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Council ‘supports’ Narberth School developers

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‘This was on the proviso that this support be withdrawn if the developers fail to secure the tenants and commence the scheme by 31st December.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

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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Business

Council renews legal pressure on smelly landfill site’s owner

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As part of its approach to jointly tackling the ongoing odour issues at Withyhedge with NRW, Pembrokeshire County Council has said this week it is progressing with its legal challenge against RML.

On April 26, the Council asked RML to give legally binding undertaking to stop the odour coming from Withyhedge Landfill. If it refused, the Council expected RML to provide disclosure of documents, as a potential defendant to a claim for nuisance.

RML refused both to give undertakings or to provide disclosure. Therefore, on 20th May, the Council made an application for pre-action disclosure at Haverfordwest County Court. The Council will be asking the Court to compel RML to handover documents, which it believes are important to its claim for nuisance. The Council expect the Court to confirm a hearing date shortly.

In addition to pursuing the legal avenue our Public Protection team continues to undertake air quality monitoring and working in collaboration with our partners to do all in our power to address the situation.

Pembrokeshire County Council Cabinet Member for Residents’ Services, Cllr Rhys Sinnett has pledged to continue addressing the ongoing issue in Withyhedge as a top priority for the council. He said: “Our intention is to ask the Court for an injunction requiring RML to stop the odour nuisance arising from the landfill. Whilst we are pleased with the operators decision to completely seal off the cell (cell eight) causing the problem, and are genuinely hopeful this will resolve the problem, we remain concerned over future operations and cannot allow this situation to ever recur.

“I understand the frustration and upset that the residents living near the Withyhedge site have been experiencing – and the odour is simply unacceptable, and I am committed to working tirelessly to find a solution.

“Maintaining clean air is a priority for our community – and this Authority along with our partners – are committed to proactive pollution monitoring, and working closely with NRW and the site operator to ensure they move to a position whereby foul odours from the site impacting upon our communities are eliminated.

“Our monitoring is ongoing and will align with colleagues from NRW to gather information on air quality levels both from a health and nuisance perspective – including providing early morning and evening visits. Furthermore, and in partnership with NRW, more advanced static monitoring equipment has been commissioned and delivered for deployment next month.

“In addition, we would like to work with as many residents as possible and encourage them to report any odour concerns they may have – this information is vital in helping us address the issue effectively.”

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Business

Big day for The Hanger as licensing appeal goes ahead in court

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MAGISTRATES in Llanelli will today (May 29) hear an appeal from the management of The Hangar, a venue in Milford Haven.

Following the decision by Pembrokeshire County Council’s licensing committee to stop a charity boxing event, Steve Bartram, the manager and applicant for the Temporary Events Notice intended to cover the event has asked for a court to look at if the council’s decision was correct.

Both Pembrokeshire County Council and The Hanger’s management will be represented in court by counsel. The case will start at 2pm.

At the original hearing, on May 1, where the event was stopped, the objection was raised by one of the council’s own officers, who stated that the venue has become a public nuisance due to noise complaints received. The role of the councillors on the sub-committee was to examine this single objection and determine whether the noise complaints were substantial enough to justify halting the event. The committee heard from The Hangar’s manager, Steve Bartram, that the event was planned as a ‘boxing night’, would inherently be quieter than other events held at the venue.

Speaking for the Council Environmental Officer, David Walters countered that complaints had been received not only in connection with music at the venue but also concerning the ingress and egress of patrons, as well as the noise from vehicles leaving the event. However, when pressed for details, Mr Walters could not provide the committee with a definitive number of complaints received, nor was the nature of the complaints discussed in detail.

At the meeting, Steve Bartram earnestly tried to persuade the members to allow the boxing night to proceed, stating, “Since the initial decision to open The Hangar, I have done everything within my power to meet all the licensing objectives, before any work was carried out inside. I also sought guidance from all responsible authorities on my plans and how I intended to manage The Hangar. These included Geraint Griffiths, Nathan Miles, Stuart McDonald, and Nigel Lewis. During these meetings, everything was discussed in detail, outlining the plans and intentions for the event hub.

“Not once was it suggested by any of the responsible authorities that planning permission should have been sought, should it have been necessary at the time, as I have done since receiving the planning enforcement warning letter.

“Regarding the temporary events notices, according to regulations, up to 15 can be issued within a calendar year, and currently, I am well within that limit at nine.

“As part of the planning application, I have had, at substantial cost, noise surveys carried out—one at a scientific ‘pink noise’ survey and another during a ‘dance event’ on Saturday 30th March. I have a 36-page document supporting these findings which confirms that we are operating well within legal noise limits.”

