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The Herald: Our top 10 stories of 2013

IT has been exhilarating, exhausting, exasperating and a lot else besides. But here we are at our first Christmas as a new newspaper and it falls to the Assistant Editor to look back at the stories we have covered and the way we have covered them.

Whether it has been jam, Jerusalem or something harder edged we have tried to cover events in Pembrokeshire in our own voice and in our own way. There have been missteps and mistakes along the way, but we have tried to learn from those and get on with reporting real news and the real stories behind them.

We think our readers deserve to be both informed and entertained. We hope they have been both. As for education, we would not presume.

So in order to keep our readers informed and entertained over the Christmas and New Year period we have looked back (guess which column I write) at what we have covered and produced our top ten stories.

10. ‘Disgust’ at historic building sell-off plans.

disgustIT WAS back in our first edition that we led with the story of how Pembrokeshire County Council was looking to rid itself of Barnard’s Tower, Pembroke; Lydstep Palace, Lydstep; the Pater Church Tower, Pembroke Dock. Reaction to the news was a mixture of bemusement and outrage. Local councillors were appalled that they had not been consulted about the planned sell off and questioned who would buy the listed buildings and to what purpose they could be placed by the purchaser. Since placing the properties on the market, the Council has given no indication as to what commercial bids have been received for the properties or who has expressed an interest in acquiring the ancient sites.

With the Council looking to realise a significant amount of its building stock over the next few years, it will be hoping that a kindly buyer will take these buildings off their hands with the minimum of fuss and avoid any further public outcry.

The deadline for expressions of interest in any of the properties is 10th January 2014, so early in the new year we can expect white smoke to billow from the towers of County Hall when the Council announces whether or not it has found a buyer willing to take on Pembrokeshire’s heritage.

Pembrokeshire County Council’s disposal of assets is not, however, limited to its older assets. Currently shown as up for grabs are properties scattered about the County, including 2 Barn Street Haverfordwest (up for auction on 19th February 2014); development land at Clarbeston Road; Pentlepoir school, which is ear-marked for housing development; and Fishguard junior school, with planning for a supermarket.

Not listed as up for grabs, of course, is Haverfordwest Castle. The Council has wisely decided to settle the outstanding battle as to the site’s Town green status while their favoured developer stands by, ready to step in if the Council is successful in overturning local objections.

9. Horse neglect ‘worst ever seen’ says RSPCA officer

worst everA STORY which got a strong reaction from our readers was the conviction of Maenclochog farmer Gwilym Gilmour Thomas for offences of cruelty to animals. Our reporter, James Hemingwray, was in court as a series of graphic and distressing images were shown to demonstrate the extent and gravity of the charges facing Thomas in our October 25 issue.

Prosecutor Jon Tarrant told Haverfordwest Magistrates’ Court that this was the worst case of neglect of horses the RSPCA officer concerned had ever seen. Three horses were discovered in an emaciated and distressed condition, one of which was subsequently put down, another horse had died in the few days before the officer’s visit to the farm.

The farmer was handed a suspended sentence of one year ’s imprisonment, banned from keeping horses for five years and ordered to undertake 300 hours of community work.

8. It’s a “Yes”

yesTHAT is how the Herald broke the news of County Council’s decision to grant planning permission for the construction of a new Sainsbury’s supermarket to the north of Thomas Parry Way, Haverfordwest. The large development is scheduled to include a petrol station and sewage plant. The flagship store is a £30m development in and of itself and the whole plan includes permission for 729 new houses, including 180 ‘affordable’ homes.

In a report prepared by one of the Council’s own officers the meeting was told that it was likely that existing shops in the town centre would close and that the plans conflicted with the policy to protect retail provision in town centres. The massive development, for good or ill, was overwhelmingly endorsed by the planning committee’s members.

7. Neyland’s bumper season

bumper seasonNOT ONE story here, but three: Neyland Cricket Club’s first eleven managed to lift the three premier trophies in Pembrokeshire cricket. A compelling season saw Carew Cricket Club fight its way out of an unaccustomed spot in the relegation places to near the top of the first division table while Neyland swept all in front of them aside to seize the treble. The Duggie Morris Cup, Harrison-Allen Bowl and First Division crowns all fell to Neyland, with Llangwm runners-up in the cup competitions.

Led astutely by skipper Greg Miller, Neyland turned in the type of consistent and tough-minded performances that enabled them to keep going as their challengers flared and then faded as the long cricket season progressed.

Unlike teams who pilfer their talent from clubs around them, the Neyland team is built around players who have developed together and know each other’s games well. It is perhaps this cohesiveness that enabled them to knuckle down in tight finishes and get the maximum reward for their collective efforts.

6. Council’s rubbish plan goes ahead

rubbish planPEMBROKESHIRE County Council’s finally moved to fortnightly collections in respect of domestic waste. The plans met with almost universal disapproval, even as the Council spent £15,000 of council tax-payers’ money publicising their scheme and prayed in aid pressure from Cardiff Bay to hit exacting recycling targets.

While the Council estimated that the plan would save £500,000 a year in costs, it refused a request to consider reimbursing those Council Tax payers who had forked out in advance for the weekly service as part of their annual bills.

Cllr Huw George advised those with a large amount of black bag waste accumulating between fortnightly collections to drive to their nearest civic amenity site and dump their rubbish there.

Our report also contained the statement by Labour party councillors that the situation would be monitored with an expectation that it would be ‘working’ in six months’ time. Bearing in mind the upheaval to collections around the Christmas period, when more household waste will accumulate, we can only wait to see exactly what such monitoring reveals.