west*wales*news*review

West Wales News Review — analysis with a sustainability slant

Over-ambitious investment promises fail at Laugharne’s Corran Resort

When bank base rate is 0.25%, investments offering up to 15% a year, and an uplift in capital, look too good to be true.

In the case of the Corran Resort and Spa near Laugharne, Carmarthenshire, the promised returns were too hot, and have evaporated into the air above Carmarthen Bay.

Kayboo Ltd, the company owning the freehold of the resort property — currently a 21-room hotel with a spa – was forced into administration on October 18th.  Creditors were kicking up a fuss because, they claimed, they had not received the advertised returns, and they could not withdraw their capital.

Comments from unhappy investors  on the website question.com include:

“I invested in a glitzy hotel scheme called Corran Resort and Spa. The hotel is still operating in Wales and hundreds of investors have put money in that scheme. I have been asking for buy back of my investment for more than a month but no reply from them.”

“It is not clear to me where all the funds of the investors went.”

“They were paying quarterly till Q3 2015. Then they stopped and I understand they stopped for everyone.”

During the final quarter of 2015, the Corran had to digest Carmarthenshire County Council’s decision to refuse a planning application (reference W/31936) for 200 lodges, a swimming pool and additional restaurant, because of the proposed location in a flood plan, and fears of significant ecological damage. Kayboo said it had a deal agreed with the US-based resorts, hotels and self-catering multinational Wyndham Worldwide to partner it in the lodges venture – but no permission, no well-heeled partner either, and disappointment for Kayboo’s directors Keith Stiles and Peter Burnett.

West Wales News Review’s previous concerns about the investment model were aired here in December 2015,

Investments in the Corran are still being advertised, for example on buytoletinvest.com and quantaxinternational.com. Buytoletinvest.com advertises annual returns of 10% net from years 1 to 10, and 15% between years 11 and 15, with assured resale at 125% of the original investment after year 5, rising to 150%. The promotion claims “Customers can also sell their property on the open market, typically for far greater capital returns.”

Buyers were offered fractions of a room, such as one-twenty-sixth of a ‘boutique suite’ for £18,000 in 2015, as well as whole suites, but the formula relied on high occupancy at very high room rates, such as £340 a night for dinner, bed and breakfast in a top-notch suite at a weekend.

Kayboo’s most recent annual accounts, for the year to March 31st 2015, show tangible assets of £14.5 million, up from £11.5 million the year before, and net assets of £867,092, more than double the year before. £1.572 million had to be paid to creditors within one year, and £14.167 million more after that — an excessively heavy obligation, especially if the physical assets had been optimistically valued.

The message? Mega returns might occasionally materialise, but they don’t come without mammoth risks.

PDR

Lloyds Bank to close in Llandovery

Lloyds Bank in Llandovery is to close completely on March 7th 2017.

As recently as 2012, Llandovery was home to four banks — Barclays, HSBC, Lloyds and NatWest. One by one, they have fallen victim to online banking.

HSBC, in Market Square, closed in 2012. Nat West, also in Market Square, shut its doors on June 1st 2015. Lloyds and Barclays soldiered on as part-time banks, Barclays open on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, and Lloyds on Tuesdays and Fridays.

Now that Lloyds is to close, a part-time Barclays will be the only bank left in town.

xxxxx

Lloyds Bank, Llandovery. Photo: Dyfed Family History Society, copyright Pauline Eccles, Creative Commons Licence 

The impending Lloyds closure is of more than commercial significance. The imposing building, Prospect House in High Street, was the final headquarters of the Bank of the Black Ox, the pioneering venture set up by successful drover David Jones in 1799, and taken over by Lloyds Bank in 1909.

Campaign to keep Lloyds open in Llandeilo

Llandeilo’s county councillor, Edward Thomas (Independent), started work at Lloyds in Llandovery in 1971, and regrets the ending of over 200 years of history. He is also worried about the future of Lloyds in Llandeilo, which has cut opening days from five a week to three – Monday, Wednesday and Thursday — and has written to Jonathan Edwards, MP for Carmarthen East and Dinefwr.

The letter raises Cllr Thomas’s concern that “the Llandeilo Branch of Lloyds Bank has only a short amount, two years, left on its lease of 137 Rhosmaen Street” and that there is a strong indication that “with the reduction of hours, reduction of days from five to three, that Lloyds Bank are planning to close this branch”.

“I am sure you will realize that that will leave Lloyds customers in North Carmarthenshire with no coverage and effectively their nearest branches will be Brecon or Ammanford,” continued Cllr Thomas.

“I am concerned that this will leave customers with no choice. The bank no doubt will state that they no longer see the footfall in their branches as customers are switching to internet banking. I am sure you will agree this is just cynical and does not look after older customers who are not happy to deal with a faceless computer and appreciate the good service provided by our local branches.

