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Politics

Reforms challenge local democracy

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A WHITE PAPER setting out how councils will deliver some of their services together will be unveiled this week by Local Government Secretary Mark Drakeford.

The White Paper, which is out for consultation until the beginning of April, is the result of months of discussions between the Welsh Government, local authorities and others on how to strengthen council services in the face of future challenges. It seeks views on proposals for mandatory regional working to deliver a range of services, address workforce issues, and implement electoral reform, including allowing voting at 16. It also calls on members of the public to become active participants in local democracy and in the design and delivery of services.

Amongst the proposals are a mandatory economic development footprint that would also cover certain planning functions and transport.

Councils would have some flexibility over what footprint they use to share responsibilities for other mandated services including education improvement, social services, additional learning needs, public protection and promotion of the Welsh language.

Councillors would make up the membership of new, enhanced joint committees which would oversee these services and make decisions on behalf of their respective councils. Funding arrangements would work on the existing practice of pooled budgets.

The local government workforce is an essential part of these proposals and the Welsh Government will consider, through the Workforce Partnership Council, how to support the transition over to the new arrangements, using statutory guidance where necessary.

Councils would still have the option of merging under the new plans and, where there is local agreement for this, the Welsh Government would work with them to make it a reality.

The White Paper also calls for a different and more equal partnership between people and the public services they use. This would see the development of a new set of principles recognising people as the best experts in how to manage their own lives and putting in place small interventions earlier to resolve issues before they escalate further.

The proposals strike a new balance between clear and unavoidable objectives for local government with flexibility for councils to determine how those shared objectives are best delivered locally. Thus the White Paper proposals provide councils with powers to choose between operating a Cabinet or Committee system and to decide how the activities of councillors are best reported to the electorate. Similarly, views are invited on enabling local authorities to adopt either ‘first past the post’ or ‘single transferable vote’ election systems. Following passage of the Wales Bill, further conversation will take place on a wider set of measures to reform electoral arrangements in Wales to improve both voter registration and turn out at elections.

In line with the new proposals, the Cabinet Secretary also announced that he would be considering how the wider local government finance system could be reformed – ensuring a fairer and more sustainable system to support local authorities in the future.

Setting out the proposals for consultation, the Local Government Secretary said: “This White Paper is not about change for change’s sake. Our councils are working against a backdrop of extraordinary austerity and some services are facing a great deal of pressure. Local government reform is essential if we’re to make these services stronger and more resilient to cope with the demands of the future.

“The new regional arrangements will bring councils together to work more effectively in the interests of people and their communities.

“We want to see a new relationship between councils and their communities where public services support people to live independent lives and intervene only when necessary and only for as long as is required.

“We also want a new relationship between the Welsh Government and our councils; one that is based on mutual respect for the important, and different, roles we each play.

“Underpinning all of these new arrangements will be effective scrutiny and accountability, where councillors act as the champion, advocate and guide for people who elect them.

“I want to thank local authority leaders and others for their help in forming a serious and credible set of proposals. I look forward to working alongside them further following the local government elections in May.”

Economic development footprints would be based on the WLGA regions of South-East Wales, North Wales and Central and South-West Wales. The shape of these regions fits with the economic development areas already in place; namely the Cardiff Capital and Swansea Bay city regions, the North Wales Economic Ambition Board and the Growing Mid Wales Partnership.

Crucially, however, there is no election to the quangos the Welsh Government has decided will direct local economies, with members of each being appointed by a variety of public and third sector bodies. Quite how those arrangements will advance and protect local democracy and accountability is a significant question, especially when considering the catalogue of disasters unleashed by similar arrangements in the past.

In particular, there are concerns that key local authority functions, such as oversight of major local planning projects, will end up being determined – either directly or indirectly – by unelected regional boards made up of place-men and women, failed local government bureaucrats, and appointees made up of what – in Welsh political circles – amounts to ‘the usual suspects’.

The consultation will close on April 11 and is available to view on the Welsh Government’s website: consultations.gov.wales.

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Politics

Get to know your candidates for the coming election

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WITH a July 4 date set for the general election, the currently declared candidates for the two new electoral seats of Ceredigion Preseli and Mid and South Pembrokeshire have made their first pitches for your votes.

As part of constituency changes, Pembrokeshire’s seats of Preseli Pembrokeshire and Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire, are now no more.

As part of the changes, parts of north Pembrokeshire – including St Davids – are joining the new Mid and South Pembrokeshire constituency, which replace the Pembrokeshire elements of the Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire seat.

Parts of the north of the county are now in the new Ceredigion Preseli constituency, areas including Crymych and Maenclochog joining with Ceredigion.

