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Heatherton expansion approved

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• Committee overturns officers’ objections

• Economic benefits outweigh other impacts

Conditions must not delay development

THE COUNCIL’s Planning Committee voted to approve plans to extend holiday accommodation at Heatherton at its meeting on Tuesday (June 15).

Officers recommended refusal of the plans.

During their discussions, the Committee’s members noted the reasons for refusal detailed by the planning report. They concluded, however, with appropriate conditions in place, the economic benefits of the development outweighed the bases outlined for refusal.

Addressing the meeting, the applicant, Charlie Davies, told Committee members that the changing holiday market meant Heatherton and the area around it would miss out on opportunities to meet the demand for holidays in Pembrokeshire. He added that the planned expansion – to include a further twenty holiday lodges – would secure year-round jobs at Heatherton and have a positive impact on the local rural economy.

Mr Davies said the existing lodge development, approved by the authority seven years ago, improved the viability of Heatherton as an enterprise and would further strengthen the business’ finances.

Officers objected to the plans because they said the development would be outside settlement boundaries and run contrary to environmental policy. 

The report, presented by the Head of Planning David Popplewell, set out a series of concerns regarding the lodges’ visual impact, a lack of screening, and the lack of detail about landscaping plans and construction controls during development.

However, addressing the Committee as one of the local members whose Ward would be affected by the development, Cllr Phil Kidney said St Florence Community Council vigorously supported the application as being of direct benefit to businesses in the village. 

He pointed out that the economic benefits were not only Tenby centric but affected businesses elsewhere in the County.

Phil Kidney told the Committee his visit to a laundry in Pembroke Dock, by chance, revealed that laundry he delivered would be delayed because of laundry being done for the accommodation already on site. 

Cllr Kidney added that, bearing in mind the current furore over second homes, the provision of holiday accommodation on sites such as Heatherton could reduce the demands on local housing and open-up opportunities for local people to live locally.

He fully endorsed the proposal and said he could see no downside to permitting further expansion of a business that delivered jobs to local people, especially young people entering the jobs market for the first time.

Cllr Jonathan Preston agreed with Cllr. Kidney. 

He observed that the regulations regarding what constituted ‘a caravan’ were out of date and out of touch with reality. 

Although the proposed lodges were technically caravans; they were a world away from what most people would expect a caravan to look like and beyond the vision that informed the current rules regarding the term.

Cllr Mark Carter said the problems identified in the planning report could be addressed through the imposition of conditions on the development to offset them.

Mark Carter pointed out issues regarding the detail of landscaping works and lighting could be subject to conditions drafted by officers.

His opinion was warmly welcomed by both Cllrs David Pugh and Vice-Chair Tony Wilcox.

David Pugh said Heatherton was a successful business, employing local people and should be encouraged to continue to offer job opportunities for locals.

Tony Wilcox said Heatherton was one of the three main jewels in Pembrokeshire’s tourist crown. 

He noted the other two destinations – Folly Farm and Bluestone – both recently applied to extend their facilities, and he could see little or no difference between what Heatherton proposed and what officers were prepared to accept elsewhere.

Cllr Tim Evans developed Cllr Wilcox’s theme, observing that officers barely raised an eyebrow about a further eighty pieces of holiday accommodation at Bluestone, which he said had ‘whizzed through’. 

Subject to conditions being brought back to the Committee, he fully supported the application.

Cllr Jacob Williams, Chair of Planning, asked whether the proposed conditions would be back before the Committee for its next meeting in July. 

Having received an equivocal answer he moved that if the Committee approved the scheme, with the proposed planning conditions to offset officers’ objections must come before the Committee on July 27.

Cllr Pugh endorsed that approach by saying nobody wanted the proposal kicked into the long grass.

Councillors approved the plans unanimously by 14 votes to nil, and officers must prepare conditions to attach to the planning permission ahead of the Committee’s next meeting.

Health

New Covid-19 variant classed ‘of concern’ and named Omicron

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THE UK GOVERNMENT has temporarily halted flights from six southern African countries: South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Eswatini and Lesotho

The European Centre for Disease Control (CDC) says that it has classified the new Omnicron coronavirus variant as being “of concern”.

Officials say that the level of risk associated with the variant is “very high” and that it is extremely likely that the variant will spread across the EU.

Omicron is a word you will be hearing a lot about in the weeks and months to come, most analysts are saying.
The agency added that it feared the profile of the variant may mean that the effectiveness of vaccines could be reduced and that natural immunity may be decreased.

On Friday, Eluned Morgan MS, Minister for Health and Social Services said that the Welsh government in Cardiff was taking immediate action to move the eight south African countries onto the red list for travel as the variant may be capable of evading the protection provided by vaccines.

The Minister said: “The variant has been linked to Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe.

