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Politics

Clarity needed after contractor drops wristband demands

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Leanne Wood: Questions raised over Home Office’s judgement

Leanne Wood: Questions raised over Home Office’s judgement

A GOVERNMENT subcontractor which insisted that asylum seekers wore wristbands as a condition for receiving food announced on Monday that it would drop the practice, following public outrage over the weekend.

The controversial scheme was used at Lynx House in Cardiff to identify 200 asylum seekers staying there, so that they could claim three meals a day. Asylum seekers cannot claim UK benefits, and receive around £36 per week.

However, some claimed that the bands led to them being victimised by racists.

Clearsprings Ready Homes – the private firm contracted by the Home Office to provide accommodation in the Welsh capital – confirmed on Monday that they had abandoned the scheme. On Monday (Jan 25), a spokesman for the firm said: “Asylum seekers who spend their initial few weeks at our full board accommodation in Cardiff have been provided with wristbands since May 2015 to ensure they receive the services they are entitled to and to make sure those more vulnerable asylum seekers have access to their specific requirements.

“As in numerous such establishments where large numbers of people are being provided with services, wristbands are considered to be one of the most reliable and effective ways of guaranteeing delivery.

“We are always reviewing the way we supply our services and have decided to cease the use of wristbands as of the Monday, January 25, and will look for an alternative way of managing the fair provision of support.

“Clearsprings Ready Homes have been providing accommodation services to asylum seekers on behalf of the Home office for over 15 years and are always grateful for feedback to help improve the safety and effectiveness of their services.”

Plaid Cymru Leader Leanne Wood welcomed the move, but said that questions needed to be asked about why the scheme was implemented in the first place:

“Plaid Cymru welcomes the fact that this alarming practice of forcing asylum seekers to wear coloured wristbands will be stopped immediately,” she said.

“It is understandable that the Home Office requires asylum seekers to carry some form of identification for practical reasons such as when they collect meals.

“However, such a visible indicator is unnecessary and has left a community already under suspicion open to further harassment and distress.

“This episode raises serious questions over the Home Office’s judgement when it comes to such sensitive issues.

“I will be writing to the Home Secretary to seek assurance that this practice will not be repeated anywhere else in the UK.”

Liberal Democrat AM Eluned Parrott also called for clarity on why the practice was happening in the first place: “I was appalled to learn that people were forced to wear wristbands in order to be able to access food. If the reports are true that this practice is to stop, then this is welcome news,” she said.

“However, we need to be told whose decision it was to dish these wristbands out.

“Lynx House have apparently claimed it was a Home Office directive. If that is the case then the Home Office must reverse this decision. It would also indicate this is happening across the UK, so it is more than just an isolated incident.

“Of course it is sensible for asylum seekers to carry some form of identification. However, many of these desperate people have risked their lives to flee the most appalling conditions and it is completely inappropriate to make their lives even more difficult by singling them out in this way.”

Amelia Womack, Wales Green Party prospective lead candidate South Wales Central list and Cardiff Central, and Deputy Leader of the Green Party of England and Wales said:

“I’m shocked to hear this is happening in Cardiff, so close to where I live. It’s hard to find words to describe how deeply thoughtless this policy is, and how little respect and compassion it shows for people fleeing persecution overseas.

“Wales has a proud tradition of offering food and shelter to those in need. Refugees are people, no less than you or I. I am disgusted that public money is being handed to private companies who don’t recognise that making refugees wear a red wristband they can’t remove will make them an obvious target for cowardly racist bullying and abuse.”

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Business

Former Pembroke Barclays to become shopfront and residential apartments

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Plans to convert a former Barclays Bank branch on Pembroke’s Main Street to retail and residential apartments have been given the go-ahead.

Mr Zouras, through agent RPC Design & Architecture Ltd, sought permission from Pembrokeshire County Council for a change of use and conversion of the former Grade-II-listed bank at 35 Main Street to retail on the ground floor and residential apartments at the rear ground, first and second floors.

The branch closed in July 2019, the same year the bank’s Narberth and Milford Haven branches closed.

A supporting heritage statement said: “The three-storey building is currently vacant and was a former bank on the ground floor. The first floor was former staff rooms and male/female toilets. The second floor was used as storage. There is an existing outdoor paved area and private, off-road car parking to the rear for four to six cars.  The building is Grade II listed; designated in 2005.”

