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Rural Wales ‘written-off’ by Westminster

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Ben Lake: Growth deal could be an opportunity

RURAL WALES has been ‘written off’ by Westminster as an area with no potential, Plaid Cymru’s Rural Affairs spokesperson, Ben Lake MP has said.

The Ceredigion MP led a debate in Westminster Hall on Tuesday (Nov 28), on the future of the rural economy in Wales and urged the Westminster Government to recognise the potential of rural Wales and to commit to a ‘growth deal’ designed to meet the needs of the rural economy.

The UK Chancellor announced in his budget statement last week that the Westminster Government would ‘begin negotiations towards growth deals for north Wales and mid-Wales’.

If a growth deal is compiled, Ben Lake says it must not ‘mindlessly replicate the model used for city deals’. He says Wales must move away from the mind-set of building a national economy that is unhealthily concentrated in one corner of the country, and instead pursue “opportunities and prosperity for all parts of the country.”

Ben Lake urged the Westminster Government to use the growth deal to invest in broadband and mobile data infrastructure and offer greater support to higher education institutions such as Aberystwyth University’s Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences (IBERS).

Ben Lake said: “The development of the rural economy should form an integral part of an economic strategy for Wales if we are to avoid building a national economy that is unhealthily concentrated in a few areas – or in one corner – of the country. We need look no further than the UK economy to appreciate the consequences of focusing attention and investment on one region at the expense of the rest. We must avoid adopting such a mentality in Wales, and instead pursue opportunities and prosperity for all parts of our country.

“Buried in the Chancellor’s statement, we were told that: ‘[The Westminster Government] will begin negotiations towards growth deals for North Wales and Mid-Wales’. Given their track-record of delivering on their promises to Wales – in recent years we have seen the promise of electrified railway lines fizzle out, and a hesitancy to commit to a tidal lagoon – this, no doubt, carefully worded sentence does not fill me with confidence.

“Nevertheless, I will certainly make sure the Chancellor is held to this announcement, and is not allowed to forget about it. Although I am loath to celebrate an economic policy that gives prominence to an unnatural, and in many ways awkward, geographic region, I appreciate that a growth deal for ‘mid-Wales’ could be a real opportunity for some rural communities that have suffered chronic underinvestment and neglect by successive governments. It is important, however, that if a growth deal is compiled, it cannot mindlessly replicate the model used for city deals.

“Ceredigion is in the UK’s ten worst performing constituencies when it comes to broadband speed yet despite the clear need for investment in Wales, the UK Government recently chose only to invest in improving broadband infrastructure in the other three UK countries. According to Ministers, the decision on where to invest was based on how likely they believed the investment would stimulate economic growth.

“It would appear that Westminster has written off rural Wales as an area without potential – an area that won’t be successful even if it had an effective infrastructure, an area that is simply not worth it.

“A growth deal for the Welsh Midlands, if done properly, could begin to address the issues currently plaguing rural areas. It could concentrate on improving connectivity, and offer greater support to higher education institutions such as Aberystwyth University’s Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences (IBERS).

“We have to make rural Wales matter. It has always been important to us, but with Brexit on the horizon and seemingly no sign of imminent progress, it is now becoming a matter of urgency that we make ourselves heard.”

Welsh Liberal Democrat leader Jane Dodds said: “Following the Cardiff and Swansea city deals, it is only right that Mid and North Wales are set to get their own growth deals. If these deals are really going to make a difference to rural economies they need to be more than just warm words and vanity projects. They must be ambitious and tailored to the unique needs of Mid and North Wales if they’re to have the transformational benefits our rural economies deserve.

“Mid and North Wales are blessed with incredible natural resources, universities at the forefront of research and innovation and a skilled and committed workforce. Growth deals must utilise these resources to make the regions powerhouses of the green economy, foster economic growth, fight poverty and give communities the digital and transport infrastructure they need to compete in the global economy.”

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More trouble for Vaughan Gething in Labour leadership race

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PRESSURE continues to build on Labour leadership contender Vaughan Gething as more revelations emerge about his campaign’s funding.

As The Herald reported on Friday, Mr Gething’s campaign got £200,000 of funding from a company linked to the Withyhedge landfill site.

In addition, Mr Gething received £3,000 in a non-cash donation from Cardiff-based Tramshed Tech.

