Tuesday, 18 April 2017

Guest Post - Ray Jones - his take on the Scarlets' funding issues

Ray Jones is a longtime community activist and one of the original "Stradey 9" who formed the Strady Residents Action Group - SRAG to oppose the building of a large residential development on the C2 flood plain at Stradey Park.

Ray "Duncan" Jones

 Ray writes:

Carmarthenshire Council have admitted spending over £25 million on the Parc- y-Scarlets Stadium. This does not include a loan of £2,6 million at an initial interest rate of 7%, later reduced to 3.5% and interest only, with full repayment of the capital sum in 2023.

The Council also made a contribution of £5.16 million from its reserves, and also funded a supposed 106 payment [usually used to fund local infrastructure of a new development] of £5.56 million to act as the club's contribution to the stadium. This loan was paid back, often in arrears, by Taylor Wimpey. The sum was based on the original 450 homes planned and after protests this was reduced to 355 so the developers may have ended up paying over the odds.

The new Stadium site was council owned and part developed for retail, the rest for the Scarlets.
Grants were given for their new training barn, £700,000 and the athletic track at the new stadium was supported to the tune of £750,000. The 150 year stadium ground lease with no rental payment unless there is considerable profit on ticket sales {never has been} is worth an estimated £5 million. So essentially free and eventually part of it sold on to finance other projects.

Deliottes were commissioned in 2007 to assess the Scarlet's business plan at the cost of £200,000. Deloittes assessed that the business plan was unlikely to succeed but the council still proceeded. The Scarlets agreed to set up an annual  "sink fund" for repairs of £25,000 but were allowed to default on it.

Later the Scarlets sold the lease on one of their car parks to Marsden's who built a pub and a hotel on the site and plan a "drive through" food and drink sales unit for the future. The Sale was for over £800,000 but the council, originally promised half the money, only got £200,000. Did that deficit include the almost £300,000 used to refit the Scarlet's shop and Cafe at the Llanelli  Eastgate, now both closed down?

Carms County Council were said to be paying £20,000 p.a. to employ a liason officer for them to keep in touch with the Scarlets.

The Council argued that the Scarlet Brand would bring both Pemberton and Trostre Retail Parks loads of business, They play at home 16 times a year - 11 home games in the Pro 12 and 4 in Europe. What happens the rest of the year?

Morrison's Supermarket paid the council around £25 million for their site but CCC paid a lot, some millions, to stabilise that site. Sold commercially the stadium site may have been worth £14-16 million. The Councillors were told the project would not cost the public a penny as it would be funded by the sale of this council land for retail and the Scarlets would be able to use the profit from the sale of land at Stradey Park to pay off their debts. This was then a figure of £9 million. Now it is more despite the money spent on them by the Council and selling the Stradey Park site for well over £9 million.     

Parc y Strade development : 355 homes mainly on a flood plain and elevated above ground level and  so increasing the risk of local flooding
  How much revenue has been lost with the Scarlets being given free rent and earning hundreds of thousands of pounds as the Council pay for the use of their facilities over very many years and the rental charges paid by all who use those same facilities?

Finally consider the the fairness in Carmarthen Town FC getting a grant of over £165.000 over 10 years and now applying for more, £150,000 for an all weather surface and Llanelli FC, "the Reds" who only owed £23,000 in debt being left to the mercy of being bankrupted and given a massive relegation [down 4 divisions to Welsh league division 3]. It could have been 8 if the Welsh FA had not stepped in.They then had to pay for their own signage and other local clubs, cricket, Tennis and Squash clubs face the same scenario. 

Ray "Duncan" Jones

Wednesday, 5 April 2017

St Illtyd's Way - can Carmarthenshire County Council turn back the Sea?

We may all know the tale of  King Canute who failed to turn back the sea. Less well known is the Celtic Saint Illtyd who was quite a religious superstar in his day, he had the sea under control. He is commemorated in many place names and also in St Illtyd's Way, a 64 mile long footpath for hikers which incidentally passes my home. The Way travels from Pembrey Country Park through Rural East Carmarthenshire via Mynydd y Gwair to Margam Country Park in Neath Port Talbot.

St Illtyd's church, Pembrey. Carmarthenshire, originally on the coast but now surrounded by homes built on reclaimed land.
St Illtyd was very popular. Setting up his HQ religious commune and college at what is now known as in English as Llantwit Major- Llanilltud Fawr in Welsh. Not surprisingly, as he specialised in coastal settlements, the sea became a problem here. As the community's sea walls failed repeatedly God had the solution. He instructed Illtyd to wave his crozier at the naughty sea which was permanently frightened away. Things were simpler in the 5th Century. It was a miracle.

Now the Sea can really get in the way in Carmarthenshire's coastal city deal.

Grant grabbing and permission to borrow was seen by many local government civil servants and councillors as a fine way of increasing council incomes. The trouble was making up the projects to fit the applications tended to leave a few white elephants hanging around, some quite expensive both financially and politically ,Much of the spending seems to have little in the way of tangible results for the local populations. Hence the deaf ears in much of Wales to the argument of the vital need for EU funding to continue.

