West Wales News Review

Economy, environment, sustainability

More Bad News for Corran Investors

News: Craze for Selling Hotel Rooms Set to Subside

The cruelly severe virus Covid-19 has, by forcing governments to close hotels, restaurants, indeed all venues where people are likely to be in close proximity, made it a lot harder for over-optimistic entrepreneurs to entice investors to part with savings to purchases leases of hotel rooms.

Investors in The Corran Resort & Spa, Laugharne, Carmarthenshire, are unlikely to receive a penny of their investments back, three years after the failed property company Kayboo Ltd entered liquidation with Lisa Hogg and Robert Dymond of Wilson Field Ltd, Sheffield.

In addition, the liquidators reported his month, May 2020, that one of Kayboo’s two directors has died of Covid-19.

An investor in The Corran has told West Wales News Review that the liquidators are uncertain whether any monies will be recovered. Kayboo Ltd, and its sister company East Marsh Operational Co Ltd, should have stopped trading in 2015, when it was clear that the business was in trouble, but the directors accepted investments of a further £500,000. Large payments were made to third parties, both connected and unconnected, without evidence of work done or services rendered, but given the bankruptcies of a number of these third parties, those payments appear to have disappeared beyond the reach of creditors.

So far, only nine investors have received compensation from the Financial Services Compensation Scheme, probably because their investments were placed in pensions, which are regulated, while non-pension investments in buyer-beware property schemes are unregulated.

The liquidators are dealing with 278 claims from unsecured creditors, totalling £14.429 million. In addition, a further 151 creditors, owed £3.155 million, have not submitted claims.

The debacle at The Corran was just one of several such schemes. Northern Powerhouse Developments sold hotel room investments in Wales and England, including in the  Fourcroft Hotel on the seafront at Tenby, and has been in administration with Duff & Phelps, Manchester, since August 2019. Northern Powerhouse Developments was also behind the ambitious plans for the Afan Valley Adventure Resort in Neath Port Talbot.

More recent still, a small Essex company called Sterling Woodrow Ltd acquired the Stradey Park Hotel, Llanelli, from its retiring proprietors, raising money from investors by selling off interests in individual hotel rooms.

The long-term repercussions of Covid-19, at least until an effective vaccine is developed, are likely to include a reluctance to stay in hotels or to eat in busy restaurants, so once they are allowed to reopen, hotels will face an uphill task to achieve profitability, and investors in hotels will need bucket-loads of patience.

The search terms Corran, Northern Powerhouse Developments, Afan Valley and Stradey Park will bring up past articles on these topics.

PDR

 

Virus Means Lean Outlook for Stradey Park Hotel Investors

News: Fortunate timing for vendors

The sale of Llanelli’s Stradey Park Hotel by Gryphon Leisure, reportedly for £3.2 million to investment consultants Sterling Woodrow Ltd, is at the worst possible time for investors, to whom Sterling Woodrow has been promoting the purchase of individual rooms in the landmark building.

The promised returns of 10% a year, and buy-back at 115% of the purchase price after five years, will be difficult to achieve, given the Westminster government’s decision this month to require all hotels to close, to help restrict the spread of the Covid-19 virus.

The Stradey Park Hotel was sold soon before the order for hotels to close because of Covid-19.

Investors have paid from £59,950 per room for the 77 rooms in the hotel, in what could be labelled a variant of a crowd funding exercise.

Sterling Woodrow, based in Billericay, Essex, is a small company with 15 employees in the year to April 2019, tangible assets of £23,790, cash of £68,173 and shareholders’ funds of a negative £52,796. The company was founded in 2005, and is controlled by director Robert Horwood (56), who is also a director of new company Stradey Partners Ltd, formed in September 2019. Mr Horwood and fellow director Gareth Street jointly own Stradey Partners Ltd.

For Angela Saunders, Barry Saunders and Alison Anderson, the directors of Gryphon Leisure Ltd, the timing of the sale was fortunate in the light of the unforeseeable hammer-blow to the UK hospitality industry delivered by Covid-19.

