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Politics

Haverfordwest transport interchange set for private talks

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THE CONTRACT for the second stage of Haverfordwest’s contentious £19m transport interchange is expected to be made behind closed doors next week by senior councillors.

The total cost of the scheme in the approved budget is £18.8m, £1.9m from Pembrokeshire County Council and the remaining £16.9m from an already-awarded Welsh government grant.

To date, £3.4m has been spent on the scheme for professional fees and advanced works, including the demolition of the old multi-storey car park and a temporary bus station.

A lengthy timeline is also included in the report, dating back to a 2016 Haverfordwest Masterplan which identified the need for sustainable transport improvement for the town.

Members of Pembrokeshire County Council’s cabinet, meeting on April 22, are recommended to approve the award of the stage two construction contract for the Haverfordwest Transport Interchange.

The report for members lists two simple options for Cabinet, to authorise the award of a contract, recommended, or to not.

For the latter, it warns: “It is envisaged Welsh Government will withdraw the funding awarded and the council would need to repay grants received to date, £10.3m has been received to date, of which £3.4m has been offset against expenditure.”

It also says this option would risk “reputational damage across a range of stakeholders including funders” and would “compromise realisation of the county town regeneration vision”.

It added: “The existing site currently presents a poor appearance to the town centre. The award would facilitate the scheme to progress.

“Cost to cease this project could cost PCC more in terms of grant repayment and any capital work required to make good. PCC match contribution for the project is forecast as £1.9m of the £18.9m.”

Cabinet is asked to authorise the award of the construction contract to proceed with the second phase.

It is recommended the actual contract award details are held in a private and confidential part of the public cabinet meeting, before a final public decision on whether to proceed or not is made.

It has previously been said the completed interchange, part of a wider Western Quayside development in the town, would generate annual revenue for the council from at least a “pessimistic” £150,000, to as much as £400,000 have been quoted.

In late January of last year, councillors heard a doubling of the costs of Haverfordwest’s public transport project to nearly £18m was not fully communicated with the public.

Planning permission for the interchange was granted in 2022, with a temporary bus station constructed that year and the old multi-storey building demolished in 2023.

That year, members of the county council’s cabinet agreed a temporary car park will be sited on the demolished remains of the old multi-storey car park until the Haverfordwest Public Transport Interchange – delayed as no compliant tender had been found at the time – is built.

Calls have previously been made for the scheme to be reduced to a simpler modern car park and bus station.

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Business

Haverfordwest airport to be leased out to make it cost-neutral to council

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SENIOR Pembrokeshire councillors are to lease Haverfordwest airport as part of plans to make the council-run facility, which had a circa £119,000 deficit last year, cost-neutral to the authority.

Last year, Pembrokeshire County Council’s Cabinet, members heard the financial position at the council-supported Haverfordwest/Withybush airport deteriorated in 2022/23, with an out-turn position for 2022/23 of £238,000.

That loss has been reduced to an expected £119,000 for 2023/24 “following an extensive review of the operations of the airport”.

Following scrutiny committee backing for the airport to be leased, a more detailed recommendation was presented to Cabinet on May 20, seeking approval of the lease to “an existing stakeholder / established aviation company,” by giving delegated authority to the Assistant Chief Executive, with relevant input from officers.

The report before Cabinet said the lease would be for an initial 10-year term, with a requirement to obtain/keep a CAA [Civil Aviation Authority] Cat II licence and at a market rent, which would “make the airport cost-neutral to the council from the day the lease is signed, whilst also ensuring that an operational airport remains for Pembrokeshire to benefit from”.

“Any lease would have to allow the operator to run the airport on the commercial terms of their choosing to give a chance of long-term sustainability, so, the council will lose full control of how the airport operates.

“However, any lease will require that the airport be maintained to an acceptable standard and that a CAA Cat II licence is maintained. If these terms of the agreement are breached, then the facility will return to the council.”

Deputy Leader Cllr Paul Miller, presenting the proposal and moving approval, said: “The airport is a valuable facility and one I’m keen to maintain; I personally recognise that maintaining an ongoing public subsidy is not something we’re particularly keen to do indefinitely.”

He added: “What the lease, we believe, will do is maintain a franchising CAT II airport in Haverfordwest and remove our liability from day one.”

Members heard conversations were ongoing with Pembrokeshire Agricultural Society over continued use of part of the site for the annual Pembrokeshire County Show.

Cllr Miller said he was “a huge supporter” of the show, and it was hoped the lease will broadly allow it to continue as before, adding that officers “are getting involved to ensure a smooth transition, and one the show is comfortable with”.

