24/12/2011

Nadolig Llawen


Nadolig llawen o Aberystwyth

A merry Christmas from Aberystwyth

21/12/2011

The Welsh Government's plan to regenerate Aberystwyth

A few months ago I was standing chatting on Aberystwyth Prom when we noticed some important-looking men in suits gazing around. We thought we’d be cheeky and went over to ask who they were.

It turned out that it was Huw Lewis, the Welsh Housing, Regeneration & Heritage Minister with his entourage. They were on a visit to discuss what to do with £10.3 million the Welsh Government was thinking about giving to Aberystwyth as one of seven ‘Regeneration Areas’ in Wales. These were set up in 2010 under the then Plaid/Labour administration. The aim of them is to help create attractive and thriving towns, to tackle economic inactivity and to improve accessibility.

After we’d introduced ourselves, Huw Lewis said, “OK then, if we’re thinking about allocating money here, give us your pitch for Aberystwyth”. I had about two seconds to think of a response and came up with this argument: “With the low population density in the middle of the country, Wales is always in danger of being dragged apart and becoming effectively two nations – North Wales and South Wales. In terms of nation-building, what we need is a really vibrant, healthy town in the middle to pull the two together. That’s where Aberystwyth comes in”. They looked surprised and said, “Hey, that’s actually a really good pitch!”. It certainly wouldn’t have cut much ice if I’d tried to tell a housing minister from Merthyr how impoverished we are.

Anyway, a few months on and the Welsh Government has put together a kind of interim report on what’s been a happening with the £10.3 million so far and what’s going to happen next (I’m sure they’d thought of it all before they bumped into me). The full document can be seen here.

The schemes (with Welsh government contribution in brackets) include:
•   University to National Library link road to allow expansion of the bus service and improved cycle links (£192,000)
•   Multi-use games area (‘Adizone’) at Min y Ddol in Penparcau (£250,000)
•   Major improvements to Aberystwyth Bus station and Alexandra Road to make them more pedestrian-friendly and link more easily to the town centre (£1 million)
•   Town improvement grant - to improve the appearance of shops in the town centre (£600,000)

Other ideas planned are:
•    Revamp of the Prom (consultation covered in a previous post)
•   Revamp of Town Clock square (at the junction of Bridge St, Great Darkgate St, Pier St – public consultation to come)
•   Revamp of the train station entrance (priced at £3 million so must be big)
•   A new youth facility – no details yet

I like all the schemes mentioned, although I’m sure I’ll want to quibble about some of the details. However, although it might sound churlish to say this, it’s notable that the Regeneration Area Board, (the body set up to devise the programme) contains no-one with a democratic mandate to represent the people of Aberystwyth. The nearest thing - and he has only very recently been invited - is Chris Mackenzie-Grieve, the Chair of the Chamber of Commerce, who genuinely represents small shop keepers in the town and should have been on the Board from the start.

Although most members of the Board are perfectly decent people with a contribution to make (like the Chief Exec of Tai Ceredigion and University and National Library reps), the only person elected by the actual people of Ceredigion is Council Leader Keith Evans who was elected to represent the people of....Llandysul. I think that’s a pretty serious omission and very difficult to understand. If they didn’t trust Aberystwyth councillors they could at least have asked the Assembly Member.

Still, maybe we shouldn’t look a gift horse in the mouth. With the current economic climate set to continue for years, once this money’s gone it’s likely to be some time before we get any more. Keeping Aberystwyth vibrant will then be up to us.

15/12/2011

Marks & Spencer coming to Aberystwyth

Ceredigion Council today played what it hopes will be a trump card in the debate over plans for Mill Street car park in Aberystwyth when it announced that Marks & Spencer is likely to be the second major store to come to the site.

The Council's statement, released late today, says,
"The Council’s preferred developer on Mill Street car park [Chelverton] has negotiated and agreed terms for Marks and Spencer (M&S) to be included in this development opportunity, alongside Tesco. The proposed M&S store will be a full format 54,000 sq ft (gross) variety store comprising 8,000 sq ft net sales convenience (food) and 29,000 sq ft net sales comparison goods (clothing, household goods etc). This agreement has today been approved by the Board of M&S."

Marks and Spencer is intended to go on the land currently occupied by the Park Avenue Day Centre. The Council's original intention, now superceded, had been to place three smaller un-named shops there and this has been the subject of a vigorous local campaign to keep the well-regarded Day Centre on the site. 

14/12/2011

Northgate student housing application rejected

A planning application to turn the former government buildings in Northgate Street, Aberystwyth into student housing was rejected by 14 votes to 6 by Ceredigion Council's Development Control Committee today.

The committee rejected the application by Cantref Housing Association on the grounds that it was incompatible with the high number of elderly residents in the narrow streets around the building and because it would remove a potential employment site close to the town centre. Many local residents had objected. The building was partially occupied by a government passport office until four months ago.

Aberystwyth University had surprised some by not backing the scheme, despite the current student housing crisis. Instead, they aim to solve the crisis within two years by building environmentally-friendly accommodation for 1000 students next to the existing Pentre Jane Morgan student village at the top of Penglais Hill, where they say their accommodation can be better managed as a block.

In making the application, Cantref seemed to have moved from their core remit of providing housing for people on the local housing waiting list but without bringing the university on board with their plans. The University are hoping their application to extend Pentre Jane Morgan will be approved early in the new year.

11/12/2011

Ceredigion agrees cruelty-free purchasing policy

Ceredigion Council have adopted a cruelty-free purchasing policy for cleaning products. The Council agreed the policy on Thursday, "...whereby only cleaning products that have not been tested on animals would be used".

