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Cabinet approves Ocky White purchase at £250K

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CABINET members praised the intervention of a key scrutiny committee in helping to secure a reduced price for the former Ocky White building.
On Monday (October 8), members of the County Council dealt with the purchase of the department store on Bridge Street, Haverfordwest.
Members agreed on a purchase price of £1/4m for the building and praised scrutiny committee members for helping to add impetus to what had been ongoing negotiations with its owners.
The landmark retail outlet has become increasingly dilapidated since its closure in 2013 and is a key part of the Council’s scheme to regenerate Haverfordwest’s Town Centre.
On September 10, the Cabinet had – with some misgivings – approved a proposal that the building should be bought at a price of £460,000 pending a decision on redevelopment or demolition. The Council had secured Welsh Government grant support towards the cost of redeveloping the building.
However, six councillors – Mike Evans, Phil Kidney, Pearl Llewellyn, Mike Stoddart, Viv Stoddart and Jacob Williams exercised their right to ‘call in’ the Cabinet’s decision for further scrutiny by the Services Overview and Scrutiny Committee, chaired by Conservative leader Rob Summons.
The grounds for the call-in were:
– That the decision represents particularly poor value for taxpayers’ money
– That the report to cabinet does not present the full financial picture
That meeting took place on September 28. At it, several councillors took the chance to attack the Cabinet’s decision, including – ironically – Cllr Jamie Adams, whose late IPPG administration was behind the original development scheme to buy and redevelop the property.
Those plans were subsequently discounted as unviable when the current administration decided to seek an assessment of the site’s commercial prospects.
A common theme to the Committee’s complaints was that the price agreed of £460,000 was ‘vastly over the top’.
Jacob Williams described it as ‘scandalous’, before adding: “The significance of the building is overhyped. It has a listed building as an annexe and we would be rewarding a property owner of a not particularly attractive building with taxpayers’ money.
Cllr Jamie Adams said although the scheme had been in the offing for a long time he could not support the decision to invest in the building saying ‘it is incompatible with financial demands’.
Then Head of Property, Barry Cooke, told the Committee that the price agreed was too high but added that the owners won’t sell for anything less than that. “If we can’t acquire the property we will not able to proceed with the first step. It is a difficult building to value but we did get them down to £450,000 but they have quoted more than that,” he added.
It was those committee discussions and the pressure that they placed on the Ocky White buildings’ owners that were credited by Cabinet members with driving down the purchase price.
Reintroducing the matter to his Cabinet colleagues, Labour leader Paul Miller emphasised that the regeneration of Haverfordwest Town Centre was something to which he was passionately committed. Cllr Miller added that the Council’s intention was not simply a ‘one-off’ purchase but part of a much larger regeneration scheme and should be seen in that context.
Cllr David Lloyd said that the effect of scrutiny on the purchase price previously agreed was ‘proof that local democracy works’ and urged his Cabinet colleagues to use ‘courage and ambition’ to drive the regeneration project forward.
Cllr Bob Kilmister, who had at best been sceptical about the original plans to buy the premises, said that while he had been won over on the purchase price element, he still had concerns about the potential for an ongoing revenue cost to the Council if the building remained under-occupied or unoccupied after the project’s completion. He added that the Council simply could not afford that revenue cost but that he was encouraged that Cllr Miller and officers were examining ways to avoid further liabilities building up.
Cllr Neil Prior, who was sceptical of the wisdom of buying the Ocky White building in September, commended those negotiating on the Council’s behalf for achieving such a significant reduction in price in the ten days between the Services Committee’s meeting on September 28 and the Cabinet meeting.
It was proposed by Cllr Paul Miller and seconded by Cllr Bob Kilmister that the former Ocky White building be bought for £250,000 and that further plans be drawn up for the redevelopment of the site with all options – including demolition – remaining on the table.
The motion was carried unanimously.

Cllr Paul Miller

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Pembrokeshire engineering company is expanding with the creation of 22 new jobs

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INSITE TECHNICAL SERVICES, who are based at the Pembrokeshire Science and Technology Park, provide engineering and design services to a wide range of clients in the oil, gas, metals, chemicals and renewable industries.

The company, which is located within the Haven Waterway Enterprise Zone, has grown rapidly, nearly doubling its turnover in the last two years and has been awarded £160k funding support from the Welsh Government.

