Saturday, 15 April 2017
Election Tour 2017: Llangennech and Parc Howard
This week's Llanelli Herald contains an interesting update on the aborted fundraiser for a judicial review of the council's decision to establish a Welsh-medium school in the village.
Watkins and Gunn, the law firm which the CrowdJustice website said was running with the case, told the newspaper that it had not been instructed and had only answered some questions from unnamed parties as to how a judicial review might be funded.
The newspaper initially took this response at face value and concluded that the fundraising appeal may have been a scam - until its attention was drawn to a formal press release issued the week before by Mr Michael Imperato, a partner in the law firm.
The press release quotes Mr Imperato as follows:
There are 2 or 3 really good legal points – not least that there has been no provision made by the Council for English-speaking pupils who might otherwise have started at the school......I can’t emphasise enough that this case raises a fundamental issue about the balance between Welsh and English medium education. We want to see both languages thriving. Here, though, English medium education is basically being closed down.
As the newspaper points out, Mr Imperato's press release runs a coach and horses through his subsequent claim not to have been involved in anything more than answering questions about funding.
The newspaper notes that the person responsible for handling the firm's PR is Gemma Robertson, previously a reporter working for the Western Mail and Llanelli Star.
Curiously, both newspapers parroted the Imperato press release almost verbatim, no questions asked, as did the Carmarthenshire Families Online website run by Karen Deacon, one of the anti-Welsh medium campaigners, although she forgot to tell readers about her involvement when she posted up press releases asking for money and deleted comments which were critical of the attempt to raise funds for court action.
The crowd-funding appeal was suddenly pulled without explanation on 8 April, but neither newspaper got round to reporting this development until 11 April.
Both the Western Mail and the Llanelli Star have considerable form when reporting the Llangennech story from the point of view of the anti-Welsh medium campaigners, most spectacularly when they ran a completely untrue story claiming that the campaigners had been targeted, having their tyres slashed and being subjected to verbal abuse in public. They even went so far as to implicate Cymdeithas yr Iaith, before publishing an apology.
While it is now pretty clear who was behind the crowd-funding appeal, the mystery remains as to why it was aborted. There would seem to be two possible explanations: either Watkins and Gunn got cold feet and realised that the case could damage the firm's reputation, or there was political intervention, most likely from Cardiff Bay, with 'Welsh' Labour needing the renewed controversy in the middle of an election campaign like a hole in the head.
Judging by Llanelli Labour's sudden and total silence on the schools issue, the second explanation is looking increasingly plausible.
Having campaigned vociferously against establishing a Welsh-medium school in the village and stoked division and bigotry, Gary "Poumista" Jones and Jacqueline Seward, Labour's two candidates, appear to have taken a vow of silence, and Lee Waters also seems to have been told to put a sock in it.
After posing as a poilu ("hairy one"), Gary Jones has now taken to posting pictures of his friends, a collection of logs with crudely painted faces on them which he refers to as "Gary's Gang":
The logs are at least a captive and uncritical audience for claims being made by Gary and the rest of Llanelli Labour that Plaid is planning to sell off Parc Howard.
here, includes interviews from most of the major players in the Parc Howard saga, and while it is not entirely free of bias, nobody watching it could conclude that Plaid is about to close the park to the public.
The Parc Howard story has taken many twists and turns, but it was Carmarthenshire County Council under the previous Labour-Independent administration which put the park on the so-called asset transfer list.
Things then became very murky, with Ken Rees (UKIP), former chair of the Friends of Parc Howard and one of Meryl's old friends, entering into secret discussions with some, cough, interesting private investors. Lurking in the shadows was Cllr Meryl Gravell who certainly knows rather more about that episode than she lets on in the film.
If the Labour group, which was after all running the council together with Meryl at the time, did not know all about this, they should be asking some serious questions of the chief executive and Meryl Gravell, but for some strange reason, they have never got around to doing that.
One of Emlyn Dole's first actions as council leader was to take Parc Howard off the asset transfer list, but the council has at least been consistent in its message that the park needs to become financially self-supporting.
Meryl pops up several times in the course of the film, repeating allegations that opposition from unnamed local sources torpedoed a bid to gain millions of pounds in funding to overhaul the house and grounds from the Heritage Lottery Fund.
The HLF has denied that this was so, saying instead that there were weaknesses in the case brought before it by the council.
As Meryl was responsible as portfolio holder for the substandard HLF application, readers can probably understand why she is so determined to pin the blame on unidentified local troublemakers.
Meryl will be stepping down as both councillor and Executive Board member for Regeneration and Leisure in three weeks from now, but technically she is still in post. Why anyone in County Hall thought it was a good idea to wheel her out for the cameras is anyone's guess, but predictably all we got was the sound of old axes being ground and no new revelations about her role in the Locaventures scandal.
The long and the short of it is that Parc Howard will remain open to the public and in public ownership, although the council's big new idea is to lease part of the house for use as a wedding venue.
Whether or not that is a good idea is open to debate, but Parc Howard is not going to be "lost" to Llanelli as the trolls lurking behind the CUSC SOPAP account* and Gary Jones are suggesting.
If Llanelli Labour were serious about the future of Parc Howard they would come clean about their involvement in what really did almost amount to a sell-off to Locaventures and engage constructively with other parties.
But it's so much easier to lob hysterical accusations about.
* CUSC SOPAP (Carmarthenshire United Sports Committee and Save Our Parks and Playgrounds) began life as an action group campaigning against Labour's plans to transfer responsibility for running sports facilities in the south of the county to local community councils and sports clubs, bringing the Llanelli area into line with the rest of the county which does not benefit from council subsidised bowling greens, etc.
The policy went spectacularly wrong under the leadership of Kevin Madge, with some clubs complaining of massive hikes in costs. CUSC SOPAP has now morphed into a branch of the Llanelli Labour Party.
Posted by Cneifiwr at 06:10