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Council criticised over Riverside plans

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The Riverside Market: Showing ‘temporary’ plywood fascias

The Riverside Market: Showing ‘temporary’ plywood fascias

PEMBROKESHIRE COUNTY COUNCIL has been criticised over its handling of Haverfordwest Library’s relocation to the Riverside Market after it has been suggested that the projected cost of the move could be wildly inaccurate.

According to the data used to calculate the cost of relocating the library to a number of locations, the Riverside option was the cheapest in a central location. The projected total cost of works, including abnormal, came to £1,019,810.97, giving a total cost per square metre of £946.90. This compared favourably with the former site of Ocky White’s, which had a larger area, although concerns were raised about the layout. The estimated costs for work on that site came to £1,676.58 per m2.

The cost of locating the building in the North Wing of County Hall, a larger site, came out at £598.57 per m2, but it was thought that locating the library ‘out of the town centre’ at County Hall would reduce footfall in the town centre. This also applied to the Dew Street Library. A brief visit to Google Street Maps shows that County Hall is 0.3 miles from the centre of Bridge Street, with an estimated walking time of five minutes. The Library on Dew Street is also a five minute walk, though this may not take the hill into account.

It was pointed out when these figures were discussed that they were subject to further surveying work. However, The Herald has learned that a survey of the Riverside Market was in fact carried out some five years ago, when the market traders were told that thebuildingneeded £1.3m of necessary works carried out, in addition to £1.7m worth of desirable works.

Bearing in mind that this survey is five years old, and that no major works have taken place in this time, it would be reasonable to assume that the fabric of the building has deteriorated further, meaning the costs could be even higher. Our reporter was told that the structural steel over the river was meant to be painted every five years. This task had been carried out once, around 20 years ago. When the fascias were removed for the steel to be painted some years ago, the metal was said to be in too poor a condition to paint. A temporary plywood cladding was installed, and remains to this day. Our reporter was shown a number of sites where the roof was leaking – apparently an ongoing problem.

In a meeting held with traders a week before the library relocation was discussed by the cabinet, Michael Cavanagh of the Cultural Services Department is said to have told representatives of the market committee that the actual cost of the works would be double what was quoted.

If we assume that all of the £1.7m of ‘desirable’ work would have been undertaken with the idea of improving the Riverside as a retail venue – by no means a given – and therefore does not apply to the redevelopment of the venue as a library, then this still leaves £1.3m of ‘necessary’ work. This generous assessment, when added to the original estimate, would lead to a figure of £2,319, 810.97, or £2,153 per m2. It is possible that some of the work could be counted twice, though as it was explicitly pointed out that further surveying was needed when the report was presented in January, this seems unlikely.

When the Herald asked Pembrokeshire County Council about this, we were told that the previous survey was ‘historic’, and ‘was not prepared for the same purpose or on the same basis. It was undertaken in the context of a major redevelopment proposal for the town centre’.

Regarding the projected costs a council spokesman said: “ As part of the options appraisal work that led to the Riverside Market being identified as the best location for a new County Library and Information Centre, external Quantity Surveyors provided an estimate of £1,019,810.97. However, this did not include some costs that we anticipate may be required as part of the development, such as replacement of the roof. It also did not include costs associated with relocating the market traders. The full costs of the scheme cannot be identified until the project brief has been finalised, and this work is currently underway as stated in the recent Cabinet report.”

We were also told that the Cultural Services Department had been aware for some time that the costs would by far exceed this figure, and had been told that £2.3m was available for the project.

The earlier assertion that the Riverside Market had not received any major works in recent years was based on talks with many of the traders, who expressed their dissatisfaction with the council’s management of the market, especially in the last 18 months since the plans for relocating the library were first discussed.

It was claimed by more than one person that the council’s treatment of the market over that period amounted to a managed decline, or ‘death by a thousand cuts,’ as one stallholder memorably put it. Half of the market has been empty for some time. Another stallholder said that reports in local media claiming that the market’s closing was only a matter of time when the issue was first raised had meant that people were unwilling to take on any of the vacant units. They added that no particular effort seemed to have been made by the council to fill any of the vacant units. These have now been blocked off by barricading one of the walkways.

