29/08/2014

Aberystwyth's biomass extension




This is a photo (click to enlarge) of the Ysgol Penweddig playing fields, taken from Canolfan Rheidol, Ceredigion Council’s office building on the outskirts of Aberystwyth. The building on the right houses a 1.2MW biomass boiler which has been providing space heating and hot water to Canolfan Rheidol and the Welsh Government building next door since 2009. 

During the school holidays the Council has been laying pipework to connect the biomass building to Ysgol Penweddig (the big white building near the middle of the picture) and to Plas Crug Leisure Centre (the white building to the left).

You can just about see the track of the filled in trenches behind the rugby posts and just to the left of the Leisure Centre.

In the next few months, the work of connecting the new pipework to the biomass boiler will be completed and the whole thing should be operational by the new year.

The new scheme will save approximately 229 tonnes of carbon dioxide a year on top of the 203 tonnes the biomass boiler is already saving.

24/08/2014

Bikes on Buses - time to get up to speed



Whenever I raise the issue of buses being able to carry bikes, local bus service providers tend to shake their heads and mumble about insurance, lack of space inside the bus and, in the case of outside racks, heath & safety. They seem to regard bikes on buses as a slightly eccentric idea that’s impractical and has little demand.

I'm certainly aware of widespread annoyance from cyclists about the lack of what, on the face of it, should be a fairly  standard provision. If we’re serious about what the Welsh Government calls active travel, surely extending the range of cycling through the use of public transport should be an obvious component. 

Whilst they may be an alien idea to bus companies here, there’s at least one part of the world where cycle racks on buses seems to be routine. North America hasn’t got a reputation in this country for green transport but I’ve visited two different states in the last 18 months where racks are a standard part of the bus service. 

Last year I travelled down the coast of California. Buses in San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego all had the same type of rack bolted to the front and I watched people routinely using them to get about those cities. This year, I’ve just returned from Toronto where I had the pleasure of using a similar kind of rack on three different buses for a bike I’d hired (see photo).

The system is quite simple. When not in use the rack is folded up against the front of the vehicle. To use it you pull a lever to release the rack and bring it down. The passenger then lifts the bike onto wheel-width slots on the rack and brings a bar round to securely grip the front wheel and prevent movement. That’s it - ready to go. Takes 30 seconds. 

Drivers aren’t allowed to physically help but are happy to explain what to do. Once you’ve used one for the first time you won’t need another explanation. There’s no extra fare for taking a bike.

The only buses in Wales that I know of allowing bikes (aside from foldaways) are the Llanrwst - Cwm Penmachno 64 service run by Llew Jones and the Cardiff - Brecon bike bus which runs using a trailer on Sundays and Bank Holidays. Bike buses are apparently also being trialled at Inverness, Nottingham and Portsmouth.

It seems to me that the problem in this country isn’t so much about supposed health and safety rules but about cultural custom and practice. We’re just not used to having bikes on buses here and, if we in Wales are serious about active travel, we need to wise up. 

A recent meeting of the Ceredigion Local Access Forum agreed a strongly worded paper urging bus companies to get over their conceptual hang-ups about bikes on buses. With the Active Travel Act passed by the Senedd last November, it’s time our bus services got up to speed with best practice in other parts of the world.

23/07/2014

Supporting Aberystwyth's local cafes


The announcement that Starbucks will be opening a cafe in Aberystwyth in September has sparked a Facebook and poster campaign against the international chain coming to town. At the time of writing, a petition in opposition has achieved  694 signatures.

Before I pitch my tent firmly on the side of keeping Aberystwyth distinctive and avoiding another small step towards becoming a clone town, just a couple of caveats. Firstly, their tax affairs notwithstanding, I don’t hate everything about Starbucks. A while ago I was staying for a few days in a part of America where the burger/pizza food choices were so abysmal that, in that context, it quickly became apparent that chains like Starbucks and Subway were actually the good guys, selling the only slightly healthy food around and with at least a surface attempt at some kind of ethical policy. Starbucks reps have already started phoning local councillors here asking for ideas about how they can 'contribute to the community' - a business strategy of course, but a better one than most chains seem to muster.

