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Council ‘supports’ Narberth School developers



map1PEMBROKESHIRE COUNTY COUNCIL has told The Herald that ‘it continues to support’ the developers behind a controversial scheme to redevelop the site of Narberth’s former school.

The Council’s assertion was made in response to questions from this newspaper which asked for a statement from the Head of Property, Barry Cooke, as to whether the current proposed development meets the criteria set when the preferred developer was selected by the local authority.

We also asked for confirmation from Mr Cooke on whether or not the Council considers the current proposals advanced by the developers were complementary to or in competition with the present town centre retail mix.

We received a statement from a Council spokesperson which said: ‘At its meeting of 12th September, Cabinet noted the recommendation of the Economy Overview and Scrutiny Committee to uphold the decision that it took at the Cabinet meeting of 4th July.

‘This was that the Council continues to support the preferred developer of the mixed retail and residential scheme at the former Narberth school site in bringing the development to fruition.

‘This was on the proviso that this support be withdrawn if the developers fail to secure the tenants and commence the scheme by 31st December.

‘The Council is continuing to support the developers on this basis.’

East Williamston county councillor Jacob Williams has recently provided further background to the Narberth School development in an article on his website

Councillor Williams report that, despite agreeing a sale price for the former school to Abbeymore Estates and Knox & Wells Ltd, the council failed to finalise the sale price for the former school. All the while, when Sainsburys were being flagged as anchor tenants for the development, it seems that the Council had failed to complete the formality of tying the developer to a price for the premises.

After failing to progress the development for two years, the developers then returned to the Council to ask for a loan and what Jacob Williams describes as ‘a substantial reduction on their previously-agreed sale price’.

In response to that request, Councillor Williams reveals that the County Council’s Cabinet agreed – in secret session – to cut its price for the school by a third the Narberth sale price by a third!

The scheme, which had by now radically changed from the original proposal, was not re-tendered.

In fact, The Herald can reveal that the Council had expressed serious reservations about what the developer was proposing to replace the original scheme.

In a letter to the developers, the Head of Property said: ‘I regret to advise that … the line-up of retail uses has departed too significantly from that envisaged when your companies were appointed as preferred bidder to the point that the Council no longer believes they meet the criteria set’.

Mr Cooke goes on to point out that the plans were to complement the retail mix of the town centre, but that the proposals being advanced by Abbeymore and Knox & Wells would ‘impact on the sustainability of existing businesses’ in the town centre.

The Herald understands that a briefing note prepared by the Head of Property sets out a new proposed anchor tenant for the development, whom we believe – from information received from a local business owner – to be the Co-op.

It is not clear what, if anything, Councillors were told either of the Council’s reservations; or what, if anything, they have been told of the new proposed anchor tenant for the troubled site. However, Cllr Jacob Williams paints a vivid picture of the discussions held in July this year from which the public were excluded.

Cllr Williams writes: ‘Narberth’s local member, Cllr. Wynne Evans, flipped his lid – only after the meeting was in private session, though.

‘Shouting, banging the table and using words that, had I used, would be frowned upon, Cllr. Evans stressed that progress needed to be made without delay.

‘His passionate plea worked, and committee members seemed to come to the view that, as PCC had gone down the path so far with the favoured redevelopment company, there was only one way they could continue – and it involved splashing the cash.

‘But what readers probably don’t know is that during the behind-closed-doors scrutiny call-in of the Narberth deal, after much probing of officers by Cllr. Mike Evans, councillors were told that, amid the media controversy of cabinet’s decision to offer the loan and slash the price – and my call-in of the decision – a separate, unsolicited expression of interest for the site’s redevelopment had been received by the council’.

The deadline for Abbeymore Estates and Knox & Wells Ltd to start the development is December 31.  If the developers are not in a position to start then, there remain questions as to why – when the scope of the scheme and the range of support being offered to prospective developers changed so dramatically and included a significant price reduction and a seven-figure loan – the project was not re-tendered; and how the Council found itself – two years after it had awarded a contract to a preferred bidder – with an undeveloped site in Narberth. It remains to be seen whether the Council will give its ‘preferred bidder’ more time or whether it will then find itself in a worse position with a prospective new developer, well-aware of what has gone wrong this time round.

And finally, if Abbeymore Estates and Knox & Wells Ltd do proceed, what will happen to those businesses in the town centre which the council considers could be affected by the revised scheme? If the scheme advanced is the one that the council thought would affect the sustainability of those businesses, it is likely to find itself embroiled in a lengthy legal fight once final plans are brought forward for consideration.

As things stand, plans to demolish the school are being prepared with an alternative use for the school site as a short-term car park being considered as a contingency plan.

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Delight as foundation phase learners return to class



PEMBROKESHIRE Headteachers have reported very positive returns to school for Foundation Phase Learners.

All Foundation Phase Learners returned to schools on Monday, March 1st and attendance has been reported at almost 90% since.

The Council’s Director for Education, Steven Richards-Downes, said: “A wide range of council services have worked together to ensure that Foundation Phase pupils have been able to return
safely to school.

“I am particularly grateful to all school staff and families for ensure that learning is now available for our youngest learners face to face.”

Headteachers remarked how schools have filled with smiles and laughter following the safe and phased return of Foundation Phase learners.

