Friday, 19 October 2007

Is education the victim of a wider planning problem?

The closure plans announced by Gwynedd CC of 29 rural schools comes as no surprise to those of us here in Powys facing up to similar issues. While we haven't seen a big bang approach I'm sure the numbers will come out in the same sort of ball park once all the decisions are made.

However before we all stand up and shoot the messenger its worth reflecting on the causes of the problem.

Back in the mid 90's Welsh Office planning guidance under Viceroy Redwood insisted on local councils creating hierarchies of settlements. Larger rural towns would see the bulk of the new housing with some of the smaller villages only expected to grow by a couple of properties every 5 years.

Now planning policy takes time to have an effect but we are beginning to see it now. While Crossgates, 8 miles east of Rhayader, has had about 40 new houses in the past 5 years, Llangurig the same distance the other way has only had half a dozen. Little surprise then that as Crossgates school has had a major building programme this summer Llangurig is now set to close.

But its not just schools that are under threat, the combination of limited housing stock, people retiring to the area and taking advantage of the relatively cheap housing prices, and lack of well paid jobs places the whole fabric of rural life on a knife edge.

So as we reflect on these closures it is worth all of us with planning responsibilities taking a close look at todays plans and ask ourselves what problems we are leaving for our successors in 15 years time

Thursday, 18 October 2007

Leadership elections : Wales

Well there you have it no elections for 2 years then three come along at once. Lembits decision on Saturday was a bolt from the blue, but Mikes plans to stay on were the worst kept secret in Aberystwyth.

So where does that leave us here in Wales. Certainly there are those who are disappointed that Mike didn't step down with immediate effect and I include myself in them, but in many ways he has done us a favour. His "outstanding tasks" and the challenges he has set his colleagues will give us a great opportunity to see the real calibre of the potential candidates.

But more importantly it means we have a conference in hand before the real elections in which to sort out all the constitutional niceties around a merged leadership and not least of those is ensuring that there is a constitutional mechanism to ensure that anyone who wishes to stand is not prevented from having an opportunity to do so by the need to have one other AM nominate them.