FOUR years after the council transferred Gelli Aur to a Trust, the property has continued to fall into disrepair and public access to the grounds has been curtailed. Instead of the promised art gallery, café, and public space, the house and grounds are off limits and the iconic grounds and buildings continue to decay, while the trust that acquired the property has failed to file accounts for almost two years and the corporate end of the same trust is about to be struck off at Companies House. Most residents of Carmarthenshire will have some memory of walking, playing, studying or just enjoying the beauty of the old Gelli Aur (Golden Grove) Mansion. The beautiful grounds were home to fallow deer and during its time has been an agricultural college, billet to troops and offices for Carmarthenshire County Council. The way in which Carmarthenshire County Council trumpets ambitious plans and significant public investment in projects that fall some way short of its high aspirations has been a feature of Carmarthenshire’s public life for many years.
The Herald has looked at what happened to Gelli Aur, which was transferred to the ownership of a trust in 2011 in a fanfare of publicity and press releases. At the time, the public were assured of a golden future. Cllr Meryl Gravell claimed: “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.” But what has evolved? The answer is – apparently – ‘not much’.
The grants goose has laid many golden eggs for Gelli Aur, all of which have ended up scrambled. Seized by the excitement of entering a new millennium, the Welsh Development Agency (now gone the way of the dodo), decided to launch four ‘Technium’ projects in Carmarthenshire. The Aqua Technium project sank without a trace. The Bio Technium at Llanarthne became entangled in the undergrowth with the loss of £4.7m in public funds before being sold on the quiet to a private company. The Auto Technium never got its motor going at all and was transferred back to Carmarthenshire County Council’s care in 2011.
Since then it has been excitingly rebranded as The Beacon Centre for Enterprise and remains now, as it was originally, a white elephant. In 2013, a damning report from the Welsh Government saw the plug pulled on six out of the ten remaining Technium projects across Wales, with business analysts and academics pointing out the folly of pursuing ‘Field of Dreams’ economics. The Federation of Small Businesses said the schemes were doomed to failure. “Even in the good times they didn’t do anything for the economy.” The amount of public money wasted across Wales was huge and hugely embarrassing. Millions of pounds of public money have been ploughed into the sands, but what happened at Gelli Aur eclipses all of the other projects. The Media Technium was supposed to bring new life to Gelli Aur. This scheme had a price tag of £9.7 million, of which £5.2 million was to have been funded from public money.
A key partner in the venture was businessman Jeffrey Paul Thomas, acting through his companies Gelli Aur Ltd and Hatham Park plc. An estimated £1 million from the WDA and the County Council went in to Gelli Aur and work apparently began on the house, but then stopped when it was discovered that there was no planning permission. In 2003 the WDA announced that Mr Thomas would be pulling out because of the “prevailing uncertainties in the international climate”, conditions which most economists would probably now describe as a boom. Exit Mr Thomas with the WDA saying that it would be pursuing him for £434,000. The WDA remained confident that the project would still go ahead, however. Around £250,000 of other grant money apparently also went missing. If any of this was ever recovered, history does not relate.
The Council remained in possession of its lease on both the house and the estate after Mr Thomas’s sharp exit. In 2005, Harmoni Developments announced plans to turn the house into a luxury hotel. By the end of the year, the company was out of business. In 2007 another property developer from Narberth announced and interest in turning the property into flats. A similar scheme foundered in 2009, but not before the lead had been stripped from the roof, after which the fabric of the house went into sharp decline. In 2011 a charity reported an interested in buying Gelli Aur and turning it into a convalescence home for wounded soldiers.
