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Gelli Aur park closure hints at massive renovation bill

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Gelli Aur mansion: Showing the restored roofs

Gelli Aur mansion: Showing the restored roofs

GELLI AUR County Park, near Llandeilo, is currently closed, despite a grant of almost £1 million from the Welsh Government to aid public access and restoration.

Announcing the grant in September 2015, the Welsh Government said: “The first phase of the work is to enable public access to the historic parkland and gardens with associated amenities such as tea rooms, play area, educational activities and trails. This will create an outdoor attraction based on the landscape and gardens, while plans will be developed to restore and develop the house and courtyards into a destination for art and cultural activities.”

A brown tourist attraction sign on the A483 Llandeilo to Cross Hands road points in the direction of the road to the country park, ‘Gelli Aur’ in Welsh and ‘Golden Grove’ in English, but no sign alerts visitors to the park entrance. The sign which used to be opposite the park entrance has been taken down. A notice on the closed gate, down an unmarked drive, says ‘No Public Access’.

Carmarthenshire County Council, which is responsible for tourism signs on all but trunk roads in the county, said this week that they are looking into the matter.

NO INCOMING CALLS

Upon ringing the contact telephone number for Gelli Aur listed in the telephone directory, 01558 668885, there is only a recorded message saying: “This number does not receive incoming calls.”

In autumn 2015, the park was open on Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays and Bank Holiday Mondays, but visits in August 2016 on a Friday and a Sunday found entry barred. Several recent comments on the TripAdvisor website refer to finding the park closed, although occasionally the gate is open.

Heledd Parry at Visit Wales – an arm of the Welsh Government – said that restoration progress at Gelli Aur is being monitored, and Visit Wales is asking the Golden Grove Trust, owners of the park, for an update on public access.

SOLD BY CARMARTHENSHIRE COUNTY COUNCIL

Carmarthenshire County Council sold the Grade II listed, 59,000 square feet Golden Grove mansion and 100 acres of park and woodland, including a famous arboretum, in 2011. Cllr Meryl Gravell, then, as now, the council’s Executive Board Member for Leisure, said at the time: “With the financial challenges we face as a local authority, we are delighted to have brought our lease to a close with this happy outcome. The authority is grateful to the Trust for having the foresight and ambition to maintain and hopefully improve the public access and public offer at Gelli Aur. We look forward with much anticipation to watching this wonderful facility evolve.”

The park used to feature nature trails, a cafe and a children’s play area, besides the Victorian arboretum. It was a popular venue, much visited by local people. Since vacated by Gelli Aur Agricultural College in 2003, the property deteriorated while plans to renovate it as a hotel, then as flats, and a convalescent home for wounded armed forces veterans, came to nothing. The cost of repairing the vast, sprawling mansion was just too great.

The Golden Grove Trust’s review of activities for 2014-15 revealed that the mansion’s roofs have been made weather-tight, which is arguably the most important conservation emergency. Plans for 2016 included replacing and re-siting the children’s playground, reopening the cafe, and recreating the boating pond, but these works appear to be behind schedule.

FOUR DIRECTORS

The Trust’s four directors are art historian Richard Christopher Salmon, who lives now in part of the mansion; the architectural historian Thomas Owen Saunders Lloyd OBE, living at Cwrt Henri, author of ‘The Lost Houses of Wales’, Adele Esther Blakeborough of Penarth, director of a training company, and James Ronald Seaton of Llanfynydd, director of the upmarket clothing firm Toast.

Mr Salmon, his telephone number located via the Charity Commission, said that the restoration was progressing ‘very well’ and that the park is normally open on Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays and Bank Holiday Mondays. He thought that the gate closure and ‘No Public Access’ sign may be a requirement of their insurance company in bad weather, to limit the risk of visitors tripping or slipping over and injuring themselves.

“We have taken down the children’s playground and removed a building containing asbestos,” he said. “We are in the process of setting up a website.”

He deplored what he felt was negative news coverage in 2015, focusing on deterioration at the park and not on the huge ongoing restoration effort. “We could have made it all private when we bought it, but we decided to keep the country park open,” he said.

RESTORATION CRISIS

Public access is, though, central to the aims of the Trust, which are to restore the ‘important Regency Hunting Lodge, Golden Grove, to its original architectural condition’ as well as to restore ‘Gelli Park Country Park, the section of the estate for the benefit of public recreation’ and ‘important arboretum, pleasure gardens, deerpark, boating pond, lake, bridge and driveways’ with the ‘restored house and estate for ultimate public benefit as Art Institute’.