These countries have moved onto the red list from 12pm today. Two additional countries, Mozambique and Malawi, will also move onto the list from 8pm (20:00) today.
“This means travellers from these destinations will not be permitted to enter Wales but must enter through a port of entry in England or Scotland and go into a managed quarantine facility for 10 days. They must also take post-arrival PCR tests on day 2 and day 8.

South Africa’s Health Minister Joe Phaahla told reporters that the flight bans were “unjustified”.

“The reaction of some of the countries, in terms of imposing travel bans, and such measures, are completely against the norms and standards as guided by the World Health Organization,” he said.

CONCERNED: WHO (PIC FILE)

Stock markets across the world also fell sharply on Friday, reflecting the fears of investors over the potential economic impact.

UK Health Secretary Sajid Javid says there is “huge international concern” over the variant.

MULTIPLE CONCERNING MUTATIONS

Professor Anne von Gottberg of the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) in Johannesburg said that most strains of the virus have about five to 10 spike mutations, but the Omicron has around 25 to 32.
“So it really was immediately noticeable that something unusual had happened,” she said.
“There are a lot of mutations that are new and that we haven’t seen before,” she said.

She said it was as yet unclear what can be determined from the multiple mutations.
But she said it was precisely because they couldn’t fully understand its characteristics that merited further study and a cautious approach to the new strain.

Prof John Edmunds, a member of the UK’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) which advises the government, says the new variant, B.1.1.529, is a “huge worry” and could escape current Covid vaccines.
“The molecular data is extremely worrying – it would point to that perhaps this thing might be able to evade the immune response” he said on a BBC radio programme.

Asked if the new variant could be resistant to current vaccines, Edmunds – an infectious diseases expert at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine – confirms this is scientists’ “great fear” but it is not yet known to what extent the variant might be able to do so.

“Our fears are it would do so to a large extent” The UK is “still fighting a Delta wave” and does not want to be “fighting both at the same time” as it could create a “very, very, very difficult situation”.

A technician uses a single channel pipette dropper, Johannesburg, South Africa (Pic PA)
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Please protect yourself and others from Covid-19 this Christmas, says Council Leader

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THE LEADER of Pembrokeshire County Council has issued a detailed update regards the Covid-19 situation in Pembrokeshire.

Cllr David Simpson said that we had seen a reduction in positive cases over the last couple of weeks but, unfortunately, numbers have started to rise again.

As of today the positive rate locally was 551.6 per 100,000 people he confirmed.

CLLR DAVID SIMPSON (Pic PCC)

Cllr Simpson said: “I must repeat that Covid-19 has not gone away and the wave of positive cases sweeping across Europe is a concern.
“People continue to catch this awful virus every day. Unfortunately, people are still dying from Covid-19.
“It is human nature to want to forget about Covid as the festive season approaches, I totally understand that.
“Like everyone, I was so disappointed when the tighter restrictions had to be brought in just before Christmas last year.
“And like everyone I’m thinking about buying gifts, planning festive events and looking forward to the celebrations.
“But I would please ask that you also keep in mind the simple things we can all do to give ourselves the best protection against Covid-19 and slow down the spread.”

Cllr Simpson said that People in Pembrokeshire should continue to work from home where you can, take up vaccination including the booster when offered, keep your distance where possible, use face coverings where required, maintain hand hygiene, meet outdoors when the weather allows and let fresh air in if you are meeting indoors.

He said that Christmas parties is one particular area where I would ask people to take extra care.

Cllr Simpson said: “Please consider smaller group numbers than you might ordinarily and try to avoid mixing with too many other people.”

“Remember that Covid-19 loves busy indoor spaces.

“Please do what you can to protect yourself and others.

“I would also take this opportunity to remind everyone that the Welsh Government has now extended the use of the NHS Covid Pass for further settings.

“As well as nightclubs and similar venues, you must also now show your NHS Covid Pass to prove that you are either fully vaccinated or have tested negative at cinemas, theatres and concert halls.

“This applies if you are aged 18 or over and also relates to unseated indoor venues with more than 500 people in the audience, any outdoor or indoor unseated venues with a capacity of over 4,000 and any event, of any nature, which has more than 10,000 people in attendance. To get a NHS Pass and for more information, see: https://gov.wales/get-your-nhs-covid-pass

“At the last three-week review the First Minister did not introduce the NHS Pass for use in hospitality settings but that remains a possibility for the next review on Friday December 10th.

“Our officers will, of course, keep a close eye on announcements from the Welsh Government as we move closer to Christmas and provide further information as it becomes available.

“Continuing the Christmas theme, I would urge everyone to do their shopping locally wherever possible.

“We have some incredible businesses across our County – including the much-loved markets – and our support will be extremely important to businesses and traders after what has been a tough period.

