Aberystwyth street parking control breaking down

Street parking around Bronglais Hospital and other areas of Aberystwyth has broken down, with car drivers openly flouting double yellow lines. That’s the only conclusion that can be drawn from pictures like those above, taken outside Bronglais Hospital yesterday.

In the photos, not only is a row of five cars parked on double yellow lines but the pavement is blocked to pedestrians. Most of the cars were still there several hours later.

Aberystwyth has two traffic wardens who both work extremely hard and also have to cover other areas of the County. The problem is that a town the size of Aberystwyth needs far more than this. Anyone working in the field, like the police and council highways officers, will tell you that the police have no more resources to provide extra traffic wardens and that what’s needed is for parking control needs to be transferred from the police to the County Council. That’s what local authorities across the country are increasingly doing. Instead of parking fines going straight to the UK Treasury, as do those from Aberystwyth at the moment, this enables them to be collected by the Council who can then recycle the money into more wardens and improved facilities.

In a sense it’s working in Aberystwyth already. When Ceredigion Highways Officers walk along the Prom in yellow jackets the tourists parked illegally all clear off sharpish. This is because they’re used to Council Officers booking them at home. The locals know better and stay put. It's time Ceredigion caught up with the rest of the country.


Housing transfer goes ahead on Monday

The transfer of Ceredigion’s 2600 council houses and flats to the new housing association Tai Ceredigion will go ahead on Monday following a meeting of the Tai Ceredigion board today.

Although the date of transfer had been announced two weeks ago it became apparent that there were still considerable negotiations to be undertaken before all aspects of the transfer could be agreed. From their point of view, Tai Ceredigion were determined to avoid a financial settlement that would have restricted their ability to undertake the £40 million worth of improvements needed over the next five years to fulfil the all-important
Welsh Housing Quality Standard. Agreement on the key issues was finally reached this week after officers and legal representatives of both organisations worked round the clock.

A formal signing of documents and transfer of the council’s housing staff will now take place as hoped on 30th November, a year after tenants
voted to accept the idea.


More can be less when it comes to leaflets

Penri James's blog quite rightly draws attention to Ceredigion Council’s recently published ‘Highways During Winter/Priffyrdd Dros y Gaeaf' leaflet. This was sent out to absolutely everyone on the county’s electoral roll, resulting in some households receiving four separate copies in different envelopes.

The issue was raised in last week's Highways Scrutiny Committee who were told that the Council employed a private contractor to distribute the leaflets for a fixed fee on the basis of one for every household. For their own reasons the contractor chose to send their leaflets out the way they did without any additional cost to the Council.

This led to a bit of head scratching in the committee followed by the supposition, and it was supposition, that the contractor must have had the software to send one leaflet to each elector very easily but that employing someone to manually reduce their electoral list down to single households would have cost them more than the extra leaflets. Still, as one councillor pointed out, although the additional leaflets didn’t cost the Council any more, there’s been some wastage somewhere and four identical envelopes on the door mat didn't look good. When you’re a local council, being seen to be economical is almost as important as actually being economical.

Council officers accepted that, as part of any future contract, they’d actually have to spell it out - that one leaflet for every household means just that, and more is less in the eyes of the public.


Ceredigion 'acting in the interests of the taxpayer' shock

In the wake of the opening of the new Council offices – Canolfan Rheidol - in Boulevard St Brieuc many people have asked when details of the prices obtained for the seven now redundant former council offices in Aberystwyth town centre will be released.

Ceredigion Council has come in for criticism for refusing to disclose the price of the sales made so far with doubts being cast as to whether the best price is being obtained on behalf of ‘the taxpayer’. Yesterday the Council defended their silence as good sales strategy adopted on the advice of the two estate agents working for them, one local, the other based in Cardiff.

Now it's too easy for Councils to use 'commercial confidentiality' as an excuse for keeping the public in the dark. But, to be fair, you don’t have to be a corporate estate agent to appreciate that the price of one large building in a small town like Aberystwyth will affect the price of similar others. And that disclosing any sales figures before the whole package has been sold could result in a lower return to the council and hence the taxpayer. That’s the thinking of the Council and their estate agents anyway, and it seems to make sense - a case of the taxpayer's interests outweighing open government (an interesting essay topic for politics students). My criticism is that, with a bit of imaginative thinking, one or two of the buildings could have been retained for renting to the numerous local charities desperate for space.

Two of the properties, which can all be seen here, have been sold so far with negotiations on others at an advanced stage. I’m assured that once all seven offices have been sold the prices obtained will be made fully public and that this may happen in a matter of weeks.

In a related development, the Council’s Highways Property & Works Scrutiny Committee heard yesterday that the new Council offices will save an initial £30,000 a year in energy bills compared to the old offices and that these savings are likely to increase over the years as fossil fuel prices rise.