Cora O’Brien, Headteacher at Waldo Williams School in Haverfordwest emphasised how quickly learners have settled back in to a routine.

“It has been an absolute joy to hear their laughter in the playground and to observe their love of learning face to face once again. I thank everybody in the Waldo Williams School
community for working so hard to ensure that the transition went smoothly.”

Vicky Hart-Griffiths, Headteacher of Ysgol Hafan y Mor in Tenby, said: “It has been wonderful to welcome all our Foundation Phase learners back to school. They are thriving, being amongst
friends and back to a school routine.  

“All the pupils have spoken about how happy they are to have returned and it’s an absolute pleasure to welcome them back and we can’t wait until we have all our pupils back in school.

“The school feels alive again and there’s a positive buzz and laughter once again echoing throughout the school.”

Gareth Lewis, Headteacher at Broad Haven CP School said children had returned “with real enthusiasm, and have been very keen to meet up with their friends.”

Mr Lewis added: “Our parents have been very supportive and positive about the return, and those with older children are very much looking forward to a wider return to schooling.”

Mr Richards-Downes said plans were now turning to more learners returning to schools in the near future.

“We are looking to the next phases of the re-opening of schools on the 15th of March as long as the government guidelines allow.”

Further details will be released in due course.

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Pembrokeshire County Council: This week’s Leader’s coronavirus update



PEMBROKESHIRE COUNTY COUNCIL Leader, Councillor David Simpson, has provided a further coronavirus update for Friday, 5th March as follows:

‘Welcome everyone to my weekly update.

“It is with rather a heavy heart that I tell you that it’s almost 12 months since my first statement on the coronavirus pandemic.

“On 9th March 2020, I addressed our Cabinet meeting with the following words:

“Further to the news yesterday that two people in Pembrokeshire had tested as positive for the Covid 19 virus, I am sure you will join me in wishing them both a speedy and full recovery.

“I can reassure you that our services will continue as usual, and all our employees can continue to attend to their work, appointments, schools and services as they normally would.

“We should all help protect ourselves and our communities by following Public Health Wales advice, particularly around washing hands and using a tissue for symptoms associated with cold and flu and then safely disposing of it.

“I am grateful to the co-operation and hard work of all of our staff and we will provide further updates and information when we have them.

“In the meantime I can confirm that detailed planning arrangements, both internally, with partner agencies and through the Dyfed Powys Local Resilience Forum, are well underway to ensure that the Council and Pembrokeshire are as well placed as possible for whatever challenges we may face. Thank you.”

“I am sure you will join me while I take a moment now to remember all those people in Pembrokeshire and further afield, who, very sadly, passed away since I made that announcement.

“I continue to be incredibly grateful, as I’m sure you are, to everyone who is helping to beat this pandemic, working so very hard now for over a year.

“We are fortunate now to be in a position where the vaccine programme is protecting older members of our community and starting to roll out among one of the biggest groups – the over 65s and those with underlying health conditions.

“This time next week (12th March) the Welsh Government will have notified us of their plans for the next three weeks.

“In the meantime, we remain in Alert Level 4 and the stay at home message continues to be more important than ever as we reach the threshold of better times.

“I wish you all a good weekend and thank you once again to the vast majority of wonderful Pembrokeshire residents who are doing the right thing and waiting patiently at home for restrictions to lift.

“We do really appreciate your efforts and determination to help bring this pandemic to an end.”


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Sergeant Hillier ‘died doing the job he loved’, says his heartbroken father



THE ARMY SERGEANT who died after being injured in a live firing exercise, has been named locally.

The incident occurred at Castlemartin Training Area, and led to the death of Sgt Gavin Hillier, who was in the Welsh Guards.

In a post on social media, his father wrote: “Absolutely devastated to be writing this post, probably the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do.

“At 3.45am this morning I received a phone call that will forever change my life. My eldest son Gavin Mark Hillier was in a fatal accident yesterday in the army (the job he loved).

“Sleep tight & rest in peace son. I’m so proud of you. Goodnight and god bless, love your heartbroken dad.”

An Army spokesperson said: “It is with great sadness we can confirm the death of a soldier on March 4.

“Our thoughts are with his family and friends at this tragic time.

“The circumstances surrounding this death are being investigated and it would be inappropriate to comment any further.”

It is understood that Sergeant Hillier, who served as part of the Welsh Guards’ motor transport platoon, was due to be deployed to Iraq and had previously been awarded a Long Service and Good Conduct medal by Prince Charles, the regiment’s Colonel in Chief, in 2019.

The tragic incident is the latest in a number of accidents at Castlemartin.

In 2017, The Herald reported that two soldiers died in a tank explosion, which a coroner ruled was due to a design flaw.

The following year, an Army captain was jailed in July 2018 after a 21-year-old soldier was killed by a stray bullet during an exercise at the range in 2012.

An investigation has been launched into the death of a soldier at Castlemartin RAC Range following a military exercise.

Police were called to the site at just before 10.45pm on March 4.

Sadly, a man was pronounced dead shortly after. Our thoughts are with his family, who have been informed of the incident and are being supported by specialist officers.

An investigation is underway led by Dyfed-Powys Police. Officers are liaising with the Health and Safety Executive and MoD.

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