"The arms that you wield now are not such as your forefathers wielded; but they are infinitely more effective, and infinitely more irresistable" ~ Cymru Fydd leaflet, 1890

Monday 13 February 2012

The Crown Estate

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In a previous article I briefly mentioned The Crown Estate. Or rather, how MP Jonathon Edwards raised a bill in Parliament to have energy generation (and The Crown Estate) devolved to Wales. 25 of the 26 Labour MPs and 8 out of the 8 Conservative MPs that represent Wales voted no (or stayed in bed, either way they betrayed us all).

Clearly proving that Labour and the Conservatives are against devolution. No matter what their minions in the Assembly say.

A week later Plaid Cymru published it's proposals to the Silk Commission. For those unaware, the Silk Commission is another name for the Commission on Devolution in Wales. Set up to discuss the devolution of fiscal powers to the Welsh Assembly.

Number 6 on Plaids list of proposals is as follows.

The Crown Estates: Given that, in the past, Wales has not fully benefited from its abundant energy resources, ownership of and control over the Crown Estates in Wales should be transferred to the Welsh Government.

To put it bluntly The Crown Estate is a huge property portfolio, amassed over the centuries by the monachs, but these days all profits go directly to HM Treasury. So along with everything else on this list of Plaid Cymru proposals it doesn't currently benefit Wales. Well at least not directly, and even then not by much.

Firstly, for legal reasons I want to stress that I am complying fully with the following from The Crown Estate.

Material on this site is protected by copyright. Unless stated otherwise, the copyright owner is The Crown Estate. Material may be downloaded or copied for personal use, provided it is reproduced accurately and not used in a misleading context. You may not make alterations or additions to the material on this website or sell it to a third party. Where information is re-published in any format, appropriate acknowledgement of the copyright owner is required.

So all pictures, maps and info, unless otherwise stated have been reproduced from The Crown Estate website, none have been doctored. Other than cropping, I've left the original pictures exactly as they were when I took a screen shot. And I shall not use them to mislead anyone.

I've included a lot of links in this article, tons in fact. That's for my benefit so I know where I found the info and your benefit if you wanted to read up on something.

Here we have a zoomed out shot of Britain taken from the official website of The Crown Estate.

It's a very cluttered map, basically spread out all across Britain, there are anchors and buildings, green stuff, W's and 3's, whatever they are. And that's just the stuff we can see.

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Right, now we're getting somewhere. We can see there's a really good spread of dots in all different colours across the four "regions" of the UK. Thankfully The Crown Estate website provides us with a a nice colour coded key, which saves me having to make one. And it also means that when I write about these areas I will enclose them in the appropriate colour. So if you want to skip to something near you, then just look for that colour. It's also worth noting this map isn't very accurate, so some things aren't quite where they should be. But it you visit the page and zoom in you'll see it better.

There's also some important info above the key. Ignore the top as one that's nothing to do with us. The next three should immediately start you asking questions.

The Mines Royal refers to a three hundred year old law that is still in act to this day. To paraphrase the gibberish old law it basically states that if you have a copper, tin, lead or iron mine then go nuts. If it has silver or gold in it then we'll have a bit of that. These days though they'll just sell you an option to look for the precious metals. And if you find them then you could also give them even more money for an extraction license. Just as Gold Mines of Wales are hoping to do up in Eryri.

Now back to the map, again the website was kind enough to highlight Wales for me and also to write it on the map, copyright rules and all that. Remember the map is fully interactive, so if there's an area near you that you want to find out more then use the map. But I'm going to try and break down exactly what's in Wales.

We'll start at Tintern Minerals near the border to the south, Tintern is just north of Chepstow. It's listed as a rural asset and managed by John Pears of Wardell Armstrong LLP, the phone number listed is no longer in use. A quick google leads me to their website. And that's when we start to run out of steam. Historically though Tintern was the site of the first British wireworks, ironically set up in Wales to make England less dependent on foreigners. Maybe they originally wanted to build it in England but Nimbys got in their way?

The company that manages this location specialises in mineral rights, it appears to be quite common to own land but not own the mineral rights to that land, which can make developing that land quite tricky (palms may need greasing). On their website I found this case study that mentions this.

Moving along the Welsh coast now (or should that be UK coast?) we get to Porthcawl. Just off it's coast is the south west marine aggregate zone, otherwise known as a dredging area. It does actually stretch across the Bristol channel but for simplicity they've just shown it here.

Clicking on the anchor symbol reveals a list of contracts and which dredging zones they have been awarded. Only one of these 12 zones has been awarded to a Welsh company. One thing I did find whilst looking at these was a document detailing the strategic importance of the marine aggregate industry to the UK. One little fact I picked up from it is that  in 2005 46% of all the gravel and sand sales in Wales came from dredging.

So why then, when dredging is obviously so important to Wales' construction industry are we letting foreign companies extract it, process it and then sell it back to us?

The dredging also has an impact on beach errosion. A lot of people come to this part of the world for the scenery and the beaches, some of them are now more rock than sand. Who wants to sunbathe on a rock?

Next up is Swansea, or more specifically The Morfa Retail Park, located just across the river from The Liberty Stadium that houses both Swansea City and The Ospreys.

"Morfa Shopping Park, Swansea. Purchased for £80 million in 2011. The park comprises 31,600 m² (340,000 ft²) and occupiers include WM Morrison, TK Maxx, New Look, Peacocks, B&Q and DSG Currys Megastore". - The Crown Estate.
Once again, managed by a firm from outside Wales. This time it's Jones, Lang and LaSelle of London

Surely there are firms inside Wales that could manage these assets?