While the £200,000 donation has raised eyebrows, the timing of the £3,000 donation from Tramshed Tech has done the same.

Mr Gething, Mark Drakeford’s Economy Minister, announced Welsh Government funding for Tramshed Tech to host their Soft Landing Programme.

No wrongdoing by either Tramshed Tech or Mr Gething is suggested. However, a cynic might regard the donation as an example of how the Welsh Government’s plans to create a circular economy will work in practice.

Spending limit is £44k

The unusual feature of Mr Gething’s funding is just how much there is.

Each candidate’s leadership campaign has a spending limit of £44,000. That sum is based on the number of Labour members in Wales multiplied by £2.50.

Mr Gething’s leadership campaign has received over £290,000 in donations.

The £44,000 cap covers leafleting and campaign costs, including social media advertisements.

Unprecedented donations

Mr Gething’s well-funded campaign will not break the rules provided his campaign’s expenditure remains at £44,000 or less. The question arises about the purposes for which all the other money will be put.

The £200,000 from the Dauson group of companies has caused anger among Mr Gething’s Senedd colleagues.

The Deputy Minister for Climate Change, Lee Waters MS, commented on Twitter: “I’m sorry, but £200k on an internal election in a cost of living crisis is completely unjustifiable.

“I don’t want this to become a negative campaign, but I am genuinely shocked and angry by this. It’s wrong.”

Mr Waters supports Mr Gething’s rival, Jeremy Miles – along with well over half of Labour MSs.

Mr Gething’s lack of support among those who work with him closest is striking.

Equally striking is the number of unions who have hustled in behind the Penarth MSs campaign.

While Labour has around 20,000 actual party members, the Trade Union bloc vote controls 100,000 possible votes. The largest unions have not bothered balloting their members before coming out to support Mr Gething.

Where hustings took place, the Unite union seemed likely to back Jeremy Miles. However, an intervention from that union’s “regional secretary” fortuitously unearthed a rule that meant Mr Miles could not get the union’s backing after Mr Gething – equally fortuitously – joined Unite shortly before Mark Drakeford announced his retirement.

Speaking to Wales Online’s Will Hayward, the Director of Cardiff University’s Wales Governance Centre, Professor Richard Wyn Jones, said: “The sum involved is eye-wateringly large.
“There’s simply no precedent for it in the context of Welsh devolved politics.
“Indeed, I can’t think of a Welsh politicians who’s been able to access such large sums since the days of David Lloyd George – which isn’t a comparison that I can imagine anyone being comfortable with.”

Writing for Nation Cymru, the doyen of Welsh political journalists -Martin Shipton – reported a Labour councillor as saying: “This is so bad that in my view Vaughan Gething is not fit to be a Member of the Senedd, let alone First Minister. The only honourable thing for him to do is to withdraw from the contest, but he won’t do that.

“If he wins the election, I will not be able to accept him as the leader of Welsh Labour, and I think many others in the party may take the same view.”

For comparison, when Mark Drakeford defeated Vaughan Gething in the race to replace former First Minister Carwyn Jones, he got £25,000 in campaign donations. Jeremy Miles’s declared level of donations is £32,000.

As bad as the current situation looks, the final level of each candidate’s donations is yet to be declared – and things could get far more embarrassing for Mr Gething and the Labour Party before they get better.

The worst-case scenario is that the result of a tainted campaign overshadows the Labour Government in Cardiff Bay and places a politically damaged First Minister in place during a General Election year.

The consequences of a negatively perceived Labour leader in Wales cannot be underestimated during a UK election.

The Conservatives are knocking lumps off the Labour Government on the NHS, transport, and rural policy.

Mr Gething’s fundraising efforts could give the Conservatives another target and Plaid Cymru a pretext for dumping the Cooperation Agreement.

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Alternative Newgale coastal defence scheme submitted

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ALTERNATIVE plans to protect Newgale’s coast have been submitted to national park planners, which the applicants say will cost far less than a proposed realignment of the road.

Newgale was hit hard by flooding following storms in early 2014 storms, and later by Storm Dennis in 2020.

In 2014 it even saw a visit by the-then Prime Minister David Cameron, as part of a tour of the UK to “learn lessons” following storms and flooding that year.

