Saturday, 13 February 2016

Small Business Saturday

The Thoughtful Gardener, who has moved down to Backfold from the Castle.

This shop was once part of the Five Star department of Richard Booth's bookshop, so called because it first specialised in military books, though when I first went in there it had become the science fiction department. Later it was divided downstairs, with Greenaways Books in one side and various different businesses in the other. For a long while it was the pet shop where my dog used to get her pig's ears - and other treats! She would sit about in the alley way while I was working in the Children's Bookshop (now an antique shop) and indicate to anyone who stopped to give her a fuss that they could buy her a treat if they wanted!

Friday, 12 February 2016

Bee-Friendly Hay

Back on January 14th, a film was shown at the Globe by a representative of Friends of the Earth. It was called The Bee Cause, and was the start of a campaign. Bees, and other insects, are under pressure all over the world, from disease and from pesticides which kill the helpful insects along with the pests, and from loss of habitat. The Welsh Assembly have agreed to a national pollinator strategy, recognising how important bees are to the environment, and to human food sources. Many crops depend on bees to pollinate them.
On Monday, there was a meeting at Kilverts to follow up the film with Bleddyn, the representative from Friends of the Earth, who is in the slightly unusual position of also being a representative of the Welsh Assembly task force - a campaigner who is working for the government. He'd come up from Cardiff for the evening to meet local people who were interested in a pilot project to turn Hay into a Bee-Friendly Town. They're hoping to run the project along the same lines as Fairtrade towns, where a town has to meet a certain number of criteria to qualify for the title.
There was a Friends of the Earth group in Hay for a while, but it seems to have disappeared, so one of the things that got done at the meeting was to set up a new FoE Hay group.
The people who came to the meeting were a varied crowd. There were three local beekeepers, Lizzie Harper the illustrator (and zoologist!), and her mother - who was interested in turning her patch of lawn into a wildlife meadow so she wouldn't have to mow it! - and Lizzie's little boy and his friend, still in their Hay School uniforms. I was very impressed by the boys, who took a full part in the meeting, and were treated just like the adults in the discussions. They were even taking notes, so that they could go to Fiona Howard, the headmistress, with a proposal for the school to take part in the pilot project.
One of these ideas, which would fit in very well with schools, was to have a bee day, where children could dress up, and do craft activities like making a "bee hotel" for solitary bees to live in, poetry and music (cue me and Susan launching into Arthur Askey's Bee Song!). There's also an area of the school grounds which used to be a pond, but has potential to be a wildflower garden to attract bees, though how this would fit in with building a new school is uncertain.
Other ideas were to have a stall at the Cheesemarket occasionally to promote local beekeepers and to spread information about attracting bees to the garden and whatever community events were planned.
There were lots of ideas for people and groups that could be contacted to get involved. Lots of things are already happening locally, but it tends to be in isolation, and it would be helpful to everyone if the different groups could get together and co-operate on something.
So there's the Community Garden, just across the bridge, and Racquetty Farm, which is organic, and also hosts the Big Skill fairs - where there has been a group working on local hedgerows. There's also the Woodland Group from the Council, which does a lot of work around Hay, especially down the riverside path. There's also Wiggly Wigglers, locally, who grow native flowers for bouquets, and sell plants and seeds and - their main business - wormeries for composting. They would be a potential source of wildflower seeds, for instance. There are also the Wildlife Trusts - Lizzie knows Julian Jones, the Director of Radnorshire Wildlife Trust, who might be persuaded to come and give a talk.
There was discussion of wild flowers on the grass verges around the edges of Hay, which would make a good display in the summer - though this is made more complicated by the fact that half the roads into Hay are controlled by Herefordshire Council, and half by Powys County Council.
Bleddyn drew a hexagon on a piece of paper, and was trying to find a title for activities for each corner. So there's Food - wildflower meadows, gardens and so on; Five Star Accommodation - bee hotels and habitat; Freedom (from pesticides and herbicides) - encouraging gardeners to reduce their use of chemicals that harm pollinators, and allotment holders, and the local authorities and other local landowners; Fun includes the schools, having a pollinator day, planting a wildflower garden - Friends of the Earth already have an education pack they can provide. It would also include talks and film shows, and maybe a prize for best garden.
So that's four titles - they just need two more, preferably beginning with F!
Promoting the project was also discussed, and Hay on TV was mentioned as a possibilty to make short videos.
So there are lots of possibilities, and quite a few enthusiastic people involved already.

