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Post Office deliver second-class snub to Aberystwyth

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WHSmith: Will the weekly picket continue?

WHSmith: Will the weekly picket continue?

ON THE MORNING of Wednesday (Oct 19), all those people in Aberystwyth and Ceredigion who responded to PO Ltd’s consultation on ‘changes we were looking to make to your local Post Office’ received the decision.

In the event, PO Ltd ignored the strength of local objections and decided to go ahead with moving the Crown Post Office in Aberystwyth from Great Darkgate Street to within WHSmith on Terrace Road. For many people, this decision came as a shock and undermined any faith they had in the legitimacy of public consultation.

DEAD LETTER

The lengthy letter, signed by Roger Gale, General Manager – Crown and WHSmith Network, acknowledges: “During the public consultation period we received 91 individual representations from customers and local representatives. A petition was also received along with 582 campaign cards and we were made aware of the protest against the relocation that took place. We also held a customer forum to talk about our plans and answer questions. In addition, the local MP chaired a public meeting.”

The letter attempts to address major concerns about ‘the size and capacity of the proposed new premises to cope with additional customers; accessibility into and within the proposed new premises, especially for disabled customers and car parking availability. We were also asked about the Welsh language provision at the new branch’.

With respect to space, PO Ltd make the bland assertion that: “When designing the branch, we will ensure there is adequate space within the WHSmith store to manage customer demand and have space for Post Office customers. This has been considered as part of the franchise planning for the branch.”

There is a conspicuous lack of detail on how the WHSmith premises will suddenly perform the spatial miracle of Dr Who’s Tardis. On access and parking, the letter simply concludes: “We have carefully considered ease of access to the new location and in conclusion, we remain satisfied that customers in Aberystwyth will continue to have good access to Post Office services.” Again, no substantive response to public concerns. PO Ltd also commit that: “Prior to the move, we’ll also be contacting local disability groups to take them through the layout of the new branch.” With respect to Welsh language provision, respondents to the consultation are assured that: “Externally, the store front will include clear bilingual Post Office signage and an opening hours board.” PO Ltd also promise that ‘Welsh speaking staff will be in branch to assist customers’.

SAME OLD, SAME OLD

It is the defining feature of PO Ltd’s decision that nothing has changed since the process of public consultation began: Their story remains exactly the same as it was at the outset. This has left a bitter taste in many mouths and led people to question the credibility of the consultation process, not to mention what now seems like the waste of time and money. PO Ltd’s letter promises that: “The same wide range of products and services will be available, including materials in Welsh. However, retaining the UKVI Biometric Enrolment Service at the new branch will be subject to Home Office checks and validation. We anticipate that there may be a short interruption to the availability of this service at the new location due to this; however, we will work with WHSmith and UK Border Agency to do all we can to reduce the length of time this service will be unavailable.” Once again, nothing has changed with respect to the issue of the UKVI Biometric Enrolment Service. This, despite its importance to a town with vital international connections, not least via the university, having been stressed by many respondents, including, in the strongest possible terms, Ceredigion MP Mark Williams.

WAR MEMORIAL

On the vexed issue of the war memorial in the Great Darkgate Street premises dedicated to General Post Office workers, PO Ltd reiterated the commitment they have made throughout the so-called consultation process, without any tangible progress having been made: “We are working with Royal Mail to identify the most appropriate place to relocate the memorial so that members of the public can continue to pay their respects to those of our colleagues who sacrificed their lives.

“Please be reassured that we fully recognise the importance and significance of this war memorial and, once agreed, the relocation will be handled with due and proper care and sensitivity, including a re-dedication ceremony.”

‘A DONE DEAL’

Ceredigion Liberal Democrat MP Mark Williams has condemned the decision of PO Ltd to relocate the Post Office from its historic Great Darkgate Street site to WHSmith on Terrace Road. Mark Williams told The Herald: “Despite huge opposition to this plan, two well-attended public meetings, and a large number of representations, the Post Office have ploughed on regardless. It is hard to conclude anything other than the fact that the outcome was a done deal, regardless of the consultation. I remain concerned about the implications of this on our hard-working staff and the size and capacity of the new Post Office. We in Aberystwyth know just how congested the WHSmith shop can get, and indeed the narrow pavement outside.

