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The Herald: Our top 10 stories of 2013

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IT has been exhilarating, exhausting, exasperating and a lot else besides. But here we are at our first Christmas as a new newspaper and it falls to the Assistant Editor to look back at the stories we have covered and the way we have covered them.

Whether it has been jam, Jerusalem or something harder edged we have tried to cover events in Pembrokeshire in our own voice and in our own way. There have been missteps and mistakes along the way, but we have tried to learn from those and get on with reporting real news and the real stories behind them.

We think our readers deserve to be both informed and entertained. We hope they have been both. As for education, we would not presume.

So in order to keep our readers informed and entertained over the Christmas and New Year period we have looked back (guess which column I write) at what we have covered and produced our top ten stories.

10. ‘Disgust’ at historic building sell-off plans.

disgustIT WAS back in our first edition that we led with the story of how Pembrokeshire County Council was looking to rid itself of Barnard’s Tower, Pembroke; Lydstep Palace, Lydstep; the Pater Church Tower, Pembroke Dock. Reaction to the news was a mixture of bemusement and outrage. Local councillors were appalled that they had not been consulted about the planned sell off and questioned who would buy the listed buildings and to what purpose they could be placed by the purchaser. Since placing the properties on the market, the Council has given no indication as to what commercial bids have been received for the properties or who has expressed an interest in acquiring the ancient sites.

With the Council looking to realise a significant amount of its building stock over the next few years, it will be hoping that a kindly buyer will take these buildings off their hands with the minimum of fuss and avoid any further public outcry.

The deadline for expressions of interest in any of the properties is 10th January 2014, so early in the new year we can expect white smoke to billow from the towers of County Hall when the Council announces whether or not it has found a buyer willing to take on Pembrokeshire’s heritage.

Pembrokeshire County Council’s disposal of assets is not, however, limited to its older assets. Currently shown as up for grabs are properties scattered about the County, including 2 Barn Street Haverfordwest (up for auction on 19th February 2014); development land at Clarbeston Road; Pentlepoir school, which is ear-marked for housing development; and Fishguard junior school, with planning for a supermarket.

Not listed as up for grabs, of course, is Haverfordwest Castle. The Council has wisely decided to settle the outstanding battle as to the site’s Town green status while their favoured developer stands by, ready to step in if the Council is successful in overturning local objections.

9. Horse neglect ‘worst ever seen’ says RSPCA officer

worst everA STORY which got a strong reaction from our readers was the conviction of Maenclochog farmer Gwilym Gilmour Thomas for offences of cruelty to animals. Our reporter, James Hemingwray, was in court as a series of graphic and distressing images were shown to demonstrate the extent and gravity of the charges facing Thomas in our October 25 issue.

Prosecutor Jon Tarrant told Haverfordwest Magistrates’ Court that this was the worst case of neglect of horses the RSPCA officer concerned had ever seen. Three horses were discovered in an emaciated and distressed condition, one of which was subsequently put down, another horse had died in the few days before the officer’s visit to the farm.

The farmer was handed a suspended sentence of one year ’s imprisonment, banned from keeping horses for five years and ordered to undertake 300 hours of community work.

8. It’s a “Yes”

yesTHAT is how the Herald broke the news of County Council’s decision to grant planning permission for the construction of a new Sainsbury’s supermarket to the north of Thomas Parry Way, Haverfordwest. The large development is scheduled to include a petrol station and sewage plant. The flagship store is a £30m development in and of itself and the whole plan includes permission for 729 new houses, including 180 ‘affordable’ homes.

In a report prepared by one of the Council’s own officers the meeting was told that it was likely that existing shops in the town centre would close and that the plans conflicted with the policy to protect retail provision in town centres. The massive development, for good or ill, was overwhelmingly endorsed by the planning committee’s members.

7. Neyland’s bumper season

bumper seasonNOT ONE story here, but three: Neyland Cricket Club’s first eleven managed to lift the three premier trophies in Pembrokeshire cricket. A compelling season saw Carew Cricket Club fight its way out of an unaccustomed spot in the relegation places to near the top of the first division table while Neyland swept all in front of them aside to seize the treble. The Duggie Morris Cup, Harrison-Allen Bowl and First Division crowns all fell to Neyland, with Llangwm runners-up in the cup competitions.