This is enabling the company to move from its current premises at a Pembrokeshire incubation hub, to a new, company owned, site and offices, that they plan to expand. The move to the new premises is set to take place at the end of March.

The expansion is expected to create 22 new, highly skilled and well paid jobs over five years, with an average salary of £42K. Founded after the closure of the Murco Pembrokeshire Oil Refinery, InSite has expanded from six founding directors in 2014 to its current workforce of around 80 personnel.

Economy Minister, Ken Skates said: “I am delighted that Welsh Government funding is enabling this thriving engineering company to create 22 highly skilled and well paid, new jobs in Pembrokeshire.

“InSite have an Economic Contract in place with the Welsh Government, which means they are committed to the principles of growth, fair work, health, skills and learning and decarbonisation and, of course, these are principles that are more important than ever as we prepare for life outside the EU.

“With their provision of work placement graduate position apprenticeships, their commitment to developing the local workforce and their close work with Swansea University, InSite exemplify many of the business behaviours we are seeking to encourage. I wish them every success with their expansion plans.”

Jean Martin, Managing Director at Insite Technical Services said: “Since start-up in January 2015, the company has grown from a handful of engineers to a 50-strong team with over 20 supporting contractors and we are now poised to move to larger premises, to allow for further growth.

“InSite Technical Services provide engineering design services and operational experience to the energy sector in Wales, the UK and abroad. We have built our team from the engineering talent already in Pembrokeshire and West Wales, and now are recruiting from further afield.

“We’re proud to count the major sites on the haven among our customers, including the local refinery, oil storage terminals and both LNG sites. Our overseas consulting activities have taken us as far afield as Canada, Saudi and the UAE, and we have just placed an engineer for a longer-term contract in Switzerland.

“The support we receive from Welsh Government in managing that growth, including their Accelerated Growth Programme expert advice, has been critical to our success. We are also grateful to Pembs County Council whose Bridge Innovation Centre has been the perfect base from which to launch our enterprise.”

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Former MP calls on Pembrokeshire councillors to back final say

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THE MP who was the first minister to resign in protest at Theresa May’s handling of Brexit has written to every Conservative councillor in Pembrokeshire asking them to support a call for the public to be given a final say.

Dr Phillip Lee is chair of Right to Vote, a campaign group which claims the ‘only sensible and pragmatic solution is to put the final decision on Brexit back to the people’.

With less than two weeks until the UK is due to leave the EU on Friday March 29, MPs last Tuesday again rejected Theresa May’s deal.

In the letter, Dr Phillip Lee tells Pembrokeshire Tory councillors, “The services you provide and scrutinise day in day out will seem far more relevant to most people’s lives than the elaborate debates at Westminster, and I fully understand that most voters – however they voted in the referendum three years ago – will be fed-up with the distraction.
“I understand that frustration, and I don’t think a short delay can solve anything. There is clearly no majority for the Prime Minister’s compromise nor for the default no-deal departure which is still a terrifyingly real possibility. A long delay of two years or more would also cause anger and uncertainty and might send the whole Brexit project into the long-grass, unresolved.
“This poses a menacing threat to our economy and to local employers such as South Hook LNG Terminal Company and Dragon LNG Group. Every day there is more news of companies not committing to the UK or worse, moving their operations abroad.

In Preseli Pembrokeshire and Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire constituencies, the UK Trade Policy Observatory, a collaboration between Chatham House and the University of Sussex, has predicted that 1295 local jobs will be lost in the event of a no-deal Brexit. The potential economic harm this deal will cause should further focus our minds.”

Earlier this month, Right to Vote polled 5,500 voters across 31 constituencies nationwide – and the research found that in the Preseli Pembrokeshire constituency, 60% of voters who expressed an interest want a final say on Brexit, with 40% against.

Dr Phillip Lee, who quit the Government in June 2018, adds in the letter to local Tory councillors: “Right to Vote believes we need to stop the clock with a purpose. Government and Parliament need time to agree a coherent, credible and compelling case for an orderly exit from the EU.
“With clarity of purpose, sincere intent and collective willpower, I believe MPs could break the deadlock by the autumn, and present it to the people for the final say. This process began with the people and it should end with the people.
“If they vote for a practical and realistic proposal agreed in Parliament that would end this matter for ever. If they choose to reject it, MPs would have to respect their wishes. Either way – we get closure on Brexit by Christmas.”