“I hope you will raise this matter at the highest levels and whilst I am singling out Lloyds, the other banks are doing the same thing and we could be faced with our rural communities without bank representation.”

HSBC has closed in Llandeilo as well as in Llandovery, leaving customers in northern Carmarthenshire facing journeys to branches in Ammanford, Carmarthen or Lampeter. Lloyds customers could soon face the same travel demands.

Mobile Lloyds Bank coming soon

Lloyds says that mobile branches should be in the area soon.

The bank’s spokesperson said that the Llandovery branch “has been identified for closure because of the changing way customers choose to bank with us, which has resulted in customers using it less often.  The majority of customers also now regularly use alternative branches or use other ways to bank such as online and telephone banking to complete their banking needs. We apologise for any inconvenience that this may cause and have informed customers of the closest alternative branches.

“We are also investing in a new fleet of mobile branches for Lloyds Bank to help customers in more rural communities, alongside other ways to access banking locally. One of the new mobile branches will visit Llandovery. Full details of the mobile branch service will be available in advance of the new service becoming operational.”

The bank said that around 80% of personal customers in Llandovery already use other branches, such as Llandeilo branch. In 2015, the number of personal customers using Llandovery branch fell about 36%, leaving only 35 regular weekly personal and business customers.

The Post Office is an option, says Lloyds. In Llandovery it is less than 200 metres away, and customers can deposit cash and cheques and withdraw money there. In addition there is an ATM outside Barclays Bank.

PDR

New build casts a long shadow

The right to light could do with some illumination.

Kidwelly accountant Tessa Finch used to live in 86 Station Road, but left when a new development of eco-friendly homes, in Llys y Foryd, shaded the ground floor of her home.

xxxxx

The Llys y Foryd development in Kidwelly looms over Tessa Finch’s house and back yard. Her bathroom is on the left 

The new houses, built by Morgan Construction of Ferryside, won a building excellence award in 2012, but the nearest one to 86 Station Road is very close indeed. New builds can be as close as one metre from a boundary, and the boundary of no.86 is only inches from the back of the house, which has a side yard instead of a back garden. The law in cases like this allows development which many of us would call ‘unneighbourly’.

Planning law does not recognise a right to a view, either, so if a new estate replaces an outlook over open country, it’s just hard luck.

The right to light is different, though. The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors publishes ‘A Clear Impartial Guide to Right to Light’, which summarises the law. It says: “A right to light may be acquired by ‘anyone who has had uninterrupted use of something over someone else’s land for 20 years without consent, openly and without threat, and without interruption for more than a year.’”

So, says the guide, “If a new building limits the amount of light coming in through a window and the level of light inside falls below the accepted level, then this constitutes an obstruction. Unless you waive your rights you are entitled to take legal action against your neighbour.”

The 20-year rule is quite a barrier, but for those in residence for that long, it is a right worth understanding.

xxxxx

Tessa: her home lost light

Tessa moved out of the four-bedroomed house with the newly shaded ground floor, and is aiming to sell it. Estate agents John Francis are advertising it for £99,950, about two-thirds of the asking price of the three-bedroomed semi-detached houses in Llys y Foryd, the development which darkened her threshold.

PDR

 

Solicitors’ ‘defamation highlight’ is low point for client Jacqui

The homelessness facing Llanwrda blogger Jacqui Thompson and her husband Kerry, reported in this week’s Private Eye (p.16), is not exactly a triumph for her legal team.

Yet Simons Muirhead and Burton, her solicitors in the 2013 libel court case in which she sued Carmarthenshire County Council’s chief executive Mark James and lost, and he counter-sued her and won, claim the litigation as one of their “defamation highlights”.

“Lucy Moorman and Jeffrey Smele represented award-winning blogger, Jacqui Thompson, in her libel action against Carmarthenshire County Council and its Chief Executive, Mark James, who also counterclaimed,” their website proclaims.

Lucy Moorman, a barrister, is now a pre-transmission advice lawyer at the BBC. Jeffrey Smele remains at Simons Muirhead and Burton, as a senior lawyer.

No mention on the web page, though, that the judge, Mr Justice Tugendhat, found for Mr James both times, after deciding to accept his evidence and to reject Jacqui’s.

To be fair to the solicitors, so much of a libel trial heard by a single judge appears to depend on their personal interpretation of motives, which is hard to predict.

Jacqui’s double loss should have been covered by her legal insurance, but Temple Legal Protection Ltd  cancelled the cover (always read the small print) after hearing Mr Justice Tugendhat doubt Jacqui’s truthfulness.

