Ceredigion pushes ahead with Mill Street multi-storey

Ceredigion Council is hoping to push ahead with developing a multi-storey car park and shops on the site of the current Mill Street car park in Aberystwyth.

Tuesday’s Cabinet meeting agreed that the Council should seek, “expressions of interest” from, “suitably qualified and experienced companies with a view to shortlisted parties being invited to submit their proposals.” Presumably they’ve got someone in mind. The National Assembly is in support of the plans as a key project to be developed under Aberystwyth’s Strategic Regeneration Area designation.

The Council’s plan is for a three-storey car park to be built on the site as a way of supporting the town centre with up to three shops fronting onto Park Avenue. The current Park Avenue Day Centre would be relocated to the Drill Hall in Glyndwr Road. It’s particularly important that this is in place before development starts.

Although the area covered by the plan only involves the current car park and Day Centre, the report notes, “this does not mean that interested parties will not look at assembling a larger site”.

I’m not opposed to the Mill Street plan. Some will say a multi-storey encourages greater car use but there’s now a strong consensus that Aberystwyth town centre needs bolstering to prevent people travelling further afield for their shopping. There are also plans to improve the pedestrian thoroughfare between Mill Street and the high street.

However, the mention of a larger site brings an unmistakeable feeling of déjà vu, remembering last years’ debacle over the proposed Post Office development which was, rightly, turned down after major public protests at threatened compulsory purchase orders on a large number of the surrounding traditional small shops. Being aware that an agent has been canvassing residents of the twelve houses in the adjacent Glyndwr Road about selling, I asked if the Cabinet could give an assurance that compulsory purchase powers would not be used to enlarge the Mill Street site. The Council Leader answered very firmly in the negative. Sometimes it seems as if they don’t want to help themselves.


Recycling in Ceredigion – the next level

Ceredigion is planning to bring in weekly kerbside recycling collections and cut those of ordinary waste to fortnightly in an effort to go to the next level in reducing the amount of rubbish sent to landfill. That was the decision taken at the Council’s Cabinet meeting this week.

After a slow start to the recycling game Ceredigion has become the best recycling performer in Wales and one of the best in the UK. In fact we’ve been so good that Assembly auditors have crawled all over the figures thinking there must be some mistake. Even so, the relentless yearly increase in landfill tax gives a powerful incentive to keep progressing or risk paying more for waste each year.

Having costed a range of options, including no change, the Council has concluded that both the least costly and the best, in terms of minimising landfill, will be to reverse the current practice in Aberystwyth of collecting black bag waste weekly and recyclables fortnightly. They also now plan to extend this, as well as the town’s weekly food waste collection, to the whole county.

The plan will not be without its critics. Having clean recyclables sitting around in the home waiting for the next fortnightly collection may take up space but at least it’s not smelly. Some flats in the town centres may have difficulty finding a ventilated place to store bags containing the kind of things you want shot of as quickly as possible. On this basis the councillor for Aberystwyth Central ward opposed the scheme.

Nevertheless, in terms of simply maximising the amount sent for recycling as against landfill the idea has to make sense. It must be very common for someone not committed to recycling or lacking space in their flat to put perfectly good recyclables into the weekly black bag when the next recycling collection is still 10 days away. Greater availability of a recycling collection has to increase the amount recycled. It also changes the psychology of the thing. Instead of recycling being an add-on to the weekly collection of ordinary waste, recycling becomes the main thing with the residual things that can’t be recycled mopped up afterwards. And the electorate seem to understand this, going by a recent consultation exercise which showed that 67% would support the idea.

The new scheme isn’t going to happen tomorrow. These things take time to organise, and the change could still be up to two years away. But Tuesday’s decision of the Cabinet has set in train Ceredigion’s move to the next level of recycling.


Aberystwyth Community Farm Project

A group of 20 local people are looking for land to set up a community farm near Aberystwyth.

The group hopes to give local people without land the opportunity to grow their own food as part of an environmentally-conscious co-operative and then plans to teach others, particularly schoolchildren, about the benefits of homegrown food and how to produce it. Similar schemes currently exist in Newtown, Wrexham, Cardiff and Swansea (pictured).

