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Proud of the past, looking to the future

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Robert Lloyd

Robert Lloyd

ROBERT LLOYD is the former editor of the Llanelli Star and the Carmarthen Journal. He was also deputy editor at the Evening Post. His career as a journalist started when he walked into the office of the Carmarthen Journal and asked for a summer job. Although he achieved grades for university Robert opted for an apprenticeship with the Journal and eventually became the editor. The Herald caught up with him in his recording studio where he produces the talking newspaper for the partially sighted and the blind.

We asked Robert if there was difference to his life now that he has retired from life as a newspaper editor and he told us: “There is a huge difference, I spent 32 years in journalism. When I turned 50, I got out of it.

“I now run my own marketing and PR Company RLloyd PR. I am also part time project officer for the Llanelli Railway Goods Shed. We are hoping to bring it back to life as a community hub. I am the chair of the talking newspaper association. We have a team of 25 volunteers who turn up here and record programmes once a fortnight for blind and partially sighted people. It is a nice rewarding job we do here and help people who are unable to read the local papers and we are looking to develop an online version. The news programme we produce here also gets used on Llanelli Hospital Radio. The news is very localised and we tell people what is going on in their community.

“One of the things I found when I left newspapers was that I could do different things and I had more of a licence to roam. I have worked for the Welsh Government and I covered the Para Olympics interviewing world-class athletes. I was also able to go over on an aid mission to Kosovo with Val Newton. There are pressures and deadlines still but it is a different sort of pressure.”

Given Robert’s long and successful career in journalism the Herald wanted to ask him if it was important for reporters to research their articles before they were placed on the editor’s desk. Calling on his vast experience Robert said, “It is crucial and it is something I used to drill into my reporters. Many of the journalists I trained went on to work for the Guardian and the BBC. You have to get your facts right and if you do it correctly the editor has confidence. People used to ask if I read every word before it went to print, I didn’t. You are bound to get errors because it is a human process but getting your facts right is important.”

Many of the journalists Robert worked with are now ensconced in the press department of Carmarthenshire County Council. We asked Robert if this was worrying in any way given the relationship the council has with those newspapers today.

The wily former editor called upon his years of experience and responded: “I am old enough to remember when Dyfed’s press department was one person and a secretary. It became slightly comical watching my staff being poached to work in local government. Some of those staff were very good at scrutiny of local officers so I guess it was one less person for them to worry about in the world of newspapers. They have a bigger department than most of the local papers.”

With instances of planted puff pieces in some local press, we asked Robert if it was possible for people to exert their influence over newspapers in order to get their own message across.

His response was forthright and got to the heart of the knotty issue of what makes a local newspaper: “What I tend to see is that there are weaknesses in newspapers and it isn’t the fault of staff as such. I was lucky enough to work with an experienced team of journalists and the papers may not have that kind of benefit today. It is possible for people to throw a bit of smoke and throw mirrors in front of them. Local reporters wouldn’t deliberately set out to hoodwink the local public but there are some very clever people out there.”

The Herald asked Robert if he ever felt like allowing his own personal feelings run amok in the newspaper. He was very firm in his response and said: “I’d have to say no because I was there as the editor not to reflect my own personal views but as a litmus paper test for the community. Frequently I published things I disagreed with but I wanted to get it out there to get it talked about.

Continuing, he drew attention to one particularly knotty story: “I am thinking about the debate over Stradey Park when they left there. The Scarlets were keen for positive coverage but there was an undercurrent and people had negative thoughts so we aired both sides and there were some sparky moments. It was our duty to present both sides of the story and let people make up their own minds.”

He continued: “There were times when I had to write on something in Carmarthen and that might say what great news something was for Carmarthen and then drive to Llanelli and write the same thing but say it was terrible news for Llanelli. Personal preferences have to be set aside.”

It was too good an opportunity to miss and we asked Robert what he thought of the new kid on the block, the Llanelli and Carmarthenshire Herald. He was extremely generous in his response and told us: “I take my hat off to the Herald management. I have been observing what they have done in Pembrokeshire and it’s been very impressive. They actually asked the questions and took on the local authority where mainstream didn’t. I was keen to give the manager of the Herald a slap on the back really for being bold enough to take what they are doing in Pembrokeshire and transfer that into Carmarthenshire. It is a bit of a breath of fresh air.”