“The questions I have raised with the Post Office remain unresolved; I am unclear what discussions the Post Office have had with the local branch of the Royal British Legion in regards to the location of the Post Office’s War Memorial. Whilst Post Office Ltd tell us that the new Post Office will retain a UK Visas and Immigration Biometric Enrolment Service, critically important for a university town such as Aberystwyth, they then tell us there will be an interruption in the provision of that service. Presumably, they think it is acceptable for my constituents to have to access the service in Port Talbot or Shrewsbury – at one of the last remaining Crown Post Offices. I remain very disappointed that Post Office Ltd have failed to listen to hundreds of representations from the people of Ceredigion, Aberystwyth, and their elected representatives.”

Ceredigion AM Elin Jones told The Herald: “I’m disappointed to hear that the Post Office has decided to move its branch in Aberystwyth to the WHSmith store. I, along with many people, have made my views known to the Post Office that I would much rather that it stayed at its current location on Great Darkgate Street. I will now be watching to see that all services are retained during the move, and that the residents of Aberystwyth continue to receive the high standard of service that is required from their local Post Office.”

A SHAM

The Herald has been following the campaign to save Aberystwyth Post Office closely since back in April, giving voice to community concerns about the privatisation of public services through the backdoor. The result of the public consultation, into which so much effort has been put by local campaigners, comes as severe blow. Although government and corporations riding rough shod over people’s concerns is logically what citizens have come to expect, they strive to retain a vestige of hope in processes that represent themselves as democratic. One of the Save Aberystwyth Post Office campaigners, Rachel Seabrook, commented that PO Ltd’s decision ‘shows up the consultation for the sham we knew it to be. They say that feedback was taken into account, but they clearly paid no heed to the public’s desire to keep the Post Office where it is, as a public service’.

Linda Ingram commented: “Obviously they have NOT taken account of comments from the public in Ceredigion.

“As far as they were concerned, it was a foregone conclusion. WHSmith is being bailed out by the taxpayer. Disgraceful!”

On Save Aberystwyth Post Office’s Facebook page, Morgan Commins posted: “Feeling disgusted and despondent.”

Roger Gale concludes his letter: “I’m satisfied that customer needs will be adequately met. Alongside this, we’ll monitor customer usage at the branch following the move and will work with WHSmith to make sure service standards are maintained.”

The people of Aberystwyth must now be wondering exactly what the point of such monitoring will be when public opinion clearly makes no difference at all to PO Ltd’s decisions. The Crown Post Office on Great Darkgate Street will close at 5.30pm on November 23. The new branch in WHSmith will open at 9am the following day.

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River benefits after polluter pays

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A MAJOR river pollution incident in Mid Wales has cost a company £40,000.

Pencefn Feeds Ltd, near Tregaron has paid the sum after a detailed investigation by Natural Resources Wales (NRW) into the incident in December 2016.

Around 18,000 fish are thought to have been killed on a five-mile stretch of the Teifi when approximately 44,000 gallons of pollutant leaked from an anaerobic digestion plant.

The West Wales Rivers Trust will receive £15,000 to restore fish habitat in the area.

And a further £5,000 will go to the Countryside Alliance Foundation to fund education activities about fish and the local environment for children in the Tregaron area.

The payments are consistent with a potential fine and have been made as an “enforcement undertaking”. This means that the money directly benefits the local environment.

The final £20,000 is being paid to recover all investigation and legal costs relating to the case.
Ann Weedy, Mid Wales operations manager for Natural Resources Wales, said: “This has been a very complex and time-consuming investigation and we are pleased to see the financial penalty being
used directly to repair some of the damage caused by this incident.

