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Superfast broadband rollout criticised

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Screen Shot 2016-04-20 at 14.00.17A MEETING was held on Wednesday for those living in rural communities to express their concerns over the BT Superfast internet rollout.

The Director of Superfast Cymru, Ed Hunt, attended the meeting, held at Whitland Memorial Hall, to answer questions from those concerned about delays and omissions from rollout. BT has claimed that 95% of the population of Wales will have access to fibre broadband.

Although the meeting started at 6pm, the hall was packed to capacity, with more than 80 people in attendance. It was immediately evident that the topic resonated with many in the area. Most of those present were from the rural west Carmarthenshire and east Pembrokeshire area, where a number of communities are hampered by very slow internet speeds – down to less than a megabyte per second (MBPS). By contrast, those receiving the full benefits of the Superfast upgrade will reach speeds of 24-32 MBPS.

Mr Hunt began by pointing out that the reason that the Welsh Governmentsubsidised scheme had been rolled out was ‘because no communications company wanted to take the risk.’

“I’m not the problem – I’m fixing the problem,” he added, stating that without BT there would be no Superfast Broadband at all in the region.

Defending criticisms that the rollout was too slow, Mr Hunt claimed that the Welsh rollout by BT was the fastest in the UK. He added that New Zealand, which he described as a similar kind of country to Wales, aimed to have reached 85% of people by 2023. “Wales will have achieved that by next year,” he said.

It was also claimed that Wales was in a better position in terms of Superfast coverage than France, Germany, the United States, and the rest of the UK.

However, Mr Hunt acknowledged: “You guys are here because you haven’t got it – I understand.”

He explained that the contract with the Welsh Government did not cover 100% of Welsh houses, and expressed doubt that in some cases it was even possible to provide a service. “Some people here are not going to get good news,” he added, before explaining that there were certain grants available from the Welsh Government to assist in these cases.

Mr Hunt also pointed out that those present were in a minority in more ways than one, and that only around 12% of the population of Carmarthenshire had taken up the Superfast option. In Pembrokeshire, around 25% had.

“Providers won’t come down here, because there is not the clamour for the service that people think there is,” he claimed.

However, a number of residents present seemed less-than-convinced with the glowing picture painted. Whether or not, as was implied, this was because most of those present were among the have-nots, the questions from the floor offered a wide-ranging criticism of the rollout and general BT policy in the region.

Simon Hart MP, who organised the meeting, pointed out that vagaries in the rollout times had stopped people taking up temporary solutions like satellite internet for fear of losing out financially.

In response to a point made by Mr Hunt, who had said that BT was willing to work with customers in locations outside the rollout if they were willing to carry out some of the infrastructure work or costs themselves, he pointed out that a pensioner in his constituency had been quoted £180,000 by BT to get the full service.

Mr Hunt said that this ‘illustrated the difficulties of the project.’ He suggested that possibly a local resident with a JCB might like to lend a hand to keep the costs down.

BT was accused of neglecting the existing network in the race to install fibre-optic cable, with a number of people claiming that they had been without the internet for lengthy periods over the winter due to repeated cable breakages.

One Whitland resident pointed out that they were unable to get even 1MBPS ‘one-and-a-half miles from the A40’ and asked why it wasn’t possible to get even 2MBPS through the existing copper network.

Mr Hunt’s claim that ‘we don’t have a reliability problem’ was met with a chorus of ‘no, we do’ from the audience. He pointed out that he was ‘not in business to provide a 2MBPS service’ and advised the questioner to ‘take it up with the Welsh Government’.

An audience member from Meidrim pointed out that work there had been delayed for several months because the cable had to cross a level crossing.

In response, Mr Hunt said: “I don’t have to deliver to your house by the end of March, but I have to deliver to a certain number of properties across Wales. If we have snags, I am entitled to move engineers when I see fit.”

Another Meidrim resident was somewhat disgruntled that a fibre cable between two exchanges ran past her garden gate, while she was only able to get 2KBPS internet in her house.

The number of properties which would actually benefit from ‘Superfast’ speeds of more than 15MBPS was also questioned, given that any property more than 1.5km from a cabinet would only get fast broadband. The Village Clerk for Martletwy claimed that she had checked online, and out of 300 properties in the area only 15 would get the full Superfast benefits.

Several representatives of the business community pointed out that good broadband service was essential for attracting and running businesses in the region. Given the focus on tourism in west Wales at present, it was also noted that decent internet speeds were a priority for those booking holiday cottages, which often tend to be in more remote areas.

