Cerys Charms Aber

Cerys Matthews charmed a crowd of around 2000 people in the grounds of Aberystwyth Castle last night at this year's Castell Rock festival.

Concerns that the site may not be able to cope with the numbers - a record for the festival - dissolved as Cerys's brand of mellow, feelgood country rock left everyone smiling and the organisers happy with a gamble that had paid off. Her band ended a perfect day in the sun for the large crowd who had watched a succession of mainly local acts throughout the day.
The event was being held for the sixth year and was free with donations collected for the charity Debra.

A link to 70 more pictures of the day is here, including Nik Turner, Who Saw Who, Violetones, Rogues and Convoi Exceptionnel:

A few of these have made it to the BBC Mid Wales website at:

Castell Rock website: http://castellrock.co.uk/


Ceredigion Councillors Expenses Released

Ceredigion Council has released details of councillors' expenses for the past year after being contacted by local media eager to find a Ceredigion equivalent of the Westminster expenses scandal.

So firstly, I have some owning up to do. Here, for the first time, are this councillor's full, audited, itemised expenses for the past year:


Nope, nothing at all. And I'm in good company. Of the 42 Ceredigion councillors there are ten others who have claimed no expenses. They are:

Rob Gorman (Plaid Cymru)
Aled Davies (Plaid Cymru)
Rhodri Davies (Plaid Cymru)
Dai Suter (Plaid Cymru)
Odwyn Davies (Plaid Cymru)
Owen Llywelyn (Plaid Cymru)
Elizabeth Evans (Lib Dem)
Mark Cole (Lib Dem)
Sarah Hopley (Independent)
Peter Davies (Independent)

Non-claimers include all three Plaid councillors in Aberystwyth.

I'll let other media outlets dig around for scandal amongst those claiming but, just to let you know roughly what kind of figures we're talking about, the total expense bill for councillors since last May's elections is £40,154 with the highest claimer being Council Leader Keith Evans at £3572, mainly spent on travel. I'm not his biggest fan but clearly the role of Council Leader has to entail getting around the County a bit.

Whilst travel comprises the bulk of the claims much of this is self-explanatory, i.e. those at the furthest ends of the county or on the Cabinet claim the most. So, although small by comparison, it may be the petty claims for meals at Penmorfa's already inexpensive canteen that provide the best anecdotes for the press. I understand one local paper has requested access to full receipts so they should have an interesting time sorting through piles of chits for quiche, chips and peas from the Council cafeteria.


Polling Stations Switch for June 4th

Voters in three of the five wards in Aberystwyth will be using new polling stations for European Election Day on June 4th.

Bronglais Ward moves from the traditional Buarth Hall to the Morlan (pictured), on the corner of Queens Road and North Parade, where residents will vote alongside those from North Ward who used this venue for the first time at the Council elections last year.

Voters in Central and Rheidol wards will both move from their previous locations to share the Day Centre in Park Avenue. Penparcau's Polling Station will remain at the Neuadd Goffa.

Ceredigion Council say the main reason for the switch is to save around £800 by combining wards. In addition the new venues are more modern and will comply more easily with disability regulations.

However the new venues weren't agreed without a struggle. The Council's original idea, at the request of a Lib Dem Cabinet member, was to combine Bronglais and Rheidol wards at the Park Avenue Day Centre with the Morlan instead being used by Central and North wards. This would have left my own Bronglais ward voters, and them alone, with a trek across two wards to the other side of town - an obvious discrouragement to vote. The new arrangements for June 4th are supposed to be a dry run for the usually much busier General Election. Given that Bronglais ward contains the highest proportion of Plaid Cymru voters in town and the majority of Ceredigion's Lib Dem MP is wafer-thin, some people began using phrases like George Bush and Florida 2004 to describe the plans. After the point was made, thankfully sense prevailed and polling stations in the town will now be on the shared borders of the combining wards.

Although the new venues are on everyone's polling cards, doubtless many people will still turn up at their traditional polling stations so notices and directions will be put in place.


New Innovative Arts Space in Aberystwyth

The eight strange metallic huts that have been puzzling visitors to Aberystwyth Art Centre for the past few months were officially opened today as artists studios by National Assembly Arts Minister Alun Ffred Jones.