Asked if she had been aware that her cover could disappear, Jacqui said yes, she knew, it had all been explained to her, but she never thought it could happen because she knew she was telling the truth.

That assumption, in the dangerous world of libel, was mistaken. The judge decided that Jacqui and her family had waged a “campaign of harassment, intimidation and defamation of Council staff and members for some considerable time”, and that Jacqui’s terms ‘Pinocchio’ and ‘slush fund’, applied to Mr James, were libellous.

Lacking insurance after losing, Jacqui found herself liable for costs and damages exceeding a quarter of a million pounds. Her only big asset is her share of the bungalow in which she and Kerry live. Mr James has applied for a court order to enable him to sell the bungalow to recoup damages.

Sudden withdrawal of insurance cover has left Jacqui and Kerry in a nightmare situation. Should it be allowed when, as here, Jacqui is not facing a criminal charge? At the behest of Mr James, Dyfed-Powys Police investigated Jacqui for perverting the course of justice but could not find evidence to warrant a criminal prosecution.

Jonathan Edwards, MP for Carmarthen East and Dinefwr, where Jacqui lives, said he has never been lobbied about the withdrawal of insurance cover, but sees the injustice in its summary removal.

“A fair justice system is the foundation of our modern society which binds us together in our belief of fairness and accountability.  Part of our justice system is, of course, the principle of equal access to justice for all,” he said.

“This particular case, and the cancelling of legal insurance, is not an issue on which I’ve ever been lobbied and I am unaware of any widespread practice of policies being cancelled.

“If such a practice is indeed widespread then changing the law to prevent this would seem sensible in order to ensure justice is not reserved to only those who can afford it.”

Remembering that Mr James had the security of an indemnity from public funds, and Jacqui had only a (misplaced) confidence that she would be vindicated, and the extreme imbalance in the legal system is plain.

Insurance companies willing to cancel cover, although evidence does not reach the standard required for a criminal trial, tilts the scales of justice even more in favour of those with fat wallets or access to the public purse.

PDR

Help Jane’s Cancer Research Campaign

Jane and Steven Holmes, who live at Ffarmers near Lampeter, remind us that November is Lung Cancer Awareness Month.

A very fit marathon runner, Jane was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2014 when she was 43 – a shock, because she did not have any symptoms. She happened to have an x-ray for another reason, and it revealed a shadow in the right upper lobe.

Jane was given the awful news that her cancer was too advanced for an operation, but she and Steven, who is also a long-distance runner, were not ready to give up, despite the Stage 3b Adenocarcinoma which had spread to two nodes in her neck. Four cycles of chemotherapy at West Wales General Hospital, Carmarthen, were followed by six weeks of radical radiotherapy at Cardiff’s Velindre Cancer Centre. In June 2015, a year after the shock diagnosis, the upper right lobe and some lymph nodes were surgically removed.

Five weeks later Jane – recipient of the 2015 Inspiration Award from the Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation — ran a five kilometre charity race.

xxxxx

Jane Holmes — raising money for cancer research

“Our experience of the NHS was excellent,” said Steven. “The facilities are there, the staff are second to none and the system does work.”  Yet Steven realises that not all cancer sufferers have the resources or energy to push for and find the best treatment. “Luckily we were able to self-fund scans,” he said. “Jane spent a lot of time following NHS paper chains and finding the right treatment or specialist.”

xxxxx

Steven Holmes — drawing attention to lung cancer

Wales is not exactly top of the league for treating lung cancer, which is the biggest cancer killer in the country, accounting for almost 2,000 deaths a year. “Historically, only one in 15 of people with lung cancer in Wales are alive five years after diagnosis,” said Dr Ian Williamson, consultant respiratory physician and Assistant Medical Director for Cancer Services with the Aneurin Bevan Health Board, speaking for the UK Lung Cancer Coalition. “Despite concerted efforts by the Welsh Government and Public Health Wales to tackle inequalities and improve outcomes, five-year survival rates in Wales still lag behind our European counterparts and compare very poorly with other major common cancer types.”

There is sometimes a feeling that lung cancer sufferers are at least partly responsible for their illness because they have smoked – but according to the NHS, one person in every eight with the disease has never smoked.

So far, Jane and Steven have raised over £17,300 for the Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation.

And last month Jane, free of cancer, completed the demanding 26.2-mile Brooks Snowdonia Marathon Eryri, climbing to over 1,200 feet, in 5 hours 28 minutes and 51 seconds.

She will continue to raise money for cancer research, and has a Just Giving page, https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/JaneHolmes-rclcf

Wronged Maesybont couple are refused insurance claim

“We are sorry to inform you that liability is denied,” said the letter from solicitors Weightmans.

