Yes for Wales campaign kicks off in Aberystwyth

Ceredigion’s Yes for Wales referendum campaign kicks off in Aberystwyth at 7.30pm on Wednesday 5th January at the Morlan in Queens Road.

That’s when representatives of all (and that means all) the main local parties will hold a public meeting to set out their vision for law-making powers for Wales and their plans for the campaign which will culminate just eight weeks later with the vote on March 3rd.

The meeting will be chaired by former Labour MP Lord Elystan Morgan, with contributions from Richard Griffiths of the Richmond Hotel, Assembly Member Elin Jones and MP Mark Williams. With former Conservative Assembly Member Lisa Francis chairing the local campaign and the Green Party also in support, the whole thing has a refreshingly co-operative feel and shows how far the Assembly has come in the thirteen years since the historic vote to set it up.

Simultaneous events will be held in Aberdare, Bangor, Newport and Wrexham, with Swansea launching the following week.

In the 1997 referendum Ceredigion played an important role as the fourth largest Yes vote of the 22 Welsh counties.


Nadolig Llawen Aberystwyth

Parc Natur Penglais, with Aberystwyth behind, taken yesterday

Nadolig Llawen to everyone who's read this blog in 2010


LDP plans another 2,400 housing units for Aberystwyth

Ceredigion’s Local Development Plan (LDP), launched for public consultation today, is set to open the way for extensive housing development around the outskirts of Aberystwyth.

Areas around Aberystwyth proposed for housing development in the Plan include:

* Three blocks of land for an estimated total of 325 housing units at the Southgate end of Penparcau. A developer has already applied for planning permission for the Piercefield Lane section.

* A further four blocks of land for a total of over 1100 units in the  Waun Fawr/Llanbadarn area.

* Land for 1,000 student units at Penglais Farm on Clarach Road to the north of the town.

The plans are likely to receive opposition from people concerned about the further erosion of the countryside around the town. However it is actually environmental arguments, and the need to reduce car travel, that have led to such a large proportion of the development planned for the county being in the town areas.

The total number of housing units believed to be needed for Ceredigion is based on population trends. But where those houses actually go is increasingly being guided from Cardiff by a desire to site new development close to services or on public transport routes so that car use can be minimised. At the macro level this makes absolute sense but doesn't feel so good if you like the countryside around your town.

The LDP will provide a development framework for the area for the next 15 years. The public consultation period will last until 17th February. Full details are here. Before anyone mentions it, the consultation period has been extended for an extra two weeks to take account of the Christmas period. 


Aldi to receive go-ahead for new supermarket in Aberystwyth

Aldi will receive the go-ahead to build a new supermarket in Park Avenue, Aberystwyth following a meeting of Ceredigion’s Development Control Committee this week (artist's impression right).

The plans involve the demolition of the derelict former Kwik-Save building and car showroom and the building of an Aldi store facing the police station with two storeys of hotel on top and a car park on the town side of the development. A previous application which didn't include the hotel element was rejected last year (previous posts here and here).

This is a key site on the eastern approach to Aberystwyth. In a presentation to the Town Council last year Aldi themselves acknowledged that their presence wouldn't add to the retail provision in Aberystwyth but would just challenge existing supermarkets. The planning report describes them as catering for the 'deep discount market’. There’s certainly a demand for that from the many low-waged in the area, and one member of the committee spoke strongly in favour of the application on that basis. However many people feel it’s a demand well catered for in the town already. And the decision won't please those hoping to raise the standard of Aberystwyth or those opposed in principle to more supermarkets.

On the positive side, the site has been an eyesore for some years now and it could be said that almost anything would be an improvement visually. The regret is that Aberystwyth is still not capable of attracting anything better.

The meeting gave planning officers the go-ahead to approve the scheme once conditions, such as creating a pedestrian refuge in Park Avenue, are agreed.


Minister shelves Local Government Boundary Review

In a surprise announcement, Carl Sargeant, Assembly Minister for Social Justice and Local Government (pictured), has shelved the Local Government Boundary Reviews, which were due to come into force before the next local elections in 2012.

In Ceredigion’s case, the Review had recommended a reduction of five County Councillors in order to create more equal representation across the County. As well as saving the Council a significant amount of money, this would have corrected the current situation whereby rural areas in the south of the county are ‘over-represented’ at the expense of Aberystwyth.

The 2012 elections will now go ahead using the current council ward boundaries. The statement talks about implementing the Review's recommendations in time for the 2016  elections. However I suspect a much more far-reaching review may be on the cards by then.

The Minister’s full statement, with reasons for the decision, is below.

"Under directions issued by my predecessor, the Local Government Boundary Commission for Wales is conducting a review of the electoral arrangements in each County and County Borough Council. They have a duty to conduct such reviews at intervals of not less than 10 and not more than 15 years and to consider making proposals to Welsh Ministers for a change to those electoral arrangements.

"To date the Commission has completed the electoral reviews of seven local authorities and has published the final reports for these areas. I will be considering the proposals for each area in due course.

"The directions included a requirement for the Commission to complete all the reviews by June 2011, with the intention that this would allow for orders to be made in good time for candidates to be selected and for local authority registration officers to make necessary adjustments to the electoral register in good time for the local elections of 2012.

"Despite allocating adequate resources to complete the reviews within the timescales specified in the directions the Commission has fallen considerably behind schedule. I have over the past year re-iterated to the commission the importance of delivering to these timescales. However, it has now become clear that the Commission will be unable to meet this date in respect of a number of counties.

