Friday, 17 April 2015

Council Meeting - Bits and Pieces, New Councillor and Hay School

Progress was reported on the proposed fingersigns - Rob had a picture on his phone of a similar one seen in Crickhowell, and once Niall in the Welsh Assembly agrees (apparently he is the Signs Supremo for Wales) they can be put up.
There is still doubt about the ownership of the railings at the end of Castle Street, which still need to be repaired, one year after the accident there. The Town Council don't want to go ahead and mend them, as this would be accepting liability for them. The pavement they are on belongs to the County Council, so they are probably responsible for them, and since the Town Council are getting on well with the fingerpost person in the County Council, they are probably the best person to contact to get it sorted out.

Persimmon Homes would like a meeting with members of the Council to talk about the drainage on the field they want to build on. Rob, Alan and David will go, and Dawn said she'd be lurking with her camera. A lady in the audience (there were only three of us this month) said she had some photos of the field that could be useful too.

It seems that the Warren and the Town are charging different rates for fishing permits - for instance, the Town charges for children while children on the Warren go free. So the Town charges are going to be simplified, and made more attractive to people who want to fish.
On the Warren, Tim Pugh is having the gates replaced with kissing gates to make it more accessible, and wheelchair users can get in using a radar key from the little car park.

And then it was time to welcome the new councillor, who had sat quietly through the meeting and not run away screaming! He is Richard Shackleford, who used to run the Bridge pub at Michaelchurch Escley, and has also been a fund raiser for a national charity for many years. He wants to be involved with the local community, and he has skills with computers and fund raising that could be useful. His hobbies are hill walking and reading.

The Town Crier is feeling better after his illness, and should be around for the Festival.

There was a question about the road resurfacing, pointing out that the stretch at the bottom of Newport Street to Nantyglasdwr hadn't been done. This is in a sort of no man's land between Powys and Herefordshire.

The auditors for the Two Towns One World project still haven't done their job, and the people who provided the grant money are starting to get twitchy and asking for the money back if it isn't done soon.

The Council liason with the Hay Tourism Group, David, turned up for a meeting at the Swan - and waited, and waited, and eventually went round to Drover Holidays, where they told him it had been cancelled....

Fiona Howard was full of praise for the youngsters who go to the Youth Club. They've built a patio and a shed by the bungalow, and are never any trouble. The Youth Club meets on Mondays and Thursdays and about twenty kids turn up.

And so we came to the new plans for schools that the County Council have brought out.
Now, it seems, they want to build five new schools. By now, the plans will have gone before the Cabinet, and be on their way to the Welsh Assembly for approval. According to these plans, all the five schools in the area will be replaced y the end of 2017 or 2018.
But how does this make any sense? Clyro has just been expensively refurbished - are they going to rebuild that? And what about the plans that have been out for consultation for Hay School - are they still relevant or are new plans being put together? The person from the County Council who told Fiona Howard about this wouldn't be drawn, apparently, on the materials that would be used to build the new school, but did say that it would have a "shelf life" of 60 years.
"Well, that's nothing for a school, is it?" Fiona said.

Thursday, 16 April 2015

Council Meeting - Sports, the Town Plan and Nigel Birch

There was a meeting with the different sports clubs that use the Pavilion recently - but it didn't quite go to plan.
What the Council wanted was for the sports clubs to get together and organise a management committee to run the Pavilion and the sports pitches now that Powys County Council are no longer doing that. The initial thought was that they could set up their committee under the umbrella of HADSCAL (Hay and District Sports Clubs Association - I'm not sure what the L stands for), as that organisation already exists and has charitable status. However, the representatives of the sports associations that turned up to the meeting decided that they wanted to set up their own organisation. This, of course, will take time, and the councillors who were there said that they didn't seem to recognise the urgency of the situation. They also don't seem to be able to work out how to divide the costs between the different clubs at the moment. The utility bills will be going direct to the sports clubs from now on, which may concentrate their minds on the problem.
The bottom line is that the sports clubs and HADSCAL don't want to work together.
The situation is complicated by the fact that Fiona Howard (this year's Mayor) and Rob Golesworthy are also trustees of HADSCAL, and thus have a conflict of interests between the Council and HADSCAL.
At the moment, the senior football team uses the HADSCAL football pitch, but they get changed in the Pavilion - and having two organisations would mean that the team would have to negotiate with both of them to play and to use the changing rooms. The Council is deliberately taking a back seat in all this - they want the sports clubs to take the responsibility themselves.
In Talgarth, they have set up TADSCAL with a management committee - it seems unlikely, but maybe this would be a suitable umbrella organisation for the Hay Pavilion.
The Warren Club is also going for full charitable status now they own the fishing rights, and it was suggested that they might be able to act as the umbrella organisation for the Pavilion, though it seemed unlikely that they would want to.
More meetings with HADSCAL and the sports clubs are planned to sort something out.

