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Association threatens action against blogger

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Pentlepoir development: A Mill Bay Homes project

Pentlepoir development: A Mill Bay Homes project

ROYTSTON JONES, the blogger who has published a series of exposés regarding Welsh local government and housing policy on his blog jacothenorth.net, has been threatened with legal action by Pembrokeshire Housing Group and its subsidiary Mill Bay Homes.

The threat follows a series of posts on Mr Jones’s bog referring to the status of Mill Bay Homes and an allegation that there was something amiss in its constitution and relationship with the other members of Pembrokeshire Housing Group, which includes the Pembrokeshire Housing Association.

In addition, Mr Jones made a post alleging impropriety in a property transaction and a further allegation that the construction of a property had caused damage to a neighbouring home. Mill Bay Homes has denied both allegations and says they are without foundation.

The offending posts have been removed from jacothenorth.net.

The jacothenorth blog has been a goad to housing associations in Wales, which Royston Jones has claimed are not delivering the housing Wales needs and which are too often concerned with developments which have little to do with the delivery of their original objectives.

On Wednesday (Jun 8) Herald Deputy Editor Jon Coles met with Pembrokeshire Housing Group Chief Executive Peter Maggs to clarify those questions raised by Royston Jones regarding the relationship between Mill Bay Homes and Pembrokeshire Housing Association.

Peter Maggs told our reporter: “The Pembrokeshire Housing Group is made up of three organisations. Those are Pembrokeshire Housing Association, West Wales Care and Repair, and Mill Bay Homes.

“Pembrokeshire Housing Association has provided around 2,500 affordable homes to rent as a Registered Social Landlord (RSL). It has built properties that range from 1 bedroomed flats to 4 bedroomed houses.

“Pembrokeshire Housing Association is the parent of the group. It is an independent not for profit organisation, which means that any surpluses generated can only be applied within the business, for example to build new homes.

“West Wales Care and Repair, before we took on Ceredigion it Pembrokeshire Care and Repair, is also an RSL. It is also charitable and provides housing support for the elderly and disabled – not only to Housing Association tenants – to enable them to remain in their own homes.

“Mill Bay Homes is not founded on charitable purposes. It was originally registered as Pembrokeshire Housing 2000 Ltd in 1998 but remained dormant until 2012, when it was renamed Mill Bay Homes Ltd.

“Mill Bay Homes competes with other developers in terms of price and quality, but the significant difference is that it is a business with a social purpose. The surpluses it generates are covenanted back to Pembrokeshire Housing Association and applied to fulfil the charitable objects of the Housing Association; namely, the provision of affordable social housing to rent.”

We asked whether Mill Bay Homes itself was a provider of affordable housing.

“No. Mill Bay Homes in itself does not provide what might be defined as ‘affordable housing’. It does not provide affordable rented accommodation, as does Pembrokeshire Housing. Its slogan is ‘Affordable Prices, Quality Living’, but it has to compete in the open market. Some of its properties may be defined as affordable homes under Section 106 planning agreements.

“In simple terms, within the Pembrokeshire Housing Group there are three distinct ‘businesses’, if I may use the general sense of the word: Pembrokeshire Housing Association – charitable; West Wales Care and Repair – charitable; Mill Bay Homes – builds and sells properties onto the market.”

Bearing the surpluses generated by Mill Bay Homes, if any, we asked how those were applied.

Peter Maggs said: “Those surpluses go straight back to the parent, Pembrokeshire Housing Association, which applies them for the construction of affordable homes to rent and the acquisition of land for the construction of affordable homes. Any surpluses are not used for the commercial purposes of Mill Bay Homes.”

Regarding the controversy involving the jacothenorth blog, we asked why Mill Bay Homes was set up.

“It was a reaction to the crash and the austerity programme followed by Government.” Peter Maggs told us, “It was activated as a way to generate additional funding. There was a restriction in the Social Housing Grant, which Housing Associations use along with private mortgages, to build their new properties.

“We saw it as a mechanism as addressing areas of housing need which Pembrokeshire Housing, as a charitable organisation could not address, and to be an opportunity to generate additional income to supplement the reduced availability of grant from the Welsh Government.

“All three parts of the Pembrokeshire Housing Group are regulated by the Welsh Government, and before we activated Mill Bay Homes we checked with the Welsh Government whether the activities of Mill Bay Homes would be lawful and within its powers. We were given the all clear.

“Our first two projects as Mill Bay Homes targeted first time buyers and older home buyers, who might be looking to downsize.”

So, had the project been successful in resolving the issues presented by the reduction in the Social Housing Grant?

