News in brief: ‘Alarming’ Anglesey Covid spike prompts fresh appeal
Gareth Williams, local democracy reporter
An ‘alarming’ spike in COVID-19 cases on Anglesey could see the island suffer its highest positivity rate since the start of the pandemic.
On Tuesday the local authority reported 29 positive cases on the island, prompting council chiefs to launch a fresh appeal for residents to comply with government guidance.
In total 88 positive tests were recorded during the first five days of January, over a third of those recorded during the whole of December (229).
The surge in cases is being blamed on the impact of Christmas and the New Year period, with the local situation described as having “changed for the worst” with a “much greater” level of community transmission.
As a result, the leader of the council urged residents to do all they could to stop further spread across the island.
“It is now more important than ever that we all follow the all-important guidance,” said Cllr Llinos Medi.
“The rules are there to protect our loved ones, our communities and the NHS.
“I fully appreciate that the last 10 months have been incredibly tough and challenging for us all. We can’t let all this hard work go to waste.
“We must continue to be as vigilant as possible.”
The latest seven-day figures for the island show 189.9 infections per 100,000 people, which is over three times higher than those required last autumn to trigger ‘local lockdowns.’
The authority reported that over 14% of the 839 residents tested over the past week have reported back as positive – an increase of 8% on the previous week.
The council’s Chief Executive, Annwen Morgan, added: “We are currently seeing high levels of Coronavirus cases across all ages. This has led to an increase in both community and household transmission.
“I would again appeal to everyone to keep themselves, families, friends and Anglesey’s communities safe by complying fully with these current restrictions.
“The mobile Coronavirus testing centre is available in Llanfairpwll and I would urge anyone showing symptoms on Anglesey to arrange a test as soon as possible.
“If you do go for a test, it’s vital that everyone in your household self-isolates immediately until you get your result.”
On Wednesday Wales’ Chief Medical Officer warned of the rapid spread of the new strain of COVID-19 that has swept across England over recent weeks.
Dr Frank Atherton said that cases were “very high in most parts of Wales” and rising, pointing to “rapid increases” in much of the north.
Meanwhile, Public Health Wales has confirmed 63 further deaths due to COVID-19 in today’s bulletin.
PHW has reported 139 deaths because of the virus in its last two updates. Since the start of the pandemic last March a total of 3,801 deaths in Wales have been caused by coronavirus.
Responding to today’s figures, Dr Eleri Davies, Incident Director for the Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak response at Public Health Wales, said: “The number of positive Coronavirus cases remains extremely high in Wales and is cause for serious concern.
“Once again we are sadly reporting a high number of deaths – it should be noted that not all of these deaths occurred during the same 24-hour period, but it does show the severity of the situation and acts as a reminder to everyone how important it is to stick to the rules to prevent transmission of the virus.”
Over the last 24 hours 1,718 new cases of the virus have been confirmed in Wales. Wrexham posted the highest number with 170, taking the total for the last seven days to 1,185.
Cardiff reported 140 new cases and Rhondda Cynon Taf (121) had the third highest total.
Bridgend continues to have the highest weekly case rate in Wales at 954.8 per 100, 000 people, down from 978.1 yesterday. Wrexham is next highest at 871.6 up from 838.5.
Both areas also have the highest weekly positive test proportions in Wales, with Bridgend at 33.7% per 100,000 test and Wrexham on 30%.
Slump in Holyhead lorry traffic.
Lorry traffic through Holyhead, the UK’s second largest port, has fallen to about one-third of its usual capacity following the end of the Brexit transition period on 1 January.
Since New Year’s Day drivers have had to provide specific paperwork to permit them to transport goods between the EU and the UK as part of the new trading relationship with the European Union.
Port operator Stena said it has doubled its ferry service between France and Ireland allowing more lorries to travel directly to mainland Europe.
Ian Davies, head of UK ports for Stena told BBC Wales: “We’re operating probably only about 30 to 40% capacity – the two ferry companies are very quiet.
“We have routes that go directly between France and Ireland. It has grown in popularity, we’ve doubled the capacity available, but it’s really an uncertain market.”
Final lifeline given to £200 million Afan Valley Adventure Resort scheme
Neath Port Talbot Council has given the Afan Valley Adventure Resort a final lifeline after the developer confirmed it could be delivered.
Developer Afan Valley Ltd has proven to the council that funding arrangements have been made to deliver the £200 million project and the planning committee are set to resolve the plans in due course.
