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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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Thousands of dead fish in river Afon Dulas pollution incident Download

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NATURAL RESOURCES WALES (NRW) can confirm that more than 2,000 fish have been killed due to a slurry pollution incident in West Wales.

Officers have been on site taking samples and conducting fish surveys since the incident was first reported on the River Dulas near Capel Isaac in Carmarthenshire on Monday (8 July).

An estimated three miles (4.7 kilometre) stretch of the river has been affected and has had a major impact on invertebrates as well as fish – mainly brown trout but also bullhead, eels, lamprey, stone loach, minnow and salmon.

Ioan Williams, Natural Resource Management Team Leader from NRW, said:

“Protecting Wales’ waterways and the plants and animals that depend on them is a massive part of the work we do which is why people can report pollution incidents to us 24/7.

“Unfortunately, we can confirm that the total number of fish that were killed is significant and will have an adverse effect on the river for years to come.

“We can also confirm that there has been a significant impact on invertebrates in the river.

“Our staff have been working tirelessly to gather evidence about this incident and we will use that evidence to consider future legal action.

“Incidents such as this shouldn’t be happening.

“We work very closely with the farming industry to make sure they understand the devastating and long-term damage that pollution causes and what steps they can take to prevent it from happening.

“It is completely unacceptable and irresponsible that a small number of farmers are not taking notice of good practice and regulations and therefore giving the rest of the industry a bad name.

“These incidents come at a time when we are already seeing salmon and sewin stocks at very low levels.

“We encourage the agricultural sector to do everything they can to prevent further pollution incidents occurring and ensure they invest in adequate on-farm slurry infrastructure and follow good practice. We would also urge framers to report any issues to us immediately.”

NRW encourages people to report signs of pollution on 03000 65 3000 so it can respond appropriately and give Welsh rivers the protection they deserve.

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Council’s plan to cut CO2 by almost 700 tonnes a year

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CARMARTHENSHIRE County Council is investing over £2.5million to make energy efficiencies in its buildings in a bid to cut carbon emissions by almost 700 tonnes a year.

It is part of the council’s efforts to become a net zero carbon local authority by 2030, a commitment it made in February when declaring a climate emergency.

The authority has taken out an interest-free loan to pay for the Welsh Government Re:fit scheme, which it will pay back over 10 years from savings on running costs.

New technology will be installed in non-domestic buildings – including schools – to save energy and water, with an estimated 691 tonnes of CO2 saved every year.

Over 30 sites have been identified for phase one of the roll-out, undertaken on behalf of the council by renewable energy company Ameresco.

The scheme is in addition to the energy saving measures the council has already applied in its buildings.

To date, over £2million has been invested in over 200 energy efficiency projects, saving over £7million in running costs and 41,000 tonnes of CO2 over the lifetime of installed technologies.

The council has a policy of integrating low and zero carbon technologies into major building works projects such as schools, where PV installations and Passivhaus standards are already in use.

Its fleet of refuse lorries is the most emission-friendly fleet in Wales; street lighting has been converted to LED units; and there has been significant investment in Safe Routes in the Community and Safe Routes to Schools to encourage more sustainable travel.

In 2012 Carmarthenshire became the first council in Wales to introduce electric pool car vehicles, and has recently secured funding for plug-in chargers following an increase in electric vehicle sales.

Last year, the council vowed to reduce single-use plastics in council buildings and offices and ban plastic cups and straws.

The council’s climate declaration was backed unanimously by councillors in February.

As well as making and planning changes towards a target of becoming a zero carbon local authority by 2030, it has called on Welsh and UK Governments to provide support and resources to enable effective carbon reductions.

Cllr Hazel Evans, Executive Board Member for Environment, said: “We take our commitment to working towards becoming a carbon neutral authority very seriously, and we’re pleased to be making this investment not only to save harmful carbon emissions, but also to save financially on the cost of running our buildings.

“Coupled with our on-going property rationalisation programme, we are producing financial and carbon savings in times of increasing utility prices. This is a win-win situation when we are also able to help the environment.”

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Dyfed Powys exploring greater use of technology in policing

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INCREASING the use of technology in policing is something Dyfed Powys Police is exploring, the force’s Commissioner has confirmed.

Dafydd Llywelyn told members of the Dyfed Powys Police and Crime Panel at its meeting in Ceredigion this week, that he was looking closely at the work of other forces around the UK.

Mr Llywelyn, who sits on the National Digital Policing Board, said he is in the fortunate position of watching the development of technology that he introduced in his former role as the force’s principal crime and intelligence analyst – before he was elected as Commissioner in 2016 – and hopes that the use of technology will develop to aid effective policing.

He was responding to a question from panel member Cllr Keith Evans, who wanted reassurance that the force is closely assessing the risks involved in using technology, such as facial recognition equipment.

“We don’t use facial recognition in Dyfed Powys at the moment, but that’s not to say that we won’t explore that in the future,” said Mr Llywelyn. “Technology is increasingly being used by police forces – it includes body worn cameras, CCTV, and mobile data terminals that the police have. We are learning from advancements.”

He added: “There’s a test case involving South Wales Police at the moment, and it’s about balancing effective policing with the right to a private life. I think there should be a caveat in terms of the risk – in Dyfed Powys there is an independent assessment of procedures and we’ve had a clean bill of health every year.”

Cllr Keith Evans responded to his comments, saying: “What’s important to us is that this work is considered carefully. Technology will feature more prominently in the work of the police and it’s about striking the right balance.”

The Dyfed Powys Police and Crime Panel is made up of representatives from the four counties of the force area.

It is the Panel’s duty to hold Commissioner Dafydd Llywelyn to account.

The Panel meets at least four times a year, and can put questions to the Commissioner on behalf of members of the public.

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