The huge costs of renovating a listed historic mansion and its park are, maybe, proving a colossal challenge for the Golden Grove Trust which, according to the Charity Commission, was on August 30 61 days late presenting its accounts for 2014-15. At Companies House, on the other hand, all document filings including the accounts are up to date. The accounts show that Mr Salmon lent the Trust £1,450,756, interest-free, to buy Golden Grove, and guaranteed not to ask for repayment any earlier than November 31 (sic), 2016. For the Trust, repayment would appear to be exceptionally difficult as it has no regular income and depends on grants and rents from two holiday cottages, one of which is under repair.

The restoration crisis at this historically important mansion and park highlights the escalating problems faced by owners of listed buildings and protected landscapes. Without access to a stellar income, even routine maintenance can be a struggle, let alone major rebuilding to the standards required by conservation officers.

Major Francis Jones, in his classic ‘Historic Carmarthenshire Homes and their Families’, called Golden Grove one of the most important of the county’s residences, inhabited by distinguished families – the Vaughans, descended from the Princes of Powys and becoming Earls of Carbery, and then the Campbells, Earls of Cawdor. In 1883, the Earl of Cawdor was one of the 28 British noblemen to own over 100,000 acres, according to the website ‘Welcome to the town of Ammanford’.

Those acres yielded the income to build and maintain huge houses like Golden Grove. Today, the mansion has only 100 acres, capable of providing only a fraction of the money needed.

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Outreach Van stationed as police commissioner responds to ‘community concenrs’

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POLICE and Crime Commissioner, Dafydd Llywelyn has instigated additional partnership working in Llanelli in response to local concerns relating to substance misuse.

Dyfed Powys Police is proudly teaming up with Dyfed Drug and Alcohol Service (DDAS), Carmarthenshire County Council and CrimeStoppers Fearless campaign in order to engage with members of our community on a new outreach van, in order to support and signpost those in need during the festive period.

Each agency will be travelling together to Station Road in Llanelli in a new outreach van on Thursday December 12 and Monday December 16, and will be parked opposite the Premier store between 5pm and 9pm on both days.

Funded by Dyfed Powys Police and Crime Commissioner Dafydd Llywelyn, DDAS will be offering:

•          BBV Testing for HIV, Hep B and C

•          Referral into DDAS for treatment

•          Naloxone kit dispensing

•          Harm reduction advice

•          Drug and alcohol education via drug box, beer googles, scratch and sniff cards

•          Information on safer alcohol consumption over Christmas

Officers from the council’s Homes and Safer Communities department will be in attendance to give information and advice on a range of issues including the regeneration plans for the Tyisha ward and how residents can have their say. They will also be able to advise on various housing options; and people will be able to discuss in confidence any housing matters they may have, for example, in relation to anti-social behaviour or noise nuisance.

The council’s Communities for Work team will be offering:

•          Support to develop your skills and gain experience

•          Acquire the training and qualifications you need

•          Find the right job

•          Basic IT support

•          Support with CVs and job applications

•          Volunteer and work placement opportunities

•          Health and wellbeing support

CrimeStoppers Fearless campaign workers, who are a dedicated young person’s charity which support young people in giving information about crime 100% anonymously, will also be on board the van and keen to engage with any young person in the area.  They will be educating youths about County Lines and the impact crime can have on their lives.

Police and Crime Commissioner, Dafydd Llywelyn stated: “I hope that this innovative delivery style of a dynamic outreach approach to substance misuse can become the norm in Llanelli in order to reduce the harm to individuals and the community. I continually listen to the communities I represent and respond.”

Dyfed Powys Police officers will also be on hand at different intervals to offer crime prevention advice and listen to and provide help and support for any issues you experience in your community.

Chief Inspector Chris Neve of Dyfed-Powys Police said: “I am grateful to the Police and Crime Commissioner and our partners for their support in this new initiative, which I hope will be seen as a valuable opportunity for the communities of Llanelli to engage with the services involved. I encourage anyone who requires support and advice from any of the agencies, or would just like to chat with any of them, to come along and visit the van on either date. This really is an important opportunity – and we all as a collective want to help as many people in need as possible.”

The council’s Head of Homes and Safer Communities Jonathan Morgan said: “This is an excellent opportunity for the community to speak to our officers first-hand about any issues they may have or any advice they may need on housing matters. We have exciting plans to transform the Tyisha ward and the community is a big part of that, we want to make Tyisha a better place to live and work for everyone.”

