Materion cyfoes o Gymru a'r byd. Current affairs from Wales and the world.
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Good evening and welcome to Taro 9.
One of Wales's treasures is about to be sold...
..to a company that provides water for Liverpool.
But the local community and Wales's politicians say...
..they've been ignored and are concerned about the future.
I don't want these places only to provide water to England.
For the last century, providing water to England's cities...
..has been a controversial part of Wales's history.
The Vyrnwy Estate is the latest to be in the headlines.
It follows 12 months of uncertainty...
..after the estate was put up for sale last year.
As the British Government prepare plans for future water usage...
..some are asking is providing water to England taking priority...
..over the lives of Welsh people?
I made it clear, in no uncertain terms, how fed up we were...
..with the appalling conditions on the estate...
..and the lack of interest by Severn Trent.
They've failed in not even coming to talk to us.
We want to go down to Severn Trent offices...
..they're sitting on their behinds, and give them a hard time of it.
I'm 70-years-old but I'm willing to go down there.
The faces speak volumes.
This is the ninth meeting in a year for the people of Llanwddyn.
It's the ninth time the estate owners have failed to turn up.
They're not listening.
We haven't got a voice.
Nobody's listening to what we say.
They're accusing Severn Trent of allowing the estate to deteriorate..
..and of having only one interest.
Water has brought destruction and prosperity here for 100 years.
The old Llanwddyn can only be seen in photographs.
It was destroyed by Liverpool in the 19th Century...
..to provide water for its people and industries.
Another village and dam were built that changed the landscape.
It was Europe's largest artificial lake.
They say you can see it from Space.
It was one of the most pioneering engineering projects of its day.
Liverpool saw it is as almost a foreign ownership.
They saw the community as their responsibility.
You can see this in the city's records.
They felt they had a paternal responsibility...
..over the people who lived there.
People like Brian Ellis. He's a tenant farmer on the estate.
He's been dependant on the estate throughout his life.
I've walked every inch of it while rounding up sheep here.
I left school and saw the Land Agent...
..who gave me a job as a painter and decorator.
I worked for the water gang.
Shortly after, I went to work on the farm.
There came a turning point after the industry was reorganised in '74.
Responsibility for the supply went to North West Water Authority...
..who supplied Liverpool.
Severn Trent took over the estate and the reservoir.
They were responsible for the local area.
Severn Trent took it over and I remember a meeting in the village.
In that meeting they said, "Nothing will change.
"The only change you'll see is a different name on a pay packet."
There used to be 90 people working on the estate back then.
There's nobody here now.
This is an environmental treasure and as the owners' role changed...
..the RSPB came in to protect the area.
Their vision is to protect wildlife and ensure people can enjoy it.
The charity controls half the estate including the largest farm.
Cyril Roberts worked as a shepherd for the RSPB and Severn Trent.
He's concerned the village built to replace the drowned one...
..is also dying.
At one time, everyone who lived in these houses worked for the estate?
Oh, yes. When I came here many years ago in 1974...
..there were more than 80 working for the estate.
The school was full of children.
There were 60 pupils here when my children attended the school.
Things have gone down since then.
It went downhill and the school has been closed for two years.
At least 18 months.
But there isn't any work here.
There are some jobs in the hotel and a few on the farm.
None of the local men work here now.
Some blame the lack of maintenance work done by Severn Trent.
It's been a private company since the 80s and has its HQ in Coventry.
Tourists now create work in the area.
There are concerns the deterioration could affect the tourist industry.
The owner of a local B&B says it's been getting worse for years.
Look at this.
There are about 20, even more, right down this road.
They are dangerous.
If a bike's front wheel gets caught, someone will get hurt.
Another thing, if you come over here.
This fence is rusty.
If a child runs his hand on this he'll get hurt.
They should clean them up and paint them.
It would look so much better for people who stay here...
..if it was nice and white.
The lack of investment can be seen clearer around the lake.
A number of farms that used to be homes are now empty.
Family life here is just a memory.
This is the perfect place for a home with the lake behind you.
A beautiful spot to raise children.
But this house, Llechwedd Ddu, is empty and crumbling.
Just like many other houses on the estate, it's nearly a ruin.
Despite concerns about the company's disinterest in the estate...
..residents were given a shock last summer.
I always asked the agent questions.
"Give it time, everything will be alright."
One Sunday I received a letter saying the place was up for sale.
I wasn't told anything before that.
Surveys were done. "What's it for?" "Oh, just routine."
The surveys were done for perspective buyers.
The estate's lease for the next 125 years was on the market.
£11 million for 20,000 acres of a beautiful area...
..that had been split into four parts.
