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Fears over the future of our Town Centres

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imgID952436The controversy and debate over town centre regeneration has been re-ignited by Michael Hughes, proprietor of soon to be closed Haverfordwest outlet, ‘Tom Hughes’, who criticised the local County Council for failing to support local businesses in Haverfordwest Town Centre. When speaking to Mr Hughes, he explained how local businesses are struggling,

“There is a lack of planning and vision for Haverfordwest (by Pembrokeshire County Council). Little has been done to help regenerate the town centre. Nice streets and flowers aren’t going to bring people to Haverfordwest. Tourists will not simply come just for Marks and Spencer, Next and Debenhams. They come (to towns like Haverfordwest) for different shops.”

According to Mr Hughes, the retail trade journal ‘Draper’, has claimed there is actually a rise in high street shopping. He also made reference to the rates, which he sees as very high; indeed, he believes they are more expensive per square metre than they are in Carmarthen and he criticised the rating policy set by The Welsh Assembly, complaining that the threshold for rate relief is far too low.

The Herald spoke with a number of shops in Haverfordwest Town centre with recurring themes of complaint about parking facilities in the town, the cost of rates and the closure of Ocky Whites and its effect on trade.

Indeed, only this week comes the announcement that J and G Bland (Motors) Limited, are to close their doors on September 6th. Speaking with another local paper, the owner, Alan Bland, cited high overheads, especially the rates, as the reason for closure. This demise of yet another established Haverfordwest company, one that has been trading in the town for over 130 years, having been established in 1875, will come as a further blow to those that wish to see more independant traders within the Town. The loss of this family business also sees the loss of another twenty jobs in the Town centre.

Jackie Westrup, Haverfordwest Town Mayor, stated,

“I will not run my town down or blame others for its plight but I do recognise the difficulties it is facing. My (Town) Council recognises the plight of our town centre but it also recognises that this is mainly due to the new shopping habits of people.”

She went on to say,

“We have great difficulty in understanding why the County Council wishes to develop a whole line of new shops by Bridge Street where the (current) businesses are struggling under high rates and rents. We consider it complete folly”.

Councillor David Howlett, leader of the Conservative Group on the County Council, commented upon the problem of perceived high rates in Haverfordwest.

“Business rates are the second largest expense (for a business) after wages, and this is set by the Welsh Government. The Welsh (Labour) Government could and should do more with that.”

He continued by explaining that a hardship fund is available to councils but that his worry is that, if a council started down that route, it might be difficult to know where to stop. He also pointed out that the Conservative Party have an Assembly policy for high street regeneration which, amongst other things, aims to tackle the problems with issues surrounding parking and rates, and would use Town Centre Managers to bring cohesion to the running of these centres. He finished by saying that,

“No one element will work by itself. It has to be a collaboration of local councils and the policies of Welsh Assembly Government and UK Government”.

Paul Davies, Welsh Assembly Member for Preseli Pembrokeshire, commented by saying,

“Small businesses play such an important role in Pembrokeshire and by regenerating our local high streets, we can take a significant step forward in nurturing growth in our local economy, creating jobs and making Wales a more prosperous nation. The Welsh Government needs to make our high streets more accessible and more attractive, as well as tackling high vacancy rates before our high streets disappear altogether”

Councillor Paul Miller, leader of the Labour Group, takes a very different view when searching for a solution to the problem. As he explained,

“In 2010 Marks and Spencer moved to Pembrokeshire, opening a new store on the Withybush Retail Park. The Pembrokeshire Independent Group of councillors facilitated and welcomed this move. The reality is that Marks and Spencer moving to Haverfordwest was great news for shoppers, but, in allowing the store to locate outside of the town centre, Pembrokeshire County Council effectively called time on a vibrant and viable Haverfordwest. “

He went on to point out that, as he sees it, in the UK there are only a handful of ‘destination’  retail outlets, the likes of John Lewis and Marks and Spencer, for example, and that in a well planned venture such stores are used as ‘anchor stores’, generating, as he says, “footfall which can support and sustain neighbouring local retailers”.

He went on to lay out his, and Labour’s, vision for Haverfordwest.

“A Labour Council would engage directly with the major retailers still to develop a footprint in Pembrokeshire. We’d get from them just what it is they want- parking, floor area and adjacent facilities – and we’d produce one single master plan for Haverfordwest Town Centre. With pre-lets in place with retailers, we’d acquire the required real estate and provide the up-front capital funds to get construction underway”.