There is to be no recompense from Carmarthenshire County Council for Trisha Breckman and Eddie Roberts of Maesybont, despite 13 years during which the council failed to act against unlawful activities on the next door property, owned by scrap metal dealer Andrew Thomas.

xxxxxx

Trisha Breckman — persecuted for whistleblowing

Dyfed-Powys Police admitted they had been in the wrong when arresting Trisha Breckman at the request of Andrew Thomas and his late wife Karen. In 2010 Planning Inspector Clive Cochrane found that Mr Thomas was violating planning regulations, and in 2012 the Public Services Ombudsman, Peter Tyndall, concluded that the council was guilty of maladministration.

But the county council has employed specialist lawyers Weightmans to fight an insurance claim made by Mrs Breckman and Mr Roberts. Denial of liability, in a letter received by Trisha Breckman on Wednesday October 26, is because “the law of England and Wales does not allow an individual to recover compensation from a public body where the statutory duty or power involved did not itself confer a private law cause of action for a failure to exercise it”.

This seems to show that compensation may be payable only if an authority has a legal duty to act in cases of broken regulations, and not merely a power to act.

Weightmans also say that “the law states that damages in negligence for economic loss are not recoverable when unaccompanied by physical property damage or personal injury”, and also “we believe that your claims are statute barred. The law says that any claims for loss (other than personal injuries) must be brought within six years of the actions causing any loss. The actions which you complain about took place more than six years ago.”

The letter warns against any further action, with the words “Should you commence proceedings, we will ask the court to strike them out immediately.”

So the only avenue which Mrs Breckman and Mr Roberts thought was open to them, to seek compensation for being unable to launch and run their proposed cattery business because of harassment and intimidation from the people next door, now has locked gates across it – just like the lane to their cottage when Mr and Mrs Thomas put gates across that.

Perhaps if Trisha Breckman and Eddie Roberts had sold their cottage, Pantycastell Fach, as soon as they realised they were living next to an industrial site, not a farm, and had been less than truthful about the reason for a sale so soon after moving in, they would not now be in financial hardship.

Instead, they became whistleblowers, but whistled into an Arctic wind which has now frozen them solid.

Absence of justice for whistleblowers, who highlight wrongdoing and cover-ups, is an important national issue. Surely they deserve our gratitude and support, not kicks in the teeth.

PDR

A version of this article appeared in the Carmarthenshire Herald, October 28 2016

More on this case here, here and here

Whistleblower Jacqui Thompson closer to homelessness

Whistleblowing in public threatens to make Llanwrda blogger Jacqui Thompson and her husband Kerry homeless.

Jacqui has received a court letter saying that Mark James, Chief Executive of Carmarthenshire County Council, has applied for an order to sell her home, so that the proceeds will provide libel damages awarded to him of £25,000 plus interest at 8% and fees, currently a total of £35,392. The damages were awarded in 2013 when Jacqui lost a libel claim against Mr James, and he won a counter-claim against her.

“There will be a court hearing to decide whether the order is granted,” said Jacqui, “but the odds are in his favour.”

Jacqui’s sole financial asset is the home where she lives with husband Kerry, a long-established forestry worker. They have a self-built bungalow in wooded countryside north of Llanwrda.

xxxxx

Jacqui Thompson: blogger about to have her home sold by court order

The threat to sell the Thompsons’ home is, seen from the outside, an example of a powerful institution turning on a critic. Jacqui became angry about inconsistencies in planning decisions made by the county council, and began writing a critical blog, ‘Carmarthenshire Planning Problems and More’.

There is no requirement to pass a legal exam before starting a blog, and Jacqui strayed into hazardous territory, although was unlucky to come up against a chief executive determined to protect his and his council’s reputation, come what may. He wrote about Jacqui on Martin Milan’s ‘Madaxeman’ blog, including these words quoted by Mr Justice Tugendhat in his judgement on Jacqui’s libel claim:

 

“Mrs Thompson and her family … have been running a campaign of harassment, intimidation and defamation of Council staff and members for some considerable time… [and that, in respect of the incident on 13 April 2011] … the Council would have made a formal complaint of a deliberate attempt to ‘pervert the course of justice’ to the Police by making false statements, but the [Council] officer concerned … did not want to make a fuss…”

 

Jacqui objected and said she would sue. Chief executive Mark James, protected by an indemnity funded with public money, opted to counter-sue. The grounds were that Jacqui had called him a ‘Pinocchio’ and said he had a slush fund for legal fees and indemnities.

The now-retired Mr Justice Tugendhat, heard the case in February 2013. The learned judge disallowed a jury trial, and chose to agree with evidence on behalf of Mr James and to disagree with evidence submitted by Jacqui’s legal team. She thought she was protected by insurance from the specialist provider Temple, but cover was unceremoniously removed when the judge said he thought, on a balance of probabilities, that she was not telling the truth.