He continued to highlight the risks to independent local newspapers: “There is a danger sometimes that if you have a one-newspaper town it becomes complacent. I am also glad to see it is under local ownership. Large corporations who have no affinity with Wales own Welsh papers. They are profit driven for shareholders and that doesn’t stay in Wales. Print isn’t dead and I think there is room for a good, well run local newspaper, which gives people cause to talk about things in the street. The Journal and the Star were set up by a small group of people and they were slightly philanthropic. It wasn’t seen as a cash cow.”

We asked Robert if he had seen an erosion in local democracy. He said, “It’s been there as a story for a good many years. People are frustrated by the lack of transparency in the local council. Perhaps things will change now that Plaid Cymru is in partnership with the independents. What happens in terms of regime will be interesting to follow.”

He was, however, cautious about the influence individual councillors can exercise: “I have seen new councillors starting out and they are full of good intentions and they want to change the world and bit-by-bit they have the stuffing knocked out of them. There isn’t enough oomph coming from the councillors themselves to say that this is our council and we will run this as we see fit rather than being told by chief officers for example. There is still a suspicion that Carmarthenshire is too much of an officer led council.”

Speaking about the differences between the towns of Llanelli and Carmarthen Robert told us, “Llanelli has suffered more in terms of its shopping profile than Carmarthen. Carmarthen has had the investment. The development of the shopping centre in Carmarthen has affected the shops in King Street. When Tesco moved out of Llanelli you are left with a donut. When they left there were codicils, which said that the place could not be used for retail.”

Looking at the malign effects of recent developments, Robert articulated some deeply held concerns: “We have had the Eastgate development, which was structured to be a store with, shops around it. It is now council offices with one or two shops and a pub around it. When Stradey moved out another retail park was created in Trostre. There was no linkage to encourage people back into town. There isn’t much wrong with it, it is flat, easy to walk; some of the fringes are suffering. They haven’t integrated Eastgate and the town centre. The plans showed linked wooden walkways but that hasn’t happened. The simplest level would be free car parking. We should compete with Trostre and Pemberton. Some investment may go into the empty shops but I believe it is only a million pounds so it won’t go far. If we could find ways of getting these properties back into use that would be good for Llanelli.

The Herald asked Robert what he would do if he had a pot of money equal to what had been spent in places like Parc Y Scarlets. In true community spirited generosity and with the vision of a man who loves his home town he replied, “I am involved in the goods shed project and that speaks to everybody in the community. It is in an area of town that hasn’t had a lot done for it.”

On the pull of the Scarlets, he was clear as to the advantages and disadvantages of one big attraction: “Rugby speaks to certain people. I think the figures for tourism regarding the Scarlets have been overstated. There is a huge community need for that area and it will be an attraction and a heritage site and have everything from music studio, café there is land around it so we could have gardens, farmers markets, boot sales.”

He continued: “You can invest in projects like the Scarlets but not everyone is a rugby fan. Sometimes I think that not enough of the positive work is reported on. Llanelli community partnership is a group of various organisations wanting to make Llanelli a better place to live. There is a huge army of volunteers working hard to improve the town. The Goods shed is about asking the community what they want and providing a place where community groups can set up, social enterprises and business start-ups. Llanelli needs investment and the communities help.”

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Have your say on the future of housing in Carmarthenshire

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RESIDENTS and businesses are being urged to have their say on the future of housing in Carmarthenshire.

Carmarthenshire County Council is developing a new 10-year Housing and Regeneration Masterplan and residents are being asked for their views.

Providing quality, affordable homes is a key priority for the council and it is investing millions of pounds in new housing stock; creating much-needed jobs and helping to grow the local economy and regenerate communities.

In 2015, the council became the first in Wales to suspend the Right to Buy to retain its declining housing stock, and built a number of bungalows – the first local authority housing to be built in Wales since the 1980s.

A year later, in 2016, it launched its affordable homes plan to deliver 1,000 additional affordable homes in the county by 2021 by building new, buying from the market and converting empty buildings.

Now the council is shaping its plans for the next 10 years which includes building over 900 new council homes and investing nearly £150million across the county by 2029.

It is important that the new homes are of the right type, size and tenure, and in the right places to build strong sustainable communities where people want to live and work.

The Housing and Regeneration Masterplan will also recognise the role of housing development and investment in stimulating the overall economic growth of the county – which is now even more critical as we recover from the economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Residents are being encouraged to take part in our online consultation which starts on Monday, June 14.

Cllr Linda Evans, Executive Board Member for Housing, said: “We are proud to be leading the way here in Carmarthenshire to deliver new, affordable, high quality and much-needed homes for local people.

“We have already achieved so much during the last few years, but we must now plan for the next 10 years and we need the views of our residents to help tell us where they think these homes should be developed, who should have them, and what type and size they should be.