Included were agricultural land, the RSPB farm...
..5,000 acres of forestry and more than 30 buildings...
..which are homes, businesses and farms.
Local people wanted to know more and public meetings were held.
There was no sign of Severn Trent to answer their concerns.
The RSPB wanted to make an offer for part of the lease.
We've made an offer for lots one and two...
..which include the farm we manage.
We've done a lot of conservation work there as well.
Those are the lots where are our interests lie...
..and where we do most of the work.
Rhys Jones, originally from Bala, also wanted the lease.
He's a millionaire who has his business in Europe.
He wanted to create jobs.
We want to invest in it and build things like stone walls...
..things that won't give us any return.
We want to attract biking and canoeing and use the lake.
He had local support.
He's Welsh and so is nearer to my heart as he's from Bala.
He will look after the local people and the area.
I like him.
An opinion poll was conducted by the community council...
..to find out what local people favoured.
Top of the list was investment and job creation.
Many were unhappy with Severn Trent.
Some wanted the lease given to Rhys Jones.
Others criticized the RSPB's work, which was unfair and unfounded..
..according to the charity.
Severn Trent refused an interview but said they were aware...
..of local criticism and had organized consultation days...
..to answer questions.
It's been a slow process to ensure the right decision is made...
..to benefit the community, environment and the estate.
Two months ago, the announcement came as a shock.
The first choice was another private water company, United Utilities...
..working in conjunction with RSPB Cymru.
The company gets its water from Lake Vyrnwy.
It did not attend any public meetings.
They are now afraid, with United Utilities...
..that it will be the same as Severn Trent. It's a water company.
Whether it will be better.
The estate is likely to be separated.
United Utilities and the RSPB are first choice for swathes of land.
Investment company FIM is likely to own the trees.
There has been no mention of the buildings.
The sellers have requested that all parties sign a privacy agreement.
A year after the sale was agreed, many are left in the dark.
Farmers like Brian Ellis expect several landlords instead of one.
We've got right of way, but you never know...
..maybe they'll want something we can't offer.
You know when you say, "RSPB owns this, you own that."
Does it make life difficult?
I'd say that it will do before long.
You never know who you'll be dealing with.
We've heard nothing apart from the letter I was sent.
Nobody's said anything.
Nobody's arranged a meeting?
Nothing at all.
Have you received a phone call?
Nothing at all.
Most homes here are now owned by older people.
If rent is increased, they won't be able to pay.
Things might even be better under the new system.
It won't necessarily be worse.
The situation doesn't have to worsen. Things could even improve.
It's just that nobody knows.
That is what is worrying people.
What is in store for this piece of land?
The Countryside Council is holding a three-month consultation.
They will present their findings to Westminster, not the Assembly.
The RSPB hopes to secure a sustainable future for the estate...
..through establishing visitor facilities.
They hope to gain permission to reveal other plans soon.
Secrecy is causing disquiet. Why sell to a competitor?
What is being discussed behind closed doors?
If Wales has one natural resource in plentiful supply...
..it's clear to see what that would be.
# Oh Mrs Rain. #
Climate change and an increasing population mean water...
..will be scarce in future.
Because of the turbulent history over flooding Tryweryn...
..there are concerns when two English companies bid for Welsh land.
Severn Trent owns the water in this reservoir.
When that water reaches the tower behind me...
..and is piped to Liverpool, it is owned by United Utilities.
That arrangement will not change under the new agreement...
..but what will change is that United Utilities will own the land...
..surrounding this reservoir.
Local people have been asking me today...
..why United Utilities requires the land...
..if it owns the water anyhow.
For a man who knows the place, the same resource...
..has attracted people there for more than a century.
The CCW look after everything on the mountains.
They want to dig the trenches.
United Utilities have been talking about the water.
I wonder whether they will take water out to put in the lake.
That's all I can think of.
Dealing with drought is a problem for water companies.
Last summer, United Utilities restricted the water use...
..of their customers in the North West...
..for the first time in 14 years due to the low levels in reservoirs.
United Utilities have discussed ways of getting more water...
..from Lake Vyrnwy with Severn Trent but decided it wasn't an option.
Both companies want to make it easier...
..for companies to sell water to each other.
Water companies hope the business will become unregulated.
That would allow them to to sell water from one area to another.
In London, for example...
..almost every summer we receive letters...
..telling us not to use water in the garden...
..because there isn't enough water.
In Wales and Scotland there's plenty of water.
I think United Utilities want to get their hands on more water...
..in order to sell it to people like Southern Water...
..or Thames Water.
But without more rainfall...
..and because there's already a dam in the valley...
..is getting more water from the area an option?
You can see why people think we need more water...
