- 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.
Llanelli lockdown looms
PUBLIC HEALTH WALES have confirmed that Wales’ first town-only lockdown could happen after experts express concern at a spike in the level of positive Coronavirus cases in and around Llanelli.
Dr. Quentin Sandifer, Public Health Wales’ Medical Director confirmed that a ‘high level of concern’ exists at a virtual meeting of the Senedd’s Health, Social Care and Sports Committee this morning (Wednesday, Sept 23).
Dr. Sandifer was questioned by Assembly Member David Rees who asked: “How small an area could you go down to if you wanted local restrictions?”
The Public Health Wales representative replied by stating: “Looking at the position in Carmarthenshire, we do see quite a variation within that county area, with the highest figures of concern in the Llanelli area.
“That is where we are paying particular attention within Carmarthenshire. So we are able to go down to a sub-county, local level in terms of our considerations, and that is what we are actively doing.”
Dr. Sandifer went on to say that local lockdowns imposed early elsewhere, like Caerphilly, are “beginning to demonstrate some effect on infection rates.”
With the threat of a local lockdown hanging over Llanelli, a mobile testing unit has been set up at Parc-Y-Scarlets today and if you require a test, you can e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call 0300 333 2222.
Gemma runs 50 miles for air medics who attended her Dad
A GRATEFUL Ammanford mum has raised £350 by running 50 miles for the Wales Air Ambulance after the Charity’s medics tried to save her dad’s life last year.
The air medics were first on the scene after Gemma Pritchard’s dad Gerry, suffered a major heart attack in February 2019. He sadly passed away in intensive care two days later.
Speaking of the care her dad received, the mum-of-one said: “The service they provided was out of this world. Every member of the crew kept us updated every chance they could. They worked tirelessly to save my dad and despite all efforts from the crew he sadly passed away a few days later. I will forever owe them my life for all the efforts that evening.
“Losing our dad was so hard after already losing my mother in 2011. We had to go through all the heartache of losing another parent.”
Gemma, 30, who works in Jenkins Bakery and as a cleaner, completed the 50-mile challenge in 13 days. Running wasn’t something that came naturally to Gemma before the fundraiser. She was supported by her husband Owain and daughter Lillie-May, 5, to complete the challenge.
Owain did the last run with Gemma, which was 10 miles. She added: “I couldn’t run 10 seconds before the challenge he pushed me massively to achieve my goal.
“My first run I managed 3 miles then I upped it to 5 miles, then 6 and then I went straight in for the 10 miles. My poor feet still feel it now. I knew this would be a massive challenge to myself.”
This is Gemma’s first fundraiser and she is already thinking of different ways she can raise funds for the charity in future.
She said: “I’m overwhelmed at the funds I did raise, although I would’ve loved to raise a lot. I’m still very happy with what I have raised for my first of many fundraisers for such an amazing crew.
“I’d like to thank everyone who donated. I’m so proud of completing my challenge.”
Mark Stevens, Wales Air Ambulance Fundraising Manager, said: “We are extremely grateful for the support Gemma has shown our charity. It is incredible to hear that despite Gemma’s loss she still wanted to show her support to our medics. It’s inspirational to hear that she picked a 50-mile fundraiser even though she couldn’t previously run before the challenge.
“Thank you to Gemma and everyone who has supported her. We’re delighted to hear that Gemma hopes to raise more funds in the future for our Charity.”
The latest increase in coronavirus in Wales is ‘sobering’ says First Minister
THE FIRST MINISTER, Mark Drakeford has criticised the lack of communication with the UK government as he gave a briefing on what he described as the “sobering” increase in coronavirus cases and hospitalisation in Wales.
The infection rate in Wales has risen to 23.6 infections for every 100k people as cases have spiked in areas including Merthyr, Rhondda Cynon Taf, Caerphilly and Newport.
Hospitalisations remain low but are rising, with five people currently in intensive care with Covid-19 and and 53 Covid patients on all hospital wards, according to the latest data from Public Health Wales from Sunday, September 13.
Mr Drakeford said that the number of people in hospital with coronavirus had risen to 41 with four people in intensive care.
He also said that the R number in Wales was almost certainly now above one – meaning the virus is spreading exponentially again. The latest estimate, he said, was between 0.7 and 1.2.
Mr Drakeford said: “In this most difficult week, there has been no meeting offered to First Ministers of any sort. Since the 28 May, there has been just one brief telephone call from the Prime Minister.
“This is simply unacceptable to anyone who believes that we ought to be facing the coronavirus crisis together.
“We need a regular, reliable, rhythm of engagement: a reliable meeting even once a week would be a start. I make this argument not because we should all do the same things, but because being round the same table allows each of us to make the best decisions for the nations we represent.
“There is a vacancy at the heart of the United Kingdom, and it needs urgently to be filled, so we can talk to each other, share information, pool ideas and demonstrate a determination that the whole of the country can face these challenges together at this most difficult time.”
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