PDR

Children Must Have Free School Transport if Walking Route is Dangerous

News: Pembrokeshire County Council to pay for transport if walking to school is unsafe

Children faced with unsafe walks to and from school should be offered free transport, even if they do not normally qualify on grounds of long distance, Pembrokeshire County Council’s Cabinet decided on Monday March 9th.

There is no budget for this, so the annual cost of around £121,000 would have to come from the contingency fund.

Children aged 5 to 7 qualify for free transport if they live more than two miles from their nearest school, as do children from 8 to 16 who live further than three miles away.

The county council has relied on commercial bus services to carry school pupils who live nearer than the qualifying distances for free transport. The Cabinet’s hand was to some extent forced by a proposed charge of £1 each way from September 2020 for pupils travelling on the 302 bus service from Johnston to the senior school in Milford Haven. The charge would amount to £10 a week per child. The current concessionary arrangements end in September, and parents, Johnston Community Council and local county councillors raised the issue of the proposed cost, which would hit the budgets of many families.

Johnston is a long village, mostly between three and four miles from Milford Haven, and so in the free transport zone. But the part of Johnston nearest to Milford is just under three miles distant along the busy A4076 main road.

An unsafe route along a main road is one without a continuous pavement or a verge as a ‘step aside’ from traffic, and even if there is a ‘step aside’, if the road must be crossed, and it is too busy to cross without danger, it is unsafe .

The Welsh Government ’s ‘Learner Travel Statutory Provision and Operational Guidance’,* dated 2014, makes clear that the walking route to the nearest school must be ‘safe’. There is a guide to determining the safety of a walking route in ‘Assessment of Walked Routes to School’ by Road Safety GB and the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, published in 2012 and updated 2016.

Chart from guidance in ‘Assessment of Walked Routes to School’, by Road Safety GB and the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents. Education authorities must provide free transport for pupils to reach their nearest school if the route is unsafe, even if the children do not qualify on grounds of distance from the school.

If a route is unsafe to walk, the presence of a commercial bus service is immaterial.

Cars and lorries are dangerous companions for children walking to school, and arguably a factor which should be taken more into account when an education authority decides to close a school, or indeed to open a new one.

The fact that the costs of providing transport are often excluded from education budgets, but fall into another department like transport or highways, means that transport may not be given sufficient importance when education decisions are made.

 

*See especially sections 1.62 and 1.63.

 

PDR

Latest One Planet Development Approved in Pembrokeshire

News: Number of One Planet Developments in Wales Continues to Rise

Daniel Badham’s plan for an off-grid One Planet Development (OPD) at Reynalton, for him and his children, was passed unanimously by Pembrokeshire County Council’s planning committee on Tuesday March 10th, although some committee members have continuing concerns about the practicality of the annual reports that OPD residents must submit to prove they are abiding by their business plan and the requirements of the Welsh Government’s OPD legislation. Planning officers are hard-pressed already, and reading, analysing and acting on the reports can be an additional burden.

The location for Mr Badham’s venture is 8.6 acres, including 5.4 acres of woodland, about 100 metres north-east of Reynalton and six miles north-west of the seaside resort of Saundersfoot. The scheme includes a four-bedroom timber-frame house with a polycarbonate roof covered by turf, and a greenhouse at the south wall. There would be a timber store, workshop, barn and two polytunnels, and as well as producing timber and food, the land would be home to chainsaw carving and apple-tree grafting enterprises. The committee heard that Daniel Badham, whose professional expertise is in tree surgery, intends to include the use of a chainsaw powered by solar energy.

In an OPD, the land is supposed to provide for the needs of its occupants within five years. The policy was published by the Welsh Government in 2009, and was followed in 2010 by Technical Advice Note (TAN) 6, ‘Planning for Sustainable Rural Communities’, and in 2012 by detailed guidance for applicants and planners.* The big idea is to live continuously within the resources of planet Earth, thus in a simpler fashion than in countries like Wales, where the levels of material consumption are so high that the planet cannot support them into the future.