I also feel a little uncomfortable about the class and educational divide I notice in talking to people about the issue. Those from the less well-off areas of town seem delighted by the prospect of Starbucks, whilst opposition seems to come fairly exclusively from the better educated sectors of the population. There's no judgement implied in saying that and, of course, it's a classic dilemma for socialists like me. In trying to resolve it, we should remember that Aberystwyth is a big enough place to contain many different communities and we should maybe recognise the need to cater for more than one of them. 

Having said all those tolerant things, in the context of Aberystwyth we certainly don’t need a Starbucks and I won’t be one of their customers. We're blessed here with a plethora of absolutely superb independent cafes, to an extent that has been commented on in the London press, and which are full to overflowing at peak times of the day. 

When I started to think about listing them in this piece, I realised there are just way too many. My current favourites are Agnelli's, Bach and Ultracomida. Others definitely worth a shout include MG’sBaravin, The Treehouse, Y Siop Leol, The Olive Branch, Nick's... I could go on but there are over 25 locally-owned cafes in the town, not even including the more formal restaurants, with a character and variety that many much larger towns must envy.

The campaign against Starbucks will hopefully help to raise awareness and to solidify the stance of those who, like myself, weren’t planning to use it anyway. But If Aberystwyth’s small shops need a campaign of any kind then it’s surely a more positive one. 

Traders in Lampeter, a town in a much more dire financial position, recently got together to launch a loyalty card scheme to positively encourage people to spend their money in local independent shops.

Here in Aberystwyth, the Chamber of Commerce has, despite the best efforts of a few individuals, struggled for years to attract anything more than a smattering of participation from shop owners. The subdued response so far to the idea of creating a Business Improvement District reflects this. And yet, as Aberystwyth grows to a size where the large chains are increasingly casting their eyes over us, local traders need to be clever if they want to benefit from the increased footfall that the chains are likely to bring. 

Co-operation may not come naturally to business people who  are by nature individualistic, who already feel crushed by business rates and who tend to see each other as rivals, but there perhaps needs to be a greater recognition of the power - and money - they could generate by working with each other. 

Many people, like myself, instinctively use local businesses as a first preference, wherever we are. But there are many others, both local residents and visitors, who don’t think about the issues (like the independent shop owners that can be seen sipping cappuccinos in the window of Costa) and could have some of their shopping behaviour changed by a serious awareness campaign, maybe backed by  Lampeter-style incentives, citing all the thoroughly good economic and social reasons why it’s better to shop local. With work due to start on Marks & Spencer and Tesco in September, now is surely the time to do it.

I hope the local cafes that are fearful about Starbucks coming find in time that they didn’t need to be worrying and that the only place whose trade suffers will turn out to be Costa. But if we’re going to combat increasing interest from multi-national companies, then Aberystwyth’s still impressive array of local shops and cafes need to take a leaf out of Lampeter’s book and start organising together.

27/06/2014

Aberystwyth Football Club new pitch and housing development


These are photos from the recent exhibition at Aberystwyth Town Football Club of the club's planned joint development with Tai Ceredigion.

The plans include:
48 two-bedroom apartments 
32 one-bedroom apartments 
3G football pitch  to replace the current grass
Bar, cafe & youth centre
A new main spectator stand

The key aspect from the club's point of view is the 3G artificial pitch which will be able to cope with more or less continuous use, enabling the club to provide for a lot more groups and activities and to earn more money which can then be re-invested. The housing will help to fund the pitch along with a grant from the Football Association of Wales who are promoting these pitches around Wales.

The exhibition was the first showing of the plans and planning permission has not yet been applied for. The images are a bit of a shock for anyone who knows this section of the Rheidol riverbank. I'm providing them here to allow people to give informed comments. Questions or comments can be sent to Tai Ceredigion at post@taiceredigion.org.uk









23/06/2014

Sunday buses returning between Aberystwyth & Carmarthen

Ceredigion and Carmarthenshire Councils have announced the awarding of the new contract for the 40 bus service - between Aberystwyth and Carmarthen via Lampeter - to First Cymru

The new contract will commence in the first week of August, and will be a significant improvement upon the current service:
* There will be four new return services on Sundays and Bank Holidays. 
* A brand new late-night return service will be launched between Aberystwyth and Lampeter. 
* There will be a new early-morning service leaving Aberystwyth at 7.40am, arriving in Lampeter by 9am. 
* In addition, the 5.07pm service from Carmarthen, which currently stops at Lampeter, will now travel all the way through to Aberystwyth.

