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NatWest branches to close across the county

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THERE are more bank closures expected across the county following an announcement by RBS this morning (Dec 1) that NatWest will be closing branches in Milford Haven, Narberth, Pembroke and Cardigan.

The Pembroke branch closes on May 21 next year, with Cardigan shutting on May 30, Milford Haven on June 21 and Narberth on June 28.

In total, 259 branches are closing across the UK, with a loss of 680 jobs.

RBS have cited the increasing trend of online banking as the main reason behind the decision.

A spokesperson for the banking group said: “The way people bank with us has changed radically over the last few years: since 2014, the number of customers using our branches across the UK has fallen by 40%.

“During the same period mobile transactions have increased by 73%; and in the first half of 2017, there were 1.1 billion mobile and online transactions carried out by our customers: an increase of 41% since 2014.”

In Milford Haven, the announcement follows the recent closures of HSBC and Lloyds Bank. The closure means that Barclays is now the only remaining high street branch in Hamilton Terrace.

Stephen Crabb MP said: “NatWest customers in Milford Haven will feel deeply let down by this decision. Although more and more banking services are moving online, many customers still prefer the face-to-face interaction of going to their local branch. It is some comfort that NatWest customers can pay money in, take money out and check balances in the local Post Office, but it is still very disappointing to know NatWest is leaving Milford.

“There is currently a flight of banks from smaller town centres all across Britain as they seek to cut their costs and move more services online. Given the important role they play for local communities, there is a big question here about what kind of branch network will be left in rural areas in years to come. I have written to the Chief Executive of NatWest to express my concern about this and seek clarification of how they intend to treat the staff currently working at the Milford Haven branch. I hope there will no compulsory redundancies.”

Mike Cherry, Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) National Chairman, said: “Bank branches are still vital to local economies up and down the country. Many local business communities will be disappointed to hear they are losing their bank branch today.

“Almost all of our members are using online banking. However, small firms still hugely value the in-person support they receive at branches, particularly when it comes to completing complex transactions and making big financial decisions. For many, these are relationships that have built up over years.

“In areas of the country still blighted by poor broadband, accessing online banking is a challenge. What’s critical is that small business owners that rely on bank branches are provided with suitable alternatives well before closures happen. What we can’t have is banks shutting branches on a whim, especially at a time when plans are afoot that may diminish our cash machine network in future.

“Access to cash is a big issue here. Cash is still critical to trade in thousands of our towns and villages, especially in tourist hotspots and rural areas. More and more small firms are accepting card payments but that comes with costs they’re forced to absorb. Equally, many have customers that only deal in cash.”

FUW President Glyn Roberts said: “The closure of those 20 banks will have a detrimental effect on the towns, as they serve not only villages but many of the neighbourhoods in surrounding areas, as well as providing employment to local people.

“These banks are 70% owned by the UK taxpayer, so we have to ask why are there no conditions to the bailout that guarantees access to such services. It is clear that Governments must do more for rural Wales.”

In addition the FUW is concerned that internet banking is still not option in all rural areas across Wales as many people will not have an appropriate internet connection- if they have a connection at all, and others may be worried about banking online for cyber security reasons.

“We have run cyber security workshops in co-operation with Barclays bank over the past few months, which should help our members become more savvy internet bankers, however the problem of internet access remains a huge problem for these rural areas.

“With more and more rural services and businesses being closed down, we must also acknowledge that it is becoming less and less attractive for young families and indeed business owners to remain in rural areas.

“If the problem of rural depopulation is not addressed with some urgency it could have severe consequences for our rural communities and with that also our rural economy.

“It is clear that if we want to ensure that Wales develops its full potential in being a rural economic powerhouse, we must make it attractive for working families to stay and also encourage vital services like business banking to remain available.”

Eluned Morgan AM said: “The news that 8 NatWest branches will be closing in my region is extremely concerning when economic conditions are so tough.  For a bank, owned in the main by tax-payers, this is a terrible decision that will have a big impact on some of my most rural communities.

“I have already written to the Cabinet Secretary for the Economy, Ken Skates over closures by other banks and will be speaking with him in the coming days to speak up for towns like Narberth, Pembroke and Milford Haven who are directly affected by this latest announcement.”