..because water shortages are going to be a problem...
..in some areas in the future.
In terms of Lake Vyrnwy itself...
..I can't see a practical way...
..of getting more water out of that area...
..because all the water goes to the reservoir anyway.
I don't think increasing the volume of water they get...
..is a realistic intention.
United Utilities didn't want to be interviewed about Vyrnwy...
..for confidentiality reasons.
They just said they would stick to the company's ethos.
In the Forest of Bowland in the Pennines...
..there's a clue to what could happen to Lake Vyrnwy.
United Utilities owns this catchment area.
The company started a SCaMP scheme to improve the water quality...
..by protecting the land around the reservoir with the RSPB.
They are encouraging farmers to make changes...
..like fencing to keep animals out of rivers...
..less livestock to encourage vegetation growth...
..and helping to find grants to pay for the work.
We've taken about 500 sheep off, cut the cattle back well over 100.
There's for and against.
He was more keen on the project than what I was.
It was a change to me. I thought I was getting too old for change.
But I think it's working.
It seems to be working well.
There's just two fells maybe need a few more sheep on...
..because it's getting a lot of over-grazing.
It's getting a bit too thick for all the sheep to graze.
It may need burning or cutting or something...
..but United Utilities will advise on that.
United Utilities are trying to push the project in other areas.
But there have been discussions on introducing the project...
..on land they don't own, including Lake Vyrnwy.
In the Forest of Bowland the company says it's had a positive effect...
..on the land and the community because of the jobs it's created.
We've got a team of seven.
If someone applies for those jobs we give them due consideration.
A lot of employment comes in from the work we do in the area.
A huge estate like this needs a lot of repair and maintenance.
The first phase was over £10 million...
..so that's a lot of employment.
But there's no doubt what the company's incentive is.
There's a benefit to our customers.
If we can get cleaner water into the treatment works...
..we can take out levels of colour.
We don't have to use as many chemicals.
There's a host of reasons related to water treatment.
It's an investment, but the money to buy the lease at Vyrnwy...
..is nothing to such a big company.
The company is worth £4 billion.
This isn't enough money to give five minutes' thought to.
They're involved in transaction worth hundreds of millions...
..so it's not big business to them but it's important...
..to local people because their future's at stake.
But questions that have been raised for decades...
..have resurfaced in the case of Lake Vyrnwy.
Local people are concerned about secrecy, a lack of democracy...
..and the fact water is taking precedent over the community.
This is who local people support.
A businessman who promised to invest.
Because of an agreement he signed with Severn Trent...
..he can't discuss the details of his offer for six years...
..but he can express an opinion.
I suspect it's easier for them to deal with a FTSE-100 company.
A similar company to theirs.
There are many conspiracy theories out there...
..but I'm sure one water company deals with another.
I don't really know what their motives were.
They held us on for 12 months.
We couldn't hold money back to invest.
We didn't lend any money from the bank.
It was all equity and that was for 12 months.
I'm a bit peeved that they gave it to United Utilities in the end.
But he's more concerned about what it means to a country...
..with many reservoirs and a climate that makes it ideal...
..for collecting such an important resource.
The lake could become a reservoir to provide water for England.
The water companies don't pay tax on the water they get from Wales.
It's the only resource we have. We don't have oil or gas.
We need to be cleverer in what we're doing.
I think the water boards have a duty...
..to give something back to the communities...
..not just turning it into a nature reserve.
You're a businessman and you know that businesses have to make money.
They must look after shareholders...
..so the company has a duty to do that.
You talk about the community, but business is business.
I don't blame them.
Severn Trent and United Utilities need to make a profit.
But are we in Wales going to let that happen?
It's an emotional argument that has caused tension in the past...
..most famously when Cwm Celyn was flooded in the '60s.
Securing a stronger voice for Wales will be discussed again...
..when the British Government publishes a White Paper...
..on water as a future resource.
An Assembly committee wants to investigate the sale of the lease...
..because they don't have a say - the power lies in London.
The chairman was among the protestors...
..on the opening day of the Cwm Celyn dam in 1965.
There's an important history here and we mustn't forget it...
..but we have to deal with it in the 21st Century...
..when the demand for and the value of water is globally acknowledged.
We need to make it sustainable.
We have to look at it as a national resource...
..which we can share at a fair price.
Following the committee report and the White Paper...
..I hope we can have a public debate on this issue...
..to see what we can do with the powers we have...
..and what further powers we might need.
But the people of Vyrnwy are cautious.
History has left its mark.
That's it for another week.
Taro 9 will be back at the same time next week.
Materion cyfoes o Gymru a'r byd. Current affairs from Wales and the world.