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Council leader hits back at regeneration scheme criticisms

The ‘instagram-friendly’ ‘signature bridge’ plans submitted as part of the Haverfordwest Footbridge and Western Quayside Phase 2 plans (pic: Atkins Ltd)

PEMBROKESHIRE County Council’s leader has hit out at criticism of the county town’s regeneration and the much-mentioned ‘Instagram-friendly’ signature bridge, part of a levelling-up scheme for the town.

At the March 11 meeting of Pembrokeshire County Council’s Cabinet, members were due to to hold a private and confidential session to discuss the award of the contract for the Haverfordwest footbridge and Western Quayside Phase 2 project.

The signature bridge scheme, in the Haverfordwest’s conservation area, also includes a ‘plaza’ public realm reconfiguration and enhancement; and repair, renewal and refurbishment of the former Cleddau Foundry building.

It forms part of the ‘Heart of Pembrokeshire’ regeneration project, which was awarded a Levelling Up Fund grant.

Concerns about the bridge – and potential costs – have previously been raised, and the design of the new bridge has previously been labelled an ‘Instagrammable’ bridge by Councillor Rhys Jordan when raising questions about costs associated with it.

The bridge is also part of a wider regeneration of the county town, which includes the ‘Ocky White’ Western Quayside retail development and a new transport interchange on the site of the former multi-storey car park.

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Before the matter went into private session at the March meeting, Council Leader David Simpson said: “Personally, I would like to say a couple of things: as an administration we have been investing in the town centre of Haverfordwest for the last seven years.

“We actually bought a retail complex in the middle of a town, there was a lot of criticism against it, but once we’d done the deal, once we’d got the financial support from Welsh Government the actual complex itself cost us around £600,000, and ever since we’ve owned the buildings we’ve made a profit from the rental and maintenance etc.

“I personally believe we have to, as an authority, invest in our town centres. In 2021 we were given £17m of levelling-up funding from the treasury in London, that, to me, shows they support our business plan for the regeneration of the town centre; what we’ve got to do is give a 10 per cent contribution towards any work that needs to be done within the confines of the grant.

“I explain it to my community councils and they are fully supportive, they can see the business sense behind it, and they are fully supportive.

“The existing bridge has come to the end of its life and that is obvious to anybody that walks over it and to replace it would cost substantially more than what we’re being asked to contribute – 10 per cent of.

“So, I really cannot understand when you get people, members, who do not seem to understand the finances of it, it would cost us more not to do this scheme than to do it; we are getting a really good deal out of it.”

Council Leader David Simpson (Pic: Pembrokeshire County Council)

He added: “If we cancelled the actual bridge now we would lose the 90 per cent funding, it would cost us more than for a really nice bridge in the centre of town, and to me is an asset to the community.

“I’d like the members of the public to know we are handling the finances well; we are going to supply a new bridge in the centre of town which is part of the complex, the rebuilding of the centre of town with Ocky Whites and all the other associated buildings.

“We are, as an administration, working towards a way which is financially good for the authority.”

His views were echoed by Cabinet Member for Planning & Housing Delivery Cllr Jon Harvey, who said: “There’s been a lot of comment on social media, a lot of comment in the [council] Chamber about the so-called ‘vanity projects’ and ‘Instagramable’ bridges and so-on and so-forth.

“If the UK Government is going to give us a grant of effectively 90 per cent, providing that scheme is wanted, why wouldn’t we take that grant money?”

He added: “We’ve taken flak for it, the council’s taken flak, but regeneration of our town centres is absolutely crucial.”

Cllr Jon Harvey – Cabinet Member for Planning & Housing Delivery (Pic: Pembrokeshire County Council)

After the private and confidential break, members agreed the award of the contract for construction services, to Walters Group Ltd, be authorised.

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