The adoption came after I asked the Council to look into a cruelty-free policy back in June. Council officers investigated and produced a supportive report saying the idea was perfectly feasible if an electronic ordering system was set up to monitor the purchases of all departments. 

The Council will now set up the system for ensuring that only cleaning products conforming to the policy will be used in its many establishments across the County, including schools and offices. The new policy was agreed unanimously.

The adoption of this policy brings credit upon Ceredigion in a similar way to the Fairtrade motion I  first proposed in 2006  and which was finally adopted in 2008. Individuals can only do so much with their purchasing power. It's when large institutions such as councils take these ethical steps that real change in industry practice occurs.

05/12/2011

Aberystwyth Prom Consultation


An exhibition of suggested physical improvement projects to Aberystwyth Promenade, using Welsh government Regeneration Area funding, will be on display at the Bandstand on Tuesday 6th December from 11am - 8pm. This will include ideas for a new bandstand.

Ceredigion Council and Welsh Government reps will be there to discuss the initial proposals.

The exhibition will also be at Morrisons supermarket, Parc y Llyn on 10th and 11th December and then in the window of 53-55 Terrace Road (previously Boots). Comments can be sent to aberystwythregeneration@wales.gsi.gov.uk

Update: The consultation can now be seen here

04/12/2011

Plaid announces County Council candidates for Aberystwyth



Plaid Cymru have selected their prospective candidates for the six Aberystwyth wards in next May's County Council elections. The candidates are:

Canol / Central – Chris Mackenzie-Grieve
Chris owns MGs Café in Chalybeate Street and is the Joint-Chair of the Aberystwyth Chamber of Commerce. He has a degree in corporate finance from the London School of Business and runs his own company which consults on how business can improve profitability. Chris said: "My mission is to make the town centre into a vibrant and thriving place. I think I can use my skills to improve the transparency and efficiency of the Council."

Gogledd / North – Mark Strong
Mark lives in the ward and works at the National Library. He is chair of the Ceredigion Care Society / Cymdeithas Gofal Ceredigion and has been a Town Councillor for the past eight years, representing them on the board of Menter Aberystwyth and on the Prom Forum. He is committed to maintaining services, protecting the environment and supporting sustainable development.

Penparcau (2 seats) – Steve Davies and Lorrae Jones-Southgate
Steve is a Town Councillor who lost by just 14 votes at the last County Council election in 2008. He works at the Rheidol Hydro-electric power station and is keen on rugby and rowing.
Lorrae was Mayor of Aberystwyth in 2007-8. She works in respite care and is particularly concerned with care for the elderly. Both she and Steve were active in the campaign to save Bodlondeb.

Plaid's current sitting councillor in Penparcau, Rob Gorman, is stepping down due to pressure of work in his fishing business and fully backs Steve and Lorrae.

Rheidol – Endaf Edwards
Originally from Pontrhydfendigaid, Endaf works for Coleg Ceredigion as an Information and Learning Technologies Co-ordinator. He was active in the successful campaign to save Bodlondeb residential home for the elderly. His priorities as a councillor will be education and learning, environment and planning, leisure and recreation.

Bronglais – Alun Williams
Er...yep, that's me. You know the sort of thing...sitting councillor, likes trees, tries to keep people informed....

Ceredigion Assembly Member Elin Jones AM said:
"We have a great team of candidates standing in the Aberystwyth area in the forthcoming Ceredigion Council elections. I’ve no doubt that every single one of them would be a strong voice for their respective wards in the Council chamber".


The Local Government elections will take place on May 3rd 2012

The picture shows, back row left to right: Steve Davies, Chris Mackenzie-Grieve, Mark Strong, Endaf Edwards.
Front row left to right: Lorrae Jones-Southgate, Elin Jones AM, Alun Williams

30/11/2011

Hundreds march through Aberystwyth against public sector pension changes



Over 600 striking public sector workers marched through Aberystwyth today against the UK government's planned major changes to pensions.

The march, organised by Ceredigion Against the Cuts, included workers from Bronglais Hospital, local schools, Coleg Ceredigion, the National Library, the County Council and the National Assembly. Photos of the march, which ended with a rally in the Morlan, can be seen by clicking this link.

Over 40% of Ceredigion's workforce are employed in the public sector with many more reliant on the services they provide.

28/11/2011

Llanbadarn Council asked to sell more land for Sainsbury’s

Llanbadarn Fawr Community Council has been asked to sell its  land next to the Llety Parc playing field outside Aberystwyth to add to land reportedly being sold to Sainsbury’s for development.

The land, which comprises a football pitch and a play area next to the railway line, would add approximately 50% to the land available for a supermarket.

The Community Council is now writing to all residents in the village to ask for their views. Their letter says,

"Dear All,
A developer has expressed an interest in purchasing the community playing field and children’s playing field that lie between the railway line and Llety Parc fields for a proposed supermarket development.

"Preliminary advice confirms the Council is free to sell this land if it resolves to do so, and the Council members will need to decide in the near future whether to enter into negotiations with the developer concerned.

"The councillors recognise the sale of this land would mean the loss of popular public facilities which are conveniently located within the village. However, subject to identifying an alternative site, the proceeds of sale could be used to acquire similar facilities elsewhere within the community and provide a surplus enabling the Council to fund other capital projects now or in the future.

"The decision whether to sell the land will be made by the Council but it was resolved at the last meeting to canvas local opinion on the proposal by inviting comments from every household within the community. The Council would welcome hearing from you with your views by 18th December 2011."

The interest in the land by Sainsbury's adds a further layer to the debate about Mill Street car park in Aberystwyth. 

