Monday, 31 October 2011


News that MPs are going to look at the services and support provided for our veterans and service personnel returning from active service duty is to be welcomed. Around 250,000 armed forces veterans live in Wales and their treatment will be looked at by the Commons' Welsh Affairs Committee. The inquiry will look at the support offered to former personnel and will ask whether government departments co-ordinate their activities. Medical and mental-health services will be considered by the MP’s. Evidence will be taken on the support services received by veterans and their families, including provision to help former military personnel resettle after completion of their service. Military housing for service personnel and their families still leaves a great deal to be desired. Our current and former service personnel and their families deserve better than they have got from previous Government. Will things get better? The precedents are not good, its worth remembering that sadly the bottom line is that live heroes, as ironically a predecessor Conservative - Liberal Coalition Government found out cost far more than dead ones.

Sunday, 30 October 2011


While the Welsh Government's decision to allow ordinary people a say on whether or not the Abergavenny Improvement Acts, which ensure the presence of a livestock market in Abergavenny, is welcome, this is is very close to a case of being too little too late and its not good enough. Before Monmouthshire County Council (MCC) can, acting as judge, jury, executioners and beneficiary, financially benefit from the closure of Abergavenny Livestock market the three Abergavenny Improvement Acts must be repealed.

Originally MCC's consultation process was limited to market users and the town council. Now local people can put forward their views, but, only in relation the repeal of the acts, they cannot make any reference of the proposed plans for the site or plans to move the livestock market from Abergavenny to a new site in Raglan.

The Welsh Government (under Section 77 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990) has the power to call in any applications for planning permission for their own determination, something that clearly should have been done in this specific case - so far they have chosen not to do this. They have looked the other way, using the old excuse that development proposals are best dealt with by planning authorities that know their area, its needs and sensitivities. In this case it is pretty clear that MCC's involvement in the proposed redevelopment of Abergavenny and its cattle market is more than a tad iffy.

The Welsh Government has ignored the real and pressing need to call in this proposed development. Even when MCC changed the composition of the Planning Committee because it returned the wrong verdict (against rather than in favour of the development), there was barely a murmur from Cardiff. This planning application should have been called in as it has raised issues of more than local importance, issues which are in conflict with national planning policies; issues which could have wide effects beyond their immediate locality; and give rise to substantial controversy beyond the immediate locality.

The application to redevelop the livestock market in Abergavenny will affect sites of scientific, nature conservation and / or historic interest as well as areas of landscape importance in the town. It is nonsense that the Welsh Government has acted to open consultation on the real of the Abergavenny Improvement Acts, yet refuses to take evidence in relation the planning application, its impact and its affects on the town, local farmers and the surrounding area. Quite honestly this is stuff and nonsense if not a duplicitous act on the part of the Welsh Government.

Friday, 28 October 2011


Once again there have been more calls for action in relation to finishing the Ebbw Vale line link into Newport. Fresh Welsh Government transport statistics have shown that some 122,000 journeys took place from the Valleys county to Cardiff (in 2009/2010) in comparison to 2,900 to Newport stations which has no direct link from the Ebbw Vale line.

The South Wales Argus, local people and politicians of every political hue have all been calling for a passenger rail link between Newport and Ebbw Vale for the last ten years. The new Labour run Welsh Government is currently prioritising its National Transport Plan, which apparently includes consideration of the rail link, and a rescheduled delivery plan is set to be published this Autumn.

It should be pretty obvious by now that the chance of finding a sentence containing the phrase ‘priority transport infrastructure project’ and the word ‘Wales’ within any Network Rail and the Department of Transport report is pretty minimal. Recent experience with the proposals to electrify the main line from London to Bristol suggests that they clearly have no concept of Wales or Welsh priorities beyond when they dovetail onto the end of larger infrastructure projects or when our country geographically gets in the way.

Aside from the potential economic benefits for the city centre, and the convenience of a quicker link to the main line services from Newport station there is another potential benefit. If the Newport link is open then the Gwent Valleys (and Newport) could benefit from an expanded service that runs from Ebbw Vale to Abergavenny and back again through the day. A better service, means more passengers and will help to reduce congestion on our roads. Further delay and meaningless waffle from the Welsh Government on this important rail connection is not good enough! Get it done!

Thursday, 27 October 2011


News that Scotland with full control of it's territorial waters would be the world's sixth richest country with it's geographical share of North Sea oil may make more than a few people both inside and outside of Scotland and sit up and take note. The SNP's John Swinney, in his keynote address to his party's conference, makes the point that UK government has been reaping the benefits of the resource for too long and that the Scotland has been subsidising the rest of the UK.

Scotland contributes more to the UK in tax revenue than Scotland gets back in the UK public spending. Mr Swinney told the SNP conference that: "The figures show that with a geographical share of our offshore resources, Scotland would be the sixth-wealthiest country in the world - 10 places ahead of the UK at 16th." The SNP rightly believe that independence would give the Scottish Parliament the "normal powers enjoyed by nations across the world to deliver jobs and growth".

Makes you think doesn't it? It might make even some of the almost perpetually winging Unionists sit up and take note as well. Wales is not Scotland and Scotland is not Wales there are similarities and there are differences and not everything that would work in Scotland would work in Wales and vice verse. Differences and similarities aside there does need to be a non hysterical rational debate about the state of the union and Wales's place within it, especially if the Scottish people decide to re-establish an independent Scotland.