The changes have all been agreed in response to requests at public consultation events and they represent a significant improvement to the service. 

Since the Arriva pull-out in December last year, the two Councils have been negotiating with more sympathetic suppliers and, despite the ongoing funding challenges to the whole of local government, Ceredigion’s bus services are now better than for several years. 

13/06/2014

Mid Wales Healthcare Study - Gathering the evidence


Below is an announcement just released about two evidence gathering sessions to inform the future provision of health care in Central Wales. Click to enlarge. I haven't printed the terms of reference referred to for space reasons but they can be accessed through the links. The sessions are an important opportunity to influence future provision at a time when Health Board leadership is changing. 

26/05/2014

Ceredigion's contribution

As the European election results are being absorbed, it's worth mentioning the decisive result in Ceredigion which contributed significantly to the re-election of Plaid Cymru's Jill Evans to the European Parliament:


Plaid Cymru   7,139  (34.8%)
UKIP   4,138  (20.2%)
Conservatives   2,698  (13.1%)
Lib Dems   2,332  (11.3%)
Labour   2,110  (10.3%)
Greens   1,646  (8%)
BNP   126  (0.6%)
Socialist Labour Party    96  (0.4%)
Britain First   86  (0.4%)
NO2EU   56 (0.2%)
Socialist Party of Great Britain    48   (0.2%)

The Ceredigion turnout was 37% - the joint second highest in Wales. The result also gives food for thought for next year's  Westminster election where the Lib Dems currently hold the seat but will face a strong challenge from Plaid Cymru's Mike Parker.

Jill Evans sits in the Green / European Free Alliance group in Brussels. Following the election, this alliance looks like becoming the fourth largest grouping in the parliament and has now overtaken the Conservative group, which includes the British Conservative Party.










19/05/2014

Vote for Jill Evans in the European Elections on Thursday if you care about climate change

Anyone reading this blog will know that, as well as being a Plaid Cymru councillor, I'm also a keen environmentalist. So I was  delighted to see the graphic below, on the Climate Action Network Europe website, which shows that Plaid's sole Member of the European Parliament, Jill Evans, has the best voting record of all the UK's MEPs on climate and energy policies. 


Full details of all Jill's work can be found here and Plaid's manifesto for the European Elections is here.

The latest opinion poll shows that the race to fill Wales's four seats in the European Elections on Thursday is neck and neck. Jill is top of Plaid Cymru's list in these elections and will be re-elected again if enough people vote Plaid. 

We all have one vote on Thursday. If you believe that Wales should continue to have a progressive voice in the European Parliament, make sure you use yours to vote for Jill Evans. 

18/05/2014

Aberystwyth Bandstand - let's try again



This is the latest plan for a renewed Bandstand on Aberystwyth Promenade. It's probably fair to say that the previous, fairly radical idea didn't enjoy universal popularity in the town. Ceredigion Council has now launched a public consultation on this new, more modest and traditional, design. It includes: 
• Reinforcement and extension of the base to include a walkway around the building and 
improved sea defence 
• Keeping the perimeter wall of the original Bandstand as a feature enhanced by subtle 
lighting 
• A glass front that makes the building look more inviting 
• Internal units that can be adapted for storage/toilets or for commercial use 
• Internal space that can be used for events or performances 

All the information, and how to contribute to the consultation, can be found by clicking here for the Welsh version and here for the English.

06/05/2014

De-trunking


There have been claims recently that the frequently requested de-trunking* of the A487 through Aberystwyth would increase traffic through the village of Llanbadarn Fawr on the outskirts of the town. It’s been said that this is a reason not to proceed with the idea. 

*De-trunking means that a main ‘A-road’, currently administered by the Trunk Road Agency NMWTRA on behalf of the Welsh Government to very stringent standards, is instead transferred to the more flexible County Council to run.

Many years ago the road signs on both the north & south sides of Aberystwyth directed through-traffic via the centre of town. Although this made no sense in terms of distance or time, it obviously influenced many people unfamiliar with the area. 

That is no longer the case and hasn’t been for many years. Road signage from both north and south now directs people to bypass Aberystwyth and all the major routefinders - AA, RAC, Green Flag & Googlemaps - now send people through Llanbadarn.

