CARMARTHENSHIRE’S disastrous dealings with Clays Farm Golf Centre Ltd are still dragging on, two-and-a-half years after Clays left the County Council in the lurch by walking away from a 25 year lease on Garnant Golf course.
Clays, which had benefi t ted from £200,000 in subsidies from the County Council through its associate company, Garnant Golf Club Ltd, took away machinery and green-keeping equipment with them.
Wrexham-based Clays had seemed financial saviours initially. At least, that was the County Council’s hope. The scenic 18-hole 120-acre golf course above the Amman Valley, created in 1998 on land reclaimed from opencast coal mining, was costing the council some £150,000 a year, according to reports at the time, and so councillors decided that it was just too expensive to manage the course themselves.
Clays set up a new company, Garnant Golf Club Ltd, to run the course and in September 2011 agreed a 25 year lease with the County Council. By February 2014, though, Garnant Golf Club Ltd was insolvent, despite having received £80,000 a year from the council in both 2011-12 and 2012-13, and £40,000 in 2013-14. In addition, Garnant Golf was enjoying a rent holiday due to last until September 2017. Clays Farm Golf Centre, as guarantor for Garnant Golf, should have come to the rescue, surely?
INSOLVENCY AFTER TWO YEARS
The council was unaware of the parlous situation at the club until January 14 , 2014 – the day before Garnant Golf Director Steve Williams wrote on the club website that the company was going into administration. Minutes of the council’s Executive Board meeting on March 17 say: “A very difficult period of uncertainty ensued for all until a liquidator was appointed and a creditors meeting was held on site on February 12. At this meeting, the liquidator decided to disclaim [terminate] the lease and hand the facility back to CCC [Carmarthenshire County Council].
“As a result of that meeting, the authority is currently pursuing Clays Golf Ltd for monies owed in relation to the operation of the facility. These figures are yet to be finalised, as they involve a full site inspection and a review of the previously agreed asset inventory, as well as a potential claim against elements of a LIF [Local Investment Fund] grant that was paid to the operator for improvements to the clubhouse and some equipment purchases. Reports of the site being stripped of all its assets are wide of the mark, as most of the equipment taken off site by the operator actually belonged to them.”
Well, up to a point, maybe – technically owned by Clays, but including items purchased with grant money provided courtesy of the council.
LIQUIDATOR LACKS INFORMATION
Garnant Golf has not yet been wound up. Martin Armstrong, the liquidator, reported on February 24 , 2016 that he had ‘pursued the directors for further information regarding areas identified within my investigations that required explanation. Unfortunately the directors have not cooperated during this period. I have been required to engage solicitors to determine the appropriate route forward. I have also been in dialogue with creditors regarding the potential options to pursuing the directors ‘.
Mystery surrounds the fate of the Garnant Golf’s assets. The company’s accounts show that on January 31 , 2013 , these totalled £96,218, made up of £48,417 ‘premises improvements’, £9,816 plant and equipment, £2,817 computer equipment and £35,168 in machinery. Items totalling £23,754 were held on finance agreements.
These finance agreements seem to be an arrangement between Clays Farm Golf Centre Ltd and Garnant Golf, whereby Clays Farm Golf Centre Ltd owned the equipment and leased it to Garnant Golf which, according to Mr Armstrong, ‘appears to have no realisable assets of any kind‘, despite having received £200,000 from the County Council during the less than two-and-a-half years of its operational life.
Steve Williams was one of the two directors of Garnant Golf, and golf professional David Larvin was the other. Because of the delay in winding up the company, both are still listed as directors, based at the club in Dinefwr Road, Garnant.
THE GARNANT GOLF TWO
Clays Farm Golf Centre Ltd has three directors: David Larvin and Stephen Williams – the Garnant Golf two – and Howell Williams. Mr Larvin owns almost 75% of the ordinary shares. An earlier company, Clays Golf Ltd, with the same three directors, was dissolved in 2006 with outstanding liabilities of almost £2.15 million.
The Executive Board’s reference to pursuing Clays Golf Ltd for moneys owed, and not Clays Farm Golf Centre Ltd, is therefore odd.
