Aberystwyth church demolition plan withdrawn

The controversial planning application to demolish St Winefride’s Catholic Church and Presbytery in Queen’s Road, Aberystwyth and build flats on the site has been withdrawn by the applicants.

The withdrawal came after it became clear that Ceredigion’s Planning Department were set to refuse planning permission due to the applicants’ failure to provide information that would justify the demolition of a historic church in the town’s conservation area and their claim that renovation would cost £2 million. At the same time, campaigners opposing the demolition had produced evidence, in a report commissioned by the organisation Save Britain’s Heritage, to show that the building did not need to be demolished and could be renovated for £600,000.

The application by the church’s Menevia Diocese, based in Swansea, is intended to fund the building of a new church in Penparcau which already has planning permission. Although there are different strands of opinion within the church’s large congregation, many parisioners have vehemently opposed the plans.

St Winefrede’s church was built in 1874-5 in a gothic style and was the first Catholic church to be built in Ceredigion after the Reformation. It played a pivotal role in developing the Welsh language within the Catholic church, publishing the first Welsh hymnbook and developing a Welsh Mass.

Following the withdrawal of the application, it is expected that the applicants will now make another attempt to assemble evidence to support their case and will re-apply for planning permission in a few months time.


Sanderlings and Starlings

It’s recently come to light that the Marston’s pub chain are planning to call their new establishment in Aberystwyth ‘The Sanderling’. The new pub is currently in the early stages of being built in Boulevard St Brieuc, between the Welsh Government offices and the Mudiad Meithrin building. 

For those who don’t know (and, asking around, that seems to include most people) a Sanderling is one of these little chappies on the left. I certainly hadn’t heard of them in the Aberystwyth area so I asked a friend who’s a member of the British Trust for Ornithology. She quoted her book about them:
“Breeds in high Arctic. Seen on passage and in Winter, sometimes in large flocks on sandy beaches, mudflats and pools. Rare inland.”
Apparently the nearest they come to Aberystwyth is the Dyfi Estuary, eight miles away, where they stick around for the Winter and then go again.

Alright, eight miles isn't all that far away, but a debate surfaced the other day on Twitter asking if a name with more local resonance could be found and one that is either Welsh or bilingual. In the Twitter dialogue, Ceredigion’s Assembly Member, Elin Jones, suggested Y Ddrudwen/The Starling would be appropriate since huge flocks of Starlings have become a real attraction on Aberystwyth Prom in the last few years, even being featured on TV and in the press (see picture left from the Mid Wales Birdlife site and many more by googling ‘Aberystwyth Starlings’). The serious-looking telescopes and cameras often lined up on the Prom at dusk show they’ve become a genuine tourist attraction that Marston’s might like to link into.

Other suggestions made of local birds have been Glas y Dorlan/Kingfisher (often seen in Plas Crug Avenue, 200 yards from the new Marston’s) and Yr Alarch/The Swan, many of which live on the Afon Rheidol across the road.

Marston’s seem to have a policy of using rural or nature themes in the naming of their pubs. The names of the current 22 Marston’s pubs in Wales are:
Talardy, Ffordd Dderwen, Running Hare, The Crown, Plas Coch, Nag’s Head, Poachers Pocket, Smithfield Bell, Willow Tree, Dragonfly, Otter, Bumble Bee, Pitcher & Piano, Copper Penny, Llangewydd Arms, Cherry Laurel, The Barn, Cherry Orchard, Sand Martin, Cayo Arms, Cwrt Rawlin and Ffynnon Wen.  

I don’t know if they named them all or took some existing pubs over, but several of the names seem to indicate that they're not unaware of local or Welsh sensibilities.

I wonder if they could be persuaded to give their new pub a more locally-relevant name. Marston’s can be contacted via this link.

Update  21/11/12

Response received from Marston's to an e-mail on the subject from one Aberystwyth resident:

"Thank you for your email regarding our new pub The Sanderling in Aberystwyth which is part of our national expansion that will see 25 pubs built this year.  A good news story in what seems to be a string of doom and gloom stories about the economy at the moment.

"We have always found the naming of pubs to be potentially contentious and can often generate a huge amount of debate.  We have tried over the years to include local residents in the naming of our pubs but this has, more often than not, led to even more discontent when one group's choice is taken over another's.

"Through our now vast experience at building new pubs over the last few years, we have opted to make the choice of name solely ours and to rely upon the great food, drink and service that the pub will offer to be the core of how we are judged.

"Our current naming policy is focused around animal names and nature, not necessarily local animals or nature, as these names are "neutral" as not to play to any one part of the community that we serve. These often help reflect the fact that a large part of our target customer group will be families who often disassociate food from more traditionally named pubs. We have found that opening pubs across the United Kingdom that this has worked well to date.

"We try to keep clear of historical figures or names that are linked to football clubs as that can often alienate a particular group of people - Something we are keen to avoid!
I, along with my team, look forward to welcoming you and the residents of Aberystwyth through the doors of The Sanderling in the near future when the pub is finally completed."

