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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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Applications open for emergency financial support from Economic Resilience Fund

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Eligible businesses can apply for grants of between £2,500 to £25,000

BUSINESSES in Wales impacted by the rapid spread of the Omicron virus can now apply for emergency financial support from the Welsh Government’s Economic Resilience Fund (ERF).

Economy Minister Vaughan Gething previously said £120 million would be available for retail, hospitality, leisure and tourism business and their supply chains affected by the move to alert level 2 announced by the First Minister on Wednesday 22 December.

Eligible businesses can apply for grants of between £2,500 to £25,000, with grants dependent on their size and number of employees.

The application window will be open for two weeks, with payments starting to reach businesses within days.

Vaughan Gething

Economy Minister, Vaughan Gething, said:

“Following positive engagement with businesses, trades unions and other partners, we recently changed the eligibility criteria for the ERF support. The ERF grant is a Wales-only top up payment that currently supports eligible businesses who have seen a 60% drop in their income between December and February compared with the same period two years ago. The new criteria means that businesses in these sectors who have seen a 50% reduction in their turnover will now also be able to access the ERF.

“This means more businesses will receive more support from the Welsh Government.”

Non-essential retail, hospitality, leisure and tourism businesses in Wales can also receive support from the Non Domestic Rates (NDR) linked grant which is being administered by local authorities. Businesses will be entitled to a payment of £2,000, £4,000 or £6,000 depending on their rateable value.

Local authorities are also administrating a discretionary fund for sole traders, freelancers and taxi drivers and businesses that employ people but do not pay business rates. Last week this was doubled to £1,000.

The Welsh Government has provided in excess of £2.5bn funding to Welsh businesses since the start of the pandemic. Focused particularly on backing small businesses and Welsh communities, it’s targeted approach has helped protect in excess of 160,000 Welsh jobs which might otherwise have been lost.

Apply for Economic Resilience Fund support here:

COVID-19 Support for Business | Business Wales (gov.wales)

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Plans for Cross Hands Health Centre to go before Welsh Government

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AN OUTLINE Business Case for the development of a Wellbeing Centre to be based in Cross Hands is to be resubmitted to Welsh Government, Hywel Dda University Health Board is pleased to announce.

The business case outlines our intention to develop an integrated health and social care network of services for the Amman Gwendraeth area and the construction of a Wellbeing Centre. If approved, the centre will provide a base for health and care services which will accommodate two local GP practices (Tumble and Penygroes), a library, family centre, community pharmacy and also community police support officers and voluntary sector groups.

The Covid-19 pandemic has changed the way we deliver some health and care services. Hywel Dda University Health Board has been working with partners and stakeholders to refresh the business case for the development to ensure that these continue to be fit for our population’s health and care needs both now and in the future.  It is anticipated that the Business Case will be resubmitted to Welsh Government in Spring 2022.

Rhian Dawson, Integrated System Director for Hywel Dda University Health Board and Carmarthenshire County Council, said: “I am delighted that we are now able to refocus on the development of the Wellbeing Centre in Cross Hands. This will not only be an asset for Cross Hands but will benefit Carmarthenshire as a whole. While it is unfortunate that the pandemic has delayed our progress, it has also demonstrated the importance of delivering services as close to home as possible.”

It is anticipated that the Centre could potentially be complete in 36 months from the approval of the Outline Business case. 

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Boris Johnson apologises over latest No.10 party revelations saying it was ‘work event’

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THE PRIME MINISTER says he thought party in March was a ‘work event’ but concedes he should have stopped the gathering on May 20, 2020.

In Prime Minister’s questions on Wednesday (Jan 12), he apologised to the public and said that “I wish that things had been done differently on that night.”

But Boris Johnson said that Labour will have to wait for the outcome of an inquiry to know the exact details of what happened that night.

Labour Leader, Keir Starmer said Matt Hancock resigned when he broke the rules, and Allegra Stratton resigned for laughing about rule breaking. Why does the PM think the rules don’t apply to him. Boris Johnson says that is not what he said.

Starmer said the PM originally said he had been assured there were no parties. Then the video landed, and he pretended he was sickened by the parties. Now it turns out he was at the parties. Starmer added that it was his opinion that the public think he is “lying through his teeth”.

Tory MPs objected, on the grounds that MPs should not accuse each other of lying. Sir Lindsay Hoyle, the Speaker, defended Starmer, saying he is talking about what the public think.

Johnson said he does not accept that. He added a laywer should wait for the facts.