That scheme collapsed as well. So, by the time The Golden Grove Trust came on the scene, there was a certain urgency and focus to the Council’s wish to dispose of its interest and reduce the burden of Gelli Aur on the public purse. Trustee Richard Salmon told the media that the first project being undertaken would be renovating the park’s cafe and restaurant. He said: “The Trust is committed to a full restoration and development of the public offer at Gelli Aur Country Park. It is hoped the space available to the public there will be increased in years to come. We are grateful to the council’s partnership input to provide this continued public access.” The Council was committed to maintaining the estate for eighteen months after it was transferred to new owners The Golden Grove Trust. But even while the council was still ‘maintaining’ the estate, Gelli Aur continued its slide to ruin; large areas of the park, including the deer park trail and arboretum, were closed by the new owners.
The café was also eventually closed. Of the Trust’s three original directors, two, William Powell Wilkins CBE and Lady Frances Birt departed in 2013 and 2014 respectively. The remaining original director is Richard Salmon, who has been joined on the Board by Mr Barham Enshari Eshlaghi. A look at the Charity Commission’s website shows that the Trust is (at the time of writing this article) 684 days late in filing its returns for 2012. A proposal is on file at Companies House to strike it off the register. Instead a separate entity, Golden Grove Ventures Ltd with the same two directors was incorporated on June 24. Llanfihangel Aberbythych County Councillor Cefin Campbell used to take his children to the park at Gelli Aur. He said: “It is so sad to see the place like this. We have so many memories of coming here to the park, the children playing, ice cream at the café and watching the deer.”
Cllr Campbell continued: “Since the park has been closed this is the first time I have been here. It was a wonderful place for families to come. To see it overgrown is really sad. What we have here is a part of our cultural heritage, which has been ignored. I know people have tried to bring this back into use but they have failed. The longer it goes on the more worried I am that this will never be open to the public.” Reflecting on the demands on shrinking public finances, Cefin Campbell told our reporter: “It is a worry because public finances are not available. We are in a recession and Government has no money to spare.
We are living in difficult times. You have to balance spending on buildings, social care and highways. I will be speaking to the Executive Board for Leisure (Meryl Gravell) and asking the council what we can do now. It would be a disaster for this area if this went to rack and ruin. “The council has an agreement with the owner for the public to have access to these areas at certain times of the year. The owner is responsible for maintenance and you can see, very little has been done. It is disheartening to see this playground in this state and badly needed facilities left to go to ruin.” Expressing dismay at the fate of such a treasured public asset, Cllr Campbell continued: “We appear to be in a state of desperation taking anybody with an idea. I have spoken to the owners and they were very enthusiastic.
They had an ambition to open it up as an arts centre. There is no money available to spend on something like this. Would Welsh Government, Cadw or the National Trust like to get involved?” Looking forward to the future, Cefin Campbell made some suggestions as to how the situation could resolve to all parties’ benefits: “We need to get people around the table to ask what can be done. There are people who could come here as volunteers from the probation service to clear up the park. A couple of days of strimming and weeding here would make it look better. “The local community council could get involved in this. Elen Rhys was very critical of the Welsh Government when they were dealing with them for Telesgop. The financial crash coupled with the lack of public money has left us with this situation. Looking forward we need to try and find a way forward for this historic building and open the park up to the public again.”
Herald publisher ceases operations
HERALD NEWS UK LTD, the company which prints The Pembrokeshire Herald, The Carmarthenshire Herald and The Llanelli Herald has ceased operations.
Editor of Pembrokeshire Herald, Thomas Sinclair said: “After finalising today’s paper to go to print yesterday, a meeting was held last night. It was confirmed that the expected further investor funding would not be made available for the company.
“This meant that operations need be halted as the businesses was not able to pay its ongoing costs.
“At 10am today the 24 members of staff working at the newspaper have today been given notice of redundancy.
“We are absolutely devastated that after nearly 7 years and hundreds of editions of the paper we can no longer continued.”
“I would like to think that over those years, some of the stories we have written have made a difference to Pembrokeshire and beyond.”
Director of Herald News UK Limited, John Hammond said: “The company accountant could be appointing administrators as soon as next week.”
“The Owners of The Pembrokeshire Herald came to the conclusion last night during a finance meeting that the venture is no longer financially viable.
