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Politics

Multi-billion infrastructure upgrade promised

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Rhun Ap Iorwerth: ‘Plaid could be a driver for economic growth’

A PLAID CYMRU government will deliver a multi-billion pound investment in Wales’ infrastructure to reboot the economy, the Party of Wales’ Shadow Economy Minister Rhun ap Iorwerth has said. He said that a Plaid Cymru government, if elected in May, would be a driver for economic growth. 

Rhun ap Iorwerth said that one of his party’s main goals is to bring wealth generated per head in Wales up to the UK average. Currently the figure – at 71.4% of the UK average – is the lowest of any UK nation or region.

Earlier this week Rhun ap Iorwerth set out his plans to revive Wales’ economy, planning to re-establish the WDA brand for a new trade and investment body, establish National Infrastructure Commission Wales (NICW), and to help Wales’ businesses grow by establishing a National Bank of Wales to bridge the funding gap of £500m a year faced by Welsh SMEs.

Through NICW, he said, Plaid Cymru will deliver a major a multi-billion pound investment programme that will upgrade physical and digital infrastructure in Wales.

Plaid Cymru Shadow Economy Minister Rhun ap Iorwerth said: “A Plaid Cymru government can be a driver for economic growth. Our over-arching objective is to reverse Wales’ ever-widening economic attainment gap with the rest of the UK within a generation. There is no reason for Wales to lag behind, yet the wealth generated per head is lower than any other part of the UK, wages in Wales are around £100 per week lower than the UK average, and unemployment in Wales is higher.

“As part of our plans, we propose to establish a new body, National Infrastructure Commission Wales, an independent public corporation that will plan, fund and deliver the aspirations set out in the National Infrastructure Investment Plan.

“NICW will raise funds independently of the government, and will invest in both physical and digital infrastructure. “It’s an ambitious plan, but it is Plaid Cymru’s opinion that we cannot afford not to upgrade our infrastructure and build the foundations for a period of steady economic growth. We must secure the right transport, technological and connective environments for businesses in Wales to thrive.

“It’s time to reboot the economy, and a Plaid Cymru government can be a driver for the economic growth we need.”

The WDA was credited with bringing a number of major companies to Wales, including Ford and Toyota, between its creation in 1976 and its ultimate demise 30 years later. However, in 2014 the record of the WDA over the last 15 years of its existence was criticised by First Minister Carwyn Jones, who claimed that it had done ‘absolutely nothing’ during this time, in response to Conservative claims that a new arms-length body should be set up to attract inward investment.

“The WDA prospered at its best in the late 90s, and all they did was put a huge amount of money on the table and said to businesses: ‘come to Wales, there’s money on the table,’” he said. “When that money went, the businesses went as well.

“They said to people – come and invest in Wales because wages are lower than anywhere else. The WDA had its day 20 years ago. But for the whole of the last decade, and most of the 90s, it delivered absolutely nothing.”

In 2014 Rhun ap Iorwerth said: “The WDA achieved some successes especially in attracting branch factories of foreign companies to Wales which countered much of the unemployment at a time of de-industrialisation.

“However, Plaid Cymru at the time emphasised the need to encourage Wales based companies with R&D [research and development] capabilities which would be less likely to migrate and increase GDP. We were proved right.”

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Politics

‘Major step back’ as gender quotas bill postponed

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PLANS to introduce gender quotas in future Senedd elections suffered a “major step backwards” due to “unnecessary” delays.

Jane Hutt confirmed reforms under the electoral candidate lists bill – which would require half of would-be Senedd members to be women – could be delayed by four years.

In a letter to Senedd members, Ms Hutt said the 2030 election may be a “more prudent” timetable for implementation than the initial 2026 plan.

Ms Hutt, who is chief whip and Trefnydd, the Welsh Government’s business manager, stressed that she remains committed to making the Senedd more representative.

But concerns have been raised that Wales does not have the powers to pass the bill, which could face legal challenge, with equal opportunities legislation reserved to Westminster.

Plaid Cymru’s Sian Gwenllian was extremely disappointed by the new timetable for the bill, with stage one of the legislative process pushed back from June 18 to July 16.

She questioned the Welsh Government’s reasoning for delaying the first crunch vote, saying the rationale “doesn’t hold water” and warning the latest delay is a huge step backwards.

The Arfon MS, who chairs the cross-party group on women, said: “The whole timetable for the bill is being pushed back. What will running the clock down mean?

“We will have incomplete reform if the candidates bill, which is an integral part of the jigsaw, is not implemented.”

Ms Gwenllian said a Labour UK Government could make an order in council, giving powers to the Senedd to pass the bill and putting the proposals beyond any doubt.

During the business statement on June 18, she accused Welsh ministers of rowing back on a programme for government commitment to introduce gender quotas.

She said: “It’s not two Labour Governments working hand in hand for Wales but rather a weak Welsh Labour Government in Wales just taking their instructions meekly from London.”

Ms Hutt said the bill got off to a disappointing start, with Elin Jones – the speaker or Llywydd – ruling that the proposed legislation would not be in the Senedd’s legal powers.

She told the chamber: “This is one of the crucial things about how we take forward a bill where there are issues about that grey area.”

Ms Hutt, who has been a minister for 25 years, said a voluntary scheme could be introduced if mandatory gender quotas cannot be implemented in time for the next election.

She raised the reform bill committee’s warning that candidate quotas could lead to legal challenge, potentially endangering the outcome of the May 2026 election.