Current hopefuls for the Mid and South Pembrokeshire seat are Welsh Liberal Democrat Alistair Cameron, with Stephen Crabb for the Conservatives and Henry Tufnell for Labour.

Conservative hopeful Stephen Crabb said: “As a local man who lives and was raised in the heart of Pembrokeshire, I’m committed to providing a strong voice for our county. I understand the needs of our community and have a trusted track record of speaking up for Pembrokeshire. I bring experience, a record of delivering on our county’s priorities, and I always put the interests of Pembrokeshire first.”

“I’ve worked hard to secure the Celtic Freeport which will bring new investment and jobs to the area, improved Broadband, delivered new Levelling Up money to improve our town centres, and boosted the number of police officers to keep our communities safer. Defending Withybush Hospital and local health services against Welsh Labour cuts will always remain a top priority.”

“I am the only candidate at this election who has fought against Vaughan Gething’s Withyhedge landfill scandal which has ruined the quality of life of thousands of Pembrokeshire people. This election is an opportunity for local people to send a message to Welsh Labour that Pembrokeshire must not be turned into a dumping ground.”

Welsh Labour’s candidate Henry Tufnell said: “Today presents an opportunity for the people of Mid and South Pembrokeshire to have their say. They can choose between more of the same of the last fourteen years: scandal, sleaze, economic mismanagement and falling living standards, or a changed Labour Party that will deliver for them.

“I want a fresh start for Mid and South Pembrokeshire, to be a strong voice to stand up for residents and to work hard for them. With a UK Labour Government working hand in hand with our Welsh Government, the people of Pembrokeshire will be better off.”

Alistair Cameron, Welsh Lib Dem candidate said: “I will push for quality local jobs that offer fair wages to help residents and families get by. I will urge the UK government to boost support for offshore wind and green hydrogen industries off our coastline, creating skilled sustainable employment for our region.

“I will also support established industries in our county including tourism and farming. As part of this, I want to make it easier to trade with our nearest neighbours in the European Union.

“Many are frustrated with long waits to access healthcare under the Labour-led system, whether seeing a GP, finding an NHS dentist, or getting hospital treatment for serious illnesses. I will fight to make it much easier to access these vital services. “

Plaid Cymru is yet to select a candidate for the constituency, and other parties are expected to announce their choices in the coming weeks.

Candidates confirmed to date for Ceredigion Preseli are Ben Lake for Plaid Cymru, Liberal Democrat Mark Williams, Welsh Labour’s Jackie Jones, and Conservative Aled Thomas.

Welsh Labour’s Jackie Jones, said: “Fourteen years of Conservative government in Westminster has left families in Ceredigion Preseli worse off. Plaid Cymru won’t be able to provide solutions to the problems the UK faces.

“I’m campaigning for a fresh start for Ceredigion Preseli with a Labour Government. A thriving local economy, a modernised NHS, and opportunities for all, no matter your background. There is an alternative to Conservative chaos and Plaid powerlessness. A UK Labour Government, working with our Welsh Labour Government, will deliver for communities across Wales.”

Plaid Cymru’s Ben Lake said: “It is an honour to stand as the representative for the new seat of Ceredigion Preseli. It has been a privilege to serve the people of Ceredigion for the past seven years, during which I have done my utmost to fight their cause, striving every day to improve the lives of the people I am honoured to serve.

“I hope to be re-elected as your Member of Parliament on July 4, and will work tirelessly to champion the issues that matter most to you. Whether that’s investing in our public services, safeguarding our NHS, or boosting our local economy for the benefit of our communities.

“I will be your champion at Westminster, and I am confident that together we can build a stronger, more sustainable, and prosperous Ceredigion Preseli to enable future generations to thrive.”

Conservative hopeful Aled Thomas said: “It’s an honour of a lifetime to represent residents in North Pembrokeshire and Ceredigion as the Welsh Conservative Candidate for Ceredigion Preseli. Now the starting gun has officially been fired, I’m ready to continue spreading positive messages across the constituency about what has been achieved under a Conservative UK government, with getting the economy growing, the furlough scheme, gigabit internet rollout, national insurance tax cuts, legalising same sex marriage and establishing the Celtic Freeport just to name a few.

“Rural communities across our constituency need stability, and the uncertainty the Plaid Cymru and the Welsh Labour Government have inflicted on Welsh Farmers is unforgivable. As a young farmer, I feel the same pain that our rural communities feel. I will always fight for farmers and wider rural communities, and I know that the Welsh Conservatives share that same value.

