West Wales News Review

Economy, environment, sustainability

Archive for the category “Regeneration”

News: Council Urges Looser Controls on Development in Rural Carmarthenshire

Plans to regenerate rural areas, including the construction of new council houses, were approved by Carmarthenshire County Council on September 11th.

The rural north of the county would have 28 new council homes in the first three years of the scheme, split between land at Alltwalis School and land opposite Llangadog School. These would be followed by 74 more in the second phase of the 10-year plan, which would build 900 new council homes throughout the county, at a cost of £150 million.

Rural and market town locations in the second phase include 27 homes at Pencrug, Llandeilo, including 14 to let at social rents, 12 in Llandovery (6 for social rent), 6 in Llansawel (4 for social rent), and 20 at Llandysul (8 for social rent).  In addition, there would be nine new council houses in assisted living schemes.

In areas of high housing need, the council will continue to buy homes on the open market, councillors were informed. More than 200 new homes have been sourced in this way in the past three years.

The council has a subsidiary company, Cartrefi Croeso, to build homes for rent and for sale. Cartrefi Croeso can raise money from several sources including three from the Welsh Government – the Affordable Housing Grant, providing 58% of new-build costs; Innovative Housing Programme, for super energy-efficient, low carbon homes such as those from Pembrokeshire company Ty Solar destined for Burry Port; and Self-Build Wales, enabling local authorities to provide land for self-builders, who can apply to Welsh Government for two-year 75% interest-free loans.

The council housing plans reinforce new policies for rural regeneration, also approved by the county council on September 11th. The proposals are in the Report and Recommendations of the Carmarthenshire Rural Affairs Task Group, chaired by Cllr Cefin Campbell (Plaid Cymru, Llanfihangel Aberbythych). The report argues for more flexible planning regulations in rural areas and for small developments in villages to support the rural economy.

“There needs to be a move in local planning policy from larger housing developments in our main towns to an approach which enables a suitable mix and proportion of development in our rural towns and communities to address local housing demand and need,” the report advises. (p.15)

The Task Group urges the council to hold on to its 25 farms and land, including associated fishing rights, and to investigate the feasibility of backing the creation of new smallholdings, outside settlements, on the basis of local need and their potential positive contribution to the economic, social, cultural and environmental sustainability of the local community. (p.23)

There is already the Welsh Government policy for One Planet Development smallholdings, allowing new land-based enterprises in the countryside but subject to strict criteria for self-sufficiency and resource use. The Task Group’s recommendation for more smallholdings builds on this precedent.

Other plans include working with Coleg Sir Gâr on Prosiect Slyri, to dewater and purify slurry, a venture of national significance to cut slurry’s damaging impact on watercourse pollution, and to bring milk processing back to Carmarthenshire with a co-operatively owned factory which could “build on the already strong foundations for local cheese”. (p.35)

The Task Group also wants to change the rules determining whether a farming business can construct an additional dwelling on the land. This currently depends largely on whether the farm income will be large enough to support an additional household. The Task Group’s idea is to include income from off-farm as well as farming sources, on the grounds that farm incomes are likely to be under sustained pressure and members of farm households will increasingly have to work in other jobs. There is also a recommendation that an additional dwelling on a farm could be built “a reasonable distance outside of the working farmyard” for reasons of health and safety, biosecurity, and avoidance of zoonotic diseases.

A more flexible approach to development should be “based on local need and opportunities in rural areas so that people working within the agricultural sector and wider community are able to diversify and adjust as appropriate”, the report says. (p.21) The countryside is crucial to Welsh as a living language, and so protection for the language should be strengthened in planning law, the Task Group urges.

The county council will now be pressing for more flexibility in national policies and guidance, for multi-agency and multi-sector working, and for the definition of ‘deprivation’ to be amended to better reflect issues of rurality.

Almost 113,000 people live in Carmarthenshire’s rural areas, 61% of the county total, and half are Welsh speakers. Nearly one person in every four in the county, 23.3% in 2017, was aged 65+, and only 9.4% were aged 16 to 24.

The Task Group had 10 members drawn from across the council’s political groupings.



