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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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Pembrokeshire cottage letting agency offers free holidays to NHS heroes

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PEMBROKESHIRE-BASED holiday letting agency St Brides Bay Cottages has teamed up with its property owners and Operation Recuperation to offer free holidays to frontline healthcare workers. The family-run firm has announced the scheme to say thank you to the healthcare heroes who are risking their lives to keep the UK safe during the coronavirus pandemic.

The generous initiative will see healthcare professionals enjoy a well-deserved break in picturesque St Davids, Solva, Newgale or Porthgain, after the crisis is over. The scheme is part of Operation Recuperation, a UK-wide campaign launched to gift future stays in beautiful places to frontline healthcare providers.

Sam Sibbald, manager of St Brides Bay Cottages, based in Solva, said: “This is our way of showing our dedicated healthcare workers that we appreciate everything they’re doing in such difficult circumstances.

“I saw first-hand the pressure the NHS is under, when my dad had a stay in hospital last year. I could tell how pushed they were on a normal day-to-day basis, let alone with having COVID-19 to deal with. Now my dad is at home, needing carers every day, and I can see, more than ever, how much we rely on the people who look after us.

“We’re taking part in Operation Recuperation thanks to the generosity of our cottage owners. By gifting stays to these dedicated workers, we’ll be helping them to recover from the fight against coronavirus.”

Several cottage owners, whose properties are let by St Brides Bay Cottages, have come forward to donate stays in their holiday homes.

Among them is Sheila Morgan, who together with her husband Chris, owns The Anchorage, a two-bedroom apartment in Solva. She said: “As a retired nurse with medical staff in the family, I can fully appreciate the strains and stresses all NHS staff are going through at present. Thank you all for your sterling work. Hopefully the peace, quiet and Pembrokeshire air will aid recuperation.”

Debbie and Patrick Bowie-Moore, the owners of five-bedroom holiday home Mount Pleasant, in Solva, said: “The healthcare workers have offered their all, and it’s our privilege to give a family – who may have been kept apart – the opportunity to stay in Mount Pleasant as a massive thank you.”

Simon Baker, who owns Cefn y Mor, a four-bedroom property in Solva, said: “We are backing the Operation Recuperation project because we have family members on the frontline of the NHS, and know what risks they are taking, and what effort they are putting into saving lives. Our only effort is to stay at home and avoid infection. A small price to pay.”

Jim and Maureen Dale, whose three-bedroom holiday home, May Cottage, is situated on a grade II-listed farm, near St Davids, said: “Rarely do we get an opportunity to say thank you to the staff at the NHS – we tend to take the service so much for granted. Now the chips are down and there they all are, on the frontline looking after us all. Thank you all at the NHS.”

David and Judith James, who are offering a free stay at their converted watermill, Melin Llanrhian, near Porthgain, said: “We’re delighted to be able to support Operation Recuperation as a very small thank you to everyone in the NHS who has worked so hard in such challenging circumstances.”

Operation Recuperation is collecting donations – in room nights and cash – to give free stays to frontline healthcare staff, once the virus restrictions have been lifted.

Rachel Sherwood, who launched Operation Recuperation, said: “A huge thank you to St Brides Bay Cottages for proudly supporting Operation Recuperation and to the cottage owners who have donated stays in this stunning part of Wales, despite very challenging times.

“Sometime in the not-too-distant future, a number of our frontline healthcare staff will be enjoying long clifftop walks, fresh seafood, lazy days on the beach and cosy evenings in sea-view cottages.”

To find out more about St Brides Bay Cottages and Operation Recuperation, visit: https://www.stbridesbaycottages.com/, email enquiries@stbridesbaycottages.com or call 01437 720027.

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Council pays out £2.5m in business grants to date

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PEMBROKESHIRE COUNTY COUNCIL has revealed that since Wednesday, 1st April, it has already paid out £2.5 million in grants to local businesses.

The Authority’s Cabinet Member for Economy, Paul Miller, said Council staff had been working hard to make the Covid-19 business grants payable as soon as possible

Explained Councillor Miller: “Payments started on Wednesday this week for those who qualify for grants linked to the National Non-Domestic Ratings (NNDR) system. We have already paid out around £2.5 million in grants to local businesses.

“Daily payment runs are being made in order that these can get into business bank accounts as soon as possible.

“We cannot unfortunately acknowledge receipt of applications but, once authorised, businesses will be emailed and the grant will be paid within two to three working days.”

Councillor Miller added: “If there are any issues with a grant application, or information is missing, a Council officer will be in touch to discuss the matter. A dedicated team has been set up to do this.”

For further business advice refer to the Council’s Business pages which can be accessed via the following link: https://www.pembrokeshire.gov.uk/business-advice-and-support

This will enable access to the application form for the above grants, provide answers to frequently asked questions and links to further sources of advice through HMRC, Welsh Government, Department of Work and Pensions, Public Health Wales and other organisations.

For further enquiries not answered through the business pages, email: covid19@pembrokeshire.gov.uk and an officer will respond. Please view the business pages first.

For those who don’t qualify for the grants, Welsh Government will soon be making details available of how business can access other funding through an Economic Resilience Fund.

Details will be available on the Council’s business pages as soon as they are released by Welsh Government.

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Man issued with two COVID-19 fines in 24 hours as police thank those following new legislation

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A man has been issued with two fines in 24 hours for flouting Coronavirus legislation, as police thank those who are following the new rules.

Dyfed-Powys Police officers in Carmarthenshire stopped the 22-year-old from Llanelli twice for being out of the house without a reasonable excuse.

A report was made on April 1 that three men were breaching the COVID-19 legislation by gathering in Llanstephan. A woman who had attempted to film the men reported that they had stolen her phone and driven away.

Officers quickly linked the car to a suspect and traced it driving towards Carmarthen and then Llanelli, and a roads policing unit was directed to the area.

The car was stopped, and the two occupants – a 22-year-old from Llanelli, and a 18-year-old from Carmarthen – were arrested on suspicion of theft. They were also both issued with tickets for COVID-19 offences.

T/Chief Inspector Tom Sharville said: “We are taking the new legislation seriously, and would like to thank the majority of people who are staying home to keep others safe.

“The measures are difficult to adapt to, but it is important that we stay at home to save lives.

“However, there is a minority out there who are under the impression the legislation does not apply to them, and are flouting the law.

“This was the second fine one of these men was issued with in 24 hours, after he showed a clear disregard for all guidelines.”

The men were arrested on suspicion of theft of a mobile phone, and were released under investigation pending further enquiries.

For information about the COVID-19 legislation, and answers to many frequently asked questions, visit https://bit.ly/DPPCovid19

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