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Official opening for Wales’ first solar village

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pentre-solar-4TODAY (Jan 5) the Cabinet Secretary for Environment and Rural Affairs, Lesley Griffiths, will officially open the first solar village in Wales.

The village, named Pentre Solar, is situated at the Rhosygilwen estate and comprises six affordable houses which will use just 12% of the energy of a traditional home.

Funded by private sector company Western Solar, each three bedroom home has a modern design featuring a fitted kitchen, superfast broadband (as well as satellite and Freeview TV connections), a landscaped garden and, most interestingly, access to a shared electric car.

A highly innovative project, 80% of the heating needs for all of the properties will be provided by solar energy, meaning extremely low energy costs for future tenants. Adding to the sustainable nature of the build, the all timber homes also feature 11 inch insulation.

In an effort to address the affordable housing crisis in Pembrokeshire, the properties will be available for rent to those on the council housing register – and at 20% below the rental market rate. Those hoping to apply will need to have connections with the surrounding parishes; however, beyond that criteria, the houses will be allocated on a first come, first serve basis.

The idea behind the ‘revolutionary concept’, according to Western Solar, is to ‘build a truly sustainable business that can benefit the local community’.

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The Herald was able to speak to the man behind the ambitious development, Western Solar CEO and 2015 Eco Entrepreneur of the Year, Dr Glen Peters. As well as finding out a bit more about his links with Pembrokeshire, we discussed issues around affordable housing, the need for sustainable development, existing practices of the building industry, and future plans for Western Solar.

Having worked in London for some 35 years – and lived in Pembrokeshire ‘on and off’ for the last 20 years – Glen described how he ‘gradually fell in love with Pembrokeshire’, and has now based himself here full-time.
Discussing the need for a development such as Pentre Solar, Glen said: “There is unlimited demand for this – there are so many people in dire need of good quality housing.”

Admitting he wasn’t entirely sure of its accuracy, Glen referred to a statistic by Pembrokeshire County Council which estimated that the county is currently in need of some 6,000 homes.

One of the major obstacles in providing affordable housing, according to Glen, is ‘finding affordable land’.

He added: “Most of the available land to build on has been snapped up by developers.

“For a house to be affordable, you can’t have a plot that costs fifty to a hundred grand.”

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Seemingly undeterred by this financial obstacle, Glen stated: “For every problem, we have to find a solution.”

The solution in this instance, Glen added: “Local authorities need to release the land banks that they have.”

Elaborating on this comment, Glen went on: “This is not ripping up green fields; this is disused properties. The whole concept of Pentre Solar is small little hamlets.”

Another issue which Glen found during the Pentre Solar development is a certain objection by financial institutions towards the building materials used for the project.

“This is not a traditional build; this is not bricks and mortar, so building societies don’t want to lend.

“There is a physical barrier that we need to overcome about all timber houses.”

Developing on this idea, the question was posed as to how this new strategy for housing provision could change building industry practices in the UK.

Reiterating a previous point, Glen said: “The existing supply chains are all based around bricks and mortar; all the skills and all the trades are geared towards that as well.”

Contrary to modern practice, Glen emphasised: “Carpentry is the core skill for the house.”

With reference to ‘critical mass’, the eco entrepreneur went on to suggest the need for greater training and apprenticeship schemes for carpentry practices.

At the heart of the entire development is the theme of sustainability, with Glen stating: “The concept of recycling is very much at the core of our proposition. We’re recovering paper and using that as insulation – it’s all about trying to recycle, either the land, the insulation, the timber; we need that supply chain to be able to provide that.”

While the design for Pentre Solar was developed around sustainability, Glen admitted that not every aspect of the design was able to be implemented into the build. One such design was ‘rainwater harvesting’, a method of collecting rain and reusing it during the summer months.

With an eye on the future, Western Solar appear to have big plans in the pipeline. With reference to a comment about building 1,000 sustainable, affordable homes in the UK, Glen said how this falls under the company’s 10 year plan.

The company is also operating a three year plan which, if successful, will see the development of 100 homes ‘largely between counties in West Wales – Pembrokeshire, Carmarthenshire and Ceredigion’.

Glen added: “The most important things are access to land and the finance. The idea would be to create another hub in Wales and replicate the same idea somewhere else.”

Building on this point, Glen said: “When we’ve got used to the idea of replication with the same system repeatedly, then we think we could get to our target of 1,000.”

Reflecting on the finished product of Pentre Solar, Glen said: “I’m very pleased – it’s one of those things with any project, you go through enthusiasm, excitement, and then you reach a point were you feel destroyed, and then suddenly you see light at the end of the tunnel.”

“The reality is absolutely amazing.”

Glen is currently looking for sites for his next development, stressing: “We need to work on our relationships within the local authority.”

Pentre Solar is not the first green initiative that Glen has received praise for; he was also behind the first ever ‘solar park’ in Wales. Completed in 2011, the near 10,000 strong solar park – which used cutting edge technology imported from the United States – is designed to utilise the often cloudy weather of the area.

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Pembrokeshire County Council bills Home Office for Penally camp costs

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THE COUNCIL has sent an invoice for more than £80,000 to the Home Office.

It is to cover some of the costs that the local authority has incurred in connection with the Penally Asylum Seeker Centre, near Tenby.

Following a question on the issue from Cllr Jonathan Preston at Full Council the Council have confirmed that a bill has been sent.

The Member for Penally ward asked: “Please can the relevant Cabinet Member provide a breakdown of all costs to this authority which have been incurred in providing staff, services and other associated resources to Penally camp since its re-purpose by the Home Office last September?”