Llanbadarn Fawr Community Council can be contacted at ccllanbadarnfawr@hotmail.co.uk or Llygad y Fro, Rhydyfelin, Aberystwyth, Ceredigion, SY23 4QD

25/11/2011

Aberystwyth Day Care Centre - the case for keeping what we have


One of the casualties of Aberystwyth’s Mill Street Development debate has been the Park Avenue Day Care Centre. The Centre is now planned for demolition to make way for new shops and a multi-storey car park and the service is to be moved into a converted section of the Town Hall alongside the new town library (plans are explained here). Whilst there are obvious benefits to placing the new day care centre in the same building as the library, it is clear that the space allocated exclusively to day care is going to be significantly reduced compared to what we have now.

Ceredigion Council has handled the Day Care Centre process extraordinarily badly. The decision was rushed through by the Council’s Cabinet, with no opportunity for input from Day Centre users or the wider public.

With the Council now legally committed to allowing the developer Chelverton to build on the site, and with the Town Hall conversion well underway and due for completion in March, hopes of saving the existing Day Centre seem optimistic to say the least. However a growing group of campaigners has come together to oppose the move to the Town Hall and their demonstration last Saturday can be seen above.

This blog has so far published statements by Ceredigion Council and by Aberystwyth Chamber of Commerce, who support the Mill Street development. In the interests of balance and debate, it’s only fair therefore to publish the views of the Day Centre campaign. Gerald Morgan, Chair of the Save Aberystwyth Day Centre Committee, writes below.

“Save Aberystwyth Day Care Centre

“Members of the Aberystwyth Day Centre Support Group oppose the plans for the Centre proposed by Chelverton Developments Ltd and the Ceredigion County Council and wish to see the retention of the Day Centre with its present facilities for the following reasons:

1. The present Day Care Centre is an admirable, purpose-built resource for the benefit of needy elderly people in the Aberystwyth area, and for their carers.

2. The Centre offers its own car parking.

3. Bus services, taxis and cars can put down or pick up clients without causing danger to other road users.

4. There is a nearby controlled pedestrian crossing for those coming from the bus station or centre of town.

5. There are no stairs, lifts or ramps in the Day Centre; it is entirely safe to enter and leave. It would be easy to evacuate in case of fire.

6. The Day Centre offers enough space for more than one kind of activity to take place simultaneously.

7. The Day Centre offers good hygiene facilities.

“All the above statements are facts.

“However, the intention to move the Centre to the old Town Hall is open to criticism for the following reasons:

1. It offers less accommodation room than the present number of clients warrants.

2. There is no room to park cars.

3. There is no safe place for buses, taxis or cars to stop for put-down/pick-up purposes.

4. There is no pedestrian crossing at this seriously dangerous road junction.

5. Access is difficult. The ramp to the basement has a 180 degree turn which will make wheelchair use difficult or impossible for the elderly. Evacuation in case of fire would be a nightmare.

6. The reduced space will exclude the most vulnerable clients and preclude alternative activities.

7. The hygiene facilities are greatly inferior to those in the current Day Centre.

“All the above statements are facts. We believe that these objections are sufficient to warrant the withdrawal of the threatened closure and destruction of the Day Centre.

“Additionally we believe:

1. that at every level the Council Council’s consultation process has been seriously inadequate

2. that had the County Council taken better advice the Day Centre could have been preserved or replaced on its present site with the full cooperation of the development company and its main client.”

Gerald Morgan
Chair, Save Aberystwyth Day Centre Committee

Photo by David Kirby

24/11/2011

Hywel Dda plans 'listening period'' before new options are put

Hywel Dda Health Board have announced they won’t yet be going out to public consultation on their plans for the health service in Ceredigion, Pembrokeshire & Carmarthenshire but will, first, be opening an extended 'listening period'.

Under the heading, “Your health: Your Future. The Health Board is listening”, today’s statement says,
“Because of the rumours circulating, misinformation, coupled to the leaking of draft documents which is undermining public confidence, the Board has decided that it will add an additional stage to the clinical services review in Hywel Dda prior to formal consultation. This will provide the opportunity for the public to form their opinions from an informed position and for the Health Board to be able to listen to their views.

“It is therefore our intention to undertake a period of pre-consultation engagement with our staff, our population and our neighbours who use our services. This exercise will enable us both to listen and inform our population on the current position, the case for change and the potential options for healthcare in the future. We recognise that any change can be challenging and we want to ensure there is a wider understanding of both the issues and potential solutions.

“There will be an extensive programme of activities, events and information sharing across all three counties. This listening programme will commence prior to Christmas and will continue well into the new year.

“We have been working closely with our clinicians to look at the potential options we have around our services. We are now at a stage where we believe this work, if shared more widely, will help shape the options for consultation. We will openly share the work we have done so far, listen to any concerns and take into consideration any alternative suggestions.

“No formal decisions have been reached and we hope the public will help us to shape the future of the local NHS.”

With the programme set to continue ‘well into the new year', it now seems clear that no decisions will be made before the local elections in May.

The statement goes on,
“Within Hywel Dda we are clear that no change is not an option. We must look at how we use the funding we have more effectively so we can provide our population with high quality, safe and sustainable services for the future.

“Once the listening period is completed, we will analyse the information we have received and this will influence any options we put forward for formal consultation.”

It’s difficult to argue with what reads as a genuine attempt by the Health Board to engage in dialogue in the face of almost continuous criticism in various local papers throughout the three counties in defence of their local hospitals, although the decision is almost certainly also influenced by a desire by the Welsh government to avoid difficulties for the Labour Party in South-west Wales in the lead-up to the elections.

