- An explosive meeting at Parc Howard leaves more questions than answers. Alan Evans reports.
ON SATURDAY (June 6), The Herald attended a public meeting of the Parc Howard Association on Saturday.
Prior to the meeting, The Herald asked members of the public for their views. Jean Prior, who was visiting the park with her family and said: “The park was gifted to the children of Llanelli. It is a disgrace that there are plans to sell it off. It belongs to the people and the people should have the say in what happens to it.”
Liz Lewis of Felinfoel Road was attending the park with her grandchildren. She said: “I have been coming here for years with my children and now my grandchildren. I had a flyer through the door to invite me to an open meeting, but I had no idea what the agenda was, which was the privatisation of this park, which is an outrage. It is ours – they cannot sell it off. The people of Llanelli should decide what happens to this park.”
Before the meeting commenced, The Herald was approached by Tony Rees, who is an associate of the company Loca Venture Ltd.
Mr Rees asked: “Who gave you the information in your article on Friday (June 5)?”
When told that that information is confidential, he said: “It was Bill Thomas, he’s the one who gave you that, I’ve got evidence. He’s in trouble too, pass it on to him.
“I’m ex-News of the World, that is libellous. It’s a disgraceful article. The damage is done, there are people ready to put money into this venture, and you may just have destroyed that – that’s how irresponsible you are.
“I don’t know who your editor is, but there’s going to be trouble over this. Our lawyers will be contacting him. Trust me, he’s on his a**e over it. You warn him.”
The meeting commenced at 2.15 pm. Chairman, Ken Rees struggled to control the meeting from the start, and there did not appear to be a clear agenda for discussion.
Numerous members of the public filled the room, seated in front of the lone figure of Mr Rees sitting behind an enormous table. Some stood in the doorway and out in the foyer, such was the interest and concern over the proposals for the park.
First to question Ken Rees was Cllr Jan Williams, who requested that he confirmed the amount of reserves Carmarthenshire County Council held. Councillor Bill Thomas told the meeting that the reserves covered all the schemes in place or ready to be implemented, and it was misleading to say the council had £120 million in reserve.
A member of the public asked why there was a delay from the County Council in answering questions when ‘we are paying them’. Cllr Jan Williams said that the Town Council were waiting for answers from the County Council before they could consider any proposals.
Cllr Bill Thomas said: “We have had meetings with the County Council to begin the process of looking at Parc Howard and other parks. We can’t charge for concurrent services.
“If we were to take on the whole of the parks for Llanelli and be equal to everybody, the cost would be around £400,000. Our precept is £800,000.“Parc Howard costs £200,000 a year to run and the County Council are still paying for the running of Parc Howard.
“The original gift was to the children of the town. The trustees were the council. This is an asset. Last week, the Town Council were placed in an invidious position where a company were requesting a 250-year lease. We have no intention of giving it away. The chairman has been in meetings with a company who intend getting this asset.“Ken Rees brought the people there to speak to our clerk. It is clear that the intention was for them to take a 250-year lease. If they get into difficulty the asset is lost. We have secret meetings going on with a company according to the figures I have seen who have minus £40,000 assets.
“The council must have an opportunity to look at this the same way they looked at Llanelli House.”
Ken Rees said: “My attendance was as chairman of the association. Two meetings were held in public places. I have not been in any dealings whatsoever. I was there as the chairman of this association.”
When Cllr Jan Williams asked: “Did you invite all the members of the association to this meeting?” Ken Rees said: “Had I invited the county councillors I would have involved them in declaring an interest. This company have offered the looking after of the park. The park would remain in the hands of the County Council. What they (Loca Venture Ltd) were looking at was tenure of the mansion house.”
Councillor Thomas said: “You (Ken Rees) arranged that meeting and contacted our clerk.”Katrina, an association member told Ken Rees: “I have challenged you about your association with this company in an ordinary committee meeting and I advised you then that you are in danger of bringing this association into disrepute.
“You are in danger of sullying the objectivity. When you met with them and members of the Town Council, you did so under your initiative. I as a member of the committee, knew nothing about it.
