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Guildhall closure confirmed by UK Government

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Carmarthen Guildhall: Will close after almost 250 years

Carmarthen Guildhall: Will close after almost 250 years

FOLLOWING a consultation into court closures carried out by the UK Government, it has been confirmed that the Guildhall in Carmarthen will be closed.

However, the Carmarthen Civil, Family, Tribunal and Probate Hearing Centre on Picton Terrace, which was also originally on the consultation list, has been spared. It is one of just five out of 91 courts earmarked for closure to have escaped, and the only one in Wales.

The report on the provision of court and tribunal estate in England and Wales was released on Thursday (Feb 11). It follows a consultation which began in July last year, and led to concerns being raised from local politicians of all parties, as well as the Police and Crime Commissioner Christopher Salmon.

The report states that an alternative venue to the Guildhall has been identified ‘to receive the workload in order to reduce the impact of the closure on court users.’ It is not yet known which venue is intended for this use.

After the closures were announced, Parliamentary Under- Secretary of State for Justice, Minister for the Courts and Legal Aid, Shailesh Vara said:

“The government is committed to modernising the way in which justice is accessed and delivered. We are investing over £700m over the next 4 years to update the court and tribunal estate, installing modern IT systems and making the justice system more efficient and effective for modern users.

“Working closely with the judiciary, we have begun installing Wi-Fi and digital systems in our criminal courts but much more needs to be done. We want to make the entire justice system more accessible to everyone – witnesses, victims, claimants, police and lawyers – by using modern technology including online plea, claims and evidence systems and video conferencing, reducing the need for people to travel to court.

“As part of this modernisation, the court and tribunal estate has to be updated. Many of the current 460 court buildings are underused: last year 48% of all courts and tribunals were empty for at least half their available hearing time. These buildings are expensive to maintain yet unsuitable for modern technology.

“Court closures are difficult decisions; local communities have strong allegiances to their local courts and I understand their concerns. But changes to the estate are vital if we are to modernise a system which everybody accepts is unwieldy, inefficient, slow, expensive to maintain and unduly bureaucratic.

“On 16 July 2015 I therefore announced a consultation on proposals to close 91 courts and tribunals in England and Wales. Over 2,100 separate responses were received, along with 13 petitions containing over 10,000 signatures. I am grateful to all who took the time to provide their views. It is clear from the responses that the service our courts and tribunals provide continues to be highly valued.

“Having considered carefully all responses to the consultation, we have decided to close 86 of the 91 courts and tribunals. 64 sites will close as proposed in the consultation. A further 22 closures will take place but with changes to the original proposals. These changes, many suggested by respondents, include the identification of suitable alternative venues, such as local civic buildings; or different venues in the HMCTS estate to those originally proposed. I am very grateful to all those who engaged with the consultation to help us to reach the best solutions.

“On average, the 86 courts we are closing are used for just over a third of their available hearing time. That is equivalent to less than 2 days a week. It will still be the case that after these closures, over 97% of citizens will be able to reach their required court within an hour by car. This represents a change of just 1 percentage points for both criminal and County Courts. The proportion able to reach a tribunal within an hour by car will remain unchanged at 83%.

“For each proposal in the consultation, we have considered access to justice; value for money; and efficiency. The consultation response, which is being published today, contains details of all the decisions and changes including an indicative timetable for closures, and will be placed in the Libraries of both Houses.”

The news that legal proceedings will remain in the town was welcomed by Plaid Cymru MP Jonathan Edwards, who has led the campaign to retain legal services in the town. However, he called on the Ministry of Justice to ensure that cases are not centralised in Llanelli.

Mr Edwards said: “Today’s news is bitter sweet in that we will see the closure of that iconic Guildhall Courthouse but our efforts, including those of the legal profession, local Magistrates and the public at large, have succeeded in retaining legal proceedings in the town. This is a significant achievement when we consider the historical and cultural importance of Carmarthen as the judicial capital of west Wales.

“It does, however, seem bizarre to me that the government will close a building on which it has recently spent millions of pounds to maintain. Indeed closing the building represents a colossal waste of public money by the Conservative government.

“Equal access to justice is a hallmark of a civil society. It is at the heart of a democratic society. Westminster’s ideology with closure and centralisation of services away from communities undermines entirely the notion of local justice and would have a profound impact on local residents.

“That is why the Ministry of Justice must now commit to ensuring cases that would once be heard in the Guildhall are instead heard in the Probate Hearing Centre. There is no excuse for the Hearing Centre not to adapt to accommodate more cases. Doing this would put the buffers on centralisation and uphold the principle of local access to justice.

“Confirmation that legal proceedings will remain in Carmarthen Town is a partial victory and is to be welcomed. But my work as a local MP won’t stop until the Ministry of Justice stops its centralisation agenda and commits to hearing more cases in Carmarthen.”

Last year Mr Edwards exposed how the UK Government had spent a staggering £1.72million to maintain the two Carmarthen courts in the last six years – closing the Guildhall, he said, would demonstrate a colossal waste of public money.

Carmarthen Town South County Councillor Alun Lenny said that the closure of the Guildhall was ‘obviously disappointing but not unexpected.’

“It brings to an end almost 500 years of criminal court hearings in the town,” he added. However, Cllr Lenny was ‘very glad’ to hear that the Family, Tribunal and Probate Centre would be retained:

“Closing those facilities would have been a terrible blow to the legal profession in Carmarthen, and there were fears that many solicitors would move their offices to Llanelli and Swansea, increasing inconvenience for their clients,” he added.

Cllr Lenny suggested that it was time to look to the future of the Guildhall, which as a listed historic building – a status which includes the Crown Court inside – would be unsuitable for most commercial uses.

“This iconic building must be retained, and here is an opportunity now to make the Guildhall a jewel in the crown of heritage in Carmarthen,” he added.