“Whilst every conceivable effort has been made to improve the financial situation of the business, we have to face the fact that there is no way that we can now continue in a solvent position.
“Whilst there has been a slow decline in readership of local newspapers, our costs for wages, printing and transport have substantially increased.”
“We would like to thank all of our loyal readers and staff.”
<img class=”wp-image-51343 size-large” src=”http://pembrokeshire-herald.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/herald2-1024×678.jpg” alt=”” width=”740″ height=”490″ /> Community: Herald titles were campaigning newspapers<img class=”wp-image-51344 size-large” src=”http://pembrokeshire-herald.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/herald3-1024×565.jpg” alt=”” width=”740″ height=”408″ /> Popular: 45,000 people read Herald titles each week in west Wales
Theatr Felinfach Performing School presents CAMAU
OVER the past few months enthusiastic members of Theatr Felinfach Performing School have been developing new skills through a series of masterclasses with Theatr Genedlaethol Cymru.
The members have been busy creating material through scripting, directing, choreography, clog dancing, folk dancing and much more. All their hard work will be shown in their ‘CAMAU’ (steps) performance on Monday 28 October, 7:00pm at Theatr Felinfach. This is your chance to see the fruits of their labour!
The Performing School was established in January 2017 and has now grown into a very popular group. It’s a great opportunity for 7-18 years olds to gain new experiences in theatre skills through the medium of Welsh and to make new friends who share the same passion for performing.
This year two trips were organized for members of the Performing School. In June, the group visited the ‘Lexicon’ show by the UK’s leading large-scale circus company ‘NoFitState’ in Bluestone, Narberth. The audience was amazed at the performers’ talents and agility and seeing the children’s faces was invaluable.
Later in July, the group visited ‘Chores’ at Aberystwyth Arts Centre, a production organised by Cluster Arts, an Australian company. The story was about two young boys playing in their mess of a room where they began using their acrobatic skills to sort out the carnage. The show was inspired by ‘slapstick’ legends Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin.
Theatr Felinfach hopes to continue taking members to see various shows and productions to give them the opportunity to experience professional theatre.
The Performing School meet each Thursday evening – the primary members (7-11 years) from 4:30pm to 5:30pm and the older members (12-18 years) from 5:30pm to 7:00pm.
Membership fees are every half term and range between £30 and £35 depending on the age of the members.
If you would like more information about the Performing School and how to become a member in the new year, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org or call 01570 470697.
Tickets for ‘CAMAU’ are £6 for adults, £5 for OAPs and theatre members and £4 for students and Children. They’re available from the Box Office on 01570 470697 or online at theatrfelinfach.cymru.
New plaque unveiled at Cardigan War Memorial to honour three fallen soldiers from Cardigan
A NEW plaque was unveiled at Cardigan War Memorial to honour three fallen soldiers from Cardigan. The plaque was unveiled during a public Commemoration and Dedication Service on 12 October.
The plaque commemorates Michael J. Dunphy who gave his life in the 1982 Falklands War and Lee T. Davies and David M.E. Greenhalgh who gave their lives in the 2001-2015 conflict in Afghanistan. The plaque was unveiled by Her Majesty’s Lord-Lieutenant of Dyfed, Miss Sara Edwards.
Councillor Paul Hinge is Ceredigion County Council’s Armed Forces Champion. He said: “It was an honour and privilege to welcome everyone to the Service of Commemoration and Dedication, not only as a son of Cardigan, but as a veteran myself and Ceredigion County Council’s Armed Forces Champion.
“The three fallen soldiers of Cardigan, Michael Dunphy, Lee Davies and Dave Greenhalgh paid the ultimate sacrifice and their names are now immortalised on Cardigan War Memorial honouring their sacrifice.
“It was a privilege to work with all stakeholders involved in planning the day including the families, regiments, Cardigan Town Council and Ceredigion County Council officers. We were delighted with the strong attendance on Saturday which was a testament to how important this Commemoration is to all concerned. It was a fitting tribute to the fallen soldiers of Cardigan.”
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