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Official opening for Wales’ first solar village

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pentre-solar-4TODAY (Jan 5) the Cabinet Secretary for Environment and Rural Affairs, Lesley Griffiths, will officially open the first solar village in Wales.

The village, named Pentre Solar, is situated at the Rhosygilwen estate and comprises six affordable houses which will use just 12% of the energy of a traditional home.

Funded by private sector company Western Solar, each three bedroom home has a modern design featuring a fitted kitchen, superfast broadband (as well as satellite and Freeview TV connections), a landscaped garden and, most interestingly, access to a shared electric car.

A highly innovative project, 80% of the heating needs for all of the properties will be provided by solar energy, meaning extremely low energy costs for future tenants. Adding to the sustainable nature of the build, the all timber homes also feature 11 inch insulation.

In an effort to address the affordable housing crisis in Pembrokeshire, the properties will be available for rent to those on the council housing register – and at 20% below the rental market rate. Those hoping to apply will need to have connections with the surrounding parishes; however, beyond that criteria, the houses will be allocated on a first come, first serve basis.

The idea behind the ‘revolutionary concept’, according to Western Solar, is to ‘build a truly sustainable business that can benefit the local community’.

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The Herald was able to speak to the man behind the ambitious development, Western Solar CEO and 2015 Eco Entrepreneur of the Year, Dr Glen Peters. As well as finding out a bit more about his links with Pembrokeshire, we discussed issues around affordable housing, the need for sustainable development, existing practices of the building industry, and future plans for Western Solar.

Having worked in London for some 35 years – and lived in Pembrokeshire ‘on and off’ for the last 20 years – Glen described how he ‘gradually fell in love with Pembrokeshire’, and has now based himself here full-time.
Discussing the need for a development such as Pentre Solar, Glen said: “There is unlimited demand for this – there are so many people in dire need of good quality housing.”

Admitting he wasn’t entirely sure of its accuracy, Glen referred to a statistic by Pembrokeshire County Council which estimated that the county is currently in need of some 6,000 homes.

One of the major obstacles in providing affordable housing, according to Glen, is ‘finding affordable land’.

He added: “Most of the available land to build on has been snapped up by developers.

“For a house to be affordable, you can’t have a plot that costs fifty to a hundred grand.”

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Seemingly undeterred by this financial obstacle, Glen stated: “For every problem, we have to find a solution.”

The solution in this instance, Glen added: “Local authorities need to release the land banks that they have.”

Elaborating on this comment, Glen went on: “This is not ripping up green fields; this is disused properties. The whole concept of Pentre Solar is small little hamlets.”

Another issue which Glen found during the Pentre Solar development is a certain objection by financial institutions towards the building materials used for the project.

“This is not a traditional build; this is not bricks and mortar, so building societies don’t want to lend.

“There is a physical barrier that we need to overcome about all timber houses.”

Developing on this idea, the question was posed as to how this new strategy for housing provision could change building industry practices in the UK.

Reiterating a previous point, Glen said: “The existing supply chains are all based around bricks and mortar; all the skills and all the trades are geared towards that as well.”

Contrary to modern practice, Glen emphasised: “Carpentry is the core skill for the house.”

With reference to ‘critical mass’, the eco entrepreneur went on to suggest the need for greater training and apprenticeship schemes for carpentry practices.

At the heart of the entire development is the theme of sustainability, with Glen stating: “The concept of recycling is very much at the core of our proposition. We’re recovering paper and using that as insulation – it’s all about trying to recycle, either the land, the insulation, the timber; we need that supply chain to be able to provide that.”

While the design for Pentre Solar was developed around sustainability, Glen admitted that not every aspect of the design was able to be implemented into the build. One such design was ‘rainwater harvesting’, a method of collecting rain and reusing it during the summer months.

With an eye on the future, Western Solar appear to have big plans in the pipeline. With reference to a comment about building 1,000 sustainable, affordable homes in the UK, Glen said how this falls under the company’s 10 year plan.

The company is also operating a three year plan which, if successful, will see the development of 100 homes ‘largely between counties in West Wales – Pembrokeshire, Carmarthenshire and Ceredigion’.

Glen added: “The most important things are access to land and the finance. The idea would be to create another hub in Wales and replicate the same idea somewhere else.”

Building on this point, Glen said: “When we’ve got used to the idea of replication with the same system repeatedly, then we think we could get to our target of 1,000.”

Reflecting on the finished product of Pentre Solar, Glen said: “I’m very pleased – it’s one of those things with any project, you go through enthusiasm, excitement, and then you reach a point were you feel destroyed, and then suddenly you see light at the end of the tunnel.”

“The reality is absolutely amazing.”

Glen is currently looking for sites for his next development, stressing: “We need to work on our relationships within the local authority.”

Pentre Solar is not the first green initiative that Glen has received praise for; he was also behind the first ever ‘solar park’ in Wales. Completed in 2011, the near 10,000 strong solar park – which used cutting edge technology imported from the United States – is designed to utilise the often cloudy weather of the area.

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The Range’s Swansea Store Shortlisted for ‘Best Christmas Display’

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Christmas has arrived early for The Range stores in Wales, boasting gigantic displays of all-things festive! The Range is well known for going all out during the Christmas season to create a fun and magical experience full of trees, lights, decorations and much more for their customers to enjoy and this year is no exception. The Range in Swansea surpassed expectations with a display so great, it’s left them shortlisted for ‘Best Christmas Display’ out of all The Range’s 182 stores.

