Monday 7 January 2019

The Wellness planning application - updated

Update 18th January

In an interesting twist to the Wellness scandal allegations have been made by the suspended vice chancellor of Swansea Uni that Franz Dickmann offered equity in Sterling, a discounted house and a job to a now resigned senior official at the Uni. This begs the question as to why Mark James and co were so keen to ensure that Mr Dickmann and his company secured the exclusive right to develop the project. Not just once, as Kent Neurosciences in 2016, but again in 2018 as Sterling. They were, curiously, the only bidder.
Incidentally, Mr James' 'retirement' cuts short his tenure as Accountable Officer and Chair of the Project Board for the City Deal by three months. Interesting.
Something stinks and it's coming from County Hall. I hope the Wales Audit Office dig deep, with no fear nor favour. Better still, the police should step in now.
WalesOnline report here.

Update 10th January

I ventured down to the council chamber today to hear the planning committee decide on the Wellness Village. Sian Caiach and I had objected and Sian read out her objection. As the news about the chief executive's retirement had already filtered through, to my phone, Sian took the opportunity to wish the 'arrogant control freak' her warmest can see it here.
(15th Jan; Sian has written a blog post here)

Of course the planning committee couldn't actually decide anything as the Welsh Government may well call it in and decide it for themselves, and so they should. They did, however, approve it 'in principle', but after two years hard sell and a two hour planning officers report, complete with yet another fly-through video, it was a very predictable, disappointing, and thoughtless outcome. There was even a man from Arup expensively brought in to respond to the objectors (me and Sian). It was farcical. You can watch the whole thing on the webcast if you wish.

What couldn't be 'considered' however was the fact that there are numerous investigations ongoing, the business case was flawed, (and currently invisible), the City Deal is sinking into the swamp along with the Wellness dream, and Mark James is in the frame.
You might have thought that all that was a vital component of any discussion. But no, not in Carmarthenshire.

We'll have to wait and see what happens next, but, meanwhile, I think there's a blogpost to write about our retiring chief executive....

* * *

The wellness swamp planning application is due to be decided by the council's planning committee on Thursday (10th Jan). With Mark James and Sidekick Emlyn maintaining their public denial that the wellness dream is sinking fast, the business case is flawed, and the partners have evaporated into the delta lakes mist, the charade looks set to continue.

The council is the applicant and Arup is the agent. There are currently 57 documents attached to the application with numerous technical reports extending to thousands of pages. Arup's bill must be astronomical.
Half of the statutory consultees are various departments of the council itself, such as highways and public protection and the report to the committee is itself 93 pages, and reads more like an estate agents blurb than an objective report. Two years worth of Wellness village spin and lies will ensure that the minds of the committee are completely closed to anything other than blind approval and they will be told that anything other than material planning considerations are irrelevant.

Let's just hope that the recent revelations haven't passed them by.

Basically, if you throw enough taxpayers' money at it you can build on contaminated land, and partial flood plains with inadequate sewage facilities. You can pile on several metres of topsoil and hope that the pilings and foundations don't disturb the toxic pollutants lurking below, and you just pray that nothing unpleasant seeps into the designated protected waters through the rickety sluice gate. Or when they do, it'll be someone else's problem by then.
There are, quite possibly, even more sordid secrets buried under the delta lakes swamp than the carpets of the Presidential Suite.
You can also commission an expensive environmental Appropriate Assessment recording potential significant effects, only to be told by NRW that the wording is wrong and should conclude, (if that is the case), that there is 'no adverse effect'. Quite a 'significant' difference.

You can also enter a state of complete denial that there are investigations ongoing into the City Deal, the wellness village itself and the council's own decision making capabilities. Rumour also has it that the police are taking a cursory glance at the whole farcical scandal.

Mr James will also hope that the dutiful members of the planning committee, as they nod through his multi million pound luxury spa, will also forget that in three week's time they will be voting through £28m frontline cuts for the next three years. They may also forget that the authority is currently forking out £18m a year in interest payments on what they've already borrowed.

Committee members, on the other hand, could recall what Mr James told them a few weeks ago at full council, quite simply a pack of lies, and remember not to trust a word he says. It's a con. They could, in the face of accusations of scuppering the future of Carmarthenshire, be brave and bear in mind that it's the future size of Mr James' wallet that's really at stake...

The council can argue that planning permission will increase the value of the land, but this is a very specific, let alone expensive, development so the value is tempered by demand, and at this point in time, there is no demand, no investors, let alone necessity. If the council use it as collateral, it will plunge the county into untold debt, and risk, for generations to come.