"In considering the reports I do have before me I also have concerns about their consistency of the reports which have been issued and it is clear that in a number of cases considerable amendments would be needed in order to protect the link between councillors and the communities they represent, which I consider to be extremely important. Concern has also been expressed about administrative errors which have occurred in the process of carrying out these reviews.

"In light of these issues, in particular the delays in producing reports for a number of counties I have concluded that I will not make any orders in respect of the boundary reviews for any local authorities in Wales take effect for the 2012 elections. I do not wish to create a situation where some local authorities will conduct elections in 2012 under new arrangements and others under existing arrangements because of the imbalance inherent in such a situation. I am making this announcement now to provide certainty to local government and others concerned with the electoral process.

"Cleary the fact that the Boundary Commission has failed to deliver this programme of reviews consistently and within the agreed timescales gives me cause for concern. I have therefore instructed my officials to establish an independent review to identify why these failures have occurred and indentify actions that can be taken to ensure that the programme can be delivered efficiently and to a high standard in time for the 2016 elections."
Carl Sargeant, Minister for Social Justice and Local Government


Plaid win Ciliau Aeron by-election

John Lumley last night won the Ceredigion Council by-election in Ciliau Aeron for Plaid Cymru with a majority of 120.

Plaid Cymru  367 (55%)
Lib Dems 247 (37.5%)
Conservatives 43 (6.5%)

The result takes Plaid back up to 20 councillors in Ceredigion, with the ruling independent/Lib Dem group on 22.


Tai Ceredigion looks for local builders to take on contracts worth £40 million

Tai Ceredigion, the housing association for Ceredigion, is calling for local contractors to get in touch and express their interest in work on all sizes of contracts, including their heating, windows & doors programmes.

Over the next five years the local not-for-profit housing association based in Lampeter must bring all their 2,229 properties in Ceredigion up to the Welsh Quality Housing Standard - quite a task. It will entail a massive £40m improvements programme which the organisation has been in consultation with its tenants and leaseholders about during the past year.

Llyr Edwards, the Director of Property Services said,
“We're looking for all qualified contractors in the area to get in touch with us. We've split all the work into different sized contracts accessible for small, medium or larger firms. We are focused on employing as many local contractors as possible so if anyone is interested they must express an interest first and then a Pre-Qualification Questionnaire (PQQ) will be sent to them.”

The closing date for the application for a PQQ pack is the 16th December and then all completed PQQs must be returned by 28th January.

Interested parties can express an interest and order a PQQ pack by e-mailing  pss@taiceredigion.org.uk


Ceredigion does better than most in local government settlement

The Provisional Local Government Revenue Settlement published on Friday by the Welsh government following the previous week’s draft budget shows that Local Government in Wales will face a cut of 1.4% over the coming year. In England local government is facing a cut of 7.1% each year for the next 4 years.

Ceredigion has received the second lowest cut in its budget of all 22 local authorities in Wales. Ceredigion’s cut in budget is well below the average at -0.7%, although is still, of course, a cut.

As Ceredigion's Director of Finance says in a report to this week's Council Cabinet meeting:
"It would only be fair to say that the provisional settlement for Ceredigion is better than had been anticipated. However, a provisional RSG decrease of 0.7% for Ceredigion is clearly the worst settlement since the inception of the Council as a Unitary Authority in 1996. The Council’s budget for 2011/12 will need to be formulated within the available resources, and work is on-going to determine how resources are to be allocated in order to ensure that services are protected as far as practicable."

Elin Jones, Assembly Member for Ceredigion, said:

“I’m pleased that Ceredigion has fared better than most local authorities in the budget settlement. This will help local councillors running services for people in Ceredigion. The Assembly Government has given priority to education and social services, and I hope that Ceredigion County Council will also honour this priority as they design their budget.

“Councils in Wales will face an overall cut of 1.4%; far lower than the 7.1% cuts for local council authorities in England. With the Conservatives and Lib Dems making savage cuts to public services, drafting the Welsh budget was always going to mean some difficult decisions. With Plaid Cymru in government we have been able to ensure that the things most important to the people of Ceredigion and Wales have been looked after as best they can.”


Students besiege Lib Dem HQ in Aberystwyth

Around  80 students besieged the Lib Dem headquarters in Aberystwyth today in protest at the Westminster government's proposed drastic increases in university tuition fees. The protest was one of a series of actions across Wales and the rest of the UK.

Although the police kept a low presence at the front of the demonstration, 70 officers were kept on standby in case of serious disorder. In the event the demonstration was noisy and colourful but peaceful. Lecturers held a seminar in Owain Glyndwr Square and drama students danced and staged short performances.

The issue of student fees looks likely to dog the Conservative / Lib Dem government in Westminster for years to come and is likely to seriously affect the votes of those parties in university towns.


Aberystwyth - Rhywbeth i Bawb

A series of images, including the one above, has been put together to provide direction for all marketing activities associated with Aberystwyth. The exercise, commissioned by the organisation Menter Aberystwyth, also includes the typeface and strapline above which can increasingly be seen on flags and posters around the town.

Some of the graphics will be used on information boards to be placed around the town soon, depicting its various aspects and giving directions.

The several hundred images, together with the branding guidelines, are available free of charge as high resolution downloads for use to support any promotional activities. Their use is unrestricted but users first have to register with the site - see here for access. They were taken this year by local photographer Guy Taylor.