The group are looking for a site within five miles of Aberystwyth. They’d welcome any offers of land or donations for the project. They can be contacted at

Tomorrow (Wednesday) a conference of similar groups around Mid-Wales is being held in Borth.


Two more village schools to close in Ceredigion

Thursday's vote to close another two small schools in Ceredigion will sadden many people, and certainly the parents and children sitting in the public gallery in the council chamber. The council voted by 23-18 to close Mydroilyn school (15 pupils) and by a narrow 19-18 to close Capel Seion, the one, despite having only 14 pupils, thought to have the better chance of survival in the long term. The Plaid Cymru group proposed that the schools be given a further year to organise themselves and demonstrate their viability but the ruling Lib Dem/Independent coalition wanted closure this year and ultimately triumphed. Capel Seion and Mydroilyn schools are now expected to close at the end of the Autumn term.

There are, of course, valid arguments on both sides. Ceredigion actually has by far the highest proportion of very small schools in Wales and has not gone down the more draconian closure path of Gwynedd, Powys and Carmarthenshire which has led to much greater controversy in those counties (including the forming of a whole new political party in Gwynedd). Council officers at the meeting (showing, it should be said, much more partisanship than is usual for officers) put on a presentation showing that schools with 51+ children cost £3,521 per year per child whilst schools with less than 20 cost £9,056. They told of how small schools get poorer Estyn reports (although omitted to mention some notable exceptions) and how children miss out on the social opportunities available in larger schools.

On the other hand, as could be seen in the public gallery, the parents campaigning for their small schools to remain open are highly committed and a credit to their children. Small schools are usually much more than just schools but also important focal points for their community - Capel Seion has no post office or pub – and often help maintain a small local economy. These schools may cost more but, given the kind of society people aspire to in rural Wales, they're worth it. If we want a nice society, with villages that actually function as communities instead of dormitories, we should be prepared to pay a little for it. Capel Seion village has planning applications for 21 new houses which may have provided children to save the school in time. The very threat to the schools has been putting off new parents.

As well as the general reduction in numbers of children across the country, the biggest problem is really the changing nature of society. I know several parents in Capel Seion who have chosen to send their children to school in Aberystwyth town because the schools there are close to the parents’ place of work. This is easy to understand in an increasingly busy world where travelling back to the home village to collect children at school closing time entails leaving work significantly earlier every day and may have a crucial effect on the parents’ job prospects. In that sense, it’s not the Council who have been the prime movers in closing village schools but parents in the villages who have voted with their feet. School closures are an inevitable consequence of parental choice.

This doesn’t, though, make the final decision any easier on those dwindling groups of parents still bravely committed to Ceredigion’s small schools and the children who have only known the security of their close-knit homeliness.


Fairtrade Fortnight - Events in Aberystwyth

MONDAY 22nd February - FRIDAY 5th March
Fair Trade Promotion by Cadwyn, registered for fairly traded craft goods from Africa, Madagascar and Palestine - National Library of Wales.
Official opening - Monday 22nd February at 1.15pm including a short film about leather artisans in Niger.

TUESDAY 2nd March
Coffee Day in the Arts Centre, Penglais.
• Coffee Tasting - Foyer of the Great Hall - all afternoon.
• Black Gold (film about coffee farmers in Ethiopia) - Cinema - 3pm.
• Meet Jennipher Wattaka, Ugandan coffee farmer - Round Studio - 7.30pm.
Admission FREE

THURSDAY 4th March
• Cooking with Fairtrade - a bilingual demonstration by local catering company A
maeth with a stall of Fairtrade products and information - Canolfan Morlan, Queens Road/Morfa Mawr
- 7.30pm. Admission £3.00.


A walk down Plas Crug Avenue

As a counter-balance to all this hard-nosed politics, here’s a piece about the bird life found in one of the jewels of Aberystwyth – Plas Crug Avenue, a place I walk or cycle through several times a week. It’s taken from the just-published newsletter of the Greener Aberystwyth Group who, in turn, took it from the Ceredigion Bird Report by Harry Pepper.