The planning issues are one thing, the shambolic and scandalous way in which this project has been promoted is quite another. If you take everything else away; from the track record of the unstoppable tyrant Mr James to the sycophantic parroting from dour Mr Dole; from the fanciful job projections to the siphoning off of public funds, the process and Mr James' appointment of Sterling alone should be enough to raise an eyebrow of even the most loyal committee members....
Before the committee vote this through, without even a glance at the still unpublished flawed business plan, and before the Wales Audit Office get into gear, the Welsh Government should call it in.

And if this deeply bizarre project goes ahead? Well, when you're driving over worsening potholes, or your kids haven't got enough textbooks, or teachers, or you're waiting twelve hours in A & E to have a splinter removed from your eye, just remember that Mr James will be right behind you, in his Wellness Healing Pod, surrounded by Wellness crystals, gently warmed by the blood, sweat and tears of the taxpayers of Carmarthenshire...

Update 8th Jan;
I have asked the Welsh Government to 'call-in' the application and have also submitted an objection to the council on similar grounds.
Here's my call-in request;

To; Julie James AM, Cabinet Member for Housing and Local Government
Dear Minister, 
I would like to request that planning application S/36948 for a Wellness and Life Science Village at Delta Lakes, Llanelli is called-in and determined by Welsh Ministers. 
The applicant is Carmarthenshire County Council and the application is due to be decided by the council's Planning Committee on Thursday, 10th January.
I believe that the proposal conflicts with national planning policy and raises issues of wider significance. 
1. The proposal is partly on a flood plain, as are the access roads to the site. This conflicts with TAN 15. 
2. The proposed site is adjacent to protected designated waters and insufficient evidence has been submitted to show how pollutants and effluent from the site will be prevented from entering this sensitive marine environment. 
3. The Appropriate Assessment and concerns about otter, vole and bird habitats have not been resolved or agreed with Natural Resources Wales. This is in conflict with TAN 5. The correspondence is ongoing and should the planning committee decide to approve the application it will be on unknown and untested conditions. 
4. The levels of contamination at the site, and the subsequent effects of piling and foundation work are unknown. Whilst desktop exercises have been carried out for the construction phase, the long term effects have not been examined nor mitigated in sufficient detail for the committee to make an informed decision. 
5. This is a project which forms part of the Swansea Bay City Deal. The City Deal is currently under review by the UK and Welsh Governments and leading decision makers in the City Deal are currently under investigation.
Carmarthenshire Council itself is also being investigated by the Wales Audit Office for its decision making processes in relation to this project.
It is therefore highly inappropriate for Carmarthenshire Council to make a decision on this planning application.
There should be no further decision making, nor expenditure, on this project until all investigations are satisfactorily concluded. 
If you require further clarification with regards to this call-in request, please email me.
I would be grateful for an acknowledgement of this call-in request.
Yours sincerely
Jacqui Thompson
Update 9th Jan;

This is the latest from the Welsh Government, dated yesterday, and addressed to the case officer for the application;

Please click to enlarge
In addition to those mentioned in my comment below, Nia Griffith MP and Joyce Watson AM have also made call-in requests.

Please search this blog for numerous previous posts.


Anonymous said...

Mark James and another white elephant, leaving another trail of huge debt to the taxpayer in his wake, whilst he prospers. Was Boston a practice run for his rule and nefarious activities here in Carmarthen. If he could ride roughshod over the Boston councillors he must have felt certain the local Cllrs here in the darkest corner of Wales would present no problems for him. And they haven't! He must be laughing at them every time he counts his money and they are blind to it.

Unknown said...

Can anyone please tell me how on earth mark James gets away with it Is he somehow above the law?

caebrwyn said...

At least three more call-in requests have now been made including requests from Sian Caiach and opposition leader Cllr Rob James.

Anon 05:21 Yes, absolutely right, and it's time he was stopped.

caebrwyn said...

Another call-in request went in yesterday, so surely the minister can't ignore them all, particularly under these circumstances.

Both Sian Caiach and myself have also submitted objections for the committee meeting tomorrow (Jan 10th) if it still goes ahead, and Sian has also been given permission to speak.
The meeting will be webcast.

Anonymous said...

"The meeting will be webcast" with low quality audio so that we cannot hear what's going on.

Anonymous said...