This productive holding at Tir y Gafel, Pembrokeshire, given permission under Policy 52, predates the One Planet Policy and operates to even more stringent criteria.

The volunteer-run One Planet Council reports that by winter 2019, Wales had at least 27 successful OPD applications, comprising 30 separate holdings, and 12 ventures on three sites in Pembrokeshire, including nine at the well-known Lammas ecovillage, which received permission under Pembrokeshire’s earlier pioneering Policy 52. Two-thirds of the total of known OPDs are in Pembrokeshire, with most of the rest elsewhere in West, South and Mid Wales, and as yet scarcely any in North Wales.

The One Planet Council organises an annual Open Week, in 2020 from Monday July 27th to Sunday August 2nd, when people curious about OPDs can visit several and ask the occupants about their lifestyles and businesses. Details will be on http://www.oneplanetcouncil.org.uk/open-week-2020/ in due course, and on the One Planet Council’s Facebook page.

The One Planet policy is unique to Wales, and although organisations such as the Ecological Land Cooperative have long lobbied for one, there is no equivalent policy for low-impact living in England.

 

* One Planet Development Practice Guidance, October 2012, prepared for the Welsh Assembly Government by Land Use Consultants and the Positive Development Trust.

 

PDR

Rural Homes Set To Remain Disadvantaged After Heating Decarbonisation

Opinion: Home heating accounts for 14% of the UK’s carbon emissions — so natural gas has to be phased out. Hydrogen is a possible future replacement for properties connected to the gas grid, but rural properties currently relying on oil or liquefied petroleum gas are likely to remain heating Cinderellas.

Replacing 22.5 million gas central heating boilers across the UK well before 2050, as we need to do to meet current climate change commitments, has a huge price tag. Renewables-powered heating systems are currently much more expensive than boilers heated by natural gas (well, not so natural, but it sounded such a clean product). The Committee on Climate Change has forecast a switch-over cost of £28 billion a year by 2050.

Living off the gas grid means that here in rural Wales we could not have joined the 82% of UK households with mains gas central heating (although the Energy Performance Certificate for an off-grid house that I know of states that there is mains gas central heating, a mistaken or deliberately untrue ‘fact’ – it’s important to check those certificates!).

By early 2019 it was time to replace an ancient oil boiler, which sounded like an aeroplane taking off into a rumbling thunderstorm. As well as the need to slash fossil fuel use, there was the immediate practical problem that no one’s insurance – not the household policy, not the delivery firm’s policy – would cover taking the hose from the tanker through the house to the oil tank behind.

The garden was not large enough for a ground source heat pump system with pipes in horizontal trenches (you need at least half an acre, I am told) and even more to the point, was inaccessible to the equipment needed to excavate trenches, or to dig a borehole for a vertical installation. Ground source heat pump installations are super-expensive, from above £10,000 to over £20,000 for the pump and installation, plus thousands more for the groundworks. They qualify for the Westminster Government’s Renewable Heat Incentive, which in theory could pay the majority of costs over seven years, but the homeowner or landlord has to find the money upfront first.

In the end we settled on an air source heat pump. This is costing between £8,000 and £9,000 including new, larger radiators, and for which we might receive the Renewable Heat Incentive (if we can tick all the eligibility boxes). The garden is wide enough, fortunately, because in Wales the pump units have to be at least three metres from boundaries to qualify as permitted development (in England, it’s only one metre).

Bearing these costs in mind, it is unsettling to know that the Renewable Heat Incentive closes to new applicants on April 1st 2021, and no replacement scheme has been announced. The current scheme covers ground source heat pumps, air source heat pumps, biomass boilers and biomass pellet stoves, and flat plate and evacuated tube solar thermal panels.

Maybe the government is hoping that hydrogen fuel cell boilers will soon become available, and at lower cost than heat pumps. Manufacturers are developing such boilers: in June 2019, Dutch group BDR Thermea installed what it claimed as the world’s first hydrogen-powered domestic boiler in a trial project in Rozenburg, the Netherlands. In theory, hydrogen boilers could use much of the same infrastructure as gas boilers, and households would not have to change all their pipework and radiators. The Government’s decision to ban gas boilers in new homes from 2025 should, at the very least, boost interest in hydrogen systems.