“It has so much potential as a centre where the events and people of Carmarthen in the past can be celebrated and explained to local people and visitors alike today.

“The Crown Court itself is like a miniature House of Lords, with its extensive oak panelling and red leather seats. This has to be retained in its present form, and the huge invaluable paintings of Generals Nott and Picton must also remain in situ.

“The court has seen some momentous cases – from the transportation of Rebecca Rioters for smashing tollgates to Welsh language demonstrators campaigning for a Welsh language TV channel. In 1953, it also witnessed the sentencing of Ronnie Harries to death – one of the last people to be hanged in Wales.

“Looking to the future, the important thing is that this building is secured by a body which can run it as a heritage centre.”

Acknowledging that no information was available concerning whether the building would be made available, Cllr Lenny called on the Home Office to gift the building to the people of Carmarthen.

“It would be a gesture of goodwill after depriving the town of a justice centre after 500 years!” he added.

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Carmarthenshire Archives’ new building officially opened

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ON MONDAY, November 28, Cllr Rob Evans, Chair of Carmarthenshire County Council, unveiled a specially designed plaque to commemorate the official opening of the brand new Carmarthenshire Archives building.

The official opening was attended by year 6 pupils of Ysgol Y Dderwen, along with their Headteacher Mr Dylan Evans, who designed the plaque by compiling various artwork and sketches that are housed at the Archives.

Established in 1959, Carmarthenshire Archives is the local authority archive service for the County of Carmarthenshire and the new building is located at St Peter’s Street, Carmarthen. 

The service is home to our extensive collection of historic documents that date from the 13th century to the present day. The collection includes archives, maps, books, photographs, videos and sound recordings. It is the Archives’ mission to preserve and make its documents available for general study and research.

Admission to Carmarthenshire Archives is free and open to anyone who wishes to use the Council’s records. Most of its services are free, but we do charge for some extra services and help.

Speaking at the opening ceremony, Cabinet Member for Regeneration, Leisure, Culture and Tourism, Cllr Gareth John commented:

“Congratulations to the pupils of Ysgol Y Dderwen, they have designed an excellent and appropriate plaque that is inspired by the treasure troves of our archives. It was wonderful to welcome them to the official opening so that they can see their work take pride of place at a building that holds great significance to us in Carmarthenshire. 

“This is a brand new and modern building that is fit to keep and protect our county’s most precious historical documents. 

“But of course, these documents are meant to be viewed and studied by school children, students, academics and anybody who has an interest in Carmarthenshire’s rich history; and this excellent facility provides the perfect space for people to come and view these treasures.”

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Business

Llandeilo gas works to begin say Wales & West Utilities

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WALES & West Utilities will shortly begin work to upgrade gas pipes in Llandeilo.

Wales & West Utilities has liaised with Carmarthenshire County Council to plan the work and it has been agreed that work will commence after the town has celebrated the Festival of Senses.

The £123,000 investment scheme, which is essential to keep the gas flowing safely to heat and power local homes and businesses, will begin in New Road on 21 November. This section of work will be complete before Christmas and Wales & West Utilities will return to the town next year to undertake further work in the Crescent Road area. Barring any engineering difficulties, work in the town will be complete by the end of February next year.

Wales & West Utilities Adam Smith is managing this gas pipe upgrade work. He said: “Working with the Council, we have planned this work to accommodate the needs of the town.

“While most of the gas network is underground and out of sight, it plays a central role in the daily lives of people across Llandeilo. Whether it’s heating your home, making the family dinner or having a hot bath, we understand how important it is for your gas supply to be safe and reliable and there when you need it.

“We know that working in areas like this is not ideal, but it really is essential to make sure we keep the gas flowing to homes and businesses in the area, and to make sure the gas network is fit for the future. We’ll have a team of gas engineers on site throughout the project to make sure our work is completed as safely and as quickly as possible while keeping disruption to a minimum.

“This work is essential to keep the gas flowing to local homes and businesses today, and to make sure the gas network is ready to transport hydrogen and biomethane, so we can all play our part in a green future.”

Our Customer Service Team is ready to take your call if you have any questions about our work. You can contact them on freephone 0800 912 2999.

Alternatively, you can contact us on Twitter @WWUtilities or Facebook.com/WWUtilities.

Wales & West Utilities, the gas emergency and pipeline service, brings energy to 7.5m people across the south west of England and Wales. If you smell gas, or suspect the presence of carbon monoxide, call us on 0800 111 999 straight away, and our engineers will be there to help any time of day or night. Before visiting, we’ll ask you to let us know if you or anyone in your household, is experiencing Coronavirus symptoms or self-isolating. We’ll still come and help you: but our teams will take some additional precautions to keep us all safe.

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Police appeal following theft of items from Home Bargains Crosshands

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OFFICERS from Dyfed Powys Police have confirmed that they are investigating the theft of items, including a Christmas Nutcracker Ornament valued at £129.99, from the Home Bargains store in Crosshands, Carmarthenshire.

The theft occurred at about 12:40pm on Tuesday, 27th September 2022.

Officers have carried out all possible lines of enquiry, and are now appealing for help from the public.

They would like to identify the people in the CCTV image, who may have information that could help the investigation.

Anyone who knows who the people are, or if you believe you are pictured, contact Dyfed-Powys Police.

This can also be done either online at: https://bit.ly/DPPContactOnline, by emailing 101@dyfed-powys.police.uk or phoning 101.

If you are deaf, hard of hearing, or speech impaired text the non-emergency number on 07811 311 908.

Please quote reference DPP/2006/27/09/2022/02/C

Alternatively, contact the independent charity Crimestoppers anonymously by calling 0800 555111, or visiting crimestoppers-uk.org.

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