Update  26/11/12
Five days after sending the above, Marston's have informed Elin Jones that they will re-name the pub 'The Starling Cloud'. Well done to them for that. No mention of anything in Welsh as yet though.


Ceredigion romps home in battle of the spoilt ballots

It’s very likely that Ceredigion had the highest percentage of spoilt ballot papers anywhere in Thursday’s whole miserable Police & Crime Commissioner elections.  Figures for other places are hard to come by but, looking at those I’ve seen, Ceredigion looks way out in front. In fact, judging from this report, the tally was quite possibly the highest percentage of spoilt papers in any single preference election within the UK.

With a total of 944 spoilt papers, or 10.97% (let’s call it 11%), Ceredigion certainly outstripped the other counties in the Dyfed-Powys police area. Carmarthenshire scored 3.19%, Pembrokeshire 2.5% and Powys 4.38%. These figures are still very high, bearing in mind that, at the 2007 Welsh Assembly election for example, spoilt ballots amounted to 0.6%.

There are pointers to why Ceredigion’s figure stands out so much. The county has a history of strong political engagement and radical thinking. Uniquely, neither of the two dominant parties in the county (Plaid Cymru and the Lib Dems, for those reading this from outside) were represented in the PCC election, which featured only Labour and Conservative candidates. During the election period a head of steam was generated by several prominent local tweeters calling for people to spoil their papers rather than not vote.

What bothers me is that the Conservative winner’s majority of 1,114 was so much less than the 2,912 spoilt ballots across Dyfed-Powys. However much people wanted to protest against the flawed elections, I’m pretty sure very few of them wanted the Tories to control policing here. We can now anticipate there won’t be much opposition going on from our new commissioner to the expected further police cuts.

This is probably the first time in 150 years that the Conservatives have won an election covering Ceredigion. It was for fear of this that I didn’t spoil my paper and voted Labour. Whatever the wrongs of the whole idea of a single commissioner - and there are many - and despite my own party not being represented in the elections, I am completely unable to pass up an opportunity to vote against the Tories. It’s a congenital condition. Even that didn’t work out and Dyfed-Powys became one of a series of dismal and quite surprising Labour failures in Wales.

It will be interesting to see what a non-Conservative Westminster government, should we get one, will do about the next PCC elections in four years time. In the meantime, let’s continue making the case for policing powers to be devolved to Wales so we can develop our own, more enlightened system for overseeing the police.

Image source: http://www.itv.com/news/update/2012-11-16/voters-take-pictures-of-spoilt-police-ballot-papers/


Plaid opens its doors to candidates

Plaid Cymru is casting the net as wide as possible to attract prospective candidates for the next Westminster election in Ceredigion.

This will be the first time ever that any political party has opened up the political selection process in Ceredigion. It will also be a first for Plaid Cymru on a national level. 

Rob Phillips, Chair of the Plaid Cymru constituency committee in Ceredigion, explains:
"We are encouraging anybody who supports Plaid Cymru to consider whether they would like to put their name forward to become the party’s Ceredigion candidate for the forthcoming Westminster election. We invite anyone who believes that they could be a champion for Ceredigion and Plaid Cymru to come forward and express an interest in this exciting role.

"Groups such as business people, women, ethnic minorities, farmers, and young people are traditionally under-represented in the political world. I would encourage people from all backgrounds to consider themselves as potential candidates for Plaid Cymru.

"Plaid Cymru believes that the internal candidate selection processes used by political parties need to be opened up to the wider public. Over the past year, we have seen Plaid Cymru’s membership increase by over 33 per cent here in Ceredigion. We therefore want to capitalise on this enthusiasm as we look to select our Westminster candidate".

Leanne Wood, Plaid's Leader, said tonight in the annual lecture of the Institute of Welsh Politics in Aberystwyth:
"Plaid Cymru – the Party of Wales intends to open up our candidate selection policy to inspire people from all walks of life to put their names forward to stand and serve our country. I will be setting a goal for our party to have a million conversations between now and May 5th 2016 (the next Welsh Government elections). We have plans to create a ‘wiki-manifesto’ by crowd-sourcing ideas from people throughout Wales in order to transform the country and overcome voter apathy."

Anybody with an interest in putting their name forward to be Plaid Cymru’s Westminster candidate for Ceredigion should contact the Aberystwyth Plaid Cymru Office on 01970 617 492.


Aberystwyth shopfronts revamp

Shopfronts in Aberystwyth are the subject of a major renovation programme intended to improve the town's visual appearance. The works, which are becoming increasingly visible around the town, are being funded by a combination of grants and interest-free loans put together by the Ceredigion Council and funded by the Welsh Government as part of Aberystwyth’s status as a Regeneration Area. So far 13 buildings have been renovated, some incorporating more than one shop, with work on another seven in progress and many more expected.

