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Fears bus network could drop by a quarter

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bus networkMANAGERS claim the Welsh bus network could reduce by a quarter in the next few months, with deprived and rural communities hardest hit.

Councils are already warning they have no money to rescue services which bus operators will halt if the Welsh Government goes ahead with a planned 37% cut in its payments for each passenger carried under the free travel scheme.

Swansea-based First Cymru, one of Wales’ biggest bus operators, said it would have to look at reducing its services by 25% to 30% if the Welsh Government decides to reduce the concessionary reimbursement from 73.59% of the average fare to just 46% from April 1.

The proposed cut follows a 25% drop in grants to bus operators and councils over the last two years, resulting in First Cymru reducing many services in the greater Swansea area.Stagecoach South Wales – the main operator in the deprived Heads of the Valleys region – said the company had applied the future 46% reimbursement rate to its costing model.

“The end result would be that we would be operating 25% less on commercial routes from the end of March than we are currently doing,” said managing director John Gould.

Commercial routes are ones which operate without subsidy, other than a long-standing partial rebate on fuel duty. Stagecoach also operates many services on behalf of councils, for prices which presumed continuation of the reimbursement rate which has always applied since the free travel scheme began in 2002.

“As far as tendered services go, that’s subject to us going to each local authority and negotiating with them,” said Mr Gould.

Legal challenges to the cut are likely, because the law requires the government to reimburse operators by an amount that leaves them no better or worse off than they would be if the scheme did not exist.

However, the Welsh Government did not mention the 37% cut to operators until October, more than six months after the bus industry asked to start negotiations over the scheme’s future. That now leaves too little time for legal challenges to be resolved before the deadline when bus companies must notify the Traffic Commissioner and local authorities of the service cuts they will make by 1 April.

A Welsh Government spokesman said:

“We are currently in negotiation with bus operators and local authorities on the terms for concessionary bus travel reimbursement for 2014-15. No decisions have yet been taken.”

First Cymru’s main services in south Pembrokeshire – linking Haverfordwest to Milford Haven and Tenby – are now in the firing line, because high proportions of the passengers are pensioners on free passes. This means the 37% cut in reimbursement would tip those services into the red.

“Many of the places that have a problem are going to be the more remote communities and more deprived communities,” said Justin Davies, managing director of First Cymru.

“That just seems weird to me. I wouldn’t have thought that’s what the Welsh Government wants.

“We will be handing back tendered services to local authorities, because when we bid we took the revenue risk. The pensioner will still be turning up at the side of the road but they will be worth a lot less in reimbursement. We will say to the local authorities, ‘We can’t do this any more’ but they’re already reducing services anyway.”

The Association of Transport Coordinating Officers Cymru, representing council officers, warned that town halls were unlikely to increase bus spending.

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Police confirm firefighter died in Neyland boat collision

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DYFED-POWYS POLICE attended Neyland Marina, Milford Haven following reports of a collision on the waterway at around 11:30am on Tuesday, (Sept 17).

A spokesman told The Herald: “We can confirm a 35-year-old serving Mid and West Wales Fire and Rescue Service Firefighter tragically lost his life during the incident, in which two boats collided.

“Next of kin have been informed and are being supported by specialist officers. Specialist teams from both the fire and rescue service and police were also on scene supporting witnesses.

“We have informed the Marine Accident Investigation Board and will be working with them to establish what happened here today.

“Our thoughts go out to the family of the deceased and to his colleagues at Mid and West Wales Fire and Rescue Service.”

Deputy Mayor of Neyland, Cllr Dr Simon Hancock said: “I extend my deepest condolences to the family of the young man who so tragically died in the accident this morning. I know the whole town will join me in sending them to his family.

“We acknowledge the remarkable professionalism of the emergency and rescue services who responded to this very sad incident.’

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Crown court to sentence Pembroke Dock paedophile

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A 46-YEAR-OLD man who pleaded guilty to being in possession of over 6,500 indecent ‘real photographs’ of children, has been sent to Swansea Crown Court for sentencing by Haverfordwest magistrates.

Brett Johnson of Finch Close, first appeared before magistrates at Haverfordwest Law Court on August 27, and appeared again before the court on Monday (Sept 16) following a pre-sentence report made by the probation service.

Johnson pleaded guilty at the first court hearing to a charge of downloading one indecent image of a child between March 30, 2009, and June 28, 2018, and pleaded guilty to a second charge of downloading 6,570 indecent images of children between June 30, 2005, and June 28, 2018.

Prosecuting at the first hearing, Mr Vaughan Pritchard-Jones told the Court that the reason for the long dates related to when he owned various computers.

Magistrates at Haverfordwest on Monday (Sept 16) decided to decline jurisdiction and sent the case to be dealt with at Swansea Crown Court on October 4 at 10am. Johnson was released on unconditional bail.

Magistrates made no direction under section 45 of the Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act 1999.

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Glebelands Fun Day A Hit

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A FUN DAY at Glebelands play park in Hakin on Saturday (Sept 14) to garner support to further develop the facility, has been hailed a success.

The prime movers behind the community-led event were two local residents, Richard Nicholas and Wayne Richards.

“As well as trying to raise the profile of the park, the aim of the fun day was to get other local residents involved in setting up a community group to move the project forward,” explained Richard.

“I’m pleased to say there was a lot of interest in forming a group and we also had some great feedback on what play equipment should be installed. There was a clear view that people want the park back to being a safe, clean area where children can play.

Working with Richard and Wayne, to organise the community-led fun day were Pembrokeshire County Council and the Invest Local organisation.

The County Councillor for Hubberston, Viv Stoddart, who attended the event, said: “It was an amazing day – a perfect example of the community coming together to host an afternoon of fun for all the family. There was something for all to enjoy – and enjoy they did, with lots of smiley faces from everyone.

If Saturday’s event is a guide, it was evident there is enthusiasm in the community to transform the play park into an up-to-date facility. I wish them well, and will give all the support I can to see the playground become a truly family fun place for all.”

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