31/12/2012

Ceredigion keeps best records of homophobic bullying


Ceredigion Council is the best in Wales at recording homophobic bullying in schools. 

The Council have recorded 73 incidents since 2010. The next nearest was Conwy with 18 followed by Gwynedd and Bridgend with one each. The other 18 Councils in Wales did not keep central records.
The information was obtained by Plaid Cymru using the Freedom of Information Act. Lindsay Whittle, Plaid’s Shadow Equalities spokesperson and Assembly Member for South Wales East, said:
“This survey is worrying because it reveals that most local authorities are in the dark over the extent of homophobic bullying and, possibly, bullying generally.
“Some local authorities like Ceredigion and Conwy clearly have systems in place to record this information which is to be applauded. Knowing the extent of any problem is key to dealing with it, so something needs to change.  I will be raising this issue in the new year in the National Assembly.”  

Plaid Leader Leanne Wood also commented here on ITV.
Image source: Stars, Aberystwyth

27/12/2012

Tai Ceredigion warn of looming housing benefits crisis


Tai Ceredigion have warned that upcoming changes to housing benefit will mean serious financial problems for some people that could lead to increased homelessness in the county.

The not-for-profit housing association took over the County Council’s housing stock in 2009. Their Chief Executive, Steve Jones, now says,
“The Government’s 40% public sector capital cutbacks will inevitably reduce spending on housing and thereby compound the current desperate housing shortage. Whilst homelessness is often associated with cities, the rural situation is as bad, if not worse, because of the limited supply of accommodation available.

"There is a huge need for more social housing in Ceredigion to meet the needs of local people, many of whom are on very low incomes. These include working single persons and families who are going to be worst hit by the UK Government's changes to Housing Benefit for single persons under 35 years as well as the Bedroom Tax to be introduced in April 2013.

"The Bedroom Tax will affect working age tenants in homes where they do not use all bedrooms. There is widespread talk of people in their 40s and 50s ‘under occupying’  three-bedroom houses and that they should move to smaller one or two-bedroom accommodation - but in rural areas like Ceredigion, where are these properties? They simply do not exist and the UK 40% capital spending cut means there is a lot less Social Housing Grant available to build new smaller homes” . 

The Association has produced data and modelling to highlight the effect of the Westminster Government's Bedroom Tax on over 300 of Tai Ceredigion's tenants. They say this will mean the loss of around £180,000 per annum in Housing Benefit income for Tai Ceredigion tenants and therefore the local economy.

The planned cap on increases in benefits over the next three years contained in the Government’s recent spending announcement will also mean further reductions in income for tenants (including private sector tenants) for the next three years.

“This is going to lead to increased rent arrears and an increase in evictions and homelessness at a time when homelessness and numbers on the Social Housing Register is already increasing sharply,” says Steve Jones.

“Last year Tai Ceredigion more than doubled the number of properties made available to the Council for use as temporary accommodation, from 20 to over 40, but there is a real danger that the Council will be forced to put families with young children back into bed and breakfast accommodation.

"This housing crisis is going from bad to worse and we have specialist staff currently advising all of our affected tenants on benefits, so that we can prepare them as best as possible for these major cuts to their already low incomes."

Tai Ceredigion has 2227 rented homes and 137 leasehold dwellings in the county. Its charitable status ensures that income can be ploughed back into improving tenants’ homes and running the housing service.

24/12/2012

18/12/2012

The Welsh language census results for Ceredigion


The census figures for 2011, recently announced by the Office for National Statistics showed the percentage of Welsh speakers in Ceredigion down 4.68 per cent - 2,954 in hard numbers - compared to the last census in 2001.

A percentage drop of some kind was generally expected, although not necessarily this much, because it’s well-known that there is significant net migration into the county. The figure has gone from 51% down to  47.35%. However the big shock is that 2,954 fewer people in the county recorded themselves as speaking Welsh compared to 2001. People have been asking how this can be, given the increase in Welsh language education, and it’s worth starting the process of unpicking what has gone on. The first place to start is to look at the figures for Welsh speakers in the different age groups in Ceredigion compared to the 2001 census. The figures below are provided by the superb Syniadau blog:

The age group is followed by the number of Ceredigion Welsh speakers up or down and then the percentage up or down.

Age 3-4:  Up 15 / Up 2.35% 
Age 5-9:  Down 599 / Up 2.02%    
Age 10-14: Down 387 / Up 1.6%   
Age 15-19:  Down 219 / Down 11.65%   
Age 20–24:  Up 433 / Up 1.01%  
Age 25-39:  Down 1039 / Down 2.19%  
Age 40-49:  Down 433 / Down 3%
Age 50-59:  Down 664 / Down 2.54%
Age 60-64:  Up 144 / Down 8.27%
Age 65-74:  Down 40 / Down 8.58% 
Age 75+:  Down 165 / Down 6.27%

Remember, these figures are but one snapshot in time last year compared to another snapshot in time ten years ago.

The first thing to state is the positive point that the percentages of Welsh speakers for all ages up to 14 in the county are up, undoubtedly due to the steadily improving Welsh-language provision in the County’s schools. There also seem to be more Welsh-speaking students at Ceredigion's two universities. It’s just that, despite the good work being done, there are simply far fewer children in the county now, and the good effect of these is being outweighed by other factors. There are huge age-related demographic changes at work here that health professionals have been warning about for years.

The key factor in the lower numbers isn’t older Welsh-speakers dying, as might be expected. By far the biggest drop is amongst the 25-39 age group. This is echoed by the total population changes shown below compared to 2001 where, again, the biggest change is in the 25-39 age group (although I recognise the age groupings given aren’t equal).

Age 3-4      Down 32
Age 5-9      Down 838
Age 10-14  Down 548
Age 15-19  Up 970
Age 20-24  Up 1154
Age 25-39  Down 1603
Age 40-49  Down 338
Age 50-59  Down 909
Age 60-64  Up 1270
Age 65-74  Up 1409
Age 75+     Up 518

So the key overall population factors for Ceredigion are that children are down, students are up, those in both early and late middle age are down and all ages over 60 are up. The net total shows there are now 73,847 people over the age of three in Ceredigion compared to 72,884 ten years ago.

Although the number of people over 60 moving to the County seems, according to the figures, to be cutting the percentage of Welsh speakers, I’m not convinced this makes the crucial difference to the vitality of the language. The key factor for Ceredigion is the devastating loss of 1603 people - 1039 Welsh speakers - between the ages of 25-39. As a comparison, it’s worth recording that, in Cardiff, there was an increase of 9,800 in this age group compared to 2001 and this included 1,162 more Welsh speakers. The losses in Ceredigion continue up to age 59. Losing so many economically active people represents a crisis for the local economy as well as for the Welsh language.

More census details will be released next year, including the figures for those living in the rest of the UK recording their first language as Welsh. However there was no provision in the census to record those Welsh speakers outside Wales not stipulating Welsh as their first language, so we’ll never know the total number. This is a regular and serious omission in all censuses and implies that Welsh is not taken seriously as a ‘British’ language. According to Syniadau, anything between 52,000 and 89,000 Welsh speakers are now estimated to move out of Wales over a ten-year period.

Talking with friends in the pub last night, we all knew of people once very active in the Welsh-speaking community who had moved to England. All of these were highly intelligent people who had moved with the greatest reluctance but had really been left with no other career option. Some will be back. I suspect the majority will not, unless we can start to turn the economy around.

Last week Ceredigion Council heard that their application to turn Ysgol Gynradd Aberteifi into a Welsh-medium primary school had been successful. Focussing in this way on the young people that we have, coupled with providing the good jobs, housing and prospects that bright, career-minded local people need, must be the future of the Welsh language in Ceredigion. How we can do this in the current climate is the big question.

05/12/2012

Ceredigion Council Leader wins Local Politician of the Year Award

Whilst we're on the subject of awards, Ceredigion's Council Leader Ellen ap Gwynn (right) has tonight won the ITV Wales Local Politician of the Year Award. The award was given to her for showing strong leadership when floods hit North Ceredigion in June, after just a month in office. 

Plaid Cymru's Leanne Wood won the Campaigner of the Year Award for her successful party leadership campaign.

All parties were represented on the judging panel. The photo shows Ellen with a framed cartoon presented by former Assembly Member Nerys Evans.

Aberystwyth Town Hall wins Building Commendation Award



It’s been more than a little controversial at times, but the conversion of Aberystwyth’s Old Town Hall in Queens Road, by an in-house Council team, into the Town Library, County Archive and Day Centre has been awarded the 2012 Commendation Award by CLAW, the Consortium of Local Authorities in Wales.

CLAW’s annual report says,
“The scheme is a very effective project putting to good modern use an iconic structure in the heart of Aberystwyth Conservation Area. The judges considered the design team had a particularly difficult challenge to achieve a modern open-plan layout within a former cellular plan building. It was good to see the building retained for community use within the town.”

The CLAW Building of the Year Award was given to the REGAIN Building at The Works in Ebbw Vale.

The Library had it's official opening as Canolfan Alun R. Edwards in September. The Day Centre is holding an open day on Saturday 8th December between 10am and 12.30.

30/11/2012

Aberystwyth church demolition plan withdrawn



The controversial planning application to demolish St Winefride’s Catholic Church and Presbytery in Queen’s Road, Aberystwyth and build flats on the site has been withdrawn by the applicants.

The withdrawal came after it became clear that Ceredigion’s Planning Department were set to refuse planning permission due to the applicants’ failure to provide information that would justify the demolition of a historic church in the town’s conservation area and their claim that renovation would cost £2 million. At the same time, campaigners opposing the demolition had produced evidence, in a report commissioned by the organisation Save Britain’s Heritage, to show that the building did not need to be demolished and could be renovated for £600,000.

The application by the church’s Menevia Diocese, based in Swansea, is intended to fund the building of a new church in Penparcau which already has planning permission. Although there are different strands of opinion within the church’s large congregation, many parisioners have vehemently opposed the plans.

St Winefrede’s church was built in 1874-5 in a gothic style and was the first Catholic church to be built in Ceredigion after the Reformation. It played a pivotal role in developing the Welsh language within the Catholic church, publishing the first Welsh hymnbook and developing a Welsh Mass.

Following the withdrawal of the application, it is expected that the applicants will now make another attempt to assemble evidence to support their case and will re-apply for planning permission in a few months time.

19/11/2012

Sanderlings and Starlings


It’s recently come to light that the Marston’s pub chain are planning to call their new establishment in Aberystwyth ‘The Sanderling’. The new pub is currently in the early stages of being built in Boulevard St Brieuc, between the Welsh Government offices and the Mudiad Meithrin building. 

For those who don’t know (and, asking around, that seems to include most people) a Sanderling is one of these little chappies on the left. I certainly hadn’t heard of them in the Aberystwyth area so I asked a friend who’s a member of the British Trust for Ornithology. She quoted her book about them:
“Breeds in high Arctic. Seen on passage and in Winter, sometimes in large flocks on sandy beaches, mudflats and pools. Rare inland.”
Apparently the nearest they come to Aberystwyth is the Dyfi Estuary, eight miles away, where they stick around for the Winter and then go again.

Alright, eight miles isn't all that far away, but a debate surfaced the other day on Twitter asking if a name with more local resonance could be found and one that is either Welsh or bilingual. In the Twitter dialogue, Ceredigion’s Assembly Member, Elin Jones, suggested Y Ddrudwen/The Starling would be appropriate since huge flocks of Starlings have become a real attraction on Aberystwyth Prom in the last few years, even being featured on TV and in the press (see picture left from the Mid Wales Birdlife site and many more by googling ‘Aberystwyth Starlings’). The serious-looking telescopes and cameras often lined up on the Prom at dusk show they’ve become a genuine tourist attraction that Marston’s might like to link into.

Other suggestions made of local birds have been Glas y Dorlan/Kingfisher (often seen in Plas Crug Avenue, 200 yards from the new Marston’s) and Yr Alarch/The Swan, many of which live on the Afon Rheidol across the road.

Marston’s seem to have a policy of using rural or nature themes in the naming of their pubs. The names of the current 22 Marston’s pubs in Wales are:
Talardy, Ffordd Dderwen, Running Hare, The Crown, Plas Coch, Nag’s Head, Poachers Pocket, Smithfield Bell, Willow Tree, Dragonfly, Otter, Bumble Bee, Pitcher & Piano, Copper Penny, Llangewydd Arms, Cherry Laurel, The Barn, Cherry Orchard, Sand Martin, Cayo Arms, Cwrt Rawlin and Ffynnon Wen.  

I don’t know if they named them all or took some existing pubs over, but several of the names seem to indicate that they're not unaware of local or Welsh sensibilities.

I wonder if they could be persuaded to give their new pub a more locally-relevant name. Marston’s can be contacted via this link.


Update  21/11/12

Response received from Marston's to an e-mail on the subject from one Aberystwyth resident:

"Thank you for your email regarding our new pub The Sanderling in Aberystwyth which is part of our national expansion that will see 25 pubs built this year.  A good news story in what seems to be a string of doom and gloom stories about the economy at the moment.

"We have always found the naming of pubs to be potentially contentious and can often generate a huge amount of debate.  We have tried over the years to include local residents in the naming of our pubs but this has, more often than not, led to even more discontent when one group's choice is taken over another's.

"Through our now vast experience at building new pubs over the last few years, we have opted to make the choice of name solely ours and to rely upon the great food, drink and service that the pub will offer to be the core of how we are judged.

"Our current naming policy is focused around animal names and nature, not necessarily local animals or nature, as these names are "neutral" as not to play to any one part of the community that we serve. These often help reflect the fact that a large part of our target customer group will be families who often disassociate food from more traditionally named pubs. We have found that opening pubs across the United Kingdom that this has worked well to date.

"We try to keep clear of historical figures or names that are linked to football clubs as that can often alienate a particular group of people - Something we are keen to avoid!
I, along with my team, look forward to welcoming you and the residents of Aberystwyth through the doors of The Sanderling in the near future when the pub is finally completed."


Update  26/11/12
Five days after sending the above, Marston's have informed Elin Jones that they will re-name the pub 'The Starling Cloud'. Well done to them for that. No mention of anything in Welsh as yet though.

17/11/2012

Ceredigion romps home in battle of the spoilt ballots



It’s very likely that Ceredigion had the highest percentage of spoilt ballot papers anywhere in Thursday’s whole miserable Police & Crime Commissioner elections.  Figures for other places are hard to come by but, looking at those I’ve seen, Ceredigion looks way out in front. In fact, judging from this report, the tally was quite possibly the highest percentage of spoilt papers in any single preference election within the UK.

With a total of 944 spoilt papers, or 10.97% (let’s call it 11%), Ceredigion certainly outstripped the other counties in the Dyfed-Powys police area. Carmarthenshire scored 3.19%, Pembrokeshire 2.5% and Powys 4.38%. These figures are still very high, bearing in mind that, at the 2007 Welsh Assembly election for example, spoilt ballots amounted to 0.6%.

There are pointers to why Ceredigion’s figure stands out so much. The county has a history of strong political engagement and radical thinking. Uniquely, neither of the two dominant parties in the county (Plaid Cymru and the Lib Dems, for those reading this from outside) were represented in the PCC election, which featured only Labour and Conservative candidates. During the election period a head of steam was generated by several prominent local tweeters calling for people to spoil their papers rather than not vote.

What bothers me is that the Conservative winner’s majority of 1,114 was so much less than the 2,912 spoilt ballots across Dyfed-Powys. However much people wanted to protest against the flawed elections, I’m pretty sure very few of them wanted the Tories to control policing here. We can now anticipate there won’t be much opposition going on from our new commissioner to the expected further police cuts.

This is probably the first time in 150 years that the Conservatives have won an election covering Ceredigion. It was for fear of this that I didn’t spoil my paper and voted Labour. Whatever the wrongs of the whole idea of a single commissioner - and there are many - and despite my own party not being represented in the elections, I am completely unable to pass up an opportunity to vote against the Tories. It’s a congenital condition. Even that didn’t work out and Dyfed-Powys became one of a series of dismal and quite surprising Labour failures in Wales.

It will be interesting to see what a non-Conservative Westminster government, should we get one, will do about the next PCC elections in four years time. In the meantime, let’s continue making the case for policing powers to be devolved to Wales so we can develop our own, more enlightened system for overseeing the police.

Image source: http://www.itv.com/news/update/2012-11-16/voters-take-pictures-of-spoilt-police-ballot-papers/

12/11/2012

Plaid opens its doors to candidates

Plaid Cymru is casting the net as wide as possible to attract prospective candidates for the next Westminster election in Ceredigion.

This will be the first time ever that any political party has opened up the political selection process in Ceredigion. It will also be a first for Plaid Cymru on a national level. 


Rob Phillips, Chair of the Plaid Cymru constituency committee in Ceredigion, explains:
"We are encouraging anybody who supports Plaid Cymru to consider whether they would like to put their name forward to become the party’s Ceredigion candidate for the forthcoming Westminster election. We invite anyone who believes that they could be a champion for Ceredigion and Plaid Cymru to come forward and express an interest in this exciting role.

"Groups such as business people, women, ethnic minorities, farmers, and young people are traditionally under-represented in the political world. I would encourage people from all backgrounds to consider themselves as potential candidates for Plaid Cymru.

"Plaid Cymru believes that the internal candidate selection processes used by political parties need to be opened up to the wider public. Over the past year, we have seen Plaid Cymru’s membership increase by over 33 per cent here in Ceredigion. We therefore want to capitalise on this enthusiasm as we look to select our Westminster candidate".

Leanne Wood, Plaid's Leader, said tonight in the annual lecture of the Institute of Welsh Politics in Aberystwyth:
"Plaid Cymru – the Party of Wales intends to open up our candidate selection policy to inspire people from all walks of life to put their names forward to stand and serve our country. I will be setting a goal for our party to have a million conversations between now and May 5th 2016 (the next Welsh Government elections). We have plans to create a ‘wiki-manifesto’ by crowd-sourcing ideas from people throughout Wales in order to transform the country and overcome voter apathy."

Anybody with an interest in putting their name forward to be Plaid Cymru’s Westminster candidate for Ceredigion should contact the Aberystwyth Plaid Cymru Office on 01970 617 492.

11/11/2012

Aberystwyth shopfronts revamp



Shopfronts in Aberystwyth are the subject of a major renovation programme intended to improve the town's visual appearance. The works, which are becoming increasingly visible around the town, are being funded by a combination of grants and interest-free loans put together by the Ceredigion Council and funded by the Welsh Government as part of Aberystwyth’s status as a Regeneration Area. So far 13 buildings have been renovated, some incorporating more than one shop, with work on another seven in progress and many more expected.

Aberystwyth has always had some wonderful vernacular architecture that has often gone unnoticed and been allowed to decay. The principle of the scheme is that encouraging enough interested shop-owners to renovate their properties improves the whole image of Aberystwyth, by making best use of the town’s innate characteristics, which in turn attracts people into the town and boosts the economy.

Typically a scheme for a particular building might include painting that picks out architectural features, repair work, new windows, decluttering by getting rid of redundant hanging wires and aerials, bilingual signage and, where necessary, conversion back to a traditional-style shop-front.

Northgate Street, identified as a neglected area and an important entranceway into the town, is to be particularly targetted and most properties in the street will be improved in the next few months.

The work is taking place with grant and loan funding from a combination of Town Improvement and Community Enhancement Grants funded by the Welsh Government’s Housing Renewal Area fund.  The work builds on a smaller scheme begun in the town in 2008. Cardigan and Tregaron have also seen similar successful schemes in the past decade. 

09/11/2012

Ras Glyndwr 2013 starts now


Planning has started for a long-distance relay race to celebrate and raise money for the Welsh language.

The intention of the organisers is to hold a non-competitive relay race from Glyndŵr’s parliament in Machynlleth to Cardigan on Saturday 15th of September 2013. Clubs, societies, families, schools and individuals will pay to buy one kilometre of the journey, passing a baton from each kilometre to the next. 

September was chosen to hold the race as it won't coincide with other important events in the Welsh calendar like the Urdd Eisteddfod, the Royal Welsh Show and the National Eisteddfod. The 16th of September is also Glyndŵr Day as this is the date that he was crowned Prince of Wales in 1400.

Gwenno Hywel of Cered, Ceredigion’s Welsh language initiative, who is co-ordinating the event, says,
“It’s time to celebrate the Welsh language and  bring people together from every background with an interest in supporting the language – Welsh speakers, learners and non-Welsh speakers. It will cost £50 to nominate a kilometre but more than one person can run each kilometre in the name of their local football club, branch of Merched y Wawr, local pub or school. We will be commissioning local craftsmen to create a special baton and we intend to hold different events along the route. The profit made from the race will be distributed in grants to promote the Welsh language.’ 

Ras Glyndŵr is based on similar very successful races in Ireland, Brittany and the Basque Country. The first race of its type, the Korrika, in the Basque Country, was held in 1980. Today the Basques run non-stop, 24 a day for ten days, raising hundreds of thousands of pounds towards teaching Basque to adults. The idea was adopted by the Bretons and in 2012 their race, the Redadeg, travelled non-stop, day and night, over 1,400km across Brittany. This year the An Rith was also held in Ireland, running 1000km through towns and countryside including Derry, Belfast and Dublin.

"It’s time for us to celebrate the Welsh language", said Siôn Jobbins who has run the Korrika, Redadeg and the Rith and has written a report about them. "It’s time for the friends of the Welsh language to come together, and show a bit more oomph and fun for the language instead of expecting others to work on their behalf. Ras Glyndŵr will be a great way to bring people together, raise money and awareness about the language and celebrate that we are still here!"

A meeting to establish Ras Glyndŵr will take place at 2pm on Thursday the 15th of November in Theatr Felin-fach, near Aberaeron.

Further details
Siôn Jobbins:  sion.jobbins@gmail.com   

A Welsh language video about the race, filmed on location at the Korrika in the Basque country, can be seen hereThe photo shows the Redadeg this year in Brittany, with the front runner holding a specially carved relay baton (source http://www.ar-redadeg.org/?lang=br)

04/11/2012

TraCC’s annual report

TraCC (Trafnidiaeth Canolbarth Cymru), the local authority transport consortium for Central Wales, has published its annual progress report.

TraCC consists of Ceredigion and Powys councils plus the Meirionydd area of Gwynedd. It receives funding from the Welsh government to deliver agreed transport schemes across the Mid Wales region.

According to the report, TraCC’s top five priorities are currently:
  • Post Bach to Synod Inn road improvements - currently being constructed
  • Llanrhystud – Aberystwyth trunk road improvements
  • Newtown Bypass
  • Pont Dyfi bridge replacement at Machynlleth
  • Hourly passenger service on the Cambrian rail line

Other priorities for Ceredigion mentioned in the report include:
  • Aberystwyth Passenger Transport Gateway Scheme - currently being built along the length of Alexandra Road
  • Aberystwyth Park & Ride North – Funding currently being sought to expand the Hospital/University car park on Clarach Road.
  • Cardi Bach Rural Bus service, linking villages along the coast in South Ceredigion  - up and running
  • Bwcabus  Phase 2 – up and running
  • Rural Interchange project at Synod Inn – funding being sought
  • Rail Study into the possibility of stations at Bow Street and Carno - study complete, funding being sought.
  • Dyfi Bends road straightening project – currently being built between Talybont and Machynlleth
  • Extension of the Ystwyth Trail cycle path into Tregaron – funding being sought

Anyone interested in transport schemes in Mid Wales, how they are funded and how the region is doing in terms of its transport carbon footprint will find a wealth of information in the report which is on this link

26/10/2012

Traveline Cymru's Mobile App

I know I'm sounding a bit like a child with a new toy here, but I went from Aberystwyth to Cardiff and back on the bus the other day (for the Nuclear-Free Local Authorities Welsh forum) and, for the first time, used the Traveline Cymru app on my mobile. It works absolutely brilliantly. The app instantly gives you all possible options for any journey you want to make, whether by train or bus, within Wales and beyond. It's bilingual and so up to date it even identifies the different stops at the new Aberystwyth bus station. I'll never need to bother with a timetable again.  

Traveline Cymru is funded by the Welsh Government and has representatives from across Wales on its Board. Info about the free app can be found here. Advert over.

22/10/2012

Funding cut for Ceredigion despite Welsh Government help


In keeping with the whole public sector, funding for Ceredigion Council is going to fall further in the next financial year, despite receiving a slight increase from the Welsh Government. This is because their increase of 1.23% is below the rate of inflation, currently 2.2%.  

Under the provisional local authority settlements for 2013–2014 outlined by the Welsh Government last week, Ceredigion County Council will receive an increase of 1.23% – marginally above the average increase of 1.22% for Welsh county councils.

Ceredigion’s Assembly Member, Elin Jones, said:
“Despite the swingeing public sector spending cuts being imposed on all levels of government from Westminster, I welcome these provisional figures which suggest that the funding for Ceredigion County Council next year will see a slight increase.
“However, even this small increase remains below the rate of inflation and will equate to a funding cut in real terms. There is therefore no doubt that this will still be a tough settlement for Ceredigion County Council in the face of rising costs and ever increasing demand for its services.
“While Ceredigion will be receiving a slightly above-average increase in funding compared to other Welsh local authorities, I will continue to make the case for us to receive a fair share of the ever-dwindling public purse locally, in order to protect the services we all value”.

Image source: http://logicalconclusion.net/

15/10/2012

Llandysul bypass three years on


The latest traffic  figures for Llandysul provide interesting reading for those both interested in and opposed to bypasses. 

These figures below, taken from a counter in Well Street, give a five-day average for August each year. The £23 million Llandysul Bypass was opened in October 2009 – three years ago this month.  Figures for the following August showed traffic through the town reduced by 60%.

Aug 2005 = 4485 vehicles
Aug 2006 = 4537 vehicles
Aug 2007 = 3948 vehicles
Aug 2008 = 4421 vehicles
Aug 2009 = 4440 vehicles
Oct 2009 – Bypass opens
Aug 2010 = 1814 vehicles
Aug 2011 = 1798 vehicles
Aug 2012 = 1691 vehicles

That may be good news for people wanting a quieter town and for drivers wanting a faster journey between mid-Ceredigion and Carmarthen. But, as I heard at a meeting in the town last week, it’s been a disaster for local shops and businesses. Bypasses are a two-edged sword.

Update: An expanded version of this piece can be found here.
Image source: http://www.llandysul-plogoneg.org/?c-The-achievements-of-the-twining

25/09/2012

Ceredigion appoints first Carbon Manager


Ceredigion Council has made a new commitment to reducing its carbon footprint with the employment of its first Energy and Carbon Reduction Manager.

It will be the new officer’s role to plan, regulate and monitor energy usage within the authority and to bring in changes to improve efficiency.

Over the coming months, the Council intends to update its Carbon Management Plan, which covers non-domestic buildings, business travel, street lighting and fleet vehicles. The new officer will play a vital role in this process.

I’m delighted by this new appointment. For many years now people in Ceredigion have shown that they place a higher than average priority on environmental sustainability and the Council is now aiming to reflect that more in its policies and practices. 

15/09/2012

Canolfan Alun R. Edwards


Ceredigion Council leader Ellen ap Gwynn and Welsh Government Regeneration Minister Huw Lewis this week opened Aberystwyth’s new £2 million Town Library and County Archive.

Although the location of the library will continue to be known by many people as the Old Town Hall, the official name of the library is now Canolfan Alun R. Edwards. This has come as a surprise to those who don’t know the history of the library service in Ceredigion.

Alun R. Edwards (1920-1986) was raised in Llanio, near Tregaron, and worked at the National Library as a young man. As Ceredigion Council’s website recalls, 

“He was appointed librarian on lst January 1950. Over the next quarter of a century he was to revolutionise the Cardiganshire library services and with his vision and pioneering work he transformed and expanded the role of the library and made it much more than a place to borrow books. Among other things the mobile library scheme was expanded to cover the whole of the county.

"Book discussion groups were set up, book quizzes were held throughout the county, the first cassette library was established and a compilation of talks on Welsh life past and present made. He also played a major role in setting up the Welsh Books Council and the College of Librarianship.

“With reorganisation in 1974, libraries came under the control of Dyfed County Council. Alun R Edwards was appointed as the Dyfed librarian and was to remain in this post until his retirement in 1980."

In her speech, Ellen ap Gwynn, added:
"As a former member of staff at the County Library under the direction of Alun R Edwards in the early seventies, I recall that plans were afoot to build a new Library back in those days. Those plans didn’t come to fruition, so I’m glad to see that we are finally opening Canolfan Alun R. Edwards in the new look Aberystwyth Town Hall, with a Library and Archives that are fit for the 21st century.”

The new library offers improved access for disabled people, better toilets and baby changing facilities and double the number of computers. The Local History collection and the Archives are now all under one roof.

Since the new library opened in April, 200 new members have joined, attendance by children has doubled and borrowings are up by 25%.

The photo shows Ellen ap Gwynn at the opening. The lady sitting on her right is the widow of Alun R. Edwards.

18/08/2012

Synod Inn road upgrade to start



Work to upgrade three kilometres of the A486 between Synod Inn and Llandysul in Ceredigion is due to start at the beginning of September.

The road, which, for many in Ceredigion, is the main link to Carmarthen and beyond, will be straightened along what is currently a winding, narrow stretch and widened to 7.3m from the current 5 to 6.5m.

Many environmentalists are instinctively opposed to road improvements of this kind, arguing that they inevitably increase traffic. However it’s not all bad from their point of view. I’ve always thought the worst thing about this route is the complete lack of pavement for long stretches on such a narrow A-road. The upgraded road will include a continuous two metre pavement on one side.

It is sometimes said that there’s little need for a pavement in such a sparsely populated area, but that’s no consolation to those who do walk and cycle these routes, who are extremely vulnerable to passing traffic. 

My personal preference on these kinds of rural main roads in future is for a shared use cycle/footway along one side. An official shared use path has to be 3m wide, which this intended pavement isn’t. The route was designed years ago and it’s now too late to re-negotiate with neighbouring landowners. However Highways Officers argue that widening the road by up to 2.3m does allow cars to give cyclists a wide berth. I’m not sure about that but at least there should be little problem with cyclists using a pavement with relatively few pedestrians.

The work due to start soon is to the 1.5km section of road between Post Bach and the house known as Llain. The next section, from Llain the rest of the way up to Synod Inn, is still awaiting funding but this is only a matter of time.

Work is also taking place on putting together an application for a ‘transport hub’ at Synod Inn for connecting bus services. A planning application for this is expected by the end of the year.

10/08/2012

Cardigan Bay councils plan for rising sea levels


A consortium of local authorities are proposing that the sea be allowed to break through at Tanybwlch beach just South of Aberystwyth and allowed to flood into the Ystwyth valley.

The Cardigan Bay Coastal Group’s Shoreline Management Plan accepts that maintaining a sea defence at Tanybwlch (above) is unsustainable in the long-term due to rising sea levels. It proposes allowing the sea to eventually flood into the Ystwyth Valley, joining with the river Ystwyth in the direction of Rhydyfelin where flood defence work may eventually need to take place.

The plan would take the mouth of the Ystwyth back to its original state of a broad tidal estuary. In the 18th century the river was diverted into the mouth of Aberystwyth harbour by the placing of large boulders across the estuary and digging a trench through a rocky bar along the foot of Pen Dinas. It is not thought that letting nature take its course will have a significantly detrimental effect on the harbour which is only dependent on the river Rheidol.

For the rest of Aberystwyth, the plan proposes a ‘hold the line’ approach to the sea, envisaging shoring up existing defences, especially in the Trefechan area. The report raises the long-term possibility of ‘re-charging’ Aberystwyth beaches and even land reclamation in order to control the shoreline.

Further north, the plan envisages the village of Clarach slowly retreating inland, the loss of Borth golf course to the sea in the long-term and even discusses the eventual need to re-locate the railway line.

It is sobering to see the authorities now coming to terms with the inevitability of rising sea levels and making plans accordingly.

The West of Wales Shoreline Management Plan is a huge document put together by the five county councils along the coast together with the Welsh Government and other involved organisations.

Image source: http://www.geograph.org.uk/photo/846582

28/07/2012

Carnifal Aberystwyth


Aberystwyth carnival was held today for the first time in twelve years. The event was a big success on a bright sunny day. More photos here.

Many small shops around town decorated their windows for the event with prizes given for the best three:
1st Prize - Pretty Flamingo, Pier Street
2nd Prize - T. J. Davies, Terrace Road
3rd Prize - Ffagl Gobaith / Beacon of Hope, Chalybeate Street

18/07/2012

Plaid Cymru's women leaders



The recent election of Ceredigion Assembly Member Elin Jones as Deputy leader of the Plaid Cymru group in the Welsh Assembly, alongside Leanne Wood as Party Leader, is welcome for a number of reasons.

Firstly it demonstrates a welcome coming together of two people who recently fought the party's leadership campaign against each other. Secondly it provides the leadership with geographical and linguistic balance. And thirdly, it further solidifies Plaid Cymru’s commitment to the promotion of women.

Almost all the key posts in Plaid Cymru are now filled by females:

Leader: Leanne Wood AM
Deputy Leader: Elin Jones AM
President: Jill Evans MEP
Chair: Helen Mary Jones
Chief Executive: Rhuanedd Richards

Just to provide a little balance, Elfyn Llwyd is the party’s UK Parliamentary Leader. 

People have been scratching their heads to find a party in any country that compares to this. 

Of course, despite efforts, it's not like this throughout the party. Plaid has operated a degree of positive discrimination in its selection of Assembly candidates for years with only limited success. The party's Welsh Assembly group currently consists of four women out of 11 AMs. Clearly more needs to be done.

Those arguing against positive discrimination tend to emphasise the importance of selecting the perceived best candidate for the job. This forgets that ‘the job’ is currently defined by a somewhat adversarial, arguably male-orientated, political world. We need to be thinking in a longer-term, more revolutionary way than that. There's discussion of ways others are trying here.

The real issue for me is the democratic deficit that happens when 50% of the population is grossly under-represented in government. This has a devastating effect on our societies. Of course, there's always the occasional Thatcher, but, in the main, it's very unlikely that we'd have so many wars or that the planet's eco-system would be in such a state if women were properly represented in governments around the world. The pre-dominance of women at the top of Plaid Cymru is unique in politics and a credit to the party. 

16/07/2012

Bwcabus



Last week’s Bwcabus extension launch in Lampeter, with Carl Sargeant, the Welsh Government’s Local Government Minister in attendance, marked the latest stage in what is viewed as the future of Welsh rural transport. 

Bwcabus is a Council-run bus service for the rural areas of Mid and South Ceredigion and North Carmarthenshire (see map here). It picks up people who pre-book from their nearest bus stop or, in the case of those with mobility problems, from their homes and connects them to a town or main bus route. Unlike many scheduled bus services, a trip can be booked for any time between 7am – 7pm.

Before going any further, I have to say that I find it almost impossible to have a conversation about bus services without first pointing out that bus de-regulation in 1986 was an absolute disaster and that, if it was up to me, I’d re-regulate the lot tomorrow. But we are where we are and we have to deal with it.

The Transport Act 1985 rules that, when a commercial provider registers a route as commercial, the local authorities have to step away. In areas of low population, with the most popular, profitable routes taken over by the private sector, it then becomes very difficult for a local authority to fill in the gaps between commercial services. At the same time, in rural areas, there are many people living away from the main routes who don’t drive or don’t have access to a car and can’t afford taxis. These people can be left extremely isolated and vulnerable without a decent bus service near their homes and  councils have to find a way to provide a public transport service for them.

In these difficult circumstances, devising a traditional service that meets the needs of a sufficient critical mass of people to be anywhere near viable is almost impossible.  Any workable solution has to be tailored as closely as possible to the needs of individual passengers. The idea behind Bwcabus is that the best way to do that is to let each user negotiate their own bus times.

Full details of the Bwcabus service in Ceredigion can be found here.