Right to Vote was formed in January by several high profile MPs in response to what it describes as the Government’s failure to navigate Brexit. Co-founders include Dominic Grieve, Justine Greening, Sam Gyimah and three MPs who resigned from the Conservative Party last month: Heidi Allen, Anna Soubry and Dr Sarah Wollaston.

Last month, Dr Phillip Lee was invited to meet with the Prime Minister at 10 Downing Street to discuss the campaign’s calls for a pause in the process and a final say vote.

Demonstration for People’s vote

Campaigners from across Pembrokeshire will be making their way to London on Saturday, March 23, to join a mass demonstration to demand a People’s Vote on Brexit.
Hundreds of thousands of people from across the UK are expected to take part in the People’s Vote “Put It To The People” march in central London.
People will travel to London from every corner of the UK including Gwynedd, the Highlands of Scotland and Gibraltar.
More than 100 coaches, including 1 from Pembrokeshire and a train have already been booked by People’s Vote supporters travelling across the UK.
Some of the coaches being used to get demonstrators to the capital will be sponsored by local celebrities.
Many UK citizens living abroad are also planning to travel home to take part in the march, including Australia, the US, Malaysia, Africa and hundreds from across the EU.
The government is still desperately trying to secure the backing of the UK Parliament for its heavily criticised Brexit plan and the mass demonstration in London takes place just days before the UK is scheduled to leave the European Union.
Last October, more than 700,000 people marched through central London to demand a People’s Vote on Brexit.
The event, beginning at the Wales meeting point at 11am at Hyde Park Bandstand, before joining the main march at 12pm – “High Noon” – on Park Lane on March 23, will see people march to Parliament Square for a mass rally and keynote speeches.
Young and old from all walks of life, will be marching side by side, through the centre of London, including families pushing buggies, grandparents, teenagers, students, office workers, celebrities and Members of Parliament.
Alistair Cameron from Pembrokeshire for Europe said: “Brexit is already causing deep damage to Wales, threatening jobs, businesses, the NHS and living standards in Pembrokeshire.
“The Put It To The People march may very well be our last chance to demand a democratic final say on this mess, before it’s too late. This is High Noon for Brexit.
“Anyone who cares about the future, anyone who feels betrayed by broken promises in the last referendum, anyone who wants to prevent years more of this madness is welcome to join us to make their voice heard. It’s now or never.”

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Cat rescued from derelict building roof in Haverfordwest

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A CAT trapped on a derelict roof in Haverfordwest has been rescued, with RSPCA Cymru appealing for information to find an owner.

The tabby male cat was stuck on the roof of a four storey building on High Street, with Mid and West Wales Fire and Rescue Service being called for assistance on Saturday (16 March).

RSPCA animal collection officer (ACO) Ellie West said: “It was thought that this cat had been trapped up there for a couple of days – he must have been so cold up there in the pouring rain.

“The fire crew from Haverfordwest were brilliant and used their specialist equipment to reach the cat at the rear of the building, while I stayed at the front in case he became frightened and attempting to come down the other way on his own.

“He was soaking wet but not injured. He’s a friendly cat and is fit and healthy, but isn’t neutered or microchipped. He could be a stray or he could be owned, so we’re appealing for information to try and find out if someone is looking for him. For the meantime – he’s in private boarding while we make enquiries.”

ACO West added: “I’d once again like to thank the fire service for their help and assistance on this rescue. I did feel extremely guilty as it pulled them away from watching Wales win the Grand Slam title – but they were absolutely fantastic as always.”

Anyone who may have information about this cat and knows who his owner is should contact the RSPCA inspectorate appeal line on 0300 123 8018. Calls are treated in confidence.

The RSPCA would like to remind people to get their pets microchipped to give their lost pets the chance of returning home. It is also important to register the chip with a national database and update your contact details if you move or change phone number. More information can be found at www.rspca.org.uk/allaboutanimals/pets/general/microchipping

If you wish to help RSPCA Cymru, you can donate online. The RSPCA is a charity and relies on public donations.

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