Led astutely by skipper Greg Miller, Neyland turned in the type of consistent and tough-minded performances that enabled them to keep going as their challengers flared and then faded as the long cricket season progressed.

Unlike teams who pilfer their talent from clubs around them, the Neyland team is built around players who have developed together and know each other’s games well. It is perhaps this cohesiveness that enabled them to knuckle down in tight finishes and get the maximum reward for their collective efforts.

6. Council’s rubbish plan goes ahead

rubbish planPEMBROKESHIRE County Council’s finally moved to fortnightly collections in respect of domestic waste. The plans met with almost universal disapproval, even as the Council spent £15,000 of council tax-payers’ money publicising their scheme and prayed in aid pressure from Cardiff Bay to hit exacting recycling targets.

While the Council estimated that the plan would save £500,000 a year in costs, it refused a request to consider reimbursing those Council Tax payers who had forked out in advance for the weekly service as part of their annual bills.

Cllr Huw George advised those with a large amount of black bag waste accumulating between fortnightly collections to drive to their nearest civic amenity site and dump their rubbish there.

Our report also contained the statement by Labour party councillors that the situation would be monitored with an expectation that it would be ‘working’ in six months’ time. Bearing in mind the upheaval to collections around the Christmas period, when more household waste will accumulate, we can only wait to see exactly what such monitoring reveals.

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Busy return to Welsh beaches for RNLI lifeguards as the charity urges parents to be beach safe

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RNLI LIFEGUARDS have had a busy return to service in Wales with two lives saved in the opening weeks. Now with further easing of Welsh Government restrictions this weekend, lifeguard teams are expecting the beaches of Wales to get busier again and are urging visitors to take responsibility for their safety.

On Whitesands beach in Pembrokeshire, a female body-boarder was pulled to safety by RNLI lifeguards after she was found separated from her board and struggling to stay above water. Lifeguards at Whitmore Bay saved the life of a swimmer who got into difficulty in the turbulent waters off Nells Point and on Langland Bay, Swansea, RNLI lifeguards have had a busy fortnight dealing with 16 major incidents, coming to the aid of 27 people.

With self-contained holiday accommodation expected to open in Wales from Saturday (11 July), the RNLI and HM Coastguard are today calling for anyone visiting the coast to take extra care and be beach safe this summer.

RNLI lifeguards will be patrolling on 26 beaches in Wales this weekend but lifeguards can’t be everywhere this summer, so the charity is urging beach-goers to be aware of the dangers at the coast, and to know what to do should they or a member of their family get into trouble.

If you can, please visit a life-guarded beach. But wherever you are;

  • Have a plan – check the weather forecast, tide times and read local hazard signage
  • Keep a close eye on your family – on the beach and in the water
  • Don’t allow your family to swim alone
  • Don’t use inflatables
  • If you fall into the water unexpectedly, FLOAT TO LIVE. Fight your instinct to thrash around, lean back, extend your arms and legs, and Float
  • In an emergency dial 999, and ask for the Coastguard
  • Chris Cousens, RNLI Water Safety Lead for Wales, said: ‘We have now got RNLI lifeguards on far more beaches than we originally planned after the easing of lockdown rules. Our ability to do this has been helped by the regular dialogue between the RNLI and Welsh Government, the approach to easing restrictions and the caution and responsibility shown by the people of Wales.’

‘But our lifeguards still can’t be absolutely everywhere this summer.’

‘That’s why we are urging everyone to take extra care of themselves and their families whenever they are in or near the water.’

‘No one ever goes to the coast expecting to be rescued, yet RNLI lifeguards and lifeboat crews rescue thousands of people each year. And the fact that we have been so busy already this summer shows us that some people are not taking these warnings seriously enough.

‘If you get into danger in the water, relax and float to give yourself time to recover before swimming to safety or calling for help. If you see someone else in danger, please call 999 and ask for the Coastguard.’

Claire Hughes, director of HM Coastguard said: ‘We know from sad experience that whether you’re local or not, whatever your ability of experience in your chosen sport or leisure activity, the sea can still catch you out and be unmerciful when it does

‘We know how beautiful the coast is but it’s deadly if you get it wrong and your choices might put your family, friends and our frontline responders at risk as well as yourself.

‘Check tide times and remember the sea has currents and rip tides that can’t easily be seen. Look out for each other and if you get into trouble call 999 and ask for the Coastguard.