Asked whether he was concerned about the Welsh Labour Government’s business rate setting, he responded by claiming that business rates were a ‘smoke screen that the Council and its allies were using to cover up their failings’.

However, Councillor David Pugh, Cabinet Member for the Economy, poured scorn on Mr Miller’s viewpoint pointing out that Withybush Retail Park is privately owned and thus can allow any retailer to trade from its property as it so wishes; inferring that Labour’s plans would be impossible to impose. As well as this, he cited the cutbacks the County Council faces and doubted the electorate would support the use of Council funds in this way. On the subject of seemingly high rents, he explained that the County Council had no influence on rent set by private landlords. He also said that the business rates are set by the Welsh Assembly Government. He made reference to the business rate review document, published by Professor Brian Morgan in 2012, saying ‘it was a good report that called for the need for adjustment to business rates’, but stated that,

“Unfortunately the (Welsh) Assembly has decided to postpone this review until 2017”.

Councillor Pugh made it clear that he felt there should be an adjustment to the rates but that the Welsh Assembly Government had decided not to make that adjustment.

When asked whether his Independent Group may suffer from having no political voice within the Assembly, lacking, it would appear, a party manifesto, (as in past election literature the Independent Group has claimed to be ‘above’ party politics), Councillor Pugh simply stated that his Group had influence as a ‘political party’ and spoke often with the (Welsh) Assembly. He finished by saying that the regeneration of Pembrokeshire’s town centres was ‘at the top of the list’ and that the County Council would “engage with all aspects of Town to work in partnership to see what we can do”.

Finally, The Herald spoke exclusively with Preseli Pembrokeshire MP, Stephen Crabb, who offered an alternative vision of how Haverfordwest, or indeed any town centre, could face this uncertain future.

“It is clear that every town centre, up and down the country, faces challenges. Somehow our town centres need to be developed and managed in a way that responds to those trends. In some towns the shopping area could be smaller with perhaps more residential and cultural facilities, for example, galleries and restaurants, replacing some retail outlets.”

He pointed out that a ‘one size fits all’ approach to town centres would not succeed and that policy should reflect this, with each individual town requiring individual solutions and continued by saying that,

“In future, County Councils need to work far more closely with Town Councils. When I go around Pembrokeshire it would be easy to be depressed, but there are people in our communities setting up new shops and trying to bring new retail to their communities.”

To this, he cited the new shops in Milford Haven and Haverfordwest, and the raised quality of their retail produce. Mr Crabb pointed out that those people willing to take risks are the people who need every bit of backing they can get from all aspects of Government. He finished by stating that,

“The future of town centres will not be in the hands of big business but in those of local entrepreneurs”.

Whatever may be the future of Haverfordwest, it may take a little bit more than the encumbant County Council’s ‘streetscape paint scheme’ or a lowering of business rates to regenerate these historic and essential community centres and, as Stephen Crabb suggests, a new approach may be necessary to restore our prestigious market town to its former glory.

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Man, 22, charged with murder of John William Bell in Cardigan

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A CARDIGAN man has been charged with murder after a man’s death in Ceredigion.

John Bell, 37, and also from the town, was found on the road to Cardigan Bridge in the early hours of Wednesday.

Dyfed-Powys Police said 22-year-old Ashley Keegan, of Golwg y Castell, Cardigan, has been charged with his murder.

A Dyfed-Powys Police spokesperson said: “Dyfed-Powys Police can confirm that Ashley Keegan, aged 22, of Golwg y Castell, Cardigan, has been charged with the murder of John William Bell.

Victim: John Bell

“Keegan will appear at Swansea magistrates court on Saturday 24th July 2021.

“John’s family continue to be supported by specialist officers and the investigation is grateful for the support of the community whilst enquiries were conducted.”

This is the second major incident in the same area this month.

Another man was charged with making threats with a knife, he is again from Golwg y Castell.

Dyfed-Powys Police said they received a number of calls reporting a man brandishing a knife towards another man in Maesyfelin, Cardigan, at around 4.20pm on Wednesday (July 14).

Several police units swiftly made their way to the area, but the suspect had fled.

Dean Thomas, aged 25, was quickly located at his home in Golwg y Castell, where he was arrested on suspicion of affray and taken to custody.

Mobile phone footage was gathered from people at the scene, and statements were taken from witnesses.

Cardigan Inspector Owen Williams said: “Thanks to the swift attendance of officers, there were a number of people present who were able to provide evidence to assist with our enquiries.
“Thomas also made a significant statement linking himself with the incident, and was charged within hours of being arrested.

