Major revamp for Bronglais Hospital scheme

Plans for the £45 million Bronglais Hospital Front-of-House Scheme are being re-written because hospital planners have worked out new solutions to problems posed by the site.

The major changes to the scheme, which is the largest capital investment in the whole of Hywel Dda Health Board, has been prompted by hospital consultants expressing concern at the distance patients would have to travel between the proposed new operating theatres and the current intensive care unit. A review has concluded that existing theatres could instead be refurbished, leading to a massive saving of space in the scheme. New plans are now being worked on which it is hoped will provide new day surgery facilities not previously included whilst still managing to reduce the scheme from five storeys down to three. This, and the likely reduction in timescale for the work, will be a massive boost for local residents who are currently subject to considerable disruption from the ongoing development work.

As reported previously on this blog, the scheme will ultimately provide a badly needed new Accident & Emergency department alongside a 14-bed medical assessment unit, all directly accessible from the Penglais Hill side of the site where another deck will be put on the current main car park.

As I write the car park is closed whilst drainage works are completed and the building of the extra deck commences. This, together with the demolition of the old maternity unit (the white buildings in the back of the picture in which many local people were born), is scheduled to be completed by the end of the year, allowing car parking on site again and paving the way for the new block to be built. In the meantime the hospital has arranged an interim car park on the Llanbadarn University campus and runs a regular shuttle bus from there to the hospital.

The whole scheme was scheduled for completion in August 2014 but it’s now hoped that date can be brought forward.


Continental cycling in the streets of Aberystwyth

The streets around the old college area of Aberystwyth will be transformed for three hours one Saturday night in June when they become the course for a series of cycling races known to aficionados as ‘criteriums’. These are races particularly popular in Flanders and Holland based on doing laps around closed-off town centre streets. The continuous turning, changing gear and accelerating is an intensive form of racing for the riders and the format is good for spectators as the riders are constantly passing.

The event, organised by the Ystwyth Cycling Club, will use a 980m course shown here and will have up to 50 riders in each race, quite an interesting prospect when the narrow streets and tight bends, like the two sharp lefts in the picture above, are considered.

The Aberystwyth Seafront Criteriums will be held on Saturday June 19th from 6 – 9pm.


NHS Wales at last taking action to cut its carbon footprint

Can’t find anything related to Aberystwyth in this press release by the NHS in Wales but I’m going to publish it anyway because it’s good green news and this blog likes good news.

The NHS in Wales will be undertaking a major exercise to assess its carbon footprint as part of the development of a low carbon strategy, Health Minister Edwina Hart announced today as part of Wales Sustainability Week.

This exercise will identify NHS Wales’ main sources of carbon emissions and opportunities for improving performance and reducing the carbon footprint. This is certainly long overdue. The Welsh Government is legally bound to produce a scheme setting out how it will promote sustainable development in all that it does.

Measures already introduced apparently include:

* All new hospitals are required to be designed to meet strict environmental performance standards. For example, the new developments at Ysbyty Cwm Rhondda Llwynypia, Ysbyty Alltwen, Tremadog and Ysbyty Aneurin Bevan, Ebbw Vale all incorporate biomass boiler heating systems into their designs (the new Bronglais development in Aberystywth unfortunately not included)

* Existing hospitals, including University Hospital of Wales, Cardiff, and the Royal Glamorgan Hospital, Llantrisant, are introducing new combined heat and power systems;

* A £3million Assembly Government fund has supported 149 schemes over the past three years, including installation of low energy external LED lighting, highly efficient condensing boilers, improved insulation, improved internal lighting controls and movement sensors, that together were projected to result in savings of 13,400 tonnes of carbon dioxide over the three-year lifetime of the fund;

* Figures for energy consumption across NHS Wales show that consumption fell by four per cent in 2008-09 over the previous year and is now 17 per cent lower than the 1999-2000 base year;

* All 18 major hospitals in Wales have developed travel plans to support staff, patients and visitors to travel by public transport, car sharing or by walking or cycling. Other hospitals are now developing similar plans.

Edwina Hart said: “As Wales’ biggest single employer and organisation, the NHS is a consumer of a considerable amount of goods and energy and generates a lot of travel as it works to care for the health and well-being of the people of Wales. The work that I am instigating on determining the carbon footprint of the NHS will help me identify where further efforts should be focussed and help to prioritise future work in this area. Being more energy efficient is not only good for the environment, but also helps to save money.”