During the presentation designer Thomas Heatherwick describe how he developed the crinkled stainless steel that covers the buildings. After a lot of searching for the right material his team finally came across a company in Finland that makes thinner stainless steel sheets than anyone else in the world. He then made a roller that the sheets could be passed through to scrunch them into the striking covering. I have to say, although they're certainly innovative, they're not the prettiest buildings I've ever seen but, on the inside, they provide an excellent studio with plenty of natural light.

Judging by the kind of artists occupying them they're a success already. Mary Lloyd Jones, Catrin Webster and Becky Knight are all there. Catrin Finch opened the Culture Colony/Y Wladfa Newydd studio which will provide an online forum for other innovative arts projects in Wales.

It should be said that the felling of quite a number of a bank of mature trees to make way for the buildings has dismayed many. The Art Centre argue that many more replacements have been planted which, in the very long-term, will contribute to the atmosphere of the place.


Castell Rock 2009

Cliciwch i ehangu / Click to enlarge

The annual Castell Rock festival in the atmospheric grounds of Aberystywth Castle takes a step up this year with its first international artist, Cerys Matthews, headlining. Second on the bill Nik Turner is also well known in both the jazz and rock worlds. Behind them will be a range of local bands (although both Cerys and Nik are based not far away in in Pembrokeshire).

The event is free, with donations to this year's chosen charity, Debra, encouraged. The charity supports people suffering from the genetic skin blistering condition Epidermolysis Bullosa (See http://www.debra.org.uk/)

It's an alcohol-free event which has helped create the family-friendly feel of the last few years. Younger children will be entertained by various workshops and activities around the site.

Anyone wanting to help as a steward should e-mail info@castellrock.co.uk


Aldi Still Trying to Come to Aber

The Aldi supermarket chain have submitted plans for a new store beneath a 70-room hotel on the old Quick Save site in Park Avenue (above). The plans also show parking for 75 cars.

Aldi’s company philosophy is, according to documents provided with their planning application, “to offer high quality own label products at heavily discounted prices”. They do this by only providing a, “limited selection of goods” but say this means they don’t pose a threat to smaller specialist shops. You get the picture. They say that 90% of their goods are produce within the UK.

Last year an application for a stand-alone single-storey supermarket on the site was rejected by the County Council’s Development Control Committee on the grounds that the Masterplan brief for the area
(http://www.ceredigion.gov.uk/utilities/action/act_download.cfm?mediaid=12348) requests a high quality, mixed-use development. By incorporating a ‘travel lodge’ type hotel in a three-storey building, Aldi think their new application achieves this.

In preliminary discussions with the developers the Council’s Planning Department have said they’d prefer to see a five-storey development incorporating office space in order to maximise the use of a piece of land so close to the town centre. Aldi say this would not be commercially viable, question the status of the Masterplan and are hoping that three-storeys will be acceptable.

The site, next to Aberystwyth football club and police station, is currently derelict with an empty supermarket and car showroom and badly in need of the right kind of development. The question is, is this it?

The plans can be seen in Aberystwyth Town Council Office in the Town Hall, Queens Road (Tel 624761). Comments should be sent to Adran Cynllunio/Planning Department, Neuadd Cyngor Ceredigion, Penmorfa Aberaeron, Ceredigion, SA46 0PA


Ceredigion Community Health Council to be Kept

Assembly Health Minister Edwina Hart has announced that Ceredigion Community Health Council is to be retained following a consultation held earlier this year on the future structure of CHCs in Wales.

It had been feared that she would impose a new, Dyfed-wide CHC structure which would undoubtedly have been dominated by the larger populations to the south at the expense of Ceredigion. However, the Minister said that she had taken the concerns of local residents and Ceredigion CHCs opposition to her original plans into account.

Ceredigion CHC will now be asked to look at ways to increase co-operation with its counterparts in Carmarthenshire and Pembrokeshire while each CHC retains its local structure.

Reacting to the Health Minister’s announcement, Ceredigion’s Assembly Member Elin Jones, who's obvious influence can be seen in the decision, said:
“I’m pleased that the Health Minister has listened to the concerns raised about the loss of local influence over the healthcare system should a Dyfed-wide CHC be introduced. A model of close co-operation between local CHCs is much preferable to the original merger plans.

