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Virtual multi-agency meeting discusses concerns about Penally Camp

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A VIRTUAL meeting of Pembrokeshire County Council chaired by Cllr David Simpson JP took place on Wednesday at midday.

Cllr Jonathon Preston opened the meeting by saying there was a common theme was that the facility and location was unsuitable.

Next Dafydd Llywellyn, the Police and Crime Commissioner said: “It’s really important to us at a senior level to understand the decision-making notice.”
“How its suitable is beyond me!”

Mr. Llywellyn added: “For numerous reasons I cannot see how it would be suitable, and I will continue to make that view known. Having said that its also important that from a policing perspective that we support the local community.”
“We will also have mutual aid support from other sources. I am grateful that the Home Office have been able to attend and there has been a significant amount of cooperation from an inter-agency perspective especially in the last few weeks “
“Multi agency work has been outstanding between heath board, police and council,” he added.

NOT POSSIBLE TO CONSULT LOCALS

On behalf of the UK Government, Deborah Chitterden told the meeting that from a Home Office perspective its important to mention that they have a legal obligation to support destitute asylum seekers.
She said: “Because of Covid-19 the system came under pressure which led to a shortage for suitable accommodation. We had to do something fairly urgently.
Offers from MOD came in, one of which of course was Penally.
“It wasn’t possible to consult in the usual way due to the speed in which we had to act. I understand that this must have been hugely frustrating from the community on the ground.
“I am really pleased about the positive focus on meetings. It genuinely seems that everyone is here to find the best possible solutions.
“These asylum seekers are often highly educated and skilled people.
“They are not criminals, and they are not being detained.
“I think that this is understood by most, but I would just like to make that point.”

PENALLY WAS VIABLE AND IMMEDIATELY AVAILABLE

Answering a question from a member of the public about why the camp was chosen, Deborah Chittenden said: “When we looked across government to ask partners for available accommodation to support us in what was an urgent need the only viable (immediately available) options were the two sites offered by the Ministry of Defence we engaged.
“The sites were chosen out of necessity.
“To be very clear they are a temporary arrangement. We have agreed a lease or rental arrangement for up to twelve months.
“We will only use these for only as long as we need them.
“The reason we have an urgent need was that at the beginning of the pandemic we took an active decision not to move asylum seekers out of their accommodation so during the national lockdown numbers kept increasing.
“That than meant we had six months’ worth of blockage in the system when no one was moving out, but we had a steady stream of people coming into the system.
“You can imagine what this did to the system.
“We have continued to see an influx to the system.
We have begun to start ceasing support for those we have decided not to provide asylum for.
“Once we are through the blockage we will remove the temporary measures we have put in place.
“The site will only house single male asylum seekers.
“We made a decision not to house families or single females in these sites.
“We only decided to house those who were healthy and not in any vulnerable categories.
“We took a lot of care to select those to make sure they were not in any vulnerable categories.
“If issues are identified with mental health or any other issues we can deal with these rapidly.
Any person brought to the camp will have spent at least 14 days insolation at on of our other camps to ensure that they are Covid-free when they arrive.
Obviously, we cannot guarantee that they will not get Covid as they interact with members of society.

NOT DESIGNED FOR THE PURPOSE

Dr Phil Kloer from Hywel Dda University Health Board said: “The site wasn’t designed for these circumstances. It makes social distancing difficult. However, we have been working closely with all agencies to support the safety of people at the site but also members of the local population. We undertook a detail comprehensive risk assessment with our professional experts and developed a plan for prevention of all infections including Covid. Plan included advice on isolation, disinfection and hyenine measures and also operation support. We continue to work with Clearsprings and all other agencies involved in the call today and of course the local population as well.

Steve Lakey from Clearsprings, which is the private company working on behalf of the Home Office to provide accommodation to asylum seekers, thanked the health team and partners for all their hard work.
In relation to a question regarding additional funding for local services he said: “In terms of services on site we have a visiting nurse at the site. There is sports equipment, TV, WIFI, various difficult activities. There has been a wonderful raft of offers of help on the site. Migrant Help is coordinating it.
“We are looking for a local coordinator at the moment. Food and all the items needed day-to-day are provided on site. People can go to the shop; they do have a small amount of money to spend.
“There is vehicles on site to take people to shops if required.”

DAILY PROTESTS, VARYING IN VOLATILITY

Police Superintendent Anthony Evans told the meeting that the last two weeks have seen daily protests, varying in volatility.
“Sadly, there has been some incidents of criminality and arrests have been made. Where we are aware of criminal offences, we have recorded those and they have been investigated,” he said.

Anthony Evans added: “Throughout this period we have brought in additional police resources.
“On occasion protests have become disorderly and we have used resources to ensure visitors to the site have been able to enter and exit freely.
“We know the community have been concerned by both the service users and the protestors.
“In the short term in many cases the protestors have been the greater short-term concern.
“We have ensured we have clear lines of communication between police and residents.”

