Hywel Dda Debt Cancelled

Assembly Minister Health Minister Edwina Hart today announced the writing off of Hywel Dda NHS Trust’s historic debts totalling £40.469 million.

The debts were accumulated by Ceredigion, Pembrokeshire and Derwen, and Carmarthenshire NHS Trusts prior to their amalgamation into a single Hywel Dda NHS Trust last year and will now be paid by the National Assembly.

Of course the campaign to have the debt written off hasn’t half been helped by the presence of Ceredigion’s Assembly Member Elin Jones in the Assembly Cabinet alongside Edwina Hart.

The commencement of the £30 million extension scheme for Bronglais Hospital in Aberystwyth is expected in the next three months.

Whilst the decision to cancel the debt must be a tremendous relief to Hywel Dda Trust, no one should assume they are now in the money as they will still struggle to break even this financial year.


New gate opens up 300 yards of cycle path

Sometimes small things can make a big difference. A simple little thing like a new gate at the entrance to the footpath at Llanbadarn Fawr level crossing has connected Llanbadarn village to the Rheidol cycle trail which links Aberystwyth town centre to Capel Bangor and beyond. The 320 yard path alongside the railway line that links to the trail was previously only accessible to walkers through a small ‘kissing gate’.

Following co-operation between the University, who own the land, and Ceredigion Council, this has now been expanded into a ‘cycling kissing gate’ that bikes can be wheeled through.

Next year it’s hoped to add a further spur to the Rheidol trail by taking the cycle path across the railway line by the green bridge and alongside the river to Parc yr Onnen, linking the east side of Llanbadarn also.

Ten years ago there were no cycle paths around Aberystwyth. We now have the Rheidol trail and the Ystwyth trail. Although these have seemed painfully slow to develop at times, the latest developments show that the expansion of the town’s cycle network hasn’t been forgotten and that extending it can be very easy.


75 People Turn Up at Empty Town Hall

Today was the first working day since Aberystwyth Town Hall was emptied of County Council staff, leaving just the Town Council Clerk and his secretary rattling around in the large building.

Despite the door being locked with a notice on explaining that County Council services are no longer provided there, the Clerk had to answer the door bell and explain the situation no fewer than 75 times throughout the day, thus demonstrating the folly of leaving the town centre without an access point for County Council services .


First Ysgol Gymraeg Celebrates 70 Years

The pivotal role of Aberystwyth in the survival of the Welsh language was emphasised on Friday with the 70th birthday celebrations of the first Welsh language school. Originally begun in 1939 with just seven pupils at the now demolished old Urdd centre in Llanbadarn Road, the Ysgol Gymraeg has been sited in Plas Crug Avenue since 1989 and is now a thriving school of 370 pupils. In February the school’s latest Estyn Report awarded it the maximum Grade 1 in all seven categories. Only 48% of children are from homes where the main language is Welsh but all reach full fluency by the end of the second year.

The school’s success in attracting children from outside Aberystwyth is sometimes blamed for threatened closures of small rural schools. However moot points like this are massively outweighed by the school’s proven quality and its crucial role in the development of the Welsh language in the Aberystwyth area.


Aberystwyth Town Hall Raised in the Assembly

Following on from the article below, yesterday Nic Bourne, Conservative Assembly Member for Mid and West Wales and an Aberystwyth resident, questioned the Assembly’s Heritage Minister, Alun Ffred Jones (pictured), about the future of Aberystwyth Town Hall.

“The Minister will be aware of the iconic nature of Aberystwyth town hall which, sadly, Ceredigion County Council is proposing to mothball, having built new headquarters costing £15 million. The council is now finding that there is an excess of buildings in Aberystwyth, one of which, predictably, is the town hall, and there is not a ready market for town halls. The town council is interested in buying it back. There is currently a dispute about it but, given the town council’s willingness to acquire it, will the Minister use his good offices to ensure that it is not mothballed, because it is an iconic building, and encourage the two sides—the town council and the county council—to get together so that it can be acquired and continue to be used in the community in Aberystwyth?”

Alun Ffred Jones, Plaid Cymru Heritage Minister, replied,
“ I am happy to encourage the better use of any building, particularly one that, as you said, has such iconic status. If I am able to bring my influence to bear on this issue, I am happy to do that.”

Nic Bourne later commented,
“ I am very pleased that the Heritage Minister has indicated that he recognises the importance of this building and the need to preserve it as a community facility. I very much welcome his influence as a cabinet member in helping to lobby to bring this about. The town hall’s accessibility and central location means that this is a building which the people of Aberystwyth traditionally identify as their own civic centre.”


Town Council to Remain in Rapidly Emptying Town Hall

Aberystwyth Town Council will be staying in the Town Hall following last minute negotiations with the County Council. The Town Council use just two offices in the large building which is being vacated next week as all other departments move to the new County Council offices in Boulevard St Brieuc (the picture above shows packed cases ready to go). The Town Council’s presence in the iconic building will mean that it will not be boarded up – the fear of many people in the town – but the footsteps of the Town Council’s two employees will certainly echo around the otherwise empty building. And they may be spending quite a bit of time answering queries they have no jurisdiction over.