Skokholm Island is up next, as above with the phone number, the link provided doesn't work. But it does take us to a 404 page on the website of The Wildlife Trust Of South and West Wales. On the whole this looks like one of the better assets from a "not ripping us off" point of view but it's an asset nonetheless. 

Next up is the Ramsey Sound Project, just off Ramsey Island. An indevelopment tidal power project with a capacity of 1.2MW located at the awesomely named "The Bitches". So 1.2MW doesn't sound huge but it's just a tester. Although it does appear odd that this tester, on The Crown Estates property has been funded by The Welsh Government via the EU.

There's good and bad in the link (TWG) above, if successful, schemes like this rolled out across our 1200 KMs of coastline could provide up to 4 GWs (gigawatts). Now that alone is enough to run three Back to The Future Deloreans or 750,000 homes. Which, according to the Welsh Governments own stats from 2007 would be more than half the homes in Wales. It spoils it though by referring to Wales as a region.

Heading north we have three rural assets in fairly close proximity to each other, and unsurprisingly these are all managed by someone in England. This time it's Knight Frank of Bristol and they manage the sites near Ystradffin, Aberystwyth and Plynlimon.

Again there isn't a lot of info I can find about these although at a guess I would suggest turbines. Maybe some locals might come across this article and add some info below that I can add?

Near to Porthmadog is another Marine area called Llandanwg Dunes. Another broken link doesn't reveal much but a google search takes me to the LPYC. There doesn't appear to be much going on here (I'm happy to be corrected) but what we can see is that there is extensive work needed to protect these areas.

Given that we have previously been told that half of the coast line of the UK is owned by The Crown Estate and not all of it is listed on these maps leads me to the folowing conclusion. It wont all be gravy, if the assets of The Crown Estate that are Welsh are devolved to Wales we will have to pay for their upkeep. I know that sounds obvious but not everything thing will be profitable and some areas will have to be subsidised by the profitable areas.

But then there is the plus to that aswell. We can ensure that any of these jobs are created in Wales for Welsh people. And where possible using materials sourced in Wales by Welsh people. And it should go without saying that these assets wont be managed by companies outside of Wales.

To the north of Ynys Mon we have another tidal development, like the one down by "the bitches" it's run by a company from England. Don't let the "Sea Gen Wales" name fool you. They are based in Bristol. And as we discussed earlier, Bristol is not in Wales. This one generates 10MW (7500 homes). Which must give all the foreign partners of this operation a nice tidy profit and some great PR because let's face it, they are "saving the planet", one piece of colony at a time.

One thing I noticed though, in their credit is that their website was designed by a company in Pontlliw and does have a Cymraeg option. At least that's something.

Over to Colwyn Bay and we have another marine asset, Deganwy marina. It's a 165 berth marina that is managed by someone based in Wales. Save the hallelujahs though as yet again the owners of this company are from Bristol.

On their website they are very forthright that they are owned by The Crown Estate, I wonder if this is to do with appealing to their target demographic. I used their online quote tool to find out how much it would cost to moor my small 6m boat, the "Fictitious". £327 for the month, bargain. Multiply that by the 165 berths and they have a potential monthly income of at least £54,000.

If I wanted to moor my 13.5m vessel, "Fantasyland" for the same period it would cost £737. Obviously this can be a very lucrative business.

In the Bristol Channel is a round 3 wind farm zone. More commonly referred to as the Atlantic Array, 25GW (19 Deloreans or 18 Million homes). Without having a set maritime border it's hard to see what share of this would come to Wales. What is clear though is that anything on the Welsh side of the border would belong to Wales. And we would need to be compensated as a result if we were not able to benefit directly.

In the Irish Sea there are several spots for renewables, the biggest of which lies between Ynys Mon and the Isle of Man. This is operated by Centrica and according to their website the actual location is as follows.

The boundaries of the zone are approximately 15km from Anglesey, 20km from the Isle of Man, and over 40km to the Cumbrian coast.

Once again we'd have to see what falls into Welsh water but the total area will be enough to provide 4GW. That's the same figure as I mentioned earlier if we could harness our entire coast.

There's also another four areas off the coast of Colwyn Bay. Two of these are unquestionably within what would be Welsh waters. The 3rd (named North Hoyle) looks like it would be in our waters too.

All three of these are RWE npower with a capacity of 90MW, 567MW and 60MW (717MW total or 525,000 homes). Incidentally the last one which is closer to England is run by Dong Wind (Ltd). I mention that solely for childish reasons.

To summarise then it's easy to see just why Plaid Cymru politicians have given The Crown Estate so much attention recently. Especially considering that the yes vote for Scottish independence is making such gains in popularity based on the very real fact that it should be Scotland that benefits from the extortionate amount of tax revenue raised by it's oil and not the UK.

In Wales we are always told that we are too weak, too poor and often too stupid to be independent. No one believes we will just click our fingers and be free. It's quite clear there is enormous potential inside the property portfolio of The Crown Estate. As well as all the other points on the Plaid Cymru proposals.

Not only would these little bridges give us our own revenue, but we can make them work in our favour to boost our economy and create jobs for our people. It's all about narrowing the gap between what we earn and what we need to earn. But let's remember the fact that even the UK is operating at a deficit, so by using their own logic they too must be too small, too weak and too stupid.

As always, here's a video to help share this information.

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