"I‘m a firm believer that birds can be found almost anywhere. Like many people interested in birds I like to visit the hotspots, but also get a great deal of satisfaction from my local patch. For me, Plas Crug Avenue fits the bill. It has a variety of birdlife to maintain my interest and is small enough to cover during a lunch break. Blackbirds are present all along the avenue, often accompanied by a few Song Thrushes, while Redwings are sometimes found in the trees at the cemetery, with occasional Fieldfares preferring the adjacent playing field. The mature trees, bushes and hedgerows hold Chaffinches, Greenfinches, Great and Blue Tits, while the commonest bird is the Robin. Wrens can be seen at close range foraging the low vegetation, with parties of Long-tailed Tits and Goldfinches preferring the area between the Rheidol Retail Park and the Crown Building.

"Less regular, are Nuthatch, Treecreeper and Goldcrest, while the tall trees near the cemetery provide occasional sightings of Coal Tit and Siskin. Each autumn I await the first Kingfisher, when a careful approach to favoured stretches of the ditch will provide good views. It was on one of these approaches that I flushed my first Jack Snipe, but during a cold snap Common Snipe may turn up. During spells of cold weather a Little Egret has taken up residence, providing interest even among non-birders. On one occasion it brought work in a Crown Building office to a standstill as it struggled for 20 minutes trying to swallow an eel.

"A new bird was added to my Aberystwyth list in February 2008 when, approaching the far end of the ditch, I was surprised to find myself looking at a Water Rail, which stayed for another two weeks. This was a very productive period. During one lunchtime walk lasting only half an hour, I saw Little Egret, Kingfisher, Water Rail and Snipe as well as the usual small birds and even had a Kestrel flying over to finish off.

"Not all visits produce such birds, but even on the quietest of days it is good to get out in the fresh air to have a look, before returning to work refreshed and wondering what the next day will bring."


Tax and borrowing powers for Wales – Aberystwyth Seminar

Monday night sees a public consultation seminar in Aberystwyth on the arguments for and against the National Assembly acquiring tax and borrowing powers.

Discussion will be chaired by Professor Elan Closs Stephens and the panelists include:
Simon Thomas (former Plaid Cymru MP for Ceredigion)
Professor Peter Midmore (Aberystwyth University)
Alun Davies (Labour AM)
Nick Ramsay (Conservative Shadow Assembly Minister for Finance)
Sue Balsom (Managing Director FBA )
Dylan Iorwerth (editor of Golwg)

The event is part of a consultation by the Assembly's Independent Commission on Funding and Finance for Wales. As well as examining the pros and cons of the operation of the Assembly’s present block grant, the Commission is attempting to identify possible alternative funding mechanisms, including the scope for the Assembly to have tax varying powers as well as greater powers to borrow. Should Wales adopt an alternative system to the current system of funding the National Assembly via the Barnett-determined block grant relating largely to size of population? And what would be the advantages of the Assembly acquiring borrowing powers to finance capital projects?

The Commision’s final report is due in mid 2010. The seminar, one of a series across Wales, is being held next Monday, 22nd Feb from 5.30pm – 7.30pm at Aberystwyth University, Senior Common Room, Penbryn. Booking details are at the website of the Institute for Welsh Affairs or e-mail clarejohnson@iwa.org.uk


Elin Jones meets IBERS unions

Ceredigion's Assembly Member Elin Jones today met union representatives to discuss plans to cut 70 full time posts at Aberystwyth University’s Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences (IBERS).

The issue has raised enormous concern locally and has been the subject of several comments on this blog. Unions represented at the meeting were the UCU, UNITE and Prospect.

After the meeting, Elin, who is also the National Assembly's Agriculture Minister, said:
“I was very grateful for the opportunity to meet union representatives to discuss their reaction to the announcement that there will be 70 posts made redundant at IBERS. I share the unions’ concerns about the current lack of transparency in the whole process and the speed Aberystwyth University intends to carry out these redundancies. I'll now be raising these concerns as a matter of urgency with both Aberystwyth University’s Vice-Chancellor as well as with the Education Minister”.