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Llanelli Councillor Resigns from Plaid Cymru

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SHOCK ANNOUNCEMENT JUST DAYS BEFORE THE GENERAL ELECTION

Jordan Randall, Llanelli Rural Councillor for Swiss Valley says he has resigned from Plaid Cymru because he is disappointed with the choice of Plaid candidate again for the forthcoming General Election.

The full statement, sent to The Llanelli Herald today: “This is not a decision that I’ve taken lightly but one which has been a long time coming. 
“I’ve had the privilege of being a Llanelli Rural Councillor in recent years to try my very best in making a difference where I can. I now look forward to continuing this work as an Independent Councillor for Swiss Valley, which will always be my priority. 


“I’ve been very disappointed with the choice of Plaid candidate again for the forthcoming General Election. If the party is to make any progress in the Town, then it needs a candidate who is local to the area and actually understands the everyday issues which face our communities. We do not need someone who is completely out of touch and unfortunately just sees Llanelli as a stepping stone to advance their own career. 


“Ongoing personal vendettas now seem to be the most important thing for Plaid Cymru at a local level. I no longer recognise the party. The party already lost a number of lifelong members in recent years due to the negativity locally. Astonishingly, they have also taken the decision to no longer have an all year round office presence within the Town. 
“Calls for national leadership have simply gone unanswered, with new leader Adam Price unwilling to intervene in any way to try to achieve a way forward.


“I am also not happy and have been for some time with Plaid’s position on Brexit as they are simply ignoring the wishes of the people of Llanelli as the Town overwhelmingly voted to leave in the referendum, a decision which whether people voted to Remain or Leave ought to be one which is respected. 


“Party politics is broken but I remain committed to campaigning to improve our public services, helping to sort out any concerns and supporting ideas which will strengthen and grow our community.”

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Plaid’s pro-EU Saturday push in Trimsaran

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DUBBED Pro-EU Saturday, the 30th November in Trimsaran saw the local girl and MP candidate Mari Arthur, descend on her home village of Trimsaran, to draw attention to the £680million of European Union (EU) funds that Wales receives every single year.


The only Remain candidate in Llanelli, Mari Arthur was proudly joined by Plaid Cymru regional AM Helen Mary Jones, Wales MEP Jill Evans, County Councillor Kim Broom, and a whole host of supporters, to speak with as many people as possible in the community ahead of the General Election on 12th December.


Plaid Cymru candidate Mari Arthur said: “I was thrilled to be joined in Trimsaran by so many people to talk about why EU funds have been vital for the area. We are a net beneficiary, which means that, as a nation, we get £245milion more than we pay into the EU.


“Trimsaran Leisure Centre itself is a building that received £180k from EU funds and is now the beating heart of the community. It’s great to see how this is still having a positive impact on people living in the village and further afield.”


West Wales and the Valleys is a “less developed region”, which means it is one of the “poorest regions” in Europe, as its GDP is less than 75% of the EU average. This means that £680million of EU funds comes to Wales, in the form of:


Structural Funds which amounts to just over £4 billion in extra funds to Wales since 2000, including £180,000 towards the build of Trimsaran Leisure Centre Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) with £200million a year – almost a third of all EU funding in Wales – providing vital support to 16,0000 farms in Wales.


Other Funds that help support everything else, like the arts and biodiversity. Speaking from Trimsaran, Jill Evans MEP, said: “It’s wonderful to be here today in Trimsaran and to see the fantastic support on the doorstep for Plaid Cymru, and the only local candidate on the Llanelli ticket: Mari Arthur. It’s very heartening!


“Obviously, like elsewhere in Wales, there’s a real feeling of frustration on the doorstep in relation to Brexit – among those who voted to leave AND those who voted to remain three years ago. Plaid Cymru is proudly Remain, because we believe Brexit – particularly a No Deal Brexit – would be catastrophic for Wales.


“Ask yourselves this: will Westminster Government honour this level of funding, post-Brexit? It is almost certainly a No. Vote Plaid.”


Helen Mary Jones AM, also at Trimsaran Leisure Centre, said: “It was wonderful to be at Trimsaran and to have a glimpse into what the future could be like: with Kim Broom speaking up for the community at Plaid Cymru-led Carmarthenshire Council, myself at the Senedd in Cardiff Bay, Jill in Brussels and then Mari at Westminster. It would be wonderful to have a team in place that could deliver comprehensive support to the community.”
The Pro-EU day highlighted the positive impact that EU funding has had on the lives of people and communities across the Llanelli constituency.

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