“I now hope that Ceredigion CHC will work towards forging a strong model for co-operation with its counterparts in Carmarthenshire and Pembrokeshire to ensure that it has sufficient influence over the new Hywel Dda healthcare structure while also ensuring that the voice of Ceredigion patients is heard loud and clear”.


Pavement v. Tarmac - Council Shows It's Sensitive Side

Following the controversy over the replacement of pavements on the Buarth with tarmac (see 18/2/09), which did at least result in a short stretch of original 100 year-old town paving slabs being preserved, many residents in that area asked what exactly Conservation Area status for the Aberystwyth town area means.

They pointed out that the status places significant restrictions on what residents can do with their properties but that the Council seem to contribute nothing themselves. During the discussions held whilst work on the pavements was suspended, it became clear that Council officers had simply not thought about this before and they ultimately agreed a small compromise on the Buarth by preserving the oldest section of paving.

After the dust had settled I asked the Officers to review how they would deal with this issue in future and, last week, they produced a presentation to the Council’s Highways Scrutiny Committee which proposed the adoption of a set of guidelines for Council workers encountering historic pavements. Based on a policy adopted in Liverpool, the proposed guidelines include:

DO – always find out if the scheme you are working on is in a conservation area or not. If so, bear conservation in mind.
DO - look out for natural stone (or other historic) paving materials on site. Make sure their presence is noted by the client and/or contract supervisor.
DO - lift paving materials carefully, always protect the edges and upper face from damage.
DO - store paving materials carefully. Use timber pallets and battens to stack flags and kerb stones.
DO - protect paving materials from theft.
DO - number with chalk and record all random sized flag stones, kerbs and channels if they are to be put back in place.
DO - spend time checking the setting out.
DO - allow for the time on site needed to achieve high quality workmanship.
DO - think carefully about the jointing details.Small details can make or break a scheme.
DO - follow the specification and any design drawings carefully.

DO NOT - remove historic paving materials unless absolutely necessary. A cracked slab or chipped kerb may be perfectly serviceable.
DO NOT - throw historic paving materials in the skip. All material which cannot be reused on site should be recycled through the proper procedures.
DO NOT - cover over historic paving materials unless absolutely necessary.
DO NOT - stack materials under or against trees
DO NOT - use mechanical diggers under trees.
DO NOT - cut up historic materials which are being reinstated in an attempt to make them
DO NOT - use large amounts of mortar to fill oversized joints. Make the joints tighter
DO NOT - remove historic street furniture.
DO NOT - change the detailing on like-for-like repairs. Historic details, such as fanned
corners, are as important as the historic materials.

The presentation didn’t meet with a great deal of favour from the committee, although it would certainly have done so from Aberystwyth town residents. Rural councillors in particular, who comprise the majority in Ceredigion, seemed to resent Aberystwyth for having pavements at all when parts of their own areas lacked them. A clear urban / rural divide was evident.

Whilst not all town residents feel as strongly against tarmac as those on the Buarth, most people prefer pavements and regret the Council’s new policy of replacing defective pavements outside the very centre of the town with tarmac.

Council Officers have obviously been stung by the criticism on the Buarth and now seem to genuinely want to act more sympathetically in future. Despite the lack of backing from much of the committee, it was agreed that the Officers should push ahead with their ideas and work on the Council adopting firm guidelines for the future.

There’s no getting away from the financial pressures which are leading to tarmac replacing paving stone. Uneven or cracked pavements presenting trip hazards have frequently resulted in Councils across the country, including Ceredigion, being successfully sued for accidents caused in tripping. The laying of tarmac is very substantially cheaper than paving stones and it’s hard to get away from that at a time when the funding of public services is under severe pressure. Under current financial and legal conditions, these guidelines won’t change the Council’s need to replace ordinary substandard pavements with tarmac.

However the intention of Ceredigion Highways Officers now is that they will in future avoid the kind of insensitivity that would have seen historic section of pavements on the Buarth thrown in the skip along with the rest if people hadn’t intervened. Where there is genuine historic value in pavements (and there are a number of such pavements around Aberystwyth and other towns in Ceredigion) then these guidelines, once adopted, should help to preserve them. That will be thanks to the residents of the Buarth.