The project is part of a scheme by Menter Aberystwyth to, 'develop and implement a coherent sense of place in Aberystwyth'. It's being funded by a number of local organisations through the Rural Development Plan scheme.


Aberystwyth Town Councillors get stuck in

These are Aberystwyth Town Councillors planting bulbs in the garden of North Road Bowling Club today. This kind of volunteer work could become more important in the future as the County Council's popular town centre flower displays are likely to be one of the first victims of pending cuts.

Pictured from the front are town councillors: Ann-Marie Hinde, Sue Jones-Davies, Samantha Hearne and Mark Strong.


New Cemetery Conservation Plan

Aberystwyth Cemetery in Llanbadarn Road has a new conservation plan. A report written by the Greener Aberystwyth Group, and now adopted by the County Council, recommends a number of measures to maintain wildlife around the cemetery. These include putting up bird and bat boxes, preserving the arch of trees along the entranceway (above) and steps to encourage the growth of wild flowers.

The cemetery is a substantial space of almost seven acres which can make a significant contribution to the network of green sites around the town if managed in the right way. Its most famous grave is that of Gwenallt, one of the most important literary figures in the Welsh language.


Aberystwyth Passport Office to close

It pales into insignificance compared to the 245 job losses in Newport, where there was a major demonstration today, but four part-time jobs are under threat at the Aberystwyth Passport and Identity Office in Northgate Street (above) which currently opens two days a week.  It's now been announced that the Aberystwyth office, together with local offices in Swansea and Wrecsam, will close in September 2011. The passport service are apparently looking to provide mobile facilities elsewhere in the area, although where or how has not yet been established.


Student fees and Ceredigion

The student fees issue is clearly going to be huge in Ceredigion in the next few years. Ceredigion’s Plaid Cymru Assembly Member Elin Jones has now warned of the dire consequences for both students and universities at Aberystwyth and Lampeter if Vince Cable’s plans to reform their funding are allowed to proceed.

Reacting to this week’s Browne Report on student and university funding and Vince Cable MP’s subsequent response, Elin said today:

“The ConDem Government intends to introduce a wholesale market into the world of Higher Education. They intend to slash the university teaching grant and force universities to make up that gap by charging higher fees to students in a competitive market.

“This will act as a huge distinctive for students from lower-income families to attend universities. Ceredigion has one of the lowest average wage levels in the UK and our young people will be particularly hard-hit by the prospect of fees increasing to £7,000 or even £12,000 per year.

“Both Aberystwyth and Lampeter universities could be severely disadvantaged in a more market-orientated system. Future students will be looking to cut costs to a minimum and may well chose to study closer to home – that could have a damaging impact on recruitment to Aberystwyth and Lampeter.

“While the Assembly Government will take the policy decision on this matter in Wales, our hands here will be tied behind our backs because the public funding cut to universities which is now being proposed for England will automatically cut the funding to Wales.

“It's not surprising that the Tories in the UK coalition favour introducing market forces into the Higher Education sector. However, it's a complete turnaround for market-driven fees to be introduced in the name of the LibDems and Vince Cable – especially since the LibDem posters campaigning to ‘Scrap Tuition Fees’ are still up in some windows in Aberystwyth (example above). These posters tell a sorry tale of betrayal.

“To represent the interests of Ceredigion, we need to oppose the Westminster Government’s savage cuts to university funding as well as opposing introduction of market-driven student fees.”


Vote for faster broadband in Aberystwyth

A councillor from the ruling group on Ceredigion Council sent me the following e-mail today:

"Please forward this e-mail to as many people as you can. Put it on that biased blog of yours if you want."


 Delighted to help


The continuing growth of Aberystwyth

Tonight’s news that the passport interview office in Northgate Street, Aberystwyth is under threat, on the back of the loss of the main passport office in Newport, may be the start of things to come. Certainly we’ve become used to Aberystwyth shopkeepers saying, “the town is dying”. However what is actually remarkable about Aberystwyth right now is the number of major building projects either going on or about to start around the town.

As I write, and off the top of my head, the following developments are happening, or being planned, around the town, many of them with funding from the National Assembly:

 * An extra storey on the Bronglais Hospital car park is currently being built (pictured) and is due to be completed in November

* The building of a new Accident and Emergency block and 14-bed medical assessment unit at the hospital is due to commence next year - the largest capital investment in Hywel Dda Health Board.

* A major extension to Ysgol Plas Crug school is continuing

* A new university and hospital car park has recently been completed in Clarach Road

* Aberystwyth Town Hall is currently being converted into the new town library in a £1 million scheme

* The building of a new medical centre, including GP Surgery, pharmacy and crèche, has recently started on the west side of Penglais Hill

* Work has started on a new building for the Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences (IBERS) at Aberystwyth University, heated by ground source heat pump

* An application for 28 new homes (a combination of flats and houses) at Llys Ardwyn, just off Llanbadarn Road, is going through the planning process. At the same time the conversion of the old Penweddig school building into flats is continuing on the same site.

* Eight new flats in the old antique showrooms in Maes Iago at the top of Great Darkgate Street have just been approved.

* A major extension to the Llety Parc hotel at Parc y Llyn seems likely to receive planning permission

* A planning application has been submitted for 79 new houses in Penparcau between Piercefield Lane and Maesycrugiau

* Plans are being developed for more student accommodation buildings along Clarach Road

* Firm interest is being shown by developers in the planned multi-storey car park at Mill Street with the possibility of a planning application in the new year

* £1 million will be spent on environmental transport schemes this financial year.