Members of the Licensing Sub-Committee, despite being advised to focus solely on the noise issue, questioned The Hangar’s management on a broad array of topics, including their long-term plans for the venue, why a Full Public Entertainment License had not been applied for, and why planning permission for a change of use for the building had not yet been sought. Bartram explained that a ‘Change of Use Planning Application’ had been submitted on Tuesday 30th April, with the assistance of a planning professional.

Journalists covering the original hearing noted that much of the discussion was irrelevant to the issue at hand, which was whether the event proposed was likely to cause a public nuisance.

We will cover the outcome of the appeal as it happens.

The original licensing meeting (video recording) can be watched here.

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Crime

Police urge teenage girls in Wales to report sexual harassment

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BRITISH Transport Police is today (Wednesday 29 May) releasing new statistics that suggest sexual harassment is underreported by teenage girls in Wales. Also today, Lex Gibbon, 19, recounts her experience of harassment in new single.

Crime statistics released today show that:

  • In 2022, 663 teenage girls reported sexual offences or harassment to British Transport Police.
  • In 2023 in Wales, this number fell from 28 to 21 reports, a 33% decrease.

Police believe that many incidents are still going unreported, and that many people are not aware that you can report any type of sexual behaviour that makes you uncomfortable.

One of the real stories behind the statistics is brought to life in Lex Gibbon’s new single, ‘Audacity’. Lex wrote the song after a man followed her through an underground train station, verbally abused her and touched her.

At the time, Lex had not heard of British Transport Police’s text 61016 service and did not report the incident. Lex later discovered text 61016 and approached British Transport Police to collaborate on the launch of her single to raise awareness.  

Police believe that many girls have experienced similar behaviour and, like Lex, are unaware that it can be reported to police. As shown in the song’s lyrics, police believe that many girls blame themselves for what happened. Today, officers are reassuring victims that sexual harassment is never their fault and urging everyone to save text 61016 in their phone.

Lex Gibbon said: “I was followed through an underground train station by a man who made me feel extremely unsafe, scared and vulnerable.

“At the time I had no idea that text 61016 existed. I believe it’s really important to help women feel safer on public transport, so when I wrote ‘Audacity’ about my experience I felt it could really raise awareness for the initiative.

“I’ve now reported and spent a day with British Transport Police, and I’ve seen how seriously they take sexual harassment.

“If someone does this to me again, I’ll be texting it in. Please save 61016 in your phone and use it to report this sort of creepy behaviour.”  

British Transport Police Assistant Chief Constable Paul Furnell said: “The man’s behaviour as described by Lex is completely unacceptable. I want everyone to know that acting like this on the rail network has serious consequences.

“As well as our uniformed and plain clothes officers, 150,000 CCTV cameras and your fellow passengers are watching you.

“We’re receiving more and more reports about sexual harassment, as people have had enough of this disgusting behaviour and know we prioritise tackling it. We use reports from multiple passengers to secure the strongest possible sentences for sex offenders.

“Sadly, we know that many women feel that they have no option but to put up with sexual harassment. That’s not the case: if someone is persistently bothering you and makes you feel unsafe or uncomfortable, please text 61016 to report it.

“Our officers are on patrol 24/7 and can meet trains at the next station. If it happens on the tube and you don’t have signal, you can speak to staff or text us at the next station.

“Nothing is too small to report and sexual harassment is never your fault. Save text 61016 in your phone today”.

Siwan Hayward, TfL’s Director of Security, Policing and Enforcement, said: “We are deeply sorry that Lex experienced this horrific incident on our network. The safety of women and girls is an absolute priority for us and we are committed to tackling sexual harassment, working closely with the police to make our capital’s transport network a hostile place for offenders.

“We are actively promoting the importance of reporting crimes that we know are underreported, and welcome the increase in reporting of sexual offences as evidence that more women and girls and bystanders have the confidence to come forward and report experiences, knowing that they will be taken seriously and that offenders will be pursued. We encourage anyone who experiences or witnesses this behaviour to report it to the police or a member of staff so that we can take action against offenders and put the right measures in place to prevent this from happening.”

Listen to Audacity here: https://collect.wetransfer.com/board/slw1b24i1i4x0o9n320240409172645

How to report

Every report is important. See it or experience it, you can report anything that makes you uncomfortable by text 61016, via the Railway Guardian app or by calling 0800 40 50 40.

Click here to save text 61016 in your phone today: https://qr1.be/X0RR

You can also report past incidents and anonymously report sexual offences at btp.police.uk.

In an emergency, always call 999.

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