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Banks closures put businesses on the brink

Thomas Sinclair

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Banks are ‘turning their backs’ on small communities: Marc Tierney

Banks are ‘turning their backs’ on
small communities: Marc Tierney

THE CLOSURE of banks across rural Wales continues apace as, despite evidence that loss of banking services disproportionately affects small communities and their businesses, high street banks desert towns and villages. Derek French of the Campaign for Community Banking Services (CCBS) said: “Communities are having to get used to a new environment where, following the government approved Access to Banking Protocol, which has applied to all branch closures announced after May 1, all that can be expected from engagement with the closing bank is some limited post closure provision for banking needs and early signs are that this is inadequate for many.”

28 towns and villages are now without any banks, with some people having to drive up to eight miles to their nearest branch Substantial settlements like Whitland in Carmarthenshire have seen banks withdraw and only piecemeal services replacing them. Speaking to The Herald, Labour candidate for Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire in next May’s Assembly elections, said: “The decisions taken by Barclays and now NatWest to close their branches in St. Clears means customers will have to travel much further, to either Carmarthen or Narberth, for the full range of banking services. “I worry of the effect these closures will have on existing businesses in the town and the added costs local businesses will have to bear when doing their banking. “Just last year NatWest closed in Whitland, merging with St. Clears when customers were assured services would continue to be offered relatively close by. These large, highly profitable banks are turning their backs on rural Welsh communities without any form of consultation with customers or care for the effect on the wider community.” Mr Tierney concluded: “I know that the way people bank is changing. To cut costs, the banks have encouraged us to use online and phone banking which I accept is practical for some.

“But for many older people, those reliant on public transport and for local businesses the options put forward by the banks to access counter services are not a suitable alternative.” The FT notes that ‘The acceleration in the pace of bank branch closures risks hitting local retailers hard as customers without easy access to cash go elsewhere to do their shopping’. That certainly appears to have been the case in Llandovery, where banking hours have been progressively cut so that services are only part time. As a result, retail footfall in the town centre has declined. Across England and Wales, banks closed 500 branches last year — more than double the year before — and are on track for at least 650 closures in 2015. 1,500 communities have lost all the banks in their town and 840 are left with only one bank, with market towns and seaside communities the worst hit. While banks claim to carefully consider cuts to banking services in rural communities, their repeated insistence that an ageing rural population does more and more of its banking online is not borne out by individual experiences.

One bank customer, Annie Eveson, told The Herald: “I don’t have a computer, I don’t use email. I have a bank card, but nowhere accepts cheques anymore. How can I get my money out of the bank when even the Post Office has closed?” Age Cymru said having a local bank that was convenient for older people was “vital” for ensuring they did not become socially isolated. Graeme Francis, the charity’s head of policy and public affairs, said older people were at increased risk of financial abuse because of the branch closures. “We know that around one in five older people regularly give their bank card and pin number to someone else they know, often a family member or a domiciliary care worker, to get money for them,” he said. “And whilst most people would be very trustworthy in that situation, it does clearly open a risk of financial abuse up for people. “So there are real safety concerns that go along with a reduction in services.”

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Four charged with conspiracy to supply class A drugs

Carli Newell

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FOUR people have been arrested and charged as part of an investigation into an organised crime gang supplying class A drugs from London to Aberystwyth, Llanelli and Swansea.

Dyfed-Powys Police, with support from The Met Police, carried out warrants at four addresses on July 21, resulting in four arrests.

Mohammed Osman, aged 23, Yonis Mohammed, aged 20, Salman Mohamoud, aged 23 – all from Islington – and Amy Simmons, aged 21, from Dulwich were charged with a total of 12 offences:

  • Mohammed Osman: Two counts of conspiring to supply class A drug heroin, and two counts of conspiring to supply class A drug crack cocaine,
  • Yonis Mohammed: Two counts of conspiring to supply class A drug heroin, and two counts of conspiring to supply class A drug crack cocaine.
  • Salman Mohamoud: Conspiring to supply class A drug heroin, and conspiring to supply class A drug crack cocaine
  • Amy Simmons: Conspiring to supply class A drug heroin, and conspiring to supply class A drug crack cocaine.

All four appeared at Llanelli Magistrates’ Court on Friday, July 23, where they were remanded in custody. They are due to appear at Swansea Crown Court for their next hearing on August 20.