Examples of specific new measures are:

* The University Hospital of Wales, Cardiff has replaced its ageing combined heat and power unit with new, energy-efficient model. It is believed to be one of the largest in the UK and is the largest in NHS Wales and has the potential to achieve carbon savings estimated to be in excess of 3000 tonnes of CO2 per year compared to traditional grid supplied electricity. The £3.8million installation is estimated to provide annual savings of £1.6million, based on current energy prices.

* The Aneurin Bevan Health Board has introduced waste segregation and mixed recycling facilities across the estate, resulting in recycling rates in excess of 50 per cent of domestic waste being achieved in some of its hospitals and a reduction across the LHB of twenty eight percent in the amount of waste being landfilled.

* The Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board has invested in new equipment to recover waste oil from the kitchens to convert it into bio-diesel for use in grounds maintenance vehicles and equipment.

All very heartening. The next thing NHS Wales needs to tackle is its attitude to the Welsh language.


The Dance of Life

These images show sections of a mural called The Dance of Life by Mildred Eldridge. Although now little-known in her own right, she was married to the poet R. S. Thomas.

The mural is a huge piece of work in six sections depicting man’s alienation from nature and the attempt to reclaim a lost natural wisdom. It was begun in Montgomeryshire and finished in 1956 in Eglwysfach, between Aberystwyth and Machylleth. Currently in storage at Gobowen Hospital near Oswestry awaiting a home, it will feature on the programme O Flaen dy Lygaid on S4C on Tuesday night (18th May) at 9pm.

The couple’s son, Gwydion Thomas, is
quoted as saying, “I think that somebody should shift themselves and find a building for it in Wales. It should be on show”.

Given the Ceredigion connection, could it be displayed in Aberystwyth? Maybe it would fit on one of the large walls in the new Council offices or the Town Hall when that becomes a library or even Bronglais Hospital which runs an
arts scheme. Just floating the idea...


Gwyl Werdd Aber / Aber is Green

Cliciwch i ehangu / Click to enlarge

The annual Aber is Green festival runs from the Bandstand on Aberystwyth Prom for five days from Saturday 22nd May. Full timetable is here. One event being highlighted is the talk and discussion on Tuesday 25th at 6.30pm with Peter Segger, probably the foremost organic farmer in Wales.


The Ceredigion 8,000 – Why

Ever since the morning after the first TV leadership debate Mark Williams’s second win in Ceredigion was expected by those on the ground. The incumbent MP always has an advantage but, even though Cleggmania ultimately amounted to nothing across the UK, the galvanising effect of seeing Nick Clegg holding his own on TV with Gordon Brown and David Cameron, with Plaid Cymru the only main party in Wales excluded, seemed to give the Lib Dems in Ceredigion a boost that Plaid had no answer to.

What was a surprise was the scale of the win. Not since Roderic Bowen’s victory over Labour in 1959 has Ceredigion been won by a margin of more than 8,000 votes and no-one has ever achieved 50% of the vote before.

The Lib Dems targeted the large student vote, sliding a leaflet under the doors in their halls with the headline, “Students will decide who our next MP will be!” – pretty irritating for local people. This can explain away some of the result. But most of the credit has to go to Mark Williams himself. The question opponents are scratching their heads over is how he managed it. The answer might lie in the contrast between the styles of Mark and the man he defeated in the 2005 election, Plaid Cymru's Simon Thomas.

Simon was a politician’s politician. I’ve spoken to, or heard comments from, a range of politicians from different parties all testifying to what an excellent performer he was in the House of Commons. He was highly credible on the BBC’s Question Time and seemed to effortlessly command large public meetings in the constituency. He was loved by radicals, including this one, for his no-nonsense stance on peace and justice issues, climate change and the Welsh language. At one time he was voted the hardest working MP in Wales. Unafraid of a political battle or taking on big local players, Simon once publically described the then County Council Leader as “fundamentally corrupt”.

On the other hand, in 2008, this is how Quentin Letts in the Daily Mail viewed Mark Williams in the House of Commons,
“We are assured that one Mark Williams sits for the electors of Ceredigion. Does he? Could have fooled me. What makes this all the worse is that the alleged Mr Williams - who may well be Inspector Clouseau, for all we know - won his seat at the last general election by ousting Plaid Cymru's Simon Thomas, an outstanding parliamentarian.”

So that’s the comparison from a political journalist. But from another perspective the story is very different. Engaging individually with his electorate wasn’t Simon’s strongpoint. Mark, on the other hand, for all his shortcomings at Westminster – and they sound quite serious - has become renowned for his warm and helpful attitude to all who approach him, including opponents.