In response to those who asked why south east Wales had received the service upgrades first, Mr Hunt replied that due to the project being delayed by external forces at the beginning of the rollout, BT had been forced to concentrate on areas with higher population density in order to meet the targets set and avoid jeopardising EU grant money.

As the tone of the questions became increasingly heated, Mr Hunt said: “I can’t give all the people the answer they want tonight. I didn’t have to come here, but I am happy to.”

He also reiterated that: “If it wasn’t for BT coming in and putting money on the table, you would have nothing.”

It is worth noting that BT has made a £220m investment in the project, which has an estimated payback time of 15 years.

Mr Hart pointed out that in his opinion, given where internet provision was in this region five to ten years ago this was ‘still a good news story’. He also refuted Mr Hunt’s claim that all those present were there because they didn’t have access to the service: “We are all here not just because we don’t have Superfast broadband, but because of confusion about when we are going to get it,” he added.

However, the last word was had by a gentleman who referred back to previous concerns about copper cables from exchanges to houses: “Superfast broadband is theoretical, and will remain entirely so for everyone in this room until the copper cables are replaced,” he said.

After the meeting, a number of one-to-one sessions were had with audience members, who received answers to specific questions about service provision.

Speaking to audience members, a number believed Mr Hunt had been somewhat arrogant in his approach, and his remark that he ‘didn’t have to come here’ was quoted more than once. However, others were more encouraged, with one lady saying he was ‘a brave man for coming!’

A common theme was a perceived lack of maintenance to the existing system – something that Mr Hunt had earlier refuted – and the communication between the company and residents was described as ‘abysmal’.

Simon Hart said that he hoped the meeting had been ‘the first of a process’.

When we suggested that these problems were only experienced by a small minority of residents, he said: “I don’t buy the argument that most people are happy. As long as one person is left out in the cold we should pursue this vigorously.

“We have heard quite legitimate concerns tonight. People understand that this is a slow, expensive process, but want to hear the truth, and to have things explained to them.

“I hope that the BT representatives leave here tonight realising that it is not all a good news story.”

However, Mr Hart refuted criticism of Mr Hunt’s perceived ‘arrogance’: “If I was in their shoes, if your life is spent working for BT, I think you will be quite defensive,” he said.

“What tonight was about was saying that yes, we are grateful, but there are areas that need to be addressed.”

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Carmarthenshire’s sensory garden: why locals should embrace this wellness trend

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WITH ‘#sensorygarden’ 499.1k views on TikTok – locals have the advantage of experiencing a sensory garden on their doorstep at the National Botanic Garden of Wales. Wildlife experts explain why you should visit.

Wildlife expert Sean McMenemy shares how sensory gardens can do wonders for our wellness whilst providing a safe haven for wildlife and encourages Carmarthenshire locals to visit their local sensory garden this autumn.

A sensory garden is an outdoor space that stimulates the five senses of sight, smell, touch, hearing and taste, and can be created in your own garden. Sensory gardens at home remain relatively rare, but the trend is growing with the TikTok hashtag ‘#sensorygarden’ amassing 499.1k views*. 

Carmarthenshire, dubbed the Garden of Wales, has a huge array of beautiful green spaces to explore. It’s home to the National Botanic Garden of Wales which spans a huge 568 acres, attracting hundreds of thousands of visitors each year. The stunning Great Glasshouse features a sensory trail that explores the largest single-span greenhouse in the world! From fluffy flowers from South Africa to a strongly scented Australian plant, it’ll engage all your senses. 

Having recently gifted King Charles with a beautiful oak sapling, the National Botanic Garden of Wales care deeply about the nation’s natural heritage. For those visiting the garden, the paths are wheelchair accessible with manual wheelchairs available on site. Open 10am – 6pm every day of the week.

Wildlife expert and founder of bird food provider Ark Wildlife, Sean McMenemy, explains the benefits of sensory gardening: “Sensory gardens provide a great deal of physical and mental benefits for different people and purposes. From getting vitamin D from sunlight to improving physical fitness by maintaining a garden, there are several physical benefits. Mentally, you can benefit from a mood boost and relaxation by spending time surrounded by calming stimulation.

“Sensory gardens can also have huge benefits for children, older people, those with learning disabilities and those who struggle with their physical and mental health. You can also create a sensory garden for your pets and garden wildlife!”

