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Murco deal collapses

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Dead Failed: Murco Milford Haven (IMAGE: MIKE HILLEN/HERALD)

Dead Failed: Murco Milford Haven (IMAGE: MIKE HILLEN/HERALD)

THE DEAL between Klesch Refining Limited and Murco Petroleum Limited has failed it has emerged tonight (Nov 4)

In a statement Murphy oil has said:

“Murco Petroleum Limited a subsidiary of Murphy Petroleum Limited regrets to announce that its agreement to sell the Milford Haven Refinery and terminal assets to Klesch Refining Limited is no longer in effect. Despite every effort by Murphy to complete this sale process, conditions necessary for the sale were not able to be met. The parties are not engaged in further discussions.”

“Murco has run this sale process for over four years, and has engaged with a large number of potential buyers of these assets. The Company has now exhausted all options available for the sale of the site as a refinery, and is therefore left with no choice but to operate the site solely as a petroleum storage and distribution terminal.”

“The refinery is currently in a period of shut-down and will be decommissioned while the company seeks a buyer for the terminal facility along with the three inland terminals. While the terminal facility will continue to employ personnel in Pembrokeshire, this will unfortunately still mean a significant number of redundancies.”

LIVE UPDATES AND REACTION

21.50 HRS

Incredibly disappointed: Stephen Crabb

Incredibly disappointed: Stephen Crabb

Stephen Crabb said tonight “This is an incredibly disappointing outcome. I feel desperately sorry for the workforce and their families who have endured months of uncertainty only for the sale to collapse once again. Right up until late last week everything looked on track. When it became clear that last Friday’s deadline was not going to be met we worked through the night to persuade Murphy to keep talking to the buyer. They showed a lot of good will by once again extending their deadlines but clearly now have taken a view that there is no chance of completion within an acceptable timeframe.

“I am grateful for the enormous efforts made by the Energy Secretary and the First Minister over the weekend in trying to keep the deal moving forward. I genuinely don’t believe there is anything more that could have been done from the UK or Welsh government side to hold this together.

“We all now need to focus on how we minimise the significant economic impact the closure will have on our County. Both the UK and Welsh government will shortly outline a package of measures to help those affected. I am committed to working closely with them to ensure that those losing their jobs get the right support at this time.

I will be holding an open surgery from 12.30pm this Friday at Cedar Court, Milford Haven for Murco employees and families affected to discuss the situation. For further information: Contact my office on 01437 767555.

22.29 HRS

Labour’s Paull Miller has said “Tonight’s announcement is a hammer blow for those working at Murco and for their families. My father and both my brothers have worked on the site over the last 30 years, one brother still does. I know first hand just how devastating this news is for my family and it will be exactly the same for countless families from right across Pembrokeshire.”

22.32 HRS

Economy Minster Edwina Hart has told The Herald: “This is a devastating blow to staff at the Murco refinery and companies within the refinery’s supply chain, as well as the local communities around Milford Haven.”

22.36 HRS

Stephen Crabb MP just tweeted: “Incredibly disappointing news about Murco refinery tonight. Desperately sorry for workforce & their families – endured months of uncertainty”

22.42 HRS

Wales Office minister Baroness Randerson said: “This is extremely disappointing news for the workforce at Murco and their families.

22.45 HRS

Cllr Jon Nutting from the Pembrokeshire Alliance Group contacted The Herald saying: “This is a very sad day for Pembrokeshire and the people who will be directly affected.”

“I hope we are not going to find out down the line that eyes were not taken off the ball. I find it hard to understand that a deal supposedly done and dusted could fall through at such a late hour.”

“This is not the time for those with political power to sit on their hands. We have to try our best to see this as an opportunity, a time to invest not just money in our economy but time and effort. Time for Westminster and Cardiff bay to walk the walk and sort this out. Let’s see if PCC can do anything positive. The worst thing for Pembrokeshire will be if they all wait for someone else to get things moving. Let’s see who is capable of taking up the batten.”

