Ceredigion councillors to be culled

Ceredigion is set to lose at least seven and maybe up to twelve of its 42 councillors at the next local elections in 2012 – that’s likely to be the conclusion of the Local Government Boundary Commission for Wales when they complete their review into the county’s electoral arrangements in 2011.

This is a long post with a few figures in it so zip up your anoraks and settle down. The Commission, which is reviewing a number of other Welsh county councils at the same time, is conducting its review on the basis that no councillor should represent fewer than 1750 electors, a new, nationally agreed figure. Even though the review uses the projected increased county population for 2014 as its benchmark, only ten of the current council wards achieve that figure, meaning that we are set for wholesale changes in Ceredigion’s political structure.

Dividing the expected 2014 electorate of 62,703 by 1750 leaves 35.8 councillors. But because the review needs to avoid cutting across community boundaries whilst also trying to find rough parity between the different wards , most of the new wards will need to have a significant number of electors over the 1750 figure. Even taking the number of councillors down to thirty, the minimum possible to form a Council, the average number of electors for each ward would be 2090, not considered an unreasonably large number.

In Aberystwyth the likely outcome of the review is that the town will lose one councillor (click on map of current wards to enlarge). We currently have six, down from eight after the last review in 2002, but the figures show we should be entitled to no more than 5.5. There is perhaps a remote possibility that, because of recent housing developments, the commission could decide to expand the boundaries of the town and keep the number of councillors as it is. But the likelihood is that the town’s representation will be cut down to five. In fact most town wards already do, or will, exceed the 1750 figure. The exception is Penparcau which is currently ‘over-represented’ by having two councillors for an electorate of 2277.

If that might seem bad for the representation of Aberystwyth on the Council it’s nothing compared to other parts of Ceredigion. Whilst the population numbers in Aberystwyth might be a bit borderline, the situation in other towns and the rural areas is much clearer. The figures show that Cardigan will be reduced from three to no more than two councillors whilst Lampeter will be reduced from the current two down to one. The sole councillor for Llandysul, Council Leader Keith Evans, currently represents just 1149 people and is likely to see his ward greatly expanded at the expense of one of his rural neighbours. The councillors for Tregaron, New Quay and Aberaeron are all in similar positions where neighbouring rural wards will undoubtedly be lost.

In terms of party politics the effect of the review is hard to predict because the figures show that Plaid Cymru wards and Independent/Lib Dem wards will be impacted more or less equally. The key power change brought about is likely to be geographic. For years people in Aberystwyth have puzzled as to why what is by the far the largest town in the county seems to exert so little influence. The figures show that the more rural south of the county currently wields undue influence for its population.
During a recent presentation, the Boundary Commission were particularly emphatic about one thing. “The idea that rural wards should have fewer electors because of the distance the councillor has to cover is completely undemocratic”, said the Review’s Chair. His emphatic tone indicated that this was an idea that had been seriously suggested to him but rejected.

If the current number of councillors was allowed to continue the average councillor in the north of the county would represent 1636 people whilst their equivalent in the south would represent 1374 – a clear democratic deficit. A starker figure is that, by 2014, of the nine councillors currently representing ‘greater’ Aberystwyth (i.e. the town, Llanbadarn Fawr and Waun Fawr) 55% will fulfil the 1750 mark the reviewers are looking for. In the rest of the county that figure is 14%. Although councillors will be lost everywhere, the review looks set to correct a serious imbalance against the north of the county.

The pending reduction in county councillors will be following a pattern around Wales where reviews of four other councils, using the same criteria, have already begun with more to follow. Older councillors may take the opportunity to retire at the next election, leaving the rest to battle over a diminished number of council seats. Whilst the process may fill councillors with trepidation, many of the electorate will regard cutting their numbers as a jolly good thing, especially since reducing councillors will save money. Next to the public purse, the other winner from the process could be Aberystwyth.


