This week's argument over the Welsh Government’s po-faced banning of the filming of the next James Bond film in the Senedd in Cardiff Bay brings to mind a similar debate in Ceredigion Council.
When the first series of Hinterland/Y Gwyll was being planned in 2012, the programme's producers asked if they could use Aberystwyth’s ‘Swyddfa’r Sir’, still known by many as the old Queens Hotel, a prominent large building then owned by the Council next to the Promenade. The department responsible gave the then default answer of ‘No’, presumably stemming from a similar mindset to that of the Welsh Government officials.
However this was just after the local government elections and Plaid Cymru’s Ellen ap Gwynn had become Council Leader only a week or two before. A long-time champion of the arts, on hearing about the refusal she quickly called a meeting and had the decision reversed.
The result is that the building has now been seen around the world as the police station base for DCI Tom Mathias and his colleagues as they puzzle over the murderous secrets lurking in the brooding landscapes of North Ceredigion.
Last week I attended a World Wildlife Fund (WWF) reception in the House of Commons. Ceredigion Council was invited because we're one of only three local authorities in Wales that have committed to the WWF Silver Pledge on timber procurement. The Pledge means that the Council agrees to help support the market in legally and sustainably sourced timber by only purchasing carefully selected products.
The reason some forms of non-sustainable wood (i.e. wood from sources that are running out and not being replaced) is used for many projects elsewhere is its ability to resists decay and attack from organisms, along with its all round strength compared to most other woods. This is especially relevant for the kinds of marine projects that Ceredigion, as a coastal authority, is involved in.
However, with much of this wood coming from Guyana in the Northern Amazon area, the problem with this is obvious - it means the continued depletion of the Amazon rainforest that is vital for the carbon management of the planet.
Ceredigion therefore now sources its wood, including that used for coastal projects, from sources that are certified as sustainable by the WWF.
For all of us campaigning for a new rail line between Aberystwyth and Carmarthen, there was a very encouraging interview with the Transport Minister Edwina Hart on The Wales Report last night. Here's some of what she said to BBC news presenter Huw Edwards:
Edwina Hart: "I have to say that rail in Wales is very important. We're not linked properly as a nation in Wales and I think this is a big issue for me. I would like, in an ideal world, to be able to get on the train in Swansea, go all the way round West Wales and come back down the East side."
Huw Edwards: "We'll all say Amen to that".
Edwina Hart: "But I think it's important to recognise you can take some steps on this. But, also, to take steps on this we have to be able to control the existing franchise. We need to look at what powers we need in the future. We need powers over Network Rail, because Network Rail decide what new lines come in.
"Well I've already been having discussions about the possibility of Carmarthen - Aberystwyth line reinstatement. And people say 'pie in the sky'. But I say 'no' - if you look at the way that other European countries look at the way they run rail, why shouldn't we be ambitious?
"So there's a lot of issues on the agenda. Not just the franchise - further devolution of powers. We need to have the powers the Scots are likely to get. And I think it's very important to recognise that it's about nation-building as well, in terms of the rail, not just about having a railway line and taking people back and fore to work. That is important - it's important for tourism - but it's also important that, as a nation, we have a proper rail network."
So now we have two more supporters of the campaign - the Transport Minister....and Huw Edwards.
These circles mark the sites where Aberystwyth University is planning to erect wind turbines - one just beyond Fferm Penglais, the new student village, and two at Gogerddan. The three 30 metre, 250Kw turbines could apparently provide 10% of the Uni's electricity needs.
As the consultation information says,
"The project, which would cost about £2.5 million, would also help protect the University from future increases in energy costs, help to ensure security of supply, assist in meeting targets to reduce carbon emissions and provide a reaching resource for students to access as part of their studies".
Ceredigion Council can be fairly proud of the progress made in narrowing the pay gap between its lowest and highest paid workers.
Despite this, Ceredigion is evidently helping to provide a small local counter-balance to the prevailing economic trend of growing social inequality.
Since the last local government elections in 2012 the Council has removed its three lowest pay bands, with a fourth due to follow in May. At the same time, a deliberate restructuring has ensured that the wage bill for senior officers has fallen considerably.
The latest figures show that Ceredigion Council now has the smallest difference in the whole of Wales (and undoubtedly beyond) between its lowest paid staff and that of the Chief Executive. Ceredigion’s ratio is 1:8.4, whereas some neighbouring authorities are at 1:12 or even higher.
Looking at the table below, one party clearly emerges as taking the issue of reducing the pay gap the most seriously. This is no accident. The present Ceredigion leadership is mindful of the Spirit Level campaign which has shown that more equal societies have far better economic, health and general well-being outcomes.
