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Records smashed as garden blossoms

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Family appeal: The garden is great for all ages

THE NATIONAL BOTANIC GARDEN OF WALES has recorded a 17% increase in visitors and record commercial figures for 2016/17, generating an operating surplus for the third year in a row.

The 20,000 rise in people through the door for the year to the end of March has been quickly followed by record-breaking figures for April, when visitor numbers more than doubled at the Carmarthenshire attraction.

With take-up in Garden membership beating all records up 16% as part of a £174,000 increase in commercial income – despite an £89,000 fall in public sector funding – and plenty of plans in place for new attractions and investment, Botanic Garden bosses are buoyant at the prospect for 2017.

Director Huw Francis said: “If the present is anything to go by, the future looks bright.”

Mr Francis explained that the Garden has been working hard at broadening its appeal and new developments introduced in 2016 had proved a big hit with local people and tourists alike: “We’ve invested in a new play park, a hay bale maze, water zorbing and a brand new tropical Butterfly House, the development of which has created a huge amount of interest.”

This year, the Garden is teaming up with award-winning Pembrokeshire Falconry to create the British Bird of Prey Centre which, says Mr Francis, will increase footfall still further with daily flying displays of amazing native birds of prey. The target is for 10% year on year increases in visitors over the next five years.

All this good news comes hot on the heels of the announcement by the Heritage Lottery Fund that it is backing the Garden’s Regency Restoration project to the tune of £3.55 million, which will reinstate one of Britain’s finest historic water parks and create one of Wales’ premier heritage attractions.

With plans to introduce camping and glamping on the 568-acre site in 2018, Mr Francis is confident the ambitious programme of growth will continue to pay dividends: “Last year was a big success for us in terms of visitor numbers and commercial return. And this new financial year has started with a bang, seeing our April visitor figure surge to a pretty amazing 19,456 up from last year’s 9,632.”

Head of Development, Rob Thomas, said: “The success of this fresh approach is clearly evidenced by last year’s results and the start we’ve made to this year.

“We have big plans for headline-grabbing summer events and these, coupled with the other new ventures, will drive up interest even further and keep people coming back over and over again – all of which will underpin our long-term sustainability and will firmly establish the Garden’s position as an iconic, must-see destination and a national asset for all of Wales.”

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Community

Llandeilo Festival publishes its Entertainment schedule

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“CHILDREN AND families are at the heart of our festival this year,” announces festival vice chair Debbie Ince. “On Friday 18th November the festival stalls will start trading at 10am but in the evening there will be the official opening, followed at 6:15pm by Santa coming through the town on his sleigh. A children’s Lantern procession from CK to King Street led by Llandeilo Primary School’s Samba group will meet Santa on King Street to tunes by the Llandeilo Town Band and bilingual hymn singer Ffion Haf. Once the children had their fill of Santa, the Christmas Lights will be switched on by Mayor Gordon Kilby. Local legend singer and actor Harry Luke and Ffion Haf will entertain the crowd until 8pm.”

People enjoying the festival

A spectacular and pet-friendly Laser Show will replace the controversial fireworks at 8pm. “There’s also a tea cup ride on King Street for kids,” adds Ince. “On Saturday and Sunday kids can go to Santa’s Grotto 10 – 4, and on Saturday to St Teilo’s Church or Hengwrt for activities. At our park and ride on Beechwood Estate ‘Sgiliau’ will be open for our youngest visitors.”

“There is of course plenty of entertainment for adults, too,” adds festival chair Christoph Fischer. “From Davies & Co Station Road to Flows on Market Street, most Llandeilo venues will play indoor music, many day and night. The stage will host a variety of acts: from school and adult choirs, bands, solo singers and dance groups, such as Mixed Youth Group, Lotus Sisters Belly dancers and Sunflowers Wales. Cooking demonstrations on Saturday and a Santa Run on Sunday morning round up the festival programme. You can find updates on the Llandeilo Town App Dyma Llandeilo.”

Santa at the Parade

“With our wide selection of street food, arts-,crafts-, fashion- and food stalls there should be something for everyone,” adds stalls coordinator and treasurer Mered Williams. “See you all on the 18th.!”

