BIG bad news?
by Pat Dodd Racher
Here in Carmarthenshire, sports clubs await huge rises in fees to use county-council owned venues, after the said council has given at least £160,000 and perhaps £200,000 to Clays Golf of Wrexham, the firm which has walked away from Garnant Golf Club, just as the BIG subsidies from the council were coming to an end.
As for the one-way money pipeline between the county council and the Scarlets rugby team, it is hard to see how this arrangement can have a happy ending. The whole Llanelli Scarlets debacle seems to illustrate the hazards of relying on BIG ‘prestige’ projects to provide regeneration. Instead, they tend to provide years of bills to be paid by the hapless public. Llanelli is saddled with an unwise housing development at the Scarlets’ old stadium, Stradey Park, which threatens to increase the flood risk for the existing homes and other buildings nearby, while the new Parc y Scarlets is unaffordable for a club with an average gate of about 8,000 – usually less, but the average is boosted by higher gates for the most important matches. In addition, the adjoining retail park with its free parking has removed trade from the centre of town, which is replete with businesses signalling hard times – pay-day loans, pawnbroking, charity shops.
The county council’s munificent support for the Scarlets since 2008 is in the order of £20 million. A BBC news story, ‘Llanelli Scarlets £20m aid by council concerns raised’, by Steffan Powell and published on December 17th 2013, points out that the council provided £18.3m of the £25.4m cost of the new stadium, which seats almost 15,000 people – nearly double the average gate. The council retained the freehold of the land – on which the Scarlets have a 150-year lease — but unlike local sports clubs there is no charge to the team for using it. The team would pay only in a rose-tinted future of bounteous profitability. And then, as another example of generosity, we have the sale of the council-owned overspill car park there for £850,000 – some £600,000 of which found its way into the Scarlets’ sparse coffers, instead of helping Carmarthenshire to avoid alarming cuts in public services.
Eastgate, Llanelli, and another strange deal. The council is renting offices in the (to my eyes) unlovely development, paying £250,000 a year for 20 years – but the offices are not required! It is a case of shifting staff from elsewhere, and facing the issue of what to do with vacant offices. Knock them down, perhaps, like the plan for Llandovery’s well-maintained and locally valued comprehensive school? The council wants to build houses on the school site, while 11 to 18-year-olds from the town and its hinterland will face a daily trek to the other side of Llandeilo, where a ‘super school’ – the seduction of BIG, again – is to be constructed by the river Tywi. Flooding? Not in the council’s vocabulary.
I could go on about the phoney attractions of BIG, but no one in the county council is listening. BIG means kudos (until it all goes wrong), and often it means BIG MONEY too.
But I don’t think there are any matching BIG benefits for residents.