A PLAGUE ON ALL THEIR HOUSES

rebecca_6aTWO OF the candidates in tomorrow’s Anglesey elections are staunch supporters of affordable homes for local people.

John Arthur Jones and Hefin Wyn Thomas both include a commitment to affordable homes in their election manifestos.

But their idea of “affordable” isn’t always exactly the same as the voters.

For example, both men made sure their own homes were made more “affordable” by valuable planning permissions ordinary residents would have struggled to get.

And their role in some applications to build “affordable” homes has been controversial.

In one case, Hefin Wyn Thomas argued that planning permission should be given to a local woman so she could afford to build a home on the island.

It turned out she already owned a house in Cardiff and later sold the Anglesey site for a massive profit.

In another case John Arthur Jones was the island’s housing director when his department cheated a man out of a plot so that a housing official could have it instead.

ANGLESEY Some residents find it easier to get "affordable" homes than others. Picture: Barry Davies

ANGLESEY
Some residents find it easier to get “affordable” homes than others. Picture: Barry Davies

IN 2005 Hefin Wyn Thomas spoke up for a planning application for a new house on a field at Llanddona in the east of the island.

The field was called Cae Bryntirion and it enjoyed stunning views of the sea.

Planners were opposed to the proposal because the Local Structure Plan did not include the village as a place where development would normally be allowed.

Hefin Wyn Thomas, the Executive portfolio holder for planning, did not agree.

He said that the field was owned by a local woman whose family had lived in the area for 70 years.

He told the planning committee: “On completion of her studies and embarking on a career she wishes to relocate to the area with her husband.”

“The nature of their work means that they are able to work from home”.

He said that the committee should approve the application due to “local need”.

By the time of the May 2005 planning committee, Hefin Wyn Thomas had joined a new political group, the Radical Independents, led by John Arthur Jones.

The two men supported the application as did a third member, David Lewis Roberts.

The application was approved.

But the couple who owned the site, Elwen Rowlands and her husband, didn’t need a house — they already had one.

Two years earlier they had bought a property in Merches Gardens in the Grangetown area of Cardiff for £108,000.

Rowlands was in her early thirties and working as a script editor on the first season of the revived BBC Doctor Who series.

And she’s no ordinary Anglesey girl.

Her father was councillor John Rowlands who had just become the fourth member of John Arthur Jones’ Radical Independents.

Rowlands declared an interest in his daughter’s planning application and took no part in the proceedings.

For months the planning application attracted little attention.

But when David Lewis Roberts began his campaign to drive through similar applications in another part of the island — see The Case of the Corrupt Councillor — it began to be scrutinised.

It turned out that Elwen Rowlands’ application was just the tip of the iceberg.

In the two years up to June 2006, Hefin Wyn Thomas had been instrumental in gaining approval for another eight applications which planners had opposed.

The total value of these permissions was more than a million pounds.

In July 2008 Elwen Rowlands sold the plot — worth just a few thousand pounds without the planning permission — for £150,000.

A FIELD OF GOLD The field in the foreground was worth a couple of thousand pounds an acre. With planning permission it was worth £150,000.

A FIELD OF GOLD
The field in the foreground was worth a couple of thousand pounds an acre as agricultural land. With planning permission it was worth £150,000.

She has always insisted that her planning permission “was granted on the basis of a properly submitted and properly considered application. Any suggestion otherwise is incorrect.”

She claimed that she had been driven out of the area by sustained criticism by the whistleblower Barrie Durkin.

“It had always been my intention to move back to Anglesey to make a home with my husband.”

“However, as a result of the concerted campaign against me and my family I decided I could no longer live happily in the community and this was also the reason why I decided to sell the plot …”

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IT WASN’T the first time that Hefin Wyn Thomas had been involved in planning controversies.

He was suspended for two months in 2002 for failing to declare an interest in a planning application.

In 2006 he was investigated by the Ombudsman, Adam Peat.

Thomas had supported a proposal to build an estate of private houses on a field in the village of Pentraeth owned by a millionaire property developer called John Wood.

Thomas had commercial and social links with the developer.

Three years earlier, Thomas had declared an interest in another of Wood’s schemes.

But he did not declare an interest in the Pentraeth scheme.

The Ombudsman was not impressed:

“I conclude on the balance of probabilities that Councillor Thomas’ strong support for the inclusion of the developer’s land at Pentraeth … in the teeth of overwhelming local opposition was actuated by the prospect of pecuniary gain …”

He referred the matter to the Adjudication Panel for Wales.

But there was a dramatic development when the Panel met to hear the case in June 2007.

John Wood said that by the time he was promoting the Pentraeth scheme, he’d fallen out with Thomas.

Thomas had been renovating one of his properties and Wood felt that the work was sub-standard. He ordered him off the site.

“I couldn’t stand the sight of him,” he told the Panel.

HFIN WYN THOMAS In 2005 he was picking up £25,000 a year as a councillor and a member of the executive.

