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Town centre is the new hot topic

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Screen Shot 2016-04-19 at 14.49.04LLANELLI’S town centre has become the hot potato for prospective AM’s in the run up to the election on May 5.

Plaid’s Helen Mary Jones has said that it is one of the key issues, which comes up on the doorstep.

With the closure of more shops in the town centre this week The Herald went out and about and spoke to the AM’s, an estate agent and of course, the County Councillor responsible for the Elli Ward.

We asked Councillor John Jenkins what the problems were and if he thought the town had a future if and when the council leader came over the hills of Kidwelly on a white horse with his task force.

Cllr Jenkins told us: “There is a sense that far more needs to be done in the town. For far too long people in the town have been looking enviously at Swansea and that was the city we aspired to be. We then looked enviously at Carmarthen.

The worry is of course that the senior officers of the County Council live and work in Carmarthen and they don’t necessarily see the problems we have here in Llanelli. There is a strong feeling in Llanelli that we have not had the focus and attention we deserve.

“We started off competing with Swansea and now we are being beaten by towns like Ammanford and Llandeilo. Companies do studies of town centres. They see Llanelli lower down in the pecking order than Ammanford and Llandeilo and they think, why should we invest. The town centre gets worse, people stop visiting the town centre and it spirals downwards.

“The soundbites from Sir Terry Mathews are all well and good but people want to see results, they want to see shops opening not closing. They want to see people shopping in the town centre. There is a need for attention for Llanelli that is long overdue.”

We asked councillor Jenkins if the County Council should have got the town centre in order before implanting the Eastgate complex on the edge of the town. He said: “I think the County Council were desperate when it came to Eastgate. They tried to get it retail orientated and they couldn’t.

“That should have set alarm bells ringing there and then. They offered Marks and Spencer everything to stay in Llanelli town centre. They were going to build them a new premises at Eastgate. Even with all the offers they decided to go to Parc Trostre.

“I think the need to develop Carmarthenshire County Council like big development projects, it looks good. It is not a retail base at the moment it is a more hospitality based Eastgate at the moment. It is nice and it compliments the town centre but it does not add a great deal.

“You could say it is a rival to the town centre on its periphery. I think everyone would have liked something that brought more people into the town centre. Let’s not be negative, let’s look at the positive things we can do.

“I tried my best with the free parking trial and have banged my head against the wall many a time. My allies in opposition were Plaid Cymru and I had great hopes that when they came to power they would honour their commitments made when they were in opposition.

“Unfortunately they have disappointed a lot of people and they are backtracking. Coincidently not in Carmarthen though, they have had free parking days there. It adds to that fear that Llanelli is second best and it is seen as secondary at County Hall. I think that now is the time for people to sit around a table and see what positive things we can come up with.”

TASK FORCE

When asked about the involvement of the task force, which has not been seen in Llanelli for some time, Councillor Jenkins said: “Unfortunately I sat on the first task force that was set up by Meryl Gravel in 2008. There was a lot of talking. There was talk of marketing but I don’t hold out much hope for these task forces.

“The bid scheme seems to offer more cause for optimism if only because it is backed by hard cash. There will be actual money to do things. The question is do they want to use that money to help the town centre. I hope they can.”

The Herald asked Cllr Jenkins who he would like to see leading the charge for regeneration and who he would like to see being given a seat at the round table of the task force. He said: “I would like to see people involved who know Llanelli inside out. These people have backed the town and traded for generations.

“They have backed Llanelli out of their own pockets. People like David Craddock, Paul Jenkins and Barrie Lewis. These are the voices that need to be heard. We are a team. The County Council have best intentions in mind and they want to see the town improve but we need to get together.”

The spectre of Parc Trostre is never far off the lips of anyone in Llanelli when it comes to who or what is to blame for the demise of the town centre.

We asked Councillor Jenkins for his views on the continued growth of the out of town shopping centres and the opposition to it in some political camps. He said: “There is an election coming up. Let’s be realistic. Where were Labour when these out of town centres were being developed? When Parc Pemberton was developed it did more harm to the town centre than anything. That ship has sailed unfortunately.

“Those places have been developed enough. I accept that there is money to be made for the County Council. If they do sell of land to retail I hope they use that money to reinvest in Llanelli Town Centre. Let’s be perfectly honest. If they could put banks and suchlike down at Parc Trostre we would not need the town centre.

“It is getting to the stage now where if we carry on down the road we are going now it is going to be the demise of the town centre, it is going to disappear. If Llanelli was the only town in the UK that was having these problems I would say something. On my travels I see towns that have through sensitive planning policy focused on the town centres. You can’t hold back the tide.”

PLAID CYMRU

Plaid are at the helm at County Hall so who better to ask about what the future holds for the town centre than their prospective AM candidate for Llanelli, Helen Mary Jones. We began by asking what she would do to try and help regenerate the town.