For those campaigning to retain services at Bronglais Hospital, it’s interesting to note that campaigners for Llanelli Hospital turned up at today’s Board Meeting in Carmarthen. Llanelli is 11.5 miles from the next nearest hospital at Morriston in Swansea, roughly the distance from Aberystwyth to Llanon, Furnace or Ponterwyd. Bronglais Hospital, on the other hand, is 49.6 miles from their nearest hospital at Glangwili in Carmarthen. By any geographical consideration, Bronglais ought to be as safe as houses.

20/11/2011

Parc Natur Penglais - 20th anniversary


The Parc Natur Penglais Local Nature Reserve on the north side of Aberystwyth celebrated its 20th anniversary yesterday with a work day and ceremony.

In the last 20 years the Parc has been transformed, by a partnership of local residents and the County Council, from an abandoned quarry and neglected woods into a venue that now receives 30,000 visits a year, according to the hidden counters on the site. The Parc contains a wide variety of environments, including secluded woodland paths, a well, impressive beech clearings and stunning views of the town like the picture above taken yesterday by David Kirby.

During a break in the work of gorse-clearing by the University's Conservation Volunteers and others, Saturday saw the raising of a Green Flag, the parc's latest award for being one of the best green spaces in the UK.

The Parc Natur Penglais AGM, featuring a talk from Mel ab Owain, will be held on Wednesday 23rd November at 7.30 at St Paul's Methodist Church, Queen Street, Aberystwyth.

10/11/2011

Olwen Davies 1924-2011

The tribute below is by Jill Gough

Olwen Davies (pictured here meeting Desmond Tutu) died peacefully in Bronglais Hospital, Aberystwyth last week.

Many will have known Olwen locally through Aberystwyth CND and the Aberystwyth Peace Network, as a stalwart of CND Cymru (Vice Chair for 20 years) and a representative for Cymru on British CND Council (and on the International Advisory Group) as well as her work for the Chernobyl Children's Project. I have been privileged to call Olwen a comrade and fellow campaigner over many of these years.

Olwen was a determined woman who was always truly alive. Her family came from Blaenpennal in Ceredigion. Although Welsh in her heart and her language, she spent her early years in the Old Kent Road, London where her family were part of the London-Welsh dairies. Olwen said that her mother had told her that she was always singing, even as a baby. Later she returned to Wales - I believe in 1939 - and went to school in Tregaron, and being a musical young lady was encouraged to go to College and take up singing as a profession. For several years she lived abroad, working for a while as a translator (and singing) for the UN in Rome.

When her mother became infirm in the 1980s Olwen returned again to Wales and cared so gently and tirelessly for Mary. She also taught singing in Aberystwyth University. She was well known around the town for her individual style of dressing (she made her own clothes) and her CND headgear and jewellery.

Olwen's campaigning heart for peace and justice - and a nuclear free world - are notorious. I personally recall leafleting in the town with her in 1986 raising awareness of the approaching Nuclear Free Wales Festival in Aberystwyth Arts Centre. She was dressed as Margaret Thatcher - and I as a parrot. (That was Olwen's idea). Around 2,000 people attended the festival that year - there was also a contribution for the newly declared 'Nuclear Free Aoteroa' I remember. Of course there was music at the conference - Olwen made certain of that.

Olwen visited the Soviet Union with the peace delegation and represented us at European Nuclear Disarmament conferences. Whenever on a demonstration, at a conference or a meeting, Olwen would urge us to sing. She would confidently conjure up a protest song and we, at first slightly embarrassed, but eventually, by the end of the verse, confident and strengthened by the music, would join in. I have sung (as a protestor) alongside Olwen at events at Aldermaston, Molesworth and Greenham and on the streets of London, Carmarthen, Aberystwyth, Brawdy, Cardiff and at Trawsfynydd.

Writing of Olwen, more is always omitted than can be included! When I told Olwen's friend Bruce Kent that she was no longer with us he wrote: 'an indomitable woman.... She will go on singing somewhere.'

Olwen wished her 'funeral' to be quiet and wanted instead for there to be an 'Olwen Party' - in Aberystwyth Museum (time and date to be confirmed). There will, of course, be music.

Jill Gough

A link to her 80th birthday BBC interview in 2004 is here

25/10/2011

Opening democracy - BBC allowed to film Aberystwyth Town Council meeting

Aberystwyth Town Council struck a small blow for a more transparent democracy last night when they allowed a BBC cameraman unrestricted access to film their meeting for the first time.

A few weeks previously the Council had altered its standing orders to allow the possibility of filming at meetings in the wake of the controversy surrounding Carmarthenshire Council which resolutely continues to ban all cameras and has had a transgressor with a mobile phone arrested. Aberystwyth Town Council voted unanimously last night to allow the filming. Ceredigion Council is currently considering its own policy.

The BBC were filming as part of a programme about the planned development of Mill Street car park.

23/10/2011

Ceredigion health projects put on hold

The Welsh Government’s Health Minister, Lesley Griffiths, has put all unstarted health service building projects on hold until at least the new year because she is new to the health portfolio. That was the surprising announcement made in an Assembly debate last week. The stoppage may affect plans for Aberaeron, Tregaron and Cardigan hospitals in Ceredigion, but not Bronglais Hospital in Aberystwyth which already has a major A&E extension scheme well underway.

Elin Jones, Ceredigion's Assembly Member and Plaid Cymru's Shadow Health Spokesperson, said in a statement,
“This amazing admission by the Health Minister suggests mind-boggling ignorance of the economic crisis that we’re in. Here in Ceredigion, everybody knows that there is a real need for new healthcare facilities to replace the ageing buildings which we currently have in Cardigan, Tregaron and Aberaeron. This revelation means that local people will have to wait even longer for these proposed new buildings to materialise, and I fear that the longer they’re put off, the less likely they are to see the light of day.