So the argument that de-trunking would result in more traffic through Llanbadarn is based on the situation as it used to be.  The many lorries which head into town are all making deliveries there and would not be re-routed by de-trunking. Without denying that Llanbadarn residents living on the main road suffer from traffic through their village, it’s very hard to see where any additional traffic would come from. And, with traffic levels in general currently on a plateau and not increasing, their situation is likely to stay the same regardless.

It’s worth considering for a moment what the lack of de-trunking could be costing Aberystwyth. For example: 
  • Mill Street - if this had been de-trunked the developer would have had more flexibility with the scheme there and very possibly wouldn’t have felt the need to demolish Glyndwr Road.
  • Owain Glyndwr Square - Proposals are often heard for paving the whole of the square so it can be used as a community space at the centre of town. That cannot happen without de-trunking.
  • North Parade - The strange junction half-way along the street that confuses many people won’t be changed without de-trunking
  • Capel Seilo - proposals have often been heard for a roundabout at this five-road junction at the north end of North Parade. Again, nothing can change here without de-trunking.
  • Cwps Corner - This very difficult junction can’t be changed without de-trunking.
Although the above are all debates in themselves, these, and numerous smaller examples, are the kinds of issues that cannot be progressed without de-trunking. It’s not just the people of Aberystwyth this costs, it’s everyone who uses Aberystwyth. And that includes the people of Llanbadarn Fawr.

08/04/2014

Peak hourly rail service announced for the Cambrian Line

Rail campaigners throughout Central Wales are celebrating after being told the campaign for an hourly train service has succeeded in bringing about substantial improvements on the line. 

A major campaign started in October of distributing and collecting survey forms brought 6,700 responses throughout the region - far more than was envisaged - and has convinced the Transport Minister to provide the funding needed. 

Students, like some of those pictured here with Elin Jones AM and myself after hearing about the announcement, are key users of the service to Aberystwyth.

The Welsh Government's press release reads as follows:

"New peak hourly trains between Aberystwyth and Shrewsbury will be among extra services to be funded by the Welsh Government on the Cambrian and Heart of Wales rail lines, Transport Minister Edwina Hart is announcing today (Tuesday, 8 April).

"Four additional return services will operate between Aberystwyth and Shrewsbury, Mondays - Saturdays, with hourly services for peak morning and afternoon times. There will also be two new return Sunday services, and an improvement to evening services on the Cambrian Coast between Barmouth and Pwllheli.

"On the Heart of Wales line, there will be extra  journeys between Llandovery and Gowerton/Swansea and between Llandrindod and Shrewsbury/Crewe offering good morning commuting opportunities on Mondays – Fridays. Other return services will become more conveniently timed and the Heart of Wales Line Forum gets funding to explore the possibility of further improvements to the line.

"The new services will create 20 new train crew and depot jobs. The changes, which will be on an initial three-year trial basis, will come into place from May 2015.

"The additional services on both railways are designated for a three year trial under Section 36 of the Railways Act 2005 “experimental services” designation. The services will be reviewed after the first year and annually.

Cambrian Railway
"The trial will provide 4 additional return services, in each direction, between Aberystwyth and Shrewsbury Mondays - Saturdays, including hourly peak services for morning and afternoon, plus two new return Sunday services, and an improvement to evening services on the Cambrian Coast between Barmouth and Pwllheli.

Heart of Wales Line
"The trial will provide additional morning journeys Mondays - Fridays between Carmarthen and Llandovery, returning to Swansea for an arrival at 8.16, and from Shrewsbury to Llandrindod returning to Shrewsbury with a 7.58 arrival and continuing to Crewe arriving at 8.50. These services are additional to the current four return journeys along the line and provide improved commuting opportunities, and later services will become more conveniently timed with some journeys being extended to start from/terminate at Crewe.
The lead time for the recruitment and training of staff means that the additional services will commence at the earliest possible timetable change date in May 2015. "

The announcement doesn't give the full hourly service campaigned for but does provide substantial improvements at peak times and will give a solid base from which to campaign for further improvements when the franchise on the line is renewed 2018.

