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Could free car parking save the high street?

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Space exploited: Temporary free parking on Boulevard St Brieuc

Space exploited: Temporary free parking on Boulevard St Brieuc

LAST week, Plaid Cymru called on the Welsh Government to set up a new fund to enable local authorities and community groups to offer free car parking in towns throughout Wales to support local shops and businesses. Plaid Cymru’s Assembly Member for Ceredigion, Elin Jones, has suggested that free parking in towns across Ceredigion could keep our town centres bustling.

Elin Jones told The Herald: “Wales has more empty shops on its high streets than the rest of the UK, and the Welsh Government could potentially support the high streets in order to keep them as a vibrant economic hub. We’ve seen the shape of our high streets change over the past few years. Places like Aberystwyth and Cardigan have seen a big turnover in shops. This may be down to more people moving online out of convenience. For example, foot fall in Aberystwyth is down by almost one-fifth since 2012. We need that extra incentive to get people in our towns, and free parking could do just that.”

Plaid Cymru’s Shadow Cabinet Secretary for Local Government, Sian Gwenllian, said: “By allowing local authorities and community groups to provide free parking for shoppers, we can help level the playing field for high streets and get shoppers back there. Plaid Cymru wants to see the Welsh Government set up a fund to help local authorities cover this cost. And we can do even more. We can lower business rates for small businesses and bring 70,000 of them out of paying rates altogether, and we can try to plug the £500 million funding gap that small businesses face by establishing a properly funded Welsh Development Bank, in order to lend to small businesses and help them grow. We can’t overlook how important the high street is for the well-being of a local area. A bustling high street often indicates a vibrant local economy, so it’s important that we do all we can to save the high street.”

WIDESPREAD CONCERN

Over the past year, the number of people shopping on the high street has declined UK-wide, posing a major problem for retailers. Fuelling that problem are said to be worries about the economic outlook, and most recently concerns over Brexit, combined with an increase in shopping on the internet. While expenditure in retail outlets declines, however, people are still spending their increasing disposable income on leisure and eating out. Overall footfall was down 0.9% in the first quarter of 2016 compared with the same period a year ago, according to analysts from Ipsos Retail Performance. However, some cities and towns are doing much worse than this national average suggests. In England, the worst performers are Newcastle upon Tyne, with shopper numbers down a hefty 9.95% and Stoke-on-Trent, down 8.1%. Compare these with Elin Jones’ claim that Aberystwyth footfall is down by 20% and it puts the town’s problem in startling perspective.

Across the UK even discount chains such as Poundland are feeling the pinch, with sales slowing. According to the Local Data Company, in April this year across the UK, some 46,000 shops stood empty, with approximately one-third of those have been so for more than three years. The national vacancy rate stood at 12.5%. With free parking, easy access and more space, retail locations outside of town centres are increasingly popular among those shoppers not filling their baskets online. The Office for National Statistics reported online sales rising almost 9% in March compared with the previous year. And online stores accounted for 13.2% of all retail sales. Famously, Mary Portas attempted to spark a resurgence of high street shopping in provincial towns. Places that have paid attention to shoppers’ needs, and so improved facilities, have managed to maintain footfall.

CARMAGEDDON!

Back in 2011 through to 2012, Aberystwyth conducted its own involuntary experiment in radical free car parking, which left our own special little skid-mark in the history books. Lest we forget, a bureaucratic mix-up between Dyfed-Powys Police and Ceredigion County Council resulted in there being no traffic warden employed for a year. By many accounts, the result was chaos. However, some retailers did report that the experiment was good for business. If that 12 months was chaotic and did cause some people inconvenience at times, civilisation as we know it did not end and the town survived. Unfortunately, at least to The Herald’s knowledge, the experience of the community self-managing parking was not documented in terms of the extra parking places that were creatively carved out of the urban landscape without undue disruption. Neither was the impact on retail businesses measured for comparison. To credit our competitors where that is due, the Cambrian News’ Street of Shame feature, where badly parked cars were pictured with their registrations revealed, surely aided in the community’s efforts to deal with the antisocial in ourselves. Overall, for at least some people, it was quite an entertaining year.

IDEAS FOR ABER?

‘Carmageddon’, as christened by that esteemed periodical The Daily Mail, has little to do with Plaid Cymru and Elin Jones’ suggestion for doing away with paying for parking in towns. But is free parking relevant in Aberystwyth? We do not, after all, have parking metres or ticket machines on the streets of the tow, but rather parking that is limited to two hours, one hour or the deadly thirty minutes. Free parking in local authority car parks further out of town might conceivably lessen the load on the streets, however. Plaid Cymru’s proposal is for the Welsh Government to contribute to the provision of such free parking. They do not expect County Councils to provide a ‘freebie’ and therefore have to cut other services any further. It does, of course, cost a significant amount of money to maintain any car park, free or otherwise.

Current difficulties in Aberystwyth have certainly been exacerbated by the loss of the Mill Street car park which had 265 spaces. Ironically, the retail development on the site of the Mill Street car park is likely to put further pressure on some hard pressed retailers in the town. When it opens, however, the new £40 million development will have 555 spaces and will be by far the biggest car park Ceredigion has ever seen.

