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Pembrokeshire council tax rise ‘could lead to failed budget’

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A PROPOSED 16.3 per cent council tax increase in Pembrokeshire could see the council failing to set a budget for the next financial year, the county’s main opposition group has warned.

At the February meeting of the county council’s Cabinet, members backed a recommended council tax increase in Pembrokeshire of 16.3 per cent.

The proposed increase, which will be decided by full council at its March 7 meeting, would see the basic council tax level – before town/community precepts and the police precept are included – rise by £219.02 for the average Band D property, taking it to £1,561.98.

It is expected to be the highest percentage rate in Wales, on top of previous increases of 12.5% 9.92%, 5%, 3.75%, 5% and 7.5%.

Councillor Huw Murphy, on behalf of the independent group on Pembrokeshire County Council says a similar 16.3 per cent rate is also being proposed for the 2025-26 to 2027-28 financial years, despite a proposal at the February 2023 Cabinet, ahead of that year’s budget, to increase the rate by 7.5 per cent annually.

In a letter to Cabinet Member for Corporate Finance Alec Cormack, Mr Murphy says that 16.3 per cent annual increase would lead, over the following years, to future basic Band D rates of £1,816.60, £2,112.89, and £2,457.50.

He adds: “The need to consider imposing a higher than 7.5 per cent council tax for 2024/25 will be debated and voted upon on March 7. However, I currently see no justification to also recommend a 16.31 per cent council tax rise for the following three years.

“If we go down this path, I foresee significant community tension and disengagement between residents and PCC, and a brief glance at social media over the last week will confirm this.”

He said the proposed increase was not just a concern for his political group.

“There is huge concern by a majority of councillors across the whole chamber with regards to the proposed 16.31 per cent rise in council tax for 2024/25 and I am gravely concerned at your desire to now factor in an annual 16.31 per cent council tax rise into the Medium Term Financial Plan (until 2027).”

He warned: “I do not want to see this authority reject a budget and the consequences this will bring upon officers and ourselves.

“However, in life we sometimes have to make decisions that appear controversial, possibly unthinkable, but if done in the best interests of our residents then that is what has to be done, and your recommended council tax rise of 16.31 per cent is taking us to this point.

“Through many recent conversations it’s clear your council tax proposals need to be reduced by a significant percentage to have the support of council on March 7.

“Therefore, should council fail to agree a budget on March 7 through the loyalty of the majority of councillors to the people of Pembrokeshire in defending them from an unaffordable council tax rise; then you as Cabinet lead for finance, along with the Leader [David Simpson] and other Cabinet members must bear full responsibility, and with it the consequences, as all Cabinet members voted for a 16.31 per cent council tax rise in 2024/25 and the recommendation of an annual 16.31 per cent council tax rise into the MTFP.”

Cllr Cormack responded by saying the 16.3 per cent increase is for the 2024-25 budget only, with increases for the remainder of the medium-term financial plan not discussed at the Cabinet meeting, modelling instead based on the 7.5 per cent figure.

“The 16.3 per cent increase in council tax for 2024-25 is necessary to achieve a sustainable budget throughout the MTFP,” said Cllr Cormack.

“I will also point out that it is the joint responsibility of all 60 Councillors to set a balanced budget on March 7.”

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Cornerstone 4G phone mast unconditionally backed

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A NEAR 70-foot-high 4G telecommunications tower scheme in north Pembrokeshire has been unconditionally backed by county planners.

Applicant Cornerstone sought what – in planning terms – is called prior approval for the installation of a 21-metre lattice tower supporting three antennas and associated works on land at Castle Farm Villa, Llanreithan, Hayscastle.

A report for planners says the radio base station “would allow a shared rural network in this rural area of Hayscastle for two of the main operators, to provide 4G connection, which would provide a reliable and fast communications services; to facilitate significantly improved connectivity for residents, businesses and visitors to locality.”

The application was supported by local community council Brawdy.

Cornerstone, in a supporting statement, says: “To keep up with growing demand from mobile phone users we need to upgrade existing base stations or build new base stations. An upgrade can be done in a number of ways, often by redeveloping the site to enable an increase in the number of technologies, or increasing the number or height of the antennas. However, even after these upgrades, in some busy areas the demand for services can still exceed the capability of the local base stations.”

It adds: “We recognise that the growth in mobile communication has led, in some cases, to public concern about perceived health effects of mobile technology, in particular about siting masts close to local communities.

“Quite naturally, the public seeks reassurance that masts are not in any way harmful or dangerous.   We are committed to providing the latest independent peer-reviewed research findings, information, advice and guidance from national and international agencies on radiofrequency (RF) electromagnetic fields.