That's quite a list. And there are probably one or two others I've forgotten. Of course, I fully expect the Westminster government's cuts to hit Aberystwyth hard, like everywhere else, at some point, maybe quite soon. I'm also aware that not everyone welcomes all the developments listed above. But right now, relative to others, I'm not sure Aberystwyth has too much to complain about economically. We've got the National Assembly to thank for much of that.


New plans for Post Office site

New plans have been drafted for the controversial Post Office site in Aberystwyth town centre. The plans involve a five-storey development with 2,275 square metres of sales area on the lower two floors and flats on the top three. Crucially, all shops in the surrounding streets are maintained on the draft plans with the exception of the post office in Great Darkgate Street (pictured) which forms an access to the site along with the existing sorting office entrance in Chalybeate Street. Delivery lorries will access the development via an existing rear entrance in Queen Street.

Aberystwyth Chamber of Commerce has issued this press statement following a meeting with the owner of the site:


“At a special meeting of the Aberystwyth and District Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday [22nd Sept] Mr Meirion Ellis Jones addressed members with a summary of events surrounding the proposals for the former Royal Mail Sorting Office site in the town centre.

“Members agreed that the Chamber should support proposals to develop the Sorting Office site into a property for retailing. Chamber members also acknowledged that existing businesses in Great Darkgate Street and Chalybeate Street, where the proprietors wished for their premises to be incorporated into any development, should not be prevented from doing so. It was stressed however, that any properties added to the original site should be on a voluntary basis by the owners and that support should be conditional on this basis.

“Chairman Cyril Baker said, “The Chamber would like to thank Mr Jones for meeting us and explaining the past events and current situation regarding the old Royal Mail Sorting Office site. The Chamber will wholeheartedly support a scheme that is fully consulted upon and does not involve businesses being forced to participate”.

The Chamber's statement is carefully worded and appears to rule out compulsory purchase orders on surrounding small shops for any expanded scheme, the threat of which caused so much controversy last year. However the threat was, of course, a County Council measure apparently required by the National Assembly as an assurance before their quite substantial funding could be released. Although the Assembly pulled out after seeing the weight of opposition in the town, the attitude of many on the County Council Cabinet doesn’t appear to have changed. The statement clearly still sees some kind of expanded scheme as a possibility, although emphasises that this should be voluntary and involve proper consultation.

There are actually a wide spectrum of views within the Chamber of Commerce on the Post Office site, ranging from those wanting a sensitive scheme preserving all the current small shops and architecture to those traders who would support just about anything on the site because their shops are in another part of town and they don’t personally stand to lose anything. The press statement represents an uneasy compromise between those factions.


Plaid Cymru's Mid & West Wales Assembly list declared

Plaid Cymru have selected their candidates for the Mid & West Wales Regional list in the National Assembly elections on May 5th.

Following the final hustings meeting, held at a packed Canolfan Morlan in Aberystwyth (and subject to final ratification by the Party’s National Executive), the list candidates will be:

1/ Simon Thomas – well-known former MP for Ceredigion who lives in Aberystwyth

2/ Angela Elniff-Larsen – an experienced campaigner on rural, community and women’s issues

3/ John Dixon – Chair of Plaid Cymru until recently and the writer of a regular excellent blog

4/ Rhys Davies – a Carmarthenshire County Councillor and Community Development officer in Cwm Gwendraeth

Regional list candidates for the Assembly elections are part of the additional member system of proportional representation whereby the 40 Assembly Members elected in each constituency (for example Elin Jones in Ceredigion) are topped up by a further 20, according to the support each party has received, in order to achieve an Assembly that more truly represents the way the population has voted. In practice only the top one or two from each party’s list has any chance of being elected. The current Assembly Members for the Mid & West Wales region are Plaid Cymru's Nerys Evans, Joyce Watson and Alun Davies for Labour and Nick Bourne for the Conservatives.

Ever since he narrowly lost the Ceredigion Westminster seat in 2005 people have been wondering if/how/when Simon Thomas will get back into public political life. I’ve spoken to several politicians from other parties who have been full of praise for his work in parliament, especially on the green agenda. There’s a strong argument that people of his calibre are wasted at Westminster and that Wales’s most capable politicians need to be in the Assembly. Depending on how the constituency votes go on May 5th, this looks like his way back.

The picture shows Simon with John Dixon after the result was announced today.


Traws Cambria consultation

Traws Cambria have launched a consultation on planned improvements to their cross-Wales bus services. Their plans include:

* Reduced journey times between key centres

* Better connections between Traws Cambria services and the Welsh rail network

* Potential new services to provide a wider range of choice when travelling between key towns across Wales

* The introduction of more comfortable coach-style vehicles  better suited to longer distance services

* Improved on-board facilities for passengers

* Improved ticketing and fare options

Details of the consultation and questionnaire are here. In addition there'll be a road show at Aberystwyth University all day on Tuesday 28th.


Will this be the shape of the new Ceredigion?

It looks as if we’ve seen the last Ceredigion Westminster election as we know them. When the Conservative/Lib Dem government proposed cutting the number of UK parliamentary constituencies from 650 to 600 it became clear this would affect Wales more than anywhere else. Because we’re reckoned to be ‘over-represented’ compared to the rest of the UK (i.e. have fewer electors per constituency), MPs here are set to be cut by a quarter.