This perceived mismanagement has affected the businesses of all the traders we talked to. The Herald was informed that eighteen months ago, when the relocation plans were first discussed, the market had 95% occupancy, which compared very favourably to Haverfordwest town centre as a whole. This has nosedived since – apparently as a result of traders moving elsewhere due to uncertainty about the market’s future, and new traders being unwilling to move in because the council was unwilling to give long-term assurances. The large number of vacant premises and the appearance of the market have both undoubtedly contributed to significantly reduced footfall.

The council has said that help will be given to traders looking to relocate, including two years of business rates relief. This does not take into account the paucity of ‘like for like’ premises in the town centre, which would mean that established businesses would have to move away from their client bases. Apparently, businesses moving to larger premises would receive less assistance. It can be assumed that this would be classified as business expansion rather than the lack of a more suitable property.

The Council was keen to clarify this issue: “The relocation package is on a like-for-like basis so if a trader elects to take a larger unit, the Council will provide support based on a similar-sized unit. This is not a reduced level of financial assistance, it is an apportioned level of assistance.”

Traders expressed their concerns about suitable properties available, and the lack of communication from the council. One trader told us that a ‘mini market’ had been considered for Bridge Street, and that four properties had been viewed. However, no further details had been made available, leading some of the businesses to accuse the council of not answering basic questions pertaining to their future.

As has been pointed out, the uncertainty surrounding the market has led to decreased trade. This has meant that some businesses have found themselves in rent arrears. The council has told businesses in arrears that they face eviction if the money is not paid soon, and that they will not be entitled to any assistance with relocation. Whether or not the council has been honouring the terms of the rental agreement by allowing the market to deteriorate is another question.

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Secondary school staff and pupils must wear face coverings from December 1

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FOLLOWING the written statement from the Minister for Education yesterday (Monday) evening, all secondary school learners and staff will be required to wear face coverings indoors where physical distancing is not possible. 

Due to the uncertainty of the Omicron variant and the need to keep learning going, Pembrokeshire County Council has taken the decision to implement this Welsh Government Ministerial Decision with effect from tomorrow, Wednesday 1st of December. 

Cllr Guy Woodham, the Cabinet Member for Education & Lifelong Learning said: “Continuing to support learners and staff safety is our top priority. 

“Given that there is still much to be learnt about the Omicron variant it is important that do everything we can to stop the spread of the virus and the use of masks in classrooms and communal areas in secondary schools, where physical distancing is not possible, will allow us to support learners continuing in school settings until the end of term.” 

Using the local decision making framework for schools locally, the agreed risk level remains high with the following additional mitigating measures remaining in place:

·        Floor signage

·        Seating plans for lessons, and forward facing desks wherever possible 

·        Twice weekly Lateral Flow Device testing for all staff and learners in secondary schools

·        Masks must be worn in communal areas in secondary schools, by staff in primary schools, and must be worn by visitors

·        deep cleaning where needed in schools

·        Face coverings required on school transport

·        CO2 Monitors rolled out and used by all schools

Cllr Woodham added: “We thank everyone for playing their part and for your ongoing support during these challenging times.”

In response, Debbie Thomas, Head of Policy at the National Deaf Children’s Society Cymru, said: “Public health should be a priority, but it’s vital to remember that face coverings make life extremely difficult for deaf students. Lip reading becomes impossible and facial expressions are much harder to see, so they could be left struggling to understand their teachers, lecturers and classmates.

“Secondary schools, colleges and universities must act fast and speak to their deaf students immediately, putting reasonable adjustments in place to make sure none of them miss out on their education. If they fall behind in their studies, the consequences could last for years.”

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‘Unpleasant’ trader must pay over £19,000 for shoddy shed work

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A MAN who carried out substandard work on a shed in north Pembrokeshire and became unpleasant when challenged has been ordered to pay over £19,000.

Benjamin Michael Davies, trading as BMD Agricultural Sheds, appeared at Haverfordwest Magistrates Court on Monday 22nd November, for a case brought by Pembrokeshire Trading Standards.

Davies, aged 31, was charged with and admitted five offences under the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008.

Davies pleaded guilty to:

  • one count of engaging in a commercial practice which was a misleading action;
  • one count of engaging in a commercial practice which contravened the requirements of professional diligence;
  • three counts of engaging in a commercial practice which was aggressive. 

All five offences relate to substandard repairs that were made to a shed roof in in 2020. 

The victim arranged with Davies to carry out repairs to the roof of an outbuilding. 

The work carried out was not of acceptable standard nor in accordance with what was originally agreed.