“You were not representing the committee or me. If this situation continues, I personally will call for your resignation at the next committee meeting.”Councillors told Ken Rees that they had questioned the proposals and had only recently had information on the company. Former editor of the Carmarthen Journal, Robert Lloyd asked for clarification on the identity of the company. He asked if company members were in the room.Mr Lloyd said: “All we seem to get is that it is a mystery company with mystery people behind it. In order to be transparent, we need to know who this company is. The County Council have asked this mystery company to investigate possibilities for the park.”
Katrina said: “The council received an unsolicited private request,” to which Ken Rees replied: “They (the company) have met officers of the County Council and they were due to meet Mr Mark James. I understand they have met with Wendy Walters and Mr Jonathan Fern.”Katrina asked Mr Rees: “You asked Mr Lawler to speak to the company (Loca Venture Ltd) on the phone, and what that man (company representative) said was that he was hoping to avoid the tender process.”
Cllr Thomas said: “You know full well that this kind of business has to be tendered. We were made well aware by County Council officers that a tender process had to be followed.
“Last week’s agenda for the Town Council on that was the requirement of the company for a 250-year lease. You had a meeting in the Diplomat and we were not invited.”Cllr Thomas Jr said: “They are looking for freehold and they are looking at moving the museum.”
Ken Rees replied: “They indicated to me verbally that they would open a new museum on the bypass road.”
At this point, Tony Rees stood up and said: “This is a shambles, places like this end up getting boarded up and bulldozed. I am from Porthcawl and I know this area very well.”He was asked if he was a representative of the company, to which he said: “I know some of the people involved.”The chair was asked if he (Tony Rees) was introduced as a member of the company at the meeting at the Diplomat, to which he said he was.
Katrina asked Tony Rees: “What were you doing there if you were not a member of the Association or the Council?”
Cllr Thomas called on the chair to ask Tony Rees to leave the meeting on a number of occasions, stating that he was ‘a representative of the company and was trying to flannel people with promises of what would be done’. Mr Thomas said: “Nobody knows what will happen.”
Nia Griffth MP said: “We need to get things in the right order and understand the democratic process. The park is under the county council and it is only the county council who can make definitive decisions about what happens to it.
“We re-established the association to give our opinions but we don’t own the park. We feel very frustrated but first of all the county has to decide where it is going and the county is exploring this avenue with town and rural councils regarding a number of parks in the area.
“They have to have those talks and then make those decisions about what they do with their remaining assets. If it does want to franchise out, there are all sorts of proper rules and regulations about how that is done.
“If people are meeting with one particular company breaks every rule in the book. We have to get back into doing things in the right order and within the frameworks.”
When asked why the company was seeking anonymity, the chair said he was safeguarding confidentialities and that he was in the meeting with the representatives of the company. Eventually the company were named as Loca Ventures Ltd.
Tony Rees got up to speak, but was interrupted and asked if the company was a limited company.
A member of the public interjected and said: “It seems to me Mr. Chairman that you have a serious conflict of interest.”Tony Rees stood up once more and said he would pass on to the company many of the intelligent questions that were being asked.
The chair was told that allowing Tony Rees to speak was ‘out of order’.
Cllr Thomas insisted: “This gentleman (Tony Rees) has been associated with the company. He has been in a meeting and introduced to members of the committee at the Diplomat hotel. As chairman you should ask this gentleman to leave. He has a vested interest.”
A member of public raised the issue of legality and asked if the county council could sell off the park.
Councillor Bill Thomas said: “We have fought to stop developments here including plans for housing. There is a museum here, the house is here, there are treasures here and there is land here. Every time something comes up we have fought on your behalf.
“Do you think we want to see cars in this park where children cannot play? Do you think we want to see conference and wedding venues at this park? He has made sure that this gentleman (Tony Rees) is in the audience to try and persuade you that things can be done.”
Ken Rees agreed, saying: “You are right Bill, I am not denying anything you say.”Cllr Jan Williams said: “We will defend this park. Your local representatives are here. We will not sell the park.”
Speaking to The Herald outside following the meeting, Nia Griffith said: “It is a priority to have this park for future generations. I want this association to have a meeting with Meryl Gravelle here. She is an executive member who is ultimately responsible. We can put the point to her that we want to keep this park in public ownership for public use.”
Association member, Katrina told Ken Rees: “You have been misguided in what you have been up to and I have to serve you notice that I will ask for your resignation at the next meeting.”