The best dressed shop window in Aberystwyth

To go into Christmas with a good news story, here’s the winner of the Best Shop Window in Aberystwyth, as chosen by the town’s mayor, Trevor Shaftoe, on behalf of the Chamber of Commerce.

The winner was Polly’s in Chalybeate Street.
Second was Ty Gemwaith/Jewellery House in Terrace Road.
Third was M & Co in Great Darkgate Street.

Nadolig llawen a blwyddyn newydd dda i chi gyd.


Cliff could collapse says council report

The cliff behind the old North Road Hospital site in Infirmary Road Aberystwyth is far more dangerous than previously thought and poses a serious threat to the half-completed flats below. That’s the conclusion of a report by council engineers submitted this week.

The report was commissioned by Ceredigion Council after major cracks developed at the top of the cliff during the summer. A report by engineers commissioned by the developer in October had previously concluded that the cracks only extended down a few metres to the bedrock. This new report points out that the cracks are in line with a fault line exposed near the bottom of the hill in an earlier small landslip and concludes that the whole cliff side could collapse.

Land at the top of the cliff is part of Parc Natur Penglais, a conservation area owned by the Council and overseen by an active committee of local people. They have been continually warning of the dangers of the developer cutting into the hill to make more space for flats. The Council’s report says,
“It is unlikely to be merely a coincidence that they have opened up shortly after the excavation at the top of the slope".

The report concludes,
“There is the potential for a very large rockfall to occur which will affect the amenity of the nature reserve and also impact the buildings and workers below. What is clear from our inspection, and our reading of the available documents, is that there is a serious risk of a large scale landslip occurring which requires urgent attention. The landslip will endanger members of the public accessing the park and workers on the building site.

"The nature reserve is crossed by a number of paths, some of them informal, and it is
possible for members of the public to get to the top of the unstable area quite easily. We suggest that, as a minimum, immediate measures should be put in place to warn members of the public of the possible unstable area.

"We also recommend that the housing developer is made aware of these findings so that they may put in place appropriate safeguards – at least for their workers and any suppliers etc who may have access to the site".

After receiving the report the Council yesterday wrote to the developer threatening an injunction if immediate action was not taken to obviate the danger to their employees and the general public. Warning notices and fencing were installed on the cliff today.


Aber University plans new environmental research building

Aberystwyth University have applied for planning permission for a new building on the Penglais campus for the Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences (IBERS).

This is part of a planned £25 million investment in IBERS on the Penglais and Gogerddan campuses over the next five years. IBERS conducts biological research from the level of molecules up to the impact of climate change and bio-energy on agriculture.

The building is apparently designed to BREEAM ‘excellent’ standard, the highest standard for environmental sustainability in large buildings.


2.5% Council Tax rise in Ceredigion

Ceredigion Council voted on Thursday for a 2.5% rise in Council Tax in the coming financial year. The Plaid Cymru group proposed keeping the rise down to 2% on the basis that a substantial amount of money is now available from the Housing Revenue Account which could be used to keep the increase down. This money was set aside for spending on council house maintenance but remained unspent (why, you may ask) and now cannot be used for its original purpose following the transfer of council housing to Tai Ceredigion. However the ruling Independent/Lib Dem group argued that savings such as this should be kept back in order to soften expected serious public sector cuts in future years.

The meeting, held at St Peter’s Church Hall in Lampeter, was highly contentious with the Chair being accused of showing favouritism by frequently asking Plaid councillors to keep their contributions brief whilst allowing his own side to speak unhindered.


Elin Jones wins AM of the Year award... and Rhodri's reflections on Ceredigion

Ceredigion's Assembly Member Elin Jones won the Assembly Member of the Year Award during a ceremony in Cardiff last night.
She received the recognition during the annual Welsh Yearbook Awards, "for developing into a Plaid Cymru heavyweight through her highly competent running of a department not usually seen as an obvious portfolio for a woman" (what on earth can they mean?).

