The gigantic housing development known as Carmarthen West has featured on this blog several times - here, for example.
The scheme was hatched and pushed through by the previous Labour/Independent administration, but whatever qualities the Meryl-Madge dream team had, vision was not one of them. It was his visionary capabilities that landed Mark James his job as chief executive way back in 2001, and this bright shiny new city on a hill (in reality part hill, part bog) is yet another of his visionary legacy projects.
Like so many other Jamesian schemes, it has not had a smooth run and involves a complex web of commercial agreements which involve a lot of give and take - with council residents doing all the giving and fat cat "investors" doing all the taking.
Readers of the Carmarthen Journal learned last week that the £5 million plus link road scheme is still bogged down in disputes with landowners. As most of the road and a new bridge have now been completed, it is pertinent to ask why work was begun and millions of pounds spent without checking that everyone was on board first.
But we are where we are, and it seems that the council will now have to resort to compulsory purchase orders.
The council is funding most of the cost of the new road, but is hoping to recoup our money through a roof tax on the new houses, although word has it that the new houses are not selling like hot cakes.
We can but hope.
Hardly had the ink dried on the Journal's story than we learned that Jeff Fairburn, the chief executive of Persimmon, the principal developer in Carmarthen West, has just landed himself a bonus of £128 million (believed to be a mere £110 million + after the deduction of fees), with a bonanza of around £400 million going to other senior executives in the company.
Persimmon has had a very good year, thanks largely it seems to the UK government subsidies.
A company which can afford to splash £500 million on its top executives could, you would think, afford to stump up £5 million to pay for the link road needed for the housing development.
Not a bit of it. Persimmon and its interlocutors in County Hall have ensured that all the risk falls on local taxpayers for a scheme which has nothing to do with meeting local housing needs and which will lead to the Anglicization of the oldest town in Wales.
There was also the Norfolk based outfit Carmarthen Promotions Ltd with Lord someone or other who sought, and acquired, last year, an extension on the number of houses which could be built before the S106 obligations kicked in. Quite where they fit in with Persimmon is a mystery.
The Anglicization of the oldest town in Wales is already well underway: sometimes when walking around the town one could be forgiven for thinking Carmarthen is part of the set of East Enders and the Carmarthen West development will merely be the final nail in the coffin.
Another CCC "regeneration project" housing estate(s) likely to do anything other than attract retirees and a few local people upgrading to a home with a view while lining other pockets.A number of unexpected investors and as you mention some dispute over land and access which surely should be sorted out before spending a shed load of public money. More houses provide more people and more homes for the council to tax. There is little evidence that building houses in itself boosts local economies.
CEO Mark James claimed in full council that he expected the 1200 homes to be mainly occupied by returning local people, many of whom would speak welsh. He cited a study of residents in a nearby estate supporting this view but when I asked him for these figures an unsatisfactory silence ensued. No study detail was available,
However, most councillors across all the political groups were seduced by the "jobs" argument so favoured by Cllr Madge. There were cynics but all reluctant to break ranks by saying anything and the ruling groups were going to outvote anyone anyway. Why be called out as standing in the way of economic progress?
Since losing my seat on the County Council my mental health is much improved by no longer having to participate in this ridiculous circus of rather dodgy sounding proposals of "investment" of public money by the County Council in projects which are unlikely to produce the promised prosperity and/or amenity for the citizens of Carmarthenshire.
In my 9 years I also never got a sensible explanation of how the "Constructors Framework" of trusted firms worked. It seems to allow the Council to not only avoid open tenders but also ensured the same friendly contractors got all the public project building jobs, occasionally awarded the gig "blind", long before planning permission was approved, so the choice must have been sometimes inspirational rather than rational. It may be legal but doesn't look fair for other businesses and certainly is not open or transparent as we all would like.
Sian - The study cited by the CEO was carried out a few years ago by UWTSD. It was conducted on a much, much smaller development, and I have seen it used as a blanket justification every time someone voices concerns about the impact of large scale housing projects.
In January CCC will kick off the process of putting together a new Local Development Plan, and the message has already gone out that submissions from the public and interested parties will be welcome but must be based on evidence, not opinion.
Given that it is not possible to provide "evidence" about developments which have yet to happen, the only evidence available has to come from what has happened in the past, and Cymdeithas yr Iaith is calling on the government and the Language Commissioner to fund an independent study of the long term effects of these LDPs and their predecessors across the whole of the country.
An attempt by campaign groups in Gwynedd and Môn to present evidence to the councils there when they were considering their new LDPs was rejected, and I suspect that anything which is not officially sanctioned will meet with a similar fate.
Without such a study, CCC and other councils will draw up new LDPs without any evidence on the impact on individual communities to back them up.
Carmarthen Civic Society provided a complete and detailed critique and rebuttal of the West Carmarthen development when it was first proposed, using demographic statistics provided by the WAG to show that there was absolutely no local need for a development of this size. Potential problems regarding drainage and sewerage systems were also pointed out. Glangwili Hospital is already working to capacity and has huge parking problems and, to date, there appear to be no plans for expansion or improvement which is going to be even more inconvenient - and even hazardous - for everyone. Those were just three of the contra-arguments but, all to no avail.
Once the powers-that-be have decided on a course of action, they don't let facts get in the way. Plans such as this one should be subjected to local referenda so that our views can be aired before anything can go ahead. The threat of such a referendum following a Judicial Review, halted the closure of St Catherine Street which was being proposed merely for the benefit of the new shops. We made the council (or Mr James) change its mind - perhaps it could have worked again in this instance.
"Watchdog Daily investigates complaints from customers of this major house-building company who make big claims but don't always live up to them."
This a quote from the BBC' programme on Persimmon - sounds familiar
Mark James and Persimmon good bed fellows I think
As for the road this also linking the A40 at Nantyci to the campus avoiding the Johnstown road system - this to bring the hoards of students to Trinity and the commercial traffic to the Yr Egin
Win win all round or just another wish list of projects that has no bearing on improving the prosperity of the area and fulfils the dreams of the current vice chancellor
People need to be carefull of buying houses on these faceless housing estates as the quality of build is poor, many snagging issues and difficult to sell on
Also the status of the freehold or leasehold which is a current scandal with all the national house building corporations
A blot on the landscape in the name of regeneration strategy for the council and university
I think Mark James is a Director of Trinity University College Ltd, a part of UWTSD
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