Wednesday 15 November 2017

Carmarthenshire on the Taff

In the previous post we saw how difficult it was for Mrs Trisha Breckman to negotiate an audience with Mark James CBE. When the meeting finally did take place, it began with frosty glares but ended with smiles and warm handshakes, and what Mrs Breckman understood to be a promise to help her.

Apart from a very hostile letter from the council's solicitors some months later, that was the last Mrs Breckman heard from Mr James until he wrote to her last week threatening to take her to court.

In Mr James's defence, he is of course a very busy man. Aside from the small matter of running Carmarthenshire County Council and trying to get the Swansea Bay City Deal off the ground, he has responsibilities elsewhere. At Century Wharf in Cardiff, for example.

Let's hope residents of Century Wharf in Cardiff have better luck than Mrs B.

The gated apartment complex close to the city centre is at the heart of Mr James's burgeoning business empire, which appears to consist of two strands: property investment and developing a "right to manage" business model that would be sold to other residential developments, with Mr James and his white knights riding in to save householders from the clutches of unscrupulous operators.

Unlike their rapacious, money obsessed competitors, Mr James and his business partners are, of course, motivated purely by a wish to help ordinary people, even though they live nowhere near Century Wharf.

At Century Wharf Mr James is a director of no fewer than three Right To Manage (RTM) companies which are in partnership with Warwick Estates Property Management Ltd, a company based in Harlow Essex. Managing Director of Warwick Estates is Mr Craig Stevens, who describes his occupation on Companies House as "entrepreneur". Funnily enough, the three RTM companies are all registered at the same address as Warwick.

Mr James's RTMs and Warwick Estates clearly enjoy an extremely close working relationship, and residents of Century Wharf may wonder why "their" right-to-manage companies share lodgings with Warwick in distant Essex and what would happen, God forbid, if they ever wanted to dispense with the services of Warwick Estates Property Management. But let's cast such dark thoughts aside.

In the meantime residents have just received a newsletter dated 2 November 2017, which features Warwick Estates' logo alongside the three RTM companies. It is not clear who penned this update from "your RTM directors Steven Corner, Elize Ferner, Mark James CBE, Stephen Kass and Pamela Voisey", but there is much in it which will sound uncannily familiar to residents of Carmarthenshire.

First up we are told that Century Wharf residents are flocking to sign up for the services of the RTMs and Warwick Estates; unlike Mrs Breckman and other disgruntled Carmarthenshire taxpayers, they are promised "direct access to the directors". No matter whether it's blocked drains, repairs or grounds maintenance, they can apparently pop in to see Mr James or any of the other directors for a chat.

The newsletter goes on to describe how the RTMs and Warwick are currently locked in battle with the insurers, Zurich, before taking a swipe at a dissident former director who, it says, has been taking his gripes to the media.

High jinks

That would be a reference to the sort of thing recently reported by the Western Mail, which tells a distressing tale of condoms left in gardens, poo in lifts and clearly tired and emotional Airbnb visitors sleeping in hallways.

It was perhaps a little unfair of the Western Mail to pin the blame solely on Airbnb clients because there are plenty of other ways visitors to Cardiff can book themselves into Century Wharf while they enjoy a short stay in the capital, as a quick Google search which yields any number of advertisements for short-stay serviced apartments in the complex will testify.

Century Wharf even has its own website, which boasts that the complex is just a short walk from the city centre and the "Principality" Stadium. It even has its own leisure centre for residents and their visitors.

The idea that apartments might be used by lads up for the rugby, hen parties or stag weekends is preposterous, and the raucous behaviour could equally be down to marauding members of Merched y Wawr, gangs of lay preachers or the Rachub Temperance Society attracted by the bright city lights. Indeed, the newsletter darkly suggests, it may be the work of people "not necessarily renting for short periods", although why long-term residents of this upmarket development would want to defecate in lifts, perform sex acts in the gardens or sleep in hallways it is hard to imagine.

These lurid tales "do not appear to bear scrutiny" and paint a negative picture of life in Mr James's property management empire, we are told. If any of this happened, it was probably a long time ago.

It's all sadly reminiscent of the sort of carping Mr James has to put up with in his day job.

The dissident former director, Mr Gareth Griffiths, has therefore received a written communication, presumably of a legal nature, asking him to desist.

One small problem with all of this short-stay activity is that it is a flagrant breach of leasehold agreements and planning regulations, dissident residents say.

