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Summit to tackle deliberate grass fires



firehedgePLANS to tackle deliberate grass fires were set out in a summit of key players who want to prevent a repeat of the recent levels of damage.

Last week, The First Minister of Wales Carwyn Jones, Public Services Minister Leighton Andrews, Education & Skills Minister Huw Lewis and Natural Resources Minister Carl Sargeant met representatives from Gwent Police, South Wales Police, South Wales Fire and Rescue Service, Mid & West Wales Fire & Rescue Service, Natural Resources Wales, relevant Local Authorities and the Met Office to discuss the recent increase in incidents.

First Minister Carwyn Jones said: “Today’s summit was an important step in continuing the collaborative work needed to reduce this dangerous, destructive and criminal behaviour. We set out a programme of co-ordinated action across Government, the Fire Service, the Police, schools, Local Authorities and Natural Resources Wales. We formulated a clear and co-ordinated programme of action for the short, medium and long-term.”

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Unwelcome Caller: Pembrokeshire’s looming Council Tax dilemma



AS WE HAVE reported, Pembrokeshire County Council faces a contentious decision as it considers a recommended inflation-busting 16% increase in council tax to balance its budget.

Councillor Mike Stoddart, known for his critical blog posts as ‘Old Grumpy,’ is voicing strong opposition to the proposed hike, highlighting the intricate challenges and pressures facing the council in these financially strained times.

The recommendation for this substantial increase comes as the council grapples with a tight financial situation, prompting a series of budget-setting seminars aimed at aligning council members on the path forward. Stoddart, who previously voted against last year’s 7.5% increase, remains a staunch opponent, citing a lack of compelling justification for the new rate and expressing concerns over the methods used to secure consensus among council members.

The crux of Stoddart’s argument lies in the perceived manipulation of council members through what he describes as ‘psyops’—psychological operations—intended to sway their votes in favour of the budget proposals. He criticises the shift from informative seminars on local government finance to pressure-laden presentations forecasting dire consequences should the council fail to approve the tax increase. This, according to Stoddart, transforms a complex decision into a dichotomy of distributing “pain” between taxpayers and service users, a decision he argues should remain in the political realm, subject to public scrutiny and debate.

Adding to the complexity are communications from the council’s finance chiefs, setting strict guidelines for proposing alternative budgets. These guidelines effectively place a veto power in the hands of the s151 officer, the council’s finance chief, over any alternative budget proposals. This move has sparked concerns over the democratic process within the council, with Stoddart highlighting the inherent conflict of interest in having one’s proposals judged by an officer whose original budget they aim to challenge.

The narrative took a more dramatic turn with the involvement of Max Caller CBE, a figure introduced to underscore the grave consequences of failing to set a balanced budget. Stoddart’s recounting of Caller’s seminar paints a picture of stark warnings against the backdrop of potential misconduct charges, a tactic Stoddart views as fearmongering designed to quell dissent.

Despite the pressures, Stoddart’s resolve remains unshaken. The veteran councillor is calling for greater transparency and accountability, suggesting that recordings of key seminars be made public to allow constituents a clearer understanding of the deliberations leading up to the budget decision.

His stance reflects a broader concern for democratic integrity within the council.

You can read ‘OLD GRUMPY’ by clicking HERE.

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Public bodies commit to stop odour at Withyhedge Landfill



NATURAL RESOURCES WALES (NRW), Public Health Wales and Pembrokeshire County Council will ensure capping of a waste cell causing significant odour issues at Withyhedge Landfill happens as swiftly and safely as possible.

The three public bodies have been in regular contact since the start of the year. Following a public meeting held on Monday, 26 February, they are continuing to work together to achieve progress in resolving the issues affecting the communities surrounding the landfill.

Erin Smyth-Evans, Industry Regulation Team Leader for South West, NRW, said: “NRW is continuing its on-site inspections to ensure the site operator is moving forward effectively in its work to cap the cell where we have identified the most probable source of the odour. Work onsite is progressing daily and we anticipate noticeable reductions in landfill gas emissions and odours in the coming weeks.

“NRW is also continuing its investigations into permit non-compliances which in part have led us to serve an enforcement notice on RML in recent weeks. This outlined the steps the company needs to take to come back into compliance, and complete the landfill engineering work to contain and collect landfill gas. Our investigatory enquiries will take time and at present, ensuring the capping works are complete is our top priority.”