04/04/2014

Pantycelyn to continue

Here's the very welcome letter received today by students campaigning for the retention of Pantycelyn as a Welsh-speaking student hall at Aberystwyth University (scroll down for English version):

Annwyl Fyfyriwr,

Heddiw bu Rebecca Davies, John Grattan a minnau yn cyfarfod â chynrychiolwyr o Undeb Myfyrwyr Cymraeg Aberystwyth UMCA i drafod dyfodol Pantycelyn.

Yn ystod y cyfarfod, cyflwynwyd cynnig gennym a fyddai’n golygu ein bod yn cydweithio gydag UMCA i ddatblygu cynllun busnes ar ddefnydd Neuadd Pantycelyn i’r dyfodol fel Canolfan Gymraeg a Diwylliant. Rwy’n falch iawn gallu dweud fod y cynnig hwn ei dderbyn gan UMCA.

Mae’r cynnig yn cynnwys datblygu opsiynau manwl ar gyfer parhad Pantycelyn fel llety arlwyo ar gyfer myfyrwyr sy’n siaradwyr Cymraeg ac yn ddysgwyr y Gymraeg.

Rydym yn gobeithio y bydd y Ganolfan Gymraeg a Diwylliant yn gweithredu fel canolbwynt i’n cymuned Gymraeg gyfan, gan gynnwys myfyrwyr a staff ynghyd â’r gymuned ehangach a phawb sydd â diddordeb yn y diwylliant Cymraeg a Chymreig yn gyffredinol.

Rydym yn ymrwymedig i ddenu myfyrwyr Cymraeg i Aberystwyth ac i hybu’r modd y maent yn cael mynediad at ddarpariaeth cyfrwng Cymraeg sy’n ehangu ynghyd ag ystod mor eang â phosib o gyfleoedd cymdeithasol a diwylliannol Cymraeg.

Nid yw’r cynnig hwn a gytunwyd heddiw yn effeithio ar ein cynlluniau ar gyfer llety cyfrwng Cymraeg ar Fferm Penglais.

O fis Medi 2014, bydd myfyrwyr sy’n siarad Cymraeg a’r rhai sy’n ei dysgu, yn medru dewis rhwng llety arlwyo ym Mhantycelyn, a llety hunan arlwyo ar Fferm Penglais.

Pob hwyl,

Dr Rhodri Llwyd Morgan
Dirprwy Is-Ganghellor



Dear Student,

Today, Rebecca Davies, John Grattan and I met with representatives from UMCA, the Aberystwyth Welsh-speaking Students’ Union and representatives of the University’s branch of the Coleg Cymraeg, to discuss the future of Pantycelyn.

During the meeting we tabled a proposal that would see us working with UMCA on the development of a business plan for the future use of Pantycelyn as a Welsh Language and Cultural Centre. I am very pleased to report that this proposal has been accepted by UMCA.

The proposal includes providing detailed options for the continuation of Pantycelyn as catered accommodation for students that are Welsh speakers and Welsh learners.

We hope that a Welsh Language and Cultural Centre at Pantycelyn will act as a hub for our entire Welsh-speaking community, including students, staff as well as the wider community and all those interested in Welsh culture generally.

We are committed as a university to attracting Welsh-speaking students and to promote access to the expanding Welsh medium provision, together with widest possible range of Welsh-medium social and cultural opportunities.

The agreed proposal does not affect the current plans for the new Welsh medium accommodation at Fferm Penglais.

From September 2014, Welsh speaking students and those learning Welsh will be able to choose between catered accommodation in Pantycelyn, and self-catering accommodation on Fferm Penglais.

Regards,

Dr Rhodri Llwyd Morgan
Pro Vice-Chancellor


The campaign has seen a number of demonstrations, including this one in October, in which university offices were occupied.

29/03/2014

Earth Hour in Ceredigion

Earth Hour is taking place again this year between 8.30 - 9.30pm on Saturday 29th March. The global event is aimed at showing support for action on climate change. Ceredigion Council always takes part and this year is extending its support for the event to embrace the following locations:

•           Canolfan Alun R Edwards (Aberystwyth Town Library)
•           Castle Grounds, Aberystwyth
•           Constitution Hill, Aberystwyth
•           Penmorfa Car Park, Aberaeron
•           Canolfan Rheidol Car Park
•           Theatr Felin-fach Car Park
•           Minaeron, Aberaeron

These places will all have they lights off for the whole weekend which, incidentally, is the weekend all the clocks go forward one hour.