Paul Davies AM added: “I’m very disappointed that yet another bank will be closing its doors to a community in Pembrokeshire.  Whilst I accept that the face of modern banking has changed somewhat over the years, there is still a need for banks to have a high street presence, so that vulnerable and less mobile customers are able to access their banking facilities.

“Families and businesses in rural areas across Wales will particularly suffer because these communities don’t always have a suitable internet connection. Therefore, it’s important that banking provisions are made suitably available to rural communities and I will of course be raising these issues with NatWest at the earliest opportunity.”

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Walwyn’s Castle: Major fire and explosions at Capestone Farm

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EMERGENCY SERVICES are currently dealing with a major explosion and fire at Capestone Farm in Walwyn’s Castle.

It is understood that all workers are accounted for, and no livestock is said to be involved.

Fire fighters have laid hoses across the Dale Road to access water to fight the fire near Milford Haven

A spokesperson for Mid and West Wales Fire and Rescue told The Herald that the fire involves chemicals, oil, and acetylene. The spokesperson confirmed that six fire engines are attending the incident.

There are 41 firefighters at the scene of the blaze. The cause of the fire is not yet known, although there have been reports of an explosion at the site.

The fire engines attending are from Milford Haven, Haverfordwest, Pembroke Dock, Narberth, Tenby, and St Davids.

A former employee told The Herald that it looks like the fire is confined to the workshops and grain store and that live animals are not involved – however this has not been confirmed.

The are concerns about the structural integrity of some of the buildings involved.

The fire broke out at around 3.45pm.

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Plans submitted for £7m SkyDome project at Bluestone

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BLUESTONE has submitted a planning application for its groundbreaking ‘SkyDome’ project.

If Pembrokeshire County Council approves the plans, the undercover facility is expected to inject millions of pounds into the local economy.

The £7million development will see a transparent canopy arched over a massive 7000 sqm area and will include a range of new activities, as well as a 600-seat amphitheatre.

It is hoped the project, which will harness the skills of local contractors, would take around 15 months to build.

Initially it will create 56 new jobs at the resort and will see around £3m spent within the local construction industry

The new all-weather facility has been designed to complement its natural surroundings, with a clear span roof, which would easily cover an area the size of a football pitch. The internal terrain will rise and fall in excess of ten metres which will give the space a genuinely organic atmosphere and a sense of being outside.

Liz Weedon. Head of Projects at Bluestone, said: “SkyDome aims to continue Bluestone’s ecological ethos where the holiday resort has already seen more than 330,000 trees and shrubs planted since 2008, and the creation of two biomass energy centres, producing 7,000 mwh of carbon neutral energy per year.”

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Have your say on proposed changes to parking charges

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PEMBROKESHIRE COUNTY COUNCIL is inviting views on its proposals to make changes to car parking charges in car parks where annual charges apply and in car parks where seasonal charges apply.

The Council is proposing two options:

  • option one would reduce the current £415,000 deficit in car parking services
  • option two would eliminate the deficit and allow a small surplus to reinvest in parking and traffic management improvements.

Both options propose a standardised one hour tariff of 50p across the county and higher fees for high demand seasonal car parks. The second option also proposes higher fees for longer duration stays.

Also included are proposals to introduce four new types of parking permit, and increases to fees for five existing types of parking permit.

Proposed New Permits Proposed Increased Charge for Existing Permit
County All Year Permit (Penfro) Parking Permit Passport
Seasonal Permit Any Car Park (Seagull) Reserved Bay Permits (General)
Specific Car Park, Non-Transferable Permit (The Puffin) Reserved Bay Permits at The Croft Car Park, Tenby
Dusk and Dawn Permit Visitor Permit
Tenby Harbour Resident Permit

Those responding are also welcome to put forward their own options for consideration.

The Council’s Cabinet Member for Planning and Infrastructure, Councillor Phil Baker, said: “We have aimed to strike a balance between ensuring that Pembrokeshire’s town centres remain accessible and affordable places to visit and work while addressing the current budget deficit in car parking services.”

Detailed information is available on the Council’s website at www.pembrokeshire.gov.uk/haveyoursay or telephone the Customer Contact Centre on 01437 764551 to request hard copy documents.

The closing date for responses is Friday, January 12, 2018.

The responses will be compiled into a report and used to inform an Integrated Impact Assessment.

The Council’s Cabinet will make a decision on the proposals in February.

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