Not Another Hall! Llandovery Needs Places for Young People to Live and Work
Llandovery was a town but is becoming a village, although the huge (often nearly empty) pay-and-display car park and the tough on-street parking restrictions are characteristic of a much larger settlement.
I like villages. Many of us prefer to live in villages rather than towns. That is not the point. Llandovery is supposed to be a town, has a town council, a hospital, a health centre, a Co-operative supermarket, a state primary school, a famous independent school, and until next February a state comprehensive school. Then it closes (leaving a 37-mile stretch between Builth Wells and Ffairfach without any state secondary education).
The education authority, Carmarthenshire County Council, intends to sell most of the 2.59-hectare site for housing development and reckons that 45 homes would be a good number. The school buildings, including the attractive Victorian façade, would be bulldozed (only a decade after three-quarters of a million £s were spent on accommodation for the now-departed sixth form).
But what to do with the hall? Keep it as a ‘community hub’, the council suggests. The community, of course, would need to pay for it. The problem is lack of demand for a hall able to seat 400 people, in a location without adequate car parking for mass events. The hall is at the opposite end of town from the railway station and the car park, too far for the frail and infirm to make the trip. And if homes are built on the adjacent land, the residents would probably object to such a substantial venue on their doorstep – especially as there would not be enough parking on site for a big event, so drivers would be competing for on-street parking spaces.
The big idea, put to the 60 or so local people who came to a meeting in the hall last Monday (August 3rd), is for the hall to complement the adjacent swimming pool – owned by Carmarthenshire County Council – to create a leisure centre. The swimming pool is hardly secure itself, though, because it loses money, a budgeted £102,000 in 2015-16, which is more than its total income of about £97,000.
The hall, in that location, is not an attractive financial proposition. Wouldn’t it be better to offer the whole site – or as much of it as the council actually owns — to a community-owned land trust? Then there would be a chance to devise a fully integrated plan, for highly energy-efficient homes, offices and other workspaces.
Llandovery has other halls. Llandovery College’s sports hall, not much more than a stone’s throw away, is available to hire at £25 for one hour, £35 for two. The Astro pitch can be hired, access to the 9-hole golf course is £5, there is a climbing wall, and gym membership is available for an annual payment of £150.
But the Pantycelyn hall has a stage? Yes, and so does the town’s theatre, again little more than a stone’s throw distant. There is another hall with a stage, too, the mid-sized Rhys Pritchard Memorial Hall in the High Street. This seats only 120 people, but is large enough for most local functions.
What Llandovery does not have is office space so that existing organisations can expand, and the Victorian building at the front of the school – which the council would demolish – could surely be converted into offices.
For the rest, why not a mix of leasehold homes –self-build, live-and-work, starter – to appeal to young people who would otherwise have to leave the town/village? Leasehold because, for the long-term guardianship of the site, the community could hold it in a land trust.
Llandovery urgently needs more people of working age if it is to resist shrinking into a village. The population of the Llandovery electoral ward, including the town, is between 2,600 and 2,700. Many ‘villages’ have more people. In Llandovery fewer than one person in seven is under 15, while two in seven are over 65. There is an urgent need to attract more young people, and another hall is not the way to do it.