Now Clays Farm Golf Centre Ltd is going the same way as its predecessor, applying on April 27 of this year for voluntary liquidation, and citing debts of £261,263, 60% of which is due to HM Revenue and Customs; 38% to a firm of solicitors, Mackenzie Jones; and the remainder to Savills (UK). Liquidator Gary N Lee reported to the Registrar of Companies that Clays Farm Golf Centre was due a payment from Wrexham Borough Council, of between £300,000 and £500,000, in respect of a Compulsory Purchase Order.
No mention of any money owed to Carmarthenshire County Council, although Head of Leisure, Ian Jones, told Wales Online in March 2014 that the council was pursuing money owed by Clays, including cash for clubhouse improvements and for equipment purchases.
Another company, Mond Golf Club Ltd, of Bryn Estyn Road, Wrexham, created on April 24, 2012, and owned equally by David Larvin – who is also a director of Pacino Pizza Ltd – and by Stephen Williams, is still trading. The accounts to January 31, 2015 show shareholders’ funds of -£14,804 compared with a positive £12,602 the year before.
The Herald asked Carmarthenshire County Council two questions:
- How much money does Garnant Golf Club Ltd.’s guarantor, Clays Farm Golf Centre Ltd, owe the County Council?
- Is Carmarthenshire County Council still pursuing Clays Farm Golf Centre Ltd for the recovery of money owed?
In reply, the council issued this short statement: “There are no moneys recoverable from Clays Farm Golf Centre Ltd in their capacity as guarantors.”
So, what has happened to the debt? The Herald asked a follow-up question – whether Clays Farm Golf Centre Ltd has settled in full since March 2014, on behalf of Garnant Golf, or alternatively whether the council has written off the money as unrecoverable.
Carmarthenshire County Council Head of Financial Services, Owen Bowen, explained that the guarantor’s obligation applied only to the lease, and not to other ‘assets’. This interpretation differs from the view in the Executive Board minutes of March 17 , 2014, when the authority was ‘pursuing Clays Golf Ltd for moneys owed ‘.
“We can confirm that the council is owed moneys by Garnant Golf Club Limited,” said Mr Bowen, adding that the ‘guarantor’s liability is limited to the lease and applies on the default of the tenant in complying with the covenants in the lease ‘.
Mr Bowen continued: “In response to the points that you have raised, the equipment purchases were funded by a grant and therefore do not form part of the lease. We are unable to comment as to why Garnant Golf Club Limited have listed improvements as assets in their accounts.
“To date, no debts have been written off as irrecoverable.”
MEMBERS SET UP NEW COMPANY
When Garnant Golf Club Ltd folded, the golf club members were left trapped in a bunker. They sought a way out by asking the County Council to transfer the course to them as a ‘community asset’.
The new managers set up a not-for-profit company, Garnant Park Members Golf Club, which at the end of its first trading period, March 31 , 2015, had three directors – John Dylan Jones, Anthony David Falvey and David Huw Protheroe – and shareholders’ funds of £69,789.
A grant of £10,000 from the Mynydd y Betws Wind Farm Fund helped towards the cost of a £15,000 fairway mower, replacing equipment which disappeared as soon as Garnant Golf Club Ltd went into administration.
Garnant Park, boasting Welsh rugby legend Shane Williams as president, is currently promoting two special offers: three memberships for the price of two, and a ‘taster month’ for £29.99, refundable if a full membership is purchased.
A seven-day-a-week individual membership is £470 a year, couples pay £800 and a family including two junior players aged 13 to 17, £850. Children up to 12 can play for free. Visitors are welcome and can pay by the round for nine or 18 holes.
The licensed clubhouse offers Sunday carvery lunches and catering for special occasions, such as a wedding breakfast for 50 guests at £999.
After Clays’ unhappy tenure, the club is once again managed for the benefit of the community.
Council’s plan to expand bilingual education will be a gradual journey over 10 years
CARMARTHENSHIRE County Council’s vision to increase bilingual education in Carmarthenshire will be a gradual journey over 10 years.
The Cabinet met yesterday (Monday, July 4) to discuss the Welsh in Education Strategic Plan (WESP), and emphasised that it was important to give all children and young people the opportunity to develop their Welsh language skills.