Helen Mary told us: “When I was Llanelli’s AM when this problem started to hit I went to visit some towns in England. I was looking at post industrial communities similar to Llanelli. I came back with a lot of practical ideas.

“One town had taken the decision to make compulsory purchases on shops and break them down into smaller shops owned by the local authority so they could be rented out. Some of the spaces above the shops had been converted into low cost accommodation, which brought people back into the town.

“I would hope as Llanelli’s AM I could share those with the Bid, with Ymlaen and with the task force set up by Emlyn Dole. I think we have to be quite radical now. Some of the obvious things have been tried and they have not been successful. We need to revisit the free parking issue because that is not a done deal.”

Helen Mary Jones stressed that she did have hope for the town’s future: “I have been to places which have been in a worse situation than Llanelli where they have redeveloped themselves successfully.

“The reinvestment in our market is a valuable step in that direction. It is very important that the business community plays a key role in this but we should not let the local authority off the hook. The need to take the lead in the public investment side. I am optimistic about Ymlaen Llanelli because that is business led.

“It is an important issue and it does come up on the doorstep wherever you are canvassing in the area. One of the key Plaid Cymru policies is a dramatic reduction in business rates. The way they are calculated are not fair.

“We would be looking to take most of Llanelli town centre businesses through national policy out of business rates altogether, certainly for a period to allow them to take off again. If we are going to regenerate our town there are things businesses can do, there are things the County Council can do.

“We need the right national policies in place. I think everybody has to play their role and everybody’s ideas have to be listened too. Nobody has the Monopoly on good ideas on this.”

Lee Waters, Labour’s candidate, has been very vocal in his opposition to further development of out of town shopping centres in Llanelli. He began by telling us: “Lots of people are concerned about Llanelli town centre.

“Some might go so far as to say they are ashamed of the way it is. I have been very frustrated for years watching the way that the town centre has declined as Trostre has grown. This is entirely predictable.

“This is what happens when you shift shops out of the town centre. You only have to look at Carmarthen when they have done the reverse. You can see how they have benefitted from that.

“I have been campaigning hard because the Labour candidate placed the blame for possible expansion of Parc Trostre and the negative impact that might have on Llanelli town centre firmly at the feet of the Plaid Cymru administration.”

He said: “Plaid run County Council want to increase the size of Trostre shopping centre . Which I think will be the nail in the coffin of the town centre. They are determined to press ahead with it. I have launched a petition and I will keep on with it.

“The town centre is a reflection of the broader economy. We have been in slow economic decline for the last 100 years. We need to stop things getting worse by allowing Trostre to grow and we need to boost the economy and that is something I have a plan to do. In relation to the task force I think the longer it goes on the more it seems like a gimmick. Emlyn Dole and the Chief Executive turned up for the first meeting and haven’t been engaged much since.”

PARC TOSTRE

The construction of Parc Trostre took place before Plaid Cymru came to power in 2015.

Stefan Ryszewski is the Welsh Conservatives AM Candidate for Llanelli. He began by telling us that he was happy that local business people are at last coming out vocally on the debate about the future of the town centre.

He said: “I think it is great that a local business man like David Craddock has come out and said what he has said. It is exactly what we need in Llanelli. We need local business people taking on this initiative to get this town centre back to how it was.

“We have a high street regeneration initiative where we would like to see business rates abolished on rateable premises under £12,000. We are also calling for free parking for two hours. Local businesses won’t lose out to Trostre if we can encourage people into the town through free parking. Local businesses offer a unique service bigger businesses can’t. We have online shopping but local businesses can offer a lot to customers.

“It is up to us to work with local businesses to ensure that they thrive. We need to make technology more accessible to small businesses. We launched a shop local event last year. The shops signed up and people who came in got vouchers. We need to give people incentives to shop local.”

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Cllr Kevin Madge elected as new county council Chairman

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THE new chair of Carmarthenshire County Council said he will work tirelessly during his term of office.

Cllr Kevin Madge, member for Garnant, takes the chain of office whilst celebrating 40 years as a councillor.

Taking the chair, Cllr Madge paid tribute to outgoing chairman Cllr Mansel Charles, member for Llanegwad, saying he had fulfilled his duties with passion.

Cllr Madge will chair the council for the next 12 months, with Cllr Ieuan Davies, member for Llanybydder, as his vice chair, and his wife Catrin as his consort.

“I’m very much looking forward to the year ahead, I will do my best for everyone. I will work tirelessly,” he said.

Cllr Madge has chosen the Trussell Trust, which supports a nationwide network of food banks and emergency food provision for people in crisis, as his Chairman’s Charity of the Year.

The Chair is the first citizen of Carmarthenshire County Council, and is elected at the Annual General Meeting.