Elin responded,
“I’m privileged to receive this award in recognition of my work as the Assembly Member for Ceredigion and the Minister for Rural Affairs. The people of Ceredigion are demanding and challenging of their politicians, and that's exactly how it should be. They keep me on my toes everyday in the Assembly and in Ceredigion”.

Shortly afterwards Elin paid tribute to Rhodri Morgan following his formal resignation as the Assembly's First Minister earlier this week,
“Rhodri Morgan has made a great contribution to Wales during the past decade and, under his leadership, our political process in the Senedd has become mature and stable. I wish him well now that he has decided to resign as First Minister and I hope that he will have more free time to spend on having restful holidays at his caravan in Mwnt”.

During his final address to the Senedd as First Minister, Rhodri Morgan had highlighted his fondness for spending time at his caravan in Mwnt, just north of Cardigan. He also expressed his gratitude to Ceredigion residents for their continued warm welcome and for respecting the fact that he was on holiday during his periods in the area,
“In the future, of course, Julie and I and the family—especially Julie and I—will have more time to spend a few extra weekends in Mwnt. Mwnt has been extremely important and I would like to convey my thanks to the very kind people of Ceredigion and North Pembrokeshire, and especially the people of Cardigan, Aberporth and Mwnt, where we have the caravan. It has been an eye-opener for me to see how considerate people are in thinking, if the First Minister is on holiday for two or three weeks over the summer, that you should not bother him with your personal problems or your own political ideas.

"To be honest, everyone has always respected that. For 10 years running, no-one from Ceredigion, Aberporth or Cardigan has bothered me while I'm on holiday. That is quite incredible and it means that I, Julie and the family can spend three weeks of genuine holiday time without the need for some entourage to protect me from the people because they are so considerate. They understand that anyone who shoulders the burden of being First Minister is under strain. It is as if they think, 'Leave him alone—he's on holiday’. On occasions, I've heard people saying that when someone is perhaps thinking of approaching me on the beach or when I'm out walking”.


Tai Ceredigion up and running

Now that the new housing association Tai Ceredigion is up and running (with their newly decorated vans zooming everywhere) a few people are asking how to get in touch with them. These are the details:

General Enquiries: 03456 - 067654
Repairs and out of hours: 0800 - 1114228
Uned 4, Parc Busnes Pont Steffan, Llanbedr Pont Steffan, Ceredigion, SA48, 7HH


Ceredigion's Credit Union wins £100,000 grant

Ceredigion’s Credit Union, CredCer, has been awarded a grant of £99,995 by the National Assembly.

The money was awarded so that the organisation can buy its own property, computer and office equipment. Brian Gibbons, the Assembly’s Social Justice Minister announced that CredCer would receive a tenth of the £1 million being made available to credit unions across Wales to enable them to reduce their costs by purchasing their own properties. This in turn will boost their balance sheets by ensure that they have long-term ownership of a substantial asset.

Elin Jones, Ceredigion’s Assembly Member, said about the award in her press release,
“During the current economic difficulties, credit unions have become increasingly important both as a way of providing a local and safe place for savings as well as tackling financial exclusion. By providing this funding, the Assembly Government is ensuring that CredCer has an even stronger financial footing through the ownership of its own office”.

Penri James, Plaid Cymru’s Westminster candidate, said,
“I know that CredCer’s presence in Ceredigion has made a great effort to tackle financial exclusion and poverty in the Ceredigion. From my work on the need to address child poverty levels in Cardigan, I appreciate the positive contribution which a credit union like CredCer can make and I hope that this additional funding can allow the union to further extend its activities”.

CredCer, which is based in Cardigan but operated throughout the county, was formed in 2005 as a way for people in Ceredigion to save and borrow money at beneficial rates of interest whilst retaining the money saved in the local community. It’s a not-for-profit organisation and is owned and controlled by its 1,200 members.