“The previous One Wales government outlined priority projects for the NHS in 2011-12. Although there’s a £17m reduction in next year’s capital budget, this in no way merits putting all projects on hold in this way”.

As everyone knows, the change that’s taken place in the Welsh Government since the election in May has been from a Labour/Plaid coalition with a Labour Health Minister (Edwina Hart) to a soley Labour government with another Labour Health Minister (Lesley Griffiths). With that degree of continuity you might think that the process of government would be able to continue, and that the new Labour Health Minister might stick to the decisions made by her predecessor. However the more significant change might be the absence of Plaid Cymru in government to stand up for Ceredigion.

The Bronglais Hospital development managed to secure full funding just before the election and can now be seen heading skywards from my bathroom window (see photo, although it is, of course, possible to view the development from places other than my bathroom).

The general funding disarray around election times leads professionals working in a range of fields dependent on public funding to despair. With everything having to stop before an election and, it seems, for some time afterwards, and with an Assembly election normally taking place every four years with other elections in between, it means that no-one can plan anything more than three years ahead at most. One might expect a slightly smoother transition with the same party holding the health portfolio but apparently not. There has to be a better way of doing government.

The County Council elections next May could be the next funding complication with ministers unwilling to make any announcements that could hit their party in the polls.

Meanwhile the £38 million Bronglais scheme continues on schedule. The new building will reach its full height in November and work will then commence to the external walls and interior. The new building should be completed by February 2013. The remaining work will then be internal, with the whole scheme scheduled for full completion and ready to open by November 2015.

The new Health Minister's announcement underlines how important it was that Bronglais funding was agreed before the election and what might have happened if it hadn't been...

14/10/2011

Aberystwyth's Mill Street plans - Ceredigion releases details


Ceredigion Council have released details of Aberystwyth's planned Mill Street development, incoporating a multi-storey car park, a large Tescos supermarket and three other shops. The Council's press release reads as follows:

"Ceredigion County Council is pleased to confirm the appointment of Chelverton Deeley Freed as the Council’s preferred developer to deliver a strategic development of Mill Street Car Park Aberystwyth.

"This appointment results from an extensive UE compliant competitive dialogue process that has been ongoing for the last 18 months, culminating in three bidders submitting final tender proposals within the deadline of 18th July 2011.

"The three proposals were evaluated against four substantive areas of assessment:
• Planning content and design
• Economic Benefit
• Deliverability
• Financial proposal.

"Chelverton Deeley Freed’s proposal scored the highest against the agreed evaluation matrix, resulting in the Council’s decision to award the contract to this party.

"The development of Mill Street Car Park has been a key strategic aim of the Authority for some time. This is on the basis that increased car parking provision in Aberystwyth would support the needs of the town and some form of commercial development fronting Park Avenue would strengthen the town’s offer and support its vitality and viability.

"The Chelverton Deeley Freed proposal includes an anchor Tesco store comprising some 25,000 sq ft of net food sales space and 12,000 sq ft of non food net sales area. Three additional retail units are proposed fronting Park Avenue, with the proposed Tesco store located behind these units. The 3 retail units have a total ground floor area of 14,500 sq ft with the potential to double this floor space with a first floor mezzanine level. The scheme will also include 7 residential units and 500 car parking spaces – almost doubling the existing parking provision.

"The proposed public car parking spaces comprise 134 spaces over three levels which will be transferred to the Council to run as appropriate and 366 spaces will be operated by the Tesco store as a short stay car park providing 3 hours free car parking for shoppers visiting both the Tesco store and the town centre. The availability of this number of free car parking spaces in such close proximity to the town centre will be of significant benefit to retailers in the centre.

"In addition to the benefits of free car parking, the proposal will generate well in excess of 200 FTE jobs within 12 months of the scheme being created. The close proximity of Mill Street car Park to the town centre will result in significant linked trips between the proposed development and the town centre - estimated at between £1.6 and £3.5m net additional turnover per annum for the core town centre.

"The support for this proposal from Aberystwyth Chamber of Commerce demonstrates the positive benefits for traders in the core town centre that will result from this proposal.

"Ceredigion County Council is very pleased to confirm that the commercial element of the scheme will be developed to the highest possible BREEAM Excellent standard [note, BREEAM is the envivonmental sustainability building standard] and the development will incorporate a minimum 10% of recycled material in the construction phase. The Council will be working with the developer to deliver additional community benefits in terms of recruitment and training long term economically inactive persons as part of the construction workforce whilst also creating training and apprenticeship opportunities."

"It is anticipated that the development will be complete by mid 2014 and the developer will be invited to provide further information via stakeholder engagement events in advance of the statutory planning process."

12/10/2011

Major block of student flats planned near Aberystwyth town centre


A planning application has been submitted to convert the former Department of Work and Pensions and Passport Office (pictured) in Northgate Street, Aberystwyth into 62 student flats.

The plans to change of the use of the four-storey building, currently open-plan office space, have been put forward by the Cantref housing association. The plans include the provision of 13 common rooms across the site alongside the single-person flats. There are 12 parking spaces at the building. The offices have been vacant since August after the Passport Office closed.

Comments on the application, which is currently out for consultation, can be sent to Ceredigion Council’s Planning Department at Penmorfa, Aberaeron, Ceredigion, SA46 0PA.

