.

Architecture is a matter of taste, and Paxton’s house was relatively modest by the standards of the day. It was joined in the 19th century by a large number of other mansions of varying degrees of architectural merit dotted around Carmarthenshire, most of which are now long gone, ruined or in the advanced stages of decay.

Carmarthenshire proved to be not very fertile soil for the imported landed gentry, and Llanarthne was no exception.

Paxton’s house changed hands a couple of times before it was destroyed by fire in 1930. Only the servants’ wing survived, with the shell of the main house being bulldozed in the 1950s. The carefully restored servants’ quarters are, of course, out of bounds to the visiting public and now the domain of Dr Plummer.

The lakes were filled in just over a century after they were dug, and the county council became the new owner. There were no Meryl Gravells or Mark James’s around at the time, and so the estate was parcelled up into seven small farms which were then leased to families who wanted to get a foothold on the farming ladder.

PARADISE LOST AND REGAINED?

For just over sixty years, the Middleton estate reverted to being just a piece of rural Carmarthenshire, home to Welsh-speaking families who no doubt all had their own veg plots and modest gardens, only for the lot to be swept away in the New Labour era.

The life and work of the Welsh families who farmed on the site of the Garden will not featA Verr English Roseure in the “Paradise Regained” project which will instead celebrate colonial exploitation and the debt the world owes to merchant bankers.

Or as the Garden’s Head of Development, Rob Thomas, so eloquently put it, this “incredible” story spans “a period of 250 years of international trade from the times of barter and exchange to the establishment of international lines of credit and investment banking; the forging of the blueprint for our current capitalist system; and, in the hands of Sir William Paxton, the formation of modern investment banking.”

For any visitors wondering why the garden does not invest more in plants, the answer would seem to be that there is not enough money left after paying the salaries of all those spin doctors and heads of development.

It is no doubt purely a coincidence that the Garden’s trustees are headed up by an investment banker, Mr Rob Joliffe, who is currently Head of Emerging Markets for UBS, the Swiss banking giant, or that the funders include the Mercers’ Company, one of those arcane City of London old boys’ institutions.

Quite how any of this bears out Dr Plummer’s claim that the objective of the garden is to bring “the unique importance of Wales to everyone who visits” is anyone’s guess.