Nuclear mystery as secret owner is chosen to take over weapons site

Enigmatic bid to buy Navy depot sparks speculation
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The Independent Online
A company which has never filed any accounts, which has no telephone number, and which gives an address in a mansion block near Baker Street underground station in London, has been selected as the "preferred contractor" to take over the thousand-acre site of a former naval weapons depot in South Wales worth an estimated pounds 1.5m.

Mystery has surrounded the site since an earlier attempt to sell it collapsed last year. The decision, and the complete anonymity of the preferred contractor have provoked an outcry in the local area, where male unemployment is 19 per cent, and among other companies interested in the site.

The former Royal Navy Armaments depot at Trecwn, near Fishguard, comprises a curving valley with 58 tunnels running deep into the forested hills on either side. Each chamber, built to store munitions, has a volume of between 3,000 and 6,000 cubic metres and most are served by narrow- gauge railway lines, linked to the main rail network.

The glossy brochure produced by the Defence Estate Organisation describes the site as an "extensive property suitable for a variety of uses, subject to planning". The mystery over its fate has provoked speculation that it is to be used to store nuclear waste or as part of a top-secret government project.

Earl Howe, the junior Defence minister, wrote to Cynog Dafis, Plaid Cymru MP for Pembroke North on 19 March to tell him he had decided that the enigmatic Alexmatic Ltd "should be chosen as preferred purchaser for the site".

Mr Dafis wrote back the next day, saying "your letter contains no information about Alexmatic Ltd, the nature of their activity, the number of jobs they propose to create, and the reason why they have been selected as preferred purchaser".

On Tuesday, following widespread interest, Mr Dafis wrote again. "Alexmatic is a company that was formed in August 1996. They have not yet filed accounts and they do not even have a telephone number. I am looking forward therefore to being provided details of this company and the reason why you place such faith in them to create jobs in Trecwn and bring economic benefit to the area".

"Secondly, I am told that they claim to be able to create 118 jobs over 5 years. However, another company [the Haywood Partnership] claim that they could create 250 jobs over two years. May I ask what examination you made of the credibility of both claims, and why you chose the bidder that offered fewer jobs."

The Ministry of Defence said the successful bidders had chosen not to reveal any details about the company but that it had checked them out, and also that figures behind the company had worked for the MoD before. Alexmatic was formed last August, one month after the collapse of negotiations between the MoD and the previous preferred bidder, PAS Otto. In September 1995 a German company, Invex, offered pounds 1.7m to buy the site. In 1994 the Western Telegraph, the local newspaper, revealed that the former Armed Forces minister, Archie Hamilton, was a director and shareholder of a property company, Crown Ridge industries, which was interested in the site.

The lack of information about Alexmatic has led to speculation that former government ministers or other senior Tories may be involved.

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