Aberystwyth has always had some wonderful vernacular architecture that has often gone unnoticed and been allowed to decay. The principle of the scheme is that encouraging enough interested shop-owners to renovate their properties improves the whole image of Aberystwyth, by making best use of the town’s innate characteristics, which in turn attracts people into the town and boosts the economy.

Typically a scheme for a particular building might include painting that picks out architectural features, repair work, new windows, decluttering by getting rid of redundant hanging wires and aerials, bilingual signage and, where necessary, conversion back to a traditional-style shop-front.

Northgate Street, identified as a neglected area and an important entranceway into the town, is to be particularly targetted and most properties in the street will be improved in the next few months.

The work is taking place with grant and loan funding from a combination of Town Improvement and Community Enhancement Grants funded by the Welsh Government’s Housing Renewal Area fund.  The work builds on a smaller scheme begun in the town in 2008. Cardigan and Tregaron have also seen similar successful schemes in the past decade. 


Ras Glyndwr 2013 starts now

Planning has started for a long-distance relay race to celebrate and raise money for the Welsh language.

The intention of the organisers is to hold a non-competitive relay race from Glyndŵr’s parliament in Machynlleth to Cardigan on Saturday 15th of September 2013. Clubs, societies, families, schools and individuals will pay to buy one kilometre of the journey, passing a baton from each kilometre to the next. 

September was chosen to hold the race as it won't coincide with other important events in the Welsh calendar like the Urdd Eisteddfod, the Royal Welsh Show and the National Eisteddfod. The 16th of September is also Glyndŵr Day as this is the date that he was crowned Prince of Wales in 1400.

Gwenno Hywel of Cered, Ceredigion’s Welsh language initiative, who is co-ordinating the event, says,
“It’s time to celebrate the Welsh language and  bring people together from every background with an interest in supporting the language – Welsh speakers, learners and non-Welsh speakers. It will cost £50 to nominate a kilometre but more than one person can run each kilometre in the name of their local football club, branch of Merched y Wawr, local pub or school. We will be commissioning local craftsmen to create a special baton and we intend to hold different events along the route. The profit made from the race will be distributed in grants to promote the Welsh language.’ 

Ras Glyndŵr is based on similar very successful races in Ireland, Brittany and the Basque Country. The first race of its type, the Korrika, in the Basque Country, was held in 1980. Today the Basques run non-stop, 24 a day for ten days, raising hundreds of thousands of pounds towards teaching Basque to adults. The idea was adopted by the Bretons and in 2012 their race, the Redadeg, travelled non-stop, day and night, over 1,400km across Brittany. This year the An Rith was also held in Ireland, running 1000km through towns and countryside including Derry, Belfast and Dublin.

"It’s time for us to celebrate the Welsh language", said Siôn Jobbins who has run the Korrika, Redadeg and the Rith and has written a report about them. "It’s time for the friends of the Welsh language to come together, and show a bit more oomph and fun for the language instead of expecting others to work on their behalf. Ras Glyndŵr will be a great way to bring people together, raise money and awareness about the language and celebrate that we are still here!"

A meeting to establish Ras Glyndŵr will take place at 2pm on Thursday the 15th of November in Theatr Felin-fach, near Aberaeron.

Further details
Siôn Jobbins:  sion.jobbins@gmail.com   

A Welsh language video about the race, filmed on location at the Korrika in the Basque country, can be seen hereThe photo shows the Redadeg this year in Brittany, with the front runner holding a specially carved relay baton (source http://www.ar-redadeg.org/?lang=br)


TraCC’s annual report

TraCC (Trafnidiaeth Canolbarth Cymru), the local authority transport consortium for Central Wales, has published its annual progress report.

TraCC consists of Ceredigion and Powys councils plus the Meirionydd area of Gwynedd. It receives funding from the Welsh government to deliver agreed transport schemes across the Mid Wales region.

According to the report, TraCC’s top five priorities are currently:
  • Post Bach to Synod Inn road improvements - currently being constructed
  • Llanrhystud – Aberystwyth trunk road improvements
  • Newtown Bypass
  • Pont Dyfi bridge replacement at Machynlleth
  • Hourly passenger service on the Cambrian rail line

Other priorities for Ceredigion mentioned in the report include:
  • Aberystwyth Passenger Transport Gateway Scheme - currently being built along the length of Alexandra Road
  • Aberystwyth Park & Ride North – Funding currently being sought to expand the Hospital/University car park on Clarach Road.
  • Cardi Bach Rural Bus service, linking villages along the coast in South Ceredigion  - up and running
  • Bwcabus  Phase 2 – up and running
  • Rural Interchange project at Synod Inn – funding being sought
  • Rail Study into the possibility of stations at Bow Street and Carno - study complete, funding being sought.
  • Dyfi Bends road straightening project – currently being built between Talybont and Machynlleth
  • Extension of the Ystwyth Trail cycle path into Tregaron – funding being sought

Anyone interested in transport schemes in Mid Wales, how they are funded and how the region is doing in terms of its transport carbon footprint will find a wealth of information in the report which is on this link