“All Council car parks will be free on Saturdays and Sundays in December to aid popping into the local shops and picking up some gifts.

“I plan to update you all once again just before Christmas so until then please enjoy the build up to the festive season safely.”

Further information:
I would like to highlight that the My Account redevelopment survey ends 30th November, so please get involved so you can have your say. It can be accessed via:  https://haveyoursay.pembrokeshire.gov.uk/my-account-re-development-feedback
Also, our ‘Christmas in Pembrokeshire’ section goes live 1st Dec and contains key information on opening times, waste and recycling collections, Christmas Parking (Free parking days), winter driving and salting routes and Christmas Markets.
For further information visit: www.pembrokeshire.gov.uk/christmas
www.sir-benfro.gov.uk/nadolig
Additionally, there are a number of engagement and consultation applications from across the county – they include:
▪ Narberth Library: (closes 30th Nov)
▪ Eco Park Pre-Application Consultation: (closes 9th Dec)
▪ Net Zero Carbon Plan: (open-ended)
▪ Have Your Say on Council Budget 2022 – 23 (closes 5th Jan). As part of this engagement on Council Budget 2022–23 Cllr Kilmister and Jon Haswell will also be hosting a
Teams Live Stream Event on Wednesday 1st December between 7–8pm.
All are available at: https://haveyoursay.pembrokeshire.gov.uk/

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Firefighters want justice for Josh after leaked shock report

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A SHOCKING draft report into the circumstances of the death of a firefighter in Pembrokeshire in 2019 is firmly pointing the finger at senior management, despite two firefighters being dismissed before the conclusion of the criminal investigation.

Multiple members of Mid and West Wales Fire and Rescue Service (MAWWFRS), The Fire Brigade Union and The Fire Authority have contacted this newspaper expressing disgust and grave concerns that action has not been taken to rectify systemic failings which could ‘lead to another death in the future.’

The Herald has been investigating this matter for months, and our team has met with many sources alleging that MAWWFRS are trying to ‘brush their failings under the carpet’ to avoid accountability for their part in the death of Milford Haven Firefighter Josh Gardener. He died in a boat training exercise aged just 35-years-old, on September 17, 2019.

A hard-hitting report published by the Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB) in February 2021, into the circumstances surrounding the death which was labelled ‘avoidable’ blamed “systemic, organisational and procedural failings”.

The MAIB criticised the senior management at Mid and West Wales Fire and Rescue Service, specifically highlighting Mid and West Wales Fire and Rescue Service documentation and procedures for boat operations were out of date, unclear and presented confusing safety messages to the reader.

At the time of the report, the Fire Brigade Union issued a statement on the findings. In that statement they said: “The issues identified in this report must be addressed and individual firefighters must not be blamed for systemic, organisational, and procedural failing.”

Milford Haven County Councillor, Stephen Joseph, who also sits on the Fire Authority said: “A number of firefighters past and present have raised their concerns with me over this investigation and the failings of the Fire Authority management.

Cllr Joseph who has the fire station in his ward added: “I am becoming increasingly concerned about what I am hearing and reading.

“I haven’t had the opportunity to read the complete draft FBU report however, I have been quoted sections which are quite damning.

“I am very proud to be a serving member of the Fire Authority Panel and their Health & Safety Champion. I will be demanding that the report is brought into the public domain and that those responsible for any mistakes made are held accountable, whatever position they hold.

“Josh Gardener was a friend of mine and I am unhappy about the time it is taking for things to come into the light.

“It upsets me greatly if this coming into the press again is upsetting for Josh’s family, but I feel strongly that we owe it to Josh, his family and other serving firefighters to have the incident fully and correctly investigated and for justice to be brought.”

Josh (centre) with colleagues

A former senior Fire Brigade Union representative added his thoughts on the report, he said: “Having had experience of how it is run, I would agree with the findings – it highlights the common traits exhibited by the service.”

Our sources all tell of a fear about speaking out and highlighting safety concerns. The Herald asked him what members of the service should do to highlight them, he said: “An atmosphere that exists within the service has been cultivated out of fear and intimidation.

“The Fire Brigade Union is always a good place to start to raise concerns”

He added: “A life has been lost, the service is so divorced from the top to the bottom, to those up top this is not the loss of life of one of their own like it is for those on the front line.”

SCAPEGOATS FOR MANAGEMENT FAILIURE

The fire service has terminated the employment of two Milford Haven firefighters because of Josh’s death, yet, no senior management have been held accountable. Allegations that the firefighters have been made scapegoats for failing at the top level have been made.

It is alleged that the two firefighters’ employment was terminated based on their behaviour on the day in question, but why has no one senior been held accountable for their part in the now obvious health and safety failings – which included serious breaches such as not issuing the trainees with helmets.

