Public Poetry in Aberystwyth

Enough of this politics, let’s talk for a moment about something really important – poetry - public poetry.

Last week I attended the launch of a poetry trail at Llanfihangel Genau’r Glyn, more commonly known as Llandre, a few miles north of Aberystwyth. It was a well-attended, distinctively Welsh  event, filmed by S4C, to launch a quarter-mile woodland path. Along the path is interspersed verses of poetry on display boards written by people who live in, have lived in or have connections to the village. Opened by Jim Parc Nest, Archdruid of the Gorsedd of Bards, the chosen lines include pieces in both Welsh and English from people like Eisteddfod Chair winner Huw Meirion Edwards  and Greg Hill.

On the way home I thought of the lines of poetry recently embedded on Aberystwyth Promenade (see photo) as a small part of the Prom Regeneration Area scheme. The idea is that people will read these and dream as they gaze out across the sea.

On the other side of town, many of the corridor walls in Bronglais Hospital offer random lines of poetry. These were sponsored by the Arts in Health project Haul and written by the poets Elin ap Hywel and David Hart in response to their experiences at the hospital.

Put together, these projects begin to form a theme that acknowledges the value of poetry in the Aberystwyth area, where many writers live and where the National Library looks down on us from Penglais Hill. If this public poetry occasionally triggers the contemplative side of our minds and helps us to briefly step back from the material world then it will have done us all a service.

"Machlud tawel, halen yn yr awel" translates into English as, "Quiet sunset, salt in the breeze".


Aberystwyth election reflections

I know it’s getting a bit late for this now but, before we put the Council elections fully behind us, it’s worth reflecting on a dramatically changed political landscape in Aberystwyth and, at the end of this post, a surprising change in the profile of Ceredigion.

Although results in the rest of Ceredigion were mixed for Plaid, they were astonishingly good for the party in Aberystwyth, returning four out of six County Council candidates and with the added bonus of 11 out of 19 Town Councillors. To put this in a long-term perspective, after the last election in 2008, Plaid had two councillors out of six in Aberystwyth. In 2004 it was one.

Looking through the wards in turn, firstly Bronglais and Central wards didn’t change, with exactly the same representation as last time. In Bronglais, Plaid won again with a full slate of County and Town Councillors. In Central ward there was also no change. Ceredig Davies won again for the Lib Dems whilst Chris Mackenzie-Grieve raised the Plaid vote by 1%. The Lib Dems won two out of three town council seats with the other going to Plaid, exactly as last time.

However the other wards were more interesting:

Aberystwyth North
This ward has been an extreme marginal for many years. The 2004 and 2008 elections were won by Carl Williams for the Lib Dems by 23 and 36 votes respectively. This year, Plaid’s Mark Strong won for the first time, 47 votes ahead of the sitting Cabinet Member. The contest was complicated by the presence of Lisa Francis, the former Conservative Assembly Member, standing as an Independent. In the event she came third but with a respectable vote. Plaid retained their two out of three Town Council seats.

Going back a few years, anyone suggesting that the two Penparcau seats could ever both be won by Plaid Cymru would have been considered crazy in this area of social housing. In 2008 Rob Gorman became Plaid’s first councillor there. This year, despite Rob stepping down to pursue his sucessful fishing business, Plaid’s two candidates Steve Davies and Lorrae Jones-Southgate both managed to win comfortably.

Interestingly, Dylan Lewis, who has stood many times for Labour and got nowhere in what, in any other town, would be considered prime Labour territory, stood as an Independent this time and suddenly found himself getting a decent vote, finishing third.

All three Plaid Town Council candidates were elected comfortably to the area’s five seats, despite two never having stood before.

The encouragement for Plaid in this ward, where they finished second, is somewhat below the radar but, arguably, highly significant. This has been a rock solid Lib Dem ward for as long as most people remember. In May 2008 their County Council candidate won 67% of the vote and four out of four Lib Dems were returned to the Town Council.  

Aled Davies’s win there for Plaid in a by-election later on that year was seen by many as a freak result brought about by a ‘perfect storm’ of chaos within the Lib Dem camp (Lib Dem County Councillor resigned in disgrace, well-known former Lib Dem councillor stood as an Independent, Lib Dem activist who had worked the ward and topped the Town Council poll wasn’t selected to stand in the by-election amidst much recrimination).

This time, it was widely assumed that the Lib Dems would re-take the ward with the selection of the credible and personable Wendy Morris-Twiddy.  However Aled Davies, a hard worker who, for his own reasons, decided to stand as an Independent at this election, retained the seat by 64 votes. Had he stayed with Plaid the party would have had five out of six seats in the town.