Company Backing Llanelli ‘Wellness Village’ is Broke

Kent Neurosciences Ltd, the company which Carmarthenshire County Council signed up in 2016 as a partner for the Llanelli ‘Wellness Village’ project, is in the process of being struck off by the Registrar of Companies.

Striking off results in the company being dissolved. If any assets are left, they pass to the Crown.

It was on May 23rd 2016 that the county council’s Executive Board entered into an exclusivity agreement with Kent Neurosciences Ltd “with a view to ensuring the aspirations of the Wellness and Science Village within Carmarthenshire.” See here for the background story. It appears that the county council quietly shelved the partnership deal in 2017.

The directors of Kent Neurosciences Ltd, which is based in Maidstone, Kent, applied for voluntary dissolution on January 31st 2018. The last published accounts, for the year to July 31st 2016, show that there were no funds attributable to shareholders, only a deficit of £128,917.

Sister company Kent Neurosciences Property Ltd is under threat of being struck off, and has overdue accounts.


Eggsellent Opening for Cylch Meithrin Llansawel

Cllr Eurwyn Williams has opened, immediately after Llansawel’s annual Easter egg hunt on Saturday March 19th, the new building for the Cylch Meithrin, the pre-school nursery group in the north Carmarthenshire village.

The building, adjacent to the village hall and with direct access to the play park, is proving popular and shows that – if you have willing volunteers – a small budget can go a long way.

Beginning life as a classroom for the Ministry of Defence, the demountable became redundant and featured on eBay, where hall secretary Bill Davis spotted it. The purchase price of £1,500 did not break the bank, and Llansawel hauliers Roy Davies transported it from Essex to the village free of charge.

That’s when the spending really started. Connection to utility services required a lot of digging, and the building needed masses of insulation and cladding, as well as new windows and doors and a complete interior refit including a kitchen, children’s toilets and staff toilet. The total cost was under £14,000, thanks to hundreds of hours of unpaid voluntary labouring – the only way the hall trust could afford to provide the new amenity.

To mark the opening, the Cylch held an open morning yesterday, coinciding with the Easter market in the village hall, and the annual Easter egg hunt around the park.

The hall trust supplied the building because the Cylch Meithrin’s previous home, the village primary school, was closed down by Carmarthenshire County Council, and the trust wanted bilingual pre-school play and education to remain available within the community. In the trust’s view, amenities like the Cylch Meithrin are important to improve the quality of life for young families in rural villages.



Cllr Eurwyn Williams opens the building on March 19th 2016


Cylch Meithrin leader Emma Davies hangs out the flags


Cladding the walls in summer 2015









Fitting out the inside was a complicated job. Trust chair Barrie Martin (left) and secretary Bill Davies did a lot of the work 


Moving in during the February 2016 half-term holiday

National Park Support for Calon Cymru’s Ambitious Regeneration Plans

Have you heard of Calon Cymru Network?

Maybe not  – yet.

Calon Cymru is a group aiming to spark regeneration in West and Mid Wales, along the Heart of Wales railway corridor, the rural section between Llandeilo in Carmarthenshire via Llandovery and Llandrindod Wells to Craven Arms, over the border in Shropshire. Not just any regeneration, but development which has a positive impact, and never a big negative impact, on our natural resources.

I declare an interest because I am a member, and have seen the Network, which is a community interest company, grow over six years, from its founding nucleus of architects concerned about unsustainable lifestyles, to a collaboration of professionals from planning, transport, agriculture, energy and forestry, with the common aim of breathing new life into rural Wales.

Thanks to funding from the Brecon Beacons National Park Authority, Calon Cymru is about to appoint an administrator to co-ordinate the next phase of the project.

The team includes half a dozen architects, all enthusiasts for building with local, renewable materials such as timber and straw. The architects are Calon Cymru founders Martin Golder, Ken Pearce and Wilf Burton, and Richard Biddulph, Nick Dummer, Mark Waghorn, and his architectural assistant Lewys Jones. Planners Bob Eaton and Steve Packer, transport expert Professor Paul Salveson, Heart of Wales Line Forum development officers David Edwards and Gill Wright, sustainable food and nutrition specialist Amber Wheeler, sustainable farming adviser Tony Little, and One Planet Council patrons James Shorten and David Thorpe, are all on board.