New Co-op opens in the supermarket shuffle

I don’t much like supermarkets. I prefer to shop in small independent shops. But there is one exception – the Co-op. It’s ethical, environmental and customer involvement policies set it apart from the rest of the field. So, for those who like to temper their supermarket shopping with some ethics, it’s good news that today the Co-op opens a large new food store in what was previously Somerfields at the Ystwyth Retail Parc off Park Avenue in Aberystwyth.

The Co-op bought Somerfields in July. Under competition rules, they then had to sell their smaller supermarket at Waun Fawr to avoid monopolising trade in the Aberystwyth area, already owning a further small shop in Penparcau. The Co-op on the Waun was bought by CK Supermarkets, an independent chain based in south Wales. This is the latest addition to the supermarket shuffle in Aberystwyth but unlikely to be the last as Aldi are still awaiting the outcome of their planning application to build on the old Quik Save site on the other side of Park Avenue.

At some stage the question has to be asked how many supermarkets does a town need? Whatever the answer, the Co-op look to be here to stay.


Ceredigion Housing Stock Transfer Date Announced

Ceredigion County Council and the new housing association Tai Ceredigion have released a joint statement announcing the date for the transfer of the Council’s housing stock. This will be Monday 30th November. Negotiations have been quite difficult at times but the parties feel confident enough that agreement can be reached on exactly which properties and associated land will be transferred to give a transfer date. Many staff in the Council’s housing department will also be transferred over to the new organisation.

The transfer comes a year after Ceredigion tenants voted by 58% to 41% to support stock transfer so that funds could be found for the repair and maintenance necessary to bring the stock up to the Welsh Housing Quality Standard.


Assembly to bring in plastic bag charge by 2011

The National Assembly’s Environment Minister, Jane Davidson, has announced legislation to charge for plastic bags by the time of the next Assembly elections in 2011 following a consultation over the summer. All money collected will be distributed to good causes, with an emphasis on those involved in environmental projects.

Despite the problem of plastic bag pollution now being well known, many shops still seem reluctant to take initiative on their own, even though some of those doing so have seen a 90% reduction in bags used. Pontypridd was a rare exception when last year it became the first plastic bag-free town in Wales but still an astonishing 13 billion plastic bags are given to shoppers in the UK each year and these can take up to 1000 years to break down.

Ceredigion’s Assembly Member Elin Jones said today,
“I know that businesses in some Ceredigion communities such as Cardigan have been working together to introduce local ‘bags for life’. “However, even though good progress has been made over recent years to decrease the number of single-use plastic bags handed out every day in Wales, it’s increasingly evident that a mandatory charge must be introduced in order to lower our use of plastic bags even further."

Some things can't be left to the market. Voluntary schemes amongst major retailers have produced only modest results so actual legislation at the Wales level is probably the most effective way to make a substantial difference. Well done Jane.


Ken Jones book signing

Ken Jones's writing is a unique combination - haiku poetry about the Cambrian mountains.
His booksigning is in Ottakers, Great Darkgate Street in Aberystwyth


Parc Natur Penglais - residents consider the damage

Following up on the last post about the cliff top in Infirmary Road, Aberystwyth made unsafe by a developer cutting into the hill, I’ve now received comments and photos from local residents concerned about the effect on the nature park at the top of the cliff – Parc Natur Penglais.

One local resident, Moira Convery, takes up the story,
"This land is not just a bit of waste ground as the developer would like to think. Parc Natur Penglais was created as a Pocket Park in 1991, received a Prince of Wales Award in 1993, was designated a Local Nature Reserve in 1995 and in June 1997 was selected by UNESCO for inclusion in its network of the best urban reserves. At the time it was the only Welsh site on the list. These honours and designations should imply that PNP would be protected against encroachment for purely commercial gains.

"The bank is clearly unsafe but any remedial action must take into account the conservation of the park. Removal of the moving material will destroy a large area of vegetation. Because of the presence of the partially completed buildings, it is now difficult to remove the unstable ground by pushing it down the slope. It will have to be pushed backwards into the valley behind it - more complete destruction of trees and other vegetation. Heavy machinery will be required. There is no present access so more of the park will be trashed taking it in.

"It is important that restoration is left in the hands of the conservation bodies. Who would be happy to entrust it to a company which has demonstrated such a complete indifference to the nature reserve? Expert advice and most of all an interest in the end result is required. All costs must be met by the developer.

"However it is done, permanent visual damage will occur. The area is a significant part of the scenery of Aberystwyth. The view from the town will be of a wire netted cliff face with the trees and the old wall vanished."

Another resident, Laurie Wright, has sent the pictures below illustrating digging which took place two years ago leading to the long hilltop cracks over a metre deep illustrated in the last post. The space at the foot of the cliff has since been built on.