Trudy, the new councillor, reported back on the questionnaires for the Town Plan. She said that 254 were returned, but she is concerned that most of these, 152, were returned by people over the age of 60, and only 35 were returned by people in the 16 - 44 age bracket. She thinks that Hay needs the opinions of the younger inhabitants, but the Council was uncertain about how to achieve this. Trudy also said that about half the forms were filled in by locals, and half by people who had moved into the area in the last ten to fifteen years. Analysis of the data is still going on, and the National Park is also being consulted. The Council is applying for a grant from the National Park, of around £1,000, but it will have to be match funded, and it all got a bit complicated to work out whether it was worth doing.
When the Town Plan is put together, it would help the Council to have someone from Planning Aid Wales to facilitate it, but this would cost in the region of £200 - £300.

Ideas were then put forward for ways to commemorate Councillor Nigel Birch, who died recently, such as naming a road Birches Way or Birch Grove. Other possibilities included planting birch trees, or sponsoring a cup for the Young Farmers' Club.
Or the picnic area could be named after him, as it doesn't actually have a name at the moment.

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Globe Meeting Cancelled

There was going to be a third hustings meeting at the Globe tomorrow, on the subject of Power, but it clashes with another meeting in Brecon. As several of the parties have not been able to find replacement speakers, they're cancelling the live debate, but I think they might be linking up to Brecon and watching the debate there on the big screen.

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Council Meeting - Festival Buses and Toilets

So, the first part of the meeting was taken up with finding out where we were with ongoing projects. The transfer of land from Welsh Water, down at the Gliss, is still dragging on, mainly because the solicitor doesn't seem to have done anything about the record search. However, since the Council have been maintaining the land for years, it should be fairly easy to claim ownership.
Meanwhile there are still discussions going on about the information boards that the Council wants to put up there.
And someone along Gypsy Castle has put slabs down on Council ground that now need repair - the Council would be liable if anyone was injured and so they want them to be removed, just as the steps down the bank onto the railway line walk had to be removed, when someone put them in from the back of their garden a few years ago. On the way into the Warren there are more steps in the bank, but there it might be better for the Woodland Group to put proper steps in, because the short cut will carry on being used regardless.
Meanwhile Rob Golesworthy and Alan Powell have been repairing the Council Offices roof, but they need to put scaffolding up around the back to reach the wobbly guttering and fascia board. As this is a big job which would take three to four days, they will have to put it out to tender.
The website still isn't ready. The problem at the moment seems to be some work that has to be done by Giles' brother....

The shuttle bus for the Festival will not be going along Heol y Dwr this year. Instead, it will be going from the overflow car park in Clyro via Glasbury to the Festival site, and thus not going through the town at all. The Festival will be selling parking tickets along with event tickets this year, to minimise parking problems. There were problems with the corner by the Globe last year, with a lot of loading and unloading going on.
Steve Like wasn't happy that neither the Festival nor the Globe seems to have contacted the Council officially about their plans, though they do both seem to have spoken to Gareth Ratcliffe, who wasn't at the meeting.
It was also noted, with disapproval, that the metal frame for the staging by the side of the Globe has gone up again. If this is a temporary structure, though, there is nothing to be done about it except to make sure they take it down again when the Festival is over.

Money is being shuffled around the various Council accounts to pay for the renovation of the toilets, and the Council are also looking for a new part time admin assistant to cope with the extra work that the transfer of assets from the County Council will involve. This will be a 10 hours a week post (including some evening work) at £4,500 a year.
Healthmatic are the company chosen to do the work on the toilets, and they are looking for local contractors where possible. Two builders and an electrician have already shown an interest, and an advert has been put in Totally Locally. The Oxford Road toilets should be refurbished before the Festival, possibly even before May Bank Holiday, with the Clock Tower toilets due to be done in June.
The Clock Tower toilets will be changed from Ladies and Gents to one disabled toilet and one unisex toilet. It was decided that the radar key that wheelchair users can have will not be used with the disabled toilet - they will have to pay 20p to get in.
The plans for the changes seem to show a lot of unused space, and it was suggested that the market stalls could be stored there. However, some space is needed for maintenance, and there would not be enough room. At the moment, the Market has had to buy a vehicle and trailer (now that the space at the Cheesemarket is being used for other purposes) and are storing the stalls over in Clyro.