“Cornerstone ensure that our radio base stations are designed and built so that the public are not exposed to radio frequency fields above the guidelines set by the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP).  In fact, radio base stations operate at low power and emit levels of radiofrequency fields many times lower than the ICNIRP general public guidelines.”

An officer report says a site visit was carried out to assess the impact of the proposed development, considering that the siting and design of the mast and associated structures would be acceptable.

“As such, the prior approval of the local planning authority is not required,” the report concluded.

Recent plans by Cornerstone for a 20-metre-high, timber-clad telecoms tower on land opposite the National Trust car park at Trehilyn West, Trefasser, near Goodwick, were turned down by Pembrokeshire Coast National Park planners.

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Pembrokeshire stands against Israeli apartheid and Genocide

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PALESTINE solidarity groups in Pembrokeshire and West Wales are mobilising for a powerful protest in Haverfordwest, Castle Square, this Saturday 20th April at 2pm. They aim to vehemently condemn the relentless Israeli onslaught on Gaza and send a clear message to the UK government and local MPs Simon Hart and Stephen Crabb: End the complicity now! We demand an immediate ceasefire and an end to arms sales that fuel this brutal oppression.

The Nakba, or ‘catastrophe’ in Arabic, refers to the ongoing ethnic cleansing of Palestine by Israeli forces, following the forcible displacement of 750,000 Palestinians (almost half the population) in 1947-49 in order to establish the state of Israel. Israel’s current assault on Gaza is an escalation of the ongoing Nakba and threatens to be the largest mass expulsion of Palestinians since 1948. The international community has an immediate responsibility to intervene to stop Israel’s ethnic cleansing today. Any delay in implementing practical measures constitutes complicity and/or participation in the ongoing Nakba.

This rally is a collective outcry against the crimes perpetrated by Israel and a rallying cry for the boycott of Israeli products.

“It’s sickeningly hypocritical that Israel strikes nations and communities first, claims victimhood when faced with resistance, and then receives unwavering support from the U.S., the UK, and Germany!” lamented one protester.

“For too long, the international community has turned a blind eye to Israel’s flagrant violations of human rights, granting it impunity while innocent lives are lost.”

“Six months of relentless violence. Six months of Israel slaughtering innocent Palestinians. Six months of Israel killing over 14,000 children! That’s an average of around 76 children a day and what has our government done? Profited from arms sales, turning a blind eye to the bloodshed,” remarked another protester.

This protest is a clarion call to all who stand for justice: It’s time to disrupt the status quo and challenge our complicit government. “We will never give up,” declared a participant. “To dismantle apartheid, we must disrupt the everyday and refuse to be complicit in Israel’s crimes against humanity!”

Join us at Castle Square at 2pm this Saturday to lend your voice to the 2 million people who suffer from a forced famine and brutal occupation in Gaza. Together, we will demand justice, accountability, and an immediate end to the bloodshed, the genocide and ethnic cleansing.

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Dragon LNG ‘monitoring’ scrap car blaze in Waterston

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A BLAZE has broken out at the Waterston Car Dismantler’s business in Waterston, Milford Haven.

Dragon LNG which is situated near the site said that the fire was not related to their operation and confirmed that the that emergency services were at the scene.

Residents living nearby have been advised to keep windows and doors closed whilst the incident is being dealt with.

“We are aware of a fire in Waterston with the emergency services present,” said a spokesperson for Dragon LNG.

“The incident is not related to Dragon LNG and Dragon Energy. We are monitoring the situation and are co-ordinating with the emergency services.”

A spokesperson for Mid & West Wales Fire & Rescue Service told The Herald: “At 11.09am on Monday, April 15th, the Milford Haven, Pembroke Dock, Narberth, Fishguard, Carmarthen, Tenby and Haverfordwest crews were called to an incident at a commercial premises in the Waterston Industrial Estate, Milford Haven.

“Crews responded to approximately 150 vehicles on fire, at the height of the incident, 12 fire appliances were in attendance.  Crews utilised six breathing apparatus sets, nine hose reel jets, two ground monitors and approximately 1,000 litres of foam to extinguish the fire.

“Properties in close proximity to the fire were evacuated and nearby roads were closed.  The incident required a multi-agency response, with Dyfed-Powys Police, the Ambulance Service and the Local Authority also in attendance.

“Crews began to leave the scene at 2.11pm.

“Please be advised that as a precaution:

“If you are in an area still affected by smoke, you are advised to stay indoors, close windows and doors, and turn off any air conditioning or ventilation units.

“Motorists who must travel through areas still affected by smoke should keep windows closed, turn off air conditioning and keep air vents closed.”

(Images: M Cavaney/Herald)

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