09/10/2011

Aberystwyth, the Romani and the Daily Mail

In 1991, the then Cyngor Dosbarth Ceredigion (Ceredigion District Council) agreed to put the flags of 20 stateless nations on the North Prom in Aberystwyth. They published a booklet about the flags (pictured) which explained,

“When a Welsh person visits another country it is often the case that a display of flags is encountered adorning some public building or space. More often than not, the Red Dragon of Wales is not found amongst them. Realising that inhabitants of minority nations throughout Europe probably experience similar disappointments, the District Council of Ceredigion has resolved that as many as possible of the flags of Europe’s minority nations should be flown at Aberystwyth every summer.”

The nations originally included in the display were Alsace, Brittany, Catalonia, Cornwall, Corsica, Estonia, the Basque Country, Latvia, Lithuania, Isle of Man, Galicia, Occitania, Val d’Aosta, South Tirol, Friesland, Sardinia, Wales, Scotland, Flanders, Wallonia. Since then, Lapland has been added.

The South Prom has a further 30 flags of a more random selection of recognised states.

Recently Plaid Cymru councillor Mark Strong suggested in an Aberystwyth Town Council meeting that it would be in keeping with the spirit of the project to add a Romani flag, which has existed since 1933.

Although the Romani, more colloquially known as gypsies, are dispersed across most countries of Europe, the majority live in central and eastern Europe, often on the margins of society and facing considerable discrimination.

However in Wales, the Romani played a key role in helping to preserve Welsh folk music at a time when the Methodist establishment was trying to extinguish it. The descendants of Abram Wood, thought to be the first Romani in Wales in the 17th century, were trilingual in Welsh, English and Romani and contributed significantly to the Welsh harp tradition, one of them teaching Nansi Richards who became one of Wales’s greatest harpists .

Following Mark Strong’s suggestion, local paper the Cambrian News, published a small responsibly-written article about the idea on page 9 that week.

The Daily Mail and Daily Telegraph then picked up on the story. The Mail reported, ‘Council chiefs are planning to fly a gypsy flag on Aberystwyth's seafront promenade” (it’s interesting how a suggestion by a community councillor can end up being portrayed as clear plans by ‘Council chiefs’).

All hell then broke loose on the newspaper’s message board. There followed an avalanche of misinformed, abusive comments, many directed at Aberystwyth, which ironically provided living proof of the persecutory attitudes that Romani often suffer:

“My wife and I were in Aberystwyth not three weeks ago and to be honest it will be the last - what a dump.”

“Deranged Liberal elite crackpots”

“Another local council full of left wing Civil Service Nutters.”

“Political correctness gone bonkers again. The only flags that should be flown, are the flags of the four Nations that make up the United Kingdom Of Great Britain And Northern Ireland. I hope their tourism suffers, until they repent of their folly.”

“How the hell do these left wing liberal wets get in to positions where they can influence soppy decisions like this.”

“How many hours of council staff time has it taken to come up with this initiative, design it, discuss it further, develop it and implement it, plus what is the cost of "raw materials" and "construction"?”

“When you thought these loony council officials couldn't get any more stupid they jump up and prove us wrong. Sack them now without their gold-plated pension.”

“Why don’t they just go ahead and replace the whole lot with the hammer and sickle, that’s the ultimate goal of these silly seaside Labour councils.”

“The obvious solution is to take down the Union Jack. It will fit in with the ongoing policy of trashing anything British wont it?”

“Why not just fly it over Downing Street! I give up with this country, run by the left loonies and has been for years...”

“How about taking down all of them flags and replacing them with the British Union Flag.”

“How about remove the flag of St. George. I wouldn't want it flown in a country like yours.”

“This place is a complete dump and why anyone would want to go there is beyond me.”

“I bet that the Union Jack will be removed to accommodate this”.

Many comments equated Romani with the residents of Dale Farm in Essex, who have been in the news recently but are not Romani.

More positively there were these:

“I'm glad that Wales have seen sense and welcomed this community. We should all be treated as equals, there has been too much bad publicity since the Dale Farm fiasco. I am not a traveller but feel too much is being done to turn these people into monsters. “

“I salute Aberystwyth Town Council for this very small but important recognition of the role the Roma people have played in the local community and the Welsh nation. Thank you.”

The world of the current UK press is a surreal one. It apparently only takes a community councillor to make a suggestion one night in a small meeting room in an Aberystwyth side street for a twisted version to end up at the breakfast tables of millions of people, some of whom, for whatever dysfunctional psychological reason, then feel the need to expound their intolerance on newspaper message boards.

Now clearly the Romani are a different category to most of the stateless nations on the Prom in that they don’t claim any particular territory. And I’m prepared to give at least some credence to the popular view that a few Romani must accept a degree of blame for the discrimination they’ve experienced. That, though, wouldn’t be the same thing as saying their significant contribution to European culture shouldn’t be acknowledged. And whether or not the Romani flag ends up on the Prom, the issue has highlighted how unique Aberystwyth’s minority nation flags are.

Lib Dem Town Councillor Alec Dauncey has had this to say on his blog.

“Frankly, this sort of thing makes me glad I live in this strange and interesting town.”

Supporting Mark Strong, he’s now suggesting that the Aberystwyth small nation flags project should be extended to stateless nations outside Europe like Palestine (alongside Israel), Tibet and Southern Sahara.

So here we have representatives of the two major political parties in Ceredigion on the same side of the debate in support of small and stateless nations. That probably says something about the different perspective on the world that apparently peripheral Welsh towns like Aberystwyth have to offer.

Anyway, when actual ‘council chiefs’, i.e. those Ceredigion officers who are responsible for putting up any flags, heard about it, they quickly put out a blunt, dampening statement saying, “Ceredigion County Council has no immediate plans to amend the current display of flags”.

