It may be Easter and the message may be one of peace but not in the cut throat world of local politics. An almighty row has been ensuing on Social media as the keyboard warriors from Plaid Cymru and Welsh Labour battle it out in a scene reminiscent of Ben Hur.
Back in September 2016 Plaid Cymru council candidate Colin Jones appeared to be in support of opposing plans to develop a school on Llanerch Field. Subsequently he became a member of the Save Llanerch/Penygaer Recreational Playing Fields group made up of local residents who set out what they described as an unacceptable set of plans for a new school on the playing field, which they claim is in full use by numerous local people and community groups including a thriving Boy Scouts group and a local Cylch Meithrin.
Campaigner Heather Peters expressed shock and outrage that the council had gone ahead with tests on the field without any local consultation having taken place. Representatives of the Football Association also had an interest in the field but had foregone the use for one year only to allow the field to recover.
Phil Jones from the Carmarthenshire League also insisted that the league wanted to use the field saying it was the best field in Carmarthenshire. Mr Jones said; “The league could not afford to lose any more teams, clubs or pitches in the Llanelli area. When these green areas have gone, they are gone forever.”
It was Councillor Bill Thomas who asked the fledgling group at the time: “Do you want us as a Town Council to save your field?
At the time Nia Griffith MP said: “It is very clearly a decision which will be made by Carmarthenshire County Council and therefore people need to speak directly to those decision makers. There are a number of issues to be looked at but the only people who can actually change a decision or make a decision on this are the County Councillors in power and in particular, of course, the Executive Board members. We would love for the Town Council to take over Llanerch but we have to be prepared for the council to say no.”
The Llanelli MP called on the council to take note of legislation on consultation before making plans. She said: “Whereas previously it would have been good practice to have consultation, now it is actually in legislation. It is a requirement before they put planning in. That seems like a sensible way round. What everyone is clear about is that we need a new school.”
Llanelli AM Lee Waters said that he was frustrated at the pattern of behaviour from the council. He said at the time: “There seems to be a culture of ‘we know best’ and ‘don’t trouble yourselves with the details because we will decide anyway’.”
At a Town Council meeting in September 2016 discussions took place on whether they should express an interest in the assets on the asset transfer register. The Save Llanerch Field group were in the public area at that time with representatives of Carmarthenshire Unified Sports Committee. It led town Mayor Bill Thomas to start the meeting by saying that he had never seen it so full.
The clerk at that time, Mel Edwards confirmed that no discussions had taken place between the Town Council and the County Council on the rebuild of Ysgol Dewi Sant and the nine considered sites.
The clerk said at the time: “There has been no discussion between this council and the County Council. In April this year, this council made a proposal after a series of discussions with County Council officers where we offered to pay a substantial contribution towards the costs of parks and pitches in Llanelli. When we made that proposal, Llanerch, Penygaer was on the list. This council was under the understanding it was making an offer to contribute towards the costs on facilities including Llanerch. We received a response to that proposal that was made in April in August. That response was politely saying, ‘no thank you, we are sticking to asset transfer’.
“That response was reported to the September meeting of this council. This council, in addition to the motion which has been discussed already, agreed that we should continue to meet with the county to see how we could help. At that meeting, we were told that Llanerch was off the asset transfer register and that it was earmarked for a school.”
The October minutes of that meeting state: Jan Williams said: “People walk their dogs and they enjoy it. We played on it as children and we thought that it was there forever. People who play football there regard it as their premier playing field. We need those open spaces so people can relax and enjoy themselves. It is nice to know that we are all marching forwards together.”
Councillor Jeff Owen (Plaid Cymru) said that he played on the field 20 years ago and that asset transfer was a decision made two years ago. He said: “I can’t see how that is going to change because Plaid has taken over. What I am more worried about as a Town Councillor is what our role is going to be if that falls through.”
The clerk confirmed that the motion was that the Town Council supported the campaign to keep Llanerch playing field for the community and that the council asks for information from the County Council regarding what the other sites were.
Councillor Winston Lemon (Plaid Cymru) said that the first he had heard about anything that was going to happen at Llanerch as a County Councillor was when it was flagged up by Heather Peters. He said he was totally against any school on Llanerch and that the field should be kept in recreational use.
