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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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Plaid’s Dafydd Llywelyn re-elected as Police and Crime Commissioner

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THE NEW Police and Crime Commissioner for the Dyfed Powys Area has been announced.

Incumbent, Dafydd Llywelyn, of Plaid Cymru – The Party of Wales, has been re-elected for a second term.

The election was held Thursday, 06 May 2021, at the same time as the Senedd Cymru elections.

In order to follow all coronavirus regulations, the count for this election was held on Sunday, 09 May 2021.

The announcement was made in Ceredigion, at the Ysgol Bro Teifi, Llandysul.

Dafydd Llywelyn, was first elected as one of the two new Plaid Cymru PCCs during 2016’s election and is the PCC for Dyfed-Powys Police. 

The force covers over half the land mass of Wales and during the PCC elections had the highest turnout of all PCC elections at 49%.

Mr Llywelyn is a former Principal Intelligence Analyst and worked within Police Intelligence for many years before, in 2014, moving to Aberystwyth University to lecture on Criminology. His career has provided him with considerable insight into core policing issues as well as an understanding of what the public want from the service. He has pledged to reinvest in CCTV and prevention activities and has refused to appoint a deputy.

Standing against him were three other candidates – Jon Burns (Conservative); Philippa Thompson (Labour) and Glyn Preston (Welsh Liberal Democrats).

The results for Dyfed-Powys Police and Crime Commissioner’s elections were as follows:

1st Round

Jon Burns (Conservatives); 69,112

Dafydd Llywelyn (Plaid Cymru); 68208

Philippa Thompson (Labour): 48033

Glyn Preston (Welsh Liberal Democrats) 17649

2nd Round

Jon Burns: 8209

Dafydd Llywelyn: 26280

This was the third time police and crime commissioner elections have been held. The election was originally due to take place in May 2020 but was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The new PCC term begins on Thursday, May 13, 2021.

Under the terms of the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act 2011, PCCs must:

  • secure an efficient and effective police for their area;
  • appoint the Chief Constable, hold them to account for running the force, and if necessary dismiss them;
  • set the police and crime objectives for their area through a police and crime plan;
  • set the force budget and determine the precept;
  • contribute to the national and international policing capabilities set out by the Home Secretary; and
  • bring together community safety and criminal justice partners, to make sure local priorities are joined up.

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Counting underway following police and crime commissioner vote

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COUNTING is under way to find out who will be the four police and crime commissioners (PCCs) in Wales today (Sunday, May 9).

Polls were held on Thursday for South Wales Police, Dyfed-Powys Police, North Wales Police and Gwent Police alongside the Senedd election on Thursday (May 6).

With the exception of the North Wales Commissioner, all the incumbents are running again.  

The rules of the election are that unless a candidate gets more than 50% of votes in the first round of counting, then all but the top two candidates are eliminated from the election, and secondary votes on the ballot paper are then counted.

In Pembrokeshire the count is taking place for the Preseli constituency and the West Carmarthenshire and South Pembrokeshire constituency at the County Show Ground.

When will the news Commissioner be sworn in?

The swearing of the oath will also take place today, Sunday (May 9), and the elected Police and Crime Commissioner’s new term in office will start on May 13.

“The Police and Crime Commissioner Elections (Declaration of Acceptance of Office) Order prescribes the form of words that the elected Police and Crime Commissioners will be required to declare before they take office,” said a PCC spokesperson.

“The term of a person elected as a PCC at an ordinary election begins on the seventh (calendar) day after the day of the poll, and ends with the sixth (calendar) day following the subsequent poll.

“The term for incumbent PCCs should cease on May 12, and the newly or re-elected PCC will commence in office on May 13.

What is a Police and Crime Commissioner?

Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs) were elected In 40 force areas across England and Wales. Every force area is represented by a PCC, except Greater Manchester and London, where PCC responsibilities lie with the Mayor.

The role of the PCCs is to be the voice of the people and hold the police to account. They are responsible for the totality of policing.

PCCs aim to cut crime and deliver an effective and efficient police service within their force area.

PCCs have been elected by the public to hold Chief Constables and the force to account, effectively making the police answerable to the communities they serve.

PCCs ensure community needs are met as effectively as possible, and are improving local relationships through building confidence and restoring trust. They work in partnership across a range of agencies at local and national level to ensure there is a unified approach to preventing and reducing crime.

Who are the candidates?

Standing again: Dafydd Llywelyn

The incumbent, Dafydd Llywelyn, was elected as one of the two new Plaid Cymru PCCs during 2016’s election and is the PCC for Dyfed-Powys Police. 

