Council Leader Losing Authority

The authority of Ceredigion Council Leader Keith Evans was severely dented today when several members of his own ruling Independent/Lib Dem group failed to support him in a whole series of votes.

The first of the votes in today’s Full Council meeting was to overturn the Council Cabinet’s attempt to close Syr John Rhys school in Ponterwyd. With 30 applauding demonstrators in the public gallery, the Council voted against the Independent Leader’s wishes and for a stay of execution for the school in order to review the situation in a year when the effect on the school population of possible new houses in Ponterwyd can be assessed.

There was then a narrow victory for the ruling coalition on exploring partnerships with the private sector to provide future council engineering services. But this was only because members of the group who had spoken against the idea mistakenly abstained when it came to the vote.

Next was a series of votes on the new Council building in Aberystwyth. Councillors voted unanimously that the name of the road leading to the building should be Rhodfa Padarn, in Welsh only, despite the Leader's insistence in Cabinet two weeks ago that it should be a bilingual Rhodfa Rheidol/Rheidol Avenue.

Lastly, more trivially but most symbolically of all, the Council voted against the Leader opening the new building and in favour of the Chair, Ivor Williams, doing it instead. Not even a plea from the Chair himself that Keith Evans should be allowed to conduct the opening could persuade councillors to vote for their Leader.

The sight of both Lib Dems and Independents on Ceredigion Council voting with the opposition Plaid Cymru group against their own Council Leader is highly unusual and marks a dramatic change in attitude amongst several members of the ruling group. It's clear that there's disatisfaction in the ranks with the leadership. With the ruling group and opposition already tightly balanced, it looks as if the days of votes on Ceredigion Council being a foregone conclusion are over.


Dire Warning for Future Council Finances

Ceredigion Councillors have been given a dire warning about the prospects for local government finances in the next few years when the repayment of debts caused by the government bailout of banks will hit the public sector harder than anything in living memory.

A report by Council Officers on a presentation at the recent Welsh Local Government Association Conference quoted the economist Will Hutton when he said,
“There is a problem hanging over British politics so big and so ugly that no party wants to acknowledge it, far less discuss it: how far do we cut spending and how high do we raise taxes?”

The Institute of Fiscal Studies has estimated that public services will lose an estimated £45 billion from 2011-14. Individual Councils could lose £60 million. Councillors were told, “We’re not living in the real world if we claim that all these problems can be solved by greater efficiency. 80% of Local Authority funding is in education and social care. Just cutting the other 20% will not provide the answers”.

Torfaen Council’s Chief Executive has said, “There simply will not be enough money for local authorities to keep doing what they have been doing up until now”. It's thought that 2000 jobs could be lost in the public sector in Wales. The particular problem for Ceredigion is that the formulas for allocating finances are population-centric.

The presentation was watched keenly by councillors of all persuasions. Although Ceredigion Council is currently run by a coalition of Independents and Lib Dems, the serious financial shortfall will have to be managed by whoever is running Ceredigion from 2011. The next Council elections are due in 2012. Plaid Cymru, who are the largest group on the Council and have only two councillors less than the ruling coalition, are strongly fancied to take over then after building up their councillor base for many years.

In looking for ways to tackle the crisis, Rhodri Morgan, Leader of the National Assembly, has (quite rightly in my view) ruled out local government re-organisation, saying that this would be a distraction. Instead, the emphasis is on Councils finding efficiencies of scale by working together.


Bay Hotel Closes

The Bay Hotel on Aberystwyth Prom has closed its doors for the last time after Brains, the Cardiff-based brewers, abruptly shut the place this week. Brains say the reason for the closure is lack of profit but regulars there find this hard to believe.

Some town centre residents, kept awake at night by drinkers returning home, will be glad to see a late-opening pub close. But, despite having a license to open till 4am, the Bay actually had a reputation as the most trouble-free of the town's late night drinking and dancing venues due to its strict door and behaviour policy. The pub, with a capacity of 650, was an institution amongst the town's student population and the real impact of the closure won't be felt until September when students return from their summer holidays.

The building is owned by Ceredigion Council who leased it to Brains. It is now almost certain to be added to the list of Council buildings in the town being sold.


Mentro Lluest Open Day

Mentro Lluest, the organic plant nursery and training centre for people with special needs is holding an open day on Saturday 27th June. The centre is on a 3-acre site near the top of Primrose Hill at Waun Fawr, north of Aberystwyth. It's run as a charity and is a centre of excellence for teaching organic growing and environmental sustainability.


Aldi Exhibition Announced

An exhibition (I hesitate to call these things a consultation, though that's what it'll probably be billed as) of plans for a new Aldi supermarket and hotel on Aberystwyth's old Quick Save site in Park Avenue has been announced.