Independent newspaper backs Plaid MPs

Simon Carr, a regular parliamentary sketch writer in the Independent newspaper, has this week given a ringing endosement to Plaid Cymru's three MPs at Westminster, Elfyn Llwyd, Adam Price and Hywel Williams.

Under the heading, "Plaid Cymru's fearsome threesome pack quite a punch", his
article in Wednesday's edition begins,
"What a relief to see Elfyn Llwyd in the House yesterday, still alive and asking questions. He's always more interesting than he looks. Tiny Plaid Cymru are a great parliamentary asset. Blair and Mittal's £2m, that was them. They kicked off Cash for Honours. The Blair Impeachment project, they did that too. Llwyd and Adam Price (they are two-thirds of their party) have probably had more effect on Parliament than the entire Liberal Democrats."


General Election in Ceredigion - The Line-Up

The announcement this week of Labour’s General Election candidate for Ceredigion completes the line-up for the parties in the constituency, bar any minor additions. Here they are below, using as much impartiality as I can muster, in the order they’ll appear on the ballot paper.

The profile of candidates in the constituency is certainly changing. Of the six contestants, three moved here to attend Aberystwyth University and only two are originally from the area, the only two to be fluent in Welsh. Of the five with published addresses, all live in the northernmost third of the county – a very different profile to previous elections where the candidates have been much more geographically spread.

Richard Boudier - Labour
An Aberystwyth Town Councillor in the final year of an international politics degree. Originally from Cardiff. Towards the end of last year I bumped into him in the Co-op where he was working. He told me then he may well be the Labour candidate. Naturally my eyes lit up at the prospect of another scoop for this blog but unfortunately he asked me not to mention it till a formal announcement, which was made this week.

Luke Evetts - Conservatives
Lives in Penparcau. Brought up in New Quay. Got involved in last year’s successful Cadw Calon Aberystwyth campaign to save small shops in the town. In 2008 he stood both in New Quay in the local elections and then in the Rheidol ward by-election two months later. Recently graduated in law from Aberystwyth University. Chapel-going Welsh speaker.

Penri James - Plaid Cymru
One of only two candidates originally from the area. Still lives in his home village. Works as an agricultural lecturer, specialising in farm management and rural business planning. Former leader of the Plaid group on Ceredigion County Council where he served as a councillor for thirteen years.

Leila Kierch - Green
Lives in Llanfihangel y Creuddyn. Moved to Aberystwyth ten years ago to do a degree in environmental studies. Campaigner for the Save our Seas pressure group. A candidate in Ystwyth ward in the last County Council elections and topped the Green list for Mid & West Wales in the 2007 Assembly elections.

Mike Wieteska - UKIP *UPDATE* - no longer standing
Born in Salford. Emigrated to Australia, where he was ordained as a Christian minister, and then worked in New Zealand, Polynesia and Switzerland before moving to Wales. No information given about Ceredigion connections so have to assume none.

Mark Williams - Lib Dems
Originally from Hertfordshire. First came to Aberystwyth to do a degree. Was a teacher at a primary school near Brecon when he won the seat by 219 votes at the last election and subsequently moved to Borth. The first non-Welsh speaker to represent the constituency.


Former Lib Dem Mayor joins Plaid Cymru

The former Lib Dem mayor of Aberystwyth, Lorrae Jones-Southgate, today announced she has joined Plaid Cymru.

Lorrae served on Aberystwyth Town Council for 5 years between 2003 and 2008 but resigned in June of that year whilst still mayor due to differences with her then party, the Liberal Democrats.

Commenting on her decision to join Plaid, Lorrae said:

“Following my resignation as a town councillor for Aberystwyth, I thought long and hard about where my political allegiances lie. As a result, I’ve come to the conclusion that, as a party that’s continually delivering for the people of Ceredigion, Plaid Cymru is best placed to represent people like me.

“I’m now looking forward to assisting Penri James with his campaign to become Ceredigion’s next MP. I’m confident that he will be an independent voice for us at Westminster and will work hard as a team with Elin Jones AM”.

The announcement comes on the day Plaid Cymru and Penri James officially kick-off their general election campaign with an evening in Llwyncelyn with special guests Dai Jones, Llanilar, and TV presenter Angharad Mair.