HFIN WYN THOMAS
In 2005 he was picking up £25,000 a year as a councillor and a member of the Executive.

The Panel decided that, while Thomas had technically broken the rules, there was no friendship between the two men.

The Panel found that he was in partial breach of the council’s code of conduct but decided not to impose any sanction.

Hefin Wyn Thomas lives in house on a farm just outside Pentraeth.

The property was built as an agricultural dwelling after he became a councillor in 1995.

He had bought the farm and wanted the new dwelling because he wanted to introduce a milking herd.

He was given permission but the milking herd never materialised.

Instead he became a builder.

In the early 2000s he had a close commercial relationship with John Arthur Jones and his company Best Value.

Best Value specialised in renovation grants and planning applications.

From 2001 until John Arthur Jones resigned from the company on his election to the council in 2004, Best Value won 85 renovation contracts from the council worth nearly £2m.

Hefin Wyn Thomas’ company did the work on 12 of those contracts, worth over £250,000.

But the firm did not prosper. In the autumn of 2005 Cefni (Pentraeth) Limited went bust owing the government over £100,00 in unpaid tax and VAT.

In April 2011 Thomas was convicted of benefit fraud.

He had been claiming incapacity benefit while he was receiving allowances as a councillor.

He was fined £750 and ordered to repay £7,700.

In June last year the council’s Standards Committee decided that this offence was also a serious breach of the council’s code of conduct.

Thomas claimed that he did not know that council allowances were income.

The excuse cut no ice with the committee because Thomas had been paying tax on his allowances.

He was suspended for six months.

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LONG BEFORE these events took place, John Arthur Jones had made sure he had an “affordable” home.

In the 1980s he bought a piece of agricultural land on a hill overlooking the village of Bodffordd.

It includes a low hill with a magnificent view of the island and Snowdonia.

In 1987 Jones applied for planning permission to build a bungalow on the site.

He wrote to the director of planning to say that “for 10 years I have been looking for a suitable site on which to develop a fish farm”.

This particular site was perfect for the operation. There was just one snag — security.

Jones wrote ” … the best possible deterrent is to live on the site and be in a position to see the ponds by day and which can be lit up at night.”

Planners were opposed. The application was in “conflict with the approved Anglesey Structure Plan Policies”.

But approval was given by other officers using delegated powers.

By 1990, by which time Jones had been appointed Housing Director, the permission to build the bungalow had sprouted dormer windows.

He did not start construction work on the house —  known as Nant Garedig — until the mid 1990s.

Rebecca Television has examined council records to see if this property ever came before a committee of the authority. There was no evidence it ever did so.

The fish farm never materialised.

At present day values, the planning permission was worth between £125,000 and £150,000.

John Arthur Jones was also the Housing Director when perhaps the most celebrated “affordable” home on Anglesey was built.

Even by Anglesey standards, the story of the hanky-panky that took place at a site in a street called Nant Y Pandy takes some believing…

NO 5 NANT Y PANDY A house with a chequered history.

NO 5, NANT Y PANDY
A house with a chequered history.

THE HOUSE in the picture is No 5, Nant y Pandy in Llangefni. 

Even before a brick was laid, the site in the centre of the island was the subject of skulduggery.

In 1993 the site was one of five offered by council to people who wanted to build their own home.

One local man, whose identity has never been revealed, applied for one of the sites.

There was a meeting between the prospective purchasers and the housing director John Arthur Jones and his director of contract services, Gareth Roberts.

According to District Auditor Ceri Stradling, who investigated what happened, a local man drew Plot 5 “following a random draw of names from a hat.”

Number 5 was the plum site: not only was it the largest it was also the furthest away from the nearby council estate.

But the man who’d drawn Plot 5 found that the process of completing the purchase was the subject of delay after delay.

By April 1994, he’d had enough and wrote to the council withdrawing his application.

The next day, a technical officer in the housing department called Paul Roberts, wrote to the director of contract services Gareth Roberts. The two men are not related.

Paul Roberts had been allocated Plot 1, next door to the council estate.

He asked Gareth Roberts to allow him to switch his plot from Number 1 to Number 5.

The next day Gareth Roberts replied “… I have transferred your allocation of plot no 1 to plot No 5 Nant y Pandy, Llangefni, and hope that you can now proceed with the purchase of plot 5 as soon as possible.”

Neither of the two Roberts could explain to District Auditor Ceri Stradling “why there had been delays with the purchase of the two relevant plots.”

“Both Mr Paul Roberts and Mr Gareth Roberts were unsympathetic to the concerns expressed by the person who brought the matter to our attention,” noted Stradling.

“I believe Mr Paul Roberts benefited personally from information obtained from his position within the Department, by obtaining a larger and more sought-after plot that ultimately may have a higher market value on re-sale.”

Not satisfied with having used his position in John Arthur Jones’ housing department to grab the site, Paul Roberts then went on to “persuade” several contractors to help him build his house.

Take the “contribution” made by a business called Ponsonby Joinery.

Between 1994 and 1998 the firm were awarded £38,000 work by the council, much of it ordered and approved by Paul Roberts.