There was no incontrovertible proof that Jacqui lied, but that did not matter in a libel trial.

Withdrawal of insurance cover makes her liable for court costs of £190,390 as well as for the damages awarded to Mr James, and a smaller amount of £7,500 in costs awarded against her after an earlier conflict over a planning decision, settled out of court, with the now-retired head of planning Eifion Bowen.

Jacqui pressed for filming of council meetings to be allowed, and that now happens – and filming of planning committee meetings and executive board meetings too. Filming of planning committee deliberations has shown inconsistent decisions of the sort to which Jacqui objected, but current chair Alun Lenny makes a point of requiring members to justify decisions which appear to conflict with planning policies, and the chances of irregular decisions being made are much reduced.

Is the county council grateful for Jacqui’s prompting?

Individual councillors may well recognise beneficial impacts of her actions – which led to her being arrested and handcuffed for filming part of an open, public meeting on a mobile phone — but the chief executive has chosen to pursue her to the point of forcing the sale of her home, and that would make her and Kerry homeless.

Jacqui has asked for support from her AM and MP, Adam Price and Jonathan Edwards, and from the Welsh Government’s First Minister Carwyn Jones, and the Cabinet Secretary for Finance and Local Government, Mark Drakeford.

“I’m hoping to bring some political pressure to bear,” she said, “although I’m not sure it will help our predicament.”

PDR

An earlier version appeared in the Carmarthenshire Herald, October 28 2016

Llandeilo Provisions Market: Renovation Dream, Parking Nightmare

Where are Llandeilo’s 349 daytime and 508 evening car park spaces? We don’t know.

Carmarthenshire County Council has used these figures to justify planning approval for a major commercial redevelopment of the listed Provisions Market building at the top of Carmarthen Street at the junction with New Road. See also the Carmarthenshire Herald, October 21.

Only 36 spaces would be provided on site, but the apparent availability of hundreds of spaces elsewhere in the town led the planning committee to decide last week (October 13) that the shortage of spaces at the historic building would not be a problem – even though the 16 or so existing informal parking spaces on the New Road and Carmarthen Street sides of the county-council owned building would disappear to allow for tables and chairs.

xxxxxx

PM, Provisions Market; R, residents’ parking; 1, Carmarthen Road car park; 2, Crescent Road car park, the main one in Llandeilo; 3, Llandeilo Station car park. The thee car parks have 205 spaces between them

Llandeilo town has three public car parks. Crescent Road, by far the largest, has 165 spaces. There are 25 at Llandeilo Station and 15 in the Carmarthen Road car park next to the Fire Station, according to figures obtained by Llandeilo’s hard-working county councillor Edward Thomas. That’s a total of 205, or 144 less than the daytime figure given to the planning committee.  And scarcely anyone would walk from the station to the Provisions Market, a distance of nearly half a mile via steps and Alan Road. A less steep route via Station Road is three-quarters of a mile.

Cllr Thomas is “very concerned” about the loss of unofficial parking spaces outside the Provisions Market. “I am actively campaigning for more parking spaces in Llandeilo, because there is definitely a need for it,” he said. Flat land suitable for parking is at a premium, though, and so it may become necessary to find land outside the town and run a shuttle bus service.

Residents only parking

Daytime on-street parking in Llandeilo is residents only in New Road, as well as in Crescent Road, Church Street, Abbey Terrace, Bank Terrace and Quay Street. Between 6pm and 8am these residents’ spaces are, in theory, available to anyone including, of course, the residents. In addition, at designated spaces at the top of New Road and opposite the civic offices in Crescent Road, drivers can park for up to two hours if a residents’ bay is vacant. Within a couple of hundred metres of the Provisions Market, there are 23 one-hour parking bays in King Street and five 30-minute bays in George Street, but these are intended for quick shopping stops.

Carmarthen Street is narrow and displays double yellow lines on both sides. Rhosmaen Street, part of the A483 Swansea to Manchester trunk road, is definitely No Parking.

Plans for the Provisions Market include two of the 36 parking spaces to be reserved for the disabled. The parking area would absorb the Carmarthen Street recycling site, which would be moved elsewhere. At present there are about 12 spaces behind the building in addition to the 16 at the front and side, and they are normally full – so the new plan adds only eight spaces.

Additional 175 spaces required

If guidelines for new commercial development were followed, there would be 175 spaces at the refurbished Provisions Market, including 12 for the disabled. Most disabled drivers need to be close to their destination – but within 50 yards or so of the Provisions Market the options, if the two reserved spaces were occupied, would be the 10 spaces outside Pili Pala Nursery opposite, or temporary use of a residents’ parking bay, in both cases limited to two hours.