22.52 HRS

Economy Minster Edwina Hart has said in a further statement to the press: “This news is especially disappointing as the Welsh Government did everything we could to support the success of this deal. Working with close co-operation from UK Government departments Welsh Government officials have been fully engaged with both parties at the highest levels for many months to try to secure the ongoing operation of the refinery and protect the jobs at the Milford Haven site.

“Our support for the Murco plant and its staff will not stop here. We have been working with the management at Murco since 2010 to try to maximise the opportunities for the sale of the refinery. In April, I established a task force to marshal support from high level stakeholders for the maintenance of refinery operations at the site for the future. The work of this task force will carry on to maximise the opportunities for employment at the site.

“We will of course all continue to work tirelessly with Murco management to maximise the opportunities for employment at the site, ensure the ongoing viability of the terminal and assist to find a new owner. Workers seeking retraining and employment will receive support through React and we will assist supply chain companies to create and explore new markets and opportunities through Business Wales.”

22.52 HRS 

Stephen Crabb MP tweeting: “Grateful to UK & Welsh Govs for all their efforts to keep Murco refinery deal alive.The closure will be a huge blow to West Wales economy.”

23.01 HRS 

Full statement from Wales Office minister Baroness Randerson: “This is extremely disappointing news for the workforce at Murco and their families. Both the UK and Welsh Government have worked tirelessly throughout this process to try to secure the future of the refinery and it is regrettable that ultimately a buyer has not been able to reach a deal with Murphy Oil. Supporting the staff at Murco is now our immediate concern and we stand ready to assist in any way we can.”

10.10 HRS Wednesday

Delyth Evans, Labour Parliamentary Candidate for South Pembrokeshire told The Herald: “This is a very severe blow to the Murco workforce and their families as well as to the supply chain and the wider community.  I welcome the statement by Welsh Government Minister Edwina Hart that the support provided up till now will not stop here.  Firstly it is essential that every effort is made by Murco, the Welsh and UK Governments to retain as many jobs as possible within the facility and to minimise redundancies.  Secondly, a comprehensive package of support must be provided to those who lose their jobs, and I expect to see the UK and Welsh Governments working together on this.  And thirdly, everything possible must be done to promote and develop the Haven Enterprise Zone as a fantastic place for energy-related businesses to invest with its natural deep water, excellent facilities and the availability of a highly skilled workforce.  There is huge potential in the area to develop the energy technologies we will need for the future, and we must take every opportunity to tell companies in the UK and across the world what Pembrokeshire has to offer.”

 10.22 HRS Wednesday

Alan Card, Union Convener, said: “We are already in talks with both Westminster and the Welsh Assembly Government. Our Regional Secretary is meeting later today with Edwina Hart to look at reforming the task-force. This is a massive blow, not only for Pembrokeshire but also for the whole Welsh economy as the refinery contributes 17% of Wales’ domestic product. I am travelling to Milford Haven today to meet with members and to try and clarify the situation.”

10.26 HRS Wednesday

Commenting on the collapse of a deal to save the Murco oil refinery in Milford Haven, William Graham AM, Shadow Minister for Business, said:  “My thoughts are with workers at Murco and their families as well as all those businesses who are involved in the oil refinery supply chain.

“This terrible news is a body blow for the West Wales economy and will leave thousands of highly skilled workers facing uncertainty as we approach Christmas. I’m sure that both the UK and Welsh Governments will wish to provide as much support as possible to the local community to support families who have lost their source of income.”

Paul Davies, Assembly Member for Preseli Pembrokeshire, said, “I am very upset to hear that this deal has fallen through, with devastating implications for so many Pembrokeshire families. This dire news will leave many Pembrokeshire businesses which were involved in the supply chain with significantly reduced orders and could result in many further job losses.

“I will be doing everything I can to ensure that Pembrokeshire workers affected by this oil refinery closure will receive every possible support to enable them to find new employment.”

10.35 HRS Wednesday

Following the failure of the sale of the Murco oil refinery in Milford Haven, Pembrokeshire County Council has this morning been in contact with the Welsh Government to help reconvene the Murco Task Force, the Authority said in a statement

The high-level body was originally set up by the Welsh Government to support the refinery’s parent company, Murphy Oil, to find a buyer.

