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Tough choices for 21st century schools

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In an exclusive interview with The Pembrokeshire Herald, Council Leader Jamie Adams shares his vision for the future of Pembrokeshire’s schools

A COLD grey day slowly fades into twilight as Jamie Adams sits at a desk opposite me in an office tucked away in a maze of corridors at County Hall.

We are here to talk about the 21st Century Schools programme: the ambitious and wide-ranging plans that are a significant and potentially controversial part of the County Council’s plans for the future of education in Pembrokeshire.

tough choicesIn short, local authorities have been told to look at schools with low numbers and consolidate them, to look at their estate and ways to improve it and offered the chance of limited time funding to do both. The policy gained a high-profile casualty when the former Welsh Government Education Minister, Leighton Andrews, resigned after fighting locally a policy he promoted nationally.

The Pembrokeshire Herald wanted to find out what the Council’s plans were and, in a wide-ranging interview, spoke to Jamie Adams – who chairs the authority’s 21st Century Schools Management Board – about them.

“I would not say that the position in Pembrokeshire is any more challenging than it is in other counties,” Jamie Adams begins.

“I would rather regard it as an opportunity to shape the provision of education, and to address the problem of surplus places in our schools.

“We have twenty percent more school spaces than we have pupils to fill those spaces. Now, there are counties – I won’t name them – in which difficult decisions have been avoided in favour of the status quo. That is the easy route to take.

“For now, however, Pembrokeshire has the chance to obtain the funding to provide new buildings and new schools and to build for the future. This is a once in a generation chance to do this and I think that we should take up the challenge to shape education in our county for the better.”

He pauses and looks reflective, before continuing: “In order to build new schools, we must make some other choices. We have the opportunity to rationalize the Council’s estate. We cannot afford to operate surplus buildings or surplus space. It ties up capital.

“A good example would be youth centres, day centres, family centres: we cannot afford to keep these as single use buildings used only part of the time. We must ‘sweat the assets’ to get the most out of them. That means combining buildings’ uses to keep services affordable and buildings viable.

“We must do this in order to get the funding we need. The original 21st Century Schools scheme provided for a 70-30 split between central government and central government inputs. That is now 50-50. We have to find forty percent more of the funding than originally planned. As we are the second highest recipient of central government funding in Wales, our challenge is that much greater in terms of capacity for capital projects. We have got off to a good start and have a lot of the money in place. I am confident that within two years we will be one third of the way to our funding target in terms of releasing capital.

“As a council, our challenge over the next two to three years is to release the money tied up in existing assets that can be realised. That can only be done by a collective effort. My challenge is to convey the message that we need to move away from holding too much in buildings to do more with services.”

But what of specific schools: Johnston, for instance?

“When we first sent our exploratory bids in, they were prepared to a tight timescale as aspirational expressions of what we wanted to achieve. There was a narrow window provided by the Welsh Government. Some other Welsh councils decided not to stick their necks out, we were prepared to take the chance given.

“Since our initial expressions, we have taken the opportunity think both generally and strategically at schools and our education system in Pembrokeshire. We are focusing on three things: growth, outcomes and quality of build. We must also consider Welsh medium provision and special educational needs.

“So in terms of Johnston School, we looked again at the site. The present site is a nightmare for traffic twice a day. The streets around the school are simply not built to handle the number of cars going back and forward there. In addition, the buildings are ‘tired’ and need updating/replacing.

“While we looked originally at developing on the existing site, we decided that it was rather like trying to fit a size eight foot in a size six shoe. It is simply not going to fit. So, we have decided to find out if there are chances to develop elsewhere in Johnston.

“Secondly, we have identified an additional need for further support for special educational needs covering the area between Haverfordwest and Milford Haven and stretching inland and toward the coast. If you look at a map of the County, one location stands out as the sensible place to locate that provision: Johnston.