“Conservatives also have a strong record in education, and now more than ever, I will be the only voice that speaks up for a generation of children in Ceredigion Preseli – where Labour’s current curriculum for Wales and the Plaid Cymru-run County Council are letting a generation of school children down.”

Liberal Democrat hopeful Mark Williams said: “It is an honour to stand as the candidate for the Liberal Democrats and represent the new constituency – Ceredigion Preseli, in Westminster.

“Having had the privilege of representing the people of Ceredigion for over 12 years as your member of parliament, I had a proven track record of consistently fighting for our community, striving every day to improve the lives of the people I served. I will do so again if I am elected to serve as your next MP.

“On July 4, I seek your support to be elected as the member of parliament. As the choice for change and a better future, I am dedicated to addressing the issues that matter most to you. My focus will be on securing vital investments in our public services, protecting our health service, and boosting our local economy to benefit all our communities.

“I am committed to being a strong and effective voice for you in Westminster. Together, we can build a stronger, more sustainable, and vibrant Ceredigion Preseli that will enable future generations to thrive.”

The two new seats have two Pembrokeshire County Council councillors standing, Alistair Cameron and Aled Thomas.

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Business

Former Pembroke Barclays to become shopfront and residential apartments

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Plans to convert a former Barclays Bank branch on Pembroke’s Main Street to retail and residential apartments have been given the go-ahead.

Mr Zouras, through agent RPC Design & Architecture Ltd, sought permission from Pembrokeshire County Council for a change of use and conversion of the former Grade-II-listed bank at 35 Main Street to retail on the ground floor and residential apartments at the rear ground, first and second floors.

The branch closed in July 2019, the same year the bank’s Narberth and Milford Haven branches closed.

A supporting heritage statement said: “The three-storey building is currently vacant and was a former bank on the ground floor. The first floor was former staff rooms and male/female toilets. The second floor was used as storage. There is an existing outdoor paved area and private, off-road car parking to the rear for four to six cars.  The building is Grade II listed; designated in 2005.”

CADW’s listing says: “…earlier C19 terraced house, front remodelled in 1925 for Barclays Bank to plans by J. H. Morgan of Carmarthen. The building was then called Bank House, but it is not known how long it had been a bank.”

An officer report says: “The ground floor shopfront is six bays wide divided by faceted pilasters of ashlar stone – a hint towards the art-deco style. Heavy fielded panel doors to the left-hand bay. Heavy classical stucco window surrounds to upper floors, the middle window has a pediment above – conventional Edwardian Bank detail, old fashioned for the 1920s.”

The listed building application was conditionally approved by county planners.

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Community

Demolition of St Thomas Green vandal-blighted building approved

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A SOCIAL housing provider scheme to demolish a deteriorated vandal-blighted house in Haverfordwest has been approved by county planners.

Earlier this year, social housing provider Ateb Group Limited gave county planners prior notification of its plans to demolish The Grove, St Thomas Green.

In its application, it stated: “The building has been unoccupied for several years and its physical condition has deteriorated significantly over that time. It has become prone to vandalism and trespass and is becoming difficult to manage and secure.

“It’s demolition will allow the structure and resultant debris to be removed, improving the visual amenities of the locality. It will also enable the site to become readily available for a sensitive redevelopment in association with the adjacent Meyler House.”

It added: “The cleared site will become part of the adjoining Meyler House site, with proposals being prepared to redevelop and construct affordable elderly persons apartments and associated parking facilities.”

Agent Evans Banks Planning Limited, in a supporting statement said The Grove, adjoining Ateb’s head offices at Meyler House, received permission back in 2009 for the “Demolition of existing dwelling and replacement with apartments, houses and landscaped grounds.”

Conservation Area Consent was also granted at that time.

“Those permissions were not implemented and have long since lapsed, but nevertheless indicate that the principle of demolishing The Grove was deemed acceptable at that time to the local planning authority,” said Evans Banks Planning Limited.

“A pre-application enquiry has recently been presented before the local planning authority which seeks to reignite such redevelopment proposals but on a much larger site, incorporating Meyler House and its grounds into a comprehensive redevelopment scheme to create elderly persons apartments.”

It added: “This current submission seeks to renew that 2009 Conservation Area Consent given that the existing former dwelling house has now reached a physical state where its deterioration is causing concern.”

However, county planners determined that prior approval was needed before any demolition works take place, with details of tree protection while the works take place needed, along with a suitable method statement to minimise noise, dust and a strategy for dealing with hazardous materials should they arise during the demolition.

County planners have now granted Conservation Area approval for the plans.

A similar application by Ateb, for demolition works at the town’s former learning centre, near to the former county library, recently made subject to broadly similar conditions, has since been granted permission.

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