The One Planet Council – of which Jane Davidson, former environment, sustainability and housing minister in the Welsh Government, is also a patron – promotes the ‘One Planet’ planning policies of the Welsh Government, which allows people to settle in the countryside and earn a living from it, as long as they abide by stringent regulations and steadily reduce their demand on the Earth’s resources. The ultimate aim is to use only those resources which Earth can replenish – and not three or four planets’ worth, as in the UK today.

James Shorten is the planner who wrote the technical guidance for Wales’ One Planet policy, and now runs Geo & Co Ltd, a consultancy for sustainable rural strategy. David Thorpe specialises in renewable energy technologies and is the author of several books, including ‘The One Planet Life’.

“It has taken quite a while to put the right group together,” said Martin Golder, one of the founders, who lives in Powys, “but now we have the chance to convince the Welsh Government of the strategic importance of rural Wales in general, and the Heart of Wales corridor in particular. We have all been worried about the lack of jobs, the exodus of young people and the withdrawal of public services, and as well as bringing empty properties back into use, we want to work with landowners to create new settlement which harmonises with and energises rural communities.

Currently, Calon Cymru is preparing a bid to the Arwain programme in Powys County Council for European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development money to help develop the vision into practical projects  – such as timber, food and drink enterprises, renewable energy, and engineering research and development.

“The lack of a stable, viable regional economy is probably the main problem for mid Wales. Tourism and public sector employment are not enough. We reckon that the Heart of Wales corridor, and its railway, could do much more than at present to feed Wales with vegetables and fruit as well as livestock products,” said Martin. “Expanded woodlands, too, will be of increasing importance in construction and small-scale manufacturing, according to our analysis. These are the activities that would provide an economic backbone”

“Wales now has the Future Generations Act, outlawing any development or policy which prejudices the life chances of future inhabitants of the nation, and our plans are wholly in tune with this.”

If you would like to become a Friend of Calon Cymru and keep in touch with progress, please email Sue Wakefield, sue@caloncymru.org. The website is here and Facebook page here.


Cardiff Students Seek Solutions to Llandovery’s Deepening Plight

Update January 30th 2016

A glint of positive news — the idea to move Ysgol Rhys Prichard primary school to the vacated Ysgol Gyfun Pantycelyn comprehensive school is supported in principle by Carmarthenshire County Council’s chief executive, Mark James, reports The Post in the February 2016 issue (p.23). Handel Davies, chair of the campaign group ‘Future of Pantycelyn’, has wide backing for the proposal, including from Llandovery Town Council, and the headteacher and governors of Ysgol Rhys Prichard.

The plan includes selling the Rhys Prichard site –ideally for an employment-creating purpose —  and using the proceeds to adapt the Pantycelyn premises for younger pupils.

Pantycelyn has all sorts of features often lacking from primary schools — big hall, sports field, specialist classrooms and laboratories, gymnasium, swimming pool adjacent — which could help to bring back young families to the town.



The current primary school building, Ysgol Rhys Prichard, would be sold


How many primary schools would have a hall this size? 

Original post

Llandovery’s decline, and how to reverse it, is a case study for architecture students from Cardiff University, who were in the town yesterday (Thursday) to present their initial, individual ideas. The separation of the castle from the town was a repeat theme, requiring improvement with the help of a little demolition or even major redevelopment, as in one plan which imagines retail relocations into what is now the car park, bowling green and tennis courts. Or how about garden sharing — a scheme for elderly folk to offer gardens for others to cultivate, and share the produce, as part of a scheme to make Llandovery an exemplar of sustainable living.


Ideas for Llandovery: Cardiff students’ proposals on show in the Castle Hotel

Mock historic façades, to make the town more spectacular and memorable during the annual Sheep Festival, are featured in one zany, imaginative plan. Making much more of a feature of the Welsh language; holding more matches on the Llandovery College rugby pitch and building stands there with a total of 500 seats; linking Garden Lane to Broad Street with two pedestrian pathways; and creating an arts centre are also among the suggestions.

As the students depart to develop their projects,  the Llandovery they leave behind is really suffering.