The Herald understands that it is written into the contract for the Mill Street site that the parking spaces will be free and allocated on a three-hour basis. There is an option to reduce this to two hours if the car park becomes 85% full. Moreover, there is no compulsion for those parking in the new car park to shop at M&S or Tesco.

Shoppers can still go into town to buy their underwear and groceries. To turn a famous slogan around, for our local retailers, every little helps.

Coincidentally, then, even as Plaid Cymru suggest more free parking, Aberystwyth is on the verge of getting an extra 290 parking places compared with before the Mill Street development. Tesco is on schedule to open before the end of November, with the car park opening perhaps a fortnight before that. M&S is set to open in spring 2017. Whether encouraging more cars into town makes sense from a retail point of view or not, it certainly is not good news in terms of cutting carbon emissions to mitigate climate change nor in reducing local pollution. Town and County Councillor Mark Strong told The Herald: “I’m not in favour of free car parking. I am not convinced it will help increase footfall and in my opinion will encourage car use.” Mark Strong is concerned that more cars will mean more congestion and more pollution and so would actually put people off visiting towns like Aberystwyth.

If Ceredigion could come up with a scheme to benefit those coming into town to shop with a car full of people and/or penalising drivers who travel solo, that might make good sense. Similarly, if parking privileged smaller eco-friendly cars over big fat gas guzzlers, that could work to create space and reduce pollution. Some models of car on the road in 2016 were definitely not designed to be driven on narrow Welsh roads, nor small town streets. To help local retailers, however, radically lowering business rates might be the most supportive thing Ceredigion could do. Herald readers, especially local retailers themselves, are welcome to suggest other measures by writing to our letters page. Readers may also like to suggest a name for the Mill Street Development. Suggestions that we have received already range from the architecturally critical through the politically bitter (ill feeling over the demolition of the day centre and people’s homes refuses to go away) to the more constructive and forward looking. But what do you think?

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Everything you need to know about the current coronavirus restrictions in Wales

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THE GOVERNMENT guidelines in Wales are changing today (Apr 12).

There are major changes coming into force today across the country as the government coronavirus guidelines are starting to relax.

The changes affect household bubbles, non-essential retail, education and travel.

As of Monday, April 12, the following changes have come into force:

  • Six people from two different households (not counting children under 11) can meet and exercise outdoors and in private gardens
  • Households or support bubbles can holiday in self-contained accommodation – including hotels with en-suite facilities
  • All pupils and students can now return to school, college and other education
  • All shops and close-contact services can open
  • The ban on travelling in and out of Wales has ended
  • Driving lessons can resume and some driving tests (Remainder on April 22)

Non-essential retail are able to open up today for the first time since the country was put into a national lockdown with non-essential retail ordered to close in December of last year.

With infection rates falling and the national vaccine rollout success, the Welsh Government have set out a road map of restriction easing.

Unlike England, the hospitality industry in Wales will have to wait until April 26 to open their doors to customers, but only for those who can operate in an outdoor space such as beer gardens.

The current guidelines in force for Wales are as follows:

Meeting friends and family

From May 3:

  • Two families can once again form an “extended household” and meet indoors.

The following rules currently apply:

  • Six people from two different households (not counting children under 11) can meet up outdoors, including gardens.
  • If you are an adult living alone or you’re a single responsible adult in a household (a single parent, for instance), you can form a support bubble with one other household.
  • You can also end it and form another support bubble with a different household, as long as you leave a 10-day gap between.

Going to work

  • You must work from home if you can. The only exceptions will be critical workers and jobs where working from home is not possible.
  • Tradespeople can work in someone else’s private home, as long as it is managed in a safe way and both the worker and household members are well and have no symptoms of coronavirus.

Schools and nurseries

  • All pupils will return to face-to-face teaching at school from 12 April.
  • From that date all students can return to further education and training centres.
  • University campuses will be able to open for blended (face-to face and online) learning for all students.
  • Internal GCSE, A-level and AS-level assessments have been cancelled.

Leisure time

From April 26:

  • Outdoor attractions, including funfairs and theme parks, will be allowed to reopen.
  • Outdoor hospitality can resume, including at cafes, pubs and restaurants, but indoor hospitality will remain restricted.

From May 3:

  • Organised outdoor activities for up to 30 people can again take place.
  • Gyms, leisure centres and fitness facilities can reopen. This will include individual or one-to-one training but not exercise classes.

The following rules currently apply:

  • Self-contained holiday accommodation, including hotels with en-suite facilities and room service, can open to people from the same household or support bubble.
  • Outdoor sports facilities such as golf, tennis and basketball are open. A maximum of six people from two households can take part.
  • Organised outdoor sport for under-18s can now take place.
  • All gyms and leisure centres are closed.
  • Professional sports will continue but stadiums are closed to fans.
  • Bars, restaurants, cafes and pubs are closed – except for takeaway and delivery.
  • The outdoor areas of some historic places and gardens can reopen in a limited way.
  • Libraries and archives can reopen

Shopping

From April 12:

  • All shops can reopen.
  • All close contact services such as hairdressers or beauty salons can open, including mobile services.

