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Senior council staff advised on new regional transport plan

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WORK on a transport plan which could lead to new railway stations in South West Wales, better connected buses and an integrated ticketing system will gather momentum this autumn.

That is when new guidance on regional transport planning will come from the Welsh Government, a meeting of council chiefs was told.

Leaders were given an update on the planned Swansea Bay and West Wales Metro, which aims to lead to more frequent train services, new stations potentially, and better bus provision in and around main areas such as Carmarthenshire and Pembrokeshire

Longer-term, the metro could result in rail services extending from Neath up to Onllwyn and Cwmgwrach, and from Ammanford to Gwaun-Cae-Gurwen. It is still very early days for the metro project.

A council officer told a meeting of the South West Wales corporate joint committee that electric buses were due to replace diesel ones on the Carmarthen to Aberystwyth route next year, with trials of hydrogen ones plying proposed on some routes in Swansea, Neath Port Talbot and Pembrokeshire.

“A lot of investment and legislative is needed for bus development,” said the officer, adding that real-time information and integrated ticketing for passengers were very important.

Members heard that a UK Government-funded railway station at St Clears in Carmarthenshire, would be the first new station to be built in the region, and that government funding would be critical for the development of the metro concept. The committee will write to ministers on this latter point.

Carmarthenshire Council’s cabinet member for resources, Cllr Alun Lenny, said a priority for his county was faster rail services from Cardiff to Carmarthen and further west.

A Pembrokeshire Council officer said: “For Pembrokeshire, that connectivity is vital.”

Deputy leader of Pembrokeshire Council, Cllr Paul Miller, said regional leaders may need to have “a bit of an arm wrestle in terms of priorities”.

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Business

Tax refunds to aid energy crisis

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RESEARCH from RIFT Tax Refunds reveals that UK taxpayers could pay for more than 40% of their household energy bills next year by applying for a tax refund.

The latest data by RIFT Tax Refunds shows that: 

  • Today, the average one-year tax refund has climbed to £1,518 – money that could be owed due to taxpayers having overpaid as a result of an incorrect tax code, or money that can be claimed back for work-related expenses such as travel and uniform. 

But how far can it actually go when it comes to covering the rising cost of living?

  • With the current energy price cap of £1,971 (up to the end of September 2022), the average tax refund would cover 77% of the annual bill.
  • Even if the cap rises to £3,549, as it expected to in October, the average tax refund would still cover 43% of a year’s worth of energy.
  • The UK’s average monthly mortgage payment is £1,054. This means a tax refund will cover 144% of the cost or, in other words, one and a half month’s worth of mortgage payments. 
  • Another common concern, and one that’s been widely reported in the past few weeks, is the surprisingly high price of school uniforms.
  • On average, it’s estimated that the cost of getting a child equipped to go back to school with a full and proper uniform is £365 – a cost that could be well and truly covered for a family with up to four children with the average yearly tax refund. 
  • Petrol prices have also soared over the past couple of months. Today, the average price for unleaded petrol is 173.5 pence per litre. This means the average tax refund is enough to purchase 875 litres of fuel.
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Council officers conduct visits in response to Avian Influenza incident

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Following the identification of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza  in poultry at a site near Milford Haven in Pembrokeshire and the declaration of an Influenza Protection Zone and wider Surveillance Zone surrounding the Infected Premises (by the Chief Veterinary Officer for Wales), on Friday 9 September, officers from Pembrokeshire County Council’s Public Protection Division have been engaged in visiting addresses within the 3 kilometre Protection Zone around the site.

Officers are identifying locations where poultry and/or other captive birds are kept and to provide information on restrictions that currently apply to help prevent the spread of disease.

The Council’s officers are working in support of veterinary colleagues from the Animal and Plant Health Agency who are managing a co-ordinated response to the incident, in collaboration with the Welsh Government, Food Standards Agency and Public Health Wales.

A map showing the extent of the zones and restrictions that apply can be seen on the Welsh Government website at https://gov.wales/declaration-avian-influenza-protection-zone-surveillance-zone-near-milford-haven-pembrokeshire, and road signs are currently being erected by the local authority to help clarify where these zones begin and end, which will remain in place until the restrictions can be lifted.

It is vital keepers of birds remain vigilant and ensure they have the very highest levels of biosecurity in place.

Responsibilities of people who keep birds:

  • All keepers of kept birds should be vigilant for signs of the disease such as increased mortality, respiratory distress and drops in food or water intake, or egg production.
  • Consult your veterinary surgeon in the first instance if your birds are unwell.
  • If you or your vet suspect that avian influenza could be causing illness in your birds, you must, by law, report this to the Animal and Plant Health Agency Wales on 0300 303 8268. This will trigger a disease investigation by APHA vets.
  • You must apply strict biosecurity measures to prevent any materials, equipment, vehicles, clothing, feed or bedding that could have been contaminated from wild birds coming onto your premises. Further guidance is available here: biosecurity and preventing disease in captive birds.