But now that the UK has left the EU, it will be fascinating to see if British firms can compete with European enterprises to perfect hydrogen home heating.

Even if they can, a hydrogen system taking over gas infrastructure will not reach the rural areas where there is no gas grid. Hard-to-heat rural homes would be disadvantaged yet again.

PDR

Rewilding for Fewer Floods

The Marlais thunders and foams through Llansawel after heavy rains 

Opinion: We must take action to limit damaging floods

Last night in Llansawel a drain, overloaded after torrential rain, flooded houses. The fire and rescue service arrived from Llandovery as fast as they could, given near-impassable sections of road (hats off to them), and pumped out the water. The houses now have to dry out.

We can’t afford repeated flooding, either as individuals or communities.

But we can’t stop the water coming. As the surface of our planet heats up, weather systems become more unstable, and weather events are more severe. Longer droughts, more violent storms. Defending one village or town from rising waters just displaces the water to somewhere else. Flood water scours roads, loosens tree roots, causes landslips, all creating inconvenience and escalating repair costs

Two questions:

  • Who decides what flood measures need to be introduced?
  • Who pays for them?

We need major land use changes, but the people most at risk of flooding in urban areas are unlikely to own the land from which the water flows. Instead of public money flowing to landowners according to how many acres they own, as in the European Union’s Common Agricultural Policy, paying landowners for environmental services, such as the rewilding advocated by George Monbiot, seems a more promising approach. Rewilding results in naturally regenerating ecosystems with water-holding capacity — more trees, scrub, bogs and meadows  – and in addition small reservoirs slow rain run-off. The reservoirs also come into their own during droughts. Who pays? A combination of government and landowners?

Building codes should change too. Doors and windows higher off the ground, flood guards, ramps for disabled access, electrical sockets at waist height, porous parking areas, will all help. Who pays? Government at all levels has to get involved, including community and parish councils, which will probably need to re-prioritise spending in favour of resilience.

Flood barriers like this are common in coastal areas of County Cork, Ireland. 

Insurance? Here’s to the continuation of Flood Re, the last-resort provider of flood cover in the UK, but prevention measures are preferable to prolonged clean-ups and people excluded from their homes for months on end. In any case, Flood Re is due to end in 2039, to be replaced with an open market in which flood insurance may be unaffordable for millions of people. At five year intervals until then, premiums will be reviewed and almost certainly increased, to accustom the long-suffering public to free-enterprise prices.

Unless government policy changes, that is.

And all the time that we continue to pump greenhouse gases into the fragile atmosphere, weather emergencies will become more dramatic and harder to survive.

PDR 

Carmarthenshire’s The Corran Resort and Spa Collapses Again

NEWS REPORT, JANUARY 25th 2020

The Corran Resort and Spa, at Laugharne in Carmarthenshire, has failed financially yet again.

ARC Hospitality Ltd, formed only on October 30th 2018, entered creditors’ voluntary liquidation on December 6th 2019, owing £56,050.45 to Hudson Energy Supply (UK), £26,120.50 in PAYE, £5,000 in VAT, and £24,493 in business rates to Carmarthenshire County Council. The company’s sole director is Cyril Royer, who was executive head chef at The Corran between November 2015 and September 2018, and for three years between 2012 and 2015 owned The Golden Mile Inn at Bridgend. The insolvency is being handled by Stones & Co of Swansea.

This collapse comes only a year after its predecessor, Corran Resorts Ltd, entered creditors’ voluntary liquidation in the hands of Swansea-based insolvency practitioners Mcalister & Co, with debts of £36,117.39 to HMRC and £84,402.91 to ‘trade and expense creditors’, according to the liquidator’s statement of receipts and payments up to December 3rd 2019.

