Thursday 13 June 2019

Council to blow another £600,000 on the Wellness Shed

At the last Executive Board meeting (June 3rd) attended by former CEO Mark James the final item on the agenda was that old chestnut, the Wellness Village. Naturally, despite the scandals and the screaming calls for transparency, it was discussed behind closed doors. The secrecy was hardly surprising given that they nodded through the 'officer recommendation' to take the project to the next stage (and there are more stages..) and blow another £600,000 on 'design development' for the Sauna-by-the-swamp.

The rest of the discussion was, in smoke and mirrors councilspeak, "to acknowledge the process milestones and commissioning requirements for the alternative scenarios and the impact on completion dates" which roughly translates as cash still had to be found from somewhere (apparently this includes an unsuspecting Scottish university, firmly in their sights, and a new shedload of borrowing) and the whole thing will be mightily delayed and may miss out on the first round of City Deal funding anyway.

Whether ARUP plc will have the pleasure of this £600,000 commission isn't known, or maybe Ffynnon Consultancy or Building and Estate Solutions will get a little look-in somewhere...who knows. Whatever the case, half a million has already been spent on design development and well over £300,000 on the planning application, currently the subject of a Welsh government stop notice, although, with recent activity on the site, this may be about to be lifted. Over £200,000 has been spent on legal costs, including the notorious Acuity Law report. That's just from last year. In the previous financial year over a million was spent on design, development, and of course the inevitable 'Masterplanning'...

Thanks to the toxic conduct of Mr James, Carmarthenshire Council is firmly, and permanently in the Governance dog-house, the 'partners' have scarpered (and so has Mr James), the councils are at loggerheads, and the whole project remains mired in scandal, and under police investigation. And given his involvement, I hope Mr James' peaceful retirement is soon disturbed by a knock on the door from plod. However, to scrap it now would be to lose face, so, no matter what the final cost, or whether they have to 'go it alone', it will continue. For now.

In my view, the best outcome for everyone, including the rest of the county, crying out for investment, would be for the council to count its losses and go back to its original intention to build a leisure centre and a care home for Llanelli; not a private luxury spa, lining a handful of pockets, providing a few menial local jobs, and too expensive for anyone other than retired chief executives to use, commuting from Kuwait...with their pockets duly lined.

It is, of course a matter of priorities. Here are a couple of examples. At Wednesday's full council meeting a Labour councillor tried to raise the serious financial problems and lack of resources faced by his, and other, local primary schools, he was silenced as this dose of reality was spoiling the cosy feel-good presentation of the 'visionary' Corporate Plan.
All schools are struggling.

And at a scrutiny meeting on Monday the subject of public toilets arose. After 'offloading' as many facilities it could in 2013 (also in ridiculous secrecy) due to 'financial pressures', recent consultations attracted over 700 responses, including a plea for more Changing Places Facilities for profoundly disabled children and adults, and their carers. It turns out that there are only two in the whole county and both are privately run.

In general, the lack of public toilets is, arguably, a far more important issue to the 185,000 residents and the couple of million tourists than pouring cash into a failing, scandal-ridden vanity project, however, the councillors were told that there was absolutely no money in the budget to build more toilets, so 'creative solutions' had to be found...

As toilet provision, giving independence and dignity, is non-statutory, the council are fond of repeating that they are not obliged to provide facilities.

As it happens, they're not obliged to provide a luxury spa and private health care vanity project either, but they've just found another £600,000 in the budget for that!


Sian Caiach said...

Belatedly there appears to be activity on the Delta Lakes site as test drilling is now being undertaken to sample the soil quality and water levels. Previously the Council's consultants were willing to support the safety of the new build project on historical documentation of the former landfill site only, which they claimed revealed no problems but their report does not cite the documents they relied upon.
The drill machinery is pretty small and I doubt will get anywhere near to the full fill depth of the commercial docks, which were filled in with questionable material, under the assumption that the area would be used as parkland only in the future. I am sure the Council will report their findings to NRW as soon as possible and we will be able to read the conclusions.

The new design development money presumably is to formulate plans to go ahead with the project without the original planned subsidies from the current round of City Deal funding.

Personally I don't believe that large and expensive public developments should be built so near to the shoreline, as their longevity could well be shortened by Global Warming in the form of sea level rise, violent weather and increased rainfall. Its a risk that doesn't need to be taken just because it is on Public Land and "free" and can be be sold off to developers or businesses in the future. The Safety of those who might live and work there is surely more important than the profit motive?

Anonymous said...

Perhaps the Welsh Audit Office should be showing an increased interest in the financial shenanigans of this Council during the tenure of the newly departed autocratic CEO. Strange that other people's money can be spent on pet projects seemingly without due diligence and total transparency. I together with many was under the impression that there were NO concerns with The Wellness Centre. Are the "rumours" that are circulating about the potential toxicity problems in the vicinity of The Wellness Centre soon to be confirmed or proven to be without substance?

caebrwyn said...