The force covers over half the land mass of Wales and during the PCC elections had the highest turnout of all PCC elections at 49%.

Hoping to be re-elected, Dafydd is a former Principal Intelligence Analyst and worked within Police Intelligence for many years before, in 2014, moving to Aberystwyth University to lecture on Criminology. His career has provided him with considerable insight into core policing issues as well as an understanding of what the public want from the service. He has pledged to reinvest in CCTV and prevention activities and has refused to appoint a deputy.

Standing against him are three other candidates – Jon Burns (Conservative); Philippa Thompson (Labour) and Glyn Preston (Welsh Liberal Democrats).

Under the terms of the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act 2011, PCCs must:

  • secure an efficient and effective police for their area;
  • appoint the Chief Constable, hold them to account for running the force, and if necessary dismiss them;
  • set the police and crime objectives for their area through a police and crime plan;
  • set the force budget and determine the precept;
  • contribute to the national and international policing capabilities set out by the Home Secretary; and
  • bring together community safety and criminal justice partners, to make sure local priorities are joined up.

How the voting works

If there are more than two candidates, the Police and Crime Commissioner is elected under the supplementary vote system: 

  • A voter can vote for a first and second choice candidate they want to elect.
  • If a candidate obtains more than 50% of the first choice votes, they will be declared elected.
  • If no candidate obtains more than 50% of the first choice votes, all candidates except for those in first and second place are eliminated.
  • The ballot papers showing a first preference for one of the eliminated candidates are checked for their second preference.
  • Any second preference votes for the remaining two candidates are then added to their first preference votes and the candidate with the most votes is elected.

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Multiple RNLI lifeboats launched to aid yacht in distress

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THE NEW QUAY RNLI lifeboat has rescued a stricken yacht, with the casualty evacuated by helicopter. 

On Saturday (May 8) New Quay lifeboat ‘The Frank and Lena Clifford of Stourbridge’, was paged at 9.06am by HM Coastguard to search for a yacht in difficulty 10 miles west of Aberystwyth with two persons on board. 

The Mersey class lifeboat launched at 9.20am with seven volunteer crew members on board to search for the 9m vessel, which had travelled up from Pembrokeshire, in a moderate south-westerly wind. 

The yacht, on passage from Fishguard to Aberystwyth, was experiencing mechanical and communications problems, and had failed to berth in Aberystwyth marina due to the tide. The severely fatigued crew had raised the alarm by mobile phone when they realised they were in trouble, struggling with the winds and poor visibility.  

Daniel Potter, New Quay RNLI Coxswain said, “We proceeded to the position given but on arrival another position was given 10 miles further north, and then again 5 miles north east. We searched for over an hour for the vessel as they had become lost in the deteriorating weather conditions. Barmouth lifeboat was also requested to launch but stood down as we located the vessel.  

“When we located them, we had to act quickly as we found her close to shore and in danger of going aground on the reef near Tywyn. I had one opportunity and we took it, we set up a tow and pulled her into deeper water.  

“We then requested to launch Aberdyfi’s lifeboat to assist us with getting crew on board as we had concerns over the health and wellbeing of the stricken vessel’s crew. Two volunteer crew from Aberdyfi and one from New Quay boarded the yacht. They assessed the casualty and it was decided as a matter of urgency to evacuate one of them. We requested an immediate helicopter evacuation, and HM Coastguard Rescue Helicopter 936 arrived and transferred the casualty to Ysbyty Glan Clwyd. 

“It was quite an ordeal for the yacht, but it wasn’t over as we had to get the last of the crew members and the boat to safety. Aberdyfi lifeboat then transferred another one of our crew onto the yacht when they took theirs off and returned to station, and we began the tow to Aberystwyth.  

“On approach to Aberystwyth we requested assistance from Aberystwyth lifeboat who launched and met us outside the harbour to transfer the tow into the marina, and to deliver us much needed supplies, fish and chips! 

“We then headed home and returned to New Quay by 6pm, nine hours after launching. It was a very long day in difficult conditions. However, it was a fantastic effort by everyone, and we want to say a big thank you to all lifeboats and crew involved, and the helicopter. It was an amazing team effort by all.” 

Roger Couch, New Quay RNLI Operations Manager added, “We would like to give our thanks to all the lifeboat stations involved. It was a great joint endeavour by Cardigan Bay lifeboat stations. The RNLI is the charity that saves lives at sea and our volunteer crew are on call 24/7. Remember if you find yourself or see anyone else in trouble at sea or on the coast call 999 and ask for the Coastguard.” 

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