But the real encouragement for Plaid in Rheidol is that their own candidate, Endaf Edwards, standing in an election for the first time, came ahead of the Lib Dems in second place. This is all the more remarkable for the fact that some Plaid supporters admitted to feeling divided and voting for Aled Davies.

Given the ward’s strong Lib Dem history, Plaid didn’t target the seat with resources and only put up one Town Council candidate, hoping he might scrape into one of the four seats. In the event, Brian Davies came second out of five, beating two of the three Lib Dems. The Rheidol ward profile seems to be changing. Expect Plaid to put more into it next time.

The wider Ceredigion shift
Aberystwyth is not the only town in Ceredigion whose political profile is changing. Looking wider, Plaids’ support seems to be shifting into the urban areas. Of the six towns in the county, Plaid now have control of four - Aberystwyth, Cardigan, Tregaron and Llandysul, the other two being Aberaeron (Lib Dem) and Lampeter (Labour/Independent). 

This has never happened before. In 2008 Plaid only had the majority of councillors in two of the six towns and, in 2004, just one. At the same time, four of Plaid's five losses at the latest election were to Independents in rural areas. 

Of the Plaid councillors in Ceredigion in 2004, just 12.5% were from urban areas. In 2008 that figure went up to 19%. In 2012 it shot up to 42%. The profile of both Plaid support and Ceredigion itself is changing fast.


The campaign for an athletics and cycle track for Aberystwyth

The campaign for an athletics and cycling track in Aberystwyth is growing pace.

Ceredigion is one of the few counties in Britain that has no standard-sized athletics track whatsoever. This prevents the further development of the otherwise very healthy town and university athletics scenes, the university having long outgrown the two-lane track on their Penglais campus.

Those who began looking to set up a campaign for an athletics track soon found that cycling locally is in a similar position.

While cycling is a growing sport in Wales, with mountain biking  being particularly popular, there are severe limitations for other aspects of the sport with the only indoor velodrome being in Newport, Gwent. Aberystwyth's Ysywyth Cycling Club is restricted in its development as parents are hesitant to allow children to practice racing on the roads.

Athletes and cyclists therefore decided to get together to work on a joint campaign for an athletics and cycling track for Aberystwyth which could then serve as a venue for the whole of Mid Wales.

Of course, at the end of July, the eyes of the world will be on the London 2012 Olympics (67 days, 21 hours and 32 minutes away, their website tells me at the time of this post). The heralded Olympic flame is due to arrive on-stage at Vicarage Fields in Aberystwyth at exactly 6.51pm on Sunday 27th May (they’re obviously a bit obsessive about their timings, these Olympians. It must be all that trying to shave a tenth of a second off their personal best). 

The games are the recipient of a vast amount of money for sporting facilities in London and the organisers have repeatedly spoken of creating, ‘a sporting legacy for the whole of Britain’. The Aberystwyth campaign agrees with this wholeheartedly and hopes that now is therefore exactly the right time to put its case for the development of sporting facilities in what is one of Britain’s most deprived regions in terms of sporting opportunities.

The Aberystwyth proposal is for a fully-lit six-lane 400m all-weather running track, with an eight-lane sprint and hurdle straight, encircled by a 500m cycle track at Penweddig School in Aberystwyth.

The town has already proved it's able to put on large-scale sporting events. This development would be the first of its kind in Wales, and would be a cost-effective way of delivering hubs for two sports within  mid Wales. The proposed site is in close proximity to the town and would have the potential to boost local businesses and generally strengthen the pull of the town in a wide area.

An organisation has now been set up to progress the idea – Partneriaeth Athletau a Seiclo Canolbarth Cymru / Mid Wales Cycle and Athletics Partnership (PASCC)

The campaign is supported by a variety of organisations in the area and beyond, including Sport Wales and the Urdd. Support was included in the local election manifestos of both Plaid Cymru and the Lib Dems.

You can help the campaign by signing the petition on this link.


Northgate student flats approved on appeal

Accommodation for 51 students at the former Crown Buildings in Northgate Street, Aberystwyth has been given the go-ahead after a Planning Inspector overturned the decision of Ceredigion’s Planning Committee which had rejected the application in December.

In a judgement released yesterday, the Inspector considered but rejected arguments put at a local hearing about loss of an employment site, planned provision of 1000 student beds on Clarach Road and concerns from local residents - some elderly - about late night noise. He concluded that employment use had been properly marketed without success, that the Clarach Road accommodation was still likely to fall short of the total student need and that residents were not entitled to assume disorderly behavior from students.

Although many local residents are dismayed at the decision, having put their views at the hearing on May 1st, it will be welcomed by the Guild of Students and shops in Northgate Street, an areas which has seen several shops close in the past couple of years.