‘Don’t make your trip to the coast memorable for all the wrong reasons.’

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Hospitality businesses gear up for post-lockdown season

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AS THE COUNTDOWN is on to hospitality reopening, over 40 pubs, cafes and restaurants from across Preseli joined Stephen Crabb in a digital discussion.

In a Zoom call hosted by Stephen Crabb MP, a number of pubs, cafes and restaurants took time away from getting ready to reopen to discuss how they can make best use of the season ahead of them, after a difficult few months due to lockdown.

Joining Crabb was local MS Paul Davies, representatives from Pembrokeshire County Council, Pembrokeshire Coast National Park and UK Hospitality, and an array of hospitality businesses from across the constituency including Martha’s Vineyard in Milford Haven, The Royal Oak in Fishguard and The Ferry Inn in St Dogmaels.

On Monday (Jul 13) hospitality businesses are able to reopen in Wales, following strict guidelines including outside only, 2m social distancing with pre-booking advised. Many establishments in Pembrokeshire without large outdoor spaces will be unable to open, but those who can are working hard to make it as enjoyable and safe for customers as possible and also commercially viable.

Only on Thursday evening, four days ahead of reopening, did Welsh Government publish guidance to help businesses reopening. This delayed support has left some hospitality businesses feeling left behind.

Speaking following the forum, Stephen Crabb said: “I’m delighted to have been able to bring together so many hospitality businesses in what was the largest digital business forum I’ve hosted. There has been huge interest from the sector and I’m really grateful to Pembrokeshire County Council’s planning, licencing and tourism team for joining the call, along with the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park and trade body UK Hospitality.

“There is a real sense of a ‘Team Pembrokeshire’ approach to the reopening of this important sector, with businesses happy to share ideas and good practice to ensure the local visitor economy opens safely and successfully.”

“All the signs are pointing to a ‘staycation’ boom for British tourism this summer and there is potentially a real prize waiting for Pembrokeshire businesses. But there is a lot of work to be done in the next few days to adapt to new ways of working and it is essential for Welsh Government to issue detailed guidance.”

Paul Davies MS said: “Pembrokeshire’s hospitality businesses are the backbone of our local economy and so it was extremely useful to hear more about the challenges they’re facing and how Governments at all levels can do more to support them. The Covid-19 pandemic will continue to have an impact on the industry for the foreseeable future and whilst businesses have worked extremely hard to adapt their business models, the fact remains that if further support isn’t forthcoming, then many hospitality businesses simply won’t survive. I will of course, do everything in my power to challenge the Welsh Government on its lack of support for the sector and encourage Ministers to use the levers at their disposal, to better support the sector before it’s too late.”

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Date set for 1950s women’s pension Court of Appeal hearing

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A HEARING in the Court of Appeal in July will have far-reaching implications for the 200,000 women in Wales born in the 1950s.

The hearing, listed for July 21, is crucial for the over 10,000 women in Pembrokeshire & Carmarthen West, who have been denied up to six years of the State Pensions they paid into throughout their working lives. The Pension Acts of 1995 and 2011 gave very little notice of this major change to their financial positions after the age of 60.

In June last year the case was heard for the first time in the High Court, brought by the Back To 60 Campaign and led by Michael Mansfield QC. The High Court announced in October that the women’s case of sex and age discrimination had been rejected “on all grounds”. A fresh hearing will now take place in the Court of Appeal.

“This is a more senior court,” said a spokesperson from Pembrokeshire Women Against State Pension Injustice (WASPI).

“The case will be streamed live from the Court allowing millions of women & their supporters to follow it via the WASPI campaign 2018 Facebook page”.

The justices have committed to looking at all the legal grounds again. WASPI groups all over the UK, including here in Pembrokeshire have contributed to the costs of bringing the case.

We are very hopeful that this time the judgement will go in our favour, especially as Pembrokeshire WASPI have had no support from both of our local MPs, who do not support their constituents in this fight for justice for all 1950s women”,

Senedd Member Elin Jones told The Herald: “I really hope that this time 1950s women will get the justice they deserve,” she said. “They have been treated very unfairly. They paid into the National Insurance fund for decades, only to be told at the last minute that they would have to wait several more years for the pensions they were relying on from age 60.”

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