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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‘This was on the proviso that this support be withdrawn if the developers fail to secure the tenants and commence the scheme by 31st December.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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Castell Howell Foods highlights sector concerns over Covid recovery

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THE HOSPITALITY sector may be opening up, but transport and supply issues are hampering the industry’s recovery – according to Castell Howell Foods.

One of the UK’s largest independent food wholesalers, Castell Howell, has taken the step of contacting customers to highlight the significant challenges faced by the sector as it recovers from the pandemic.

While there is relief at easing lockdown and optimism for a busy summer with bookings for UK ‘staycations’ and leisure activities, pressing issues remain.

Shortages of key staff and problems faced by some suppliers have resulted in the Welsh wholesaler being forced to make some “uncomfortable” decisions and changes to its operation, including having to pass on some supply chain price increases.

In particular, a shortage of qualified delivery drivers has meant the Cross Hands based business has had to be resourceful to maintain its delivery frequency to its customers. To help bridge the gap in the short term, other Castell Howell staff who hold an HGV licence have been temporarily redeployed to the transport department. Among them are area sales managers.

Castell Howell Sales Director, Kathryn Jones, said “Unfortunately, due to the drastic reduction in sales in 2020, our workforce decreased by over 100 colleagues. Whilst we now need most to return to the workplace, many have found alternative employment; this is a common theme across the supply chain.

“We have been actively advertising and recruiting for several months. However, as highlighted in the press, there are over 75,000 vacancies across the UK for HGV drivers alone.

“We too are currently short of drivers, especially Class 2 HGV. Driving a multi-drop vehicle for Castell Howell is a very different proposition to driving a limited drop schedule. Consequently, as you can imagine, it has been challenging to fill these vacancies.”
Stock availability is also an issue, as some suppliers struggle to manufacture under new social distancing rules. Delivery to Castell Howell from suppliers is also being affected by the UK-wide shortage of haulage drivers.

Kathryn Jones said, “To build up buffer stocks, we are increasing our volume of orders, especially for commodity lines. We aim to mitigate future stock shortages the best we can. We are constantly seeking substitute products from manufacturers who have the capacity to deliver. However, this is becoming increasingly more difficult.”

Castell Howell has made changes to its ordering process to improve its own deliveries, with earlier cut-off times.

“These changes go against the grain and were extremely difficult decisions to take. However, it is imperative to implement these in order to continue operating under these difficult circumstances whilst still maintaining a high level of service. We are very grateful to our customers for their support, patience and understanding.”

For Castell Howell, the difficulties arising from the pandemic were exacerbated by the loss of business with SA Brain & Co. This loss occurred following the Welsh company’s deal with brewery giant Marston’s to operate SA Brains pubs from January 2021.

Before that date, Castell Howell had been the sole supplier to SA Brain since 2008, including supplying 80 of the Welsh brewery’s managed public houses.

Kathryn Jones said, “However, despite the challenges in the supply chain and deliveries, we remain optimistic that the sector in the UK will work together to navigate through these unprecedented times and have a successful summer.”

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Port boss: Pembroke Dock development full permission an ‘important step’

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THE CHIEF EXECUTIVE of the Port of Milford Haven has welcomed a decision of “non-intervention” by the Welsh Government over plans to re-vamp Pembroke Dock’s historic port facilities.

The redevelopment scheme, approved by Pembrokeshire County Council’s Planning Committee in May, will see some areas such as a dock covered with sand and “infilled”.

Plans also include the demolishing of some buildings, erection of buildings and ancillary works.
Despite planning being granted at council level, full authorisation to go ahead with the development was not to be issued until the Welsh Government made its decision regards the matter.

More about the planning application can be read here: https://www.herald.wales/west-wales/pembrokeshire/major-marine-project-causes-concern-about-visual-impact-and-heritage-loss/

Now that the Welsh Government has decided not to interfere with Pembrokeshire County Council’s grant of planning permission, the Port’s boss, Andy Jones, expressed his delight, saying: “This marks an important step forward in the development of Wales’ clean energy centre at Pembroke Dock.

“It will provide sustainable opportunities for the many people who rely on the activity along the Milford Haven Waterway for employment.

CEO: Port Authority’s Andy Jones (Pic MHPA)

“Pembroke Dock Marine will unlock new opportunities for young people to enter the maritime, renewable and engineering sectors, build resilience within Pembrokeshire’s business community, and make a positive contribution to our natural environment as we transition to a low carbon energy generation.”

Tim James, head of commercial and energy at the Port of Milford Haven called the project a “once in a generation opportunity to improve Pembrokeshire’s economy for years to come”.

Objectors had complained that the plans were too large and would damage the historic dockyard, as well as having a visual impact on the dock.

The was opposition from local heritage campaigners, with complaints over the size of two huge proposed hangars which the project’s critics said would impact adversely the landscape.

The economic benefits of the £60 million marine energy “far outweigh” any impact on the historic environment, a report earlier this year to council planners said.

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Medical evacuation from LPG tanker off St Ann’s Head

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ANGLE Lifeboat was launched on service at 12:59pm on Thursday afternoon (Jun 10) to assist in a medical evacuation from a LPG tanker 13 miles SSW off St Ann’s Head.

The coastguard helicopter from Newquay in Cornwall was also on route. With the poor visibility due to fog, Angle all-weather lifeboat was to stand by the vessel to provide an alternative route for evacuation if needed.

After a choppy route in the poor visibility the RNLI volunteers arrived on scene at 2:07pm.

At the time of their arrival, the paramedic from the coastguard helicopter was aboard the vessel preparing the casualty to be winched to the helicopter.

In less than ten minutes the casualty was winched up to the helicopter and flown to hospital, at which point the lifeboat and crews were stood down and headed back to the station.

After rehousing shortly after 3:30pm the lifeboat was washed fuelled and made ready for service shortly after.

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