Tuesday 6 August 2013

Stradey saga - the early years

As the Stradey saga continues and the Scarlets are given headline billing for October's council meeting it's perhaps worth looking back again at a few of the early twists and turns of the whole debacle. The development was initially called-in by the Welsh Government back in 2006 but the odds were always stacked against local residents, the council's dream for the "won't cost the taxpayer a penny" Parc Y Scarlets stadium was well underway (and continues to cost the taxpayer a lot more than that) and despite the club being in enormous debt nothing was going to stop the dream progressing.

By August 2006 the pressure was on in earnest to drive on with the plans. Carwyn Jones AM (Lab), now First Minister, was the Minister in charge of planning and had to consider the call-in. Seasoned followers of the saga will remember the unfortunate episode of the 'Stradeygate' email.  As reported at the time by the Western Mail, an email which appeared to come from the council press office urged Scarlets fans to pressurize the Welsh Government over the call-in through a chat-room forum;

"The message sent to us in error appears to come from the email address of Debbie Williams, head of Carmarthenshire County Council's press office. The message seems to try to exert huge pressure on Assembly politicians on the matter.

It says in full, Please can you post this on the thread 'email our politicians': Agree HMJ is waste of space, she's already spoken out publicly in favour of the stradey nein [a reference to the scheme's opponents].

it is catherine we need to get support from - she needs to know that her small winning majority of 21 will be a huge losing majority come next may if she ignores the massive numbers of the scarlet army. anyone got her email address?

The 'HMJ' in the message is Helen Mary Jones, the Plaid Cymru AM for Mid and West Wales, while 'Catherine' is Catherine Thomas, the Labour AM who defeated Ms Jones by 21 votes at the last Assembly election in 2003."

The council naturally denied all knowledge of the email. And Helen Mary Jones was not amused. She said, "Carmarthenshire County Council has handled this matter in a very peculiar way from the outset. I am shocked at what could appear to be an attempt to manipulate public opinion using taxpayers' resources". As if they would do such a thing....

Barely a month later, in September 2006, Welsh Assembly politicians received more pressure from a slightly different source. The Secretary of State for Wales, Peter Hain, Labour MP for Neath wrote to Carwyn Jones dropping a not very subtle hint to reject the call-in. In fact, Mr Hain, "As a keen rugby supporter" seems to suggests that, if the development didn't go ahead, the Welsh government would be responsible for the demise of the club and possibly even Welsh rugby as we know it. What self respecting Welsh Minister would want that on their conscience eh?

"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"

Cneifiwr has also posted on the subject of Stradey and the men in suits....

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