The application, which was put by Cantref housing association, has been reduced from its original 61 places. Conditions imposed in the judgement include double glazing and other noise insulation, an out-of-hours call system and a warden on site from 6pm-7am.

I can e-mail a full copy of the Inspector's six-page judgement to anyone interested. Drop me a line at alunw@ceredigion.gov.uk


Plaid to lead Ceredigion Council in partnership with Independents

Ceredigion County Council this morning voted Plaid Cymru’s Ellen ap Gwynn (pictured) as Council Leader.

The 19 Plaid Cymru councillors elected on May 3rd have agreed to work with the main Independent group of 12 to form an administration. They have been joined by a breakaway group of two Independents, Llais Annibynnol, consisting of Dafydd Edwards (Llansantffraed) and Dai Mason (Trefeurig). Labour’s Hag Harris has also joined the coalition.

The opposition will be formed by the seven Lib Dems and one ungrouped Independent (Aled Davies, Aberystwyth Rheidol).

The coalition has been the subject of intense discussions for the last seven days in which everyone has been talking to everyone else, with no groups excluded, in an effort to come up with a workable arrangement for running the County.  Although no group succeeded in winning an overall majority at the election, most councillors recognise that much of the public wants to see change. 

The final arrangements essentially hinge on the mathematics resulting from the decision of Llais Annibynnol and Labour to break away from the Independent/Lib Dem group they had been a part of for the last few years together with the need for the ruling group to have a significant majority with which to form an administration. No-one would have predicted the coalition outcome that’s been arrived at but negotiations have been an exercise in the art of the possible.

Ellen ap Gwynn, councillor for Ceulanamaesmawr to the North of Aberystwyth, said in her press  statement:
"I’m grateful for the support received from my colleagues in the chamber today to be elected as Ceredigion County Council’s new leader – the first Plaid Cymru politician to do so. This moment also heralds a fresh start for Ceredigion with Plaid Cymru at the helm of a new coalition to run the county.

"I intend to be an inclusive leader, and we will work hard to ensure that Ceredigion people feel involved in Council decisions. We commit to holding full consultation with local residents on any new developments and initiatives so that their views and needs are taken into account in the decision-making process.

"I’m particularly pleased to have attracted the support of the group of Independent councillors on the Council, as well as that of the new political group ‘Llais Annibynnol / Independent Voice’, and Ceredigion’s only Labour councillor.

"We held discussions with all political parties and while I fully appreciate that those who decided not to work with us have the prerogative to do so, I intend to work across political divides to try and get consensus at the heart of the decision-making process in Ceredigion".

Arthur Dafis, chair of Plaid Cymru’s constituency committee in Ceredigion, added:
"Plaid Cymru campaigned to get a fresh start for Ceredigion in the recent local elections. We have now secured a change in the formation of the Council’s Cabinet with a Plaid Cymru leader in charge for the first time ever. This is a major development for Ceredigion and I congratulate Cllr Ellen ap Gwynn on securing majority support for her leadership in the Council chamber.

"Plaid Cymru wants to secure the best governance for Ceredigion and I want to see Ellen and her coalition working with people of all political persuasions to ensure that decisions are made in the best interest of Ceredigion people”.


Aberystwyth Town Council election results

These are the results of the elections to Aberystwyth Town Council.  

Plaid Cymru is once again the largest party on the Council with 11 of the 19 seats (up one). The Lib Dems have five (down one), with three Independents also represented.

Bronglais (4 seats)
Alun Williams (Plaid) 382
Sue Jones-Davies (Plaid) 336
Endaf Edwards  (Plaid)  277
Chris Griffiths (Plaid)  241
Richard Morgan-Ash (Lib Dem) 144

Canol / Central (3 seats)
Ceredig Davies (Lib Dem) 262
Sarah Bowen  (Lib Dem) 142
Carys Morgan (Plaid)  136
Lefi Gruffudd (Plaid)  131
Carys Ann Thomas (Plaid)  129

Gogledd / North (3 seats)
Mark Strong (Plaid) 352
Aled Davies (Independent) 314
Jeff Smith (Plaid) 209
Dafydd ap Ffranc (Plaid)  169

Penparcau (5 seats)
Steve Davies (Plaid) 500
Dylan Lewis (Independent) 385
Mererid Jones (Plaid)  349
Kevin Price (Plaid)  333
Brenda Haines (Lib Dem) 284
Mark Williams (Conservative) 142
Linden Parker (Lib Dem) 124

Rheidol (4 seats)
Wendy Morris-Twiddy (Lib Dem) 337
Brian Davies (Plaid)  284
Mair Benjamin (Lib Dem)  281
Martin Shewring (Independent) 273
Sam Hearne (Lib Dem) 266


Ceredigion Election Summary

Plaid Cymru had some stunning successes at the start of County Council election night in Ceredigion - including defeating the Council Leader - and can legitimately be said to have won the election by remaining by far Ceredigion’s largest party. However the evening was ultimately disappointing for Plaid as they finished with 19 out of the 42 seats, one fewer than they had begun with and not enough to take overall control of the Council. The Lib Dems lost two of their nine seats, both Cabinet Members, bringing them down to seven, whilst the Independents increased theirs' by three to 15.

