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Politics

Call to replace the Lords

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OVERHAULING Parliament’s London-dominated second chamber would help empower the UK’s nations and regions, writes Willie Sullivan a senior director at the Electoral Reform Society.

It’s been a year since Boris Johnson’s victory in the 2019 general election, an election won with a commitment to ‘level up’ those communities left behind.

Since then, our politics has been shaken by a pandemic that has put pressure on the already strained constitutional settlement that holds the nations and regions of the UK together.

We’ve seen attention turned to local and regional government as well as the devolved administrations. We’ve seen clearly how the over-centralising nature of Westminster can hamper and undermine public trust. The video of Andy Burnham first hearing news of Greater Manchester’s Covid funding settlement at a live press conference will go down as a low point in Britain’s patchwork devolution framework.

This is all set to the backdrop of declining faith in our politics. At the same time as the PM was returning to Number 10 last winter, polling for the Electoral Reform Society showed that just 16% of the public believe politics is working well in the UK – and only 2% feel they have a significant influence over decision-making.

For a government publicly committed to a levelling up agenda, this democratic malaise must serve as a warning: it will take more than economic investment or shiny new infrastructure to remedy the feeling of powerlessness that many feel outside of Westminster.

Tackling that will require some long-overdue reform. The calls for a clear framework for devolution in the UK have become impossible to ignore in recent months. Even areas of England with mayors felt sidelined this year, but the picture was even worse elsewhere – with zero guarantees that local people would be consulted on changes that would affect their lives immeasurably.

There’s a good way to start empowering the UK’s nations and regions: overhauling Parliament’s unelected second chamber.

Abolishing the outdated and unaccountable House of Lords offers a chance to rebalance politics away from Westminster – and create a representative Senate of the Nations and Regions.

Recent Electoral Reform Society analysis found that nearly a quarter of peers are based in London, compared to just 13% of the UK public. Over half – 56% of peers – live in the capital, or the east and south-east of England, while peers in the east and west Midlands make up just 6% between them – leaving many areas in which the Conservatives won seats in the so-called ‘red wall’ woefully underrepresented.

It should be said, this is only peers we know about: more than 300 refuse to state even the country they live in (some live overseas), and hundreds more do not even provide a direct email address for people to get in touch and stand up for their areas.

All this undermines the government’s stated intention to ‘level up’ the regions, when we have a chamber that is skewed towards one patch of England.

Reforming this London-dominated second chamber is a rare issue that is highly popular across all parties. 71% of the UK public back an overhaul of the House of Lords, research showed this year. The issue cuts across Britain’s divides, with an overhaul backed by a majority of those who voted Conservative or Labour in the 2019 general election, and those who voted Leave or Remain in the EU referendum.

As well as levelling up representation – with peers elected using a fair, proportional voting system – a genuinely accountable second chamber could establish a guaranteed voice for the regions of the UK, to speak as one, to scrutinise legislation and our constitutional settlement with clear communities in mind. The UK remains one of the most centralised countries in Europe – and the archaic, power-hoarding set-up in Westminster has a big role to play in why this is.

The pandemic has shown just how important it is for those outside the capital to be truly heard. There are many reasons why voters had more confidence in their governments’ Covid responses more in Wales and Scotland, but having a stake – being genuinely ‘in it together’ makes a big difference.

This is a challenge to all parties, from Boris Johnson as he tries to plot a path for recovery for the UK, to Keir Starmer as he begins to outline his own view of devolution.

One thing’s clear: the London-dominated House of Lords is undermining the voice of local communities. A Senate of the Nations and Regions could be the gamechanger we need.

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Politics

Council to discuss £3.5m housing acquisition in upcoming Cabinet meeting

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HOUSING worth more than £3.5m has been purchased in Pembrokeshire by the council, senior councillors will hear next week.

Pembrokeshire County Council’s Cabinet, meeting on May 20, will receive an update on acquisitions and disposals of land and buildings in the county.

In accordance with the council’s constitution, Cabinet is to receive a report biannually, on the acquisition or disposal of land and/premises by the authority since the last report, where the acquisition or disposal was for a sum in excess of £100,000.

The report lists 16 acquisitions by the council, in areas including Milford Haven, Haverfordwest, Neyland, Cilgerran, Pembroke Dock, Lamphey, and Broad Haven, for a total of £ 3,502,000, in line with the HRA (Housing Revenue Account) business plan.

The report before members also lists one disposal, the former Ship and Anchor, High Street, Fishguard, at £170,000.