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Community

Carmarthenshire County Council has launched its annual Christmas Toybox Appeal

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The appeal, in its 12th year, helps hundreds of children with families who can’t afford to buy toys or gifts.

Last year saw us help more families than ever who were struggling financially with more than 7,700 gifts distributed to 1,287 children. This year during these unprecedented times we rely on support more than ever.

The appeal was launched online for the first time in 2020 following the coronavirus pandemic and people were asked to make a financial donation instead of buying gifts and toys.

This year people can either give a financial donation or drop off gifts from games, arts and craft items to toiletry gift sets for all ages – from 18 months up to teenagers, at one of a number of collection points around the county.

Schools, family centres and youth workers identify those who are in greatest need of support and council staff will distribute them in the run-up to Christmas.

The council’s executive board member responsible for the Toybox Appeal, Cllr Linda Evans said:

“I am proud to be following on from the legacy of Cllr Mair Stephens who sadly passed away earlier this year. The Toybox appeal this year is going to be more important than ever. We have always had fantastic support and this year we hope this will continue to ensure that hundreds of children will receive a Christmas gift. We know times are hard, but if people are able to spare a gift or a donation no matter how big or small, it will make a great difference to those families less fortunate.”

You can make a donation of your choice online at the Christmas Toy Box Appeal website. If you have a cash or cheque donation please call 01267 246504.

To view the collection point locations please visit the council’s website

Donations are being taken up until November 30.

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Council responds at pace to deliver significant improvements in its planning Service

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Audit Wales has carried out a Follow-up Review of Planning Services by Carmarthenshire County Council and concluded that the council has successfully addressed all its recommendations.

In July 2021, Audit Wales published a report following a review of the council’s planning services, with its findings identifying significant and long-standing performance issues in the planning service that needed to be urgently addressed to help support the delivery of the council’s ambitions.

A total of 17 recommendations were made by Audit Wales for the council to address. All of which the report has confirmed have been met.

In response to the recommendations of the report, Carmarthenshire County Council convened an Intervention Board to provide oversight of a 49 point action plan to respond to the Audit Wales findings that were published in July 2021. Over the past 15 months, progress against the plan has been monitored through the council’s governance framework to provide assurance of progress made against the recommendations.

Audit Wales has been following the council’s progress through regular catch-up meetings with the council, document reviews and observing governance and audit committee meetings. They have also interviewed key council officers during the audit process.

Within the follow up-review, which can be viewed on their website, Audit Wales states that:

“The Council is to be commended for the swift, decisive action it took in response to the findings of our 2021 report, and for the way it has driven improvements in its planning service.

“The constructive way in which the Council received our report and acted on the recommendations is a particularly positive example of a Council demonstrating its commitment to driving improvement in service delivery.

“The Council has learnt lessons from the review that it has also applied more widely, particularly in relation to performance management.

“Overall, we found that the Council has successfully addressed all our recommendations and has responded at pace to deliver significant improvements in its planning service.”

Cabinet member for rural affairs and planning policy, Cllr Ann Davies said:

“I am very pleased with the Audit Wales report which states that Carmarthenshire County Council has succeeded in overcoming challenges within our planning department.

“The report is excellent, it praises the work and the change in systems, procedures and leadership, recognising the significant improvement that has been achieved.

“The issues in question were not due to a lack of work ethic, as I know first-hand of the effort and commitment that is put in by a number of our officers. It was rather the processes which were to blame and needed to be adjusted, as it did not provide officers with the appropriate environment to carry out the work required.

“I would like to thank all council officers that have worked so hard since the Spring of 2021 to achieve the goal of meeting all 17 of the recommendations that were initially set out by Audit Wales.

“The next step, of course, is to keep going, keep moving forward to stay at the forefront as one of the most productive planning authorities in Wales. There is further work to be done and we are committed to continuous improvement, especially in the world of enforcement but we are moving in the right direction with over 1000 enforcement cases having already been resolved in the last year.”

Click here to visit the Audit Wales website and view a full copy of the Follow-up Review of Planning Services.

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