Hopes of a dream life in a beautiful spot in rural Wales have soured for a group of residents whose community has been left with crumbling utilities.
People living in chalets overlooking the Dyfi Estuary in a residential and holiday estate have been left living in conditions they compare to the third world.
Their beautiful part estate, where the estuary is alive with the sounds of birds and owls, lacks fundamental sanitation which forces them to drive six miles for drinking water.
For a while raw sewage seeped down a hillside at the Plas Panteidal estate, North Wales Live reports.
Charlie Evans, Welsh Conservative candidate for Dwyfor Meirionnydd at the next Senedd election, has accused former site owners Trehaven Leisure Ltd of allowing it to go into disrepair.
Philip Muddiman, director of Trehaven Leisure Ltd until it was dissolved, blamed a small cabal of residents for spreading discord, accusing them of not paying site maintenance fees.
Meanwhile the residents, some of whom have formed the Plas Panteidal Association (PPA), are now so desperate for proper amenities, they are willing to pay more than £1 million out of their own pockets to fix the problems.
For the past decade residents have been forced to travel three miles to Aberdyfi to stock up on bottles of water after the local water supply was branded unfit for drinking.
One resident now collects drinking water from his roof gutter, and everyone is forced to shower using spring water tainted by sheep and cattle muck from a muddy farm field.
Until the site’s faulty sewage treatment plant was fixed, human waste flowed down a hillside, across the busy A493 and into the Dyfi estuary.
Even now its aeration pumps are not working.
Video: The problems residents face
Moreover, couriers refuse to deliver to the estate due to the pot-holes and rubble along its steep and windy access road.
“When I first moved here 20 years ago it was an absolutely lovely place to live with a growing and thriving community,” said Brian Kelly, an Aberdyfi community councillor.
“It now looks run down, the utilities are falling into dereliction and people here are getting desperate.
“Our biggest worry is if Covid reaches us and we have to self isolate – it will make fetching water very difficult.
“We would have to rely on neighbours bringing it to us – or even having to mail order it to the estate.”
Some residents buy bottles of water as part of their week shop. Others drive to Neuadd Aberdyfi village hall where, for a token fee, they are permitted to fill plastic bottles from an outside tap.
Jon Starbuck fills his two-litre bottles (“the type you buy Coca Cola in”) at a friend’s house in the village once a fortnight.
He has almost 40 of them, neatly stacked on shelves in his bedroom, waiting to be used and replenished. To say it is inconvenient is to massively understate the frustration he feels.
“It takes me an hour or two to take them to my friend’s house, fill them up and re-stack them in the bedroom,” said Mr Starbuck, 48, a lab technician at the local high school.
“I don’t ever regret buying a home here – it is a lovely place to live. I just wish the problems could be sorted. I don’t understand how things were allowed to get to this stage, how we as a community have been allowed to slip through the legislative cracks.”
Plas Panteidal has 92 properties, of which around three quarters are privately owned. Until September the rest belonged to Trehaven Leisure Ltd, which has run the site for the last 30 years.
In that time many of the original wooden chalets have been replaced by bungalows.
Around two thirds of the housing stock are holiday lets or kept as second homes, leaving 35 permanent residents living in about 30 homes.
Over the past decade a number of private homeowners have battled to force Trehaven Leisure Ltd to upgrade the site’s amenities.
Despite being asked to pay £600-a-year in maintenance fees, they endured conditions that one holiday review site described as a “reminiscent of a building site” with an “overpowering smell of animals”.
Trehaven Leisure Ltd went into voluntary liquidation last summer.
The PPA has since offered to form a not-for-profit management company to take over the running of the estate.
Mindful of the enormous costs of remedial work, it submitted a bid for £1 to liquidators KJ Watkin & Co.
Cllr Kelly, who chairs the PPA, did not expect anyone else to be interested.
Any new owner will have to take on six public health charges issued by Gwynedd Council for breaches in water supply regulations.
A further three charges have been levied by Natural Resources Wales for unauthorised discharges from the sewerage treatment plant.
Then there’s more than £70,000 of unpaid electricity bills owed to Scottish Power, and at least £43,000 in legal costs.
And that’s before the £1.19m remedial costs are factored in for new water and sewerage plants, new water storage tanks and an upgraded access road.
“That doesn’t make it look like an attractive proposition to any buyer,” said Cllr Kelly, who travels to Aberdyfi twice weekly to load his car boot up with five-litre bottles of drinking water.
“Except of course to the residents with their vested interest in living there safely.”
Much to the amazement of residents, other “interested parties” are said to be in the mix to acquire the site.
“They’d have to be mad to want to take this place over with all its liabilities,” said Helen Sandler, 53.
The freelance editor moved to Plas Panteidal nine years ago with partner Jane Hoy, 72, a retired adult education lecturer from London.
