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Minister wants ‘facts not fl annel’

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Meeting the minister: Dennis O’Connor & Graham Warlow

Meeting the minister: Dennis O’Connor & Graham Warlow

ON MONDAY (Nov 17) representatives of the national Coastguard SOS campaign group met UK Shipping Minister John Hayes in Westminster to discuss the controversial plan to close half of the UK’s maritime rescue coordination centres (MRCC’s). Local campaigners Dennis O’Connor and Graham Warlow made the trip to the Houses of Parliament, where they were joined by colleague Lynne Gray for the high-level meeting.

After the meeting we spoke with Coastguard SOS co-ordinator Dennis O’Connor, who expressed his gratitude to local MP’s Simon Hart and Stephen Crabb, who met the group in July along with local AM’s Paul Davies and Angela Burns: “Simon Hart has been so important in helping arrange our meeting with the Minister. He has taken a keen interest in our efforts. He knows, while we are proud of our efforts to ensure Milford Haven Coastguard Station remains operational, that this is a national issue that affects people’s lives and safety on a huge scale.”

Dennis explained that the meeting was ‘an opportunity for the campaign group to relay continued safety fears and discuss the way in-which the closure programme has been handled by the Maritime & Coastguard Agency (MCA)’. Following the closure of stations at Forth, Clyde, Yarmouth, Solent, Portland and Brixham the meeting also presented the opportunity for the campaign group to ensure that the Minister, who has only been in post since the last cabinet reshuffl e, was given the opportunity to receive information that otherwise would not be given to him by the MCA or Department for Transport (DfT).

“We took the opportunity to provide Mr Hayes with an overview of how the service has suffered since the closure programme was announced four years ago,” said Mr O’Connor. “It’s unlikely that certain information would readily be disseminated by the departments who are answerable to him. There are always two sides to a story and we were of the firm opinion that as the Minister is now responsible for maritime affairs then he should be fully appraised in order to be able to manage his portfolio effectively.”

Representatives of the MCA and DfT were also present at the meeting and during a frank discussion the Minister gave assurances of his intent to carry out an indepth analysis of the closure programme, specifically the effects that the closure of stations has had so far. “Mr Hayes made it perfectly clear that he wanted all of the facts not fl annel from the MCA and DfT and we are pleased that he has underlined this” said Mr O’Connor. “We made it clear to the Minister that we feel strongly that neither the MCA or DfT could be relied upon to present balanced information to him and asked that information gathering be carried out independently of those organisations to ensure that he can take a balanced view of the process.

This would include receiving submissions from all stakeholders.” “It was evident that Mr Hayes appreciates that people have genuine concerns about the closure programme which need to be addressed. As with the campaign group, coastal safety is also his priority and he intends to ensure that the management of the closure programme is being conducted in an appropriate way which does not affect or undermine safety in any way.”

Concerns about the way the closure programme is being handled have increased since a recent freedom of information request revealed that the understaffing at stations across the UK has increased dramatically. Aberdeen Coastguard reached a peak of 97% understaffing during this year and Dover 92% other stations at Humber reached 83% and Swansea were up to 80% understaffed.

In September the MCA’s centralised centre at Fareham opened despite almost half of the staff being recent recruits with no search and rescue coordination experience. The continuing loss of experienced Coastguard offi cers has taken its toll on the service. During the meeting with the Minister, Keith Oliver, the MCA’s Head of Maritime Operations claimed that ‘there are no inexperienced officers at the Fareham centre and understaffing is not an issue because “a higher calibre of staff had now been recruited to replace those who have left the service’.

Campaigners insist that the statement by Mr Oliver is an obvious example of how the MCA are prepared to dismiss the value of its officers and the concerns of the wider public: Quite how the MCA can defend the loss of experienced Coastguards by stating that their replacements, despite having no SAR experience, are “experienced” and of a “higher calibre” is beyond comprehension” said Mr O’Connor.

“The new recruits just do not have the training, skills or service experience of those who have left therefore it is shameful for the MCA to make this statement when clearly the facts confl ict sharply with statements being made by the MCA about safety being their priority. You cannot replace years of experience overnight and it seems to suggest an element of ensuring that new staff, irrespective of their lack of experience, are being favoured because of their compliance within the future Coastguard set-up.

The statement by Mr Oliver also underlines concerns that this is not a transparent process. We welcome the decision by the Minister to take a fresh look at the closure programme. This will offer some reassurance that concerns are being addressed and it will force the MCA and DfT to fi nally admit that there have been failings in the way the process has been handled. The MCA has failed to offer any evidence to suggest that the process is safe or workable and without compelling evidence they should never have been allowed to proceed. We hope that the Minister will concur with previous concerns raised by the Transport Select Committee and fi nally emergency measures will be taken to ensure that the service is stabilised.”

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Reminder from Pembrokeshire Coast National Park to pre-book for attractions

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MEMBERS of the public are being reminded to pre-book their entry tickets before visiting two popular National Park Authority-run attractions.

To allow for social distancing on site, both Carew Castle and Tidal Mill and Castell Henllys Iron Age Village have been operating a pre-booking system since last summer.

Those wishing to visit should book their tickets online before arriving at the site. This applies to Annual Pass holders and others who qualify for free entry, such as wheelchair users and accompanying carers.

Carew Castle is open to pre-booked visitors between 10am and 4pm (Tidal Mill 11.30am – 5pm), while those wishing to visit Castell Henllys will be asked to book either a morning slot (10am-1pm) or an afternoon slot (2pm-5pm) before visiting the site.

