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.


Council leader still getting it wrong on Aberystwyth shops

It’s good to see some strongly-worded letters in today's Cambrian News, critical of last week’s comments on shops in Aberystwyth by Council Leader Keith Evans. He'd been presented with a petition by 1,000 people calling for large chain stores to come to the town. Unfortunately he had entirely misinterpreted this as support for last year's plan by the Council to demolish the heart of Aberystwyth and specifically criticised Cadw Calon Aberystwyth's successful campaign to save the 17 small shops in Chalybeate Street and Great Darkgate Street. Cadw Calon's campaign attracted a petition of 2,300 signatures.

In fact, many of the small traders who joined the Cadw Calon Aberystywh campaign themselves want to see appropriately placed larger stores coming to the town and have consistently said so. But not at the cost of their own businesses and the entire character of the centre of Aberystwyth. With the post office redevelopment scheme currently dead, the Council’s plans now revolve around the much less controversial Mill Street car park area.


Ceredigion third in Wales recycling league

Following on from the post about recycling on 1st August, figures published today show that Ceredigion is currently third in the Wales recycling league with 47% of waste recycled.

Denbighshire and Ynys Mon are top on 51% and 49.3% respectively. Bottom are Blaenau Gwent on 29.2%, with the Welsh average at 39.2%.

The Welsh government's target for the last year was 40% which Ceredigion achieved comfortably. But the target increases to 52% by 2012/13 with financial penalties for those councils not making it, so the pressure to improve further is very much on.


IBERS redundancies cut by half to 35

A feared 70 redundancies at IBERS (Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences) at Capel Dewi near Aberystwyth is now finalised at 35 after involvement from Assembly Member Elin Jones and a campaign by students. Although good news, it has to be remembered this still can't be fun for the 35.

The Facebook group ‘Aber Students against cuts to IBERS’ has posted the following closing message:
"It now appears that the redundancies and cuts proposed for IBERS at Aberystwyth University have been finalised and implemented, with only 35 redundancies of the original 70 being made.

"This group was started to allow people to register their objections to the proposed cuts which at first outlined a significant number of teaching positions to be cut and also at the frustration and anxiety caused by the conflicting information released by the University’s senior management team.

"Though it took the University a while to fully start to engage with and listen to students, I think through the Facebook group and the petition presented to the University’s Council, we really did have an effect on the University’s attitude during the whole process.

"It was always my intention to close down the ‘Aber Students Against Cuts to IBERS’ Facebook group when I felt its existence was no longer necessary, and this message is just to let you all know that I will be closing the group down from now.

"I do hope that this whole process has brought about a sea change in the attitude of the University towards student engagement, as they can see how effective the Guild of Students is at lobbying, and how passionate and committed Aberystwyth Students are when the quality of their education is threatened."


Bow Street station campaign builds up steam

The campaign to reopen a railway station at Bow Street, just north of Aberystwyth, is gaining ground.

The Welsh Government is currently undertaking an appraisal of the idea following the publication of the
TRaCC Rail Study in April and is now looking for evidence of community support. Bow Street station would fill an eight mile gap in the Cambrian line between Aberystwyth and Borth stations. The original Bow Street station closed in the 1960s.

A similar appraisal is also taking place for a possible station at Carno, between Machynlleth and Caersws. The Welsh Government's National Transport Plan is committed to there being an hourly daytime rail service between Aberystwyth and Shrewsbury by 2011.

Anyone wanting to support the Bow Street station proposal should e-mail
enquiries@tracc.gov.uk or write to the TraCC Office at Canolfan Rheidol, Rhodfa Padarn, Llanbadarn Fawr, Aberystwyth SY23 3UE before September.


Ceredigion’s big recycling leap

Ceredigion Council’s plans to change its rubbish collections starting in November are causing a stir. Currently waste that can be recycled is collected in clear plastic bags every two weeks across 80% of the county, with the usual black bag (or ‘residual’) waste being collected each week. As reported on this blog in February, the plan is to reverse this so that recyclables are collected weekly, along with an added weekly collection for separated food waste, with the left over residual waste picked up fortnightly. To simplify things, all rubbish in Aberystwyth will be collected on the same day of the week instead of the current split days.