The students will be back with their finished proposals: here’s hoping that funds will be available to implement those schemes which impress  local people as likely restorers of vitality and sparkle.


Saying it all — closure notice in a window of the building which used to be HSBC Bank, Market Square 



Ex-HSBC building, empty, and next to it, The Bear pub, closed 


The central building is the former NatWest Bank, now closed, in Market Square


Decline and fall: Carmarthenshire County Council’s decision to close the comprehensive school, Ysgol Gyfun Pantycelyn, has multiplied the town’s problems 









Empty shop in Stone Street. Right, on the other side of Water Street, the empty building which used to be Costcutters convenience store









King Richard III granted Llandovery’s charter. Five hundred and thirty one years later, the town needs another such accolade to raise its profile  












Broken-down ASDA van rescued by a UTS lorry — which also broke down and was parked outside Ysgol Gyfun Pantycelyn, waiting for a tow. Up a creek without a paddle, just like the town









Empty spaces in Llandovery’s car park, in the middle of a weekday 




The swimming pool, owned by Carmarthenshire County Council and on the site of about-to-close Ysgol Gyfun Pantycelyn, loses over £100,000 a year. How secure is its future?




















Llandovery: Moving Primary School onto Site of Axed Comprehensive could Trigger Town Regeneration

Eleventh hour plan

Move Llandovery’s primary school, Ysgol Gynradd Rhys Prichard, onto the campus of the about-to-close comprehensive school, Ysgol Gyfun Pantycelyn – that’s the 11th hour plan from the people of Llandovery to try and stem the tide of decline in their forgotten town.

This proposal must be developed quickly and energetically, a public meeting decided last night (November 12th 2015). Pantycelyn is due to close to its final pupils in February, and then the local education authority is expected to put the site up for sale.

Despite stormy weather, around 100 people congregated in Pantycelyn’s hall for a meeting led by Handel Davies, the chair of Llandovery Rugby Football Club.

The mood, as sombre as the persistent rain, lightened a little when those present gave universal support for developing a detailed proposal to put before Carmarthenshire County Council, the authority responsible for both schools.

Mark James: “good idea”

County councillor Ivor Jackson has already discussed the idea with Mark James, the county council’s chief executive, and reported that Mr James replied: “It seems a good idea. We never thought about it”. Mr James has offered to come to Llandovery and meet a delegation, Mr Jackson told the meeting.

Voices in the audience pointed out that the idea had been put to the county council in the past, but they chose not to consider it. Perhaps the plan did not reach Mr James’s desk.

Noel Jones, head teacher of Ysgol Rhys Prichard, said the move could transform the primary school into a real community school, which is not feasible on the present site next to the A483 road to Builth Wells. He lamented the decline of Llandovery into a town into which few people wanted to move and from which families wanted to exit. “I see us as a dying community in lots of ways,” he said. “Llandovery used to be a vibrant town, but not now.” Instead, services had been taken away and the town was marginalised.

Without a school on the Pantycelyn site it would not be possible to keep the hall in use, he said. Without a school, how long would the swimming pool stay open? (The pool loses over £100,000 a year already.)

Colossal financial pressures

Moving the primary school onto the Pantycelyn campus would keep the site in public ownership, available for a time when children over 11 may need to be educated there again.  The replacement school 13 miles away in Ffairfach entails long journeys for pupils, expensive for taxpayers, and this, it can be argued, is discriminatory. The council’s plans to charge everyone aged 16-plus for all school transport is also discriminatory, especially when a school has been closed against the wishes of the community.

Huge financial questions hang over the proposed move, though. The Pantycelyn site is larger than the Rhys Prichard site, and so is more expensive to run. The 165 primary pupils are barely over half as many as the number in Pantycelyn when the closure decision was taken. And, said Noel Jones, the county’s head teachers have been told they must cut their school budgets by 16% over the next two years. For Ysgol Rhys Prichard, with an annual budget of £660,000, that is a cut to £554,400 — £105,600 less, when a move to the Pantycelyn site would inevitably increase some costs.