Monday, 13 April 2015

Good News for the Library

Hay Library hours are to remain unchanged! All the other libraries in Powys except Llandrindod Wells (which also has its hours unchanged) are going to open for fewer hours in the week in future, due to County Council cuts, but Hay will continue as before.

Sunday, 12 April 2015

Globe Hustings - Education

This half of the evening was introduced by Rev. Ian Charlesworth. He's been a governor of Gwernyfed School for six years, and chair for two. He spoke eloquently about the problems governors, and the schools, have. For instance, Gwernyfed has been through three or four Ofsted inspections, each one done according to different criteria which the school had to meet - changing expectations of the school and the teacher is the only constant. And governors, who take on a voluntary position, are expected to be professional more and more. There is even training (or "Death by Power Point" as he called it). And if anything goes wrong, the governors get blamed.
He wants the best standards, but Gwernyfed is achieving good results and the Powers that Be still want to close it down.
It particularly infuriates him that the local MP, whichever of the people on the platform it ends up being, has no say whatsoever in the education of the children of Powys - it's in the hands of the County Council, or to be more precise, in the hands of the few County Councillors who are on the cabinet of the County Council. No-one else has a look in.
He pointed out that children are being constantly tested, from the age of four, and he also pointed out that pupils from Gwernyfed are getting into the universities of their choice, including Oxbridge, but the school is still being expected to do more.
His question to the candidates was: Why is education politicised?

Darran Thomas (UKIP) said "Money." That's why it is politicised. He said that Llandrindod Wells school was put into Special Measures because of the number of free school meals they provided. He wants to see apprenticeships offered in secondary schools alongside academic subjects.
Freddy Greaves (Plaid) said that the Welsh Assembly want a ten year strategy for education (instead of making plans year by year). He's worked in the Council, and knows how the system operates. The real problem is austerity, and low population density in rural Wales. And as services get harder to access, or further away from where people are living, families will leave the area.
Roger Williams (Lib Dem) said that the Lib Dems opposed the cuts by the Conservatives at the beginning of the last parliament. He was a school inspector at one time, and thought that federated education might be the answer for this area (by which I think he means linking the schools together while retaining separate sites). He said that there should be better integration between primary and secondary schools, and that this would also be cheaper to run.
If there is one big school in Brecon, he continued, around 150 children from the east of the county will go to Fairfield or Lady Hawkins schools, across the border in Herefordshire, and be lost to the Welsh education system.
Matthew Dorrance (Lab) said that they needed vision. It should be about improving standards and getting the best from each child regardless of their background.
Chris Carmichael (Green) was against all the testing of children. He believed that peer review would be a better system, on the grounds that teachers know the abilities of their pupils while tests are imposed from outside and are always changing. Gwernyfed is an excellent school, so closing it can only be an ideological move.
Chris Davies (Con) is also on the board of governors of Gwernyfed. He pointed out that there have been moves to close the school before, in 2005 and 2012, as part of a modernisation package put forward by the County Council (and he's also a county councillor at the moment). He is against the Welsh Assembly idea of super schools, and believes children should spend their time in the classroom, not on a bus.
Andrew, chairing the meeting, pointed out that the County Council is made up of Independent councillors, rather than having any party affiliation.

A questioner wearing a red rosette asked how could the lack of accountability in the County Council be changed?
Matthew Dorrance (Lab) recommending voting for a party rather than an Independent as a party member would more easily be held to account.
Freddy Greaves (Plaid) wants parity with Scotland for funding and to change the weighting of funding towards rural areas. He warned that more cuts were coming.
Chris Davies (Con) said that voters should vote for change. He would like to see the County Council going back to the board system, rather than the cabinet system which has replaced it.
Chris Carmichael (Green) said there are too many Independent councillors, who are unaccountable. When he stood as a town councillor, he stood as a Green, so voters would know what they were getting.
Darran Thomas (UKIP) said the coalition has run up huge debts.
Roger Williams (Lib Dem) agreed about parties being more accountable. He also mentioned the pupil premium, which means that deprived children will attract more funding for the school they attend.
Rev Charlesworth replied that there were concerns about the criteria for deciding whether a child was deprived or not. Standards that work in urban areas don't work in rural areas.

