West Wales News Review — analysis with a sustainability slant

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.


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6 thoughts on “Llandovery: a Sad Case of Abject Local Government Failure

  1. JEAN GRIFFITHS on said:

    Well would you b—– believe it the new super school is not so super after all it is too small !! People of Llandovery were told that numbers were falling and it was not financially viable to keep Pantycelyn School open how come numbers have increased. If CCC want to save Tax Payers money then stop the primary school moving cost approx 2 mill to revamp and the other cost of renovating Tregib which we were told was rotten falling down too expensive to repair the school has only been open approx 50 year and Pantycelyn for how long and still going strong wonder how long “the super school” will last. We are about to elect a new county councillor is anyone of you ready to stand up and fight for us before we become a town of just houses for retired people

    • At least, moving the primary school to Pantycelyn will keep the site in public hands and give the swimming pool a slightly higher chance of staying open, although it loses around £100,000 a year. I wonder if the whole debacle stems from serious problems at Tregib, maybe asbestos which is so problematic to remove, but I don’t know, it’s just a guess at present. I agree that Tregib has had far too short a life, totally uneconomic, and wonder what will happen when Bro Dinefwr is decrepit.
      Llandovery needs many more non-retired people to restore some demographic balance, and of course the comprehensive school provided local jobs, as did the banks.

  2. Y Cneifiwr on said:

    Llandovery is not alone, although the closure of Pantycelyn puts the town in a league of its own in terms of council devastation.

    Building houses on land which is prone to flooding seems to be a growing speciality of the county council. In my neck of the woods they also seem to like land which is highly unstable and slipping towards the river. If there were legal comeback on the council for approving plans for development on sites such as these, they would not go ahead.

    And if Llandovery is anything like some other market towns in the county, there will be quite a number of empty properties – some for sale, some not – on top of all those hoping deperately for a buyer.

    • There is more anger in Llandovery now, directed at the council, but it is accompanied by a sense of powerlessness. LATRA’s open criticism of their county councillor has upset him greatly, I hear. I know there are similar issues all over the county, and at the same time the risk that officers will use public funds to mount libel (or slander) actions against residents who won’t keep quiet. I would like to be able to block construction of the new school, on the floodplain, until other options have been properly explored. Currently, I was told at the weekend, 6th formers at Pantycelyn miss half a lesson, or their lunch, every time they have to travel to Tregib for a lesson there. They feel very disadvantaged.

      • K Jenkins on said:

        I can understand the difficulties faced by local councils who have to manage shrinking budgets by cutting services. The effects of these cuts in terms of the closure of small primary schools have been felt by communities for a number of years, and now it seems that ‘economies of scale’ must apply to secondary schools too. No-one can deny that Pantycelyn was a small school, indeed Pantycelyn was one of the three smallest secondary schools in Dyfed (if I remember rightly the other two were Tregaron and St. David’s). When I first taught there the school was the largest it had ever been with over 500 pupils on the roll. That number gradually decreased and it could be argued that closure was inevitable. However with large numbers of new homes due to be built and a likely influx of new families, we will never know what might have happened to the numbers on roll had the decision to close been delayed, but I suspect the closure would have gone ahead regardless. Regardless also of the amount of money spent on improvements in recent years.
        Regarding the issues of building on unsuitable land, I can offer no informed opinion. Regarding the school however, having taught there for thirty years I feel I can say with some authority that Pantycelyn was a great little school.

      • It’s sad that Pantycelyn could not have become a Welsh-medium comprehensive catering for children within a 10-15 mile radius of Llandovery. As it is, finding a financially sustainable community use for the hall portion site will be extremely hard, given that Llandovery ward contains only 2,600 to 2,700 people, and 27% are aged 65+. The swimming pool, which I understand is to remain in county council ownership, at least for the present, loses over £100,000 a year. This illustrates the scale of the challenge, I think.

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