“I hope the speed with which we carried out enquiries into this incident reassures people living in Maesyfelin, who were naturally very concerned by what had happened.”

Thomas was charged with threatening a person with a blade or sharply pointed article in a public place and appeared at Aberystwyth Magistrates’ Court on Thursday, July 15 where he admitted the offence.

He will be sentenced on July 29 at Swansea Crown Court.

In relation to the murder, anyone with information that could help officers with their investigation is asked to report it to Dyfed-Powys Police, either online at: https://bit.ly/DPPContactOnline, by emailing 101@dyfed-powys.pnn.police.uk, or by calling 101 and quoting Op Reedham. If you are deaf, hard of hearing, or speech impaired text the non-emergency number on 07811 311 908. Alternatively, contact the independent charity Crimestoppers anonymously by calling 0800 555111, or visiting crimestoppers-uk.org.

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‘Plan ahead this summer’, says Leader of Pembrokeshire County Council

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THE FOLLOWING is a message from the Leader of Pembrokeshire County Council, Cllr David Simpson:

Hello everyone, I hope you are well and enjoying this lovely weather.

My key message this week is about planning ahead.

This week we have experienced very hot and sunny days and beaches have been full and everyone is enjoying the outdoors.

We are experiencing a high volume of visitors to the county which can at times add additional pressures on our services.

This week, for example, we have seen high demand for car parking spaces, beach clean ups, litter picking and toilet cleaning.

Due to the high footfall please consider where you are going and what you will do when you are there. Some coastal car parks on nice sunny days are filing by mid-morning.

We all also need to be patient when out and about. We are all working together to move forward after the lockdowns, businesses still have to work differently and some are struggling with staff shortages, so please be patient.

As many of us will be staying local for our time off why not consider doing a ‘not visited yet list’.

Consider places in Pembrokeshire you have not explored but would like to – make this the year you go to those places you have always wanted to go to but not had a chance.

Our front line teams are working hard to support our communities and ensure we deliver key services. I would ask for your support to help us to keep Pembrokeshire open and welcoming to all.

I’m aware of issues reported to us regarding litter being left on beaches and grass verges. Leaving litter behind is not acceptable – we have adequate litter bins out and about. Please help us keep Pembrokeshire clean.

Another issue being reported to us is fires being lit in the countryside and beauty spots while people eat and drink in the warm weather.

It goes without saying how dangerous a fire could be given the exceptionally dry weather we have had recently.

If you are thinking about lighting a fire while you are out I would just appeal to you to please think again. The potential consequences are just not worth it.

As you will know, this week we have had an Amber weather warning for heat, so just a gentle reminder to take care when out and about and please take care of your pets.

Our furry friends need extra attention in the heat. Please do not leave dogs unattended in cars and remember the walkways will be hot on their feet.

I’d like to finish this week by thanking everyone involved in our education teams and wish them all a well-deserved summer break.

I hope all our children enjoy the summer – the weather is definitely helping!

Stay safe everyone.

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Devastated family’s tribute to ‘loving and devoted’ son

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THE FAMILY of the 37-year-old man who died in Cardigan in the early hours of Wednesday morning (Jul 21) have said he will be “hugely missed by all that loved him”.

John Bell, who lived in the town, was found on the road to Cardigan Bridge at around midnight.

His family has issued this statement: “We are devastated at the loss of John.

“He was a loving and devoted Son, Brother, Father and Uncle and he will be hugely missed by all that loved him. 

“We ask for privacy at this time.”

John’s family is being supported by specially trained officers.

A 22-year-old man arrested on suspicion of murder remains in police custody.

Detective Superintendent Paul Jones said: “Our thoughts go out to John’s family at this very difficult time.

“We are currently focussing our investigation in Golwg Y Castell and the road between there and Cardigan Bridge, where Mr Bell was located.

“We are appealing for any witnesses who may have seen or heard an altercation in that area during the evening of Tuesday, 20 July, particularly the latter part of the evening, after 10pm, before police attended at around midnight.”

Anyone with information that could help officers with their investigation is asked to report it to Dyfed-Powys Police, either online at https://bit.ly/DPPContactOnline, by emailing 101@dyfed-powys.pnn.police.uk, or by calling 101. If you are deaf, hard of hearing, or speech impaired text the non-emergency number on 07811 311 908. Alternatively, contact the independent charity Crimestoppers anonymously by calling 0800 555111, or visiting crimestoppers-uk.org. Quote reference: DP-20210720-458.

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