The Herald asked the service if they think that the sacking of two firefighters was justified based on the findings of the report, and if individual firefighters can be held accountable for their actions, why has the same not been applied to senior members of management. They have refused to comment on that point. A MAWWFRS spokesperson said only: “As investigations by external bodies remain ongoing and a date for a full inquest by the HM Coroner for Pembrokeshire has yet to be set, it would be inappropriate for us to comment further at this time”.

Multiple sources have told this newspaper that members of the service, The Fire Authority and The Fire Brigade Union have brought up the findings in the reports regularly and asked about justice for Josh in senior management meetings. The answer is: “the investigation is ongoing” and “stop asking questions!”.

Serving firefighters have told this newspaper that they will not stop asking questions and will continue to voice their concerns until justice for Josh has been served, and clear lessons have been learnt so no more lives are lost.

THEY KNEW CREWS WEREN’T COMPETENT

Since the MAIB report was published, the Herald has been given possession of a document which shows that concerns were raised by the crew at Milford Haven about their abilities to operate the ribs, just six weeks prior to Josh’s death.

In a form, presented to the Assistant Chief Fire Officer at the time, Iwan Cray, on August 7, 2019, it says: “Skill sets have eroded with regards to the large rib. Are we likely to be upskilled to be able to perform our duties within our risk area, at present we can’t?”

As per the service’s safety protocol, if crews are not competent to use any apparatus, or their qualifications are out of date, then it is pulled out of circulation until competency is regained. We asked the service, why wasn’t the rib taken off service until crews training were back to the standard that was required to operate them safely. No reply was given.

The foreknowledge of the lack of competency was mentioned within the draft report. It says: “Another example of an apparent dichotomy arises with a different ACO, who, six weeks before Josh died, was formally notified of the lack of competence in boat crew in Milford Haven.”

It added: “However, despite the extensive ignorance, MAWWFRS knew that crews were not competent.”

Rib: Craft taken away for examination (Pic MAIB)

INTERNAL INVESTIGATION

An internal investigation was launched by MAWWFRS following Josh’s death, however the officer in charge of the investigation was the same officer who the concerns were raised to about the shortcomings in the crew’s ability to operate the ribs. In another blow to the credibility of the internal investigation, our sources have confirmed that the same principal officer is also the Head of Health & Safety for the service.

The Herald has asked the fire service, based on the conflict of interest that the documents highlight, if they felt that the appropriate person was appointed to conduct said investigation. No comment from the fire service on this point either.

The draft report refers to this claim, it says: “He then became the corporate lead on the investigation into Josh’s death but perplexingly no mention was made of this ACO’s foreknowledge of the lack of competence of boat crews.”

HEALTH & SAFETY FAILURES

The Herald has been presented with significant amounts of material, which suggests that the service is dragging its heels in dealing with Josh Gardener’s death.

Between two reports, one by the MAIB and the draft report leaked to this newspaper we can now publish that the main failures which lead to Josh’s death are:

  • No risk assessments carried out
  • The operation of the boats did not adhere to the requirements of the local standard operating procedures
  • No-one was in overall charge of the training and familiarisation activities, so they were not properly managed, briefed or communicated between the crews of both boats
  • No ppe given so nobody was wearing helmets on the rib
  • Rescue 1 (the big rib) did not have the correct number of members on board to meet the minimum occupancy required to operate it
  • The standard operating procedures for all fire and rescue service boats in the Mid and West Wales Fire and Rescue Service were insufficient in content and contained incorrect information
  • Hand held radio were issued without checks
  • No lookouts were in place 
  • The Fire and Rescue Services in the United Kingdom did not operate boats to a common standard or code of practice when not employed on flood rescue duties
  • Instructors qualifications were years out of date
Funeral: Hundreds lined the streets to pay their respects (Pic M Cavaney)

CRIMINAL INVESTIGATION

The criminal investigation into the death of Josh involved multiple agencies under the Work Related Death Protocol, which has been run by Dyfed-Powys Police, MAIB, The HSE and The Maritime and Coastguard Agency.

The MAIB released a report into their findings into the death of Josh in February 2020.

Dyfed-Powys Police confirmed their involvement in the criminal investigation concluded at the end of February and their findings have been reported to The Health & Safety Executive and the Maritime & Coastguard Agency.

A Police spokesperson said: “Our investigation has concluded and been passed on to the Health and Safety Executive and Maritime and Coastguard Authority.”

A HSE spokesperson said: “Following the conclusion of Dyfed-Powys Police’s investigation, primacy for the continuing criminal investigation under the Work Related Death Protocol is joint between the Health and Safety Executive and the Maritime and Coastguard Agency.  The investigation is continuing.”

An MCA spokesperson said: “A joint investigation by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency and the Health and Safety Executive is currently ongoing. It would be inappropriate to comment at this time.”

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