Daisy Hughes, Visitor Services Manager at Carew Castle and Tidal Mill, said: “Over the past 12 months, we have made some changes to the site and how we operate to ensure that we keep you, our staff and our local community safe.

“All areas of the Castle and Tidal Mill are open, including the Walled Garden and play area. Nest Tearoom, which has plenty of outdoor undercover seating, will be serving light lunches and homemade cakes along with hot and cold drinks throughout the day, and the Castle and Mill Shops remain open – although face coverings must be worn and only card/contactless payments are currently being accepted.

“With the exception of Nest Tearoom, pre-booking is essential, though, and we’re asking all visitors to make sure they book their entry tickets in advance, in order to avoid any delays or disappointment when they arrive on site.”

Entry tickets for both Carew Castle and Castell Henllys can be purchased by visiting www.pembrokeshirecoast.wales/events

A dynamic programme of events suitable for all the family will be running at both sites throughout the summer months. Visit the above website for more information and to book tickets.

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Salvage Hunters: New series is filming in Pembrokeshire, and they need help

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SALVAGE HUNTERS, the well-loved and most watched Quest TV and Discovery Network show, is on the hunt for locations to film at in the Pembrokeshire and the wider South West Wales area to feature in the upcoming series.

We follow decorative antiques expert Drew Pritchard as he travels around various locations in the UK and abroad on his quest to find and buy unusual objects with an interesting history.

Drew really visits everywhere – beautiful estates, old family businesses, barns and attic’s stuffed full of unwanted things, museums, factories, collectors and iconic religious sites buying all sorts along the way – from gorgeous country house furniture and railwayana to 6ft 1980s disco balls and anything in-between.

Now in its sixteenth series and airing to over half a million people in the UK and millions more worldwide, this is a great opportunity for you to promote your business or home to a broad audience, sell a few items that perhaps you no longer need, make some money and celebrate the history and heritage of the UK.

If you think you fit the bill or know somebody that might then please do not hesitate to reach out and speak with a member of our team.

Call us on 0203 179 0092 or alternatively send us an email to – salvagehunters@curvemedia.com

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Haverfordwest and Cardigan high streets listed as among the ten worst in Britain

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TWO west Wales high streets have been listed in a UK wide report detailing Britain’s worst high streets.

In the highly respected report Cardigan High Street has been listed as the 4th worst in Britain, whilst Haverfordwest has come 8th.

The Harper Dennis Hobbs rankings, which come out every two years, in sadly listed six Welsh High Streets in the worst 10 category.

Some retail centres have performed well since 2019 but most Welsh towns have fallen down the list.

Overall the performance in Wales was poor with a major drop in the average position of Welsh high streets on the UK list.

More shops in Haverfordwest’s town centre have closed since the coronavirus hit (Pic: File image)

The average rank was 797 – the worst of any nation and region in the UK, showing the huge challenge Welsh Government has to revive town centres. Six of the bottom ten UK high streets were in Wales.

Normally Harper Dennis Hobbs releases the full ranking but when the firm published its 2021 report in February, it only made the top 50 best-performing locations publicly available. Now, a copy of the full list shared with i lays bare the shopping centres and high streets that have fared worst over the past year.

Top of the worst list is Girvan in South Ayrshire.

Girvan is home to around 6,500 people and has suffered the same difficulties as many cities and towns across the UK when it comes to its high street’s declining appeal – but it is the area’s “very weak retail offer” and the large number of empty shops that helped seal its place at the bottom of the league table.

Haverfordwest in 2014. can you spot any differences to now?

“Girvan along with Haverfordwest and Cardigan all scored poorly due to a very weak retail offer [and] the towns have a relatively high vacancy rate,” said Andy Metherell, head of retail consultancy at Harper Dennis Hobbs.

Andy Metherell, head of retail consultancy at HDH, explained: “Our analysis is unique as we use variables that both consumers and retailers consider when assessing shopping locations to rank the top 1,000 retail centres in Great Britain. This Vitality Ranking looks very different from previous years as the ‘retail health’ of high streets across the country has seen contrasting fortunes since the start of the pandemic.

“The most vital retail centres currently provide services that are essential to people’s lives, such as grocers and pharmacies. These essential retailers have been able to trade throughout the strictest lockdowns, and consumers have not been willing or able to travel far to visit these stores. Shopping patterns have therefore changed significantly since the start of the pandemic, and consumers’ local high streets are benefitting at the expense of major destinations.”

Turning empty retail spaces in the town into homes or offices could help rejuvenate the area and bring “demand to the doors” of shops that survive, Mr Metherell said.

Cardigan High Street before Covid-19 (Pic Stay In Wales)

Top 10 best high streets 2021

  1. Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire
  2. Henley-on-Thames, Oxfordshire
  3. Tenterden, Kent
  4. Wimbledon Village, south-west London
  5. Marlborough, Wiltshire
  6. Sevenoaks, Kent
  7. Kingston upon Thames, Greater London
  8. Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire
  9. Harpenden, Hertfordshire
  10. Ilkley, Bradford

Top 10 worst high streets 2021

  1. Girvan, South Ayrshire
  2. Bristol – Baldwin Street
  3. Chepstow, Monmouthshire
  4. Cardigan, Ceredigion
  5. Southsea, Portsmouth
  6. Tonypandy, Rhondda Cynon Taf
  7. Ammanford, Carmarthenshire
  8. Haverfordwest, Permbrokeshire
  9. Canning Town, east London
  10. Newtown, Powys

(Source: Harper Dennis Hobbs)

Cardigan High Street pictured in the early 2000’s before Currys left town (Pic Geograph)
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