Keith Davies AM said: “Ken Rees has been misled by the County Council and the company Loca Ventures Ltd. I agree fully with Councillor Bill Thomas.”
Following the meeting he said: “The most important thing for me was that an associate of the private company was there giving general advice.
Cllr Jan Williams said: “Tony Rees was masking himself as a member of the public. He did not declare that he was an associate of the company Loca Ventures Ltd.”
As of 2013, Loca Ventures had £973 cash in the bank, and the company director is Mohammed Fiaz Hussain from London.
Paul Davies MS quits as Leader of the Conservatives in the Senedd
PAUL DAIVES MS quit as Leader of the Conservatives in the Senedd this morning.
The Conservatives’ Chief Whip also quit his frontbench role.
The dramatic move comes only 24 hours after Mr Davies got the Conservative Senedd Group’s unanimous backing.
However, later yesterday (Friday, Jan 21) – as criticism poured in – the Welsh Conservatives’ Executive met. In that meeting, Constituency Chairs reported widespread disbelief and anger among the Party’s members. Conservative Party Chair, Lord Davies of Gower, received particular criticism for a lack of leadership. Simon Hart, Secretary of State for Wales, also attended the meeting and was left in no doubt of the strength of feeling within the Party.
In a statement issued via the Conservative Senedd media office, Mr Davies said: “I am truly sorry for my actions on the 8th and 9th December. They have damaged the trust and respect that I have built up over 14 years in the Welsh Parliament with my colleagues and the wider Conservative Party but more importantly with the people of Wales.
“Whilst using the Senedd facilities at all times my colleagues and I maintained social distancing. There was no drunk or disorderly behaviour. We did not have to be escorted out of the building as some reports have suggested. What we did was to have some alcohol with a meal we heated up in a microwave, which was a couple of glasses of wine on Tuesday and a beer on Wednesday.
I broke no actual Covid-19 regulations.
“For the last 10 months of the pandemic, I have followed the Covid-19 regulations to the letter. As with everyone across Wales, I have not seen family members or friends, I’ve not eaten at my favourite restaurants and, like you, we enjoyed a subdued Christmas compared to other years. I will continue to follow the Welsh Government’s Covid-19 Regulations and I would urge everyone to play their part in defeating this virus so that we can all return to normality.
“My priority as Leader of the Welsh Conservative Group in the Welsh Parliament has always been to bring the Conservatives into government in Wales. Our main focus as the Welsh Conservatives must always be on challenging and removing a failing Labour government.
“I am grateful for the support of colleagues in the Welsh Conservative Party for their support in this difficult time, and especially to my wife Julie and my Senedd colleagues who have offered empathy, trust and advice. They have treated me with the same courtesy and decency I hope I have always extended to others.
“Over the last couple of days, I have been speaking with colleagues in the Senedd and the wider Conservative Party. Whilst they have confirmed they do not wish to see me step down, I believe that my actions are becoming a distraction from holding this failing Welsh Labour-led Government to account, not just on their rollout of the Covid-19 vaccines but from more than 20 years of their dither, delay and failure. Yesterday I indicated to the Conservative group in the Welsh Parliament that I wished to resign, but they urged me to reflect further, and we agreed to meet again on Monday. However, for the sake of my party, my health and my own conscience, I simply cannot continue in post.
“Therefore, I am stepping down as Leader of the Welsh Conservatives in the Welsh Parliament with immediate effect.”
“It is for the group to decide how best to choose a new leader, but I hope that process will be seamless and speedy, and I pledge my support to whoever becomes leader.”
Darren Millar blamed ‘wildly inaccurate and unfair reports’ and said:
“There was a member of catering staff present in the tea room for a short time after my arrival on the 8th December but she did not serve me a drink, nor did I request one. In fact, I encouraged the member of staff to go home and close up the counter as it had been a long day for her. No members of catering staff were present on the 9th December and the counter was closed for the whole evening.
“While I am advised that I did not breach coronavirus regulations I am very sorry for my actions, especially given the impact of the tough restrictions that people and businesses are enduring.
“For this reason, and given that Paul Davies has resigned as Welsh Conservative Group Leader in the Senedd, I have decided to step down from my front bench role in the Welsh Parliament.