The routine seems to go like this. He’s approached on an issue by a constituent. He writes a letter on their behalf which doesn’t get the desired result. He then explains nicely - really, really nicely – why he’s been unable to help. The constituent decides to vote for him next time because he’s been so nice.

In the space of five years an awful lot of coffee mornings are held in Ceredigion, and Mark Williams goes to a great many. You can guarantee that at each of these he’s spoken very agreeably to everyone there, apologised bashfully for his lack of Welsh, offended absolutely nobody and certainly hasn’t discussed anything as crude or controversial as politics. The skills he honed as a primary school teacher in Devon, Cornwall and then Breconshire are directly transferable to this style of political work.

It’s easy to disparage him for his avoidance of controversy and lack of punch, and activists from other parties do. But in cold, hard electoral terms they’re wrong. Decency is an underrated asset that should probably be given more currency in politics. Mark’s all-round niceness and approachability may seem to lack the evangelism, decisiveness and charisma expected of politicians but as a slow-burn, low-level campaigning tool it’s an absolute killer. Plaid activists, being generally more cerebral and ideologically-minded, really haven’t got to grips with it.

About 18 months ago I was helping at a Christmas dinner for the elderly in Aberystwyth. Mark was also present and obviously knew many of the attendees. At the end of the evening I watched widows in their late sixties quite literally queue up to give him a hug and kiss. Maybe it was the sherry. He may be the least impressive parliamentary performer ever to have represented Ceredigion but these women simply don’t care. His cuddly, non-threatening, nice-boy-next door attraction is more than good enough for them. And they all vote.

The approach doesn’t just get votes – it gets activists, activists of a certain sort. The day after the election I was in a conversation with a Lib Dem community councillor who had been flattered to be asked to join the party by Mark a couple of years ago and had quickly found herself elected. I congratulated her on the Ceredigion result but couldn’t resist mentioning the demise of Lembit Opik in neighbouring Montgomeryshire. She’d heard of Lembit but didn’t know where he represented and had no idea that he may have lost support due to some interesting extra-parliamentary activities. It’s almost inconceivable that a Plaid Cymru councillor would have been similarly out of touch. But there’s the catch. Plaid, and the other parties, are seen as ‘too political’ by these people.

The Lib Dem vote in Ceredigion has become a strange mix of the middle-of-the-road, the mildly radical, the Cymru-phobic and the kind of people who would form the core of the Conservative vote in any other constituency. All these people have effectively ganged up on Plaid in much the same way that Independents and Lib Dems on the County Council have joined together for years to keep Plaid out of power.

Mark Williams himself can be sensitive to accusations that he’s no more than a glorified social worker (not that there’s anything wrong with social workers) and at times during the campaign he somewhat angrily listed what he felt were his campaigning successes. Unfortunately anyone knowing anything about many of the issues he mentioned knew they had had very little to do with him. After one hustings I was regaled by community activists indignantly saying, “You’ll never guess what he’s claiming credit for now...”. Jokes began circulating that he was claiming full credit for the good weather in election week.

The lack of clear political direction conveniently allows the Lib Dems to adopt a tactic of being all things to all people. Whilst strongly stating their support for the badger cull when talking to farmers, Lib Dem canvassers in the towns told electors worried about the issue that Mark Williams was opposed to it. Whilst Mark, a non-Welsh speaker, supports the language in public, there were numerous reports around the County of his canvassers thoroughly condemning Welsh speakers on the doorsteps of those recently moved to the area. Eighteen years after Cynog Dafis’s extraordinary Plaid/Green campaign brought Welsh and English speakers together in a common radicalism, the Lib Dems were trying to divide them again.

Ceredigion, of course, could do worse. He’s never going to put the county’s name on the map as previous MPs have done but, in as much as he’s political at all, Mark Williams is on the greenish left of his party. In his victory speech he pledged to actively support a Yes vote in the coming referendum on more powers for the Assembly and will probably do a reasonable job of persuading some of his more conservative supporters, of which there are plenty, to vote the right way or, at least, not to vote the wrong way.

The bright note for Plaid is this. In 2007, two years after Mark Williams first won the Ceredigion Westminster seat, and with his party still with their tails up, Plaid Cymru’s Elin Jones was re-elected to her Ceredigion Assembly seat with a considerably increased vote. The two elections didn’t relate at all. And, just as my canvassing was telling me two weeks ago that Mark Williams was going to win again convincingly, that same canvassing was also telling me that next year’s Assembly elections will be very different. And that Elin Jones will win well here next May.


