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Bluestone National Park Resort payments expected to end 

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A CALL to end a legal agreement for financial contributions associated with the creation of Pembrokeshire’s Bluestone National Park Resort is expected to be backed next week.

In a submitted application to Pembrokeshire Coast National Park on behalf of Bluestone Resorts Ltd, legal firm Red Kite Ltd asks for a cessation of a 2004 Section 106 legal agreement used to pay towards various projects including enhancements to footpaths and bridges.

In a supporting statement says most agreements of this type are time limited, and “today such an arrangement without a timeframe would likely not be considered acceptable by either side.

“However, no such end date was placed on this one. More recently, it was agreed between the parties that the payments would cease in 2025, also known as a ‘statement of common ground’. This is why a formal agreement now has to be made by each of the parties involved.”

The statement says that, since the agreement was made, Bluestone has paid nearly £280,000 through the agreement, adding: “As part of the Statement of Common Ground, it was agreed by Pembrokeshire County Council, Pembrokeshire Coast National Park Authority and Bluestone that a final fee of £113,000 would be paid, spread over 2023, 2024, and 2025 in annual payments of £38,000.”

A report by national park officers, ahead of the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park Development Management Committee meeting of April 24, where it is recommended for approval, says: “The applicant has applied to discharge the Section 106 Legal agreement but the supporting text notes that they applicant is agreeable to making two final payments.

“Having considered the information submitted, officers consider that provided the two final payments are received the legal agreement has served its purpose and can be discharged.

“In order to ensure the two final payments are made, a modification to the Section 106 legal agreement is supported.  This decision is supported by Pembrokeshire County Council, who have received a concurrent application which is also recommended by officers for modification.”

The report says the £280,000 figure presented by Bluestone actually amounted to £318,703.87, taking into account a 2023 payment of £38,891.73, with Pembrokeshire County Council’s S106 monitoring officer confirming the contributions have been spent on a range of public rights of way improvements, primarily in nearby Canaston Woods.

Recommending approval, the report adds: “The authority is satisfied that subject to two further payments of £38,000 to be made in August 2024 and August 2025, the obligation no longer serves a planning purpose and can be discharged and as such the obligation should be modified accordingly.”

The 500-acre Bluestone resort near Narberth has, since its opening, contributed to “more than £100 million to local suppliers, £7 million annually into the local supply chain, £13 million annually into the Pembrokeshire economy through its payroll, and more than £1.5 million spent annually on marketing Bluestone and Pembrokeshire.”

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Business

Silverdale holiday lodges approved and applicant praised

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PLANS for 20 self-catering holiday lodges in the Pembrokeshire village of Johnston have been approved, with a senior member of the planning committee praising the applicant for “investing in tourism”.

An application before the May 21 meeting of Pembrokeshire County Council’s planning committee by Peter Rawsthorne sought 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, was recommended for delegated conditional approval.

A report for planners said: “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.”

It added: “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.”

Speaking at the meeting, applicant Peter Rawsthorne, of local company Haven Systems, said the scheme would offer more security for the business, adding it would have “a positive impact” on the village and tourism in the county.

Vice-chair of the planning committee Cllr Rhys Jordan said: “Johnston has become up-and-coming over the last 15 years or so, it’s excellent to see a business taking risks and investing in tourism in these areas, it’s nice to see local businesses investing in the county in new areas.”

Members backed the recommendation for conditional approval under delegated powers.

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UK inflation falls to 2.3%, raising questions over interest rate cuts

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UK inflation has dropped to 2.3% in April, marking its lowest level in nearly three years. However, the decline fell short of analysts’ expectations, dampening hopes for an imminent interest rate cut by the Bank of England.

City analysts had anticipated a reduction to 2.1%, closer to the Bank’s 2% target. This discrepancy led markets to adjust their forecasts, now predicting that the Bank’s current rate of 5.25% may not be reduced until August, rather than next month as previously speculated.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) reported that the decrease from March’s 3.2% was primarily due to lower energy and food costs. The last time inflation was this low was in July 2021. Significant contributions to the drop included a record 27% fall in electricity and gas prices over the past year and a modest 2.9% annual rise in food and soft drink prices, the smallest increase since November 2021.

Illustrating the ongoing strain on household budgets, furniture retailers reduced prices by 0.9% between March and April, while overall goods prices dropped by 0.8% month-on-month. However, annual services inflation, reflecting inter-company charges, remained stubbornly high at 5.9%, only slightly down from March’s 6%.

Despite the overall fall in the consumer prices index (CPI), the ONS noted that higher property rents and mortgage costs kept the alternative CPIH measure, which includes housing costs, elevated at 3% year-on-year. Petrol and diesel prices rose last month, although the price of Brent crude has recently stabilised around $83 (£65) per barrel.