Top tips for creating your own sensory garden

If you do have the outdoor space, creating your own sensory garden is therapeutic in itself and doesn’t need to be a complicated process. The most important thing is to ensure that the garden engages all five senses. 

Melody Estes, landscape design gardening supervisor, says: “Whether you’re new to gardening or a seasoned pro, you can always improve your garden by adding some sensory elements.” 

Here are some tips from Melody for creating a sensory garden:

Sight – Plant colourful flowers that change with the seasons.

Sound – If you have a fountain or water feature on your property, consider adding some relaxing music to play alongside it. You could also place chimes near your front door to welcome people in.

Smell – Use scent. Consider planting scented flowers or herbs like lavender, rosemary and thyme that will give off a lovely aroma when they bloom.

Touch – Mix textures. The texture of plants can be as important as their colour and shape. Try using plants with soft leaves like ferns or grasses that are texturally different.

Taste – Planting herbs, fruits and vegetables not only provide tasty treats, but is a sustainable source of food.

Sean McMenemy adds: “Sensory gardens are an easy way to engage with wildlife and the outdoor environment. Growing your own plants and vegetables provides countless ways to learn about the natural world.

“You can bring your sensory garden to life by using bird feeders to attract beautiful feathered friends into your garden. They’ll bring the sound element to your sensory garden naturally. Fragrant flowers will attract colourful butterflies and other pollinators to your garden, giving you something to observe whilst helping nature to thrive.”

Some people may not have the time, money or space to create their own sensory garden. However, those with balconies and window ledges can still plant colourful, sweet-smelling flowers and edible plants. This mini sensory garden can still provide the benefits and satisfaction of an outdoor garden.

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Prince and Princess of Wales to visit Wales

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THE PRINCE and Princess of Wales have planned a trip to Wales to visit a variety of communities across the nation and learn about the work of key charitable organisations. 

The Prince and Princess have a deep affection for Wales, having made their first family home in Anglesey, and have thoroughly enjoyed their previous visits and the warmth and kindness shown by the Welsh people. 

Their Royal Highnesses are looking forward to spending more time in Wales over the next few years, they hope to strengthen their relationship with communities in all parts of Wales. 

During their first engagement, Their Royal Highnesses will visit the RNLI Holyhead Lifeboat Station, where they will meet crew, volunteers and some people who have been supported by their local unit.

Holyhead is one of the three oldest lifeboat stations on the Welsh coast and has a remarkable history of bravery, having received 70 awards for gallantry. 

Their Royal Highnesses will then take a short walk to the Holyhead Marine and Cafe Bar, where they will meet local people, including representatives of small businesses and organisations, including the Coastguard and Sea Cadets. 

In their second engagement, the Prince and Princess of Wales are expected to visit Swansea. 

Their Royal Highnesses will visit St Thomas Church, a re-developed church in Swansea which supports people in the local area and across the City and County of Swansea. 

Over the last two years the church has been transformed into a thriving community hub and is home to a vast array of services, including:

  • A foodbank which supports over 200 people per week
  • Swansea Baby Basics which distributes essential items for vulnerable mothers across the city, such as toiletries and clothes
  • Facilities for the homeless including food, showers and toilets
  • A not-for-profit cafe and community training kitchen
  • A surplus food distribution network which collects food from supermarkets at the end of each day and distributes it from the church to prevent food waste and to help end food poverty

As part of their visit, Their Royal Highnesses will meet those volunteering at the church across different initiatives including Baby Basics and the foodbank. Their Royal Highnesses will also spend some time meeting members of the public gathered outside the church. 

The Princess of Wales has previously worked with Baby Banks and the in summer of 2020 brought together 19 British brands and retailers to donate over 10,000 new items to more than 40 baby banks nationwide, operated by Baby Basics, Little Village and AberNecessities. 

Her Royal Highness has visited a number of baby banks across the UK, including in London, Sheffield and West Norfolk where she has spent time speaking with families about their experiences of using their local baby bank services, as well as helping unload donations. 

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Carmarthenshire farmer dies following attack by bull near Llandeilo

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A FARMER has died following an incident with a bull on a farm in Llandeilo.

The 58-year-old, named locally as Maldwyn Harrier, was attacked by the animal during a TB test on Friday morning.

Police have confirmed that they were called to a farm in the Penybanc area of Llandeilo, Carmarthenshire, and are investigating alongside the Health and Safety Executive. 

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