CADW’s listing says: “…earlier C19 terraced house, front remodelled in 1925 for Barclays Bank to plans by J. H. Morgan of Carmarthen. The building was then called Bank House, but it is not known how long it had been a bank.”

An officer report says: “The ground floor shopfront is six bays wide divided by faceted pilasters of ashlar stone – a hint towards the art-deco style. Heavy fielded panel doors to the left-hand bay. Heavy classical stucco window surrounds to upper floors, the middle window has a pediment above – conventional Edwardian Bank detail, old fashioned for the 1920s.”

The listed building application was conditionally approved by county planners.

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Community

Demolition of St Thomas Green vandal-blighted building approved

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A SOCIAL housing provider scheme to demolish a deteriorated vandal-blighted house in Haverfordwest has been approved by county planners.

Earlier this year, social housing provider Ateb Group Limited gave county planners prior notification of its plans to demolish The Grove, St Thomas Green.

In its application, it stated: “The building has been unoccupied for several years and its physical condition has deteriorated significantly over that time. It has become prone to vandalism and trespass and is becoming difficult to manage and secure.

“It’s demolition will allow the structure and resultant debris to be removed, improving the visual amenities of the locality. It will also enable the site to become readily available for a sensitive redevelopment in association with the adjacent Meyler House.”

It added: “The cleared site will become part of the adjoining Meyler House site, with proposals being prepared to redevelop and construct affordable elderly persons apartments and associated parking facilities.”

Agent Evans Banks Planning Limited, in a supporting statement said The Grove, adjoining Ateb’s head offices at Meyler House, received permission back in 2009 for the “Demolition of existing dwelling and replacement with apartments, houses and landscaped grounds.”

Conservation Area Consent was also granted at that time.

“Those permissions were not implemented and have long since lapsed, but nevertheless indicate that the principle of demolishing The Grove was deemed acceptable at that time to the local planning authority,” said Evans Banks Planning Limited.

“A pre-application enquiry has recently been presented before the local planning authority which seeks to reignite such redevelopment proposals but on a much larger site, incorporating Meyler House and its grounds into a comprehensive redevelopment scheme to create elderly persons apartments.”

It added: “This current submission seeks to renew that 2009 Conservation Area Consent given that the existing former dwelling house has now reached a physical state where its deterioration is causing concern.”

However, county planners determined that prior approval was needed before any demolition works take place, with details of tree protection while the works take place needed, along with a suitable method statement to minimise noise, dust and a strategy for dealing with hazardous materials should they arise during the demolition.

County planners have now granted Conservation Area approval for the plans.

A similar application by Ateb, for demolition works at the town’s former learning centre, near to the former county library, recently made subject to broadly similar conditions, has since been granted permission.

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Politics

Former learning centre off Dew Street to be demolished

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AN APPLICATION to demolish Haverfordwest’s former learning centre, once occupied by Pembrokeshire College, has been backed by county planners.

Earlier this year, social housing provider Ateb Group Limited gave county planners prior notification of its plans to demolish the former learning centre, just off Dew Street, near to the former county library.

In its notification, Ateb said: “The building has been vacant for some years now, resulting in its general deterioration and unsuitability for further use.

“The building present on the site shares little commonality with nearby historic and traditional buildings within the Conservation Area, in terms of appearance, form or setting.

“It has no ecological interest on either the site or the building. In fact, the current style and form of the existing building could be said to detract from the setting and the character of the Haverfordwest Conservation Area.”

It added: “There are proposals for the cleared site to become a residential development of 41 apartments (affordable) at and around the former Learning Centre, Dew Street, Haverfordwest, on behalf of Ateb Group.”

Back in February, county planners concluded that an official application needed to be made rather than just prior notification before any demolition is granted, including a tree survey and a suitable method statement to minimise noise, dust and a strategy for dealing with hazardous materials should they arise during the process of demolition.

A Conservation Area application for the site demolition has now been granted by planning officers.

Consultation

Earlier this year, agent Evans Banks Planning Limited undertook a pre-application consultation for Ateb’s plans for the former learning centre.

A supporting statement said: “The consultation represents a proposal for the construction of a single three storey building which will contain 35 one-bedroom apartments and six two-bedroom apartments.

“The new development will provide sufficient off-street parking to serve the needs of both future residents and their visitors. Sustainable travel patterns will be promoted by including the provision for bike storage and parking.”

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