KPMG UK’s chief economist, Yael Selfin, suggested that the chance of an interest rate cut next month had diminished. “Falling inflation nears the Bank of England’s target but may not suffice for an early rate cut,” she stated. Echoing this sentiment, Paula Bejarano Carbo of the National Institute of Economic and Social Research noted that core inflation, which excludes volatile food and energy prices, remains high at 3.9%. Combined with robust wage growth, this persistence could compel the Bank’s monetary policy committee to maintain rates.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak heralded April’s CPI figure as a “major moment for the economy, with inflation back to normal,” asserting that it validated the government’s economic strategy. Conversely, Shadow Chancellor Rachel Reeves argued that it was premature for the Conservatives to celebrate, highlighting the ongoing pressures of soaring prices, mortgage bills, and taxes.

In the eurozone, inflation held steady at 2.4% in April.

Separate ONS data indicated a larger-than-expected rise in public borrowing for April, with the monthly deficit reaching £20.5bn. Despite a decrease in debt payments, the high cost of servicing government debt exceeded expectations, potentially ruling out pre-election tax cuts.

Economic adviser Martin Beck from the EY Item Club described the public finance figures as disappointing, suggesting that continued higher borrowing costs would likely prevent any significant fiscal easing before the next general election.

Welsh Conservative Shadow Minister for Economy and Energy, Samuel Kurtz MS, praised the inflation drop, attributing it to the UK Conservative Government’s effective economic policies. He called on the Welsh Labour Government to support the economy by fully implementing business rates relief and reforming growth taxes.

Paul Butterworth, CEO of Chambers Wales South East, South West, and Mid, noted that while the reduction in inflation was significant, it remained above the Bank of England’s target. He expressed hope that the continued downward trend might prompt an interest rate cut soon.

Meanwhile, the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP) warned that despite the fall in inflation, the cost of living crisis continues to severely impact mental health. Their recent survey revealed that 74% of respondents felt their mental health was worsened by the crisis, with particularly high impacts on those with pre-existing conditions, women, ethnic minorities, and lower-income households.

BACP’s Director, Dr Lisa Morrison Coulthard, emphasised the need for government action to address these mental health challenges. The BACP has proposed a 13-point action plan to improve access to mental health services, stressing the importance of funding and support for vulnerable populations.

As the nation grapples with economic and mental health pressures, the government’s response to these intertwined issues will be crucial in the coming months.

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First drive-thru Starbucks in Pembrokeshire approved

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PEMBROKESHIRE is to get its first drive-thru Starbucks coffee shop after a scheme was backed by county planners today, May 21.

An application – expected to create 20 jobs – by Magic Bean Company Ltd to site an Electric Vehicle (EV) charging station and drive through Starbucks coffee shop on land adjoining Days Garage, Fishguard Road, Haverfordwest, was recommended for conditional approval when it came before the May meeting of Pembrokeshire County Council’s planning committee.

A report for planners said: “There are two principal elements to the proposed development. The provision of an EV charging station with eight charging points and a drive through coffee shop, which will provide 20 full time jobs.

“A further 13 parking spaces are provided to serve the development, including two spaces for people with disabilities. The coffee shop will be situated at the western end of the site opposite the proposed EV charging station, which is centrally located within the site. “

It added: “The coffee shop building will be single storey with a ‘tower’ feature in the west elevation where the customer collection point will be located beneath a timber finished pergola.”

The report said the proposal represented a more effective use of the application site than its current car parking use.

10 representations from members of the public raised concerns about the proposal, issues including: no need for additional coffee shops locally, adverse impact on existing small local coffee shops and that the planning authority should not be supporting “multinational businesses,” and littering and highway issues.

While Starbucks was not mentioned in the planning documents, Magic Bean Company Ltd, on its website, says: “Established in 2014, The Magic Bean Company opened our first store and became the first licensee to open a Starbucks Drive Thru.

“Since then, we have gone on to become Starbuck’s only national growth partner covering England and Wales, developing our green electric vehicle Starbucks platform.”

Speaking at the May 21 meeting, Magic Bean Company Ltd agent Matthew Gray said the drive-thru coffee shop would be a Starbucks, adding: “The application is driven by the requirement for Days to diversify, following a slowing of vehicle sales across the UK.”

He added: “It’s pretty well reported that car sales are slow in the UK in the past few years, this is an opportunity to boost the viability of their [Days’] own operation.”

He said the eight EV charging units would be provided by Ionity, one of Europe’s largest charging providers, with a need for more such facilities in west Wales.

After Cllr Alistair Cameron raised concerns from members of the public about potential littering, Mr Gray said Starbucks had a standard approach to litter management, with staff maintaining the area, and coffee outlets having a lower level of litter than some other drive-thrus.

Concerns were raised by Councillor John Cole on highways grounds, fearing the combination of the drive-thru and a nearby school, along with the nearby annual County Show, could create “havoc” with parents stopping off for a coffee.

Following an approval call by Cllr Brian Hall, members unanimously backed the application.

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