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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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Recovery efforts underway in aftermath of floods

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A HUGE clean-up operation is underway to deal with the aftermath of the worst flooding Carmarthenshire has seen in decades.

Carmarthenshire County Council’s operational team has now switched its efforts from emergency response to recovery and supporting affected communities and businesses.

Additional resources have been put in place to collect ruined carpets, furniture and other waste, with cages and skips being dispatched to worst hit areas. People are advised to check with their insurers before disposing of any items.

Dehumidifers have been provided to as many homes as possible.

A hardship fund has been established for residents most in need of financial support, and housing officers will be visiting homes and helping people to complete and submit insurance claims.

Business support officers are also making contact with retailers and businesses to support them, and rate relief is also being sought from Welsh Government.

Highways, cleansing and refuse crews continue to sweep and clean debris left by the receding floods, and inspections will take place on all affected road surfaces, verges and bridges.

Specialist teams are being drafted in to support crews, including divers to inspect underwater structures and areas that have experienced land slide.

The council continues to urge people to take extra care and to allow extra time for their journeys as a number of diversions will remain in place.

Carmarthenshire County Council Chief Executive Mark James said: “Our staff have been working hard to respond in extremely difficult conditions. Now that the flood waters have subsided we have shifted our focus from response to recovery and we are doing all we can to support everyone affected.

“A full assessment of the damage is underway, and, as well as working with partner agencies, we are also speaking with Welsh Government to ensure appropriate resources are in place.”

· Follow updates on the council’s Newsroom, Facebook and Twitter

· Anyone in need of assistance should call 01267 234567 or email direct@carmarthenshire.gov.uk

· Apply for support for flooding recovery: https://myaccount.carmarthenshire.gov.wales/en/service/Support_for_flooding_recovery

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Llandysul: Fire service cordoned off gas cylinders

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ON SUNDAY (Oct 14) at 11:45am, firefighters from Llandysul were called to a flood-related incident in Station Road, near the Tyweli River.

On attendance to the incident, firefighters were confronted with a strong smell of gas, where approximately 60 gas cylinders had entered the river and accumulated in a culvert. Western Power were also in attendance to make safe a live electrical wire, from a three-phase electrical pumping station.

The Fire Service evacuated 12 properties from either side of the river and cordoned off Station Road for public safety.

Firefighters retrieved approximately 40 cylinders from the river and monitored the incident until the level of the flood water dropped.

The Police Service were also in attendance.

The cordons have now been lifted and business owners and residents have returned to their properties.

The Fire Service received the stop message at 09:02am this morning (Oct 15).

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Police say ‘stop protecting’ murder suspect Steve Baxter

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JUST over two weeks ago Simon Clark, aged 54, was found dead at Grove Caravan Park in Pendine, Carmarthenshire.

Dyfed-Powys Police is continuing its manhunt for Steve Baxter, who is wanted on suspicion of Simon’s murder.

Baxter also known as Steve Tidy, Steve Rowley, Wayne Tidy or William Tidy, is aged 52, 5’5” (1.65cm) tall and has tattoos on his forearms – the name Chez and entwined circles on his left arm and a serpent on his right arm.

He has connections in the West Wales, South Wales, South West and North England areas of the UK.

Officers and staff are working round the clock to follow all possible lines of enquiry.

The independent charity Crimestoppers is also offering a reward of up to £5,000 for information leading to the arrest of Steve Baxter and he has been added to the Most Wanted section of their website. Information would be taken by the charity anonymously.

Detective Superintendent Huw Davies said: “It’s over two weeks since Simon Clark was murdered at Grove Caravan Park, Pendine.

“The manhunt for Steve Baxter is ongoing and I must stress to the public that officers and staff are working round the clock to investigate all possible lines of enquiry that could lead us to him.

“I urge anyone with information of Baxter’s whereabouts to come forward. If you do not want to speak to police directly, you can speak to the independent charity Crimestoppers anonymously, which is also offering a reward of up to £5,000 for information leading to his arrest.

“Someone knows where he is or has been in the last two weeks. Please stop protecting him. Simon Clark’s family deserve to see all those involved in his death brought to justice.”

Four people have been charged in connection with the murder: Jeffrey Stephen Ward, aged 40, from Pendine, has been charged with murder; Linda Mary Rowley, aged 52, from Pendine, has been charged with assisting an offender (murder); Kirston Macklin, aged 52, from Newport, Gwent, has been charged with assisting an offender (murder) and Julie Louise Harris, aged 46, from Tonypandy, has been charged with assisting an offender (murder).

If you see Steve Baxter call Dyfed-Powys Police on 999. Do not approach him.

If you have any information on the whereabouts of Steve Baxter call Dyfed-Powys Police on 101 immediately.

To pass on information anonymously, contact Crimestoppers 100 per cent anonymously on 0800 555 111 or through the non-traceable anonymous online form at www.crimestoppers-uk.org.

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