Tuesday, 9 February 2016

Council Meeting - Finance and Trees

The Council got through a lot of business last Monday, quite a lot of it being financial business which involved - for instance - negotiating with the County Council and making sure they didn't pass over the sports pavilion with bills that the local council were expected to pay. There's also a bill from Healthmatic, who did the work on the toilets, which caused some puzzlement and a determination to go back and look at all the paperwork. They also have to find £5,000 from the reserve funds to pay the legal fees for the transfer of assets.
The council were also resolved not to raise their precept (which is part of the Council Tax) this year, as they had to raise it by quite a substantial amount last year. Meanwhile the County Council are still discussing an increase to the Council Tax of 4%.

Meanwhile, down on the riverside, somebody has been vandalising the trees which were planted on the bank below the new Millbank houses. As it's a Site of Special Scientific Interest all along the river there, the police are being involved, and the Woodland Group want to have a meeting with the residents' committee of Millbank, formally, with minutes taken. The National Park recommended the trees to be planted there, which shouldn't grow high enough to obstruct the view - and there's a preservation order on the big trees on the other side of the path.
On Sunday 28th February, the Woodland Group are holding a Community Litter Picking day along the riverbank and railway line. They will be taking "before and after" photos of the rubbish they find, and the cleared up areas afterwards.

The latest news about Gwernyfed School is that Gareth will be speaking against the closure proposals in the next debate on the subject at the County Council.

There's also a rumour that the County Council will be closing all the local youth clubs and just having one in Llandrindod Wells. The councillors recalled the visit of one of the Youth Officers, who said that it was perfectly possible to have a youth club in Hay at the bus stop! And, of course, if Gwernyfed School closes, then all the local sports facilities will close too.

Sunday, 7 February 2016

Council Meeting - Salem Chapel, the Fire Service and Disabled Access

This isn't a brilliant picture of Salem Chapel roof, but I think the damage can be seen well enough.
The problem is - what to do about it?
Up until recently, there was a group from the congregation running the chapel - I have no idea if the congregation still meets there, though. The only activity I've seen around the chapel recently is the Railway Club with their model of Hay Station, in the oldest part of the building which was originally the school room and has more recently been used as an art gallery.
The thing is - nobody knows who owns the building. It was rebuilt in 1878 - the original chapel on the site was built in 1650, and was one of the oldest Baptist chapels in Wales. But who did it? The Baptist Union doesn't own the building. Mari Fforde, of the History Group, has been trying to track down the owners, and discovered that there was paperwork relating to the trustees at the Nat West bank up until 2009, but after that the paperwork disappeared. She's working with the Cheesemarket group CiC, which is looking round for a new project now that the Cheesemarket is doing well. They want to re-open the chapel as a community space - but to repair the roof, and to do anything else with the building, they need to find out who the owners are first.
There was nothing much the councillors could do apart from sharing the information.

However, on 29th February, a group of councillors are going down to the fire station to talk about the local fire service, and find out about the equipment held at the fire station. Of particular importance is the fire service boat, which is used for call outs on the Wye. The Mid and West Wales Fire and Rescue Service are thinking of re-locating the boat to Brecon. Gareth Ratcliffe was quite worried about this possibility, partly because there is a need for the boat close to the Wye in Hay (and also over the border into Herefordshire) and partly because the future of Hay fire station may be in doubt if it loses the specialised service. The firemen who use the boat are specially trained, and in emergencies can be deployed across the UK.