Above, therefore, is a rather ungainly-looking map of a proposal for an expanded Ceredigion constituency drawn up by the Electoral Reform Society WalesIt adds north Pembrokeshire, south-west Montgomeryshire and west Radnorshire to the current Ceredigion, not all areas that readily sit together.

The problem with setting constituency boundaries purely on numbers rather than local identity is that it becomes very hard for people to relate to the seat. Ceredigion constituency currently very helpfully has the same boundary as the County Council which makes it easy to feel a part of.

Another map, drawn up by the  Electoral Reform Society UK looks more plausible, involving a large part of north Carmarthenshire along the Teifi Valley.

Of course, there is a recent precedent for a different boundary. Between 1983 and 1997 Ceredigion was part of a larger Ceredigion and Pembroke North constituency.

Whatever is finally adopted, there’s no question the plans will lead to the loss of a considerable number of Welsh MPs.  If the Assembly were to get substantially more powers that could be a reasonable exchange. But many of the 11 Welsh Lib Dem and Conservative MPs who, like Ceredigion's MP, supported the measure were effectively voting themselves out of office.


The Welsh Clone Town list

Let's start with the positives. Bangor and Penarth (in that order) have the most distinctive and diverse high streets of the medium-sized towns in Wales, according to the latest survey conducted by the New Economics Foundation (story also covered by Caredig i Natur and the Western Mail).

The NEF this week published their survey of the extent to which towns have become filled with chain stores indistinguishable from anywhere else, labelling the worst offenders ‘Clone Towns’ and those with the most characterful, independent local shops, like Bangor and Penarth, as ‘Home Towns’.

Of the four Welsh towns judged to be Clone Towns, Llanelli was the worst example, coming sixth in the UK. The full list of Welsh Clone Towns and their UK rankings is:

6/ Llanelli
7/ Bridgend
17/ Carmarthen
19/ Aberystwyth

If the Ceredigion Council Cabinet plan to demolish 16 small shops in Aberystwyth town centre in favour of chain stores had been successful Aberystwyth would, of course, have been higher up the list in future years. And it’s interesting that Carmarthen, the town that supporters of the plan seemed to aspire to, was judged as less distinctive and interesting than Aberystwyth.

The report goes on to highlight how those places given the accolade of Home Towns didn’t just achieve this by accident but have often done so by consciously working to bolster their local independent sector.


Aberystwyth gets £1 million for green transport

Aberystwyth has secured funding of £1 million towards green travel projects. The funding is part of Ceredigion’s bid for Aberystwyth to become one of the Welsh Government’s three new ‘sustainable travel towns’, building on the experience of the Cardiff Sustainable Travel Town initiative.

The £1 million must be spent this financial year and includes:

Parcyllyn bus and cycle lanes and pedestrian facilities   £20,000

Public rights of way   £10,000

Walking and cycling infrastructure improvements at Parcyllyn / Boulevard St Brieuc   £80,000

Pedestrian islands   £60,000

20mph speed limit for roads on the seaward side of Aberystwyth town    £75,000

Aberystwyth town centre accessibility scheme    £40,000

Additional Park & Ride facilities    £304,000

Aberystwyth to Penrhyncoch cycle route    £45,000

Llanbadarn Fawr to new government buildings cycle route   £20,000

Improvements to Rheidol cycle path    £15,000

Bus service improvements    £40,000

Electric bus purchase    £190,000


Ron Davies at the Plaid conference - the full speech

With a few sections edited out for space, this is the text of Ron Davies's historic speech to the Plaid Cymru conference in Aberystwyth on Saturday. The former Secretay of State for Wales in Tony Blair's government announced his intention to stand for Plaid in Caerffili in next year's Assembly elections and set out a vision for Wales's economic future. You Tube versions are here and here.

".....I want to say a huge thank you to those Plaid members in Caerffili, many of them here today, that I’ve worked with and alongside over these past couple of years for the support they’ve given me to work with them and to join Plaid. And it’s never easy to single out individuals but I do want to say a very special thankyou to Lindsay Whittle [Plaid's many-times candidate there]. I’ve known Lindsay for almost 40 years and we fought election after election against each other. And I’m proud to say in all of those times there was never a cross word between us. We disagreed obviously on many, many occasions but there was never any personal acrimony and he was the very first person to urge me to consider putting my name forward to stand for Caerffili for Plaid. So it’s a very great debt that I owe him and I’m very proud to acknowledge that. It’s not only me but there’s a debt owing to Lindsay from Plaid members, supporters, voters and thousands of ordinary men and women who he has supported and helped during a lifetime of service to Plaid and to the people in Caerffili. So thank you very much Lindsay. .....

"The best way that I can repay that friendship and that trust would be to repay the debt in the way that he would want most. And I will do that with our colleagues in Caerffili.

"And we will score a famous victory for Plaid Cymru in next year’s Assembly Elections . We’ll win it and we’ll keep it and we’ll fight and we’ll campaign and we’ll organise and we’ll persuade until we make voting for Plaid Cymru in Caerffili as natural as drawing breath. That’s the campaign that we’ll launch. We’ll base it on a marvellous bunch of individuals. But it won’t just be a victory of organisation – it’ll be a victory of ideas. And, because it will be a victory from Labour in a key heartland seat, it’ll send shockwaves through the political establishment. It’ll send a message that Plaid is in the mainstream. It will give the lie to the false claims that Plaid only represents the north or the west or the countryside or the Welsh-speaking part of Wales. Plaid represents every part of Wales. Plaid can uniquely claim to represent all of Wales, wherever they live, and all of the people, whatever language they speak.