“Yes. Returns take some time to come through. We have to buy the land, build the properties, sell the properties. It made a small surplus ahead of the schedule in its business plan – which is challenging – and in 2015/16 will deliver a surplus of over £1m to Pembrokeshire Housing to supplement the Social Housing Grant and invest in affordable housing.”

As the surplus would appear to be a substantial enhancement to the Social Housing Grant, we asked what effect that would have on the amount of social housing investment made by the Housing Association.

“The amount of Social Housing Grant from the Welsh Government has been £1.5m per year, and is forecasted to remain the same for the next two years. You can see how valuable Mill Bay Homes is to the delivery of affordable rented accommodation in Pembrokeshire.

“The target is to deliver £1m of surplus for each of the next five years.”

In his latest post, Royston Jones has said he is seeking further clarification of Mill Bay Homes’s returns to the Financial Conduct Authority and continues to illustrate the pitfalls of public money being confused with enterprises for private profit.

He continues: ‘I am not for one minute suggesting that this is the sort of thing that happens between Pembrokeshire Housing and Mill Bay Homes, I merely use it as a warning of the kind of problems that can arise when a publicly-funded body sets up subsidiaries or ‘trading arms’.’

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Health

Tavernspite School the ‘healthiest of schools despite the pandemic’

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THE STAFF, governors, parents, and of course, the children of Tavernspite Community Primary School are delighted to gain the Welsh Network of Healthy School Schemes National Quality Award for an incredible 5th time after a recent and very rigorous assessment.

The school is already well known and highly regarded for its outstanding work in developing the health and wellbeing of all members of its school community. To achieve this prestigious recognition in the midst of a pandemic is all the more impressive. 

Health and Wellbeing at the school is led by teacher, Lauren Arthur, who has done an incredible job preparing for this re-assessment and raising the profile of the Healthy Schools scheme.

The assessor Mrs Lynne Perry, enjoyed a virtual tour and presentation by Year 3 pupils who took great pleasure in proudly showing Mrs Perry all the wonderful work the school has done to ensure its children are safe, happy with high levels of emotional and physical wellbeing.

In her report, Mrs Perry wrote, ‘Tavernspite School continues to be an outstanding health promoting school. The health promoting school ethos is evident across the whole school population and it runs seamlessly throughout everything that the school does. Tavernspite School continues to give high priority to promoting and enhancing the health and well-being of the whole school community.’

The school received fantastic support from Mrs Liz Western, Senior Public Health Officer and Lead for Healthy Schools and Pre-schools, Pembrokeshire, to whom they are very grateful.

Head teacher Kevin Phelps said, ‘We were delighted to receive this award for the fifth time, particularly considering the experiences we have all been through these past twelve months. Health and wellbeing has never been so important and we are proud to be leading the way like this.’

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Joinery learner through to Screwfix Trade Apprentice of the Year Finals

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PEMBROKESHIRE COLLEGE joinery learner, Conor Ratcliff has made it through to the final ten in this year’s Screwfix Trade Apprentice of the Year competition.

Now in its seventh year, the competition celebrates the next generation of tradespeople as they start out on their career. With over 2,500 nominations, Conor was shortlisted to the top 30 where he had to deliver a video presentation to industry-leading judges and trade body representatives. Judged on professionalism, creativity, innovation, enthusiasm and knowledge of their trade, Conor impressed the judges and is now in the final 10.  

Simon Jackson, Screwfix Customer and Digital director, commented: “Every year we are amazed by the outstanding quality of entrants and, this year, we are on the lookout for apprentices who go above and beyond to succeed within their chosen trade.

“We’ve seen how this career-boosting accolade and £10,000 prize bundle helps kickstart an apprentice’s career. I’d like to wish everyone through to this stage the best of luck!”

The prize package includes everything a future tradesperson may need to start up their own business including £5,000 of tools, a £3,000 training budget and £2,000 worth of technology. The college where they study will also receive £2,000.

Conor is thrilled to have made it through to the finals and commented: “I am extremely honoured to have made it is this far in the competition and I am very excited for the final event. It would be an amazing opportunity for me, if I won this competition.

“I hope it encourages more people to consider an apprenticeship in a trade, the Carpentry and Joinery department have been incredibly supportive during my studies.”

The Final is due to take place imminently where the judges will conduct an online interview with the ten finalists before selecting and announcing their overall winner.

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Warrant without bail issued for Milford Haven man who failed to attend court

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A WARRANT without bail has been issued for a Milford Haven man who failed to appear in court yesterday.

Gareth James Mann, 45, of Bunkers Hill was stopped in his VW Golf on October 31, 2020 in Milford Haven.

Mann is accused of driving without a licence, insurance, under the influence of cocaine and whilst in possession of an ounce of cannabis.

Police are now instructed to find Mann, arrest him and bring him before the courts.

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