The council’s highways and transport department appears to have had a change of heart since 2012, when lack of parking was a reason for the Head of Transport’s recommendation to refuse the application, by the housing association Gwalia, to construct four houses and nine flats on the site, and to renovate the Provisions Market building as a shell for future commercial use. Gwalia had proposed 16 parking spaces for the dwellings and five for the market building (two of which have since been taken by a bus stop).

Events venue

The 2012 proposals would have resulted, at least initially, in few people on the site, probably between 20 and 25 residents, but the latest plans, by Dawnus Construction Holdings Ltd, are for an events venue with retailing, catering, and business uses which could employ 80 people full-time and 23 part-time. There would be some parking for customers if all employees walked to work, or came by bus – but that is improbable.

xxxxx

Renovation would mean the end of informal parking around the old Provisions Market. Public transport does not exist for many of the people who need to come into town, which is in sore need of more daytime parking spaces

There is little spare parking space in Llandeilo now in the daytime – so 103 additional employees, and an unknown number of customers, are likely to park on the streets, and the main candidate near the Provisions Market is Carmarthen Road beyond the Police Station and down to Llandeilo Rugby Club, where there are no yellow lines, plus smart residential roads off Carmarthen Road like Diana Road, Lôn Rhys and Parc Pencrug.

The Herald is awaiting replies from Carmarthenshire County Council to questions about the number of car park spaces in Llandeilo, and the source of the figures given to the planning committee.

More cars with internal combustion engines coming into Llandeilo would worsen the already severe air pollution problem. On the other hand, frequent public transport between isolated rural homes and the town centre would not be affordable. Electric cars must be part of the answer — but they still need somewhere to park (and recharge).

PDR

 

Public airings for Awel wind co-op venture

Wind power project owned by small investors: see the Carmarthenshire Herald, October 21

Wind energy co-op Awel has three public open evenings next week. The first is on Monday October 24 at Cwmllynfell  Millennium Hall, the second on Wednesday October 26 in Pontardawe Arts Centre, and the third on Thursday October 27 in the Aelwyd yr Urdd building, Hall Street, Brynamman. All three sessions are from 7.30pm to 9pm.

The open evenings coincide with the arrival of turbine parts from Germany, through the port of Swansea. Awel, a community benefit society, is building two 2.35MW Enercon turbines on Mynydd y Gwrhyd south of Brynamman and between the Amman and Swansea valleys. The work is on schedule and should be finished by December.

The project is funded by share subscribers, who so far have contributed £1,354,236. The aim is to raise a total of £1,965,000, and a share offer is open until November 7. “Members can subscribe from £50,” said Awel director Carl Richards, “and it is one member, one vote”.

Subscription is for 20 years, but a request for the return of an investment can be made after three years. The projected rate of return is 5% a year, which is high in today’s environment of low interest rates.

Awel has made the final of the next Cynnal Cymru Awards, representing sustainable social enterprises. The Awel team, headed by project manager Dan McCallum, is also behind the solar panel co-op Egni, which puts solar photovoltaic panels on the roofs of public and community buildings, most recently in Carmarthenshire on Trimsaran Community Centre.

xxxx

Turbine tower sections on the way to Mynydd y Gwrhyd, where community benefit society Awel will shortly be producing clean energy from the wind. There are public presentations in the area next week 

PDR

Would you like to live next door to this?

Would you like to live next door to this? Inadequate, defective and missing foundations, crumbling masonry, no ring beam?

A 28-year saga of botched and hazardous construction, as reported in the Carmarthenshire Herald and the Llanelli Herald this week. Could the local authority step in? Yes. Will the local authority take decisive action? No

A two-storey extension, on the back of no.43 Felinfoel Road, Llanelli, went up in 1988. A further single-storey extension, loosely tacked on to it, followed in 1990. It has loomed over the back yard of the next-door house, no.41 Felinfoel Road, ever since.

xxxxxx

No.43 Felinfoel Road is on the corner and no.41 is attached to it  

Clive and Pam Edwards live in no.41. They have accumulated, over 28 years, boxes of correspondence about the defective extensions. The quantity of information is so great that dissecting and analysing it is a colossal task that few people would want to undertake.

The gist, though, is relatively simple. Botched and faulty decisions in the past have blighted no.41 – and have also damaged no.43.

In June 2003 Waterman Burrow Crocker, civil and structural consulting engineers commissioned by Dyfed Powys Police, said at the end of a long list of serious defects that “We would therefore class the extension as a dangerous structure”.