Whatever flags are put up in the future, I’ll leave the final (slightly misinformed) comment to someone on the Daily Mail message board from Chesterfield,

“Well done to the tourist board of Aberystwyth, for the cost of a flag and a flag pole tourist officials have managed to gain thousands of pounds of free publicity for the town. I didn't know about all the flags until I read this story but now I do know about the display I will definitely visit the town when I'm next in the area.”

To people like this, ‘different’ equals ‘interesting’. Hopefully there are more out there like him.

28/09/2011

Aberystwyth Chamber of Commerce backs Mill Street plans

Aberystwyth's Chamber of Commerce, which represents around 60 town centre small businesses, has given conditional backing to the building of a multi-storey car park and major supermarket on the town's Mill Street car park.

A letter from the Chamber, sent last Friday, says,

"The Aberystwyth Chamber of Commerce would like to express their support for the decision made to appoint a Tesco-led development on Mill St.

"This support is conditional upon there being sufficient municipal car parking provision that is available for all users of the town centre and not exclusive to the users of the Mill St development.

"Whilst Tesco may not be an ideal choice for a lot of people the primary consideration must be to ensure that the Mill St development takes place as quickly as possible to provide a regeneration fillip to the town. We are hopeful that this can be a catalyst to attract other quality retailers such as Marks and Spencer onto the other available sites within or close to the Town Centre.

"As ever the devil is in the detail in these deals and we would appreciate being kept informed of progress so that we can maintain a supportive role in the process.

"As an aside, it would have been a considerate gesture from the developer if consideration could have been made to relocating or retaining the day centre within the development."

Meanwhile, this morning's meeting of the Council's Economic Development Scrutiny Committee voted, following a lively and lengthy discussion on all the ramifications, to back the Cabinet's decision last Tuesday (see story below) to support the Mill Street scheme with the additional recommendation that, "All capital receipts be retained by the Council to sustain and enhance the retail provision of the town". The discussion was held after six councillors (including this one) signed a motion to 'call-in' the Cabinet decision for more scrutiny.

Open public discussion of the scheme has been beset by commercial confidentiality and procurement regulation restrictions. Full details are now expected to be made public in the next couple of weeks.

22/09/2011

Mill Street decision called in

The decision of Ceredigion Council's Cabinet to appoint a developer for Aberystwyth's Mill Street Car Park Scheme has been 'called in' by backbench councillors.

Under the Council's standing orders, a Cabinet decision can be called back for discussion by the wider Council before being enacted. The Cabinet decided, at their meeting on 13th September, to appoint the highest scoring tender for the site ('Bidder A') using a matrix for deciding competing bids set up by the Council under strict European procurement regulations.  The Cabinet voted to authorise Council Officers to agree and finalise all contracts associated with the development and to authorise officers to also explore any further development opportuniites emerging elsewhere in the town. 

Six councillors are required to sign a call-in request and that number was reached only a few hours before today's 5pm deadline. The wider Council will now discuss the plans atv a meeting within the next couple of weeks, although commercial confidentiality rules will prevent this being held in public. The issue will then go back to the next meeting of the Cabinet who will take on board the views of the wider Council but still have the final say. 

Update:
Following the call-in, the issue will be discussed in a closed session towards the end of  a meeting of the Economic Development, Tourism and Europe Scrutiny Committee on the morning of Wednesday 28th September. The motion to call-in the decision was signed by councillors Ellen ap Gwynn, Alun Lloyd Jones, Ian ap Dewi, Gareth Davies, John Roberts and myself with support from the committee chair, Liz Evans.

11/09/2011

Mill Street Plans to go public soon

Ceredigion Council Officers have chosen a preferred scheme for the Mill Street car park in Aberystwyth – but won’t make it public until the scheme is discussed and agreed by the Council Cabinet.

In February the Cabinet resolved, “To promote the development of a multi-storey car park on Mill Street as a key strategic aim of the authority”, and authorised officers to undertake a procurement exercise to select a company to develop the idea. The Officers have now chosen a preferred bidder, out of three companies submitting tenders, by a process of ‘competitive dialogue’ which involved judging the bids against a ‘matrix’ of criteria. These included the planning content and design, the ability to deliver the plan, the financial package proposed and the overall economic benefit.

The officers’ report will be discussed at a closed session of the Council Cabinet on Tuesday morning.

Update
Following Tuesday's Cabinet meeting, the Mill Street decision will not now be made public before 5pm on Thursday 22nd Sept as this is the deadline for the decision to be 'called in' (i.e. challenged). If no call-in is received, the decision will probably be announced the following day. If the decision is called in, the result will not be announced until this process is complete, probably in a week or two's time.

05/09/2011

Plans to close Defra Veterinary Laboratory in Aberystwyth

More public sector jobs are under threat in Aberystwyth following the recent revelation that the Defra Veterinary Laboratory on the Buarth has been earmarked for closure.

The Prospect trade union has revealed that the Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency (AHVLA) has submitted proposals to the Westminster Environment Secretary, Caroline Spelman MP, which would see both Aberystwyth and Carmarthen laboratories closed by April 2013.

Ceredigion's Assembly Member Elin Jones AM said:

“I’ve long suspected that a move to close the vet lab at Aberystwyth was on the cards but those closure plans have been resisted until now. Losing good science-based jobs will be a big blow to Ceredigion.

“In Aberystwyth there is a longstanding expertise in agriculture and land-based jobs with the University and IBERS, but this would be eroded by the closure of the vet lab.

“Closing both the labs at Aberystwyth and Carmarthen will leave Wales without any such facilities. Given the high livestock numbers in Wales, the work carried out in these Defra centres is essential in the fight to eradicate animal diseases such as Foot and Mouth, Bovine TB and Bluetongue”.

