Here’s another round up of some of the major talking points in Bridgend, including reports from the monthly Bridgend Council (BCBC) cabinet and full council meetings, as well as a rare discussion in the National Assembly.
Maesteg Indoor Market To Close?
As you probably all know, the big story recently is a joint proposal by BCBC and Awen Cultural Trust (who are responsible for managing cultural services in Bridgend county) to develop a “cultural hub” at Maesteg Town Hall (pdf). The plans include:
- Improved performance facilities.
- Community space and youth facilities.
- Centralisation Maesteg’s two existing libraries at the Town Hall (including a children’s library).
The cabinet voted to back the plans earlier this week as they see it as the only way to save the Town Hall – built in 1881 – which is in a state of disrepair.Maesteg Indoor Market is located on the ground floor of the building and would make way for the new library. The works are expected to cost in the region of £4-5million and expected to take 18 months.
The report clearly says BCBC will discuss relocation with stallholders – the problem being “where to?” The outdoor market stalls are impressive but they’re few in number with little room for expansion and I can’t think of any other building with the required space in the same prime location.
So it’s inevitable that unless a solution can be found, most of the indoor market stalls will be forcibly closed. Estimates in this week’s Glamorgan Gazette that 12 stalls and as many as 20 jobs would be lost as a result, though they would be eligible for compensation from the council (and might even have cause for a legal challenge).
There are two major problems that need to be overcome. Firstly, any application for EU funding (which normally part-funds projects like this) will need to be made quickly in order to happen before Brexit – perhaps even as soon as next year; there’s no guarantee a strong business case can be drafted in such a short time.
Secondly, market stallholders are reportedly canvassing Maesteg councillors so enough of them will “call in”the proposals in order for them to examined in more detail by a council committee.
As for the person responsible for seeing this through….
Bridgend Council Appoints New Leader
- See also : The Race to Replace Mel Nott
You can watch the webcast of yesterday’s full council meeting here, and the relevant part starts at about 55 minutes in (Item 6 on the agenda).Delivering his final report as leader (Item 5), Cllr. Mel Nott (Lab, Sarn) said he achieved all he can whilst approaching 10 years past the official retirement age. He was touched by messages of support from colleagues, other council leaders and partner organisations. He believes Bridgend was well-prepared for austerity, and as a result has managed to secure investment – particularly in leisure services – while other councils are closing or cutting back theirs.
The council will still have to face many difficult decisions with a greater emphasis on collaboration with other authorities, but he was particularly proud of school modernisation, which he believes is giving local children the “best possible environment” for a successful life.
Mel had every confidence the council will meet future challenges and thanked cabinet members for their support and loyalty, saying it was a “tremendous experience” to be leader and fighting for the interests of the area he’s lived in his whole life.
As I (and as I imagine most people) expected, Cllr. Huw David (Lab, Cefn Cribwr) was the sole nomination and was elected unanimously – that’s two things I’ve predicted correctly in a week! – supposedly becoming the youngest council leader in Wales in the process. Huw was “humbled”, saying there was no greater privilege or responsibility in local democracy than leading your own council. He made one immediate pledge – to give “as much as he can” to the role and to work with each member of the authority to continue improvements.
BCBC Annual Report 2015-16
Another item for discussion at both cabinet and full council was the latest BCBC annual report (pdf). It outlines what steps the council have made towards meeting their six key priorities in the economy, education, social justice/wellbeing and the budget.
BCBC have reportedly met 76% of its own commitments for 2015-16, but missed 24%.
Nationally, BCBC saw an improvement in 70% of local government progress indicators, which makes Bridgend the second most-improved local authority in Wales and joint fifth best.
Coity Woodchip Fire Raised in Senedd
In September there was a fire at South Wales Wood Recycling based near Heol-y-Cyw. It burned for the best part of a week and you could see it from any high point in the area. It’s bad enough that it caused problems in Heol-y-Cyw itself, but if the wind were blowing in a different direction the smoke could’ve easily caused problems on the M4.“Wood catches fire” isn’t the most shocking revelation there’s ever been, but with a number of these facilities in the Bridgend area it poses serious questions on safety. There was another slow-burning fire in illegally-dumped wood at the proposed Llynfi biomass plant site near Coytrahen back in March that lasted for two weeks, while the company also suffered a fire at its site in Newport last December.
The company recently submitted a planning application for a new facility near South Cornelly, which was strongly opposed by local residents for safety and pollution reasons. Since the fire, that application has been withdrawn and AFAIK South Wales Police are investigating whether the fire was started deliberately – I don’t know if that’s an insinuation that the two issues are connected, or whether they’re investigating the company.
I don’t normally pay much attention to Short Debates in the Senedd, but Huw Irranca-Davies AM (Lab, Ogmore) used his yesterday to raise the issue of wood chip storage safety with Natural Resources Secretary, Lesley Griffiths (Lab, Wrexham). There were also contributions from Suzy Davies AM (Con, South Wales West) and Caroline Jones AM (UKIP, South Wales West).
If you don’t want to watch the video the key points raised, in shorthand, were:
- Concerns that some material being stored isn’t clean burning wood for biomass but low grade wood, particularly that illegally stored at the Llynfi site.
- Natural Resources Wales (NRW) need to better communicate with residents affected by fires to explain what’s happening and provide assurances.
- A recent PACT meeting in Heol-y-Cyw was standing room only; wood stockpiles routinely breached planning consents and was a “disaster waiting to happen”. Wood dust also has the potential to be carcinogenic/cancer causing.
- “Irresponsible and cavalier”South Wales Wood Recycling hire top notch legal advisers to run rings around NRW and local authorities by slowing down regulatory procedures through appeals processes. Profits have skyrocketed to over £1million with further plans to expand.
- The Assembly should give more powers to regulatory bodies in waste management. Suggestions include setting up a task and finish group to review regulatory and licensing frameworks and extend penalties for breaching environmental and planning permits to “cause extreme financial and personal embarrassment” – including named sanctions, stop orders and bans for directors.
- When past breaches of regulations fall short of criminal activity, this should taken into account by planning officers when considering planning applications.
- It was unclear what sort of compensation people who can prove they’ve had their health affected by a fire will be eligible for – whether as a class action or as an individual.
Responding to the debate, the Secretary said more waste was being separately collected and sorted before treatment and this was a key part of waste management infrastructure. When done properly it has a positive environmental impact, but new operators need to better understand the regulatory demands and she admitted a small part of the industry operates illegally. She commended the people of Heol-y-Cyw for how they’ve dealt with the fire.Waste operators need an NRW permit, and the permit includes fire precautions and stockpile heights. NRW can also issue stop orders and are working with fire services to identify at risk sites, as well as working with Bridgend Council to monitor the illegal storage of wood chip at the Llynfi power station. NRW are investigating and taking legal action against South Wales Wood Recycling.
As for future measures, the Secretary intends to: give NRW the power to physically stop waste being taken into sites that have breached conditions; introduce a “fit and proper persons test” for waste facility managers; expand civil sanctions like variable fines alongside criminal penalties (which are non-devolved); when landfill tax is devolved, those responsible for illegal deposits will have to pay landfill tax.