Now there's a different game in town,, the City Deals. Here in Carmarthenshire the Council is the lead body in the Wellness ARCH Project AKA Wellness and Wellbeing Neuro/Life Science village and a few other similar descriptions. Here is one official description from a press release:

What is a Wellness and Life Science Village?
This project is a first for the country and brings together health, science and enterprise to regenerate the area and also help people live healthier lives for longer.
The project concept was derived last year from work undertaken by under ARCH alongside Carmarthenshire Council. ARCH (A Regional Collaboration for Health) is a partnership between Swansea University and ABMU and Hywel Dda health boards. By coming together the three organisations are aiming to transform the way healthcare is delivered in South West Wales. ARCH brings together the health service and innovation and research to find a new way of meeting the challenges the NHS faces.
The village could see lifestyle and leisure facilities, primary and community-based healthcare and specialist residential care integrated with university research and education space. There will also be business facilities to encourage economic growth.
A feasibility study, funded by the Welsh Government, is currently being carried out for the scheme at Delta Lakes. The site, adjacent to the coastline, has been chosen as the perfect place to deliver the project, which is expected to create 1,000 jobs.

Llanelli is a low lying town where most of South Llanelli has been reclaimed from the sea over the past 2 centuries. With global temperatures expected to raise by at least 2-4 C by 2100  and tide lines to rise by 4-6 metres building on land already requiring tide locks to stop the sea coming in twice a day seems a little short sighted?  Delta lakes, looking at the research by Climate Central, may well be permanently under water  before the end of the century and at risk of tidal surges producing floods  prior to going under. It is clearly in a potential danger area. Why throw money at a site which may only last a few decades?
Speaking back in 2015 Professor Ian Hall, head of Earth and Oceanic Science at Cardiff University said:
"It is clear that as the rate and total amount of Sea level rise increases in the coming years the impact of this change will be increasingly felt".
"Our Coastlines and the communities living on them will become increasingly vulnerable. In Wales, adapting to future sea levels will require a combination of increased flood protection for certain high value coastal assets but an acceptance that abandonment and relocation is inevitable for some"
There is no sign on the plans I've seen of extensive flood protection being part of this construction.You can make almost any building flood proof to a certain level but it is expensive and the projected builds look rather open and decorative rather than a fortress against the sea. Why build in an area of risk knowing the possible consequences?
This is an aerial view https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V8iNZH5r8Os  of the site as it is now prior to building and you will see that it is flat, very near the sea and even has standing water on areas which are not the actual lakes, It probably has not been built on historically since industrial times because its suitability was thought far from ideal. With global warming accelerating it may now be even less suitable. Could the County Council, financially liable for project delivery, end up with an expensive case of trench foot? Perhaps that Crozier is at hand somewhere?
As the press release says:

'Nothing of this scale has been tried in Wales before'

An Artist's Impression

                                                                                                         Siân Caiach

Saturday, 1 April 2017

A Better Future? - looking ahead to the Council Elections

Council elections are often seen as the poor relations of bigger political conflicts. Not as sexy as  UK general elections or even Assembly Elections and bereft of the binary force of a democratic yes/no referendum. They should be selections of suitable representative individuals but are complicated by party preferences and the often bizarre wranglings and eccentricities of the more local levels of politics.

In Carmarthenshire County Council the Councillors have limited but certainly some influence on the Council. Many functions are seemingly administered by the local government civil servants, the "officers", with little or no input from elected members. This is probably acceptable as long as the services provided are excellent and responsive to the needs of our population but the lack of habitual and real oversight by elected members could be a recipe for disaster.

One of the first cuts Carmarthenshire County Council made in the early days of austerity was to reduce the number of meeting of Scrutiny Committees where Councillors supposedly examine the working and efficiency of their departments. I have long been a member of the Health and Social Care Committee. I have never successfully put an item on the agenda despite asking the committee chairs. My committee  is seemingly run by officers without any real consultation of issues either among Councillors,service users or front line staff. If it happens, they hide it well.

 The delay in building a fully funded £7million care home in Llanelli agreed years ago, apparently is just to help fund a"Wellness" project at Delta Lakes, part of the Swansea City Deal. It shows a great willingness to sacrifice the well-being of ordinary people - specifically those stuck in hospital for want of a care home or convalescent bed to go to - in order to promote what may well become a vanity project which fails to deliver the massive private investment needed in the current financial outlook. The County Council is liable for returning funds if the project fails. I have asked the CCC finance director how much we are risking and will update this blog if when he replies to me. What worries me is that Social Care Senior Officers and the Plaid /Indy Council leadership must have known exactly why the Llanelli Care Home Project had been shelved and will surely now remain "on ice" while the new Wellness Project is developed,and hopefully not for the whole 15-20 years it may take.
[ To be even handed I should mention that it is quite possible that the Labour Group knew too but if they did they are damn good actors !]

The impressive entrance to  Carmarthenshire County Hall is surrounded  by relief sculptures  presumably depicting the functions of local government.This one, the lowest one on the right, is a cascade of money passing from hand to hand accumulating in the lowest palm. The symbolism surely depends on the true identity of the  last recipient of the loot!
The future of this Council, and all others, depends on the quality and talent of the elected members and the commitment of the whole organisation to deliver as much as will be possible for our communities under the economic and political  circumstances we all face. There is very little mention in the election literature I've seen of the actual problems we need to address. There is much more mention of the problems of the National Health Service [most of which, other than bed blocking is not related to Councils] for example, rather than the huge problems delivering social care and public housing [largely to do with County Councils]. Most people realise that councils cannot magically producean jobs and prosperity, but the do want a better environment and better services.

The Election on May 4th will be examined nationally as to how well the parties do, but in fact the real result depends on how well the Councillors deliver for their residents over the next 5 years. Chose well!

Siân Caiach