Potential to revitalise town

Llandovery used to have the town services required by people living in 200 or so square miles of north-east Carmarthenshire – surgery, hospital, state primary and comprehensive school, banks, a wide range of shops. Four full-time banks have declined to two part-time ones, shops are following the same trend, and the comprehensive school has been axed. Even the historic independent school, Llandovery College, has suffered from financial problems.

If the primary school occupied the Pantycelyn site, it could act as a magnet for families with young children. Surely they would seek out a primary school with a superb hall, a swimming pool, a games field, space for a garden? People moving in would benefit the town’s businesses and restore lost vibrancy.

If the site can be shared, the move has a much better chance of success. It could be possible to convert part of the buildings into offices for health service and social services staff, for example. There could be space for offices and workshops for new businesses, or for home businesses needing to grow, and thereby helping to regenerate the economy of the town.

So here’s hoping that the whole town gets behind Handel Davies and the committee set up to achieve the plan.


Grant for Gelli Aur Breathes New Life into Restoration Dream

Gate open! Almost £1 million from the Welsh Government, thanks to persuasion by Rhodri Glyn Thomas, assembly member for Carmarthen East & Dinefwr, means that once again the public can walk the nature trails of Gelli Aur Country Park, Golden Grove, while the rest of the park is restored.


Gelli Aur Country Park is now open on Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays and bank holidays, 9am to 5pm

The café has to be improved before it can reopen, and as yet the famed arboretum is too overgrown for the public to have access.

The grant, to the Golden Grove Trust, comes at the eleventh hour for the country park, in the neglected grounds of Golden Grove mansion, which has been empty since vacated by Carmarthenshire’s agricultural college in 2003. A company called Harmoni Developments thought about converting the mansion into a hotel, but got no further than thinking. Maybe flats? Two developers with this possibility in mind bought the property in succession, in 2007 and 2009. Perhaps a convalescent home for wounded service personnel? Not that either. The property passed next to the Golden Grove Trust, which was set up in August 2011 to save the house.  By this time lead had been removed from the roof, and the interior was badly decayed, as these photos show only too clearly. Since 2011 roof renewal  has been a priority, but not enough money was forthcoming to restore the parkland.


Glimpse of restoration work to Golden Grove mansion

The trust itself has lost two of the original three directors, William Powell Wilkins (who was a crucial influence in the restoration of Aberglasney Gardens) and Lady Jane Frances Birt. The remaining director, Richard Christopher Salmon, is an art dealer and historian with a gallery in West London, and he is joined on the board by Bahram Ansari Eshlaghi, a consultant in Middle Eastern studies, with a smart address in Chelsea. The trust has been teetering on the verge of being struck off the register because it has not yet submitted accounts, and today is still listed as subject to a strike-off proposal. The two directors have now set up, in June this year, a commercial private limited company, Golden Grove Ventures Ltd, about which very little is in the public domain because it will not have to file any accounts until March 2017.

The country park is now open on Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays and bank holidays between 9am and 5pm, when the gate is locked for the night. Car parking is free while essential restoration works are in progress.

So, well done the Welsh Government  and Rhodri Glyn Thomas – backed by local county councillor Cefin Campbell — for supporting the survival of this historic, irreplaceable house and landscape.


Ancient trees and richly varied vegetation in the parkland at Gelli Aur

Regeneration Route: New Futures for the Heart of Wales Railway

Rural Wales today is a land of loss, of public services gone away, of rural spaces used for the benefit of people elsewhere, as vistas for holiday consumption, as water stores and as electricity farms. Remember the Development Board for Rural Wales, which was supposed to power economic revival? The DBRW was extant for 18 years, 1977 to 1995, and had the job of economic revival in Powys, Ceredigion and Meirionnydd. Job done in 1995? Of course not. So do we need a modern version ?

Buzz words today are ‘city regions’. The Welsh Government sees Wales as two-and-a-half city regions: (1) greater Cardiff including Newport, and (2) Swansea Bay, with north-east Wales as the half, linked to the industrial hinterlands of the river Mersey in England. Investment would be concentrated in these regions, leaving all of Wales outside the urban bubbles even shorter of resources than they are already.