“Of course, community safety is not just a policing matter. We have been working with other agencies such as the council and health board to ensure that we respond to the concerns of the community and that this community ad a voice into police and other partner. I hope that gives a flavour of what the police is doing to reassure the community since the inception of the asylum centre.”

LOTS OF OFFERS OF HELP

Juliet Halstead from Migrant Help said: “We help via a telephone service with full translation services. We are issuing SIM cards to people to help them get access to our services for access of help and advice.
“We are working with the accommodation provider to ensure that the centre is as comfortable as it can be for people. We are helping service users access legal support. We are making daily welfare calls to those in the camp who are worried about the situation, especially the protestors.”

Steve Lakey added that those with mental health issues will be screened out and those individuals will be taken back to core accommodation centres where there are health teams which can deal with that.

Juliet Halstead spoke again to the meeting and said there have been so many offers of support.
She told the conference: “I would like to say a huge thank you. We have been asked to coordinate all of those kind offers of help.
“We are working to ensure we can do that.
“We are trying to understand that service users’ issues and priorities are at the moment.
“If you can send offers of help, we will come back to you at penally@migranthelpuk.org”

Cllr David Simpson JP asked Simon Hart MP and Cllr Jonathan Preston, member for Penally, to close the meeting.
Cllr Preston said that the meeting gave more of an idea of “where we are”.
He said: “its good to hear that there are opening for volunteering and getting involved with the camp.”

WE DESERVE PROPER ANSWERS, SAYS MP

Simon Hart MP said: “That has been a useful round up of questions and answers – divided into operation activity and the implementation element on the ground. The other around policy decisions. We have had lots of answers on the former not the latter. Everyone does deserve proper answers around the process that was pursued.”
“Deborah has set up the background, but we have not quite got to the bottom of and the manner and speed in which engagement took place – if it took place at all -is something we absolutely want to understand. Not just for Penally but anyone else who may end up in this situation.”

Councillor Simpson said afterwards that he thought the meeting had been extremely useful in answering some of the concerns raised by Penally residents and many others.
He said: “I understand the webcast was viewed live by around 400 people so hopefully it addressed some of the myths and wild speculation that has surrounded the presence of the asylum seekers in our community.”
A list of questions and the panel’s responses will be published on the Council’s website in due course.
On the panel were:

• Simon Hart (Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire MP)
• Deborah Chittenden (Director, Borders, Immigration and Citizenship System, Home Office)
• Superintendent Anthony Evans (Local Commander, Dyfed-Powys Police)
• Dafydd Llewelyn (Dyfed-Powys Police and Crime Commissioner)
• Steve Lakey (managing director, Clear Springs Ready Homes Ltd)
• Juliet Halstead (Deputy Director of Asylum Services, Migrant Help)
• Dr Phil Kloer (Deputy CEO and Medical Director for Hywel Dda University Health Board)
• Jon Preston (Penally County Councillor)
• Ian Westley (Chief Executive, Pembrokeshire County Council).

The webcast will shortly be available to view at: https://pembrokeshire.public-i.tv/core/portal/webcasts

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Reminder from Pembrokeshire Coast National Park to pre-book for attractions

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MEMBERS of the public are being reminded to pre-book their entry tickets before visiting two popular National Park Authority-run attractions.

To allow for social distancing on site, both Carew Castle and Tidal Mill and Castell Henllys Iron Age Village have been operating a pre-booking system since last summer.

Those wishing to visit should book their tickets online before arriving at the site. This applies to Annual Pass holders and others who qualify for free entry, such as wheelchair users and accompanying carers.

Carew Castle is open to pre-booked visitors between 10am and 4pm (Tidal Mill 11.30am – 5pm), while those wishing to visit Castell Henllys will be asked to book either a morning slot (10am-1pm) or an afternoon slot (2pm-5pm) before visiting the site.

Daisy Hughes, Visitor Services Manager at Carew Castle and Tidal Mill, said: “Over the past 12 months, we have made some changes to the site and how we operate to ensure that we keep you, our staff and our local community safe.

“All areas of the Castle and Tidal Mill are open, including the Walled Garden and play area. Nest Tearoom, which has plenty of outdoor undercover seating, will be serving light lunches and homemade cakes along with hot and cold drinks throughout the day, and the Castle and Mill Shops remain open – although face coverings must be worn and only card/contactless payments are currently being accepted.

“With the exception of Nest Tearoom, pre-booking is essential, though, and we’re asking all visitors to make sure they book their entry tickets in advance, in order to avoid any delays or disappointment when they arrive on site.”