The Council is also liaising with other agencies, such as Job Centre Plus and Pembrokeshire College, as well as its own Futureworks/Workways teams in order to offer as much assistance as possible to the refinery employees and the supply chain companies.

Council Leader, Council Jamie Adams, said the announcement by Murphy Oil was “devastating news” for the workforce and their families, especially as the sale of the refinery seemed to have been agreed earlier this summer.

“We will be doing everything we can to soften the blow for the individuals affected,” he added.

11.21 HRS Wednesday

Local Assembly Member Paul Davies has expressed his disappointment that a deal to sell Murco oil refinery in Milford Haven has fallen through.

Mr Davies said, “This is a very sad day for the people of Pembrokeshire and my heart goes out to the workers at the refinery and their families. This is bitterly disappointing news. The refinery employs 400 people, all of whom will need support to find alternative employment. The collapse of this sale is a huge blow to the Pembrokeshire economy and sadly, this may take years for the County to recover.”

He added, “I understand that both the UK and Welsh Governments worked together on this matter and unfortunately, in the end they were not successful. However, both Governments must continue to work collaboratively to secure the refinery’s future. In the meantime, support must be made available to the workers and their families, who now face a bleak period of uncertainty in the run up to Christmas.”

11.24 HRS Wednesday

Pembrokeshire Councillor Ken Rowlands said: “This is devastating news for our communities. My heart goes out to all the families who will be affected. It is a huge disappointment to everyone , when we believed  that a solution had been found at last. Both the Westminster Government and the Welsh Government must do their utmost to alleviate the problems in any way they can during these times of austerity.  This collapse of the negotiations couldn’t have happened at a worse time.”

 11.26 HRS Wednesday

Plaid Cymru AM for Mid and West Wales, Simon Thomas has reacted to the news that hundreds of jobs are under threat in Pembrokeshire as a proposed deal to buy an oil refinery has collapsed. Simon Thomas AM described the news as devastating for employees, their families and the local community.

The Party of Wales Mid and West AM Simon Thomas said: “This is devastating news for employees of the Murco refinery and for their families and I send my deepest sympathies to them. The future looks uncertain for them and I expect the Welsh Government to offer them every support as they move forward.

“The impact of the closure will also be felt in the wider Welsh economy. Milford Haven is an important economic hub and we need to work to make it an attractive location for new businesses to invest with new technologies. Wales is an energy-rich country and can be a world leader again. Milford Haven already has a highly skilled workforce, and the Welsh Government now needs to work to ensure that these skills can unlock new employment opportunities for the workforce at Murco.”

12.04 HRS Wednesday

Local AM, Rebecca Evans said: “This is extremely sad news for workforce at the Murco refinery, and for the local businesses which rely on the refinery for their viability. I know that the Welsh Government pulled out all the stops to try and secure a sale and protect jobs at the site, and I pay tribute to everyone who has worked so hard over many months to try and find a good outcome. I have already asked the Minister to explore what help can be offered to affected workers – for example, via the Welsh Government’s React scheme.”

12.17 HRS Wednesday

Simon Hart MP said: “This is very sad news for everyone involved, especially given that a deal was so close to being signed. To be let down at the 11th hour must be particularly painful.  I know that our County will make every effort to help those affected by this news”

14.25 HRS Wednesday

Edwina Hart MBE CStJ AM, Minister for Economy, Science and Transport has made an Oral Statement at the Welsh Assembly:

Edwina Hart said: “Members will wish to note that efforts by Murphy Oil Corporation to sell the Milford Haven refinery, as a going concern to a third party, have unfortunately proved unsuccessful, following the collapse of negotiations with the Klesch Group, late last night.”

 
“This is a deeply unsettling time for the company, its employees, their families and the wider community in Pembrokeshire.  The Milford Haven refinery has been integral to the fabric of the oil and gas infrastructure in Wales and the Welsh economy for many years, providing for a significant number of high value, high skilled employment  opportunities.
Since 2010, we have been working with Murphy Oil Corporation to maximise the chance of a sale of the refinery as a going concern to a potential third party investor, following a decision by the Board to exit the refining sector in the UK.”
 