The district auditor noted: “During our enquiries we were informed that all the hardwood windows and the staircase of Mr Paul Roberts’ home … had been supplied by Ponsonby Joinery in the autumn of 1994 to the value of several thousand pounds.”

“Our investigations revealed that Mr Roberts has paid a partial instalment of £1,700 for these goods, which he has subsequently confirmed. He did however say that he always intended to settle the remainder of the debt.”

“In my view it is unusual that any supplier in normal circumstances would wait nearly four years for an account to be settled.”

Then there was a builder who also did a considerable amount of work for the council.

Some of this was ordered by Paul Roberts and he was the man who checked the work for payment.

The contractor told the auditor that he knew Paul Roberts well.

“He said he had done some plastering work on Mr Roberts house … in the late autumn of 1994 at an approximate cost of some £2,000.

He said that Mr Roberts made no effort to pay him for the work.”

The District Auditor said that “At that time [the contractor] relied upon the Council for a substantial proportion of his income and was given the impression that if he pursued Mr Roberts to settle his debt he would receive fewer orders for the work.”

And finally there was Cefni Glass, a company owned by a man called Ken Jones, who was a close friend of Paul Roberts.

The auditor noted that “Mr Ken Jones and his employees carried out work on Mr Paul Roberts’ own house when it was being constructed. Mr Paul Roberts has admitted to us that this was done without monetary payment.”

JOHN ARTHUR JONES He was the council's housing director in the 1990s when its operations were criticised by the District Auditor.

JOHN ARTHUR JONES
He was the director of the council’s housing department in the 1990s when its operations were criticised by the District Auditor.

“Mr Roberts does not accept that in accepting this favour he has placed himself in a compromising position.”

In the four years up to 1998 Cefni Glass were given council work worth £171,000.

The company was a “favoured” contractor and the District Auditor found that the council’s Standing Orders were often ignored when work was awarded.

For most of this period Cefni Glass were supervised by Paul Roberts: he raised orders from the firm and checked their work.

During the period when the company’s work for the council was at its height, Paul Roberts was working an enormous amount of overtime.

It was at the time of local government reorganisation.

In one nine month period in 1996 he clocked up 770 hours in overtime worth £10,764.

When the district auditor started investigating, Paul Roberts decided it was time to settle some of his long-standing bills.

He went to see the man who had done the plastering work on his house.

The auditor reported that “Mr Roberts turned up unannounced in May 1997 and paid him £1,000 in cash.

He said the event had stuck in his mind since at the time the press was reporting the Police investigation of the Director of Housing and Property [John Arthur Jones].”

“He said that Mr Roberts had brought a further £600 in cash on the day following … He substantiated these comment by reference to his paying in records.”

Paul Roberts was not a senior official but he had responsibility for some important assets belonging to the council.

One of these was the former Shell terminal at Rhosgoch.

The District Auditor found Roberts did not take his duties as seriously as he should have done.

Two large transformers, worth £4,000 on the second-hand market, went missing.

It was Roberts who had commissioned the specialist valuation of these and other assets at the site.

“He was unable to account for the whereabouts of these transformers and expressed surprise that they were no longer there,” reported the District Auditor.

He added: “I have been able to ascertain that no insurance claim or report to the Police has been submitted in respect of these large transformers.”

Another valuable asset was the huge amount of hard-core on which the terminal was built.

John Arthur Jones placed an ad in the local paper and one of those who successfully tendered was the builder O J D Griffiths, who was carrying out work at Paul Roberts’ home.

In October 1996 John Arthur Jones drafted a letter warning the contractor that he had “carried a large quantity of stone” from the site “in direct contravention of the prohibition” not to enter the site without permission.

“Before I refer the matter to the Police for further investigation,” he continued, “I invite you to respond to these allegations.”

O J D Griffiths never got the chance to reply because the letter was never sent.

Paul Roberts noted: “John Arthur Jones … said letter not to go – speak to the contractor instead.”

“I am particularly concerned,” District Auditor Ceri Stradling wrote in his report, “to discover that during this period Mr O J D Griffiths was undertaking work on the home of Mr P Roberts … and later in the year sold and delivered hardcore from the [Rhosgoch] site to the Director of Housing and Property [John Arthur Jones] which was in the process of being constructed.”

“The apparent lenient approach taken by these officers towards this contractor represents, in my view, extremely poor judgement, particularly in the light of their personal contractual relationship with the contractor.”

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© Rebecca Television 2013

CORRECTIONS  Please let us know if there are any mistakes in this article — they’ll be corrected as soon as possible.

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COMING UP

POACHER TURNED gamekeeper Rhodri Williams is the Welsh Director of the broadcasting watchdog Ofcom. In the article — A Man Of Conviction — Rebecca Television charts the story of his rise to power and his dramatic departure from the television company he helped to found. In the television programme — Hidden Agenda — his former partner Ron Jones tells the story of the dramatic days leading up to Williams’ dismissal. 

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