You can argue that city regions are anachronisms in a world pushing up against limits to growth, but ‘sustainability’ did not feature centrally in the City Regions in Wales report presented to the Welsh Government in 2012.[i] Nor did climate change, nor the Welsh Government’s professed aim for the country to use no more resources than our single planet can provide. The concept of a city region as a growth magnet poses all sorts of unanswered questions, such as

  • Where will cities’ food come from?
  • What sorts of income-earning jobs will the inhabitants do, in a climate-challenged, resource-depleted, environmentally damaged world?

Here in north-west Europe, judging by TV adverts and supermarket shelves, it can seem as though there are limitless supplies of everything, but that’s only because we use far more than our fair share.  Who could live on 85p a day? Some 1.2 billion people – around 19 times more than the population of the UK – have to scrape by on less. There aren’t enough resources to supply everyone with a north-west European standard of materialism.

The very notion of the ‘sustainable city’ is perhaps a triumph of optimism over history, because civilisations collapse when cities can no longer be provisioned. Political instability ensues, and surviving populations melt into the countryside.

In Wales, too many politicians regard ‘the countryside’ as the past, not the future. Fortunately, small groups of people are working for rural revival, and more than a dozen of them met in Llandovery on Friday at the start of a campaign to bring new life to the communities along the Heart of Wales railway, which crosses Wales from Swansea in the south to Shrewsbury in the borderlands of England, and is ‘rural’ within Wales most of the way from Llanelli in Carmarthenshire to Knighton in Powys, a distance of some 80 miles.

Professor Paul Salveson[ii] asks “Could the Heart of Wales Line become a linear ‘Mondragon’ network supporting a network of co-operative enterprises?” The Mondragon federation is the (mostly) successful co-operative economic engine of the Basque Country in Spain, and I think the answer to Prof Salveson’s question is ‘Yes’. Not just along the Heart of Wales corridor, either, but also to the west, either side of a resurrected Carmarthen to Aberystwyth railway.

continues below the map 


Map from Traws Link Cymru, the group campaigning to restore, initially, the Carmarthen to Aberystwyth line. The map shows Wales’ remaining railways in black, including the Heart of Wales line passing through Ammanford, Llandovery and Builth Wells.

Glenn Bowen of the Wales Co-operative Centre  — the largest co-operative development body in the UK, according to Wikipedia – was on hand at the Level Crossing hostel by Llandovery Station yesterday to outline the pros and cons of various types of corporate structures, to representatives from the Heart of Wales Line Development Company, Heart of Wales Line Travellers Association, Friends of Llandovery Station, Llanwrtyd Community Transport & Events Recycling, Transition Tywi Trawsnewid, and the Calon Cymru group which exists to promote sustainable activity along the line. Early days, but there is enthusiasm to create a Heart of Wales Enterprise Network.

Calon Cymru last year devised a plan for a string of ‘garden villages’ along the line, and submitted it for the Wolfson Prize. The Wolfson competition sought ideas for a new garden city, rather than garden villages, and the entry did not win an award, but I think it shows that low-impact developments have much to offer rural Wales, in helping to rejuvenate the population profile, creating land-based enterprises including ‘One Planet’ ventures using only those resources which our planet can continue to provide, and bringing critical mass to support public services including transport. Click on The Linear Garden City: a One Planet vision to read the plan.

Separate campaign groups have been labouring away, often for years, in their own back yards, and as small ventures made only limited political impact. The current move to collaborate could mark the start of a new, more positive phase in the history of the forgotten back-lands of rural Wales.

A new Development Board for Rural Wales? No, that would be planning imposed from the top downwards. The idea now, a much better idea, I think, is to support individuals and community groups as they set about creating their own futures.


[i] City Regions Final Report, July 2012. ‘Sustainability and Climate Change’ comprised paragraphs 145 to 149, saying sustainable development should become a unique selling point for attracting investment. The climate change issue was summarised in one sentence in paragraph 147: “Studies have found that while cities create many of the problems of climate change they also offer increased scope to maximise resource efficiency”.


