Llandovery: a Sad Case of Abject Local Government Failure
by Pat Dodd Racher, October 3 2012 (writing from the perspective of a member of Plaid Cymru)
Llandovery is a victim of conflicting, clashing policies by a council that has no understanding of the words ‘joined up’.
The problems heaped upon this historic East Carmarthenshire town include:
- The impending closure of the comprehensive school, Ysgol Gyfun Pantycelyn, by Carmarthenshire County Council.
- The consequent imposition of long daily journeys, from over an hour up to as much as three hours a day, on children as young as 11, to the nearest state secondary school, 13 miles from Llandovery in Ffairfach, and 20 miles from the outer reaches of the catchment area. Even worse, from September 2013 young people will have to pay for their own transport once they hit 16, a new policy that emerged in 2012.
- Plans for at least 76 family houses* on low-lying land by the Brecon Road, on the eastern edge of town and between the Bran and Gwydderig rivers, which feed the Tywi.
- No local secondary school for the children and young people who would live there.
- No employment for their parents. The largest employer in Llandovery electoral ward, according to Carmarthenshire Council’s own ward profile, is itself, Carmarthenshire County Council, in education and leisure – but employment in the comprehensive school will disappear, and as for leisure, Llandovery’s swimming pool is on the school campus – and how long would that remain open once the school has shut?
Houses for sale in Llandovery already linger on the market for a long, long time. In September 2012, four-bedroom homes had been on the market for an average of 475 days; five-bedroomed ones for 408 days; three-bedroomed, 329 days; and two-bedroomed, 357 days (data from www.home.co.uk). Vendors often give up and decide to try and let their property instead of waiting for a sale. Also in September, 51 homes within Llandovery and 108 in the postal district SA20, Llandovery and its environs, were advertised for sale.
Four in every five of the planned new homes, at least 61, are intended for open market sale, adding to the volume of unsold properties.
The commercial heart of Llandovery is already enfeebled. Royal Mail closed the sorting office. HSBC Bank, in a prominent position in Market Square, is to shut. The former clothing store Trade Secret, highly visible at the entrance to the town car park and adjacent to the Castle Hotel, has been empty for months. The public (which of course means private!) school Llandovery College, located in the heart of the town, faced closure in the summer because of debts of around £4 million, but secured refinancing and carries on. The impending closure of Pantycelyn is a low blow for the town and everyone in it; imagine the further impact if Llandovery College also shut its doors.
Carmarthenshire Council’s Education Department argued that there are too few young people to warrant keeping the comprehensive school open, that it would be too costly. On this point it’s worth a reminder that the Education Department does not pay for school transport. The Highways and Transport Services Department bears the costs, which totalled over £7.9 million in 2011-12. Almost £4.2 million of this was for transport to secondary schools.** Bussing all Pantycelyn’s 313*** pupils 13 miles to the far side of Llandeilo is certainly not going to cut this figure, but will inflate it. Yet the Education Department does not care, it’s not their money.
The worsening plight of Llandovery highlights the absence of a rural strategy for Carmarthenshire. Groups such as the Llandovery Partnership and the Llandovery and District Chamber of Commerce, which staged last weekend’s bumper Sheep Festival, cannot do it all alone.
If large new housing developments are approved, they must be on land which is unlikely to flood, and where they do not add to the risk of flooding downstream. There must be work opportunities for the new residents – local jobs, or homes with their own workshops and offices (which do not figure in the plans for the Brecon Road). And without a secondary school, Llandovery will not attract the families that are needed to counterbalance the ageing population. Options other than completely removing comprehensive education from East Carmarthenshire could have been considered, such as collaboration with Llandovery College, or a two-site school, or even a new school between Llandeilo and Llandovery at Llangadog.
There are many other signs of patchy planning. The school buses to Ffairfach will pass through Llandeilo’s narrow and polluted main street (unless they take the narrow, winding country lanes on the other side of the Tywi!). In Llandeilo pedestrians often have to flatten themselves against the nearest wall as lorries inch through. There are plans for a bypass, across the Tywi flood plain, but even if you are convinced of the long-term future of mass road transport, there is no firm date for starting it and no guarantee of the money. Plans to replace the existing comprehensive school, Tregib, rely on a grandiose ‘super school’, which like the bypass would be on the Tywi flood plain, on the other side of Ffairfach.
It seems to me that if you live in Llandovery, it might just as well be the moon as far as Carmarthenshire County Council is concerned.
* Carmarthenshire planning application E/26681. June 6th 2012.
** Data from Carmarthenshire County Council’s annual accounts, viewed August 2nd 2012.
*** Figure from Carmarthenshire County Council’s website, October 3rd 2012.