The closure would mean people having to go to Shrewsbury for the service in future. There's been no local consultation on the proposals and seemingly no consideration of how the closure might affect the local area. Aberystwyth can't afford to lose another key public sector facility with the knock-on effects for the wider local economy.

Aberystwyth and the Welsh Index of Multiple Deprivation

Aberystwyth’s standing in the Welsh Index of Multiple Deprivation, published last week, contains one or two surprises.
The Index divides Wales into 1896 areas of about 1,500 people each and places them in order. Here’s how the different areas of Aberystwyth fared in the overall result, 1896 being the best possible score and 1 being the worst:


Bronglais - 1822
Gogledd / North - 1584
Rheidol 2 - 1369
Rheidol 1 - 1203
Canol / Central - 1076
Penparcau 2 - 747
Penparcau 1 - 652

To make up these overall figures each area is scored on a range of indicators. Out of the 1896, Bronglais Ward is number 23 in Wales in terms of employment and number 56 in terms of income.

What is really surprising is the results for the town centre. Central Ward is the second best in Wales for proximity of access to services but the very worst, bar none, for quality of housing.

01/09/2011

Elin Jones to stand for Plaid leadership

Elin Jones, Welsh Assembly Member for Ceredigion, today announced her intention to stand for the leadership of Plaid Cymru. Full statement below:

"Today I am announcing my intention to stand for election as Plaid Cymru’s next Leader. I believe that I have the strength of character and clarity of vision to be the party’s Leader, and I have spoken to many members and supporters over the summer weeks to gauge views on the party’s future and my role in that future. I will now be putting my name forward to stand for Party Leader when nominations open.

"Plaid Cymru has achieved a great deal for Wales over the past few years. This year saw the establishment of Wales’ first legislative Parliament and the completion of Plaid’s first-ever term in Government. Now a new chapter is opening for Plaid Cymru. Our task is to strengthen our country’s autonomy and economy, and to make the case to the people of Wales that our nation is better served by independence than dependence.

"Unlike the British parties, our job is never to manage Wales, but to build Wales. Sometimes Plaid will contribute to that work from within Government, sometimes from outside. However, our aims remain clear: that we build our country’s independence and that we work to achieve economic prosperity and social justice for our people.

"We need, as a Party, to reach out to a wider array of voters. We cannot just speak to ourselves, we need now to go out and talk to, and for, everyone in Wales. Over the coming months I will outline clearly how I believe we can reach out to people and build our support.

"I have held many offices within Plaid Cymru, both locally in Ceredigion and nationally, as Party Chair and now Director of Communications. I have been a Town Councillor and, since 1999, an Assembly Member for Plaid Cymru. I began my working career as an Economist, and politics has been a lifelong interest and passion.

"I am a West Walian and a proud Cardi. Had I lived in any other country in the world, I would still have been a republican and a socialist. But as a Welsh citizen, then I am also a Welsh nationalist. I speak both languages of Wales.

"I am passionate and ambitious for my country. An occasional Welsh Grand Slam or Gold Medal is great, but is not enough for me. I want to see Wales as a self-governing nation placed among the best countries of the world in terms of its education, economic and environmental achievements too.

"If elected its Leader, then my party can expect 100% dedication from me. I am a hard-worker and a team player. Winning a tough marginal seat such as Ceredigion four times on the trot would not have been possible without those characteristics.

"I enjoy meeting people and working for people. My constituents know that I am there for them – whether in a formal surgery, on the end of a phone or in the supermarket aisle on a Saturday afternoon. Gaining people’s trust is a necessity for any politician. I have done so in Ceredigion and in my recent role as Rural Affairs Minister. I can do it again as Plaid’s Leader.

"I can be trusted to listen, to take tough decisions and win arguments. But, most importantly, I have learnt that there is little point in taking those tough decisions or winning those arguments in isolation. I can take people with me.

"Today is my 45th birthday. I was born in Carmarthen, in 1966, on Gwynfor’s birthday, September 1st. That makes me acutely aware of the longer-term struggle by Plaid members and supporters in seeking to establish an independent nation. Many have known darker political times than me. However, realising the ambition of national freedom should continue to unite and motivate us all.

"Plaid Cymru has achieved so much for Wales over its 86 year history. But so much remains to be done. As we begin our party’s next chapter, and Wales’ first chapter with its legislative Parliament, I am ready to lead Plaid Cymru."

29/08/2011

Paul jumps for safety

Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it's Plaid Cymru councillor Paul James on one of three bungee jumps this weekend to raise money for CCTV cameras on the Llanbadarn to Aberystwyth cycle path.

It has to be said there are mixed views about the desirability of CCTV cameras on the path. The campaign was started following two robberies at knifepoint on the path in September and November last year, attacks that came as a huge shock to a town entirely unused to crimes of that nature, having one of the lowest crime rates in the country. 

Since they haven't been repeated anywhere in the area, there is a view that the attacks may have been the work of outsiders who have moved on. The question is being asked whether the apparently diminishing need to act to prevent further attacks is outweighed by concerns about loss of privacy and how extensive CCTV coverage looks like becoming in our society. 

What isn't in doubt, though, is the commitment to the safety of local residents shown by Paul, a County Councillor for Llanbadarn Fawr Sulien Ward, just outside Aberystwyth. In April he arranged a 3-day bag pack with Communities First at Morrison's supermarket, which borders the path, raising £4,922.

This weekend's series of three jumps, one after the other, was taken from the highest bungee platform in the UK at Windsor, measuring 100 metres. At 50-odd years of age, that's no mean feat and the jumps are set to raise well over another £4,000 in sponsorship. I'm just glad we're not looking at a by-election.

Anyone wishing to donate money to the campaign can e-mail Paul  at paulj@ceredigion.gov.uk