Council leader Cllr. David Simpson confirmed that on February 22 Pembrokeshire County Council submitted an invoice for £83, 858 which includes £65,564 in staff costs, £12,799 of specialist support and £5,495 for works such as barriers.

Pembrokeshire County Council is currently awaiting payment, the Authority confirmed.

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Hospitality sector welcomes Budget boost

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IT HAS been so long it seems since we could stand at a bar and enjoy a well-earned pint, but now we are on the road back to normality, the Herald has spoken to some of those in the hospitality sector who have been asked to close. We wanted to know what the owners in businesses in these sectors locally thought of the budget and if Rishi Sunak had done enough to help them.

We first spoke to a Milford Haven restaurant business. Owner of Martha’s Vineyard in Milford Haven, Dan Mills said that the budget was not a silver bullet to fix all problems but said that the budget had gone a fair way to delivering what many in the Pembrokeshire hospitality sector have been calling for in recent weeks.

Dan Mills said: “The biggest risk many of us were facing was the cliff edge of a VAT increase, the end of the Furlough Scheme and a return to full business rates, I’m pleased that the Chancellor has recognised this and taken action on all fronts.

“With talk of the Welsh Government restricting us to outside trading for an initial period, the flexibility that the Furlough Scheme brings will be a huge help to ensure staff retain their jobs.

“I was also delighted to see that the Chancellor has provided funding to Wales to ensure that we benefit from a further 12 months of Business Rate Relief here in Pembrokeshire, that’s money that many of us can instead invest into restarting our businesses.

“I hope that the conversation that unfortunately began due to Covid between politicians and the Pembrokeshire hospitality and tourism sector can continue long beyond this crisis, it seems that through some open and honest feedback we are making real progress.

Award winning gastro-pub The Griffin Inn is well known throughout Wales and has received many national reviews. Their reputation puts them in a strong position once they are allowed to re-open. We spoke to Sian and Simon Vickers about the budget.

Simon Vickers, co-owner is also a director of Visit Pembrokeshire. He told The Herald: “I think the budget was very positive for the hospitality industry with the reduction in VAT being the biggest help.

“Overall I feel the government have supported the industry amazingly

In regard to tax on alcohol, Simon said: “Duty has been frozen It would have been nice to have seen a cut in it. Whether there’s a cut or not the breweries always increase their prices so in all honesty it never affects us.”

The ongoing financial support has been welcomed by industry group CAMRA, The Campaign or Real Ale, but the organisation said that the Chancellor had missed the opportunity to lower beer duty to save our pubs.

Their national chairman Nik Antona issued a statement to The Pembrokeshire Herald saying: “Freezing alcohol duty is obviously better than a rise. However, CAMRA had hoped to see the Chancellor announce a cut in duty on beer served on tap in pubs and social clubs to benefit consumers and help the great British pub recover and thrive in the difficult months and years ahead by being able to compete with supermarket alcohol.

“The Government’s commitment to review alcohol duties in the coming months is welcome. CAMRA will continue to call for a lower rate of duty for beer served in pubs – an option available to the Government now we have left the European Union.

“Reducing tax on beer served in pubs and social clubs would encourage responsible drinking in a supervised, community setting – as well as boosting jobs and local economies, helping consumers and benefiting pubs and licensees.”

On financial support announced, Nik commented: “Cutting VAT as pubs begin to reopen, and reducing it until April next year, means they can now start benefiting from that cut – but CAMRA believes this VAT cut should be extended to alcohol so that traditional locals that don’t serve food can benefit too.

“The extension of furlough until September and new grants of up to £18,000 are very welcome. However, pubs are unlikely to be able to fully reopen at pre-COVID trading levels due to outside space and then table service only indoors. The beer and pubs sector will need further support over the coming months, over and above new loans, to help them get back on their feet until there is a full and proper re-opening and they can trade at full capacity.

“Extending the business rates holiday until the end of June will help keep the wolves from the door for many English pubs, with the two-thirds reduction for the rest of the financial year a welcome step. However, given how tough it will be for many pubs we believe the 100% cut in business rates needs to be extended for a full 12 months as has already happened in Scotland.”

Picture: Simon Vickers, Griffin Inn, Dale

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Milford Haven-bound ‘flying oil tanker’ hits the national news

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A MILFORD HAVEN bound oil tanker has made the national news, after a photograph taken off the Cornish coast made it look like the ship was flying.

An optical illusion caused the ship to appear as though it was floating above the horizon

The ship is believed to be the Hafnia Malacca Oil/Chemical Tanker which is heading to Pembrokeshire from Primorsk, Russia via the English Channel.

David Morris, from the hamlet of Gillan, near Falmouth took a photo of the ship near Falmouth, Cornwall, the BBC have reported.

On the BBC news website, meteorologist David Braine said the “superior mirage” occurred because of “special atmospheric conditions that bend light”.

He said the illusion is common in the Arctic, but can appear “very rarely” in the UK during winter.

Mr Morris said he was “stunned” after capturing the picture while looking out to sea from the hamlet of Gillan

Mr Braine said: “Superior mirages occur because of the weather condition known as a temperature inversion, where cold air lies close to the sea with warmer air above it.

“Since cold air is denser than warm air, it bends light towards the eyes of someone standing on the ground or on the coast, changing how a distant object appears.

“Superior mirages can produce a few different types of images – here a distant ship appears to float high above its actual position, but sometimes an object below the horizon can become visible.”

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