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Banks closures put businesses on the brink

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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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£121k watersports funding announced for Llanelli beauty spot

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• Welsh Water, Natural Resources Wales, Llanelli Rural Council & Canoe Wales has secured ‘Access to Water’ funding.

• Visitors will be able to enjoy paddlesports (canoeing, kayaking, stand-up paddleboarding), windsurfing and angling.

• Site expected to attract 90k+ visitors a year.

The recent announcement of the development of the Swiss Valley reservoirs in Carmarthenshire has been given a boost with the confirmation of an ‘Access to Water’ grant from Welsh Government, worth £121k, that will enable visitor access to the Lower Lleidi reservoir for paddle sports and angling.

The funding will realise plans to bring back a range of paddlesports to the reservoir, including stand-up paddle boarding, canoeing and kayaking.  It will also enable bank angling through the creation of recreational zones.  A range of improvements to the surrounding infrastructure are also planned to include a boat wash for biosecurity and the creation of paths and a pontoon that allows easy access to water for people of all abilities, and the refurbishment of toilet facilities.

Developing the Swiss Valley Reservoirs is expected to attract 90k+ visitors a year to the site, in line with Covid19 regulations. The ‘Access to Water’ funding is an important milestone in achieving shared ambitions for the site, and to support the funding application, a survey of local canoe clubs, outdoor activity providers and anglers was conducted which found a strong demand for access to the water for their activities. The feedback was that this is likely to generate a huge amount of interest from clubs and providers given it’s ideal geographical location. The community adoption scheme means that local people are offering to invest their own time to help look after this jewel of a community asset, and care for it into the future.

The project is well placed to support the delivery of The Wellbeing of Future Generations Act (Wales) 2015, which requires public bodies in Wales to think about the long-term impact of their decisions, to work better with people, communities and each other, and to prevent persistent problems such as poverty, health inequalities and climate change. Whilst Welsh Water is not a public body, it is committed to working in partnership with Llanelli Rural Council, Natural Resources Wales and Canoe Wales in the spirit of the legislation.

Minister for Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs, Lesley Griffiths, said: “This is an excellent example of a scheme which increases opportunities for outdoor recreation and provides safe access to water for people of all abilities.  The development of these reservoirs will enable local people and visitors to gain more enjoyment from this beauty spot in line with covid19 guidelines and help to support a green recovery in Wales.  I hope the success of this project will encourage development of many more similar opportunities over the coming years.”

Welsh Water Chief Executive Peter Perry said, “Access to blue space is proven to be positively associated with health and wellbeing. Swiss Valley is an important asset for the local community and visitors alike. This funding is a major milestone in our efforts to bring this cherished community asset back to its former glory and make it more accessible, for the health and wellbeing of everyone.”

Jen Browning, Chief Executive of Canoe Wales, the national governing body for paddlesport in Wales, added, “Over the past eight months, we have seen an unprecedented amount of demand for canoeing, kayaking and stand-up paddleboarding, but the limited number of venues in Wales suitable for new paddlers has always been a major obstacle. This funding will ensure that Swiss Valley can play an enormously important role in making it possible for people of all abilities to enjoy the water, and for many to discover a passion for paddlesport and develop a deep connection with the outdoors.”

Dave MacCallum, Specialist Advisor for Water Access & Recreation at Natural Resources Wales and Chairman of NAFW Access to Water Sub-Group said: “We are delighted to have been a part of this important collaboration which will open up these new waters for responsible, inclusive recreation in South West Wales. NRW is committed to doing all we can to enable more people to enjoy Wales’ countryside more easily and responsibly – to take advantage of the many health and wellbeing benefits that getting outside can bring. Benefitting from bespoke disabled paddle-sport access facilities and a Biosecurity station promoting and enabling the Check Clean Dry initiative, the Swiss Valley reservoir project paves the way for future access to Welsh still waters so that current and future generations can continue to enjoy their visits to some of Wales’ most spectacular landscapes”

Llanelli Rural Council Leader, Cllr Tegwen Devichand said “the funding is marvellous news for the community and will enable the council to develop its plans for the reservoir in earnest. Much of the preliminary work associated with the first phase of infrastructure improvements can now get underway, in fact some work has commenced already. The physical adaptations to refurbish the toilet block, visitor car park and access to the water to facilitate paddle sports and the angling fraternity is scheduled to be completed by March 2021, but work won’t stop there. Moreover, the community response to our plans for the reservoir has been overwhelming; the council has received a great deal of local and regional support and a number of interest groups and individuals have come forward to help us deliver our plans as well as to offer their services. This is greatly appreciated and bodes well for the future.”

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Llanelli Yodel colleague celebrates 30-year anniversary

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Beverley Smith, a valued member of the Llanelli depot’s team, is celebrating her 30-year anniversary with UK independent parcel carrier, Yodel.

Beverley joined Yodel in 1990, when it was originally known as Home Shopping Network, as an Inbound Sorter and then moved onto a Customer Service Support role over 28 years ago. Beverly supports the Llanelli Management Team, provides customer service to clients and customers alike and is always on hand to answer any driver queries.

To celebrate her anniversary, Kay Dodd, Service Centre Manager, presented Beverley with £750 of Very vouchers and ordered in a cooked breakfast to celebrate.

Customer Service Support Advisor, Beverley Smith commented: “My time with Yodel has been very fulfilling – constantly challenging – keeping me on my toes. I’ve been with the company so long that I remember having to write with a pen and paper and have to fax documents to the head office daily – I can’t say I miss those days!

“I have made many close friends during the 30 years at the business and I truly have enjoyed the hard working and happy atmosphere at Llanelli every day.”

Kay Dodd, Depot Manager, added: “Bev is a valued member of my team here at Llanelli, she provides excellent customer service to customers, clients and colleagues. She has a courteous and caring attitude and goes beyond her duties to ensure everyone has a positive experience at Yodel Llanelli. Thank you for everything Bev!”

To join Beverley and the team at Yodel’s Llanelli depot, or to find out more about working for Yodel, and the roles and training available, visit www.yodelopportunities.co.uk or text ‘Deliver’ to 84433. 

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Preparatory works to start at key Stepney Street Building

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Preparatory works are due to start on a key building in Llanelli Town Centre ahead of formal planning approval.

Number 49 Stepney Street is being redeveloped as part of a significant investment in the town centre to transform, regenerate and connect its key retails and leisure areas.

Carmarthenshire County Council has submitted plans which could see the former YMCA building retain much of its character whilst providing high quality living space and commercial units

The works would include the restoration of the front façade of the building, along with the retention of the perimeter wall, main internal structural walls and bringing back many original features such as the ornate staircase.

Subject to planning approval the rest of the building would be redeveloped to include two floors of commercial space on the ground and first floors, with eight two-bedroomed living spaces on the upper floors.

There will also be residents parking spaces on the ground floor.

The works currently underway will prepare the building for redevelopment and include stripping and clearance of old materials.

Carmarthenshire County Council leader Cllr Emlyn Dole said: “Many generations of people from Llanelli will have special memories of using this fantastic building over the years and it is such a shame to see it lay empty and falling into disrepair – we’re proud to be leading on this scheme to breathe new life into it once again.”

The council has already spent £4.5million buying empty shop units from private ownership, renovating and bringing them back in to use at affordable rental levels – all of them currently occupied by independent businesses

A Local Development Order has been put in place to simplify the planning process for property owners and potential investors

This project is being procured via the South West Wales Regional Contractors Framework. Carmarthenshire County Council has appointed a regional contractor who will develop the project alongside local supply chains.

For further information on this framework, email TSSWWRCF@carmarthenshire.gov.uk

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