Now I understand the new County building – Canolfan Rheidol – has a great many advantages and long-term cost savings from having all council officers working in the same new building. But, in pursuing this, the County Council have taken their eye off the ball in terms of their service to the public. Maintaining a County Council presence in the town centre - the new building is almost a mile out of town - should have been part of the plan all along. The point has been made many times over the past year but it’s fallen on deaf ears. Now that the crunch has come people in the Council are starting to take notice.

At the very least the public pay office, where local people go to pay their bills, should be maintained in the town hall together with a front desk to deal with public enquiries. That’s what local residents need and expect. And the offices left empty should be made available to some of the many local charitable organisations in severe need of these facilities.

In any other country in the world, leaving a fine building like Aberystwyth’s Town Hall almost empty would be seen as a terribly poor reflection on the competence of the local authority. Ceredigion Council should wake up and take steps to maintain its presence in this symbolic town centre building.

Y Crynwyr yn Sir Aberteifi

Cyflwyniad yn Gymraeg gan Dr. Owain Evans
fel rhan o wythnos y Crynwyr

Dydd Mawrth 6ed Hydref, 7.30 pm
Tŷ Cwrdd y Crynwyr, Maes Maelor, Penparcau, Aberystwyth

Mwy o wybodaeth: 01970 – 610056

The Quakers in Cardiganshire

A talk in English by Dr. Owain Evans
as part of Quaker week

Monday 5th October, 7.30 pm
Quaker Meeting House, Maes Maelor, Penparcau, Aberystwyth

More information: 01970 – 610056

or gethine45@yahoo.co.uk


Council in Disarray Over Town Hall

I was contacted yesterday by the local paper asking about the future of Aberystwyth Town Hall in Morfa Mawr/Queens Road. The County Council seem in disarray about the building’s future. The Finance Department staff currently housed there amongst others are due to move to the new council offices at Parc y Llyn on Friday week, leaving the building almost empty. At one time there was an intention to move the town library there. Now there’s a funding problem with this and in the short term the building is to be ‘mothballed’, i.e. closed but maintained in good order until someone comes up with an idea. The Town Council, which occupies two small rooms there, have been told they will have to move out and have been half-promised another central location (at least they won’t be moving out of town).

Looking down Portland Street towards the Town Hall (above) it seems almost unthinkable that the building should simply be abandoned. It’s not as grand as the original, which was burnt down on 8th September 1957, but the building and it’s position at the junction of two roads has an imposing look about it that dignifies the town.

I've got mixed feelings about the new County Council Offices at Parc y Llyn. I hear the criticism about extravagance in difficult economic times but I can also understand the case for a new building meeting modern standards in one place rather than the patchwork of old buildings dotted all over town that council workers are currently housed in.

But it’s absolutely essential that the County Council maintain a presence within the town centre for the many people who need to make payments or enquiries etc whilst doing their shopping or in their lunch hour. It's just not good enough that these people should all have to trek a mile out to Parc y Llyn. With the Town Hall set to empty, those people are entitled to ask why it can't be kept open as an easy town centre access point to Council services.

Council Opens the Doors

Ceredigion County Council is opening the doors of its new building at Parc y Llyn, just outside Aberystwyth to the general public next Monday 21st September. Conducted tours of the building, which will be a workbase for 400 employees, will be held on the hour from 10am until 4pm.

I’ve covered some of the issues around the building here and here but one question I’ve constantly been asked is how is the building funded. Here’s the answer:
£4.1m via the general capital allocation given by the Welsh Assembly Government
£2.0m via capital receipts from the sale of surplus offices
£8.9m via prudential borrowing.

I’m told that the savings made from substantially reduced energy costs will go some way towards offsetting the interest payments but the actual figures on this are hard to come by.


Capel Bach Conversion

Y Capel Bach, a tiny historic chapel in Stryd Newydd / New Street, Aberystwyth, is to be converted into a dwelling after planning permission was passed this week.

The chapel was built in 1853 and run as a stable house before being used as a meeting place by the Quakers followed by the Unitarians. A plaque on the outside commemorates David Ivon Jones, a regular worshipper there who emigrated for health reasons and eventually became one of the founders of the South African Communist Party.

The building has been a derelict curiosity for many years and it’s to be hoped that the conversion is done sympathetically.


A487 - Time to Act

Last night I happened upon another serious accident on the A487 between Blaenplwyf and Llanddeiniol, just south of Aberystwyth. I was second on the scene (behind the author of a recent well-received book on R. S. Thomas) and found three young men having just emerged miraculously unscathed from a car that was lying on its roof in the road. Judging from the state of their car, they were all very lucky to be alive. No other cars had been hit.

This is the third serious accident I’ve seen seen on this stretch of road this year and only last month a motorcyclist was killed. It’s a tempting spot to overtake following a series of bends at either end but is deceptively short at high speed and cars seem to run out of road. Since 2006 the A487 through Ceredigion has seen nine people killed and 136 injured, 44 of them seriously.

Today Ceredigion Council Leader Keith Evans issued a press release calling for a road realignment, presumably with the idea of lengthening the straight stretch and improving visability. Despite being identified as an accident blackspot, this part of the A487 doesn’t feature in the Assembly’s recently published National Transport Plan.

There’s no doubt that something has to be done - people are dying. However, given that we’re not going to see a dual carriageway here (nor would want to), it could be argued that, rather than making overtaking slightly less dangerous, in pure road safety terms it would make more sense to actually put in another bend to rule out high speed overtaking as an option altogether.

Diolch i Dogfael am y llun