Duties include chairing full meetings of the council, representing the council at formal and ceremonial occasions, welcoming visitors to the county, and attending and supporting events organised by local people and organisations.

Cllr Madge has been a county councillor since 1996, and a member of Cwmaman Town Council since 1979.

He also serves as chairman of the Royal British Legion Garnant branch, Garnant Family Centre and Cwmaman Meals on Wheels, and is a member of Amman Valley League of Friends.

He represents the county council on the Brecon Beacons National Park Authority, and the Mynydd y Betws Wind Farm Community Fund, and is on the governing body of Ysgol Y Bedol.

A former pupil of Amman Valley School, Cllr Madge has worked in the Amman Valley throughout his life, most recently as agent and researcher to Dr Alan Williams MP until 2001.

A keen football supporter, he has served as chair and president of Cwmaman Football Club and spent 25 years as a Welsh League and Neath and District football referee.

He is married with two children and three grandchildren.

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‘UK Government should work with the Welsh Labour Government on Tata’

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LOCAL Assembly Member Lee Waters and Nia Griffith MP have called on the UK Government to work with the Welsh Labour Government to come up with a deal to protect steel making at Trostre, and across Wales and the UK.

Lee Waters AM met with representatives from Tata Steel on Wednesday to discuss the future for steel making at the plant following the reported collapse of the proposed joint venture with Thyssenkrupp.

During the meeting he stressed the need to protect the entire steel supply chain in Wales, including the high quality jobs at Trostre, and those that depend on its presence in Llanelli.

Lee Waters AM said “It’s clear that the support Welsh Government provided during the crisis of 2016 has been critical in getting extra investment into Port Talbot which will secure the works for years to come. However, Tata is a company run from India, and we simply don’t know what the board will decide about its future strategy. They may well be looking for a new joint venture partner, so we’ll have to vigilant about the implications for our local plants.”

“Tata has said it intends to continue with its existing business plan, and honor commitments made to the Trade Unions, so Nia and I will be keeping a close eye to make sure that happens.”

Welsh Government has been in active discussions with Tata steel following the collapse of the merger with Thyssenkrupp. In a written statement and during questions on Wednesday, the Welsh Government committed to invest in Welsh steel to protect its future and is looking at a range of measures to assist on energy costs, business rates and procurement of steel for public sector contracts.

Lee Waters AM said “The Welsh Government have given significant support to the steel industry here but it can’t do everything, and we now need the UK Government to work with them to ensure a future for skilled work in the steel industry in Llanelli and elsewhere in Wales.”

Nia Griffith AM said ““This latest news from Tata means yet more uncertainty for steelworkers. Their announcement about keeping Port Talbot is a start, but now we need real commitment from Tata on Trostre.

“We also need close cooperation from the company with the Trade Unions. Lee Waters AM and I will be urging the UK Government to follow Welsh Government in doing everything possible to secure the future of our steel industry.”

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MP and AM call for Trostre certainty after merger fails

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LOCAL ASSEMBLY MEMBER Lee Waters and Nia Griffith MP have called on the UK Government to work with the Welsh Labour Government to come up with a deal to protect steel making at Trostre, and across Wales and the UK.

Lee Waters AM met with representatives from Tata Steel on Wednesday to discuss the future for steel making at the plant following the reported collapse of the proposed joint venture with Thyssenkrupp.

During the meeting he stressed the need to protect the entire steel supply chain in Wales, including the high quality jobs at Trostre, and those that depend on its presence in Llanelli.

Lee Waters AM said “It’s clear that the support Welsh Government provided during the crisis of 2016 has been critical in getting extra investment into Port Talbot which will secure the works for years to come. However, Tata is a company run from India, and we simply don’t know what the board will decide about its future strategy. They may well be looking for a new joint venture partner, so we’ll have to vigilant about the implications for our local plants.”

“Tata has said it intends to continue with its existing business plan, and honor commitments made to the Trade Unions, so Nia and I will be keeping a close eye to make sure that happens.”

Welsh Government has been in active discussions with Tata steel following the collapse of the merger with Thyssenkrupp. In a written statement and during questions on Wednesday, the Welsh Government committed to invest in Welsh steel to protect its future and is looking at a range of measures to assist on energy costs, business rates and procurement of steel for public sector contracts.

Lee Waters AM said “The Welsh Government have given significant support to the steel industry here but it can’t do everything, and we now need the UK Government to work with them to ensure a future for skilled work in the steel industry in Llanelli and elsewhere in Wales.”

Nia Griffith AM said “This latest news from Tata means yet more uncertainty for steelworkers. Their announcement about keeping Port Talbot is a start, but now we need real commitment from Tata on Trostre.

“We also need close cooperation from the company with the Trade Unions. Lee Waters AM and I will be urging the UK Government to follow Welsh Government in doing everything possible to secure the future of our steel industry.”

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