“This will make the Teifi a better place for fish and other wildlife by fencing river banks and developing riverside vegetation.

“We hope these payments serve as a reminder to businesses that we will take enforcement action if they pollute Wales’ environment and don’t operate responsibly.”

As well as investigating the incident and overseeing the clean-up operation, NRW also investigated the roles of all companies involved in the incident.

However, the sub-contractor mainly responsible for the incident, Hallmark Power Ltd, went into liquidation so no prosecution could be taken against them. And the main contractor, ComBigaS UK, also no longer exists, so no action could be taken against them either.

ComBigaS Denmark had links to the project but has no legal basis in the UK and is therefore not covered by UK law.

Site owner, Pencefn Feeds Ltd, had raised concerns with the companies about the quality of work, but this had not been acted upon. This would have provided significant mitigation if the matter had gone to court, so NRW concluded that accepting an enforcement undertaking was the best option in this case.

Dr Stephen Marsh-Smith OBE, Director of Afonydd Cymru, the umbrella body that represents Wales’ six Rivers Trusts commented: “This was a tragic case that was bad for the river Teifi and its
fisheries.

“Nonetheless, we commend the use of an Enforcement Undertaking to resolve the regulatory aspect of the case as some funding will now be put towards restoration within the catchment itself.

“The resolution of longer term damage remains a separate issue.”

Rachel Evans, Countryside Alliance Director for Wales, said: “Fishing for Schools is always grateful to receive funding to help us reach out to more young people who benefit from our unique approach to education through angling.

“Funding coming from a pollution incident and resultant settlement whilst sad, will highlight the ever-present need to align conservation and the environment with our school work.

“Tregaron has always been a bedrock of angling within the Welsh community and heritage. We fully intend to enhance and extend that rich legacy by putting this award to good use.”
NRW has been monitoring the Teifi since the incident and confirms there has been minimal effect on invertebrates.

Salmon fry have been found in the affected area, so it is likely that at least some eggs did survive.

However, juvenile and adult salmon were killed. Large numbers of brown trout were also killed, and this species will take some time to recover.

Ann Weedy continued: “The Teifi is one of the most iconic and important recreational and net fisheries in Wales and an internationally important Special Area of Conservation for endangered fish such as lampreys, salmon and bullhead.

“We all need to work together to do all we can to restore the river and reduce the number of pollution incidents damaging our precious environment in Wales.”
NRW has carried out more than 100 pollution prevention visits to farms in Ceredigion and the Teifi catchment in the past year and these have helped reduce the risk of pollution from farm slurry.

It has also inspected the other three anaerobic digestion plants in Ceredigion to ensure that their pollution prevention measures are suitable.
Pencefn Feeds Ltd has now applied for an environmental permit so they can continue to operate (see additional information for more details).

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River benefits after polluter pays

Published

on

A MAJOR river pollution incident in Mid Wales has cost a company £40,000.

Pencefn Feeds Ltd, near Tregaron has paid the sum after a detailed investigation by Natural Resources Wales (NRW) into the incident in December 2016.

Around 18,000 fish are thought to have been killed on a five-mile stretch of the Teifi when approximately 44,000 gallons of pollutant leaked from an anaerobic digestion plant.

The West Wales Rivers Trust will receive £15,000 to restore fish habitat in the area.

And a further £5,000 will go to the Countryside Alliance Foundation to fund education activities about fish and the local environment for children in the Tregaron area.

The payments are consistent with a potential fine and have been made as an “enforcement undertaking”. This means that the money directly benefits the local environment.
The final £20,000 is being paid to recover all investigation and legal costs relating to the case.

Ann Weedy, Mid Wales operations manager for Natural Resources Wales, said: “This has been a very complex and time-consuming investigation and we are pleased to see the financial penalty being used directly to repair some of the damage caused by this incident.

“This will make the Teifi a better place for fish and other wildlife by fencing river banks and developing riverside vegetation.

“We hope these payments serve as a reminder to businesses that we will take enforcement action if they pollute Wales’ environment and don’t operate responsibly.”