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The Corran Resort and Spa in happier times

Corran Resorts Ltd, formed on November 23rd 2017, was merely a year old when it could not pay its way. This company was owned by James Brown, whose address was given as The Corran, and the director at the time of liquidation was Sharon Adams, also with an address at The Corran. There was one former director, hotel manager Alison Reynolds.

Cyril Royer and Alison Reynolds formed a new company, The Cross & Keys Ltd, on January 9th 2020. This company’s business interests are licensed restaurants and public houses and bars.

The Corran’s troubled history includes a failed unregulated investment scheme, selling shares in rooms to investors, who lost around £17 million. Sales of interests in rooms and fractions of rooms began in 2012, before the hotel reopened in 2013 after closure in a previous period of administration. The new owner was a company called Kayboo Ltd, and sister company East Marsh Operational Company Ltd managed the business. Both went into administration on October 18th 2016, the date on which the administrator, then HBG Corporate Ltd of Tarleton, Preston, approved a deal by which a company called Glendore Real Estate Ltd bought the hotel for £150,000.

The sequence of brief ownerships and associated management continued with Glendore Real Estate Ltd, and Plustocks Management Ltd. Two former directors of these companies, County West Secretarial Services Ltd and Mr Keith Stiles, were also directors of Kayboo, which is now in the hands of liquidators Wilson Field, based in Sheffield. Companies House is proposing to strike off Glendore Real Estate Ltd for non-submission of accounts and confirmation statements, but Plustocks Management Ltd is extant and owned by James Brown, also the owner of Corran Resorts Ltd. County West Secretarial Services Ltd was dissolved in October 2017.

PDR

Unregulated Investments Offered in Llanelli’s Stradey Park Hotel

FEATURE, JANUARY 21st 2020

Rooms in the well-regarded Stradey Park Hotel and Spa, Llanelli, are for sale from £59,950 for 999 year leases. The Stradey Park has average ratings of 4 out of 5 from Trip Advisor, 8.4 out of 10 on Booking.com and 4.5 out of 5 on Facebook.

The hotel, owned since December 2000 by Gryphon Leisure Ltd and with 112 staff in 2018-19, was put on the market for £3.8 million with London-based agent Christie & Co in 2018 but no sale has yet been recorded.

West Wales News Review understands that Christie & Co is negotiating with a small company called Sterling Woodrow Ltd, based at 84a High Street, Billericay, Essex, with an overseas office in Shanghai, and formed in 2005. Sterling Woodrow has two directors, Gareth Street (33) and owner Robert Horwood (56 in January 2020). The latest published accounts are for the year to April 2018, showing 10 employees and shareholders’ funds of £85,661, compared with £35,026 the previous year. Sterling Woodrow Ltd is not to be confused with Sterling Woodrow Estates Ltd, formed in October 2017 and dissolved through being compulsorily struck off in April 2019, where the directors were also Robert Horwood and Gareth Street.

Entrance to the Stradey Park Hotel, where rooms are for sale to investors. Source: Google Maps

Robert Horwood and Gareth Street are, in addition, directors and joint owners of a new company, Stradey Partners Ltd, formed on September 3rd 2019 and operating in “other service activities not elsewhere classified”. The duo also own Perennial Hotels Ltd, formed on August 20th 2019, and Perennial Estates Ltd and Cumbria Park Ltd, both dating from September 18th 2018. None of these four companies has been required to submit any accounts yet. Robert Horwood also owns Perennial Management Services Ltd, incorporated on March 20th 2018.

Sterling Woodrow is in turn is offering rooms to investors, selling through property agents.  Cassini International Property Ltd, Investinrooms Ltd, Moving Up Estates Ltd, Property Invest UK, Property Wealth Ltd and Qatar World Property Ltd are among the agencies selling rooms in the four-star hotel near the former Stradey Park rugby ground, and containing 76 rooms.

Essex-based company Sterling Woodrow has an office at 84a Billericay High Street. The former Thomas Cook travel shop is no.84. Source: Google Maps

10% a year offered for five years before buy-back

The agents suggest that buyers will receive an annual 10% yield for five years, and buy-back at the purchase price plus 115% or 120% — the agents differ – at the end of that term.