This is a quote from the Council's very own Corporate Plan (as mentioned above);
"Rising sea levels are likely to impact not only the 5,587 properties in Carmarthenshire already at risk of tidal and rising river level flooding, but additional properties along the coastal & river communities. A biodiverse natural environment will be more resilient to both climate change, and changes in sea level."

With the Wellness site, this apparent concern seems to have passed them by...

caebrwyn said...

I wrote about the planning application back in January, here.

Gremlyn Vole said...

Cadno really dissects the economics of the strategy document this week. If half of what he says is right and the article about UWTSD being in financial trouble is correct, the council are very exposed on this project.

Sian Caiach said...

Anon 13/6 21.05 The County Council never mentioned any problems with the site but correspondence with NRW shows grave concerns about parts of the site and the poor quality of the site assessment submitted by the Council's agents. NRW mentioned that unless their questions could be addressed they were minded to object and CCC reacted by bringing the application promptly to the Council Planning Committee without any serious attempt to satisfy Natural Resources Wales's concerns.

As this was in violation of WG Planning Policy Wales, I and others including our local MP requested scrutiny by the Welsh Government Ministers via their own planning department. The planning permission is still on hold.

A fellow councillor in Llanelli worked in house clearances some decades ago and describes how any rubbish that could not be sold or burnt was dumped there, some by his firm. He is very concerned about the landfill having witnessed what went into it.

Extensive landfill dumping seems to have taken place and I gather than some of the people concerned have recently given evidence to WG as to what they were dumping at the time and where it is buried. Th creepiest landfill seems to have been the pets "put to sleep " by local vets and I have been assured that there was some quite toxic industrial waste as well. All this appears to have been ignored by the planners and not actually assessed until now. The site could be decontaminated if there is any toxic waste and could have more extensive flood defences built, but why insist on using a problem site and pretend all is well?

The site has flooded at least twice in last century and the lake is now tidal as the sluice gate has rusted in an open position, making the area vulnerable to tidal surges.

Its not an ideal site by any means but because it was council land, it was "free" for this great scheme.

The main problem which has stalled the City Deal, the financial side of the scheme, is the lack if a private partner to match fund the £millions which CCC were given permission to borrow. A City Deal needs private funding by solvent partners - none was evident. Why they applied for the scheme knowing they were missing vital finance is a mystery.

Its about time that County and Borough Councils should not be allowed to give themselves planning permission for their own schemes. They cannot always be objective as this experience shows.

Blodwen said...

What?!! I come back from a few weeks away expecting the Wellness saga to be dead and buried and lo and behold they're still at it? What is wrong with these people? The world's gone mad.

caebrwyn said...

The financial news from the two City Deal University partners gets worse with Trinity St David, of which Mark James is a director, culling jobs and demanding cash injections and Swansea Uni
seven months late filing it's accounts. The latter due to the investigations surrounding the Wellness scandal.

Swansea University also confirmed that the allegations relating to the Wellness Village are very serious and that the police investigations are still ongoing. A further complaint to the police has been made concerning the circulation of anonymous emails criticising the University's investigation.

With the two partner health boards Hywel Dda and ABMU (now Swansea Bay HB) both recording big deficits this year neither they, nor the Universities should be even contemplating sinking any cash, whatsoever, in this Wellness fiasco.

Anon 13th June 21:05 I agree there should be a forensic examination of the affairs of this council under the former CEO, and while they're at it a criminal, forensic investigation of the former CEO himself, from his involvement in the Wellness scandal, including Kuwait, to obtaining money by deception, or fraud as it's otherwise known. And every shady, dodgy deal in between.

Anonymous said...

Another question that Sian Caiach might be able to answer is why the hotel which was planned for this site and had gained full planning never was built? The site was said by the Council to be 'primed and ready for redevelopment'. It clearly was not which made that a lie from this council!

Anonymous said...

I see that of the University of Wales Trinity Saint David, where Mark James happens to be a director and honorary fellow, are blaming their financial troubles on the Welsh Government’s delays over the Swansea Bay City Deal -

However, Professor Tegid Wyn Jones of University College London had already raised doubts on this explanation in a letter to the Western Mail on 10th May. He questions whether there was fair play by UWTSD in their bid, backed by James and CCC, to attract S4C and says that there is a clear failure to account for public money -

caebrwyn said...

Anon 15:59
Indeed. UWTSD need look no further than one of their own directors, Mr James. The UK/WG were right to hold off the funding; the City Deal governance, under Mr James, was found not fit for purpose...the business cases were incomplete and likened to 'estate agent's marketing material' and at least one project mired in scandal, also involving Mr James.
Here's a direct link to Professor Tegid Wyn Jones' letter in the Western Mail, yes, it's worth a read.
Worth also remembering the contents of that incendiary letter from the Chair of the health board, which was spot on.