Tuesday 6 August 2013

Stradey Park - the men in suits put the champagne on ice

The convoluted and seemingly endless battle over the controversial Stradey Park development in Llanelli seems to moving towards a climax, with distraught locals and a clearly less than enthusiastic Welsh Government on one side, and the powerful commercial interests of Carmarthenshire County Council, Taylor Wimpey and the Scarlets on the other.

Work on the site is now in full swing even though the Welsh Government issued a section 18 stop order on the renewal of outline planning permission while it considered new call-in requests. The work is going ahead on the strength of reserved matters planning permission granted by the council in 2010 which the Welsh Government found it was unable to call in because of a legal technicality.

Of course, what may be a legal technicality for the men in suits translates into the very real risk of catastrophic flooding for local people.

Taylor Wimpey appears to be very confident of the outcome of this game of chess, and has now paid  £2.8 million in Section 106 money to the council, with the balance (£4.6 million plus interest) being promised for March 2014.

Before anyone gets out the champagne to celebrate this sudden windfall, it is worth remembering that the council took this money out of its reserves several years ago to pay for the new stadium at Parc y Scarlets.

Still outstanding is a further £2.25 million raided from the council's reserves in 2007 and forwarded to the Scarlets as a soft loan.

Councillors will have an opportunity to quiz the club's management when it shows up at the October meeting of the full council, an invitation which has the words "stage managed" written all over it.

The purpose of the visit is not yet clear, although clearly the final repayment of the section 106 money will be a cause for back slapping, possibly to soften up councillors before they are asked to approve a new aid package for the financially challenged club.

The Scarlets scheme always had the enthusiastic backing of the council's chief executive (it was his first major new project after arriving in Carmarthen fresh from the debacle of Princess Royal Arena in Boston), and was undertaken despite warnings from external auditors that the business plan was "extremely challenging".

The auditors have been proved right, and the club's accounts show that it is insolvent. Fortunately it has the exclusive use of the stadium rent free under the terms of its 150 year lease until such time as it makes a £1 million annual profit. That day is somewhere over the horizon in a dim and distant future.

Perhaps in 140 years from now when a packet of crisps costs £500,000, the great great grandchildren of our present councillors will chuckle when the first contribution finally arrives.

Not surprisingly, the stadium is regarded by the club as a huge financial asset, even though it does not own it.

Coming very soon will be another report on a deal which shows how, if you are very lucky, you too could make pots of money by flogging off something you don't own.


Peter Hain has just been on the Today Programme reminiscing about negotiating an agreement with Spain over Gibraltar which he said would have enshrined people's right to "enjoy a pint of beer" on the Rock. The agreement was no such thing as it was vetoed by the Spanish Government, and of course drinking beer is prohibited in Spain, but why quibble about mere details.

This brought to mind the curious part played by the Orange One in the Scarlets saga back in 2006 when he wrote to the then Environment Minister, one Carwyn Jones, to drop a not very subtle hint:

"I understand that you have decided to "call-in" the planning application to redevelop the site of the current Stradey Park stadium. This is, of course, entirely a matter for the Welsh Assembly Government and it is right that all issues are properly considered. However, there are concerns about the possible implications of an undue delay in the planning process and I would welcome your views on whether this can be avoided.
I understand that the application will allow the Llanelli Scarlets Rugby Club to both sort out its financial problems and contribute towards the construction of a new state-of-the-art stadium and training facilities.
As a keen rugby supporter, I believe that Welsh rugby should have four commercially viable teams, and the Scarlets, with their proud history and tradition, are of vital importance to the future of Welsh rugby. The outcome of the planning application and the timescale involved could have significant financial implications for the Scarlets, and I feel that these also need to be carefully considered, together with the protection of local concerns, when deliberating the application.
I hope that it is possible to come to an early decision on this matter and I should also be grateful if you would keep me informed of progress"


Anonymous said...

The saga of the Scarlets new stadium is one of those issues which beggars belief. How can the UK preach to the rest of the world on the merits of western democracy when even ,in the obscure corners of the island, big business controls the supposedly democratic representatives of the people. What chance for the common man? where is justice?

david said...

Such a nice collection of celebrity wedding suits for men