Ceredigion – the stark facts

I don’t suppose anyone reading this blog needs to be told the election result in Ceredigion. There are some pretty stark facts in it for all the losing parties and it's probably best to face them:

* It was the best Lib Dem result in Ceredigion ever in terms of proportion of the vote (50%) and the highest in numbers of votes since 1983.

* It was the biggest margin of victory in the constituency since 1959.

* It was Plaid Cymru’s lowest proportion of the vote since 1987, i.e. since the election before Cynog Dafis’s historic 1992 win when he more than doubled his vote (could be grounds for hope there then).

* It was the worst Conservative performance since 1974

* It was the worst ever result for Labour in Ceredigion

* It was the worst Green result since the first time they stood here in 1983 and the first time they’ve ever come as low as sixth.

Sobering stuff. More reflections to follow.

Meanwhile, Plaid's candidate, Penri James, who demonstrated at the count that he was a good loser, has offered this statement:

"I’ve thoroughly enjoyed meeting the people of Ceredigion on the doorstep during the election campaign and I thank them for their support. I also congratulate Mark Williams on his re-election.

“It was always going to be difficult as a first-time candidate in Ceredigion. However, with Plaid Cymru excluded from the TV Leaders’ Debates, it was a particularly challenging election for the party throughout Wales.

“I’d like to thank the many Plaid Cymru members and volunteers for their dedication and hard work on our enthusiastic and professional campaign, which has laid firm foundations for future elections”.


Plaid Back Greens in England

Cynog Dafis, Plaid Cymru’s former MP for Ceredigion, has written to green-minded electors urging them to vote Plaid in Wales whilst fully backing Green Party leader Caroline Lucas in her bid to win the Brighton Pavilion seat on the south coast of England.

Lucas is currently 11/8 favourite to win the seat from the Conservatives in what would be the second major Westminster breakthrough for the Greens following on from Cynog’s historic win in 1992 on a joint Plaid / Green ticket.

Cynog (seen here with Plaid's Ceredigion candidate Penri James) also argues that the model of proportional representation strongly supported by Plaid could eventually result in Green seats in the National Assembly.

His pitch to green voters in Ceredigion points out,
“Environmental activists agree that since Plaid became a partner in the One Wales Government there has been a step change in implementing green policies, including,

* A target for Wales to become self-sufficient in renewable energy by 2050 and to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 3% per year from 2011.

* A green jobs strategy

* A new farm support scheme, Glastir, with environmental protection at its heart.

* Emphasis on improving public transport and the rejection of the M4 upgrading plan.”

He points to the marginality of green issues to the main parties and the various prominent Greens, like George Monbiot and Professor Peter Midmore, who have expressed support for Plaid Cymru.

This blog’s favourite election outcome would be a tight hung parliament with a strong showing for Plaid, the SNP and the Greens in England to gain real concessions out of any new government.


My Top Twelve Reasons for Voting Plaid Cymru on May 6th

1/ “Plaid Cymru are a great parliamentary asset. [They] have probably had more effect on Parliament than the entire Liberal Democrats" – Simon Carr parliamentary sketch writer in The Independent

2/ A vote for Plaid Cymru is a vote to support all the wonderful cultural diversity on this planet

3/ Plaid are the greenest party at Westminster

4/ Plaid are the most left of centre party at Westminster

5/ Plaid Cymru are not a part of the Tory/Labour/Lib Dem policy blancmange which prioritises the financial sector above all else, including social need (see Ron Davies below)

6/ Plaid want to get rid of Trident and Eurofighter instead of cutting public services

7/ Plaid Cymru MPs will fully support the proportional representation that can change UK politics for good

8/ It’s a modern miracle that half a million people still speak a native minority language just 100 miles from the English cities. No-one else will support the Welsh language like Plaid

9/ Plaid want to promote equality by taking a million poorer people out of the income tax bracket whilst placing a 50% tax on wages over £100,000

10/ A strong Plaid representation is the only way of ensuring Wales gets the extra £300 million a year recommended by the Holtham Commission

11/ There’s a real possibility of a hung parliament with an alliance of Plaid and the SNP (and maybe the Greens in England) having a decisive say

12/ The Westminster parliament needs much more diversity. Other parts of the UK can help by voting for other parties. It’s only us in Wales that can vote for Plaid Cymru