Lured by the area’s wild beauty, Jane had sunk her pension pot into a chalet. Within two years they were on the move again, to nearby Pennal, after Jane developed an auto-immune condition.
“It was a shame as it was a beautiful place I could not cope with the pressure of living there, worrying if the electricity would be cut off,” she said.
Instead they rented the chalet for holiday and long-term lets: current tenant is a young woman for whom the downsides are counterbalanced by the stunning views.
“Holiday lets are virtually impossible now,” said Jane.
“I wouldn’t want any come-back if any of my visitors fell ill and I think that’s true of many others on the estate.
“All of us are losing rental income which would otherwise be spent in the local area.”
Specialists were hired by the PPA to assess the work that needed doing should the Association succeed with its ownership bid.
They refused to inspect the site’s metal water storage tanks as they were too rusty, liable to collapse and simply too dangerous.
The estate’s water supply originates from a mountain spring below an excrement-covered farm field.
“The water is collected in a plastic bucket that’s a bit like a livestock trough,” said Mr Starbuck.
“A big hose has been chucked in which runs through a field to water storage tanks.
“Often the hose gets blocked, so someone has to trudge up the hill, cut the pipe and remove the blockage with drain pipes. The pipe is then patched up again.
“This happens regularly but particularly after storms when all sorts of rubbish comes down the hill.
“In summer the spring often dries up and we can be left without any water for weeks.”
According to Mr Starbuck, the local electricity grid is close to failure. Wooden junction boxes are rotting away, wires are running through branches and live cables have been exposed to the elements.
“Every day I’m half expecting power to be cut to the estate,” he said.
For much of the past decade public health officials at Gwynedd Council have decreed no one on the estate should use the water for drinking, for brushing teeth, preparing food or cleaning open wounds.
Instead the water is used only for showers and flushing toilets.
“Tap water, when we have it at all, is confirmed to be contaminated with E-coli and cryptosporidium”, said Cllr Kelly, a retired electronics and IT specialist.
“The “not fit for consumption or food preparation” notice has now been in place for more than five years.”
When Larry and Jane Simpkin moved to the estate in 2015, they did so in blissful ignorance.
Soon they had neighbours banging on their door, warning them not to drink the tap water.
“It was a bit of a shock,” said Larry, 65, who retired from the NHS as an advanced medical technician.
The couple have tried to make the most of it but they admit to sleepless nights and bouts of anxiety as they contemplate the fragility of their retirement dream.
Once a week they head to Neuadd Aberdyfi to fill up their five-litre bottles.
They have seven of them, stored in a garden shed overseen by Jane, a retired NHS receptionist and health care worker.
Larry said the process is “degrading”. “People walk past as we’re refilling the bottles,” he said.
“They give you a look as if to say, “what on earth are you doing?” It’s a very strange feeling.
“Sometimes I feel as though we’re living in a Third World country.
“It’s like those adverts you see on TV with charities asking for donations for drinking water projects in African villages: while I realise we’re much better off than them, we have been fetching water for years and we are supposed to be living in a civilised country.
“We are like a forgotten community – no one wants to put it right.”
Council officers, MPs and Senedd Members have all visited the site but the impasse remains.
The latest to pick up the cudgels is Charlie Evans, the Senedd Tory candidate for Dwyfor Meirionnydd, who pledged to push the residents’ case with the liquidators.
“Everyone has the right to a home with drinking water, decent access and to have maintenance issues promptly dealt with,” he said.
“The site is valued at minus £1.19m, so it seems unlikely that it will attract bids from other businesses.
“The community has offered to take over the site’s management and is looking to resolve the problems, including taking on the public health charges.
“Run by residents, not for profit…. what is there not to like?”
According to Philip Muddiman, the former director of Trehaven Leisure Ltd, some residents on the estate had taken exception to their site agreements and had spread disharmony among others.
He said site maintenance fees had not been paid by two-thirds of residents for at least five years.
Instead they have been redirecting fees to a holding fund held by their solicitors for future use, claiming services were being neglected.
Mr Muddiman said he felt “sorry” for those residents who carried on paying their fees.
“They are up the creek without a paddle at the moment,” he said.
“There was a simple answer to all this – if everyone had paid the fees, the services would not have deteriorated.
“I feel sorry for those people who did pay but who were not getting proper water and sewage services.”
Mr Muddiman said that, by the time Trehaven was dissolved, the site sewage plant was in the best shape it had been since it was built.
“Unfortunately this became a personal issue for some residents who signed their site agreements and then wanted to have their own way,” he added.
“They must be laughing now.
“If only they had paid their fees, the estate would be absolutely beautiful now.”
Gwynedd Council said its public protection service is aware of the situation at Plas Panteidal and has taken enforcement action in the past.
A spokesman added: “We are currently considering what additional steps could possibly be taken to resolve the matter.”
Chris Moore from liquidator KJ Watkin & Co was approached for comment.