“We have been working with the UK Government to support this deal between Murphy oil and the Klesch Group. While the detail of that support is obviously commercially confidential, I can assure Members that every possible route has been explored to make this deal happen.”
 
“I understand that Murphy Oil Corporation will now proceed to convert the site into an oil import terminal and which is likely to result in a number of redundancies at the site. We will all continue to work tirelessly with the company management to maximise the opportunities for employment at the site, ensure the ongoing viability of the terminal and assist to find a new owner for the operation.”
 
“We will of course be assisting any of the workforce in Wales facing redundancy with ReAct support and advice and, continue to work with the company and third party partners to explore all options for maintaining the high value highly skilled jobs in the area.”
 
“In April,  I established the MURCO task force to marshal support from high level stakeholders to support the company and I have therefore asked the MURCO refinery Taskforce to continue that work to maximise the opportunities for employment at the site.”
 
“As a Government, we are determined to do all that we can to support the employer, its workforce and those in the local supply chain, I am therefore strengthening the presence of  Business Wales  in the area to ensure that we provide support and advice for those local businesses that are affected by the closure  to explore new markets and those wishing to set up in business.”
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Approval recommended for dockyard plans

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A CONTROVERSIAL plan to develop part of Pembroke Dock’s Royal Dockyard comes before the County Council’s Planning Committee next week.

Despite many objections from heritage organisations, Council planning officers recommend the development’s approval.

However, the Planning Committee will only indicate whether it is ‘minded to approve’ the proposal instead of giving it the go-ahead.

The Welsh Government has called in the application for decision by the next Welsh Government minister responsible for planning and infrastructure developments.

That means the Welsh Government will consider the Report presented to the Committee and weigh it against the objections received.

HERITAGE ASSETS VERSUSECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT

The application is to develop a brownfield site within the former Royal Dockyard.

It seeks outline planning permission for the demolition or part demolition and infill of various buildings and structures, modification of existing slipways, erection of buildings and ancillary development. 

The development is intended for port-related activities, including the manufacture of marine energy devices, boat manufacture, repair and erection of plant.

The application is for outline planning permission. All matters relating to access, appearance, landscaping, layout, and scale are reserved for consideration as part of reserved matters applications. In practice, as many councils – including Pembrokeshire – have discovered, once outline planning is granted, reserved applications tend to proceed despite potential negative impacts.

A similar situation arose with Milford Haven Port Authority’s hotel development at Milford Marina, where councillors’ concerns were largely overruled by the existence of outline planning permission for the development.

Part of the proposal would see the former graving dock and timber pond infilled, the part demolition of existing slipways, and some buildings on site.

Both the graving dock and timber pond are Grade II listed. Buildings near the development are also listed, including the iconic Sunderland flying boat hangars.

The existing caisson gate currently in situ at the dock’s southern end would be removed and conserved. It is unique in Wales and a rare example. The planning report states that the caisson gate would remain within the marine environment without development and deteriorate. 

The development would include a new ‘super slipway’ built over the land extending into the River Cleddau and the construction of massive new industrial sheds to accommodate new marine technology.

JOBS AND THE CITY DEAL

The planning report claims the facilities erected will support anywhere between 288 and 975 full-time equivalent jobs in Pembrokeshire and make a substantial contribution to the local economy. However, the report also notes that the numbers of jobs claimed cannot be corroborated.

This proposal is linked to the establishment of the Marine Energy Test Areas (META), the Marine Energy Engineering Centre of Excellence (MEECE) and the Pembrokeshire Demonstration Zone (PDZ). These collectively comprise the Pembroke Dock Marine (PDM) project. 

The project forms part of the Swansea Bay City Deal to facilitate the next generation of marine renewable energy technology.

Companies who could potentially gain from the development have signalled their support from the proposal.Although their enthusiasm is predictable, the economic potential for local businesses cannot be ignored.