However, members stressed that families will still have a choice on the language in which their children will be taught over the next decade and after 2032.
The plan sets out how the council will develop Welsh language provision in schools based on the outcomes and targets set by the Welsh Government.
All councils across Wales have to submit 10-year Welsh language education plans to the Welsh Government in order to meet its target of one million Welsh speakers by 2050.
The outcomes include more nursery and reception children being taught through the medium of Welsh; more young people studying for qualifications in Welsh as a subject, and subjects through the medium of Welsh; increasing provision for learners with Additional Learning Needs; and increasing the number of teachers able to teach Welsh and through the medium of Welsh – with continuing support to develop staff through a comprehensive and flexible training programme.
The Cabinet said it was important for the council to provide more opportunities to be bilingual and referred to the various benefits it brings – from educational attainment to employability and health.
Cabinet Member for Education and Welsh Language, Cllr Glynog Davies said the aim was to meet and exceed the target set by Welsh Government on the percentage of Carmarthenshire pupils receiving their education through the medium of Welsh by 3032 (10-14%).
It included changing the language provision at 10 schools over the next 10 years creating an opportunity for a further 300 learners to be educated in Welsh.
He said: “We want to build on the progress made in early years education provision, and my ambition is clear – equal opportunities across the county.
“It is worth noting that we have the largest percentage 57.5 percent of nursery age children taught through the medium of Welsh. Immersion education is key to the strategy, and it is important that we continue to see an increase in the percentage of children transferring from the Meithrin groups to Welsh-medium education in the Foundation Phase.
“These early years are so important, the children are like sponges, absorbing information and absorbing a new language.
“We must then continue to see an increase in numbers in our reception classes, we say this even though we are the authority with the largest percentage (62.5 percent) of children receiving their education through the medium of Welsh.
“Children must continue to improve their Welsh when going from one school phase to another, and we need to make sure all children have the opportunity to pursue their secondary education through the medium of Welsh.
“At the same time, we need to give children and young people the confidence to use Welsh, in school and in the community. That’s what we want to see isn’t it, more and more using Welsh, hearing Welsh on the street. We need to develop and build on skills and confidence.”
Cabinet Member for Rural Affairs and Planning Policy, Cllr Ann Davies said: “I am extremely pleased to see this document and have a pleasure in supporting it. Working with young children, that is children under three-years-old, I can say that children pick up language very quickly, they absorb it, and the process is very different to learning a language. As they get older the process in the brain is completely different. I am pleased to see that there is an emphasis on early years, that is when we need to start.”
Cabinet Member for Resources, Cllr Alun Lenny said: “It is very important to state that there are many advantages to learning a language, obviously for careers, especially in health and social care where patients and clients must have a choice of language, it’s important particularly for older people, and young children, and people with dementia.
“The Chief Constable of Dyfed-Powys Police has stated he is keen for all his staff to speak a certain level of Welsh, so we have a duty here to support that.
“The advantages of being bilingual are multiple, socially and in the world of work, and this strategy is very much welcomed.”
The WESP has come back to the cabinet for discussion following feedback from the Welsh Government, mainly to include some additional data and detail. It will now be submitted to the Welsh Government for final approval. A public consultation was held last year.
Warning of serious disruption on M4 and M5 today due to fuel prices protest
POLICE have warned of “serious disruption” to drivers using the M4 and M5 on Monday 4 July due to a planned protest.
Protesters intend to block the Prince of Wales Bridge from 7am until 7pm as part of a nationwide campaign against rising fuel prices.
The protest is due to start at the M4 Magor services at junction 23A eastbound and the Clevedon Interchange at junction 20 of the M5 westbound.
It is also expected to cause disruption to the M48 Severn Bridge and the M32.
Drivers are being urged to avoid the area or plan alternative routes.
Bristol Airport has issued a warning urging travellers to allow extra time if heading to or from the airport.
Police said additional officers will be brought in to ensure the protest is carried out legally.
Drivers have been advised by Gwent Police to work from home where possible and avoid the area between 7am and 7pm, with protestors planning to block parts of the road between M4 Magor services, junction 23A eastbound, and Junction 20 of the M4 between those hours.