I see that in the latest response (today, 9th January) from National Resources Wales that they still “have significant concerns with the proposed development as submitted” and would object to the application if these are not addressed.

Anonymous said...

Mankind can now receive a signal from a space capsule 4 billion miles away. Carmarthen County Council can only webcast almost inaudible sound.
You would think now with Yr Egin being part of the City Deal (£5 million from the public purse, all for high tech and with loads of digital hype), and home to S4C to boot, there would be enough sound engineers locally could liaise to solve this problem.
If you have a TV and computer with HDMI slots you can use an HDMI cable to link them and use the volume on the TV,
but of course be careful when switching back to programmes (very loud). All a bit convoluted, but you can hear reasonably well

Martin Milan said...

I haven't heard (pun unintended) but has it really come to this? Making the sound inaudible?

If you find yourself doing that CCC, maybe you should revisit a few decisions... Come on Mark - make a clean breast of it, you tit!

(Ok - that one was intended...)

Anonymous said...

I see Mark James is to retire in June as the CEO. I wonder if the Welsh Government will lure him out of retirement and avail themselves of his particular skills? I wonder how long the present chief law officer will remain?

caebrwyn said...

Anon 19:12
Indeed he is. It will be interesting to see if there's a lucrative revolving door somewhere.. As for the law officer, I can't imagine Legal Linda staying long without Mr James guiding hand.

Anonymous said...

The big risk with a June date is that he is around to influence the appointment of his replacement, needs an experienced chief executive, not an internal lackey.
Real pity he gets out before being held accountable, they should make him walk now, the damage he can do before June is unimaginable.

Anonymous said...

Mark James a tit? Come on, have some decorum. I think the word you seek is nipple. Mark James is like a nipple; a small brownish object and as useful as tits on a bull.

Anonymous said...

Anon 23.09
A New Chief Excecutive Officer?
Only one name in the frame.
Wendy Walters.
Trust me!

caebrwyn said...

Anon 23:27
You could well be right! The other contender is Jake Morgan

Anonymous said...

Certainly it will be Jake.

Anonymous said...

With the shambles of the city deal - as Director of Regeneration Wendy Walters will be a disaster - same old same old as MJ

No look outside get a proven experienced CEO with a successful track record

Anonymous said...

One can only hope that those who will have the responsibility of finding a replacement for M.V James will carry out a far more thorough investigation into the suitability of his successor than was obviously the case with Master James. It has been evident for many years that M.V.James has exerted an almost dictatorial control of Carmarthen Council. He has treated it as his personal fiefdom answerable to no one.Anyone who dares to criticise or dares to ask too many searching questions very quickly find themselves facing threats of litigation. Those Councillors now need to come out of the shadows and show some moral backbone and demand a full enquiry into the many deals orchestrated (in many cases behind closed doors)that will financially tether the taxpayers of Carmarthen for many years to come.Any further litigation threatened by this CEO will have to be self financed. How unedifying it is to note how the present leder of the Council was so vociferous when in opposition to ANY taxpayers money being used for any legal costs incurred by the CEO.Having reached the dizzy heights of Leader of the Council,Rev Dole has had a damascene moment and supports such payments be sanctioned. He too now will need to self examine and decide to follow the path of truth and openess or perhaps consider his own position. He of course owes a lot to Mark James and without that dubious patronage might well find his own position under threat. Time will tell. Carmarthen People now deserve a CEO and leader of their Council to act for them in a totally democratic and transparent way. All the elected Councillors that have stood back and allowed the present situation to ferment the way it has will be deemed complicit in any wrongdoing that they have allowed to happen. The electorate will make their views known at the next local elections.The Welsh Government with a new leader should also stop turning a blind eye to the undemocratic/unaccoutable behaviour of this CEO. They have allowed this behaviour to continue over many years with NO wish to carry out THEIR statutory duty.

Anonymous said...

Councillors cannot think of appointing the new CEO from the current management team

They must have an experienced person as all the internal candidates are inexperienced and have been indoctrinated by MJ and we will end up with the same management style as they know nor better

This is an a opportunity to move Carmarthenshire onto a better future

Any internal candidate aspiring to be a CEO will be better off moving to another authority to gain experience to pursue their career

Unknown said...

I have posted these blogs to my Facebook page and to Twitter to try and spread your posts as far and wide as I can, you are to be commended for your efforts to shine the light of scrutiny on the dark places that the cockroach that is MJ hides, while you have gone through so many trials and tribulations at the hand of one who can only be discribed as a sociopathic little Caesar.