The next questioner said there was a link between education and health - the politicians don't listen to the educators or the health professionals.
Roger Williams (Lib Dem) said that the Welsh Assembly has made sure that schools in Wales can't employ unqualified teachers, as can happen in England. GPs were given powers to purchase the health services they required, and in his opinion this was a poor plan. They need managers who won't waste resources.
Darran Thomas (UKIP) agreed, and added that farmers aren't listened to either.
Freddy Greaves (Plaid) said that there was a need to remove educational bureaucracy and give teachers more time to teach. Maybe a manager should run the school, leaving the head teacher free to teach.
Matthew Dorrance (Lab) said that skills taught in schools should match better with the jobs available. Teachers should have a better status, and the opportunity to develop their teaching skills while in post.
Chris Davies (Con) made a few derogatory comments about Roger Williams which did not go down well with the audience. Then he said that power should be given back to teachers, and this meant Free Schools! Which are not allowed in Wales.
Chris Carmichael (Green) disagreed with the idea of Free Schools. Teachers at the moment are viewed negatively because of the ludicrous testing systems. They should have less paperwork and peer review rather than testing.

Mark Williams of Llanigon (I managed to get the name this time!) said that centres of excellence/super schools don't work in Powys because of the dispersed population. So what are the candidates going to do about it?
Chris Davies (Con) is against super schools. People in Brecon are concerned about an extra 500 pupils on the site of Brecon High, on a road that is already congested and also has the hospital on it. The Council plans are wrong. The Council needs to be influenced through the governing body. He also wants to see the management of Brecon High change. MPs can influence and put pressure on the County Council indirectly.
He added that Llanigon primary school being closed was wrong, too.
Matthew Dorrance (Lab) said the plan was flawed, and skewed in favour of Montgomeryshire, where most of the cabinet of the County Council come from. The community voice must be heard.
Chris Carmichael (Green) was also against the proposals. He recommended people power, but added that the MP has a platform to act, and the way to do this is to talk to parents, teachers and other interested parties.
Darran Thomas (UKIP) was also against the plans. He said that Chris Davies hadn't managed to do anything about it even though he was a governor and a county councillor, and that Labour and the Liberal Democrats hadn't helped because they just follow the whip.
Freddy Greaves (Plaid) was also against the plans. But he added that the plans had been forced on the Council by funding problems and the demographics of the area. Austerity needed to be reversed and ideas re-thought. More emphasis had to be put on the local economy and local procurement by the Council to encourage families to move into the area.
Roger Williams (Lib Dem) defended his voting record in the Commons - I got that he was proud of voting against going to war in Syria, but was distracted from the other thing he was proud of by cries of "Bedroom Tax" from the rear of the audience. He, too, was against the proposals, but his recommendation was to come up with a better alternative solution and go to the Council with that.

Rev. Charlesworth gave the closing address (only he and Roger Williams managed without the mic). He said that the Conservatives, Labour and the Liberal Democrats had all been supportive. He said that this isn't about sacrificing Brecon to save Gwernyfed.
The County Council created the problem by bad management, so the plan wasn't forced on them. Gwernyfed will shout loud and engage with the consultation process, and they will make sure that the County Council follows the legal procedures (which has not been the case on other occasions). They will also be looking at alternative solutions.
Young people from Powys have to go elsewhere for further education, but he hopes they will want to come back.
The local surgery has just attracted a new GP to work there, who is looking for a house now - and the first thing he saw when he looked at the Brecon and Radnor was the story about Gwernyfed closing - so he's now looking for a house over the border in Herefordshire. So that's one example of the knock on effects of the County Council's actions.
There are bad teachers, so there needs to be some checking, but not to the extent that it is at the moment. We also need a full and balanced economy - and support from the politicians, not blame.

Next week, the debate will be about Power. Chris Davies gave his apologies, as he will be at another hustings meeting elsewhere in the constituency, but someone from the Conservatives will attend at the Globe. I think one or two of the other candidates have other meetings to attend next week as well.

NEWSFLASH for Dog Owners

Father Richard announced in church this morning that five dogs have died around Hay because someone has put poison down along the Riverbank walk.

This is not related to the spraying of dog poo fluorescent pink. The Community Woodland Trust have been doing this to highlight the dog poo problem in an attempt to make dog owners more responsible about picking up after their dogs, and the paint is bio-degradable and harmless.