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Politics

Will buying the town centre help council regenerate Haverfordwest?

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PEMBROKESHIRE COUNTY COUNCIL is looking to buy the Riverside Shopping Centre, Wilkinson’s store and Perrot’s Road car park in Haverfordwest, to support its ambitious regeneration programme for the town centre.

Cabinet approved the acquisition proposal on Monday (Nov 30) on condition that it is purchased is at less than market valuation
While that process is ongoing, Cllr Paul Miller has moved to explain the rationale behind it and discuss some of the issues which have been raised.
“I’m really pleased that this proposal has generated interest and I would like to try and answer for the public some of the questions which have come up so far. I’d also like to try and explain how our plans for the Riverside area fit within our wider Economic Development Plan for Pembrokeshire,” said Cllr Miller, Cabinet Member with Responsibility for Economic Development.

Sceptical about the plans, The Welsh Conservative Councillor group told The Pembrokeshire Herald: “While we support town centre regeneration, we have grave concerns regarding this decision by the Cabinet. We are still in a pandemic; the future of high street shopping is in the balance and this decision could have serious implications on Pembrokeshire’s tax payers. All councillors need more information on this project.

“The Councils focus should be on its core services; education and social services, and should leave owning shopping centres to specialist companies.”

Why is the council doing this?

“The Council has already developed a wide-reaching plan for the transformation of Haverfordwest.
“We’ve opened Glan-yr-Afon library and cultural centre, returning footfall to the town centre, we’re soon to start on site on Western Quayside – the former Ocky White building – creating an amazing food and beverage hub.
“We’re working on linking Bridge Street directly to the Castle and are committed to the wholesale redevelopment of the town’s unfit multi-storey car park.
“However, right in the middle of all those project sites, there is a fairly enormous space (in excess of 3 hectares) currently in the ownership of a single third party and that’s the Riverside Shopping Centre.
“Securing control of this site makes sense on a number of levels – not least because it enhances our ability to deliver on a whole-town plan. It also links directly to sites already in the Council’s ownership.”

If it goes ahead, how much will the acquisition cost?

“While negotiations are ongoing, and it should be stressed it may still not prove possible to agree a purchase price acceptable to both parties, I do not expect the Council’s contribution to the purchase price to exceed £700,000 including land tax charges. There are some maintenance liabilities we’ve identified which will be in addition to that sum.

“This level of capital funding is available from within the Council’s Property Investment Fund and so will not require additional borrowing. Nor will it directly impact on the Council’s revenue budget for other services or Council Tax levels.”

Risky, given the current economic climate?

“We’re going into this ‘eyes open’ to the worst case. Our worst-case scenario takes into account the current state of the market and the lease positions of the existing tenants.

“We know that more tenants will leave the centre over the next 12 months and we know things are going to get worse before they get better. Despite all that, our worst-case scenario still shows the centre to make a revenue surplus both in the particularly challenging short term and then to a greater extent in the medium term.

“The financial effect of the short term challenges are included in the modelling and actually the purchase price reflects that fact too. In addition, we anticipate further vacancies in the short term might actually be desirable, making easier some of the physical changes to the site that will inevitably be required.”

Isn’t there a risk this all goes wrong?

“There is always that risk. It’s no different to the risk associated with running our current industrial estate units. If all the tenants suddenly disappear, you’re left with no income to use to maintain the site.
“In this case, we’re very aware of the risks. We’re aware of the wider market position, of the businesses under pressure and aware of the number of leases expiring in the coming years.
“The Council’s officers and advisors put together three scenarios for cabinet to consider. A Best, Worst and Reasonable case. We focused our thinking around the worst-case model and that has driven our thinking on purchase price and determined our appetite for this at all.
“That worst-case scenario still shows the centre to make a revenue surplus both in the particularly challenging short term and then to a greater extent in the medium term.”

Is retail a dead duck?