Between Monday January 13th and Thursday January 16th Christie & Co, Sterling Woodrow and management at the Stradey Park Hotel were invited to comment on the investment scheme, but so far have chosen not to do so.

The sale of hotel rooms – and rooms in care homes, student halls of residence and other multi-occupation buildings – are unregulated in the UK, meaning that investors carry the whole risk.

Investinrooms Ltd, for one, makes this very clear, stating:

“Investinrooms Ltd is not authorised or regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA). Investinrooms Ltd does not provide any financial or investment advice. We can provide a referral to a regulated advisor who will offer appropriate advice, or to the company offering an investment who will determine your suitability for the investment prior to any offer being made. We strongly recommend that you seek appropriate professional advice before entering into any contract. The value of any investments can go down as well as up and you might not get back what you put in. You may have difficulty selling any investment at a reasonable price and in some circumstances it might be difficult to sell at any price. Do not invest unless you have carefully thought about whether you can afford it and whether it is right for you and if necessary consult with a professional adviser in accordance with the Financial Services and Markets Act 2000. These products are not regulated by the FCA or covered by the Financial Services Compensation Scheme and you will not have access to the financial ombudsman service. Information is provided as a guide only, is subject to change without prior notice and does not constitute an offer of investment. Some investments may be restricted to persons who are high net worth, sophisticated or professional investors or who take independent advice from an authorised independent financial advisor.”

Over-confidence in future profits?

Investors in the Stradey Park Hotel need to have confidence in a prosperous future for the Welsh hotels business, probably better than currently experienced. Figures for 2017 released by Stats Wales show the average occupancy rate for hotels was 68%. Booking sites online suggested an average price of £85 per night for a room in the Stradey Park on January 10th, although hotels.com and trip adviser had rooms for £72.

If a room is sold at the lowest current price of £59,950, and pays the investor 10% a year for five years, the amount to be paid out is £29,975. There is a buy-back offer at the end of that term. Even at the lower figure of 115% offered by Qatar World Property, and not the 120% mentioned by other companies like Property Invest UK, an additional £68,942.50 has to be paid out then, making a total return to the investor of £98,917.50.

If that room is occupied at an average of £85 a night for 68% of five years, the gross revenue is £105,400. The pay-out to each investor would be almost 94% of the gross revenue. Of course, it might be possible to raise the room rate substantially, or increase the occupancy, but even if both were achieved, and a share of non-rental income was added, investors would need a solid dose of optimism to have confidence in the sales offer, especially as agents and service companies would need to be paid too.

If the 76 rooms in the Stradey Park were valued at the lower-end price of £59,950, they would have a combined valuation of £4.556 million, over three-quarters of a million £s more than the advertised price for the whole hotel in 2018.

The actual room prices go up to £140,000, according to Lujo Investments Ltd, surely requiring extraordinary successful performance to give investors the flagged returns.

Gryphon Leisure Ltd, an experienced and resilient hotelier company owned by Alison Roxana Anderson, Angela Saunders and Barry Saunders, all in their 60s, had shareholders’ funds of £2.026 million at January 31st 2019. There were secured debts, but confined to £212,224 in bank overdrafts and £213,092 in bank loans.

Northern Powerhouse Developments failure shocked investors

The Stradey Park sale offer has similarities with the promises made by Northern Powerhouse Developments (NPD) to investors in rooms in a rapidly-acquired portfolio of hotels throughout England and Wales. Northern Powerhouse Developments, built up by Gavin Lee Woodhouse, is now in administration and investors may not recover more than a few pennies in every pound. Some 25 associated companies, including those owning and operating around 10 hotels   – including the Fourcroft in Tenby and the Fishguard Bay, Goodwick, both in Pembrokeshire, and the embryonic Afan Valley Adventure Resort in Neath Port Talbot – owe Northern Powerhouse Developments £12.663 million, according to figures compiled by Duff & Phelps, the multinational administrators of much of the mirage that was the NPD property empire. The costs incurred by the administrators, averaging £306.97 per hour, also eat into any surviving funds.