The exhibition will be at the Canolfan Morlan on the corner of Queens Road on Wednesday 8th July from 2 - 6pm. Meanwhile a basic version of the plans is on display in the foyer of Aberystwyth Town Hall in Queens Road.

Aldi's labour-saving corporate shelf stacking style can be seen above. Hmmn...

See blog on 17/5/08 for more info.


Welsh Teachers Union opens new HQ in Aberystwyth

The Welsh Teaching Union UCAC officially opened their new offices at the foot of Penglais Hill in Aberystwyth today in front of an invited audience of 60 people.

UCAC - Undeb Cenedlaethol Athrawon Cymru - were previously housed at Pen Roc opposite Aberystwyth Pier. Their new venue, known as Havelock Villa, was once a residential home but had been converted into flats and had severely deteriorated, creating an eyesore on this entranceway to Aberystwyth. UCAC’s tasteful refurbishment has restored the house to its former glory.


Something for Ceredigion to be proud of

A snippet from the Euro-election result and something for us to be proud of here - at just 2.72% Ceredigion had the lowest percentage of BNP voters in Wales. I haven't got the figures for the UK but suspect we may well be the lowest, or almost, there as well. Ceredigion also had the second lowest UKIP vote in Wales.

Aberystwyth included in new UN Biosphere

Aberystwyth has been included in the new United Nations 'Biosphere' centred around the Dyfi Valley, it was announced yesterday by Assembly Environment Minister Jane Davidson in Machynlleth.

The Biosffer Dyfi/Dyfi Biosphere ranks alongside a total of 531 sites across 105 different countries including, somewhat improbably, the Gobi Desert in Mongolia, Niagara Falls in Canada and Mount Olympus in Greece.

Biosphere Reserves are areas designated under the UNESCO Man and the Biosphere Programme to serve as places for experimenting with and learning about different approaches to environmental sustainability. The communities that live in the area, including their culture and economy, are considered integral to this.

Although not part of the core Biosphere area, Aberystwyth is included as part of the 'Transition Zone' after a consultation exercise last year found widespread support for the idea. The precise benefits of the status are still unclear. However, it will almost certainly result in increased grant funding for projects and developments that make a contribution to environmental sustainability. Over time this could add real substance to the area's green reputation.

A map of the Dyfi Biosphere can be seen here:

More details here: http://www.biosfferdyfi.org.uk/


Euro-election results - Plaid on top in Ceredigion as Tories win across Wales

Wales Result - top four elected
1/ Ceidwadwyr/Conservative 145,193 (21.2% - up 1.8%)
2/ Llafur/Labour 138,852 (20.3% - down 12.2%)
3/ Plaid Cymru 126,702 (18.5% - up 1.1%)
4/ UKIP 87,585 (12.8% - up 2.3%)
5/ Dem Rhyd/Lib Dems 73,082 (10.7% - up 0.2%)
6/ Gwyrdd/Green 38,160 (5.6% - up 2%)
7/ BNP 37,114 (5.4% - up 2.5%)
8/ Christian Party 13,037 (1.9%)
9/ Socialist Labour 12,402 (1.8%)
10/ No2EU 8,600 (1.3%)
11/ Jury Party 3,793 (0.6%)

The top four parties will send MEPs to Brussels. Our new Euro-MPs are:
Kay Swinburne (Ceidwadwyr/Conservative)
Derek Vaughan (Llafur/Labour)
Jill Evans (Plaid Cymru)
John Bufton (UKIP)

Jill Evans is the only sitting MEP to stay on.

This is the first time the Tories have ever won in Wales and the first time Labour haven't won a Wales-wide election since 1918. It's the first time UKIP have had any representation in Wales at all.

The Ceredigion section of the result went like this (top six only - diolch i blog Penri James):
1/ Plaid Cymru 6,725
2/ Liberal Democrats 3,642
3/ Conservative 2,869
4/ UKIP 1,755
5/ Green 1,481
6/ Labour 1,329

Plaid's big lead here will give them a major boost as a General Election approaches. On this showing, albeit with a relatively small turnout, the Conservatives look to be challenging the Lib Dems for second place. The Greens will be delighted to have beaten Labour.

A press release from Elin Jones, Plaid's AM for Ceredigion, said,

"This is a very strong result for Plaid Cymru in Ceredigion and the party is now in pole position to recapture Ceredigion at the forthcoming General Election – especially since we polled nearly twice the votes the Lib Dems received. Nationally, Plaid Cymru’s vote increased by one per cent and I congratulate Jill Evans on her re-election as MEP. I'm now looking forward to co-operating with Jill so that she can continue her work on a European level on behalf of Ceredigion voters, which includes campaigning against the introduction of electronic tagging, improving the rights of workers, tackling climate change and ensuring a viable future for the fishing industry”.