The driver behind this is the
European Landfill Directive which pressures governments to incrementally increase recycling and reduce the waste being buried in the ground. Governments are fined if they don’t fulfil the directive. They therefore pass the financial incentive down to Councils whose job it is to administer waste collections. Each year the fee for sending waste to landfill rises a bit more so that Councils need to increasingly look for ways to reduce their waste to balance the books. This year the tax is £48 per ton with a planned rise to £72 eventually. The fine for exceeding the landfill allowance is £200 per ton. Councils that don’t reduce their landfill won’t be able to afford this.

Apart from the financial imperative, there’s a further logic behind Ceredigion’s scheme. In the last two years, since the introduction of the Council’s fortnightly kerbside recycling collection, the amount of waste being recycled in the county has doubled whilst the amount of residual waste has halved. Most households participating in the recycling collection now put out a significantly larger bag of recyclables than of residual waste. Reversing the two collections has a clear logic to it.

Aberystwyth Town Council supports the increased recycling collections but want the weekly residual waste collections to remain. This undoubtedly expresses the current public view but, according to Ceredigion, misses the point. The planned new scheme is not just aimed at keeping pace with the current demand for recycling but to increase it. Although Ceredigion has a higher rate of participation in recycling – currently 47% - than most other councils in both Wales and the UK, there are still many people who don’t take part. Some people simply don’t want the complication of cleaning and saving recyclable material until the next fortnightly collection. They just want to stick it in a weekly black bag to get rid of it as fast as possible and they’d probably still do this if both recycling and black bags were available alongside each other each week. The hope is that, if recycling is actually made easier than not recycling, rather than just an option, then even the most recalcitrant of people will decide they may as well do the right thing and recycle.

This all sounds very understandable, but there are potential problems. There are many non-recyclable things other than food waste, some very smelly things, that one would not want to keep in a small town centre flat with no back yard for two weeks. There’s likely to be a tendency for some of these things to find their way into recycling bags, contaminating the rest of the contents. Worse, in most people’s eyes, the town’s rubbish bins may suddenly start to overflow with household waste - a seagull bonanza.

Some occupants of HMOs in Aberystwyth seem to have difficulty putting their black bags out on the right day as it is, resulting in bags ripped open by seagulls and the contents strewn about the street. How much more difficult will it be to get the day right when they’re collected fortnightly. The mess caused by seagulls is already
a highly sensitive issue in the town without adding to it. For the scheme to work well the arrangement of household waste will require a degree of domestic organisation that some town centre households don’t seem to possess.

At a recent briefing meeting council officers gave assurances that the scheme would be assertively policed. An intensive public information programme will be undertaken. Fifteen council officers have recently been through a course in administering on-the-spot fines under Section 46 of the Environmental Protection Act to people putting their rubbish out on the wrong day. Landlords will be asked to help. Housing associations will be briefed, students e-mailed, other councils running similar schemes liaised with.

The controversial element of the scheme is the cutting of residual waste collections. Ceredigion Council views this as the only way to force the whole population to recycle rather than just the socially responsible. Only a few years ago, anyone wanting to recycle in Aberystwyth had to have an almost religious commitment to collecting and transporting their empty baked bean tins and marmalade jars out to
Aberystwyth Recycling Centre at Glanyrafon (not the municipal waste tip but a small organisation that hasn’t received the credit it’s due for kicking off the whole recycling effort in the area). Then the Town Council, to its great credit, provided recycling bins around the town. Finally, after many years of campaigning, Ceredigion Council began its kerbside recycling collections. Making recycling an option for those who want it has achieved a lot. The new scheme takes it to the next level where life becomes difficult for those who do not.

There’s no doubt it’s going to be an in-depth test of the population’s commitment to recycling, a commitment that has been impressive in Ceredigion up to now. One thing councillors learn quite quickly is that people don’t like change, and, in terms of everyone’s domestic arrangements, this is quite a big one. But if we’re to take climate change seriously, reduce pollution and our use of finite resources, this is the kind of change we were always going to have to make eventually. This is the moment recycling has been building up to, the moment when the scales are tipped and recycling becomes the main waste event with the shrinking bag of residuals increasingly an afterthought.

There will be tests of the Council’s and the public’s resolve, especially in the first few weeks. The Council will need to respond quickly to problems and the public don’t yet have confidence that they will. Every household in the county will need to give deeper thought to what they throw away. But, if the scheme can be made to work, everyone will benefit. And since the majority of people do get rubbish day right, by going fortnightly, the amount of black bags out on the streets could be halved. The seagulls will be gutted.