“I am cooperating fully with ongoing investigations and will continue to do so.”
Whoever replaces Paul Davies, the role is likely to an interim appointment ahead of a vote of the Party membership after the Senedd election.
Conservatives in disarray over alleged Christmas party lockdown breach
THE CONSERVATIVE Party is investigating the attendance of senior Senedd members and staff at a Christmas party held during December’s lockdown.
Lockdown restrictions prohibit mixing with people outside your own household.
The Welsh restrictions barring such gatherings follow the basic outline of those imposed by the Conservative UK Government in December.
Those attending the drinks party included Paul Smith, the Conservative Chief of Staff at the Senedd, Darren Millar, the Party’s Chief Whip and campaign coordinator, and Preseli Pembrokeshire MS and Conservative Senedd Group Leader Paul Davies.
The Herald understands that a Labour Senedd Member who attended the Party has been suspended by the Labour Senedd Group pending its own investigation.
The Conservatives’ embarrassment at talking the talk but not walking the walk is intensified by Darren Millar’s presence at the shindig.
In May, Mr Millar led calls for Wales’ Health Minister Vaughan Gething to be sacked for eating a bag of chips in a park with one of his own children.
If the Conservative Party follows the logic of their previously stated positions, Mr Millar’s and Mr Davies’ futures look bleak indeed.
With a Senedd election only months away, the revelations have thrown the Conservatives into disarray.
If they do nothing, the Conservatives will – at the very least – face claims they are hypocrites.
If the Conservative Party acts decisively, it faces massive internal problems.
The Conservatives responded to our request for a response to our story.
Those involved stressed they did not host a Christmas Party.
The incident happened on December 8, when the above met in the members’ tea room to discuss legislation for possible inclusion in the Welsh Conservative manifesto with a Labour backbencher.
During the evening they did drink a glass or two of wine.
They stress that at no point were there more than four people in the room at any one time and that they maintained social distancing.
A joint statement from Paul Davies, Darren Millar, and Paul Smith said: “We are profoundly sorry for our actions.
“While we did not break the rules, we recognise that what was part of a day’s work would not be seen to be following the spirit of them, especially given the tough time the country has been going through.”
Family tribute to Carole Patricia Fowler
Carole was a teacher for 30 years at St Mary’s Catholic Primary School, Llanelli. She loved children and they loved her.
As one of her past colleagues said: “I know she made such a difference to every child she taught.” She was very popular with staff and well respected and loved by parents. She was dedicated and conscientious, always 100% for the children. She led the music there and was always popular with her guitar accompaniments for services and concerts.
Likewise, she was a valued member of the choir at Holy Cross Roman Catholic Church, Gendros, Swansea, where she would often accompany hymns with her guitar and gave guitar lessons to the children in the church’s Saturday Music Club. She was also a keen member of Côr Persain, Ammanford.
She was talented, loved and in demand. A convicted and devout Catholic all her life, through good and bad.
Carole was an avid and very gifted crocheter and was always crocheting or knitting something for someone. She had been spending her time recently, during the Covid crisis, crocheting NHS teddies in scrubs and rainbows, with many given to practising nurses. Carole had recently started learning to make bobbin lace. She was also capable of some very decent sewing, too.
She was also learning Welsh, doing ‘pilates’ and was considering taking up yoga lessons as well.
She was a busy lady! As one of her work colleagues said of her: “She was wise, strong, beautiful, generous, devout and feisty. And I loved her for all those qualities.”
Above all, she was an immeasurably loved Mam, daughter, sister and a doting Mamgu and so much loved by her fiancé. Having been together for 14 years, they would have been married last July 20th had covid allowed!
Her premature passing at 61 is tragic and she is already sorely, painfully missed. She leaves behind a huge chasm in so many hearts that cannot be filled.
“Eternal rest grant unto her, o Lord, may perpetual light shine about her, may she rest in peace.”
If anyone witnessed the collision or may have been travelling on the M4 at the relevant time, please contact the Serious Collision Unit quoting police reference DPP-20210113-317
Police can be contacted either online at: bit.ly/DPPContactOnline, by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org, or by calling 101. If you are deaf, hard of hearing, or speech impaired text the non-emergency number on 07811 311 908.