The night began with three shock Plaid wins over sitting members of the Council Cabinet:
* Council Leader Keith Evans (Independent) lost to Plaid’s Peter Evans in Llandysul.
* Mark Strong beat Lib Dem Cabinet Member Carl Williams in Aberystwyth North.
* Bryan Davies defeated Eurfyl Evans, another Lib Dem Cabinet Member, in Llanarth.

Things were looking good for Plaid until a series of surprise losses:
* Dai Suter, a good mate of mine, lost his previously safe seat in Trefeurig to an Independent.
* Long-standing Plaid councillor Ian ap Dewi lost to an Independent in Penbryn. 
* Euros Davies (Independent) won in Llanwenog over Plaid, following the retirement of the previous Plaid councillor Haydn Richards.

Better news came in Aberystwyth Penparcau where Plaid’s Steve Davies and Lorrae Jones-Southgate were both elected in their two-seat ward following the retirement of the two previous councillors Rob Gorman (Plaid) and Goronwy Edwards (Independent), representing a net gain for Plaid.

Other councillor changes were:
* Llanfihangel Ystrad – Lynford Thomas won for Plaid following the retirement of the previous Plaid councillor Owen Llywelyn.
Troedyraur - Maldwyn Lewis (Independent) won here following the retirement of another Independent, Roy Griffiths.

All other ward councillors remained the same, including this one in Aberystwyth Bronglais, where I managed to win with 89% of the vote against Chris Newcombe, a very gracious Conservative.  

At the end of the night the totals were:
Plaid Cymru 19 (down 1)
Independents 15 (up 3)
Lib Dems 7 (down 2)
Labour 1 (same)

Six women were elected, an improvement of one. Full results can be seen here.

At least one Independent (Aled Davies in Aberystwyth Rheidol, previously a councillor for Plaid) has said he will remain genuinely independent and will not join a bloc with others.

With no overall majority and the loss of the former Council Leader, negotiations will have to take place before a new administration can be formed.


Vote Plaid for a fresh start in Ceredigion

I’m not going to suggest that Ceredigion will be transformed into Nirvana if Plaid Cymru win an overall majority in the local elections on Thursday, although some winning candidates may temporarily reach there on election night. But the coalition of Independents and Lib Dems which has ruled the county for as long as anyone can remember, really is due for a change.

Now I don’t like those leaflets that always say, “Only voting for x party can save us from The Tories/The cuts/Planetary destruction”, because there’s usually more than one solution to any problem. But, with the Labour Party only putting up one candidate, the Conservatives inconsequential at local level and the ruling Independents and Lib Dems entirely intertwined, it quite literally is only by voting for Plaid Cymru that a change is going to occur in the running of Ceredigion Council.     

Now there are all sorts of bad things about political parties, but when a council is dominated by people who call themselves ‘independent’, then you start to see their good side. With councillors representing political parties you have people who are at least connected to the wider modern world. Their parties have things like manifestos that people can read and conferences where they work out ideas, principles and policies based around wider philosophies. Not so ‘independent’ councillors who, strangely, considering they are supposed to be independent, always seem to end up reflecting the same grey, small ‘c’ conservative approach to society.

Odd, therefore, that the Lib Dems should have become so comprehensively absorbed into the Independents locally, to the detriment of any of their party’s more progressive ideas, which are supposed to exist somewhere but, like at Westminster, never seem to see the light of day.

Despite being by far the largest party represented on Ceredigion Council (20 councillors), Plaid have always been kept out of office entirely by an alliance of all the rest (12 Independents, 9 Lib Dems and 1 Labour). I’m under no illusions that whoever runs Ceredigion after Thursday will be faced with the same issues of increasing demands and less and less money to tackle them. But the Council  needs a fresh start and it needs to engage with people. I like to think that Plaid Cymru, with an inspirational new leader and with it’s principles of support for public services, local communities, small businesses and environmental sustainability, are now by far the best people to take the communities of Ceredigion forward.

For the many people who want change in Ceredigion, there really is only one answer at this election.

Click on these green highlights to read Plaid’s local and national manifestos for the Local Government elections on Thursday.