[ii] Paul Salveson MBE is visiting professor in transport and logistics at the University of Huddersfield. His reference to Mondragon is in ‘Unlocking enterprise and creativity in Mid Wales: a rail-based approach’, which he wrote for the Heart of Wales Line Development Company: click to read Unlocking enterprise and creativity in Mid Wales

On Track to Revive Carmarthen to Aberystwyth Railway

The campaign to restore the Carmarthen to Aberystwyth railway, which closed to passengers in 1965, is gaining momentum, and this is only the first phase of Traws Link Cymru’s plan for a railway along the west coast of Wales, linking the south with the north at Bangor via Aberystwyth, Afon-Wen and Caernarfon.

Campaign progress will be reported to an open public meeting in Carmarthen on Thursday March 19th, in St Peter’s Civic Hall, 1 Nott Square, at 7pm.

Rail travel to Bangor from my home north of Llandeilo in Carmarthenshire is, at present, protracted, via England, and quite expensive. The cheapest return fare I could find is £80.90, which works out at about 12p per minute on a ‘quick’ typical return journey of 11 hours 20 minutes (5 hours 20 minutes there via Shrewsbury, 6 hours back). The rail expedition takes half as much time again as the car journey, if I accept the AA’s estimate that I could drive the 139.6 miles from Llandeilo to Bangor in three hours 33 minutes.

In 20 years’ time, in a resource- and climate-challenged world, the need for the railway will probably be crystal clear, but its protagonists now face a struggle to secure funding, which for the 56.5-mile Carmarthen-Aberystwyth stretch could be £650 million, between £11 million and £12 million per mile. Only small change compared with unknown billions — £50 billion? £60 billion? — for HS2 in England, and it would repair a massive broken link in Wales’ transport network. When the whole west coast route is operating, it will be possible to travel by rail from Cardiff to Caernarfon entirely within the boundaries of Wales.


Reconnecting West Wales by rail: Traws Link Cymru‘s campaign to restore lost lines. Photo from The Daily Wales, http://dailywales.net/2014/03/28/traws-link-cymru-the-west-wales-rail-campaign/

The advantages of a West Coast Line are legion and include linkage of Wales’ university towns by rail, a lower carbon footprint than car or bus travel, and easier commuting by public transport for the people of rural West Wales. The numbers of rail passengers are rising fast – 40% more at Aberystwyth station in eight years, the campaign reports. The Carmarthen-Aberystwyth track corridor is still mainly intact, as just 3% has been built on, and the three tunnels are, the campaigners say, structurally strong.

The volunteers of the Gwili Railway have already restored about three and a half miles of track at the Carmarthen end of the line, where they operate steam trains as a leisure attraction, and their work is a kick start for the venture to revive the whole abandoned line.


Banks Withdraw Services from Llandovery

“Llandovery branch opening hours are changing”, said the letter I received from Lloyds Bank this morning. Changing? The letter really meant “cut”. Cut from five days, Monday to Friday, to only two days a week, and those two days with shorter hours.

From June 1st, Lloyds Bank will open just on Tuesdays and Fridays from 10am to 3pm, instead of Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday 9.30am to 3.30pm, and Wednesday 10am-3.30pm.

HSBC in Market Square shut in 2012. Lloyds is going part-time. Barclays is already part-time, open on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. I understand that NatWest is still open five days a week, but only between the hours of 10am and 2pm.

The message is clear. There is now insufficient business in Llandovery to warrant full banking services.

While the rise of online banking is more than a little responsible, the erosion of commercial services in the town is due also to the impending closure of the town’s state secondary school, the former Ysgol Gyfun Pantycelyn. The school has been re-designated a campus of Ffairfach-based Ysgol Bro Dinefwr pending complete shut-down in February 2016.

As recently as 2004, Carmarthenshire Council spent £749,000 expanding the buildings at Pantycelyn to create a sixth form centre, but less than ten years later was preparing to knock them down to make way for housing.

Each closure makes the town a less attractive, less convenient place to live, and pushes it up the ‘in need of regeneration’ list. What’s the point of trying to save public money by closing the school (although never as much as predicted, especially when the higher transport costs are factored in), only to depress the town to the extent of creating a clamour for regeneration funds?


Lloyds Bank, Llandovery — cutting down to two days a week from June 1st.    Photo from Dyfed Family History Society. Copyright Pauline Eccles,Creative Commons Licence


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