“I accept completely that there is no future in retail-only town centres. We are not purchasing the Riverside because we think we’ve spotted something no one else has and that suddenly there is going to be some town centre shopping renaissance.
“We do however think our town centres have a future, just a different future. The Grimsey Review (just one example of the many such reviews into town centres) is clear both on the need for local leadership and public sector investment in transforming town centres. The review also has as one of its key findings the following; ‘There is a need for all towns to develop plans that are business-like and focused on transforming the place into a complete community hub incorporating health, housing, arts, education, entertainment, leisure, business/office space, as well as some shops, while developing a unique selling proposition (USP)’.
“That’s exactly what this purchase is about. It allows us to support a whole town plan for transformation not to ensure Haverfordwest continues to provide what people used to want but to ensure Haverfordwest provides what people want know and what people will want in the future.”

Aren’t they interfering in the role of the private sector?

“We know that the private sector is not going to repurpose our town centres for us. We also know how the Riverside has fared over the years in remote ownership. In my view we have a choice. We either say we don’t care about the town centre and it’s for the private sector to sort out, or, we recognise the role which a quality built environment plays in the wider offer of the County – and in turn how that supports economic activity.
“What I want to ensure is that we provide the local leadership and vision needed to see a transformation happen in Haverfordwest. We don’t think for a second we can bring about that transformation on our own but we do, absolutely, have a key role to play. In this case, that role is in securing the asset upon which future regeneration interventions will be built.”

Will the Council be managing the centre?

“The authority will not be directly managing the asset either in the short or the long term. This will be done by others and the costs of that management has been included in all of our modelling. To repeat, even our worst case model shows the site always making more income than it costs to run.”

Why should the Council get involved?

“To start with, because no one else is going to. I believe, strongly, that the quality of key town centres is important for the wider economic wellbeing of Pembrokeshire. We could, of course, just look the other way and say this is something for the private sector but I believe to do so would be a mistake.
“I do not believe that the local authority can transform Haverfordwest Town Centre on its own.
“However, I do believe we have a clear role to play in support and through the strategic acquisition proposed we can make that transformation deliverable.
“Beyond the strategic acquisition we are already in discussion with prospective private sector development partners and we anticipate taking those discussions forward with more vigour if the sale is completed.
“We don’t have a dream of doing this all on our own – but we know we have to play our part if we’re to deliver.”

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Politics

Important information arriving ahead of elections

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IMPORTANT information about the Senedd and Police and Crime Commissioner elections in May will be landing on all Pembrokeshire doormats this week.

Both the Senedd and Police and Crime Commissioner elections will be held on Thursday, May 6.

The letters will ensure electoral records are correct, detail how to add/change any entries and urge those who are not registered to do so before the deadline of midnight, Monday 19th April.

Please read the letter and check the details are up to date and only contact the Council if necessary.

You can register to vote at: www.gov.uk/register-to-vote

For the first time, those who will be aged 16 or over on 6th May and are registered to vote can vote in the Senedd elections.

Foreign citizens who will be aged 16 or over on 6th May and are registered to vote can also take part in the Senedd elections.

For the Police and Crime Commissioner elections those aged 18 and over on 6th May who are registered to vote can cast their vote.

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, you may wish to consider your voting options.

Polling stations will be open and will have undergone extensive preparations as well as ongoing monitoring to ensure that they are safe environments to cast your vote.

However, it is likely that more people than ever will wish to take up an option for a postal vote for the elections on 6th May.

Given the anticipated demand, please apply for a postal vote as early as possible to allow the Council’s elections team plenty of time to be able to process your application.

You can apply for a postal vote or proxy vote (someone you trust to cast your vote on your behalf) at: https://www.electoralcommission.org.uk/voter

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News

MS summoned to Court over tweet

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PLAID CYMRU’s Mid & West Wales Regional Senedd Member Helen Mary Jones has been summoned to appear at Swansea Crown Court.

HHJ Paul Thomas QC ordered Ms Jones to court after she retweeted a third-party’s post which expressed the hope a defendant in an ongoing murder trial would be convicted.

The tweet referred to the trial of 70-year-old Anthony Williams, who killed his wife shortly after the start of the first lockdown in March last year.

Mr Williams had pleaded not guilty to murder but guilty to manslaughter.

However, while the trial was ongoing, a domestic violence campaigner tweeted:: “Another perp using the ‘I just snapped’. It is complete b******t! As so many of us will know, there would have been history of domestic abuse.
“I hope this jury finds him guilty of murder. Rest in peace, Ruth.”
On Saturday, before the jury returned its verdict, Ms Jones shared the tweet.