The report ads: “It should also be of note that some temporary additional resource has been obtained to enable capital receipts from the disposal of any surplus property where appropriate so there should be an increase in sales over the next 12–18 months.”

The May 20 meeting wil be the first Cabinet headed by new council leader Cllr Jon Harvey.

Members are recommended to note the acquisitions and disposals, with six-monthly updates to continue.

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News

Gething crisis: Tory Leader signals no-confidence motion in First Minister

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IN a bold assertion that could intensify the political instability in Wales, the Conservative leader in the Senedd, Andrew RT Davies, has indicated that a motion of no confidence against First Minister Vaughan Gething is increasingly likely. This comes in the wake of recent revelations and internal disputes within Welsh Labour that have put Mr. Gething’s leadership under severe scrutiny.

The controversy escalated following the dismissal of Hannah Blythyn, the minister for social partnership, who was accused by Mr. Gething of leaking confidential text messages to the press—an allegation she firmly denies. The leaked texts were reportedly from a pandemic-era group chat, which Mr. Gething admitted to deleting, details of which were first reported by Nation.Cymru.

This incident is part of a broader series of challenges facing Mr. Gething, including scrutiny over the substantial donations made to his leadership campaign. It was disclosed that his campaign had received £250,000, with a notable £200,000 contribution from a company led by a businessman previously convicted of environmental crimes. Mr. Gething announced he would be returning £31,000 to Labour from the campaign funds amidst this controversy.

In crisis: First Minister, Vaughan Gething

Adding to the upheaval, Mr. Davies criticised the First Minister’s leadership on BBC Radio Wales, questioning Mr. Gething’s transparency and ability to govern effectively. He emphasised the urgent need for Mr. Gething to justify his actions, particularly the sacking of Ms. Blythyn, to restore public trust in the government.

On Thursday, in an interview with ITV Wales, Mr. Gething defended his decision, highlighting the importance of trust and confidentiality among ministers and maintaining that his team was aligned on government priorities. He underscored the challenges faced by his administration and the need to focus on issues crucial to the Welsh populace.

Despite the turmoil, any formal motion of no confidence is not expected to be tabled immediately, owing to procedural and logistical considerations. With Labour holding half of the seats in the Senedd, the success of such a motion would hinge on cross-party support or abstentions from within the Labour ranks.

As tensions mount, the political landscape in Cardiff Bay remains fraught with uncertainty, with the potential for significant shifts in governance depending on the developments in the coming weeks.

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Business

Johnston holiday lodges expected to be approved

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PLANS for 20 self-catering holiday lodges in the Pembrokeshire village of Johnston are expected to get the go-ahead next week.

An application before the May 21 meeting of Pembrokeshire County Council’s planning committee by Peter Rawsthorne seeks permission for the short-stay lodges and associated works on land behind The Larder, Vine Road.

The application, sited near a collection of single storey buildings associated with Silverdale lodge which are currently in use as temporary emergency accommodation, is recommended for delegated conditional approval.

A report for planners says: “The application seeks full planning permission for the siting of 20 short-term stay holiday lodges.  The lodges would be positioned on concrete bases either side of a central access road running through the length of the site.

“Comprising of either two or three bedrooms, each unit would have the benefit of an associated car parking space and raised veranda to provide access into the unit and an external amenity area.  The lodges will be finished with timber or timber effect cladding to the walls under a shallow dual pitched roof of metal sheeting with a UPVC framed fenestration and rainwater goods.”

It adds: “The proposal will generate some noise, odours and artificial light nuisance in comparison to a currently vacant site.

“Given the close proximity, at the southern end of the application site, to existing residential in Silverdale Close and Acorn Drive the Head of Housing and Public Protection has advised that a Noise Impact Assessment (NIA) should be required prior to the determination of the application to allow for the assessment of all noise emissions from the proposed development and for this to set out proposed measures of how to attenuate any noise nuisance.

“Consideration has been given to whether requiring such an assessment would be reasonable or necessary to make the development acceptable.

“It is acknowledged that the nature of the use of the site as proposed could generate some noise and disturbance, and that there is likely to be a heightened awareness to this for existing occupiers when the site is first occupied, compared to the current vacant use of the site or its previous use as an informal garden space for occupiers of the Silverdale lodges.

“However, the residential occupation of the space, albeit by short-term visitors who may have less regard for existing permanent residents, is a use typical of and expected in this service centre sized settlement and could be satisfactorily absorbed.

“Excessive noise and anti-social behaviour are matters which can also be dealt with by other legislative controls.”

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