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Local coronavirus restrictions imposed to control outbreaks in South Wales

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Coronavirus laws are being tightened in four more Welsh authorities – Blaenau Gwent, Bridgend, Merthyr Tydfil and Newport – following a sharp rise in cases, Health Minister Vaughan Gething today announced.

The new measures will come into force at 6pm on Tuesday 22 September 2020, to protect people’s health and control the spread of the virus in the four local authority areas.

The new restrictions will apply to everyone living in Blaenau Gwent, Bridgend, Merthyr Tydfil and Newport:

People will not be allowed to enter or leave these areas without a reasonable excuse, such as travel for work or education;
People will only be able to meet people they don’t live with outdoors for the time being. They will not be able to form, or be in, extended households;
All licensed premises will have to close at 11pm;
Everyone over 11 will be required to wear face coverings in indoor public areas – as is the case across Wales.
From 6pm on Tuesday 22 September, the requirement for all licensed premises to close at 11pm will also be extended to Caerphilly borough.

Health Minister, Vaughan Gething, said:

“Following the decision to place additional coronavirus restrictions in place in Caerphilly and Rhondda Cynon Taf, we have seen a worrying and rapid rise in cases in four other south Wales council areas – Blaenau Gwent, Bridgend, Merthyr Tydfil and Newport.

“In many cases, this is linked to people socialising indoors without social distancing. We are seeing evidence of coronavirus spreading. We need to take action to control and, ultimately, reduce its spread and protect people’s health.

“It’s always a difficult decision to introduce restrictions but coronavirus has not gone away – it is still circulating in communities across Wales and, as we are seeing in parts of South Wales, small clusters can quickly cause real issues in local communities.

“We need everyone’s help to bring coronavirus under control. We need everyone to pull together and to follow the measures which are there to protect you and your loved ones.”

The restrictions are being introduced following a rapid increase in the number of confirmed cases in coronavirus, which have been linked to people meeting indoors, not following social distancing guidelines and returning from summer holidays overseas.

The Welsh Government will call an urgent meeting of all local authority, health board and police forces from Bridgend to the English border tomorrow to discuss the wider situation in South Wales and whether further measures are needed across the region to protect people’s health.

The new local restrictions measures will be kept under regular review. They will be enforced by local authorities and by the police.

Keep Wales safe by:

Always keeping your distance
Washing your hands regularly
Working from home wherever you can
Following any local restrictions
Following the rules about meeting people
Staying at home if you or anyone in your extended household has symptoms.

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Welsh legislation will restrict those travelling from hotspot areas

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MARK Drakeford, First Minister of Wales, has today announced legislation which will restrict those coming from coronavirus hotspot’s from travelling to Wales.

The Prime Minister, Boris Johnson has refused to impose rules which prohibit those from areas where the infection rate is high from entering low virus rate areas’s.

Mr Drakeford has made two requests to the Prime Minister requesting to impose rules which will mean those from high virus areas in England be prohibited from travelling to Wales, a request which has been denied by Mr Johnson.

The powers set by Mr Drakeford will come into force by the end of the week, unless Boris Johnson takes action sooner.

Speaking at the Plenary today, Mr Drakeford made the announcement, stating if Mr Johnson does not reply to his request by Friday then The Welsh Government will bring in legislation to restrict travel from those in English lockdown areas travelling to Wales.

Mr Drakeford said this was not a case of all those from England being restricted travel to Wales, just hotspot areas.

He said: “Evidence from public health professionals suggests coronavirus is moving from east to west across the UK and across Wales. As a general rule, it is concentrating in urban areas and then spreading to more sparsely populated areas as a result of people travelling.

“Much of Wales in now subject to local restriction measures because levels of the virus have risen and people living in those areas are not able to travel beyond their county boundary without a reasonable excuse. This is designed to prevent the spread of infection within Wales and to other areas of the UK.

“We are preparing to take this action to prevent people who live in areas where there are higher Covid infection rates across the UK from travelling to Wales and bringing the virus with them.

“I am determined to keep Wales safe.”

The legislation, which is understood to come into force Friday, October 16 at 6pm, will mean those travelling to Wales from areas of England which are classed as virus hotspot’s will be restricted.

The new legislation also restricts those travelling into Wales from high virus prevalence areas from Northern Ireland and Scotland.

The Leader of the Opposition in the Welsh Parliament – Paul Davies MS – has rounded on the First Minister over a ban on people entering Wales from England, and the Labour Party’s inability or unwillingness to publish comprehensive data proving that transmission rates are accelerating due to travel.

Mr Davies took the First Minister to task during Plenary today (October 14), and referred to a statement made by the leader of the Labour Party on September 23 when he said that the Welsh Government was not seeing any spikes at all in infection due to travel and tourism.

Mr Davies said that the people of Wales deserve to have sight of the data that underpins the Welsh Labour-led Government’s position on this matter, so that they can be confident that the Government’s actions are proportionate to the threat of the virus in their area.

Mr Davies also referred to a paper that accompanied the First Minister’s letter to the Prime Minister yesterday, a paper – that was not peer-reviewed – that confirms the data “…does not constitute definitive proof” in favour of a travel ban.

Mr Davies said: “The First Minister and his Government have acted rashly and without examining a range of other factors before a conclusion on whether to impose a travel ban or not is reached, while at the same time seemingly ignoring the fact that transmission rates in relation to travel had already peaked in August and September.

“It is incumbent on the First Minister to explain just why he has chosen to act in this way, and what supporting evidence he and his Ministers have seen to justify a ban and then publish it so it can be properly scrutinised.

“If he cannot or will not, then he must review and rescind this ban immediately.”

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