The UK health agencies advise that the risk to public health from the virus is very low and the UK food standards agencies advise that avian influenza poses a very low food safety risk for UK consumers.

Members of the public who do not keep birds can help by reporting dead wild birds.  You should call the Defra helpline on 03459 33 55 77 if you find:

  • One or more dead bird of prey or owl
  • Three or more dead gulls or wild waterfowl (swans, geese, ducks)
  • Five or more dead birds of any species

These may be collected for examination and avian influenza surveillance, depending on the species and location. It is important not to pick up or touch any sick or dead bird.

Sick or injured wild birds should not be reported to Defra. Instead contact the RSPCA (in Wales and England) on 0300 1234 999 who may be able to offer assistance.

Dead or sick birds in public places, such as beaches, can also reported by calling 01437 764551 (or out of hours 0345 601 5522) for Pembrokeshire County Council to arrange to collect safely.

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Veteran opens Slimming World in Milford Haven

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ARMY Veteran, Rachel, has launched her own Slimming World group in Milford Haven after her own positive experiences. 

“I changed lives in the army and hope to continue changing lives for people in Milford Haven.”

Rachel was born and raised in Milford Haven. As a small child, she was “active and busy” and a real tomboy alongside her brothers. 

In 1998, she joined the Army at 16-years-old as a Combat Medical Technician. Following training, Rachel served in Germany, all over the UK, overseas in Cyprus, and was deployed to Oman, Kosovo, Bosnia and Poland before retiring from service in May 2021.

Her role as a combat medical technician meant she often had to deal with soldiers who had been injured in war zones. Rachel described dealing with the range of injuries as “life-changing”.

Rachel’s job not only consisted of helping soldiers physically recover; she also helped them with their mental well-being. 

She said she: “always pointed out the positives ahead of them for their lives and their families.

“The fulfilment I would get from seeing them recover and their family made whole again is so rewarding, I cannot put it into words.”

She has always been a strong, physically fit person. She enjoyed an active lifestyle and felt as though she “could always eat what she wanted.”

In 2017, she was posted to Harrogate. Rachel was 36 years old and had recently given birth to her third child, a daughter, after already having two sons aged 13 and 5. 

She says she was almost two stone overweight even before her pregnancy. 

Rachel said: “So here I was with four stone to lose. I had lost all confidence and was at a loss.

“I was at a GP surgery when I saw a poster for Slimming World. I was there for my daughter’s first vaccinations and that’s when I decided to join my local Harrogate Slimming World group.”

Rachel said she was welcomed to the group with open arms. She described the members as being lovely, offering to make her a hot drink after being weighed or hold her baby while she got settled into the group. 

It was at this group that Rachel found her love for Food Optimising, which is Slimming World’s unique plan to lose weight and get healthy. 

She swapped takeaway meals for ‘fakeaways’ using recipes she learned from her group. 

After only a week, Rachel had lost 4 lbs and knew this new plan was one she could follow. 

Over the next 10 months, she enjoyed curries, chillis, chips loaded with a variety of toppings and cheese within her daily allowance, and she could still enjoy treats every now and then. 

By June 2018, she had hit her target and lost the whole four stone. She said she “felt amazing!”

Unfortunately, during lockdown, she became a single mum and was at an “all-time low”. She moved back to Pembrokeshire in December 2021 and quickly swapped healthy meals for quick and easy, high-fat processed meals.

Rachel said: “Being stuck in the house with three children during lockdown was hard. 

“As I was working from home with nowhere to go, I found myself mindlessly eating as I was only eating out of boredom. 

“I put almost two stone back on and I was devastated.”

In January 2022, she decided to get into shape again. She joined the local Slimming World group in Johnston. 

Rachel said she had two stone to lose and was determined to return to her target weight. 

She claims she was blown away by the consultant Kelly’s knowledge of the plan and her motivation. 

“She guided me back through the new member talk, reintroduced me to my love of Slimming World and allowed me to fall in love with the plan all over again!” Rachel added. 

“The warm atmosphere and the gentle reminder that the plan can be used for all the family reignited my passion.

“Since January 10, 2022, I have lost one stone and five pounds. I am only two-pounds away from my personal target.”

After talking about Slimming World and the freedom it allows Rachel to have, she joined Slimming World and trained to be a consultant. 

Thanks to her time in the Army, helping those with their physical and mental health, Rachel feels that she would be well suited to helping those achieve their goals. 

She commented: “The training is thorough and covers not only the plan but the psychology of wanting to lose weight. 

“It has totally changed my views on how I shop, cook and eat food, and I hope my drive and motivation will help others to do the same.”

To join Rachel’s Slimming World group, call Rachel on 07391 634033 or visit Milford United Football Club, Marble Hall Road, every Thursday at 5.30pm. 

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