Llais Rhian Column, Oct 2019

This is my fifth column for Llais Rhian, and incredibly, means that I am half way through this electoral term (2 ½ years gone, 2 ½ left)! Looking back over the last few years I realise what a steep learning curve it has been and I’m constantly balancing my time between helping those in the community, fulfilling my internal Cabinet responsibilities, and working nationally to help improve local government. I’ll touch upon all of these in the following paragraphs.

Starting locally, there’s been a lot going on. This has included from some improvement works being completed in Heol Rhian in Llanrhian, which included the removal of the old phonebox, replacement signs and a new timber fence to replace the rusty old railings. I also spent a fair amount of time researching and preparing to represent local residents at the Council’s Planning Committee a few months ago regarding the proposed ‘nutrient store’ (slurry lagoon) at Llwyndyrys farm in Square & Compass. This is not something that I am against at all, but there were concerns raised over the lack of an odour management plan. This is something that I continue to work with the planning department on to make sure that residents concerns are heard.

The old rusty railings have been replaced

During the last two years I’ve learned that things don’t happen quickly in local government – especially true when there is little money to spare. It can seem like a battle to make progress, but there are some plans for our community in place, including new road signage and markings in Square & Compass to remind motorists that there is a speed limit there. I’ve also got agreement from Council staff to complete a feasibility study on building a footpath linking Croesgoch to Pen-Y-Groes Villas. Before anyone gets too excited about this, the idea is to scope out the works, including costs and land issues, and then to explore how we might be able to fund this. I’ll keep you posted.

Another thing that is making slow but steady progress is the Croesgoch Community Hub. As a reminder, this idea came about through the Enhancing Pembrokeshire grant, and will see the school hall being made more widely available for community use after school hours. Some building works are needed to make this a reality, but the good news is that the funding has been approved in principle, is supported by Llanrhian Community Council, and we should be in a position to proceed later this year / early next. On a similar note, I was happy to support the Mathry Forum & Mathry Community Council bid for improvements to Mathry Village Hall and the installation of a defibrillator in Abercastle.

Ysgol Croesgoch

Abereiddi has been a constant feature during my time to date as a Councillor, and at the time of writing, I have just returned from attending a public inquiry on the matter where the Welsh Government’s Planning Inspectorate have heard the views of both the National Park and the Operator (appellant). My understanding is that the Inspectorate are intending to make a decision relatively quickly, which will give a clear directive of what can and can’t go on, and hopefully will help us move forward and come up with the right long term solution, which has always been the ambition.

It’s a busy and demanding role, but it really is a privilege to serve and I’ve just highlighted a small selection of issues above. Whether it’s a housing query or planning issue, I’ve lost count of the people I’ve met or helped over the 2 ½ years so far, and whilst I won’t get everything right, I always try to do my best for our community.

Turning to what’s going on inside the Council, I’ll mention a few things that might be of interest. As a cabinet member I have political responsibility for delivering the council’s change programme, which is picking up speed. In trying to create a more modern, efficient and cost effective council that spends its money on the services that really matter to people, at a time when local government funding is in sharp decline, you realise that change can be hard for many people. Despite this, our ‘smarter working programme’ that has seen the biggest change to the council’s working practices in over 20 years, will soon result in us being able to vacate the Cherry Grove building in Haverfordwest (amongst others), saving us a small fortune in ongoing maintenance and running costs.

Another change that is coming soon are the changes to waste collection. There is a lot of information on the Council’s website about this, but in essence we are trying to increase recycling rates whilst reducing the amount that gets sent to landfill. There can be polarised views on this but with Welsh Government targets and ambitions for a zero waste economy, we all need to play a part. There may be teething issues in the early days of the changes, but I’m sure it will settle down over the next few months once people can establish new routines. To help remind people of when their next bin day is, it is well worth subscribing to the council’s free text message reminder system which can be accessed at this link: https://www.pembrokeshire.gov.uk/online-service/notify

New recycling lorries operating across the County

Linked to the above, and with climate change being such a critical issue, the Council has committed to become a carbon net zero council by 2030, and so I was pleased to be nominated to be part of a working group to help us achieve this. Please get in touch if you’d like to find out more.

Those of you that know me well will know that I’ve worked with local government in my previous career, and so I’m delighted to have been appointed as Vice Chair to the Improvement & Innovation board at the Local Government Association (LGA) with responsibility to lead on ‘productivity’. The LGA represents local government in England and Wales and means that I am exposed to best practice and innovation in Councils across the UK, which in turn helps contribute to the change agenda closer to home. I’ve been able to bring a few ideas back so far, and there will be more to report in the next column.

I’m always happy to help where I can, so please do feel free to get in touch via email at neilprior@outlook.com, you can call me on 07834 093181, or for those who are more inclined to use social media, I’m on Facebook at @CllrNeilPrior or on Twitter @PriorNeil. I’ve also started doing an e-mail update for interested residents, so if you’d like to be added just let me know.

Thanks for reading, Neil. October 2019

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