The following rules currently apply:

  • Hairdressers and barbers are open for business – by appointment only.
  • Non-essential shops remain closed.
  • Garden centres are now open.
  • Alcohol cannot be sold in shops between 22:00 and 06:00 BST.
  • Face coverings must be worn by customers and staff.
  • Indoor shopping should be done alone, or with people in your household.

Other

From April 12:

  • You can travel anywhere in the UK or the Common Travel Area (Ireland, Isle of Man and the Channel Islands)
  • Outdoor canvassing for the Welsh elections can begin.
  • Driving lessons can resume and some driving tests (remainder on 22 April).

From April 26:

  • Weddings receptions can take place outdoors, but will be limited to 30 people.

The following rules currently apply:

  • Weddings and civil partnerships can take place at licensed venues, but receptions are not allowed.
  • Care home residents can receive one designated visitor.
  • You can travel anywhere within Wales.
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Ceredigion dog breeder fined for failing to comply with dog breeding licence

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A CROWN COURT has upheld a conviction that the dogs under the care of Mr. Jones were kept in overcrowded conditions in contravention of the minimum space standards required by the license conditions.

Other convictions were overturned.

On 27 November 2020, and 22December 2020, the Crown Court heard an appeal by Mr. Dorian Wyn Jones, of Dorwan Kennels, Penrheol, Talsarn, relating to convictions for failing to comply with dog breeding licence conditions. 

Mr. Dorian Wyn Jones had previously been convicted at Aberystwyth Magistrates Court of running a licenced dog breeding establishment far in access of the number allowed on his licence and that the dogs in his care were kept in overcrowded conditions.

The Court heard evidence that Mr Dorian Wyn Jones had been granted a licence for 33 dogs. However, during a visit undertaken by Ceredigion County Council’s Public Protection Officers on the 07 August 2019, they found 91 dogs at the premises excluding puppies, in breach of his license. The dogs were kept in pens of a size that were inadequate for the number of dogs kept within them.

On 9 February 2021, Dorian Jones was fined £1000 for the overcrowding offence, and ordered to pay legal costs amounting to £2500. 

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Prince Philip, The Duke of Edinburgh, dies aged 99

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The Duke of Edinburgh, the Queen’s ‘strength and stay’ for 73 years, has died aged 99.

Prince Philip’s health had been slowly deteriorating for some time. He announced he was stepping down from royal engagements in May 2017, joking that he could no longer stand up. He made a final official public appearance later that year during a Royal Marines parade on the forecourt of Buckingham Palace.

Since then, he was rarely seen in public, spending most of his time on the Queen’s Sandringham estate in Norfolk, though moving to be with her at Windsor Castle during the lockdown periods throughout the Covid-19 pandemic and where the couple quietly celebrated their 73rd wedding anniversary in November 2020. He also celebrated his 99th birthday in lockdown at Windsor Castle.

The duke spent four nights at King Edward VII hospital in London before Christmas 2019 for observation and treatment in relation to a “pre-existing condition”.

Despite having hip surgery in April 2018, he attended the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle a month later and was seen sitting beside the Queen at a polo match at Windsor Great Park in June. He and the Queen missed Prince Louis of Cambridge’s christening in July 2018, but he was seen attending Crathie Kirk near Balmoral in August, and driving his Land Rover in the surrounding Scottish countryside in September.

It is expected that flags on landmark buildings in Britain will be lowered to half-mast as a period of mourning is announced.

The First Minister of Wales, Mark Drakeford has expressed his sadness on the news of the death of His Royal Highness The Duke of Edinburgh and offered condolences to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and the Royal family on behalf of the Welsh Government.

He said: “It is with sadness that we mourn the death of His Royal Highness The Duke of Edinburgh. Throughout his long and distinguished life, he served the crown with selfless devotion and generosity of spirit.

We offer our sincere condolences to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, his children and their families on this sad occasion.

He will be missed by the many organisations that he supported as Patron or President over many decades of service”.Andrew RT Davies, the Leader of the Welsh Conservatives in the Senedd, has led tributes to Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, whose death was announced today.

In light of the sad news from Buckingham Palace, campaigning has been paused with immediate effect.

Mr Davies said: “This is a very sad day for the United Kingdom.
“The Duke of Edinburgh led a remarkable life, excelled himself with his career in the Royal Navy, was the strength and stay to Her Majesty The Queen, and has left a legacy to the nation through the Duke of Edinburgh Award.

“Dutiful, devoted, and diligent, his like will never be seen again, and Welsh Conservatives offer their deepest condolences to The Queen, and the rest of the Royal Family.”

Adam Price, leader of Plaid Cymru said: “On behalf of Plaid Cymru, I send my condolences to Her Majesty the Queen and her family. Many young people in Wales will have benefited from the Duke of Edinburgh’s award scheme, a reflection of many decades of his public service. Thoughts are with the Royal Family at this time.”

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