“We are committed to making more homes available for those in highest need, and aim to deliver a plan that will provide homes in communities where people want to live, with a range of homes to suit specific needs.

“This includes our rural towns and villages, where we must help to make sure that local people are able to afford quality affordable homes and remain in their communities; as well as increasing the residential offer in our town centres, increasing footfall and helping businesses to thrive.

“Aside from providing much needed homes in the county, the investment will also boost the local economy creating jobs, training opportunities and apprenticeships in the construction industry.”

The council is delivering this commitment in a number of ways, including building more council homes and working with housing association partners to deliver more new build schemes, buying stock that suits our needs, working with developers to ensure a range of affordable homes are built as part of private developments and bringing empty homes back into use. 

It is also actively working with landlords to encourage them to make their properties available at affordable rent levels, including bringing more private sector homes into the management of our in-house social lettings agency.

To take part in the survey please visit the consultation pages on the council website carmarthenshire.gov.wales/consultations Paper copies are available from one of our customer service Hwbs. The survey closes on July 26.

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Community wardens hit the streets of Tyisha and Glanymor

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CARMARTHENSHIRE County Council has appointed two new community wardens to patrol the Tyisha and Glanymor areas of Llanelli.

The community wardens will support the local Neighbourhood Policing Team and other agencies to provide a visible presence within the area and will have a varied role which will include:

  • Patrolling hot spot areas to deter crime and anti-social behaviour
  • Tackling vandalism and fly tipping as well as issues relating to communal areas and open spaces/parks
  • Supporting the introduction of a Neighbourhood Watch Scheme
  • Organising the installation of crime prevention measures
  • Offering targeted support to vulnerable members of the community
  • Encourage wellbeing activities and community engagement with youth projects, schools and clubs including the promotion of volunteering opportunities.

Linda Evans, chair of the Tyisha steering group and executive board member for housing said: “I am delighted that Tyisha and Glanymor now have community wardens who will work closely with Dyfed Powys Police and other agencies to deliver a multi-agency approach to tackling issues of community concern. In response to community feedback they will prioritise tackling anti-social behaviour issues, reducing crime relating to drug and alcohol misuse and engaging with the community to make positive changes throughout Tyisha and Glanymor.”

Ann Davies, Executive Board Member and vice-chair of the Tyisha Steering Group said: “The work carried out by the community wardens will make a positive difference through helping to reduce fear of crime and incidents of anti-social behaviour as well as improving quality of life for those who live in these communities.”

The introduction of community wardens to the Tyisha area forms part of the council’s ambitious Transforming Tyisha project which looks to regenerate the area through increasing community safety, developing housing and community facilities and improving the environment.

To contact the community wardens or for more information on joining Tyisha and Glanymor’s Neighbourhood Watch Scheme please e-mail tyisha@carmarthenshire.gov.uk

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Pollinators protected during annual grass verge cuts

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CARMARTHENSHIRE County Council highways crews are starting their annual roadside grass cutting operations this week, but not every verge will be fully cut.

As part of its duty to protect biodiversity, grass will only be cut in one metre swathes in most areas where growth is affecting road visibility and pedestrian safety and several verges will be left until later in the year allowing flowers to set seed before being cut.

Much of Carmarthenshire’s roadside growth of grass and wildflowers will be left untouched to support local wildlife and pollinating insects.

Cuts will only be taken in these areas if there are health and safety concerns, particularly in 30-40mph areas in towns and villages.

Cllr Hazel Evans, the council’s executive Board Member for Environment, said the authority has taken a careful view of grass cutting operations not just for the sake of biodiversity but also to keep costs down.

“We have to carefully balance the needs of local wildlife with our responsibility for highway safety,” she said. “The importance of the road verge network for nature conservation is reflected in our verge maintenance policy. We delay the cutting of some verges in the interests of conservation as long as highway safety for motorists, cyclists, horse riders and pedestrians is not jeopardised.

“This is not only a reflection of our duty to the environment but also follows budget reviews which have identified cost savings by reducing and delaying grass cutting operations.”

Pollinating insects are essential for the maintenance of ecosystems through pollination of the wild plants which form the basis of most habitats. They also play an important role in the production of many crops.

The council works to conserve and enhance biodiversity and has a range of projects to support local species and habitats.

Managing areas for wildlife can provide opportunities for individuals, community groups and schools to get involved, benefiting wildlife and people.

Visit www.carmarthenshire.gov.wales/biodiversity for further information and ideas for ways to support local conservation. 

For further information on highways operations, visit the website’s travel, roads and parking pages.

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