DOCKYARD ESSENTIAL TO TOWN’S EXISTENCE

However, a raft of objections also exists.

The Council received representations from, among others: The Victorian Society; The Georgian Group; Hywel Dda University Health Board;  Pembroke Dock Heritage Centre; Pembrokeshire Historic Buildings Trust; Pembroke Civic Trust; Naval Dockyards Society; The Commodore Trust; Ridgway History Group.

Not all of those organisations objected to the principle of development. For example, Hywel Dda expressed concern about the potential effect on access to South Pembs Hospital and patient care. However, most criticised the impact on the historic environment of the Royal Dockyard. Individual objections also expressed the same concerns.

The Naval Dockyard Society points out that the Dockyard construction was the reason for Pembroke Dock’s creation as a town. Without it, the town would not exist.

The Society continues: ‘The proposed scheme would severely damage Pembroke Dock Conservation Area and crucial listed buildings. 

‘The Grade II* Graving Dock would be infilled and partially built over, the Grade II Timber Pond infilled and built over, and the Grade II Building Slips Nos 1 and 2 partially demolished and removed. It would also be detrimental to the adjacent Grade II Carr Jetty setting, which adds to the group value of these threatened structures at Pembroke Dockyard.

‘These structures are the last and most important features of the magnificent and unique assemblage of thirteen slips, graving dock and timber pond constructed and functioning 1809–1926. 

‘Pembroke Dock specialised in building warships during the transition from wood to iron and steel, sail to steam and turbines. 

‘While the eastern slips were sacrificed in 1979 for the Irish ferry terminal and the deep-water berth Quay 1, we now live in a more responsible era, when significant community assets merit planning protection.

‘The Royal Dockyard established at Pembroke Dock from 1809 was unique: the only one in Wales, the only one on the west coast of Britain, and the only one created solely as a shipbuilding facility. 

‘It built over 260 warships for the Royal Navy, including many of the most prestigious warships of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, as well as five royal yachts. Many of these vessels were built on the two large slipways at the western end of the yard threatened by the current development proposal’.

THE COMMUNITY’S VIEW

William Gannon represents Pembroke Dock Town Council on the Milford Haven Port Authority. Mr Gannon recently hosted an online event that reviewed the application and gave local people the chance to express their views.

We asked him what the public had to say about the plans.

Listening to the community: David Gannon (photo credit: David Steel)

William Gannon told us: “The feeling of the Community following our Zoom Meeting was that we welcome the 1800 jobs and the £63 Million of investment that the Pembroke Dock Marine Project has promised. 

“However, the Community is concerned about the Pickling Pond and The Graving Dock’s loss, which will be buried beneath the new slipway. Both The Pickling Pond and The Graving Dock are Grade 2 Star listed heritage assets.

“The Community are also concerned about the size of the two ‘super sheds’ that may be built. It is felt that these sheds are both too large and ugly, and they will damage the appearance of the Dockyard and The Haven and could damage Pembroke Docks plans to develop Tourism in and around the Dockyard.

“Our Community is looking to strike a balance between the need to develop the Dockyard and to preserve our Heritage Assets. 

“We believe that we can do this by working with The Port to develop a solution that allows for both.”

The Port Authority plans to infill the dock and pond in such a way as to preserve the structures and excavate them in the future. Once they are built over, however, the circumstances that would be possible or even likely are unclear. 

The Port Authority also proposes to use digital media to provide an ‘augmented reality’ experience to show visitors what the Royal Dockyard looked like before its development.

The Port says that part of the land, the Carriage Drive, would be enhanced and restored under its plans for the site.
The balance between preserving heritage and creating future jobs in one of its pet project areas is one the Welsh Government will wrestle with on this application and others.

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Primary school teacher would ‘moan’ as he touched female pupils, court hears

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A HAVERFORDWEST primary school teacher would “moan” while he touched his female pupils in a sexual way, a witness said in Swansea Crown Court.

In total, 11 former pupils, who were all under 13, have come forward and accused James Oulton, 34, of sexually assaulting them.