As well as investigating the incident and overseeing the clean-up operation, NRW also investigated the roles of all companies involved in the incident.

However, the sub-contractor mainly responsible for the incident, Hallmark Power Ltd, went into liquidation so no prosecution could be taken against them. And the main contractor, ComBigaS UK, also no longer exists, so no action could be taken against them either.

ComBigaS Denmark had links to the project but has no legal basis in the UK and is therefore not covered by UK law.

Site owner, Pencefn Feeds Ltd, had raised concerns with the companies about the quality of work, but this had not been acted upon. This would have provided significant mitigation if the matter had gone to court, so NRW concluded that accepting an enforcement undertaking was the best option in this case.

Dr Stephen Marsh-Smith OBE, Director of Afonydd Cymru, the umbrella body that represents Wales’ six Rivers Trusts commented: “This was a tragic case that was bad for the river Teifi and its fisheries.

“Nonetheless, we commend the use of an Enforcement Undertaking to resolve the regulatory aspect of the case as some funding will now be put towards restoration within the catchment itself.
“The resolution of longer term damage remains a separate issue.”

Rachel Evans, Countryside Alliance Director for Wales, said: “Fishing for Schools is always grateful to receive funding to help us reach out to more young people who benefit from our unique approach to education through angling.

“Funding coming from a pollution incident and resultant settlement whilst sad, will highlight the ever-present need to align conservation and the environment with our school work.

“Tregaron has always been a bedrock of angling within the Welsh community and heritage. We fully intend to enhance and extend that rich legacy by putting this award to good use.”

NRW has been monitoring the Teifi since the incident and confirms there has been minimal effect on invertebrates.

Salmon fry have been found in the affected area, so it is likely that at least some eggs did survive.

However, juvenile and adult salmon were killed. Large numbers of brown trout were also killed, and this species will take some time to recover.

Ann Weedy continued: “The Teifi is one of the most iconic and important recreational and net fisheries in Wales and an internationally important Special Area of Conservation for endangered fish such as lampreys, salmon and bullhead.

“We all need to work together to do all we can to restore the river and reduce the number of pollution incidents damaging our precious environment in Wales.”
NRW has carried out more than 100 pollution prevention visits to farms in Ceredigion and the Teifi catchment in the past year and these have helped reduce the risk of pollution from farm slurry.

It has also inspected the other three anaerobic digestion plants in Ceredigion to ensure that their pollution prevention measures are suitable.

Pencefn Feeds Ltd has now applied for an environmental permit so they can continue to operate (see additional information for more details).

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Ceredigion County Council’s Apprenticeship recruitment campaign is now live

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THE council’s 2019 Apprenticeship programme is now open for applications until Sunday 22 September.

A council apprenticeship gives learners the opportunity to build skills and confidence while earning a salary and gaining a nationally recognised qualification. With roles available in Business Administration, ICT Technical Support and Social Care teams, there is an opportunity for everyone.

The first year of the programme is nearing an end and has been a great success. Alanah Lloyd recently completed a Business Administration Apprenticeship. She said: “I would recommend doing an apprenticeship at Ceredigion County Council to all my friends. I enjoyed the balance of real responsibilities and having the space to keep on learning.”

Maria Lloyd, Alanah’s mother said: “When Alanah was successful with her application I was delighted. It gave her the opportunity to show her work ethic and continue with her education in an organisation where there is career progression. Alanah has now gained a permanent position at the council. I would highly recommend apprenticeships to other parents.”

Lynne Connolly, Apprenticeship and Work Experience Coordinator, Ceredigion County Council said: “This year we are continuing to demonstrate our commitment to ‘grow our own’, offering opportunities for school and college leavers to continue education in a working environment and for members of the community looking to return to work or change career. All our apprentices are paid well above the minimum apprentice wage which reflects how much we value their contribution.”

To apply and find out more visit career.ceredigion.gov.uk or contact us at apprentice@ceredigion.gov.uk.

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