Nothing was done at the time.

xxxxx

The rear extension to no.43 looks fine from the street

Part of the outer skin of the building was removed after a 2006 report by Wyatt and Watts, consulting civil and structural engineers, said it was dangerous.  There were no wall ties securing it to the inner skin, and in a high wind it might have collapsed – onto the home of Clive and Pamela Edwards.

But the numerous other defects and potential dangers remained.

xxxx

Clive Edwards at the front door of no.41 

In September2007 Martin Watts of Wyatt & Watts wrote to Tim Rees at solicitors Douglas-Jones Mercer, acting for Carmarthenshire County Council, saying “The partial removal of the outer blockwork skin has effectively removed the original dangerous structure concerns but resulted in new stability concerns for the now exposed inner skin and flat roof construction to no.43 under high winds and storms. The removal of the outer skin has also made both properties more vulnerable to rain and damp penetration at this location”.

And that is the situation today.

Council chief executive forbids staff to inspect property

Carmarthenshire County Council, the planning authority, maintains the line that the problem is nothing to do with them, just a neighbour dispute. Chief Executive Mark James CBE has taken charge, refusing to allow officers to carry out risk assessments, and refusing to allow any staff to answer questions from Mr and Mrs Edwards’ councillor, Bill Thomas, as well as from the Edwardses themselves.

xxxx

No.43’s extension from the back yard of no.41

Despite this declaration of ‘nothing to do with us’, the council is organising an inspection every two years. The most recent, on May 22 2015, found rat droppings above the ground-floor bathroom of no.41, which shares a party wall with no.43 – the wall which now lacks an outer skin. The rodents have chewed through electrical cables, said Mr Edwards.

Nevertheless, Martin Watts of Wyatt & Watts reported “no discernible change in the physical condition and stability of the visible areas of wall between the two properties since my last inspection in August 2012” although the “continued exposure of this wall to the elements has caused increased damp issues and damage to wall finishes particularly to the visible wall areas within no.43.” Yet “based on these findings I do not consider this wall is presently in a dangerous condition”. The council has used this finding to absolve it from having to organise repair.

xxxxx

Vegetation is growing on the crumbling outer wall of the extension, the upper portion of which was demolished in 2007 by order of Llanelli Magistrates Court, because it was bulging outwards dangerously

Not indefinitely – Mr Watts also wrote that the “present construction arrangement cannot be left in this state indefinitely”. For how much longer, he does not say. Is 28 years not long enough?

Mr Mark James’ order for officers to do nothing about 43 Felinfoel Road appears to conflict with advice on the council’s own website, in a section on ‘Dangerous Structures’, which starts: “If you are concerned that a building or structure may be dangerous you can contact us at any time. In the interest of public safety a 24 hours a day service is provided to cover Office and Non Office hours with the aid of Careline to cover out of office incidents concerning dangerous structures.

“Where necessary the danger will be removed immediately by our own specialist contractors under the close supervision of an experienced senior building control officer who will ensure that the work is carried out in the most suitable way.”

xxxxx

Only an inner skin is left at first-floor level

The problem with no.43 seems to be that the council does not believe the structure dangerous enough to force it to act – although 13 years ago Waterman Burrow Crocker said: “Events such as high winds or softening of the subsoil below the foundations may cause the structure to become overloaded and collapse”.

The Herald asked Carmarthenshire County Council for a statement, and this was the response:  “We believe that we have explained the position fully to Mr and Mrs Edwards in correspondence and have nothing to add.”

xxxxx

Gap in the extension’s foundations

Mega stress

The stress of living next to the awful extension has taken a severe toll on Clive and Pamela Edwards. They cannot solve the problem – no.43, currently unoccupied, belongs to Mr Simon Baier. Mr Baier is an engineer who lives at Woodland Manor, Llangennech Park, between Llanelli and Pontarddulais. He and Julie Baier own a small company, SGB Engineering Ltd, which changed its name from Grantrise Ltd on July 7 1997.

Mr Baier had the extensions built, and received a grant of £3,994 from Llanelli Borough Council, which approved the works as satisfactorily completed, a conclusion with which none of the structural engineers who have examined it since would agree, given the defects they all catalogued.

xxxx

Section of uneven, too-thin foundation

Mr and Mrs Edwards could try to sell their home – but who would buy it, with next door’s defective extensions looming over the kitchen and back yard?  In addition, the two-story extension uses the whole of the party wall between the properties as the remaining lower portion of the outer skin, and that wall has voids in it due, said Clive Edwards, to the extension builders’ decision to remove no.41’s rear chimney breast. Mrs Edwards’ great aunt was living there at the time, and at 88 years old not fully aware of the damage being inflicted.