"The key values of Plaid, of fair play, of equality, of community of taking responsibility as individuals and as a nation, of wanting to use our democracy to bring about change to improve the lives of ordinary men and women. Those are the values, not only of Plaid, but those are the values of the people of Wales as well.

"Now for decades, generations of people in valleys like mine , the one that I grew up in, have automatically looked to the Labour Party. I know, from my own background, that was the path that I first chose. I don’t make any apologies for that. I believed that Labour could deliver lasting change. But it hasn’t. I don’t want to talk about that personal experience, because that’s history now. And there are too many compromises and too many sell-outs and failures of policy and resolve from the Labour party, that the Labour Party is now left as the busted flush of British politics. Labour talks the rhetoric of enduring values but put the rhetoric to one side and look at the reality. Thirteen years of unbridled power, with record parliamentary majorities and they’ve left Britain this year with tainted politics , a broken economy, the rich richer, the poor poorer, and, above all, the stench of an illegal war in Iran (sic) and a pointless and unwinnable war in Afghanistan.

"If we are going to transform our politics we have to challenge that record and we have to establish Plaid unquestionably as the strong and legitimate voice for progress and change in Wales.

"Now I believe that devolution will prove to have been the game-changer. Who knows what our politics would have been like if Labour had chosen to use devolution to help build a nation, to champion the cause of a proper parliament, to use the talents and resources of the people of Wales according to our needs to create a more dynamic economy and a more sustainable level of public service? Well, that might have been, if the Labour Party could identify itself with Wales. But the Labour Party is a London party and London would not allow the Labour Party to follow the natural course of action here in Wales.

"I know, from my own experience, the tremendous work which has been put in by our Plaid ministers in the present Assembly, and the Plaid group in the Assembly. And, without doubt, the influence of One Wales has brought the first real sense of an assembly setting its own agenda for Wales.

"We now live in an era, I think we all accept, where coalition politics are becoming the norm. But let’s never forget that the priorities and the politics of any coalition are the priorities and the politics of the party that leads the coalition. And our ambition has to be, whatever else it is, to make sure that, after next year’s Assembly Elections, Ieuan Wyn Jones is not the Deputy First Minister but Ieuan Wyn Jones is the First Minister and that Plaid Cymru is the party that leads whatever coalition we have.

"Nobody believes that that’s going to be an easy task. No doubt Labour will say, as that always do when elections come along, “Vote Labour and keep the Tories out”. Well, Wales voted Labour in May and now we’ve got the Tories in. And, if anybody ever wanted a brutal lesson in political treachery, it’s those thousands of decent people who were conned into voting Lib Dem in Wales in the last general election. They won’t fall for it next time.

"No doubt Labour will try, “Well you’ve got to vote for us as a party. We know we’re rubbish, but the Tories are even worse”. Now, can you imagine that as a battle cry for political inspiration? You start off by saying, “We’re rubbish, but we’re the best of a bad lot”. Well, we can do better than that. It doesn’t even work in practice. They might even try, “Vote for us and oppose the Tory cuts”. Well, we all know what the reality is. The cuts are coming and they would be coming whatever the stripe of the London government. If its Tories or Labour, Wales would be facing those cuts.

"The real question is why Labour did so little for Wales when they could have done something about it in their 13 consecutive years of office. Look at the state of the Welsh economy. Investment down. Enterprise down. Innovation down. Little wonder that our national wealth is down even from where it was 12 years ago when we first won Objective 1 status for Wales.

"Economic inactivity, the curse of modern Wales, is as bad now as it was 10 years ago when the Assembly was created and as bad now as it was 20 years ago under the Tories. We’ve had a decade of increased welfare spending but nothing has been done to prepare us for the storm that we now face. Labour’s legacy of failure has made us even more vulnerable to the cuts to come. Because we in Wales depend, like no-one else in Britain, on the public purse, and that is where the cuts will bite deepest. And, forget the propaganda, it’s not going to be cuts on bankers or cuts on bureaucrats. It’s going to be cuts on teachers and cuts on nurses and it’s our patients and our children who will pay the price of Labour’s failure. Labour’s crocodile tears... there’s a lot of unanswered questions that we have to ask them time and time again . After all those years of government in London and in Cardiff, why did you leave us vulnerable to the Tories? Why did you leave us vulnerable, at the bottom of almost every economic and social league table? Why didn’t you sort out a fair funding formula when you had the chance? You had a Labour government in Cardiff, you had a Labour government in London and , if you believe the Labour government in London, they were awash with money and, for ten years, despite all the claims, despite all the evidence, despite all the arguments and all the debates, Labour refused to move.

"And now, less than six months after the election, they want to position themselves as the champion of reform. Well, if anybody buys that I’m afraid they will have the same sort of awakening that those thousands of people had when they were conned into voting Lib Dem at the last election.

"The worst thing, after all the opportunities, was the failure to create a proper parliament. And, again, we’ll see the positioning. We’ll now see Labour saying we need a parliament to defend ourselves against the Tories. The time to create a parliament, to defend yourselves against the Tories is when you’re in power and you’ve got a majority on the floor of House of Commons of over 100 and you can get any piece of legislation that you want through the House of Commons to create a proper parliament for Wales, if only you’re prepared to stand up to the sceptics in the Labour Party in Wales who are too frightened at the loss of your own jobs to want to see a proper parliament of our own here in Cardiff.