Nant y Moch Windfarm Plans Launched

A series of public exhibitions will be held later this month to give people in the area a chance to look at proposals for a major new windfarm in the Cambrian Mountains between Talybont and Nant y Moch.

The developers, Airtricity, the renewable energy division of Scottish & Southern Electricity, are hoping to apply for planning permission early next year. Because of the size of the proposals (60-80 turbines), the decision will ultimately be made by the Westminster government's Department of Energy and Climate Change rather than Ceredigion and Powys Councils, as would be the case with a smaller development. However Councils, including local Community Councils, will be consulted.

The developers say the windfarm would provide enough electricity for 65,000 homes, i.e. roughly twice the number of homes in Ceredigion. The proposal is bound to be controversial, not least among environmentalists, who are split down the middle on the windfarms issue.

The exhibitions, with project officials present for questioning, will be at:
Ysgol Syr John Rhys, Ponterwyd, on 16 June 5-8pm
Y Plas, Machynlleth on 17 June 11am-2pm
Ystafell Haearn, Ffwrnais / Iron Room, Furnace, on 17 June 5-8pm
Neuadd Penrhyn-coch, on 18 June 2-8pm
Neuadd Goffa Talybont, 19 June 2-8pm

More details of the plans (from the developers' point of view) can be found at: http://www.nantymochwindfarm.com/home.html


Vote Plaid in Euros urges Monbiot

George Monbiot, one of the UK's most respected environmentalists, has today urged people in Wales to vote for Plaid Cymru and Jill Evans (pictured) in tomorrow's European Elections.

Writing in the Guardian about voting choices for green-minded people, Monbiot, who lives in Machynlleth, says,
"Living in Wales, the choice isn't hard for me. Plaid Cymru, in its present incarnation, is a green, progressive, effective political force. I see little point in splitting the vote between parties with politics like mine, and while the Green candidates appear to be likeable people, they are always going to be playing catch-up here."

Meanwhile, in a further endorsement by the green movement, the lobby group Protecting Animals in Democracy have given Jill Evans, Plaid's sitting Euro MP, top marks in her voting record on animal rights in the European Parliament.

The group says,
"Congratulations and thanks to Jill Evans, PC's MEP in Wales, for scoring a perfect +15 in her votes on animal experimentation. It might be worth considering voting for them in Wales for tactical reasons as the best party with a good chance of winning a seat."

The scores given to all parties are listed here. They were judged on their voting record in the European Parliament using a range of scores between -15 and +15:
Plaid Cymru +15
Greens +15
Labour +7.95
Lib Dems +3.55
UKIP +1.38
SNP -6.5
Conservatives -13.07


Council Officers expect new plans for town centre in, "Weeks, not months" but Cabinet refuses to rule out CPOs

Ceredigion Economic Development officers today told the Council's Cabinet that work on a new scheme for Aberystwyth town centre was well advanced and that they expected something to be produced, "within weeks rather than months".

The officers were presenting a new report to the Cabinet following the abandonment of a scheme, after unprecedented public pressure, which would have resulted in the demolition of sixteen small shops in the town centre. The news about the timescale was based on contact with the developer yesterday. Officers pointed out that it was in the developer's own financial interests to move forward as soon as possible.

Since the controversial plans were first put forward many residents and businesses in the area feel their properties have been blighted with at least one house sale having fallen through and other owners putting off painting or renovating buildings for fear of them being compulsorily purchased.

However Cabinet Member for Economic Development Eurfyl Evans denied that properties were blighted. And when Plaid Cymru group leader Ellen ap Gwynn asked for an assurance that CPOs would not be used, Council Leader Keith Evans replied, "I can't give a guarantee that CPOs will not be used in the future".

The officers' report shows that chain shops in the town centre also opposed the original plans as well as many local businesses and individuals. Clarks, Clinton Cards and Dollond & Aitchison all wrote letters of objection.

The report ends, "The private sector developer has been invited to reassess all the options and to bring forward a development scheme recognising, as much as possible, the concerns that have been expressed. The developer has also been requested to undertake public consultations before the County Council can consider the value of any redevelopment scheme and any actions for the Authority to pursue". The report was accepted by the Cabinet.

One strong possibility is that the developer will now come back with a much more modest scheme.

The Economic Development Department's report to the Council Cabinet can be seen here: http://www.ceredigion.gov.uk/index.cfm?articleid=12651 Click on Swyddfa Bost / Post Office.

Gwyl Werdd Aber / Aber is Green

Cliciwch i ehangu / Click to enlarge

The Aber is Green Festival / Gwyl Werdd Aber runs for five days at the Bandstand on the Prom from next Wednesday 10th June through to Sunday 14th. It aims to draw together all that is environmentally friendly and sustainable in Aberystwyth and around. There will be workshops, exhibitions, information exchange, music and entertainment, all free.

The full, packed timetable can be seen here: http://www.aberisgreen.org.uk/