PDR

Austerity Bites Deeper in Carmarthenshire

NEWS REPORT JANUARY 18th 2020

Scarcer services and higher charges – that’s the message from Carmarthenshire County Council’s budget proposals for the next three years. People receiving care, travelling on county-maintained roads and needing to use public conveniences and household waste sites are likely to find services harder to obtain, and increased costs.

Home care cuts

Fewer people receiving domiciliary care would have visits from two carers at a time. At the end of September 2019 25.4% of the 1,085 care recipients had ‘double handed’ visits, and the proposal is to reduce this to 18% by the end of March 2022, saving the council £429,000 over the budget period, which runs from 2020-21 to 2022-23. There is also a plan to cut the number of care clients receiving four or more visits a day, by 1% a year, saving £34,000.

Clients having seven or fewer visits a week, so-called ‘small packages’ would not be exempt from the cuts, either. In 2019-20 268 clients, 24.7% of the total, were in this category. The proposal is to cut this number by half, for a saving to the council of £234,000. There would also be less direct support (but more advice) for incontinence sufferers, to cut £250,000 over the three years.

Clients for the re-enablement service, which helps some hospital leavers towards regaining their independence, would have to become more successful in this aim. In 2018-19 44%of the 650 people helped by the service did regain their independence, while the others moved onto a care plan. The plan is to raise the percentage achieving independence to 55%.

A new charge of £1,000 a year could be levied on people who pay for themselves in residential care, if the local authority commissions their place for them.

Domiciliary care and re-enablement together cost £13.924 million in 2018-19. The council feels it needs to remove £2.988 million over the three years, at a time when the county’s population is ageing and need for care services is growing.

Services for people with learning disabilities and mental health conditions would also suffer cuts. Three people would be moved from residential care to live with families, saving £468,000 over three years. There is also a proposal to move some clients from residential colleges to “supported living and community options”, a cut of £156,000 over three years.  There would be less funding for supported living, with the aim to “promote independence and enhance daily living skills”, and removing £315,000 from spending over the three years. There would be fewer places in residential homes, again to “promote independence”, to achieve a large saving of £1 million between 2020-21 and 2022-23.

Axe over public toilets and household waste sites

Council-run public toilets in Llanelli Town Hall, Llanelli bus station, Ammanford and St Clears could be closed, saving £100,000. Remaining public toilets would be twice as expensive to use, 40p compared with 20p. They currently cost £559,000 a year to clean and maintain, and the plan is to remove £200,000 over the three years, too big an amount for toilet users not to notice.

There is also the possibility of closing the household waste site at Whitland, to cut £80,000 from the budget. The other household waste sites, at Nantycaws, Trostre and Wernddu near Ammanford, would close for two days a week, and if Whitland did not close, that too would be open only five days a week. A move from seven-days-a week to five days opening could save £104,000 over three years.

Drivers would find parking dearer, each charge band increasing by 20p. Car parks would no longer be gritted, except at surgeries. There would be no more routine mechanical road sweeping, the council would stop paying for amenity grass cutting along highways, and would charge landowners for clearing trees that fall onto roads.

Small primary schools at risk

Cuts to primary school budget are expected, too. The £56.252 million delegated to primary schools would be reduced by £500,000 in 2021-22 “through carefully selected decommissioning and strategically driven school federations” to reduce the quantity of primary school buildings. The cuts could lead to the closure of the smallest primary schools, although the Welsh Government has a policy to keep small schools open wherever possible. Children’s services education and child psychology face a big reduction of £100,000 in 2020-21, from the current budget of £587,000, resulting in less support for children in need of help.

There are many other proposals for cuts, as the council struggles to survive on fewer resources and endures a continuing climate of financial austerity. The suggestions have not been approved yet, and the public can have their say via an online consultation at https://www.carmarthenshire.gov.wales/home/council-democracy/consultation-performance/current-consultations/budget-consultation-202023/ The consultation is open until January 28th.