While maintenance of the Council Chambers was being discussed, the subject of disabled access to council meetings was brought up. Everybody has a right to attend council meetings, but at present it is impossible for a wheelchair user to get up to the first floor where the meetings are held.
So - why aren't the Council using the ground floor room, presently used by the Registrar. This shouldn't be a problem as far as confidentiality is concerned - as long as the filing cabinets are locked, and the computer will be password protected anyway. On the plans for the new school building that hasn't been built yet, the registrar was supposed to share an office with the town clerk.
That would help in some cases - Peter Lloyd had great difficulty getting up the stairs when he was a councillor in the year or so before he died, for instance, and at that time there was talk of installing a stair lift.
Another possibility would be, if a wheelchair user made it known they wanted to attend, the meeting could be held at the school, which is a lot easier to get into. Even if the meetings were held downstairs, there are still steps at the front door. Fiona Howard pointed out the stupidity of having a disabled access toilet on the first floor, where no disabled person could get to it - a box ticking exercise by Powys County Council - and she suggested that the Council should insist on having a stair lift installed at the County Council's expense, before they hand over the building to local control.

Saturday, 6 February 2016

Small Business Saturday

Not really a business, but this is where the Tourist Information Centre has moved to, out of the craft centre.
It used to be Backfold Books and Bygones, until Alen and Jenny retired from that last year.

Friday, 5 February 2016

Council Meeting - Recycling, Cattle Market and Car Park

The recycling area at the Co-op is about to close down - it only made about £200 last year for Cusop Council, so it's not worth continuing with it.
This means, of course, that anyone who was using the Co-op recycling bins will now be coming to Hay Car Park, which is the nearest recycling site. This site makes quite a bit of money for Hay Council, which is used as grant money for local schemes - any local project can apply. The only problem here is that the bins don't get emptied often enough, and are sometimes full to overflowing, so that will have to be monitored so that the lorries come to pick up the bins more regularly. The bins for cardboard, in particular, are heavily used now, and Hay could do with more bins for that.

The councillors discussed alternative sites for recycling around Hay. Steve Like suggested the Cattle Market car park. Any site they choose will have to have good access for the lorries that collect the bins, of course. Hay Council have already been approached to take over the tump at the edge of the Cattle Market site, next to the path that runs down to the riverside near St Mary's Church. The people who run the cattle market, Brightwells, say that the paddock that was used for pony sales is no longer in use, so that's some extra ground that might be available.
Steve Like was of the opinion that the cattle market would not be there in ten years time - or twenty at the outside - so this is a large area of land and sheds that the Council should keep an eye on so it can be used to the benefit of the town when the time comes, and not snapped up by some developer for more luxury housing. There's potential with the sheds for light industrial use, for instance, and having the recycling facilities there would be a good start. However, there are no plans to move the recycling facilities at the moment.

The car park was discussed earlier in the meeting - now that a percentage of the takings is coming to Hay Council, they want to be very sure of their responsibilities. For instance, Powys County Council should continue to do resurfacing and relining of the car park, when required. Fiona Howard mentioned the building of the new primary school - should it ever happen - as the only access to the site is across the car park, so heavy machinery would be trundling up and down and probably parking there, too. The estimate is that the new school would take a year to build (at the moment the timetable is from next January to the following January) so that would reduce the income from the car park for the area that the machinery needs to park on.

Apparently, the deal that Hay managed to strike with Powys is a pretty good one, and other local councils are watching how it works out in practice with interest, to see if they could get a similar deal.