The Prospects for Change at the Euro-elections on June 4th

What are the prospects for change in Wales at the European Election on June 4th?

The European Elections treat Wales as a single constituency with four seats. Each voter has one vote for the party of their choice who then allocate any seats they win to those on their party’s list of candidates. Current Welsh MEPs are Jill Evans (Plaid Cymru), Jonathan Evans (Conservative), Glenys Kinnock and Eluned Morgan (both Labour). The last three of these are stepping down at this election.

The numbers of voters in such a large constituency are so huge that it’s very difficult for any change to occur. In the last Euro-elections in 2004 Labour scored almost 300,000 votes. This was a massive 120,000 votes above their nearest rival, the Conservatives, with Plaid Cymru 20,000 votes behind and the UK Independence Party (UKIP) a further 63,000 votes behind them. The rules of the election, whereby the first placed party’s votes are halved and put back into the ranking for further seats, gave Labour a second seat in fourth place, some 52,000 votes ahead of UKIP.

A drop in the Labour vote is all but certain because of the unpopularity of the UK government but the drop would have to be truly huge for anyone else to make up the kind of ground required to grab Wales’s fourth seat. If Labour did suffer an absolute meltdown, who is most likely to do this?

Although UKIP’s profile will rise during the Euro-election campaign, they have been quiet in recent years, partly due to internal turmoil, and the issue of Britain’s status in Europe has, in any case, slipped down the political agenda. So it’s likely that the last Euro campaign was their high watermark and won’t be repeated. The next-placed party last time, the Lib Dems, have performed poorly since their change of leader from Charles Kennedy and the European election, where their policies are out of line with the majority of the public, is never their strong point. The Greens, with my friend Jake Griffiths as lead candidate, look to have too much ground to make up from their 32,000 votes in 2004.

The two parties most likely therefore to benefit from a Labour meltdown, by possibly winning their second seat, could be Plaid Cymru and the Conservatives, both of whom are performing well in opinion polls, Plaid from their credible performance in the Assembly government and the Tories as the main UK opposition to an unpopular Westminster government.

The Conservatives are doing well in the polls but may be hit in this election by bizarrely choosing people who don’t live in Wales as their top three candidates. An advantage for Plaid is that Jill Evans, widely acknowledged on all sides as a superb MEP, is the only current incumbent to be contesting this election. The retirement of all three other sitting MEPs leaves her competing with lists of unknowns. Again in Plaid’s favour, the next best known politician in the new party lists is their second-placed candidate Eurig Wyn, who was himself a Euro MP from 1999-2004 when a low turnout helped the party to almost match Labour’s vote in the 1999 election.

The likelihood is that Labour’s huge residual south Wales vote will still be enough to see them retain their second Euro-seat, despite a significant loss of support. However a really seismic plunge in their vote coupled with a significant rise in the vote of either Plaid Cymru or the Tories, could see one of those two parties grabbing Wales’s fourth Euro-spot.


New Magazine Launched for Welsh Green Left as Cwps Welcomes Assembly Members

A full upstairs bar in the Cwps, including a large number of students, last night welcomed Plaid Cymru Assembly Members Leanne Wood and Bethan Jenkins to Aberystwyth.

The pair held a wide-ranging question and answer session. Central to most questions was the impending drastic year-on-year cuts in the National Assembly's allowance from Westminster, starting with £416 million in the first year, and how the Assembly should respond. What came across strongly was the frightening scale of potential cuts in public services to pay back the money recently given to banks by the UK government. Of particular concern to much of the audience was the proposed reduction in tuition fee grants from 2010, although it was acknowledged that the poorest students would actually be better off under the planned new system. Leanne and Bethan pointed out the huge sums of money still being spent on Trident, ID cards and new prisons which could be used to offset the worst of the shortfall. They called for the Assembly to invest in renewable technology, home energy-efficiency, public transport and local food production.

Leanne was also launching the first edition of 'Celyn' - the new Welsh green left review - which will give voice to a range of contributors on the left of the political spectrum in Wales. Their website isn't up and running yet but subscriptions are £15 from Celyn, 21 Hafod Street, Grangetown, Cardiff, CF11 6RB. More details from celyneditor@gmail.com