Again, the notion that Mr James CBE or any of his associates would ride roughshod over planning regulations is entirely risible, and it is unfortunate that East Hertfordshire District Council should recently have acted in a high-handed manner and served an enforcement notice on Mr Craig Stevens, MD of Warwick Estates, for building an unauthorised extension to his home in Ware. A decision which was regrettably upheld on appeal.


Moving swiftly on from these scurrilous stories, the newsletter turns its attention to what form the annual general meeting of the three RTM companies might take. There will be no elections this year, it informs us, and rather than stage a boring event which might be hijacked by obsessives with axes to grind, the directors are considering holding an open day at which residents would be treated to presentations.

A bit like the sort of thing Mr James has strived to bring about at meetings of Carmarthenshire County Council, in fact, where colourful Powerpoint presentations from BT and Dŵr Cymru make such a welcome change from tedious and impertinent questions from the floor.

Bearing in mind that the newsletter begins by telling us that Century Wharf residents are flocking to Mr James's banner, it may appear a little odd when we read a few paragraphs further down that "many members have stressed the importance of being able to speak with Directors about concerns they have about their own apartments or to be able to make comments about the landscape around the site, parking, maintenance, and other maters that affect them personally".

Perhaps all is not quite as lovely in the landscaped gardens after all, condoms or no condoms.

At any rate, the newsletter promises that members will shortly be informed about how they may go about addressing their concerns to directors personally.

If Mrs Breckman's experiences are anything to go by, they may want to think very carefully before complaining.


Anonymous said...

I hope James does all this work in his own time - weekends and evenings and does not farm some of the work out to his top team in the Council

As that would breach many codes of conduct guidelines

Keanjo said...

I always understood any employee of a Council required the permission of the Council ( that is the elected members) to take other employment . In my considerable experience in 5 County Councils, this was seldom agreed and certainly not for highly paid officers. Unless there has been a considerable change in the conditions of employment, Carmarthen County Council has the power to require their CEO to resign from other employment or to resign his post.

Anonymous said...

Well he couldn't possibly be doing this work in the evenings as he's too busy with his bible classes. Didn't you know he's a committed Christian.

Cneifiwr said...

Keanjo - Mr James says that he is a non-executive director, and therefore not employed by the companies. Cough.

The arrangement was apparently approved and authorised by his deputy. Cough.

I really must get that cough seen to.

Keanjo said...

I find it difficult to believe his Deputy has the power to approve such an arrangement . If he does then the rules need to be changed . Has this been brought to the attention of the Welsh Government?

Martin Milan said...

I am currently going through the process of becoming a school governor for a primary school in the north of England, and as part of which I will be making a declaration of interest. Basically, I work for a company that process payments for a company who supplies school milk, and indeed currently has the contract for the school I will be working for.

Although my salary will remain the same whether or not the company in question retain / expand their involvement with the school, it could be argued that I have a small, indirect pecuniary interest in the success of the milk provider. I will therefore declare this interest, the school will list it on its website, and if we ever come to discuss the contract I will leave the room for the course of the discussion. It's not that I would be influenced, but that we can show that the people who took the decision were free of improper influences...

This, I remind you, is for a governorship of a small primary school. How much is the budget for your local authority again? Do they have a register on interests for the senior officers open to public inspection? No. To they publish one? No. Are the people of Carmarthenshire able therefore to ensure that decisions taken at County Hall are being taken for the right reasons? No, they are not...

I watched a Mark Thomas programme about 15 years ago in which it was declared that all public Quangos had, by law, to maintain a register of interest, and to allow for it to be inspected by anyone upon request. I therefore strongly suggest there will be a law requiring the same of local authorities, and I think Carmarthenshire residents need to track it down and bring it to the attention of their political masters...

Stan said...

"Non-Executive Director", hmmm. I know MPs have to declare these in their Register of Financial Interests and land the right ones they can be very lucrative indeed. Peter Hain was on about £40K a year with Amara Mining (in Africa) for no more than 12 days work per annum. Like Keanjo I find it hard to swallow that James' Deputy alone can make the arrangement that allows him this freedom. Your cough has given me a sore throat methinks.

Elderly Neil. said...

Things are in freefall in Wales from the senedd to county hall Carmarthen.
I don't think there is a prospect of a suicide in the carmarthenshire setup.
Unless the association of Carmarthenshire CC and Cardiff Bay come under
investigative procedure. What then ? Incarceration or internment,