Tuesday, 2 February 2016

Lots to Consider on Planning

There were two other members of the public in the Council Chambers when I got there last night, concerned about planning applications to be considered by the Council. Another lady (David Howard's wife - he was there at the beginning and made a case against the plans for the site of the old community centre) came towards the end of the meeting, because she thought that the public would be able to speak at the end, rather than the beginning.
It's worth mentioning this, because the system the council have at the moment has been refined over a period of time, and this seems to work best. Members of the public are generally not allowed to speak during a council meeting - this is true of all councils. But they can raise a point or ask a question, and in Hay it was decided to have this at the beginning, so that members of the public don't have to sit through lots of business they have no interest in, just so they can ask one quick question. And then they can stay, or leave, as they wish.

One of the items of interest was the easement which the Council have been asked to grant to Persimmon, to lay a pipe across the old railway line which the Council own. They have offered £25,000 to do this. The lady who had come to speak about that suggested that £40,000 would be a fair price, working out at £500 a house for the development. When the councillors came to that item on the agenda, they said that they had sought independent advice, and it had been suggested that £30,000 was the going rate for these things. So that is what they are going to ask Persimmon for, subject to planning permission for the houses being granted by the National Parks. Persimmon have already said that, if the Council do not grant the easement, they will start negotiating with landowners to the sides of the council property.
Persimmon have also provided plans, including the size of the pipe they want to use for the drainage system. Gareth, who lives right on top of the field where the development is planned, abstained from voting. Alan Powell, who has experience of these things from his time with the fire brigade, said the size of the pipe seemed reasonable. Fiona Howard is still concerned about the planned pond, which seems now will only be filling with water when it's wet weather, and be a dry depression the rest of the time, with the pipe leading out of it. Trudy said she really had no idea what was reasonable and what wasn't - the councillors are not building experts, so it's difficult to give a reasoned decision on these matters.
She was also concerned that the Council is looking at the different planning applications in isolation, rather than taking an overall view, as the field opposite the Co-op, on the English side of the border, is being considered to have 25 houses built on it, as well as the 80 at Gypsy Castle and the 19 at the Community Centre site, and I think there was another site mentioned as well - and all those people will need doctors and dentists and school places and so on, and there will be increased traffic as they drive to work.

Trudy is back, being very involved as a councillor, having offered her resignation last month. So there are two vacancies on the council which need to be filled. Two of the councillors were even trying to recruit new councillors at the Senior Citizens' Party! Another suggestion was to look seriously at finding younger people to co-opt, in the 16 to 25 year old age range.
Nigel the Town Clerk is also back, with rather less hair than he had before.

Another problem area with the plans is the access via Gypsy Castle, where the road narrows, and the councillors were not happy with the amended plans. Someone from the Highways Department is being asked to come to speak to the Council about it.

Roads and access are also a problem for the other site which is being considered by the council - the old community centre site where the developers want to build 19 houses for social housing. The drive is very close to the corner of Oxford Road and the junction with Lion Street (leading into Heol-y-Dwr). Apparently someone from the developers has been doing a traffic survey there, and claims that the average speed of vehicles on that corner is 23 miles per hour! Which seems unlikely - in my experience, cars travel a lot faster than that along that stretch of road.
This was not the only objection to the development. Fiona Howard was dismayed at how small the houses were, and that they only had a little patch of tarmac for a rotary washing line, and nowhere for children to play - since this is supposed to be for young families. There is also the problem of flooding on the site, which needs to be addressed. Water has been known to pour down the drive, across Oxford Road, and into the houses opposite and lower down the hill.

So at the moment, the Council is unhappy with the plans to both these developments, and letters are being drafted to send to the planning authorities with their concerns.

One small planning matter was the application to put an awning up over the area at the end of the Cheesemarket, to cover the tables and chairs from Shepherd's Ice Cream Parlour, which nobody had any objection to.

There were three other planning applications before the Council, all of which need to be looked at in more detail than there was time for last night (the meeting ended at about 10pm). One is for the building work on the Castle, which is a major project; the second is for Pharos House, and I'm afraid I didn't catch what the third one is. However, the Council will be meeting next week just to consider those plans in a special meeting.