The public bodies are working with the site operator to monitor air quality in response to increasing health concerns from the local community. Results are expected to start being received mid-March. Public Health Wales will then be able to provide further advice dependent on those results.

Dr Giri Shankar, Director of Health Protection for Public Health Wales, told The Pembrokeshire Herald: “We recognise that local people are under strain and are very concerned about the impacts of odours around the Withyhedge landfill site.

“While Public Health Wales is not the lead agency for matters like this, we are working very closely with NRW to make sure the situation is improved quickly to reduce the impact on local people.  We have met with NRW and the local authority and are eager to see an urgent solution to this issue.  We have also recommended that the site is capped as soon as possible so that the odours are stopped.

“We have also called for monitoring at the site, as this will provide us with the important information that we need to help us conduct a full assessment of any potential health impacts on the local community. 

“Our current advice to local residents is that odours and emissions from this site may be harmful to health, and that they should keep doors and windows closed when the smells are present and seek medical advice if necessary.  We hope this situation can be quickly improved.”

Cllr Rhys Sinnett, Pembrokeshire County Council Cabinet Member for Residents’ Services, said: “We recognise the impact of odours on the local community coming from the Withyhedge site and we understand the level of concern this has caused.

“Since before Christmas our officers have been working closely with colleagues from lead organisation NRW to assess the incidence of odours from Withyhedge. Officers from our Planning and Public Protection teams have visited the site alongside NRW colleagues and engaged with the operators.

“I assure you a lot of work is continuing in the background and all public bodies have reconfirmed their commitment to ensuring a long term solution to the problems as soon as possible.

“As partners we have also committed to continue engaging with the local community and updating on the situation going forward.”

Members of the public are urged to continue reporting odour incidents to NRW.

NRW requests that instances of odour from the landfill continue to be reported via this dedicated form:

Here you will also find detailed information on NRW’s investigation and action to date.

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Council accused of coercing councillors into approving historic tax increase



IN AN UNFOLDING scandal at Pembrokeshire County Council, councillors are reportedly being pressured to endorse what could be the UK’s most substantial council tax hike, according to documents revealed by the TaxPayers’ Alliance.

Allegations of “strong-arm” tactics being used to secure approval for the proposed budget have surfaced, intensifying the debate.

This development, first reported in The Daily Telegraph, and Yahoo News, precedes a critical budget meeting set for the 7th of March, where the council will deliberate on a budget incorporating a 16.31% increase in council tax.

This proposed hike is unprecedented in magnitude for the 2024/25 period and would impose an additional £219 on Band D households. This rate of increase has not been seen in Wales since 2000-01 and is the most significant for both England and Wales since the introduction of referendum principles in 2012-23.

E-mails obtained from the TaxPayers’ Alliance shed light on the intense pressure being exerted on councillors by high-ranking officials, including the S151 officer and the monitoring officer.

These communications explicitly state that opposing the budget could be deemed unlawful and would contravene the Principles of Public Life as outlined in the Constitution. Specifically, such opposition is cited as a potential violation of the principle of Stewardship, risking the council’s reputation and constituting a code of conduct issue.

Moreover, the correspondence underscores a clear directive that no amendments affecting the 2024-25 council tax increase level will be entertained at the upcoming council session on March 7th.

In a related event, Max Caller, the lead commissioner for Birmingham City Council, reportedly gave a “pep talk” that left councillors with a stark warning about the legal implications of failing to set a budget, underscoring their statutory duties.

Elliot Keck, the TaxPayers’ Alliance’s head of campaigns, expressed grave concerns over the undue influence reported, highlighting the severe impact such a tax increase could have on household finances. Keck advocates for councillors’ autonomy in decision-making, free from undue influence.

Independent Councillor Mike Stoddart has voiced opposition to the tactics employed, suggesting that pressuring elected officials to support the significant tax increase could backfire. Stoddart remains committed to acting in his constituents’ best interests, irrespective of external pressures.

The TaxPayers’ Alliance, established in 2004 by Matthew Elliott and Andrew Allum, has been vocal in opposing the proposed tax rise. The organisation, dedicated to tax reform, public service improvement, and the reduction of waste, has been actively campaigning in Milford Haven, Pembrokeshire, highlighting the issue to the public and media.

As the debate intensifies, the eyes of Pembrokeshire residents and the wider UK public are keenly focused on the upcoming council vote, which could set a precedent for future tax policy and governance locally.

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