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Now we are 6 (months): Part II – The Empire Strikes Back

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Assistant editor Jon Coles continues his countdown of the Herald’s Top Ten Stories since its launch in July 2013.

Having read the paper back and forth while preparing this countdown, I was struck by how many articles make it in to each copy of the Herald. My colleagues on the Courtroom beat have covered cases ranging from offences ranging from rape and serious assault to ones involving car-clocking and mitigation offered more in hope than expectation. Those stories are told with humanity and – where appropriate – with wit. The one that sticks in my mind is the one of the relieved young lady who, on leaving Court, told the District Judge “loves ya, babes!” There are truly some things that cannot be made up.

There is an aphorism that it is bad news that sells papers, but our experience at The Pembrokeshire Herald has been that for every instance of scandal and allegation of sharp practice, there is plenty of evidence that Pembrokeshire’s people are a far closer and warmer community than perhaps even we appreciate. The stories we have carried about acts of charity and kindness are ones that show how much people care about their communities and about other people. One of those makes my personal top five.

I was delighted to be asked to give a speech to the Ladies’ Circle in Walwyn’s Castle, the members’ friendly interest in current affairs was bracing and I hope they enjoyed the evening as much as I enjoyed the comments of one of our publisher’s former teachers who happened to be in the audience that night! Dearie, dearie me… It seems appropriate, somehow, to start this week with one from our publisher’s alma mater

5. Government probe school’s ‘anti-gay’ policy

government probeWe led our eighth edition with the revelation that Tasker Milward School, Haverfordwest had placed a policy document on its website that breached the terms of the Equality Act.

The policy statement echoed the notorious Section 28 brought in by the Thatcher government in 1988. The policy had remained on the School’s website despite the repeal of Section 28 in 2003. The school stated that the policy dated from 2008 and was one that had not been in operation at the school. The school withdrew the policy statement without explaining how a document posted in 2008 referred directly to legislation repealed in 2003.

The news unfolded as part of a larger national story on a controversy that engulfed 45 schools across England and Wales which were discovered to have unlawful policies breaching the Equality Act, either in operation or present on their websites.

We received a strong response to this article, most but not all critical of the school; we had a few (very few) criticising Tasker Milward for taking down the policy when the matter came in to the public eye.

4. Summer Events

summer eventsBUT WHAT A SUMMER OF EVENTS of events in Pembrokeshire it was. Of course, I take full credit for launching the paper at the height of the summer months to enable us to capture the best that summer in Pembrokeshire had to offer, and I am not the person who advised a launch date later in the year…

Iron Man hit our county’s roads, as competitors pushed themselves to the limit in pursuit of the prize.

While Ironman and Red Bull’s Cliff Diving World Series are relatively new to Pembrokeshire, the cornerstone of the Pembrokeshire Summer is Pembrokeshire County Show. This year the best of Pembrokeshire was on display from livestock to fresh produce, crowds flocked to Withybush Showground to see it all. The smaller local shows and carnivals also enjoyed bumper crowds.

BY THE TIME the last splash had faded at Abereiddy after the cliff diving, the glorious summer had already begun its long descent into damp autumn.

3. Walk on Wales

walk walesAs reported extensively in this newspaper, 11 teams of four people have carried a silver baton around the Welsh coast which has been inscribed with the names of 50 Welsh Guardsmen who have lost their lives in conflicts around the world since WWII. The walk began and ended on the steps of the Senedd in Cardiff Bay, after taking in the breath-taking scenery along the length of the Welsh coast. Intrepid walkers raised money for the Welsh Guards Afghanistan Appeal and Combat Stress. 870 miles and 61 days after starting, the last group of walkers reached Cardiff.

We were lucky to have regular updates from our columnist Dennis O’Connor throughout the event. Dennis, who walked and then hobbled his way along the route around the south of our county and then on to Carmarthenshire. But good natured ribbing of our columnist should not obscure the importance of the causes for which Walk on Wales raised money.

Dennis wrote: “Spending time in the company of quiet, dignified veterans of conflicts fought in places such as Northern Ireland, Afghanistan, Bosnia, The Falklands and Iraq has been a humbling experience. Being privy to conversations about their experiences of war and conflict, listening to them speak of their fallen comrades and witnessing their frankness about their own mental scars has left me with a long lasting perspective of the ravages war and of those who defend our country.”

2. What next for Witybush?

what nextThe future of health service provision in Pembrokeshire has been the subject of impassioned argument for some years. Each successive quango appointed to run the show has lurched from one crisis to the next while services have been salami-sliced away, all the diminishing the range of health care in Pembrokeshire.

At least Hywel Dda LHB cannot be accused of saying one thing and doing another: they said they wanted to close minor injury units at South Pembs and Tenby and they closed them. They said they wanted a Level 2 special care baby unit at Carmarthen and – by gum – they now “aspire” to have one (whatever that means).

Our old friend, Badger, has expressed fairly trenchant views elsewhere in this paper: none of what he says, however, could be half as trenchant as some of the views expressed at the Picton Centre on 21st November this year, when a packed meeting expressed no confidence in the Health Board and vowed to fight any move of SCBU, maternity and paediatric services from Withybush Hospital, Haverfordwest to West Wales General, Carmarthen.

The fallout from local Welsh Labour AM’s failure to support a Senedd motion calling to secure the future of core services at Withybush and for an unambiguous statement from the Local Health Board on Withybush’s future, is not yet quantifiable. The opinion expressed at the time was that, with both Pembrokeshire seats being key Westminster marginals, AM’s votes on the party line may cost their party candidates valuable votes come May 2015.

1. Bryn’s pension

bryns pensionLET’S make no mistake about it: the big story in Pembrokeshire this year has been about Bryn Parry-Jones’ pension pot. As I write this piece, the Wales Audit Office has still not disclosed what it intends to do next with a decision on next steps likely to be given early in New Year.

One thing is certain though, Carmarthenshire County Council has rowed back from the brink of open confrontation with the Audit Office. Sulking and grizzling it may well be, but the tax free bunce it doled out in lieu of pension contributions for its Chief Executive has ceased.

Pembrokeshire County Council’s ruling group are being uncommonly secretive about what their intentions are. Perhaps they are drawing straws to see who will be brave enough to approach their CEO and ask for the money back.

The whole argument is about a decision reached in a meeting in the Chief Executive’s own office to pay him a large wodge of tax free cash to enable him to avoid tax on the very large pension he has built up at Council Tax payers’ expense. That decision was challenged by the Wales Audit Office and that has had the Council reaching for their very expensive briefs. The IPPG Cabinet have said they made the decision to ensure the retention of the Council’s top staff. Bearing in mind that the decision to ensure Bryn had a happy finish to his career was reached at the height of the scandal affecting Pembrokeshire’s education system we can only guess how difficult it was to persuade Bryn to accept the money.

Jon Coles writes: In 2014 I would be surprised if there was not even more on Withybush Hospital and the Local Health Board. A storm is brewing about local health care in Pembrokeshire and there will be plenty of thunder and lightning. With challenging decisions in the offing about local education, that is a fair bet for extensive coverage. The Welsh Government is rumbling about reorganizing the whole apparatus of local government and education in Wales and I do not doubt there will be a great deal of heat and very little light in that argument. In the meantime, the activities of Pembrokeshire County Council’s ruling group seem to be the news gift that keeps on giving.

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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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