"Now, as a result of those failures, we have been bequeathed a dependency culture in Wales – nearly 30% of people in Caerffili County Borough Council, for example, who are living in economic inactivity. And a dependency culture could be a death knell for any nation with ambition and with aspiration.

"Nobody should want anybody to live in a cocoon of wrap-around health and social care, because that denies the needs of men and women to make their own choices and the rights to fashion their own lives of learning and work and to take responsibility for their own lifestyles and the legacies that they leave for their children.

"Plaid has the courage to say that, of course we need properly funded services, and that must go hand in hand with developing enterprise and building up personal responsibility. As a species, millions of years of evolution have hard-wired us. We want to explore. We want to invent. We’ve created industry, science and technology, food production , manufacturing, communications, all on a world-wide scale. We’ve created languages, lifestyles, politics, culture, sport , music, art, drama, literature, poetry. And that’s why we have global diversity, with the richness that it brings, if we had the sense to learn to value it.

"The more passionate that we are about our own history, our own culture, the more likely we are to understand and value other people because we know why they cherish their own history and their own culture. And we must understand the way that we relate with people right throughout the world, with shared ambitions for a world where we can put to one side the jealousies and the rivalry that lead to war and famine and poverty.

"Now, the achievements of men and women haven’t been created by governments, they haven’t been created by kings and queens.... Individuals have done these things. Individuals have done these things because we’re motivated. As people we all have our own motivation. We have our own personal needs. And Plaid has the courage to say, take responsibility and create a society which cherishes your culture, which respects diversity, wherever it is, and challenges the potential of all people to fulfil their lives. Plaid has the courage to say, let’s end the dependency culture. We don’t need to seek solutions elsewhere or to blame all our ills on other people or other institutions. How many times have you heard it said, “They should do something about it”, when people are describing a problem. “’They’ should do something about it”. That’s wrong. It’s not ‘they’, it’s ‘we’. We should do something about it. And only Plaid has the courage to say that, in this complex, competitive, interrelated world, decisions are best taken by the people most closely involved and as a nation we should take responsibility for our own affairs and draw down from Westminster the sovereignty to chart our own future.

"Now, let me just give you one example. In our old mining valleys, an area that I come from and know and love best, we‘ve got the greatest concentration in western Europe of poverty and deprivation, which is based on worklessness and poor health. 150 miles up the M4 we have the south-east of England, Europe’s richest region, sustained by one of the world’s richest cities. Now, what logic is there that says you have to have the same set of rules for both of those regions? They couldn’t be more different. And yet you have the same policies for the economy , for expenditure, for finance, for regulation, for encouraging enterprise. Who believes that a set of rules designed to meet the overheated and overcrowded south-east of England has the sensitivity or the ability to tackle the deep-seated problems in our mining valleys? There is no logic, there’s no argument, there’s no economic or financial argument, which says that those immense differences of geography, of economy, of society, can be dealt with by the same regime. But, as long as we lack the political clout, we can’t do anything about it.

"We have a vision of our nation which is based on its own right to democracy and self-determination. Not just for its own sake, important though that is, but for the sake of the sort of Wales we want to see."


Picture of the Day - Ron Davies and his new membership card

Ron Davies, the 'Architect of Devolution' as the then Labour government's Secretary of State for Wales, holds up his new Plaid Cymru membership card at the Plaid conference in Aberystwyth today.


Ceredigion councillors to be cut by five

The expected cull of Ceredigion councillors for the 2012 elections will be less drastic than once thought but the number of councillors will almost certainly be reduced from 42 to 37 following the publication of draft proposals by the Boundary Commission for Wales.

As suggested on this blog in December, the Commission’s proposals, designed to produce more equal numbers of residents across wards, will significantly change the balance of power between the north and south of the county as all the five losses are south of Tregaron. The Commission’s conclusions demonstrate the extent to which the population of the Aberystwyth area has been under-represented in the county in recent years.

Although the loss of a seat in the Aberystwyth area was half-expected in the report, in the event the only significant change at this end of the county is that Padarn and Faenor wards will be amalgamated into a two-seat ward in order to equalise their numbers which had become unbalanced. Gareth Davies (Plaid) and John Roberts (Lib Dem) can therefore both retain their seats.

The main changes proposed in the document are:

Llangeitho, represented by David Evans (Plaid), is being lost with half going to Tregaron and half to Llangybi.

Llandysiliogogo, represented by Gareth Lloyd (Ind), is being split between Llanarth and New Quay.

Capel Dewi ward, represented by Peter Davies (Ind), is being  divided between Llandysul and Troedyraur.

*  Lampeter and Llanwenog wards are to be amalgamated. Lampeter currently has two councillors and Llanwenog one. The two wards will become a single two-seat ward – a loss of one member overall. If they all decide to stand again, Haydn Richards (Plaid), Hag Harris (Labour) and Ifor Williams (Ind) will contest for the two seats.

*  Aberteifi/Cardigan – The current three wards within the town will be amalgamated into a single, two-member ward. If they all decide to stand again, Catrin Miles (Plaid), John Adams-Lewis (Plaid) and Mark Cole (Lib Dem) will contest the two remaining seats.

