Wednesday 3 August 2016

Wellness centre - or a luxury health spa?

With the summer hibernation descending on County Hall for the month of August, it seems there's no stopping the very, very exciting plans for the 'Llanelli Wellness Village'.  At a single Exec Board Member meeting tomorrow (Friday) the council will by-pass it's Contract Procedure Rules and commission design and engineering consultants Arup Ltd to create another masterplan for the project. This isn't any old masterplan though but a  "feasibly [?] and sustainable project specific master-plan".

Back in February Welsh Government minister Ken Skates provided £1m to develop an initial 'Scoping Report', also by Arup Ltd, with more funding announced at the end of June. This seems to be the funding for the latest masterplan, although the council report doesn't specify who is paying.

The report comments that Arup are well placed to create the latest document, which of course they are, but yet again, public money is spewing forth before a brick, even a wellness brick, is laid. This, unfortunately is par for the course these days, the Welsh government have paid £7m over the past few years to Arup (it could be any company) for various reports and appraisals over the M4 relief road without an inch of tarmac making an appearance.

With the project led by Carmarthenshire Council (which should be concerning in itself, and, as recently reported, can't even conduct a small scale catering tender properly), it was surprising that back in February, the chief executive claimed that it was unlikely that any decisions would be a matter for full council yet the land itself has already been gifted to the project.

A few months back the executive board agreed, behind closed doors, to enter an exclusivity agreement with a private company, Kent Neurosciences Ltd, locking out any other contenders to develop the project. Recent documents also show a £25,000 council contribution to the new project manager's salary.

When there is little in the way of detail, or even data, but merely an endless procession of concepts and visions it is time to take a closer look. A little scrutiny, a few facts and figures, and even a healthy dose of cynicism, can be useful at this stage, rather than waiting for the whole thing to go pop (god forbid), the mysterious investors disappear, the auditors being called in, and the council having to do a cover-up exercise like never before.

The only efforts so far have been from Councillor Caiach who asked Meryl earlier this year how much the council was likely to have to cough up - her question was ignored, and another councillor asked if it might possibly feature a care home for the elderly, the enquiring councillor was treated to a barrage of PR waffle when the simpler response would have been 'no'.

With so many 'partners' involved, including universities and our hard pressed health boards, it is difficult to determine what exactly is in store for the health and wellbeing of Llanelli or even Carmarthenshire. It's even more important that public money is wisely spent.

The council's own Special Planning Guidance for this Delta Lakes site included, unusually for such a document, the potential for private healthcare, and rarely has a project attracted so many press releases, so much visionary waffle, with so little substance.

The total cost has ranged from £60m to £100m. Therapy clinics, conference suites, a Wellness primary school, a Wellness sports and wellbeing centre are just some of the plans mentioned, and no doubt, just to provide the investors with a guaranteed income, 'wellness council offices'.

So who exactly is going to benefit should the project ever materialise? Will it be the residents of Llanelli as Mr Skates said, or will this in fact be a luxury health spa, merely creating low-paid jobs for locals who will ill-afford the facilities on offer? Who's economy is it likely to boost?

Aside from ARCH, the Swansea Bay City Region Board thingy, and indeed Carmarthenshire Council (or, to be specific.Mark and Meryl) there are other, more international organisations involved, notably the Global Wellness Institute which suggests its end use won't be for you and me.

At a 'Global Wellness Summit' held last year the managing director of Lisner Hospitality, specialising in the 'luxury wellness industry', and based in Austria, advised the 'team' early on to concentrate on the 'spa' concept, and the PR company for all things Global is Kyricos & Associates, a 'boutique advisory firm' providing 'strategic guidance to hospitality, tourism and lifestyle companies', based in Maine, USA.

Other 'Wellness' projects in the pipeline include one in China 'targeting the high-end Chinese community', one in Dubai and one in Tampa, Florida.

However, it is not private companies, nor private investment that should concern us, but the use of public money. With local Carmarthenshire health services stretched to their limits, and poverty levels requiring a record use of foodbanks, public cash in and around Llanelli is probably best spent on the basics rather than a speculative luxury spa destination.

Though to be fair, the Council chief executive has yet to make his usual, if inaccurate declaration, that the latest wheeze 'won't cost the taxpayer a penny', probably because it already has. (I am reminded here, amongst other things, of Cadno's poem from last October.... ). Vanity projects, and white elephants, don't come cheap.


Redhead said...

CCC needs all the wellness it can get. I bet senior council officers will get free passes.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps CCC needs to write to all constituents advising them of the current projects they are bidding on and the amounts involved. That way, their customers, you, me and the rest of the population would be fully appraised of how they are spending our hard earnt money, which we have to provide via council tax.

Once in receipt of that information we can then decide how WE want OUR money spent, be it on the dark lord's vanity schemes, death star next? OR meryl's latest school complete with the latest in chalk boards and slate catch pads.

Only then, once the public realise how these [choice of adjective] are spending our money will they be brought to task and revealed for the selfish absorbed egotistical shallow people they are with little or no regard for the very people they are in place to serve and provide for.

Its time they, and the constituents, realised who works for who.

If marvellous mark, moronic merl, patsy palmer et al cannot do this then its blindingly obvious what needs to be done. Get rid asap and restore sanity to the asylum currently being run by these lunatics.

caebrwyn said...

@Anon 00:59
I agree, the trouble with Dark Lords, tin-pot dictators and the like is they believe they have a Divine knowledge of what's best for their little empire. Surrounding themselves with loyal disciples and yes-men cements this ridiculous sense of self-importance. Dissent with the regime must, of course, be crushed, using whatever means at their disposal, this invariably involves the arms of the law, and the use of resources which were meant for the good of the people. .

Unknown said...

A great bit of research and reporting! I think that the aspirations for the council, expressed in these comments, are encapsulated in words like: 'representation' and 'democracy'. Words that councillors do not understand.