The main A487 road was closed for about 14 days after waves breached pebble defences that year, and a Richards Bros bus was stranded in floodwater after it was hit by a high wave, leading to the rescue of around 10 passengers.

In 2018, Pembrokeshire County Council’s Cabinet backed a recommendation, long-term, for an inland highway link for the A487.

An alternative approach, the Newgale Beach Shingle Bank Realignment Scheme (NSBRS) scheme, by Stand Up for Newgale (STUN), proposes a section of the shingle bank at Newgale be realigned 10-12 metres to the seaward leaving an over wash barrier between it and the A487 to capture any pebbles and sea water.

“The proposal would not only protect the road from the over wash of pebbles, but also, and critically, it would protect the road and commercial outlets alongside the road from any landward movement of the shingle bank for 80-100 years,” a supporting statement says.

It adds: “It is presented as a vastly cheaper alternative option than a replacement road.”

The statement says the “costly and destructive” replacement road, supported by the county council, would “effectively split the village of Newgale in half, force the closure of several thriving Newgale businesses and cause considerable environmental damage”.

The applicants dispute the “doomsday” modelling which led to the proposals for a new road inland across nearby Brandy Brook valley, and say their scheme would be considerably cheaper, at an estimated cost of some £150,000 as opposed to the £20m they say the new road would cost, adding that consultation costs alone have cost some £2m.

Based on the last figure STUN says, a £13,000 cost in remedying the 2014 shingle bank failure means that PCC could have used that £2m – based on it being a one-in-25-year event, could protect Newgale for the next 3,846 years.

The supporting statement adds: “It is the considered opinion of our independent expert [David Keeling] that moving the shingle bank by 10-12 metres seaward will delay any landward movement by 80-100 years with no more maintenance being required than currently carried out by PCC following the occasional storm event.”

It concludes: “The proposal to move the shingle bank seaward ‘buys’ time in which real time monitoring of sea levels over the ensuing decades can inform whether there will indeed be a need for a new road at Newgale in the future or not.”

The application is currently in the process of being validated by national park planners at a later date.

At the standards committee meeting, of February 19, Solva County Councillor – and local businessman – Cllr Mark Carter failed to secure dispensation to be able to speak, but not vote on matters connected with long-term plans for a Newgale road diversion scheme.

Cllr Carter has previously spoken as a local businessman and resident rather than as a county councillor.

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Pembrokeshire couple win fight to stay in their home of 38 years

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A CALL to allow a couple to keep living at a south Pembrokeshire dwelling, put in potential jeopardy as they no longer meet an agricultural employment criteria, has been backed by county planners.

John Williams of Woodside, Martletwy, and his wife Catherine have lived at the property since December 1986, the dwelling granted outline planning permission in April 1985.

This was subject to an agricultural occupancy condition, in association with nearby Baglan Farm, which was previously owned and managed by Mr Williams’ parents, now both deceased.

The farmland has been owned by John Williams since 1985.

Agent Acorus Rural Property Services Ltd, in a supporting statement accompanying the application, says a complication to the agricultural occupancy condition “the occupation of the dwelling shall be limited to a person solely or mainly employed, or last employed in the locality in agriculture or in forestry” is Mr Williams having changed employment many years ago.

The application, for a certificate of lawfulness, entailing proof of occupancy over a prolonged period, sought to overcome this condition breach, with Mrs Williams not employed in agriculture either.

“The application is submitted on the basis that the dwelling at the above property has been occupied by Mr J Williams and his wife in breach of the occupancy condition for over 10 years.”

It says Mr Williams was a farm worker locally from 1978-1990, later becoming involved in construction work and farm machinery repairs before working for a local coachworks.

There is a small campsite on the farmland which is registered with the Caravan & Motorhome Club which occupies a field, managed by John and Catherine Williams, having been established around 40 years ago by Mr Williams’ parents.

The application finishes: “As a consequence of John and Catherine Williams’ employment, Woodside has been occupied in breach of the agricultural occupancy condition for over 10 years.”

Planners approved the certificate of lawfulness being granted, stated: “Based on the evidence available it is considered, on the balance of probability, and the absence of any evidence available to the contrary, that the dwelling has been occupied in breach of the agricultural occupancy condition for a continuous period in excess of 10 years and the accrued lawful use right has not been lost.

“It is therefore concluded that the certificate should be granted.”

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