Keir Starmer said that he spoke last night to a woman, Hannah, whose father died last May. She met Johnson last year, and Johnson told her that he had done everything possible to protect her dad. Hannah now knows her father’s death certificate was signed on the day of the party. Does the PM understand how she feels?

Johnson said he understands how she feels. He wanted to apologise. But the government has been doing what it can to protect people. It has the most tested population in Europe. And it has had the fastest vaccine rollout in Europe, and one of the fastest in the world. Apologising again, the PM said: “Whatever mistakes have been made on my watch, for which I apologise, that is the work that has been going on in Dowing Street.”

Simon Hart MP: We have to get to the bottom of this

Simon Hart, the Welsh Secretary, and MP for South Pembrokeshire and West Carmarthenshire, has become the first cabinet minister to publicly express concerns about the latest partygate revelations.  Simon Hart said this morning: “We’re in the middle of an investigation, that was set up by the PM to get to the bottom and to get to the truth about what was reasonable at the time and what wasn’t. It’s frustrating to have to rely on the investigation and we must be careful to not pre-judge that or what the PM will say in a few minutes’ time.

“The one thing I’m not going to do is make light of something that is unquestionably something of a significant public concern.

“I don’t live on a different planet. The frustration and the hurt and indignation and the incredulity that emerging stories like this produce. I’ve got, like everyone, family and friends asking me these questions. We have to get to the bottom of this.

“Judgment will need to be made about what happens next.”

There is some excellent detail about the No 10 party on 20 May 2020 in the Times today. The paper reports that Martin Reynolds, who sent out the email invitation to around 100 staff as the PM’s principal private secretary, became “panicky” in advance of the event, because staff were concerned it was against the rules, but decided cancelling the event would make things worse. The paper reports: “That afternoon, staff began preparations. A row of tables was set up on one side of the garden to act as a bar. In the garden itself more tables were set up in a layout to encourage people to observe social-distancing rules.

“Officials and advisers began arriving shortly after 6pm. While many stayed away, about 40 came. Many took up Reynolds’ suggestion in his email that they should “BYOB” — bring your own booze — taking a trip to the Tesco Express next to Westminster station. The drinks table was well stocked with gin, rosé, red wine and white wine, and guests began to arrive and mingle.

“Two sources said that the prime minister attended, with one saying he was “wandering round gladhanding people”. His fiancée Carrie Symonds, whom he married last year, also attended and was said to have been drinking with Henry Newman, then an adviser to Michael Gove and now a senior figure in No 10.

“The Times has been told that one senior official at the event joked about the risk of surveillance by drones, which was viewed as a tacit admission that the rules were being breached.”

Police in England issued 118,419 fines for breaking lockdown rules between 27 March 2020 and 17 October last year. That included 800 fines in the week when the No 10 party was held on 20 May 2020.

In London 17,745 fines were issued between March 2020 and October last year, including 113 for holding illegal gatherings of more than 30 people.

Ed Davey, the Lib Dem leader, said: “Thousands of Londoners have been fined for flouting lockdown rules during the pandemic. It would be double standards of the worst kind for the police to turn a blind eye when those in No 10 have done the same.”

Carmarthen East and Dinefwr MP, Jonathan Edwards, questioned the British Government on the floor of the House of Commons this week with regard to the ongoing allegations facing the Prime Minister and his Cabinet.

Allegations of a party held by government members and officials during May 2020 continue to plague the Conservative administration, with pressure mounting on the British Government over the past few days.

With an investigation into these claims commissioned, Jonathan Edwards MP questioned the government on what they believed would be an appropriate political sanction should the investigation conclude that a party was held and that the Prime Minister, or other Ministers attended.

The response came that it was not appropriate to comment on this hypothetical situation, and that they would await the results of the independent investigation.

Speaking outside the Chamber, Mr Edwards said: “I have been contacted my several constituents in the past few days outlining their shock, their disappointment, and their anger at the current allegations that this Government faces.

The stories they have shared with me of enormous personal sacrifice, of funerals held over video calls, and of elderly family members unable to see their loved ones in the flesh, have been emotionally powerful, and I thank them for sharing those experiences with me.

Should the allegations of Government Ministers attending a party at this very same period prove to be true, it will fly in the face of the collective struggle that everyday people have endured for almost 2 years now, and it will finally confirm what many of us here in Wales have already theorised: that the political ruling class in Westminster do not care about the citizens that they represent.”

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