The National Library in Aberystwyth is also taking part. Large organisations have a much bigger effect on carbon usage than individuals alone and so it's particularly important that we show leadership and demonstrate that we take carbon management and climate change seriously. 

21/03/2014

A civilised way to do politics


Plaid Cymru leader Leanne Wood in an open conversation last night with Mike Parker, Plaid's Westminster candidate for Ceredigion, in front of an audience at MG's cafe in Aberystwyth. A civilised way to do politics.

17/03/2014

Whole lotta digging going on

There’s a lot of digging up of pavements going on in Aberystwyth at the moment:

Dig No 1
Superfast broadband
Most of the narrow trenches being dug in pavements around the town relate to the installation of Superfast Broadband. This is due to come on stream in Aberystwyth by the Summer and most of the rest of Ceredigion by the end of the year. It should significantly enhance the speed of internet downloads. The whole process is explained on this link

Dig No 2
Coed Aber
This is the second phase of the Coed Aber tree planting programme aimed at creating a tree-lined avenue on the main approach road into the town. It's being funded by the Welsh Government after the scheme was put together by the Greener Aberystwyth Group working together with Ceredigion Council and the (then) Forestry Commission. The spade work is being done by Ceredigion Council.



Dig No 3
Llanbadarn-Aberystwyth shared use path
This is is the final phase of footway widening between Llanbadarn Fawr level crossing and Plas Crug bridge which will enable the whole length to become a dual pedestrian/cycle path.


So, a lot of digging going on around the town. And all of it good in my view. And I haven’t even mentioned Alexandra Road...

23/02/2014

St David's Day in Aberystwyth




After the phenomenal success of last year's St David's Day Parade in Aberystwyth, the calendar dictates that this year's event will be on a Saturday, giving a different feel. The parade will leave from the Clock Tower at the top of Great Darkgate Street at 1pm. Should be good.

13/02/2014

Ceredigion's Excellent Estyn report

On Tuesday Ceredigion Council received a superb Estyn report. 

Estyn is the Welsh Government-funded education inspectorate. It’s been very critical recently of the education service run by many councils but the report published this week gave Ceredigion’s schools an official ‘Excellent’ mark in nine out of twelve categories, and a 'Good' in the other three, making it the best education authority in Wales by some distance. Amongst other things, this is a big boost for bilingualism. Our schools scored particularly highly in things like promoting social inclusion and support for vulnerable pupils.

Below are the judgements against each category. Read the report to understand what’s behind them.

Overall judgement: Excellent
Capacity to Improve: Excellent
Standards: Good
Well-being: Excellent
Support for school improvement: Excellent
Support for additional learning needs: Excellent
Promoting social inclusion and well-being: Excellent
Access & school places: Good
Leadership: Excellent
Quality Improvement: Excellent
Partnership working: Excellent
Resource management: Good

31/01/2014

Batten down the hatches

High tides on Saturday, coupled with strong winds, could potentially bring about the kind of problems we saw on the Ceredigion coast during the first weekend in January. People living right on the seafront are being advised to be alert and ready to leave their properties for around an hour either side of high tide if that seems necessary. 

High tides on Saturday will be at 8.41am and 9.02pm in Aberystwyth and about 20 minutes later in Cardigan.     

The specific areas thought to be at risk are:
Aberystwyth Promenade
Cardigan - Strand, St Mary Street & Gloster Row
Aberaeron - Quay Parade
Advisory notices have been distributed in these areas.

Sandbags will be available on request by phoning the emergency numbers at the foot of this piece.

There is currently less concern about Sunday and Monday as, although the tides will still be high, the overall weather looks to be more settled then.

If anyone does need to leave their home and they’ve got nowhere else to go then there will be support available from 7am at Aberystwyth and Cardigan Leisure Centres and at Borth Youth Centre.

Aberystwyth University have taken a precautionary approach and have asked their students (about 600 of them) to leave their seafront properties tonight. They will be put up on campus or given assistance to travel home for the weekend.

Council crews are on patrol tonight and from around 6am in the morning.

High Tides - Aberystwyth
Saturday 8.41am & 9.02pm
Sunday 9.23am & 9.44pm
Monday 10.05am & 10.25pm
20 minutes later in Cardigan

Emergency numbers
North - 01970-625277
South - 01239-851604