The intention is to make further progress towards the Living Wage, although this is not easy at a time of unprecedented austerity from the Westminster government. The continuing austerity agenda was supported by all the main parties in the recent House of Commons vote and, to compound this, the Welsh Government has subjected Ceredigion to the largest percentage cut of any of the Welsh Councils.
At the end of November the Welsh Government published the latest Welsh Index of Multiple Deprivation. This ranks each area in Wales, 1 being the most deprived and 1909 being the least. Mererid Jones, one of five Aberystwyth Town Councillors for Penparcau, has sent me this analysis for Aberystwyth:The areas listed are as follows: -
Bronglais = as per the Council ward
Canol/Central = as per the Council ward
Rheidol 1 = the town side of Rheidol ward
Rheidol 2 = Trefechan and Greenfield Street area
Penparcau 2 = Heol Tynyfron to Southgate + Cae Job & Heol Dinas + Brynystwyth & Ty cam
Penparcau 1 = Maesheli + The Avenues + Maesmaelor
Penglais = North Ward plus the part of Faenor ward which includes Pentre Jane Morgan.
Income accounts for 23.5% of each overall score and focusses on the proportion of the population receiving benefits. Penparcau and Rheidol 2 have seen an increase in eligibility for tax credits.
Employment also accounts for 23.5% of the overall score and is mainly based on the percentage of the working age population in receipt of Employment-related benefit.
Health accounts for 14% of the overall score and looks at indicators like low-weight births, long term illness and cause of death.
Education accounts for 14% of the overall score and looks at Key Stage 4 results, absenteeism, no qualifications and not entering Higher Education.
Physical Environment accounts for 5% and includes proximity to waste tips, flood risk and air quality.
Housing accounts for 5%, and has improved in all wards with the exception of Rheidol but, given the low multiple, has not had a major impact on the score.
In April it was announced that Ceredigion and Vale of Glamorgan Councils had each won £100,000 worth of funding to run rural transport pilot projects.
In Ceredigion’s case, part of this is now being used to run Cludiant Cors Caron - a free transport scheme in the Tregaron area.
In the public transport game, £100,000 doesn’t actually buy very much and is being given in the context of an overall 25% loss of bus funding across Wales. So making the best use of resources is essential. The Council quickly recognised that there were already a number of small buses running regularly in the area specifically to transport people to social services and health venues. It made absolutely sense that these regular journeys, taking place anyway for particular client groups, should be properly timetabled and opened up to the wider community.
Cludiant Cors Caron Services are now timetabled and run for the wider community on a dial-a ride basis, with Ystwyth Community Transport Group being funded to co-ordinate the scheme.
The next pilot project, and one which will arguably have a greater effect, is the extension of child fairs on buses up to the age of 21. This will allow all young people in Ceredigion - a key group in terms of access to transport - to reach work and training more cheaply. Local buses companies, to their credit, have recognised the potential and agreed to take part and a scheme is due to commence early in the new year.
The key issue for rural areas is that, because of their relatively low population, bus services are never likely to be economically viable in the conventional sense of making a profit. And yet those services are absolutely vital for people who are unable to drive, particularly the elderly, the young and the less well-off. Without these people being able to get about, rural life would start to break down.
At a time when many public services are being cut, not least in rural areas, buses are becoming even more important for people to be able to access remaining services. Along with Bwcabus - now running across roughly half of Ceredigion - these latest pilot projects will help to inform Welsh Government’s thinking about how to target support for rural areas and, if successful, may be extended into other parts of Wales.
The Mid Wales Healthcare Study, put together by Marcus Longley on behalf of the Welsh Institute for Health and Social Care, has given a great deal of hope and reassurance to everyone who has been campaigning for Bronglais Hospital in Aberystwyth. These public events below will give everyone the chance to contribute further to the debate.
This is a talk I gave at the meeting in Llanfarian school on 9th October:
When surveys are run on the most important issue in different constituencies in Wales, the most important issue to people in Ceredigion is health. No surprises there. And it’s the same in many other places.
But when people are asked what's the second most important issue, in Ceredigion the answer is the environment. That’s completely different to most other places, where green issues are way down the list.
So it’s clear there's a greater awareness and interest in environmental matters in Ceredigion. And the County Council administration reflects that by placing a high importance on making a real contribution to tackling climate change.
The main plank of that is that, since getting elected to run the Council, almost two and a half years ago now, we’ve put together a new Carbon Management Plan in consultation with the Carbon Trust.
The aim in the plan is to reduce the Council’s carbon emissions by 15% over five years. And you have to bear in mind that, in normal circumstances, emissions wouldn’t just be expected to stay the same but would actually rise.