There was no history of domestic abuse and no suggestion of it was raised during Mr Jones’ trial.

When the Jury returned to Court on Monday, HHJ Paul Thomas said: “It’s come to my attention that, over the weekend, there have been some highly inappropriate comments made on social media about this case.
“I should make it abundantly clear that those comments have not come from anybody connected with the case and, having been shown the contents of one such piece of social media, they clearly don’t have any idea about the evidence in this case or the issues in this case.”
None of the jurors saw the offending post and continued their deliberations.

On Monday afternoon, the jury acquitted Mr Williams of murder.

By retweeting the remarks made by a third party, the risk existed that the jury could have been influenced and their decision-making compromised.

On Thursday, Helen Mary Jones will have the chance to explain her actions to Judge Thomas in person.

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UKIP politicians vow to overturn new smacking ban in Wales

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UKIP Wales has announced that it is committed to repealing the Welsh Government’s controversial ‘Smacking Ban’ ahead of the Senedd Elections, and that this will become part of its manifesto in Wales.

The ban on reasonable chastisement was introduced in January 2020 by Labour’s Deputy Minister for Social Services, Julie Morgan. The legislation removes the defence of “reasonable punishment” in cases of common assault.

UKIP Leader and Member of the Senedd for Mid & West Wales, Neil Hamilton, said: “Parents know what is best for their children, not politicians. Members of the Senedd need to get a foot in the real world, outside the Cardiff Bay Bubble and listen to the public.

“[The ban] received huge criticism when it was railroaded through the Senedd against public opinion. When consulted, up to 75% of parents in Wales opposed the restrictions that prohibited them from reasonably disciplining their children.

“The policy is practically impossible to enforce and is estimated to cost the taxpayer £8 million. It is another example of the Cardiff Bay politicians overextending themselves and forcing their own virtue-signalling morality on to the people of Wales.

“Senedd politicians from all parties have forgotten they are not the boss – the public are. As Members of the Senedd, their job is to represent their constituents not police how parents bring up their children.

“The Government must do everything possible to protect children from physical and psychological abuse. But this legislation has done, and will continue to do, nothing to stop cases of serious abuse. Instead, it penalises parents who take reasonable steps to discipline their children.

“In this year’s Senedd Elections, UKIP is standing up for parents to raise their children free from interference from an overarching, self-righteous political class in Cardiff.”

Pembrokeshire-based UKIP councillor Paul Dowson said: “In my opinion this is plain and simple common sense. It has cost the taxpayer 8 million pounds for a bill which is simply unenforceable.

“This over-woke labour Welsh government made up of out of touch ministers have no right to tell the public how to discipline their children.

“The latest generation have recently gone through the education system where there are no serious consequences for bad behaviour, the parents have been restricted regarding punishing bad behaviour, and the curriculum promotes 99 different genders along with a whole host of other WOKE topics above common sense and basic respect.
“Our future begins with our children and we need to be allowed to discipline our kids in a way which we see fit even if it does include a smack on the ass when required.

“The sooner we regain control of society the better.

“No better place to start than with bringing our children up properly instead of following the Drakeford formula. His own son is a prime example of poor parenting.”

Cllrs Dowson’s view is at odds with the NSPCC. The children’s protection charity said in a press release: “This is a remarkable achievement which closes an outdated loophole and finally gives children in Wales the same legal protection from assault as adults.”

Conservative AM Ms Finch-Saunders said: “With this bill the state is now stepping into the private lives of families”.

She added: “Through the involvement of the police and social services… this smacking ban this will potentially have far reaching consequences for us all.”

Julie Morgan, Deputy Social Services Minister, said it was a “historic day” after members passed the law with 36 votes for, 14 against.

Ms Morgan had campaigned for years for a ban and had broken the Labour whip over the issue when the Welsh Government did not support it, in 2015.

She said at a press conference after the vote: “This is not about the government telling parents how to raise their children or about criminalising loving parents,”

She added the government had listened to the “vocal minority” who opposed the move, but that removing the defence of reasonable punishment “is the right thing to do”.

“The children of Wales now have the same protection as adults in Wales have.”

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