“In light of that revised thinking, our original proposal for Johnston School’s present site has been replaced by our wish to look at the opportunities for building a new school on a new site.”

What about Hakin and Hubberston schools?

“That’s an ongoing consultation, and I don’t want to prejudge its outcome. I point out, however, that for pre-eleven education, Estyn is looking for a single site school. Now Hakin is a split site already and Estyn want that point addressed.

“In terms of Hubberston, I do not doubt that we could make do with the existing buildings for a few more years, but the opportunity to develop our options is now. I think this is a unique chance to develop a new school on a single site.

“There are, of course, other issues: I am particularly pleased that the revised proposals incorporate the opportunity to retain faith-based education; that is to be welcomed. I am pleased that this area is bucking the trend across the county and that there is a growing young population there. In order to address that issue, we really ought to future-proof our provision now, when we have the chance. Finally, as it stands, we have three schools in very close proximity to each other and a new school on a single site makes more sense.

“At Broad Haven School we have the chance to provide a nursery and additional capacity. To an extent that is a less complicated project, as it is a much smaller school. But it fits into our strategic plan for the future provision of school places across Pembrokeshire.

“Make no mistake: we will have to make tough choices in the future as well. The Council will be moving on to consider the Angle Peninsula and the area south and west of Pembroke town. We need to consider how viable our current provision is and whether there are opportunities to use resources more efficiently there.

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Heatherton expansion approved

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• Committee overturns officers’ objections

• Economic benefits outweigh other impacts

Conditions must not delay development

THE COUNCIL’s Planning Committee voted to approve plans to extend holiday accommodation at Heatherton at its meeting on Tuesday (June 15).

Officers recommended refusal of the plans.

During their discussions, the Committee’s members noted the reasons for refusal detailed by the planning report. They concluded, however, with appropriate conditions in place, the economic benefits of the development outweighed the bases outlined for refusal.

Addressing the meeting, the applicant, Charlie Davies, told Committee members that the changing holiday market meant Heatherton and the area around it would miss out on opportunities to meet the demand for holidays in Pembrokeshire. He added that the planned expansion – to include a further twenty holiday lodges – would secure year-round jobs at Heatherton and have a positive impact on the local rural economy.

Mr Davies said the existing lodge development, approved by the authority seven years ago, improved the viability of Heatherton as an enterprise and would further strengthen the business’ finances.

Officers objected to the plans because they said the development would be outside settlement boundaries and run contrary to environmental policy. 

The report, presented by the Head of Planning David Popplewell, set out a series of concerns regarding the lodges’ visual impact, a lack of screening, and the lack of detail about landscaping plans and construction controls during development.

However, addressing the Committee as one of the local members whose Ward would be affected by the development, Cllr Phil Kidney said St Florence Community Council vigorously supported the application as being of direct benefit to businesses in the village. 

He pointed out that the economic benefits were not only Tenby centric but affected businesses elsewhere in the County.

Phil Kidney told the Committee his visit to a laundry in Pembroke Dock, by chance, revealed that laundry he delivered would be delayed because of laundry being done for the accommodation already on site. 

Cllr Kidney added that, bearing in mind the current furore over second homes, the provision of holiday accommodation on sites such as Heatherton could reduce the demands on local housing and open-up opportunities for local people to live locally.

He fully endorsed the proposal and said he could see no downside to permitting further expansion of a business that delivered jobs to local people, especially young people entering the jobs market for the first time.

Cllr Jonathan Preston agreed with Cllr. Kidney. 

He observed that the regulations regarding what constituted ‘a caravan’ were out of date and out of touch with reality. 

Although the proposed lodges were technically caravans; they were a world away from what most people would expect a caravan to look like and beyond the vision that informed the current rules regarding the term.

Cllr Mark Carter said the problems identified in the planning report could be addressed through the imposition of conditions on the development to offset them.

Mark Carter pointed out issues regarding the detail of landscaping works and lighting could be subject to conditions drafted by officers.