Further to Minute No. 36 of the Council meeting held on 7th September 2016, members considered a report prepared by the Town Clerk (copies having been previously circulated to members). RESOLVED – that the Council put forward an expression of interest in Crown Park, Havelock Park, Parc y Dre, Penyfan Park, Penygaer and Llanerch playing fields and associated playgrounds and that the Town Clerk seeks clarification of the position regarding Parc y Morfa.
It seemed as if Plaid Cymru were right behind the campaign and the Town Council in saving the field for the people of Llanerch and the football clubs of Llanelli and surrounding areas as well as numerous community organisations who use the field.
In recent weeks attention has focussed on the apparent leaks in sewage tanks manifesting in flooding in areas of the field. County Councillor Bill Thomas claims that two more pipes have been located underneath the field, which had not been identified previously. Speaking to Llanelli Online this evening Bill Thomas said: I can’t understand why Plaid have suddenly had a change of heart if indeed they have. Colin might as well throw his hat in because this is going to damage his election hopes. Plaid insisted that the school should be built on the Copperworks site making huge savings. Jeff (Owen) and Winston (Lemon) were opposed as was Mike Burns. We voted unanimously. You have to now ask what Colin and Plaid’s stance is on Park Howard. Has that changed?
Colin Jones wrote: Also speaking to residents in Lliedi ward, the concern is mostly that they cant see the fuss with the school going on Llanerch Field, they think it’s good for Lliedi Area, most didn’t even know where Llanerch field is…. I lived opposite there for many years and hardly anyone used the field. As long as it proves safe to do so, and If it is decided the school can be built there I will support the School going there. We have 2 other field areas within a one minute walk.
Colin Jones posted on a Plaid Facebook page: Just a suggestion.
Can it be considered to put on the Agenda for next Monday’s meeting that a formal/official committee be formed, to also include a communications officer, as I believe that more publicity would be beneficial too the cause.
If this is acceptable, the public then can contact the committee direct and give their opinions, as I know, that Carms CC will monitor the Facebook page, and then they will be aware of what proposals/actions the Save Llanerch/Penygaer fields have, to stop building on these fields. Thank You. Colin
Llanelli Online contacted Colin Jones for a statement. We did not receive a reply. We also contacted Sean Rees, Plaid Cymru’s press officer and County Council candidate. We did not receive a reply.
The most recent post on the site states: At a meeting of the Save Llanerch and Penygaer Recreational Playing Fields Committee, held on the 13/04/2017, it was unanimously decided to remove Colin Jones Plaid Cymru for Lleidi Ward from the committee. Colin appears to have made a total U turn on his position regarding the construction of a new school on the Llanerch site, and refuses to answer any questions relating to this issue openly and honestly. As he is standing for Plaid Cymru for the Lliedi Ward this is information that the electorate in Llanerch deserve to know, in order to make informed decisions come polling day.
Originally Colin played an active part in this group and signed up for our committee, and helped in actively opposing the building of the school on this site, whilst not opposing the construction of a new school, which is much needed. However, he now appears to support its construction on our recreational playing field.
Since his views are in total opposition to the views of the Save Llanerch and Penygaer Recreational Playing Fields group, his position in the group is unattainable and he has therefore been removed from the group.
The group would like to reiterate that Colin Jones Plaid Cymru Candidate for Lleidi Ward views are not the views of the group and he does not speak on behalf of the group. The action group are opposed to building the school on Llanerch Field as it is a totally unsuitable site but we would like to assure parents that we are not against the building of a new school.
The group have now filed to get village green status on the field. There are notices up around Llanerch Recreational Field saying: If you would like to support the application could you write to: Andrew Patterson. Common Land Officer. Carmarthenshire County Council. Planning Services, Ty Elwyn. Llanelli. SA15 3AP.
Speaking to Llanelli Online following a day of campaigning on behalf of Plaid Cymru, Sean Rees, Campaigns Manager said:
“We understand election fever is kicking in but we will not be tolerating any intimidation or personal insults made against Colin or his family today. It is exactly this sort of point scoring why people have lost faith in politics. We refuse to fight in the gutter for votes. The Plaid-led Council are committed to building a new school for the pupils and staff of Ysgol Dewi Sant to replace the present dated school. Regarding the location, no decisions have yet been taken and we strongly believe that every step must be considered including the planning procedures, Health & Safety issues and liaison with other agencies.”