In September 2020, the council’s chief executive gave Afan Valley Ltd until October 31 to prove they had funding agreements in place to provide the scheme.
A council spokesperson said the developer has given planning officers “necessary assurances” that the project can be delivered in line with the planning application.
They added: “Legal matters are still to be concluded and final submissions from the applicant are yet to be received, notably due to Covid-related restrictions.
“The matter will be reported back to the planning committee for a final resolution once the final submissions have been made and associated legal agreement is concluded.”
The resort is planned to cover 325 acres of land at Pen-y-Bryn with 600 lodges and apartments and a 100-bed hotel.
If approved, it is hoped the scheme will create around 700 full-time jobs.
The project is currently being led by Peter Moore OBE, the man who brought Centre Parks to the UK.
Councillors gave the project outline conditional planning approval in March 2019 but it was later disrupted after the national press made allegations of serious financial issues against Northern Powerhouse Developments (NPD) and its Director Gavin Woodhouse.
Moore is no longer working with Woodhouse and remains responsible for delivering the adventure resort and working with the relevant backers.
The council’s next planning committee meeting is scheduled for January 12 but a spokesperson could not yet confirm whether the final stages of the plans for the adventure resort would be settled on this day.
£10 million empty homes grant scheme attracts over 500 applicants
More than 500 applications have been received to bring empty homes back in to use through the government’s £10 million Valleys Taskforce Empty Homes Grant Scheme.
Phase One of the initiative was launched a year ago after a successful roll-out across Rhondda Cynon Taf.
The scheme is open to homeowners across the extended Valleys Taskforce, which runs from Carmarthenshire in west Wales to Torfaen in east Wales. Its boundaries were also extended last year to include the Gwendraeth and Amman Valleys.
Phase Two of the scheme, launched in July 2020, will ensure even greater numbers of local businesses are used to bring empty homes back to life, and incentivise applicants to use more energy efficient measures within their renovations. Not only will this help to reduce carbon emissions it will also result in lower energy bills for future residents.
While the scheme will see some applicants going on to live in their refurbished properties, other properties will be brought in to use for social housing by Registered Social Landlords, helping to increase the supply of affordable housing.
Deputy Minister for Economy and Transport Lee Waters said: “It is heartening to see that scheme progressing well, with over 500 applications already received and I hope many more to come. Of course, this year has been challenging for everyone but despite the pandemic causing a delay on the scheme for many months, and the floods that impacted many Valleys areas, we have seen great progress.
“Local authorities have worked hard to roll out this scheme in their areas and provide the necessary match funding to make this success and I would like to put on record my thanks for their hard work.”
Electric Nextbikes could come to Cardiff ‘during this lockdown’
Alex Seabrook, local democracy reporter
Electric Nextbikes could soon be coming to Cardiff, before the end of the current lockdown, according to the council’s head of transport.
The bike sharing scheme is set to be expanded with electric bikes rolled out across the city soon.
Electric bikes were introduced by Nextbike in Penarth last November, the hilly town’s first bike-sharing scheme.
Now Paul Carter, head of transport for Cardiff council, has said the council is working with Nextbike to explore where electric bikes could be set up in the city.
The scheme in Cardiff would be joined up with the one in Penarth, meaning riders could rent a bike in the city, then cycle across the barrage and return it to a station in the town.
Plans for the electric bikes were revealed to councillors on the environment scrutiny committee, which met on Tuesday, January 5. Councillors had asked what the impact of coronavirus was on the Nextbike scheme.
Mr Carter said: “There has been an impact with Covid. After the first lockdown, the numbers did start to recover again in quite an encouraging fashion. But further lockdowns are having an impact.
“Notwithstanding that, the good news is Nextbike is surviving, they are still managing to get a turnover, they’re still looking to extend their system. We’re working with both Nextbike and the Vale of Glamorgan council to introduce the electric bikes.
“What we’re doing during this most recent lockdown is starting to search for additional sites for the electric bikes, so that we can get those in during this lockdown period.”
Some councillors raised concerns about security, as the existing Nextbikes have suffered from vandalism and theft.
Mr Carter said: “We have learned a lot from the initial rollout of conventional bikes. We’re conscious we have got some problems there.
“Working very closely with South Wales Police, we’re making sure we locate the sites close to CCTV cameras, using the best technology like GPS. We feel we’re bolstering the security all the time. We’re endeavouring to cover off the kinds of concerns as soon as possible.”