The Conservatives’ Gareth Davies urged the minister to get “back to the real world”, echoing his party’s calls for the candidates bill to be dropped entirely.

Ms Hutt hit back at the Vale of Clwyd MS: “I’m utterly disgusted by what Gareth Davies said, by saying ‘back to the real world’. Why do we need a gender quotas bill?

“Because we need better representation of women, and I have to say, let’s look over there, where we certainly need this gender quotas bill.”

Darren Millar, the Conservatives’ shadow constitution secretary, took issue with the timing of the delay until after the UK general election on July 4.

“This bill shouldn’t just be postponed, it should be ditched altogether,” he said. “Candidates should be elected on merit, not because of their gender or any other protected characteristic.

“The shelving of the bill during an election campaign suggests this is a desperate attempt to avoid talking on the campaign trail about the fact the Labour Party can’t define a woman.”

In a letter to MSs when the bill was introduced in March, Elin Jones explained her position that the bill relates to a reserved matter and is not within the Senedd’s powers.

She said her view is based on legal tests and advice rather than the merits of the policy, stressing that the question can only be definitely answered by the Supreme Court.

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Business

The former Parsonage Inn could be turned into two homes

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A CLOSED south Pembrokeshire inn, which sparked hopes it could become the latest community pub in the county will now be turned into two homes.

Earlier this year, The Parsonage Inn, St Florence closed its doors to the public, and a public meeting – at the behest of St Florence Community Council – was held in early February with hopes it could be run as a community venture.

In the last 20 years has seen eight tenants, with the closure coming about “due to the prolonged and sustained pressures faced to both the economy though the cost-of-living crisis with less trade, along with increases in utility, food and alcohol bills, as well as increases in business rates, minimum wage increases and further legislation on waste disposal”.

Local county councillor Rhys Jordan, who supported the meeting, said there was a strong desire to see The Parsonage Inn reopen its doors, but there was a need to temper enthusiasm with realism.

However, hopes the Parsonage would become a community pub have come to no avail, as just three per cent of the funds needed were raised.

Owner Daniel Scriven, in a recently submitted application, sought to turn the pub into two homes.

Referring to the hopes The Parsonage could become a community pub, an application before Pembrokeshire planners says: “Following its closure in January 2024 a community meeting was held on February 5 in the village hall to discuss its future, during the meeting the challenges facing the hospitality industry were discussed and the community reviewed raising funds to take the Parsonage Inn into community ownership.

“Regrettably we understand following the meeting it has become evident that only three per cent fundraising of the asking price has been raised and no offer or approach to the applicant/owner has been made by the community to the owner to put forward a viable proposal, it would therefore appear unviable.

“Following its closure in January 2024, in March 2024 the final tenant along with some members of the community have opened a small community social club in the village hall during evenings on a more ad-hoc basis which would appear more reflective in scale and usage to the community it serves, alongside The [nearby] Sun Inn.”

The application has now been conditionally approved by Pembrokeshire planners.

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Business

Legal challenge to £6m holiday park expansion

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A CAMPAIGN group which has launched a legal challenge against a recently-granted scheme for a £6m expansion of a south Pembrokeshire holiday park is appealing for financial support to cover its legal fees.

Back in February, Pembrokeshire planners heard a legal challenge to a granted application for works at Heritage Park, Pleasant Valley/Stepaside had been launched.

The holiday park scheme had previously been backed twice by county planners after a ‘minded to approve’ cooling-off period was invoked as it was against repeated officer recommendations to refuse.

The controversial scheme by Heritage Leisure Development (Wales) Ltd includes the installation of 48 bases for holiday lodges, a spa facility at a former pub, holiday apartments, a café and cycle hire, equestrian stables, a manège and associated office, and associated works.

It is said the scheme, next to the historic remains of the 19th century Stepaside ironworks and colliery, will create 44 jobs.

Officer grounds for refusal, based on the Local Development Plan, included the site being outside a settlement area.

Along with 245 objections to the current scheme, Stepaside & Pleasant Valley Residents’ Group (SPVRG Ltd) – formed to object to an earlier 2019 application – also raised a 38-page objection, with a long list of concerns, describing the current application as “a reincarnation of an earlier application, which first alerted the residents of Stepaside, Pleasant Valley and the surrounding villages of the applicant’s plans to implement a complex and sprawling development which would take over the whole valley”.

The 2019 application – which had been recommended for refusal – was later withdrawn.

Legal challenges have also been mounted in connection with applications on the site.

A legal challenge to try and overturn a council decision to approve three planning applications at Heritage Park was launched in 2021 by the Stepaside and Pleasant Valley Residents Group (SPVRG Ltd), which failed in early 2022.

Following that challenge failure, a question was submitted to full council last year after it was revealed the costs awarded to the council amounted to £10,000, despite the costs being higher.

Members heard that the external legal fees paid totalled £34,000 plus VAT.

In its latest legal challenge, and fundraising appeal, SPVRG Ltd has said: “Permission was granted, even though it was against the recommendation of the planning officers and despite the objections of the three community councils involved, the two local county councillors and 245 residents. It also went against the Local Development Plan.”

It added: “This has been a stark example of a majority of county councillors, first on the planning committee and then in the full council, failing to listen to those who know best – the people who live and work in the area, and their own expert officers.”

Legal fees for the first stage of a judicial review are expected to be at least £14,000, with £1,200 raised to date through SPVRG’s crowdfunding page.

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