The investigation is being carried out by the Ceredigion Serious and Organised Crime Team, Aberystwyth CID and the Operation Orochi command of the Met Police.

Detective Sergeant Steve Jones said: “These four arrests and charges are the result of a coordinated approach to target an organised crime gang we believe is running a county lines operation into the Dyfed-Powys Police force area.

“We will continue to work diligently to disrupt gangs of this kind, to prevent the supply of illegal substances into our community.

“I would like to thank all officers involved, as well as the Met Police for their part in the operation.”

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New children’s play area in Bryn as part of new council housing development

Carli Newell

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A NEW children’s play area has opened in time for the summer holidays in Bryn, Llanelli as part of a new £5.9million council housing development.

Carmarthenshire County Council is building 32 new homes on land close to the Dylan housing estate in Bryn.

The scheme will be made up of 22 two-bedroom homes, four two-bedroom bungalows and six four-bedroom homes and is part of the council’s ongoing drive to deliver more affordable homes across the county. It has been part funded through the Welsh Government’s Affordable Housing Grant.

The development also includes a new children’s play area, funded by the council in partnership with Llanelli Rural Council, which will take over the running and maintenance of the play area on completion.

Executive Board Member for Housing Cllr Linda Evans said: “I am delighted the park has been completed in time for the summer holidays for the local children to enjoy.

“We are committed to delivering more affordable housing across Carmarthenshire and this development will benefit dozens of families in Llanelli, as well as proving much needed facilities for the local community.

“I would like to thank the rural council for collaborating with this us on this and I hope the children are thrilled with it.”

Before designing the play area, the rural council liaised with local schoolchildren to find out what play equipment they wanted at their new park.

Llanelli Rural Council Chairman Cllr Tegwen Devichand said: “The council is delighted to be working in partnership with Carmarthenshire County Council to provide this wonderful new play area for the community.

“The opening of the play area couldn’t have been better timed to coincide with the school holidays. I hope the local children will enjoy the range of challenging play equipment on offer and that they have lots of fun using it over the summer.”

The housing development is due to be completed by the beginning of 2022.

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Burry Port Harbour lighthouse overhaul tops council’s £2million investment

Carli Newell

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A £2MILLION investment in Burry Port Harbour is nearing completion, topped off with the iconic lighthouse getting a fresh lick of paint.

Carmarthenshire County Council is behind a range of improvements to maintain and restore the historic harbour which is one of the county’s most loved and well visited beauty spots.

Restoration of the Grade II listed harbour walls, undertaken under the guidance of CADW, will conclude within the next few weeks.

The council has also been working alongside The Marine Group, which operates the harbour, to improve mooring facilities. They are working closely with fishermen to bid for funding for new commercial pontoon infrastructure.

It will add to investment made over previous years which saw the council spend almost £1.5million on new pontoons, and over £300,000 in maintaining the harbour railings and bridge.

A local operator has agreed a lease for a cafe and public toilets on east side of Harbour, and the refurbishment of the old RNLI harbour office has recently started by The Marine Group (TMG) to create a harbour-side coffee house.

TMG has also invested in a state-of-the-art dredger which arrived at the harbour last autumn. Dredging is well underway and will continue until targeted depths are reached.

Boat lifting equipment and new fuelling points are also planned.

The council has introduced community safety officers to patrol the harbour assisting tourists and local people during the summer months, especially to advise around Covid regulations, as part of a tourism hotspot plan to take care of issues such as parking, litter, street cleansing, enforcement and signage.

Temporary car parking surfacing has also been laid on the east side along with new pay and display facilities ahead of a wider multi-million regeneration plan that will transform the harbour with a mix of housing, commercial and leisure space covering around 13 acres of prime development site.

Cllr Peter Hughes Griffiths, Executive Board Member for Culture, Sport and Tourism, said: “We are proud of our continued investment in Burry Port Harbour. We are spending millions restoring and maintaining historic features that are much-loved by local people and visitors who come from far and wide to enjoy what the harbour has to offer.

“We continue to work closely alongside The Marine Group and Pembrey and Burry Port Town Council to plan and prioritise works and ongoing maintenance. We are as keen as everyone else to ensure it is well-maintained and continues to be a place people can enjoy.

“We appreciate that there has been some upheaval during these improvement works but we ask people to understand that our investment will make Burry Port Harbour an even better place for the future.”

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