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Official opening for Wales’ first solar village

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pentre-solar-4TODAY (Jan 5) the Cabinet Secretary for Environment and Rural Affairs, Lesley Griffiths, will officially open the first solar village in Wales.

The village, named Pentre Solar, is situated at the Rhosygilwen estate and comprises six affordable houses which will use just 12% of the energy of a traditional home.

Funded by private sector company Western Solar, each three bedroom home has a modern design featuring a fitted kitchen, superfast broadband (as well as satellite and Freeview TV connections), a landscaped garden and, most interestingly, access to a shared electric car.

A highly innovative project, 80% of the heating needs for all of the properties will be provided by solar energy, meaning extremely low energy costs for future tenants. Adding to the sustainable nature of the build, the all timber homes also feature 11 inch insulation.

In an effort to address the affordable housing crisis in Pembrokeshire, the properties will be available for rent to those on the council housing register – and at 20% below the rental market rate. Those hoping to apply will need to have connections with the surrounding parishes; however, beyond that criteria, the houses will be allocated on a first come, first serve basis.

The idea behind the ‘revolutionary concept’, according to Western Solar, is to ‘build a truly sustainable business that can benefit the local community’.

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The Herald was able to speak to the man behind the ambitious development, Western Solar CEO and 2015 Eco Entrepreneur of the Year, Dr Glen Peters. As well as finding out a bit more about his links with Pembrokeshire, we discussed issues around affordable housing, the need for sustainable development, existing practices of the building industry, and future plans for Western Solar.

Having worked in London for some 35 years – and lived in Pembrokeshire ‘on and off’ for the last 20 years – Glen described how he ‘gradually fell in love with Pembrokeshire’, and has now based himself here full-time.
Discussing the need for a development such as Pentre Solar, Glen said: “There is unlimited demand for this – there are so many people in dire need of good quality housing.”

Admitting he wasn’t entirely sure of its accuracy, Glen referred to a statistic by Pembrokeshire County Council which estimated that the county is currently in need of some 6,000 homes.

One of the major obstacles in providing affordable housing, according to Glen, is ‘finding affordable land’.

He added: “Most of the available land to build on has been snapped up by developers.

“For a house to be affordable, you can’t have a plot that costs fifty to a hundred grand.”

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Seemingly undeterred by this financial obstacle, Glen stated: “For every problem, we have to find a solution.”

The solution in this instance, Glen added: “Local authorities need to release the land banks that they have.”

Elaborating on this comment, Glen went on: “This is not ripping up green fields; this is disused properties. The whole concept of Pentre Solar is small little hamlets.”

Another issue which Glen found during the Pentre Solar development is a certain objection by financial institutions towards the building materials used for the project.

“This is not a traditional build; this is not bricks and mortar, so building societies don’t want to lend.

“There is a physical barrier that we need to overcome about all timber houses.”

Developing on this idea, the question was posed as to how this new strategy for housing provision could change building industry practices in the UK.

Reiterating a previous point, Glen said: “The existing supply chains are all based around bricks and mortar; all the skills and all the trades are geared towards that as well.”

Contrary to modern practice, Glen emphasised: “Carpentry is the core skill for the house.”

With reference to ‘critical mass’, the eco entrepreneur went on to suggest the need for greater training and apprenticeship schemes for carpentry practices.

At the heart of the entire development is the theme of sustainability, with Glen stating: “The concept of recycling is very much at the core of our proposition. We’re recovering paper and using that as insulation – it’s all about trying to recycle, either the land, the insulation, the timber; we need that supply chain to be able to provide that.”

While the design for Pentre Solar was developed around sustainability, Glen admitted that not every aspect of the design was able to be implemented into the build. One such design was ‘rainwater harvesting’, a method of collecting rain and reusing it during the summer months.

With an eye on the future, Western Solar appear to have big plans in the pipeline. With reference to a comment about building 1,000 sustainable, affordable homes in the UK, Glen said how this falls under the company’s 10 year plan.

The company is also operating a three year plan which, if successful, will see the development of 100 homes ‘largely between counties in West Wales – Pembrokeshire, Carmarthenshire and Ceredigion’.

Glen added: “The most important things are access to land and the finance. The idea would be to create another hub in Wales and replicate the same idea somewhere else.”

Building on this point, Glen said: “When we’ve got used to the idea of replication with the same system repeatedly, then we think we could get to our target of 1,000.”

Reflecting on the finished product of Pentre Solar, Glen said: “I’m very pleased – it’s one of those things with any project, you go through enthusiasm, excitement, and then you reach a point were you feel destroyed, and then suddenly you see light at the end of the tunnel.”

“The reality is absolutely amazing.”

Glen is currently looking for sites for his next development, stressing: “We need to work on our relationships within the local authority.”

Pentre Solar is not the first green initiative that Glen has received praise for; he was also behind the first ever ‘solar park’ in Wales. Completed in 2011, the near 10,000 strong solar park – which used cutting edge technology imported from the United States – is designed to utilise the often cloudy weather of the area.

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Conservatives hold on to Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire seat

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THE CONSERVATIVES have held on to their Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire seat despite Labour closing the gap.

Sam Kurtz will take over the seat from the outgoing Angela Burns who held a majority of 3,400 at the last election.

This time, the gap was just 936 to Labour’s Hassan Riaz who picked up 10,304 votes.

Plaid Cymru’s Cefin Campbell picked up 6,615 votes.

The turnout in Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire was slightly up to 52.12% from 51.2% in 2016.

However, with a larger electorate thanks to votes for 16/17-year-olds, the number of votes cast went up by almost 3,000.

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Paul Davies re-elected as Conservatives hold Preseli Pembrokeshire

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PAUL DAVIES has been re-elected to represent the Preseli Pembrokeshire constituency.

He won with 12,295 votes, while there were 10,895 votes for Labour’s Jackie Jones.

Plaid Cymru candidate Cris Tomos gained just over 6,000 votes and there were also 1,239 for Reform UK candidate Alan Dennison.

There were over 3000 more votes cast in 2016, down largely in part to the fact that 16 and 17 year olds were able to vote in this election.

Both the Conservatives and Labour received more votes than before while the gap to Labour closed to just 1,400.

After being elected, Paul Davies said he would continue to ‘fight for Pembrokeshire’ and thanked those who had been involved in his campaign.

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Former Cardigan Castle director sentencing delayed

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THE SENTENCING of a former director of Cardigan Castle who has pleaded guilty to charges of fraud and theft totalling over £40,000 has been delayed.

Former director, Jac Davies, pleaded guilty to charges of fraud and theft was due to be sentenced on Wednesday (May 4) at Swansea Crown Court – but has now been delayed.

Davies who held the £40,000 a year post fraudulently obtained £33,098.75 and stole a further £7,932.97 from the award winning restoration project..

Davies held his position at Cardigan Castle from September 2017 to November 2019.

The defendant has pleaded guilty to fraudulently obtaining £4,143.20 from the castle on December 21, 2017.

Again Davies admitted to fraudulently obtaining £28,955.55 between February 4, 2019 and November 3, 2019.

Two further charges of theft were also admitted – one charge of  theft from the castle of £1,908.18 between May 2, 2018 and May 24, 2019 and a further charge of theft from Cardigan Castle Enterprises to the sum of £6,024.79.

Dyfed-Powys Police conducted a year long investigation after being contacted by the castle board of directors.

Financial discrepancies were identified during financial monitoring.

An internal investigation was launched and Davies left his position within the castle in October 2019 following a disciplinary process.

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