His opinion was warmly welcomed by both Cllrs David Pugh and Vice-Chair Tony Wilcox.

David Pugh said Heatherton was a successful business, employing local people and should be encouraged to continue to offer job opportunities for locals.

Tony Wilcox said Heatherton was one of the three main jewels in Pembrokeshire’s tourist crown. 

He noted the other two destinations – Folly Farm and Bluestone – both recently applied to extend their facilities, and he could see little or no difference between what Heatherton proposed and what officers were prepared to accept elsewhere.

Cllr Tim Evans developed Cllr Wilcox’s theme, observing that officers barely raised an eyebrow about a further eighty pieces of holiday accommodation at Bluestone, which he said had ‘whizzed through’. 

Subject to conditions being brought back to the Committee, he fully supported the application.

Cllr Jacob Williams, Chair of Planning, asked whether the proposed conditions would be back before the Committee for its next meeting in July. 

Having received an equivocal answer he moved that if the Committee approved the scheme, with the proposed planning conditions to offset officers’ objections must come before the Committee on July 27.

Cllr Pugh endorsed that approach by saying nobody wanted the proposal kicked into the long grass.

Councillors approved the plans unanimously by 14 votes to nil, and officers must prepare conditions to attach to the planning permission ahead of the Committee’s next meeting.

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Milford Haven: Christmas cosmetics thief caged

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A MIDLANDS shop lifter caught stealing £2200 worth of cosmetics and skin care products from Boots in Milford Haven just before Christmas, has been jailed.

Magistrates sitting at Haverfordwest Court on Tuesday (Jun 15) accepted a guilty plea from 53-year-old Ion-Gabriel Maimut of Perrott Street, Birmingham.

He was jailed for what the bench described as “offending so serious because the defendant has a flagrant disregard for people and their property.

“And because of the high degree of planning and the high value of the theft.

“And because the theft was aggravated by the defendant’s record of previous offending.”

Maiumut, bang-to-rights, pleaded guilty at the first opportunity to a single theft of goods from Boots to the value of £2204.91 on December 4, 2020.

The court confirmed that the defendant’s guilty plea was considered when imposing sentence.

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Blue Gem Wind begins digital aerial surveys for 300MW Valorous floating wind project

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BLUE GEM WIND, the joint venture between TotalEnergies, one of the world’s largest energy companies, and Simply Blue Energy, has begun offshore digital aerial surveys for a proposed 300MW floating wind project.

APEM Ltd have been chosen by Blue Gem Wind to deliver 24 consecutive monthly bird and marine mammal surveys of the early-commercial scale Valorous site. The high resolution data obtained will support baseline environmental characterisation of the site and environmental impact assessments for key ecological receptors.

The survey programme commenced in March 2021 and four of the 24 monthly surveys have been completed
to date.

Sean Evans, Environmental Specialist at Blue Gem Wind said, “It is important for us to begin long-lead in items
such as bird and marine mammal surveys as early as possible. These surveys will provide crucial species specific
data on the number, spatial distribution and activity of individuals across the Valorous site. This enables us to
undertake robust environmental impact assessments ahead of our planned consent application submission in
2023.”

Matt Rohner, Senior Consultant at APEM, “APEM Ltd are delighted to be able to support Blue Gem Wind’s
proposed Valorous offshore wind farm with our best-in-class survey design approach. Imagery captured using
state-of-the-art cameras is of ultra-high (1.6cm) resolution, providing industry leading image quality that is
essential for species level identification.”

The Celtic Sea is poised to play a key role in Net Zero, the Committee on Climate Change’s 100GW offshore
wind target, and crucially, the UK Government’s target of 1 GW of floating wind by 2030. The ORE Catapult also
estimated that the first GW of floating wind in the Celtic Sea could potentially deliver over 3,000 jobs and
£682m in supply chain opportunities for Wales and Cornwall by 2030.

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