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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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Llanelli bus depot to close after 100 years

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THE LLANELLI HERALD understands that the Llanelli Bus Depot at Inkermans Street will be closing its gates for good. 

The Bus Depot has served the local community for approximately 100 years, Drivers will now be sent to work from depots in Carmarthen, Swansea and Tycroes. 

All services will remain in the the town, this newspaper can confirm, and our reporter was told that there will not be any redundancies. 

One bus driver told us that he and he co-workers were “not completely happy”, but the unnamed source added “At least we still have jobs to go to.” 

Further updates are expected on this developing story.

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Two week national ‘Firebreak Lockdown’ announced for Wales from 6pm on Friday

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MARK DRAKEFORD, The First Minister of Wales has announced a two week ‘fire break’ lockdown from Friday October 23 at 18:00 HRS, to last until Monday November 9 at 00:01 HRS

Mr Drakeford said: “This firebreak is the shortest we can make it. It must be sharp and deep in order to have the impact we need it to have on the virus.”

All non essential businesses, including tourism businesses will be told to close.

Businesses have been told that they will be given £1000 each automatically to help with the economic impact of the shutdown.

Mr Drakeford added that children will be the priority and that childcare facilities will open as normal. Primary schools will open after half term.

Secondary schools will be closed for a week after half term to help control the virus.

Universities will offer a mixture of face-to-face learning and learning via video link. Students must stay at their university accommodation during the lockdown.

Responding to the Welsh Government’s announcement of a Wales-wide lockdown, Paul Davies MS, the Leader of the Opposition in the Welsh Parliament, has called the lockdown “not-proportionate” and is calling on the Welsh Government to be “open and transparent” on the evidence to support a lockdown and if the First Minister is committing Wales to rolling Wales-wide lockdowns every month.

Paul Davies MS said: “Sadly, the First Minster has failed to get public support for this second Wales-wide lockdown, failing to be open and transparent about the evidence to justify this lockdown and what his actions will entail for the future.

“The Welsh Government also has to be honest that this road they are taking us down is committing Wales to rolling Wales-wide lockdowns. This is not a two-week break to solve the pandemic, it is likely that we will see regular lockdowns across the rest of the year. The Welsh Government must be clear what actions they are taking during the lockdown to prevent further Wales-wide lockdowns which will have a significant impact on people’s lives and livelihoods.

“However, the main concern is that this national lockdown is not proportionate. The impact on businesses in areas such as Powys, Pembrokeshire and Ceredigion, who have the lowest rate of Covid-19 cases in Wales, will be severe at a time when they are desperately struggling to recover from the pandemic so far this year.

“The First Minister needs to urgently come to the Welsh Parliament and answer these questions, to face effective scrutiny by elected representatives and not run his government by media.”

Preseli Pembrokeshire MP, Stephen Crabb told The Herald: “The evidence to support an all-Wales lockdown is weak and I am sceptical that this so-called ‘fire-break’ will tackle the situation in those parts of Wales where infection rates have been out of control. The key issue for Welsh Government to address is what will be done differently after the firebreak ends in those parts of Wales where infection rates have spiralled out of control. Otherwise the whole of Wales risks being dragged back into a series of rolling lockdowns.

“As we saw earlier in the year, lockdowns come with huge costs in terms of harm to the economy and to people’s emotional and mental wellbeing. With the Welsh Government asking UK Government to fund this lockdown, I hope that as many businesses as possible get support they need quickly. Pembrokeshire’s hospitality businesses will be hit particularly hard by these latest restrictions and I will be fighting hard again to see that they are protected as the lockdown kicks in.”

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Drakeford to make decision on ‘fire-break’ lockdown in Wales by Monday

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WALES is facing a national lockdown lasting at least two weeks in plans described as a “fire-break” by the first minister.

He said a decision was likely to be made on Monday, while talks continue with health officials, scientific advisors and councils over the weekend.
“Doing nothing is not an option,” he said.

Responding to the speculation First Minister, Mark Drakeford, is set to announce a ‘circuit-breaker’ lockdown in Wales, Welsh Conservative health spokesperson, Andrew RT Davies MS said: “I implore the First Minister to think again before heading down this path.

“The decision to lockdown Wales once again will have devastating consequences – from an economic and public health perspective – and should be the last resort.

“Only yesterday, the former director of communicable diseases at Public Health Wales, Dr Roland Salmon, said a circuit-breaker is likely to fail and the Welsh Labour Government should listen carefully to his warning.

“Earlier this week, Welsh Conservatives called for the urgent resumption of shielding in Wales with a substantial package of support to ensure the financial, physical and mental well-being of those most at risk is protected.

“This should be the immediate action taken by ministers along with prioritising PPE and testing in the problem areas in Wales such as hospitals, care home, universities and meat factories.

“It’s not too late for the Labour Government to reconsider and choose a different approach in Wales.”

Mr Drakeford warned that 2,500 people were now being infected with coronavirus every day in Wales, with critical care units in hospitals full.

“A successful fire-break would re-set the virus at a lower level,” he added.

Together with a new national set of rules for the whole of Wales after the fire-break period we would have slowed the virus down enough to get us through to Christmas.”
Plaid Cymru has been calling on Mr Drakeford to introduce the circuit-breaker without delay, while Labour at Westminster says a similar approach should be adopted in England.

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