Chief Superintendent Tom Harding said: “Gwent Police, and Avon and Somerset Police, are working jointly with neighbouring police forces and partner agencies to ensure emergency and critical services continue and to reduce disruption to both road users and local communities, however we are preparing for serious disruption throughout the day.
“I would encourage drivers to reconsider their journey, consider working from home and avoid the area where possible.
“The right to protest under UK law must be balanced with the rights of the wider community who may be affected. We have additional officers and support in place on Monday to ensure the protest is carried out in accordance with the law.”
The planned protest is thought to have been organised by the Facebook group Fuel Price Stand Against Tax, and has attracted both criticism and support online.
The latest travel disruption comes following the closure of the Severn Bridge for a second consecutive weekend, as well as the Severn Tunnel rain line which will be out of use until July 10 due to essential work. Motorists will be unable to cross the M48 Severn Bridge until 6am on Monday as it is undergoing essential work for eight months.
The bridge was first shut last weekend as painstaking work to repair and replace corroded suspension cables began. Traffic on the bridge is likely to be very heavy on Monday due to the fuel protest.
Police have told protesters banners must be tightly secured to vehicles and nobody should be walking around on the bridge during the demonstration. Protesters will stay inside their vehicles or stand beside them.
An organiser said: “We will now only be doing it on the Prince of Wales Bridge. We have to keep in mind everyone’s safety and if we block the bridge totally and there is an emergency there would be hell. Yes it means only one bridge but [due to the amount of traffic caused] there will still be a massive impact.”
Two weeks ago one of the initial M4 bridge protest organisers Ashley Fowler said : “We’re all car enthusiasts and we have all been worried about fuel prices and when I saw the post about blocking the bridges we began talking about it. Then people started asking me to make an event so we could update each other.
“I made the event because I run a car club in Cardiff which I started on social media during the pandemic lockdowns to help people’s mental health. When we can we go out to car parks and just meet up and have a chat but during the pandemic we weren’t able to do it so I made the group.
“Now we can’t meet up so much again because of the cost of fuel. I know some of them can’t drive so much because they need to feed their kids. It’s serious. People are getting really depressed about it. One of the boys in the group has actually sold his car due to fuel price rises.”
Ascona Group announces new Car and Truck wash facilities
ASCONA GROUP, one of the UK’s fastest-growing forecourt operators, is pleased to announce two new vehicle washing partnerships as part of improvements to its unique roadside retail proposition across its forecourt estate.
As part of a new partnership with the American based PDQ Manufacturing, a leader for in-bay automatic vehicle washing facilities, Ascona Group will be the first in the UK to install the ‘Laserwash 360 Plus’, a touchless car wash system for its customers.
The partnership will initially expand the wash options at the Hinton Service Station, with a view to roll out the system to other sites under the Ascona Group’s brand, ‘Charlie’s Express Car Wash’ later this year. The partnership is a significant investment for Ascona and demonstrates its commitment to ever improving the experience for customers.
Ascona Group is also delighted to announce a strategic partnership with WashTec UK that will see Ascona introduce a ‘First of its Kind’ truck washing facility at the Tenby Road site on the A40 Eastbound in Carmarthenshire, which offers the very best technology available to HGV drivers.
The truck wash employs a fully ‘closed loop’ total water recycling system, the first of its kind in Wales, which recovers all water used within the wash process, filtering it for reuse with little or no water entering the mains drainage system. This system ensures Ascona not only has the best commercial wash in South Wales, but also offers customers one of the more environmentally friendly approaches in operation.
Commenting on the announcement, CEO Darren Briggs said: “From the very beginning, we knew that our sites must present our customers with a unique and compelling offer which is why we are constantly seeking new and innovative ways to improve our roadside retail facilities.
“These two new partnerships further demonstrate our focus on creating industry-leading propositions and we are really excited to be working with PDQ Manufacturing USA and WashTec UK. Together, we are keen to continue to build on the success of these new operations and we are actively reviewing multiple opportunities across the Ascona portfolio to roll out more units such as these.”
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