PDR

Controversial Plan for Coal Mining Expansion at Llandybie

NEWS REPORT JANUARY 3rd 2020

‘Leave it in the ground’ is the message from members of the public who are objecting to Bryn Bach Coal’s plans to mine 110,000 tonnes of anthracite from an extension to their existing opencast mine in Llandybie, between Ammanford and Llandeilo in Carmarthenshire.

By January 3rd 2020, 26 people had contacted Carmarthenshire County Council’s planning department to oppose the plan for opencast mining on 10 hectares (25 acres), although in contrast Llandybie Community Council is strongly in favour, their clerk Stuart Griffith commenting that having “taken due regard of the current well run mining operation, local employment opportunities, the current and ongoing financial support to local organisations, and the eco-friendly use of the mined coal, the application is supported and the council recommends that planning permission is granted.”

Community councillor Anthony Davies wrote an individual note of support, pointing out that Bryn Bach had produced coal at Glan Lash, Llandybie since 2012 without any problems, and that “the public have not been aware that any work has gone on”.

Cllr Davies stated that 11 full-time jobs would be created, plus 40 spin-off jobs; that in addition the firm gives £5,000 a year to local causes; and that 75% of the coal will not be burnt. “I fully support this application,” he said.

Local councillors’ approval is related to benefits they see for people in Llandybie, although objectors view coal mining as a health hazard, and burning coal as a big contributor to global warming. Carmarthenshire County Council has declared a climate emergency, which would appear to rule out new mining operations. Bryn Bach’s application, though, says that 75% of the coal will not be burnt, up from a figure of 50% previously suggested, because it will colour bricks and be incorporated in filter beds for water purification. Even so, 25% would be sold for domestic heating, and it would scarcely be possible for the council to insist on the exact quantity of coal to be sold into non-burning markets.

The proposed new mining area is slightly closer to Llandybie village than the existing field. Eight hectares would be mined, and two hectares used for storing earth removed from the coal seams. About 2.5 hectares of woodland would have to be felled.

The apocalyptic wildfires in a hotter and hotter Australia, where the current government want to expand coal mining, are a dramatic warning about the awful impacts of climate change. Dr Chris Vernon, from Whitland, calculated the amount of carbon dioxide that would be produced from burning 55,000 tonnes of coal, half the expected total from the new mine, as 185,000 tonnes. This would be about one tonne for each inhabitant of Carmarthenshire. More graphically, 185,000 tonnes of CO2 would be equivalent to driving more than 1.5 billion kilometres, or to the moon and back almost 1,950 times. Given that Bryn Bach Coal proposes that only 25% of the total would be burnt, according to Dr Vernon’s calculation there would be about 92,500 tonnes of CO2, representing emissions from driving 750 million kilometres, nearly a thousand times to and from the moon.

If 55,000 tonnes of coal were burnt, “this single planning decision would increase Carmarthenshire’s CO2 emissions per capita, likely by more than ALL climate mitigation actions undertaken by the local authority in recent years,” Dr Vernon commented.

Linda Screen from The Rhos, also opposing the application, told the council’s planning department that as a qualified landscape architect and environmentalist, she could confirm that “the environmental impact from this proposal which covers 10 hectares is devastating in terms of biodiversity, environmental sustainability, pollution and climate, and is impossible to remediate in any satisfactory way without long lasting and possibly catastrophic environmental impacts.”

Many other objectors cited climate change fears and proposed that coal should be left under the ground.

Ms Screen also criticised the Environmental Impact Assessment submitted by Bryn Bach Coal for failing to “measure or report on the carbon sequestration value of the coal if left in situ”. This value would provide “the baseline required to inform any calculations for the carbon offset requirements of this development and therefore the carbon mitigation requirement that the company must meet”.

Bryn Bach Coal Ltd, owned by Christopher James and Julian Morris, is a small, successful company with shareholders’ funds of £1.143 million at March 31st 2019, according to data at Companies House.

The application, reference number E/39917, was registered on December 5th 2019, and should come before the county council’s planning committee, but as yet no date has been set.

PDR

 

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