Looking at the Council’s political balance, this means two certain losses for the Independent/Lib Dem alliance and one loss for Plaid with interesting, difficult-to-predict contests in Cardigan and Lampeter.

The Boundary Commission's draft proposals are open to amendments submitted by 9th November but they're now thought unlikely to make significant changes.


Ceredigion names recycling switch date

Ceredigion Council have named week commencing November 15th as the date on which recycling collections will switch to weekly and residual waste to fortnightly.

A letter sent to community councils says:

“You may be aware that the Welsh Assembly Government has produced new and tougher targets for recycling, aimed at ensuring that Welsh local authorities achieve European Union targets limiting the amount of waste sent to landfill over the coming years. Failure to meet the new targets will result in Ceredigion County Council incurring substantial financial penalties

“The new Ceredigion household waste collection service will involve a weekly recycling collection service as well as the introduction of a weekly food waste collection service, covering the entire county. The little waste that households will then have left over should be deposited in black bags and will be collected fortnightly.

“Recycling and food waste will be collected on the same day using a split-bodied vehicle. This vehicle is specially designed to accept the two different materials without contaminating either of them. Both materials will then be taken to one of the County Council’s transfer stations for bulking up prior to further treatment elsewhere. The food waste will subsequently be treated to produce energy and compost. The recyclate will be sent to reprocessing plants."

It’s going to be interesting to see how it all works out in Aberystwyth town centre where there are particular concerns about the practicalities of the scheme in blocks of flats. Although I’m broadly supportive of the scheme, for the obvious pressing environmental reasons, I do think some of these concerns are being underestimated by the Council (“The little waste that households will then have left over...” ?) and they’ll have to be pretty pro-active in dealing with them.

One big flaw from an environmental perspective is that the Assembly aren’t encouraging Councils to promote home composting for those with space in their gardens alongside the food waste collection. According to council officers this is because the Assembly wants to know exactly how much waste is being diverted from landfill and it’s not possible to measure the amount of home composting – surely a case of the auditing overiding the objective.



Thanks to anyone who voted to help this blog achieve the giddy height of number 31 in this year's Top 50 Welsh Blogs (up from 45 last year). And congratulations to Blog Menai for winning top place.


Aberystwyth University voted best in Wales again

Aberystwyth University has been voted the best in Wales for student satisfaction for the sixth consecutive year. It was also rated the fifth best in the UK.

The results are from an annual survey of students aiming to help inform the choices of prospective applicants about where and what to study. A total of 252,000 students participated in the survey this year, a response rate of 63.1%.

Overall satisfaction at Aberystwyth University remains very high at 92% - an increase of 2% on 2009 and 10% higher than both the Welsh and the UK average.

Students were asked questions grouped into seven areas: ‘the teaching on my course’, ‘assessment and feedback’, ‘academic support’, ‘organisation and management’, ‘learning resources’, ‘personal development’ and ‘overall satisfaction’.

Aberystwyth University subjects achieving a very strong performance in the survey for ‘Overall Satisfaction’ were:
• Agriculture
• Biology
• Celtic Studies
• English
• Physical Geography
• Sports Science

In 2008 a survey of students showed Aberystwyth was the top town in the whole of the UK for providing a sense of community and student safety.

Apart from the obvious quality of teaching and organisation at the university itself, the consistently excellent results in all fields are thought to be partly due to the relative size of Aberystwyth University in a small town, helping to create a community feeling and allowing students to interact well with local people.


Aberystwyth Roundup

It was good to hear it’s been agreed that the former Conservative Assembly Member Lisa Francis will chair Aberystwyth’s campaign for a Yes vote for in the coming referendum on more powers for the Assembly. Having been on Aberystwyth Town Council with her, I know she’s good at working with members of other parties and, unlike some in her party, has always been enthusiastic about Wales. She’s ideally suited to bringing local parties together in a united campaign and convincing Assembly sceptics.

On Monday (16th) there’ll be an 8-foot pair of wellies in Aberystwyth town centre as part of a flood awareness campaign by Environment Agency Wales. Further campaigns will focus on Tregaron and Capel Bangor.

Compassion in World Farming will be holding a meeting in the Morlan on their vision of the future of farming in Wales. The meeting is on Thursday 18th at 7.30

Many people will regret that the one-day Castell Rock festival isn’t happening in Aberystwyth this year. However the idea hasn’t gone away and the festival could be back another year.

Despite the pending cuts, development continues apace around Aberystwyth:

Planningpermission was given last week to convert the old antiques showroom in Maes Iago (next to the Academy) into 14 flats. I argued that it would be more suitable for offices and the ground floor should be retained as retail but lost the vote by 8 – 6.  

Work has finally started this week on the planned new GP surgery, pharmacy and creche on the west side of Penglais Hill. Padarn Surgery in North Parade will eventually move there.

A planning application has been submitted for 79 new houses at Piercefield Lane in Penparcau

The extra layer on the Bronglais Hospital car park is on schedule for completion in the Autumn. Despite recent press reports, it’s hoped that the building of the new A&E Dept can start in the new year.

Ysgol Plas Crug, already engaged in a substantial building programme to replace current portacabins with proper classrooms, Have put in a planning application for a new staff car park due to the horrendous parking problems in the area. They then withdrew it after parents complained it would reduce the children’s play area.

Just opposite, Aberystywth Rugby Club has received planning permission for an extension to their clubhouse.

Work is also re-commencing on the second block of flats at Yr Aelwyd, the former Urdd building in Llanbadarn Road.