Neighbour also distressed

Simon Baier, owner of no.43 Felinfoel Road, says he would like nothing better than to solve his extension problem. “I have wanted to complete it for almost 30 years,” he said. “I have gone down the legal route, my solicitor and Mr Edwards’ solicitor have agreed party wall repairs in the past, and on three or four occasions builders have started work, but they need access to no.41 to do the work, and Mr Edwards has not let them continue, in fact he has asked them to leave.

“I even said to the council, go and do the repairs and send me the bill, but Mr Edwards would not let the council’s builders onto his property.

”At the moment I am trying to get an enforcement order to allow builders access to no.41. It’s cost a fortune in legal fees. I reckon over £60,000 just since 2007.

“I can’t live in no.43. Water has come in and the upstairs ceilings in the extension have fallen down, and the ceiling in the kitchen extension downstairs.

“The market value of the house would be about £130,000, but the best offer I have received so far is £58,000.”

xxxxxxx

The extension wall (left) where it meets the back wall of no.41

Mr Edwards agreed that he would not let builders on his property to do shoddy repairs, but said he was not aware of Mr Baier’s request for the council to do the rebuilding, and also said he had never knowingly asked council-contracted builders to leave. “I would be happy if the council came along to do the work,” he said. “It would have to be done in line with Building Regulations, and I am sure the council would insist on that.”

Grant gave illusion of respectability

Why has the faulty extension next door not been rebuilt?

  1. The conflict is not about doing repairs: both Mr Baier and Mr Edwards know that repairs must be done. It is about the scope and quality of repairs. “The extension must comply with the plans drawn up for the original planning application,” said Mr Edwards. In his view, that includes proper foundations and the inclusion of a ring beam –but rebuilding the whole structure would be far more expensive than tidying it up.
  2. Llanelli Borough Council – later part of Carmarthenshire County Council – approved the first, two-storey extension and gave it the grant of £3,994. Why the faulty work was passed as satisfactory, when it lacked building regulations approval, has never been explained. The grant gave the extension an illusion of respectability.
  3. Carmarthenshire council officers, including Chief Executive Mark James, appear to have been vexed by Mr Edwards’ frequent, detailed letters, to the point of opting to ignore them.
  4. Legislation for dangerous buildings should provide the means for the council to rebuild the extension and take a charge on the property to cover the cost of the work, but the word ‘dangerous’ is open to interpretation.  The latest check, in 2015, says the two-storey wall is not imminently dangerous – but that it cannot remain ‘indefinitely ‘. The check did not include the defective foundations, but did record rodent droppings – hardly beneficial to the health of Pam and Clive Edwards, in fact potentially dangerous.
xxxx

Where the single-storey and two-storey extensions are supposed to join 

Councils have vast range of possible actions

The law does not require a structure to be tumbling down before a local authority can act. Samuel Townend, a barrister at Keating Chambers, wrote in ‘Dangerous/defective buildings and the role of the local authority’, published in Local Government Lawyer in May 2014, that “The range of possible actions that can be taken by a local authority when faced with a defective or dangerous building or structure within its jurisdiction are vast. With fore-thought early action, albeit involving some initial expense in preparing an application to the courts for a relevant order, avoids the local authority taking the risk of being liable to pay sometimes heavy compensation to parties affected that have not themselves caused the danger to eventuate.

“If a local authority, knowing about a defective or dangerous structure, leaves matters until emergency action is required, it has only got itself to blame if it subsequently faces claims for compensation.”

If the wall of no.43 collapses on no.41, Carmarthenshire County Council could not claim ignorance of the dangers. Waiting until the danger level reaches fifty nine minutes to midnight is not a sensible option, because action can be taken if a structure is ‘defective’ – and the extensions to 43 Felinfoel Road have been defective for 28 years.

xxxxx

Ragged tarpaulin flapping on no.43 does not keep out water

Section 80 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 is one of the options proposed by Mr Townend in his article. This gives a local authority the right to serve an abatement notice on the owner of the defective premises or structure, for a nuisance caused by a structural defect.

Section 77 of the Building Act 1984 is also a possibility. The council can apply to a court for an order requiring the property owner to carry out remedial work – and if he or she refuses, the council can have it done and recharge the owner.

Clive Edwards, who is a cancer sufferer, is desperate for remedial action to be taken. “We can’t sell our house for anything like its real value,” he said. “Who would want to live here? We don’t go out into the yard now, because we can’t bear to look at the monstrosity.”

It is a monstrosity which might crush their house, and them with it, and also a monstrosity which is a nightmare for owner Simon Baier.

And it all began with incompetent, potentially dangerous work which Llanelli Borough Council should not have approved, but did – an error which, uncorrected, has led to a seemingly intractable problem 28 years later.

xxxxxx

Rats have entered the roof space of no.41’s single-storey kitchen and bathroom extension 

PDR

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Post Navigation

%d bloggers like this: