Developers risking landslides by cutting into cliffs

Two separate housing development schemes on the north side of Aberystwyth are risking major landslides after attempting to gain land by eating into cliffs.

Developers at both the Infirmary Road development by the old North Road Hospital and the proposed flats behind the old Boars Head in Queens Road have cut several metres into the cliffs behind.

In the case of Infirmary Road deep fissures have now formed in the land at the top of the cliff, the Parc Natur Penglais owned by Ceredigion Council (pictured). An urgent survey has shown that rock six metres down remains solid but the cliff top is unsafe and substantial remedial work will be necessary.

In Queens Road there is, as yet, no similar evidence of subsidence but diggers have cut back to within two metres of the foundations of houses above and the risk is clear.

The problems highlight the need for greater scrutiny of large developments by Ceredigion Council.


Major funding bid for heritage buildings in Aberystwyth

A major bid has been launched to fund a Town Heritage Initiative for Aberystwyth - the kind of scheme that has transformed Cardigan in the last five years.

County Council officers have until 30th November to submit a bid to the lottery fund for the renovation of the many buildings of heritage value within the town centre. If successful, the lottery will match any money that can be raised locally.

Ceredigion Council have pledged £40,000 per annum for five years. The National Assembly, which has just awarded Aberystwyth ‘Strategic Regeneration Area’ status, will put in substantially more. Aberystwyth Town Council look set to put a smaller amount of money in and other donations may also be found. The lottery will then double any money raised.

Experience from the Cardigan scheme (pictured) shows that success breeds success and that, after the first year’s work, others are willing to put more money in which then also gets doubled by the lottery. Building owners are expected to pay for 30% of the costs of any work but the other 70% is funded by the scheme. This is more generous than the Town Improvement Grant scheme launched last year which has so far only been taken up by four properties in Aberystwyth.

In Cardigan the Town Heritage Initiative eventually brought in £5.9 million and resulted in major improvements to 70 properties, completely transforming the town. In all but one case the work was done by local craftspeople. Aberystwyth, being a larger town, could potentially attract much more money.

As well as raising the spirits and sense of identity of local people, heritage schemes also have a major economic value in attracting visitors. It may be that this kind of a scheme can ultimately have as good an economic effect on Aberystwyth as the controversial Sorting Office Scheme was hoped to have but by enhancing what the town already has rather than by destroying a large section of it.

The result of the bid will be announced next April. Letters of support should be e-mailed to


Aber 350

Students and youth groups in Aberystwyth and Borth today took part in the worldwide 350 campaign. The campaign is aimed to highlight the 350 parts per million judged by scientists to be the safe upper limit for carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. The current figure is 390. The event is being held across 181 countries today ahead of the UN Climate Negotiations in Copenhagen in December.


No place is home for Assembly hotdeskers

It was the desking arrangements that most intrigued visitors at the Open Day of Aberystwyth’s new National Assembly building yesterday.

In the interests of saving space, there are apparently only eight desks for every ten of the 460 workers at the new building, this on the basis that at any given time 20% are expected to be out at meetings, on annual leave etc. This means that all desks have to be cleared at the end of each day and any papers neatly put away in a small personal locker. Anything left won’t be there the next morning, presumably ending up in the materially-differentiated recycling bins dotted around the office. When people turn up for work in the morning they take their paperwork from their locker and put it down on the first desk they can find before logging into that computer - hotdesking.

Now we all know that the promise of computers saving paper hasn’t turned out to be true. Whilst they do reduce paper in many ways (e-mails instead of printed letters, scanning etc) this has been far outweighed by the ease of printing out documents. I can’t see the Assembly’s policy working in the Council’s Planning Department, for example, where in-trays are regularly stacked taller than the planning officers themselves, at least when they’re sitting down. Genuinely creating a paperless office requires managerial ruthlessness. This is what they’ve apparently done for years at Microsoft and it’s what they’re trying out now at the Assembly.

“Ah”, said one visitor on the guided tour, “If no-one know where they’ll be sitting, how can they be reached on the phone?” The Assembly had thought of that. “At the same time as logging into a computer they also log into the nearest phone so the switchboard always knows where they are.”

Another question: “Won’t the huge open plan offices be noisy?” Apparently the ceilings are designed so that noise goes straight upwards and out and doesn’t echo around.

These then are the offices of the future. They require a different way of looking at work, a shift of office culture, a new philosophy. They'll take a bit of getting used to - it’s not possible to put down the little homely knick-knacks that human beings seem to need to identify their own personal work space and I can imagine some lockers stuffed to overflowing with the dreaded papers. Since I work in the NHS, which seems to be institutionally behind the curve when it comes to IT, I doubt if I’ll see this kind of thing for another 15 years. Still, the offices we saw were certainly tidy. Maybe I’ll try some of the philosophy at home.


No to privatisation - Ceredigion abandons plans to share services with the private sector

Plans for Ceredigion, Gwynedd and Powys councils to combine with the private sector in providing current highways and other services have been abandoned.

A business review of the proposals carried out by the consultants Deloitte has concluded that a joint venture with the private sector is 'not conducive' in the current economic climate. The three councils are still intending to work together to save money through economies of scale but without involvement from businesses.

The decision was hailed by many Ceredigion councillors as the best possible outcome at yesterday’s meeting of the Highways Property & Works Scrutiny Committee. It’s been made clear by Brian Gibbons, Assembly Local Government Minister, that councils are expected to work more closely together in the future to save money and that working with the private sector should be considered. Hints have been made that councils refusing to work together could end up being re-organised or amalgamated. But many councillors on both sides of the chamber were very suspicious of linking up with the private sector as any efficiency savings brought about by their involvement would inevitably be eaten up by their need to make a profit.

There were some grumblings from councillors in the south of the county that it would be better to work with Carmarthenshire and Pembrokeshire but council officers pointed out that the nature of those counties meant that Ceredigion’s interests would come very much third in that kind of partnership, whereas Ceredigion can operate on an equal footing with the more similar (in terms of rurality) councils of Gwynedd and Powys. Plans for inter-authority collaboration are still being investigated and senior officers have been asked to draw up proposals.


2.1% - Assembly passes on increase to Ceredigion

Ceredigion County Council will be receiving a 2.1% increase in funding in the next financial year - the same percentage increase as the Assembly Government itself has received from the UK Treasury. The announcement of provisional figures for the financial year 2010-11 was made on Tuesday by Brian Gibbons the Assembly Government’s Minister for Social Justice and Local Government.

Ceredigion fared better than all other rural councils in Wales, including all its neighbours, some of whom were as low as 1%. Assembly Member Elin Jones is particularly pleased.

The Council is relieved that this year's settlement is significantly better (or at least less bad) than anticipated. However much worse is expected in following years, especially if the Conservatives win the next Westminster election. Inflation is currently running at a 5-year low of 1.1%.


No funding for latest town centre plans say Assembly

The National Assembly says the latest radical plans for Aberystwyth town centre are too ambitious to receive public funding. That is despite the developer putting forward new unpublished proposals said to have taken into account the views of the public following widespread protests in May.

The Assembly’s statement reads,
"The Welsh Assembly Government has been presented with revised proposals for the Post Office site in Aberystwyth. The proposals put forward by the developer have clearly taken into account some of the views put forward by local people and are now more sympathetic. “The illustrated scheme would still, however, require the purchase of significant additional areas of property and appear to be unviable without considerable public sector funding. The developer has been told by Welsh Assembly Government officials that these revised options are therefore unlikely to receive public sector funding support at this time, but has been invited to discuss alternative proposals in the future should he wish to do so."

It should be remembered that there was general support and hardly any opposition to the original Masterplan proposals for the site. These were properly consulted on in November and December last year and envisaged developing simply the old sorting office site without demolishing any of the small shops around (see above). It's only since the attempt to greatly expand this scheme out of all recognition from the public consultation that it's run into difficulty.

Although economic conditions have worsened since plans were first broached, it seems likely now that the controversial expanded scheme was never going to be viable, protests or no protests. The developer should now surely go back to the original Masterplan proposals for the derelict sorting office that won public backing. The statement from the Assembly certainly leaves that possibility open


Fairtrade status for Aberystwyth University

Aberystwyth University today declared itself the UK’s 100th Fairtrade University.

The announcement solidifies Aberystwyth’s status as a Fairtrade town which it achieved in 2005. Since then Ceredigion has become a Fairtrade county and, in June last year, Wales became the world’s first
Fairtrade nation.

In order to become a Fairtrade university students and staff must make a commitment to supporting Fairtrade. This includes ensuring that
Fairtrade goods are available in on-site cafes, restaurants and shops, and raising awareness of Fairtrade and the benefits it brings to producers in developing countries. Towns, counties and nations have to demonstrate that they have met similar set criteria to qualify.

The Fairtrade Mark can only be displayed on products - like tea, coffee and bananas - that meet internationally recognised criteria. All products that display the mark are independently audited to ensure they're genuinely providing a fair deal for producers.

It’s the adoption of Fairtrade status by large institutions like the University, with serious buying power, that has a real effect on small farmers in the developing world. The goods, most of which are not produced by farmers in Wales, are bought direct from the farmers for a fair price rather than through exploitative multinational companies. The campaign is revolutionising farming practice and local communities in the developing world.


Stalemate - Officers and Cabinet disagree on parking enforcement

This week’s meeting of the Ceredigion Traffic Management Consultative Committee (17 syllables – not a bad effort but not quite in the premier league of unfeasibly long council committee titles) brought out into the open something many of us have known for years - that council officers and cabinet members have opposing views on the best way to manage parking in Ceredigion, resulting in chaos in many streets.

This summer the whole of Aberystwyth has been policed by just a single, hard-working traffic warden. The police have made it clear that they will not be devoting more resources to this at any time in the future and have even suggested that they may one day withdraw from parking enforcement altogether. They would like to hand the job over to the County Council, a move known as ‘decriminalisation’. The great benefit of this is that, instead of parking fines going straight to the UK Treasury, as they do at the moment, the fines are paid to the Council who can then recycle the money into more staff and resources to manage traffic.

One by one, councils across Wales are doing this. Then, as well as properly enforcing yellow lines, they use their new powers to introduce residents parking schemes to bring order to street parking by taking on commuters who would rather park in the street than use a car park.

Using residential streets as a free car park may seem understandable from the point of view of commuters and shoppers but it can make life intolerable for local residents. There is little sympathy for this problem from people living in more suburban or rural areas – they regard it as simply a price people must expect to pay for living in a town - but it has serious demographic knock-on effects. People have increasingly moved out of town centres due to the daily inconvenience of being unable to park in the street anywhere near their own homes. This is particularly a problem for people with young children and the elderly.

When town family houses are sold they are frequently bought by developers who break them up into flats, turning town centres into bed-sit land. There’s nothing wrong with a few bed-sits but town centres need the right mix of flats and family housing if they’re to retain their core community that holds the place together. That is in danger of being lost in Aberystwyth.

Tourists visiting the town aren’t part of the problem - they generally assume that Aberystwyth has the same standards as everywhere else and use the car parks. People regularly commuting into town however know the situation and tend to park wherever they like, making the streets increasingly chaotic. Council officers, who read their trade journals, know the way things are going across the country and have gradually become convinced of the need for the Council to take on the parking enforcement role from the police. Cabinet members on the other hand, mostly representing out-of-town areas where car commuters live, don’t want to see better enforcement and certainly not residents parking.

Ceredigion's Cabinet member for Highways, Ray Quant, was honest this week in saying that he and the Council’s senior officers are in disagreement. The result is a stalemate leaving Aberystwyth’s street parking largely unpoliced.


New poll predicts Plaid win in Ceredigion

The largest ever poll of UK marginal constituencies released on Friday by the respected polling company Politics Home/YouGov has marked Ceredigion down as a Plaid Cymru gain at the next General Election.

The poll was carried out in September questioning 34,610 people across 238 constituencies. The picture in the 18 most marginal seats in Wales showed eight Conservative gains and three for Plaid Cymru – Arfon, Ynys Mon and Ceredigion – taking the party to its largest ever representation at Westminster.

Voters were weighted by age, gender and social class and then asked their voting intention, whether they were likely to vote and whether they would vote for the party they wanted to win or tactically. Finally they were asked to consider the candidates and parties in their own constituency.
It's this kind of consituency-based detail that makes the poll more significant than most.

The poll concluded that the Conservatives would win a majority at Westminster of 70 seats. Those in Wales that would change hands are:
Aberconwy: Labour (notional) to Tory
Arfon: Labour (notional) to Plaid
Bridgend: Labour to Tory
Cardiff North: Labour to Tory
Carmarthen West & South Pembs: Labour to Tory
Ceredigion: Lib Dem to Plaid
Gower: Labour to Tory
Newport West: Labour to Tory
Vale of Clwyd: Labour to Tory
Ynys Mon: Labour to Plaid
Vale of Glamorgan: Labour to Tory


And the latest news on Aberystwyth's town centre development is....there is no news.

The many people eager for news about the next plans for the development of the old sorting office site in Aberystwyth town centre will have to wait a little longer.

A meeting of the County Council’s ‘Economic Development, Tourism and Europe Overview and Scrutiny Committee’ (24 syllables in that) heard yesterday that the developer had come up with a new scheme and had discussed it with the National Assembly but that the Council had not been involved in those discussions. Councillors present expressed surprise and concern that Council officers hadn’t been involved at all and drew the conclusion that they had been sufficiently stung by the furore over the last set of proposals, involving the demolition of a substantial section of small shops, to want to distance themselves from any new proposals as much as possible. It’s not clear where this stance leaves local input and accountability.

When they eventually reach the light of day, the new proposals will be reported via the Council’s Cabinet.

The Committee heard that discussions were being held with the National Assembly about the possibility of Aberystwyth becoming a Strategic Regeneration Area (SRA) and that it was hard to proceed with any major developments until this was decided upon.