New Cabinet Member for Planning & Regulatory Services Cllr Jacob Williams said: “I don’t think this administration, or any administration, can afford to lose the farming community, one of the oldest and biggest county shows in Wales; it’s so important we don’t lose the ongoing relationship between the agricultural society and the council.”

Following a discussion in private session, members unanimously backed the leasing of the airport.

The council intends to exclude Hangar 5 [indoor trampolines] from any lease, and also includes the option to take back part of the site that may have the potential to be developed as a solar farm or industrial units.

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News

Paul Davies calls for Withyhedge independent public inquiry

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A CALL for an independent public inquiry into the ongoing situation at Withyhedge landfill site has been made by local Senedd Member Paul Davies. Mr Davies made the call in the Senedd Chamber, whilst asking the Cabinet Secretary for Climate Change and Rural Affairs just how bad the situation had to get before the local community could receive some support from the Welsh Government.

Resource Management Ltd (RML), which operates the Withyhedge site has already been issued several Enforcement Notices by Natural Resources Wales and yet local residents are still living with potentially toxic odours and emissions.

Mr Davies said, “Week after week I have stood up in the Senedd Chamber and asked for the Welsh Government to intervene to support the local community. People have complained of coughs, nausea and swollen eyes and yet despite the sympathetic words of Government Cabinet Secretaries, there has been no support forthcoming.”

“The people of Pembrokeshire deserve better and so I’m calling for an independent public inquiry to fully understand why this situation has been so poorly handled and why my constituents have been so badly let down.”

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Politics

Welsh Government urged to cough up cash for culture sector

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A FORMER minister urged the Welsh Government to cough up cash for a culture sector in crisis after being deprioritised in budget decisions since the start of devolution.

Alun Davies, the Labour MS for Blaenau Gwent, criticised cuts in the Welsh Government’s 2024/25 budget, warning arts funding has been down the pecking order for decades.

He said: “The politics of devolution has been that this government has deliberately taken a decision to deprioritise culture funding in terms of its overall budget.

“Not just because of the crisis today or yesterday but over the period of devolved self-government.”

With fears for the future of Wales’ national museum, library and opera, Mr Davies, a member of the Senedd culture committee, warned funding cuts are undermining cultural expression.

Pressing Wales’ new culture secretary, he said: “I think if the Welsh Government is serious about what it says – then it has to put its money where its mouth is, quite frankly.”

Lesley Griffiths, who came into post in March, responded: “I don’t disagree with you about the funding and, obviously, we had to make some very difficult choices.

“I’ve come in at a time when, as you say, the budget has been cut significantly.”

She added: “The first week I was in post – everywhere I go, there seem to be leaking roofs; we’ve got these iconic buildings, which are very old, etc.”

Ms Griffiths, who is also responsible for social justice, said the Welsh Government will be launching a new cultural strategy in the next couple of weeks.

Mr Davies highlighted an editorial in the final copy of Planet magazine, raising concerns its funding is worth less in real terms than when John Major was prime minister in the ’90s.

He told the committee: “The cuts, recently, have ended the magazine – it’s closed it.

“So, it’s very easy for successive ministers we see come here with strategies but if the people don’t exist, they disappear, they’ve gone.

“You’ve got a speech, you’ve got a strategy, you’ve got a press release but you haven’t got any substance behind it, and I think that’s the issue.”

Mr Davies said Welsh Governments of all complexions have deprioritised arts funding in relative terms, even despite wider funding increases when he was first elected in 2007.

Delyth Jewell, who chairs the committee, raised concerns about the Welsh Government’s written evidence on culture and the new relationship with the EU.

She said swathes appeared strikingly familiar to a paper submitted by Wales Arts International, the Arts Council of Wales’ international arm.

Plaid Cymru’s deputy leader said: “There were quite a few sections that, it seems, were copied and pasted from what we received from Wales Arts International.”

During the evidence session with the Welsh Government, Ms Jewell called for assurances from Ms Griffiths, who was previously responsible for rural affairs.

Ms Griffiths replied: “Yes, absolutely. I’m very surprised to hear that. Obviously, it was before, as you say, I came into portfolio…. But, yes, I can assure you that it won’t happen again.”

Llyr Gruffydd raised concerns about a “hugely disappointing” update from HSBC following the closure of its Welsh-language customer support phone line.

The Plaid Cymru politician, who represents North Wales, said the bank received 22 calls a day before moving to a system where customers can request a call-back in Welsh.

He warned: “It’s decreased to 17 calls every three months, which is a farce in terms of providing a service to customers.”

In a letter to the committee and Jeremy Miles, the Welsh language secretary, HSBC’s José Carvalho claimed customer feedback has been largely positive.

The head of wealth and personal banking said HSBC is reducing the maximum length of time for a call-back from three working days to the next working day.

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