Oulton denies all the charges – saying the case was a “witch-hunt” and that he had behaved appropriately all times.

One of the pupils, who was in year four at the time, opened day four of the trial by giving evidence via a video link.

The girl told the court: “He would put his arm around by back and backside.”

Under cross examination Chris Clee QC, for the defence, asked the witness: “Did you tell the police that you were touched in an inappropriate way?”

The witness answered: “Yes, teachers should not be touching in that way.”

James Oulton

Asked if what he was doing wrong, the witness replied:

“Yes, very wrong”

In cross examination letters and cards were produced, made the witness whilst in school, where she had said Mr. James Oulton was “the best teacher in the whole world.”

One of the cards said: “You’ve made my life complete”.

Another card said: “Thank you for being so nice, and thanks for everything that you’ve done for me.”

The witness added: “Despite what he did do, he was a good teacher.  

“He used to buy us treats.

“He was nice caring and a sweet and fun teacher – but not what he was doing.

Referring to the cards, she said: “I would definitely not be saying that stuff now.”

Explaining how she told her parents the witness said: “Once I realised that [x] was in his class, I asked her ‘did he do this stuff to you?’

“She said yes.

“I realised more and more it was wrong and it was time to grow up now, and to speak.

“As soon as I found out that this was happening to [x] I stood up and told my parents.

Asked if she had seen inappropriate behaviour happening to anybody else the witness answered: “He did it to most of the girls in the class, but he had his favourites.

Asked if she had spoken to other girls about the touching, the witness said: “Yes, I was just curious was it just me, or was it normal?”

“Teachers should most definitely not be doing that to students.

“Doing what?”, the witness was asked, “You said in your police interview that he would pull you off your chair and make you sit on his lap, is that true?”

“Yes,” was the reply.

“Did you try and stop him?” she was asked.

“Yes, I tried to push him off sometimes and said, ‘get off its weird’, but I didn’t want to make a scene.

“He would make me sit on his lap whilst he was marking my work.”

When asked by the defence barrister how she was sat on her teacher’s lap, and if it was under a desk, the witness answered: “No, not under the desk, as both of our legs wouldn’t fit under.”

The witness also said that when she was sat on the defendant’s knee he would make “a low grunting noise.”

Asked if she had spoken others about this case, the girl said: “Police told my mum and dad that there were very many people involved in the case.

“I thought it was just me and [x] that was going to be at court, I only recently discovered that others had come out.”

A second female pupil was also giving evidence via video link. She was 9-years-old at the time of the alleged offending.

Firstly, a pre-recorded interview was played in court in which the witness said: “My teacher, Mr. Oulton always put his hand up my leg like that and up my t-shirt.”

She added: “If he calls you over and he pulls you onto his lap, if you don’t, he pulls your chair over and makes you.”

“How would he make you?” the QC asked.

“He would grab your arm, push you, and then pull you in”, she replied.

When asked if this was a one off, the witness said that the defendant “did it every day.”

“How would you be sat on his lap?”, she was asked.

“He would have one arm on my stomach, then the other arm would be rubbing my leg.”

“He would swap arms and then put one arm up my t-shirt.”

When asked to clarify if it was under her t-shirt the girl explained: “Yes it was under my t-shirt rubbing his hands up and down.”

The witness added: “If I tried to get up for work, he would just grab my arm.”

“He would make a funny sound like a hissing airplane.”

“We had a helper in the class, and when he came in, he would stop, and then I could go and sit down.”

The trial continues.

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New trees planted to help town

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SEVERAL new trees have been planted on Riverside Avenue in Neyland.

They were planted by Grandiflora, courtesy of the Town Council which recently pledged to plant more trees in the town in an attempt to help the environment.

As well as helping the environment, the trees will prevent vehicles from being parked on the grass verges on Riverside Avenue, which had been severely churned up over the winter and looked unsightly.

The Town Council will be working with Pembrokeshire County Council regarding parking issues in Neyland.

The trees will be tended and watered over the summer period to ensure they reach their maximum potential and enhance the area for residents and visitors alike.

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