We’re now two years into this 5-year programme and we’ve achieved 7.4% - almost half. So, in other words, after 40% of the time, we’ve achieved 49% of the target.
To do this we’ve had to involve all areas of the Council and in particular we’ve had to look very closely at the Council’s operational building stock, including our schools, because they are the least energy-efficient part of the stock - 69% of the Council’s emissions are from buildings.
I’ll just highlight a few steps we’ve taken:
- The street lighting programme, of changing to LED bulbs has saved 57% of carbon compared to 2007 and Ceredigion’s lights are now one of the most energy efficient in the UK.
- We’ve invested in more efficient fleet vehicles and better ways of working with them. Those emissions have reduced by 8.7% in the past two years.
- We’ve been running Operation Energy in selected schools in the county for the past three years. This encourages individual pupils to take part in energy reduction themselves. We give a certificate to every pupil taking part and a prize to the best performing school each year. So far 24 local schools have participated.
- One of the clearest savings has been the new Evaporative Cooling System at Canolfan Rheidol. That cost £42,000 and it saves £26,000 a year in energy costs. So it pays for itself in less than 2 years. And that, of course, highlights how the carbon agenda and the massive financial cuts all councils are now being subject to can come together. Carbon savings like this do require an initial investment. And most of the financial savings take a longer than 20 months.
Although we’re making good progress, of course there’s plenty more to do. These are the kinds of things we’ve got planned for the future:
- We’ll be installing a 50Kw solar array on the roof of the Council offices at Penmorfa in Aberaeron - the county’s second highest user of energy - and a 30Kw system on Minaeron, the social services offices in Aberaeron.
- You may be aware of the biomass heating system that serves Canolfan Rheidol and the Welsh Government building in Aberystwyth. The system is housed across the railway tracks in a building in Penweddig school fields. Over the Summer holidays we dug trenches across the playing fields. And soon we’ll be making the connections to extend the biomass system to include Ysgol Penweddig and Plas Crug Leisure Centre. So that single biomass system will be servicing four large buildings. That will produce an annual RHI (Renewable heat Incentive) income of around £95,000 p.a.
- At Ysgol Bro Pedr in Lampeter we’ll be installing an SBED Solar Collector. This will bring about a carbon saving of 14 tons, and £2000 saved p.a. in gas bills.
So those are the kinds of things we’ve been doing, and will be doing in the future, to meet our carbon reduction targets
As well as that we’re embedding carbon management within the Council’s practices. For example:
- The creation of a specialist energy department within the Council.
- The installation of automatic meter reading in all our buildings so we know exactly how they’re performing all the time and have the data to know what energy issues need to be tackled.
- The creation of council structures to make sure carbon management is centrally resourced and prioritise rather than being the responsibility of just one department.
So, as well as meeting our targets in the present, we’re planning for the future. Future council administrations will find life easier in terms of reducing carbon emissions and easier financially as a result of the decisions we’re making today.
Ceredigion's Club Cosy/Clwb Clyd, first announced in March, was launched in Aberaeron last week. This is a new local initiative for people in rural areas not connected to the gas mains. It's aims are:
* To help households reduce their fuel bills through energy efficiency.
* To encourage people to get together to buy fuel in bulk to reduce their costs.
* To help people access fuel budget schemes and grants.
The initiative is an 18 month project, funded with £60,000 from the Welsh Government and being run on behalf of Ceredigion Council by Ymlaen Ceredigion. Partners include Nest / Nyth - who work to reduce the number of homes in Wales in fuel poverty - and West Wales Credit Union.
There are currently around ten formal fuel syndicates in Ceredigion:
Aberporth / Llangrannog
Ger y Gors (Pontrhydfendigaid)
Whilen y Porthmyn (Tregaron)
Cellan / Llanfair Clydogau
It's reckoned that these involve around 600 people. And there are probably many other small, informal ones. Club Cosy / Clwb Clyd will be aiming to get more people involved and provide them with support and advice.
Of course, whilst these schemes all help local people to save money and avoid fuel poverty, this doesn’t necessarily help to reduce carbon emissions. The energy conservation advice side of the scheme is therefore an important component.
Last week's successful meeting to launch the scheme included reps from most of the fuel syndicates listed, many of whom had never met before. In the next 18 months they'll be looking to grow. Anyone interested in getting involved can contact Club Cosy / Clwb Clyd on this link.
Image source: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-mid-wales-26785680
Image source: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-mid-wales-26785680
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.
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.
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’s, Baravin, 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.
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.
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
A 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 firstname.lastname@example.org
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.
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.