Entry tickets for both Carew Castle and Castell Henllys can be purchased by visiting www.pembrokeshirecoast.wales/events

A dynamic programme of events suitable for all the family will be running at both sites throughout the summer months. Visit the above website for more information and to book tickets.

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Salvage Hunters: New series is filming in Pembrokeshire, and they need help

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SALVAGE HUNTERS, the well-loved and most watched Quest TV and Discovery Network show, is on the hunt for locations to film at in the Pembrokeshire and the wider South West Wales area to feature in the upcoming series.

We follow decorative antiques expert Drew Pritchard as he travels around various locations in the UK and abroad on his quest to find and buy unusual objects with an interesting history.

Drew really visits everywhere – beautiful estates, old family businesses, barns and attic’s stuffed full of unwanted things, museums, factories, collectors and iconic religious sites buying all sorts along the way – from gorgeous country house furniture and railwayana to 6ft 1980s disco balls and anything in-between.

Now in its sixteenth series and airing to over half a million people in the UK and millions more worldwide, this is a great opportunity for you to promote your business or home to a broad audience, sell a few items that perhaps you no longer need, make some money and celebrate the history and heritage of the UK.

If you think you fit the bill or know somebody that might then please do not hesitate to reach out and speak with a member of our team.

Call us on 0203 179 0092 or alternatively send us an email to – salvagehunters@curvemedia.com

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Haverfordwest and Cardigan high streets listed as among the ten worst in Britain

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TWO west Wales high streets have been listed in a UK wide report detailing Britain’s worst high streets.

In the highly respected report Cardigan High Street has been listed as the 4th worst in Britain, whilst Haverfordwest has come 8th.

The Harper Dennis Hobbs rankings, which come out every two years, in sadly listed six Welsh High Streets in the worst 10 category.

Some retail centres have performed well since 2019 but most Welsh towns have fallen down the list.

Overall the performance in Wales was poor with a major drop in the average position of Welsh high streets on the UK list.

More shops in Haverfordwest’s town centre have closed since the coronavirus hit (Pic: File image)

The average rank was 797 – the worst of any nation and region in the UK, showing the huge challenge Welsh Government has to revive town centres. Six of the bottom ten UK high streets were in Wales.

Normally Harper Dennis Hobbs releases the full ranking but when the firm published its 2021 report in February, it only made the top 50 best-performing locations publicly available. Now, a copy of the full list shared with i lays bare the shopping centres and high streets that have fared worst over the past year.

Top of the worst list is Girvan in South Ayrshire.

Girvan is home to around 6,500 people and has suffered the same difficulties as many cities and towns across the UK when it comes to its high street’s declining appeal – but it is the area’s “very weak retail offer” and the large number of empty shops that helped seal its place at the bottom of the league table.

Haverfordwest in 2014. can you spot any differences to now?

“Girvan along with Haverfordwest and Cardigan all scored poorly due to a very weak retail offer [and] the towns have a relatively high vacancy rate,” said Andy Metherell, head of retail consultancy at Harper Dennis Hobbs.

Andy Metherell, head of retail consultancy at HDH, explained: “Our analysis is unique as we use variables that both consumers and retailers consider when assessing shopping locations to rank the top 1,000 retail centres in Great Britain. This Vitality Ranking looks very different from previous years as the ‘retail health’ of high streets across the country has seen contrasting fortunes since the start of the pandemic.

“The most vital retail centres currently provide services that are essential to people’s lives, such as grocers and pharmacies. These essential retailers have been able to trade throughout the strictest lockdowns, and consumers have not been willing or able to travel far to visit these stores. Shopping patterns have therefore changed significantly since the start of the pandemic, and consumers’ local high streets are benefitting at the expense of major destinations.”

Turning empty retail spaces in the town into homes or offices could help rejuvenate the area and bring “demand to the doors” of shops that survive, Mr Metherell said.

Cardigan High Street before Covid-19 (Pic Stay In Wales)

Top 10 best high streets 2021

  1. Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire
  2. Henley-on-Thames, Oxfordshire
  3. Tenterden, Kent
  4. Wimbledon Village, south-west London
  5. Marlborough, Wiltshire
  6. Sevenoaks, Kent
  7. Kingston upon Thames, Greater London
  8. Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire
  9. Harpenden, Hertfordshire
  10. Ilkley, Bradford

Top 10 worst high streets 2021

  1. Girvan, South Ayrshire
  2. Bristol – Baldwin Street
  3. Chepstow, Monmouthshire
  4. Cardigan, Ceredigion
  5. Southsea, Portsmouth
  6. Tonypandy, Rhondda Cynon Taf
  7. Ammanford, Carmarthenshire
  8. Haverfordwest, Permbrokeshire
  9. Canning Town, east London
  10. Newtown, Powys

(Source: Harper Dennis Hobbs)

Cardigan High Street pictured in the early 2000’s before Currys left town (Pic Geograph)
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