When challenged on the standard of the work, Davies became unpleasant. 

An expert report later confirmed the work was not satisfactory and lacked competence, including several areas where water ingress continues.

The court heard the victim was vulnerable due to personal circumstances and the incident impacted their mental health.

The victim had been left with no finances to rectify the work carried out.

Davies, of Tanbank, Prendergast, was fined £6000 plus ordered to pay £2487 costs and a £190 victim surcharge.

A compensation order for £10,500 to include £500 for emotional distress was also awarded to the victim.

Pembrokeshire County Council Cabinet Member for Public Protection, Cllr Cris Tomos, said: “This was a very upsetting situation and I am grateful to our Trading Standards team for bringing this case and securing the convictions and the award of a substantial compensation award for the victim.

“When members of the public engage a professional they are entitled to receive a professional service.

“The fact that in this case Davies became unpleasant when challenged on the standard of his work added another level of distress to the vulnerable victim.

“I hope this case and the outcome acts as a reminder that Pembrokeshire Trading Standards will investigate complaints and take the case forward at every possible opportunity.”

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Covid-19 cases highest in Tenby; lots of new cases in Neyland and Pembroke Dock

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THE NUMBER of Covid-19 infections still taking place in Pembrokeshire is still significant, with the latest figues broken down per town now released.

Tenby has the highest prevalence in the general population at the present time.

The figures show that Pembroke Dock and Neyland have reported the most new cases with 59 and 60 new cases each.

This is the coronavirus rate and number of new cases for every area across Pembrokeshire are as follows:

  • St Davids & Letterston: 30 new cases; a rate of 394.6 per 100,000 people.
  • Johnston, Broad Haven & St Ishmaels: 39 new cases; a rate of 466.6 cases per 100,000 people.
  • Milford Haven West: 49 new cases; a rate of 641.4 per 100,000 people.
  • Milford Haven East: 37 new cases; a rate of 495.4 cases per 100,000 people.
  • Pembroke West & Castlemartin: 34 new cases; 459.8 cases per 100,000 people.
  • Pembroke East & Manorbier: 25 new cases; a rate of 324.8 cases per 100,000 people.
  • Pembroke Dock: 59 new cases; a rate of 610.5 cases per 100,000 people.
  • Neyland: 60 new cases; a rate of 690.4 cases per 100,000 people.
  • Haverfordwest South: 52 new cases; a rate of 727.2 cases per 100,000 people.
  • Haverfordwest North: 47 new cases; a rate of 661.0 cases per 100,000 people.
  • Crundale, Clynderwen & Maenclochog: 64 new cases; a rate of 888.3 cases per 100,000 people.
  • Fishguard: 39 new cases; a rate of 393.6 cases per 100,000 people.
  • Cilgerran & Crymych: 30 new cases; a rate of 353.2 cases per 100,000 people.
  • Narberth: 29 new cases; a rate of 422.0 cases per 100,000 people.
  • Saundersfoot: 29 new cases; a rate of 341.4 cases per 100,000 people.
  • Tenby & Caldey: 40 new cases; a rate of 658.4 cases per 100,000 people.

Cllr Simpson, Leader of Pembrokeshire County Council said on Friday: “I must repeat that Covid-19 has not gone away and the wave of positive cases sweeping across Europe is a concern.
“People continue to catch this awful virus every day. Unfortunately, people are still dying from Covid-19.
“It is human nature to want to forget about Covid as the festive season approaches, I totally understand that.
“Like everyone, I was so disappointed when the tighter restrictions had to be brought in just before Christmas last year.
“And like everyone I’m thinking about buying gifts, planning festive events and looking forward to the celebrations.
“But I would please ask that you also keep in mind the simple things we can all do to give ourselves the best protection against Covid-19 and slow down the spread.”

Council Covid-19 team in Tenby earlier this year (Pic PCC)

Cllr Simpson said that People in Pembrokeshire should continue to work from home where you can, take up vaccination including the booster when offered, keep your distance where possible, use face coverings where required, maintain hand hygiene, meet outdoors when the weather allows and let fresh air in if you are meeting indoors.

He said that Christmas parties is one particular area where I would ask people to take extra care.

Cllr Simpson said: “Please consider smaller group numbers than you might ordinarily and try to avoid mixing with too many other people.”

“Remember that Covid-19 loves busy indoor spaces.

“Please do what you can to protect yourself and others.

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