I have noticed over the years that there is a tendency for Unionists to A) get hysterical if anyone questions the union and B) a tendency to talk about the about the Union as if it has been set in stone for ever, it's not, it has never been. The union has been a movable feast since it's inception in 1801 with the abolition of Ireland's parliament, the Scottish parliament was abolished in 1701. Ireland's national struggle or Irish Home rule agitation (depending on your point of view) acted almost as smoke screen to cover the development of administrative devolution developed in Scotland and Wales from the 1880's onwards.

The Scottish Office was created in 1885 along with the post of Secretary for Scotland (there had previously been a post of Secretary of State for Scotland from 1707 until 1745). From 1892 onwards the Secretary for Scotland sat in cabinet, but was not officially a full member of the cabinet of the United Kingdom. The Secretary for Scotland post was upgraded to full Secretary of State rank as Secretary of State for Scotland in 1926.

We have come along way since the Wales and Berwick Act (1746) was passed stating that that in all future laws, 'England' would by default include Wales and Berwick-upon-Tweed (This act was finally repealed in 1967). Even during what might be called by some the high-tide of the Union there were practical gestures towards Wales.

In 1881 the Welsh Sunday Closing Act was passed, the first specific legislation exclusively concerned with Wales. A Central Welsh Board was established in 1896 for inspection of grammar schools this was established under the Welsh Intermediate Education Act 1889, a separate Welsh Department of the Board of Education was created in 1907. An Agricultural Council for Wales was established in 1912, and the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries ran its own Welsh Office from 1919.

A post of Minister of Welsh Affairs was first established in 1951, held initially by the UK Home Secretary. Other low level changes followed, including the establishment of a Digest of Welsh Statistics in 1954, and Cardiff's designation as Wales’s capital city in 1955 (oddly enough these later changes took place under the auspices of a Conservative Government. The Labour government in Westminster established the Welsh Office (in 1964) with a Secretary of State for Wales, and added to its powers including health (1968), agriculture (1969) and education (1970).

The Union, thus rather than being set in stone has been constantly tinkered with for most of its life. A major change came when most of Ireland gained it's independence in 1921/1922. The six counties (in the north east) remained in the Union gaining the Stormont parliament (from 1922) which lasted until the early 1970's when it was overwhelmed by the troubles and Westminster took over. Yet even the most die hard Unionist Conservative governments repeatedly attempted to establish devolved civil government in Ireland's trouble north east if only to curb the conflict.

The problem is unlike a significant portion of the Unionists we are no longer in the latter part of the nineteenth century, we have gone well beyond tinkering with the Union to try to make it work. Now as Scotland makes measurable progress towards independence, the remaining UK nations need to seriously consider their own constitutional futures within or without what may end up as constitutional remnant.

What's been almost entirely conspicuous by its absence is any form of serious debate on the future constitutional relationship of the countries of these islands, especially if Scotland regains it's independence. Political and economic unions are not set in stone and neither are multi-national states, they come and go, existing as long as the will, the political ideal, the military force or the creation myth remains powerful.

The economic and political factors that lead to the creation of the original union no longer apply were are living in an entirely different world. The perceived end of the union does not mean that the social union ends up being resolved - why would it? My relatives and friends scattered across England will still remains my relatives and my friends. Nor that businesses relationships would change, economic relationships may change, they will adapt and new fairer ones will be forged.

Lets have an end to the unionist hysteria and have some rational discussion. Here is Wales, with a very few exceptions, that's all we have had from the three main Unionist parties. If one thing is probably certain in these uncertain times it's that here in Wales we can certainly no longer rely on a self-interested, self-serving, unambitious, reactionary Labour movement to make any case for our nation, let alone stand up for Wales.

Tuesday, 25 October 2011


With the planet's population due to top seven billion very soon worrying about where the next meal is going to come from is going to be a real issue for a significant proportion of us. As our planet's population continues to increase (it's estimated to reach around 9.2 billion people by 2050) there will be a corresponding rise of around 70% in demand for food (UN).Around half of the planet's undernourished citizens are dependent on small farms for their food. Some 80% of food consumed in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa is produced by small farms. Who produces it? who owns the land? and to whom do they sell it to? and at what price? may also become pretty important questions.

Monday, 24 October 2011


Some good news as plans for a £400m energy-from-waste incinerator on the outskirts of Merthyr Tydfil have been pulled out in the face of serious public opposition, as the campaign against the incinerator has pulled in people from all backgrounds and all communities in Merthyr and Rhymney. Covanta's Brig Y Cwm application was among four proposals initially short-listed by Prosiect Gwyrdd, a consortium of five councils. Covanta has a pretty grim history of breaking environmental regulations in the United States. Five south Wales local authorities are looking for a method of disposing of so-called "residual" or non-recyclable waste. Initially there were four companies chasing the lucrative 25 year contract, but one, Waste Recycling Ltd, pulled out in April 2011 and now Covanta have pulled out of Merthyr. At the moment there are only two proposals remaining, Veolia ES Aurora Ltd which plans an Energy Recovery Facility (ERF) at Bowlease Common, south of the Corus Llanwern Steelworks in Newport. And Viridor Waste Management Ltd who have proposed a merchant Energy from Waste (EfW) with combined heat and power facility at Trident Park, Cardiff.

Sunday, 23 October 2011


The mud of Passchendaele
An appeal is being launched to commemorate the hundreds of soldiers from Wales who were killed in the Battle of Passchendaele in Ypres, Belgium. The Passchendaele Society in Belgium wants to raise 60,000 euros (£52,000) for a Welsh memorial. Society organisers hope it will become a memorial to all Welsh soldiers who died in the Great War. The appeal is being launched at an event close to where many of the Welsh soldiers came to grief in Langemark, near Ypres. The grim battle of attrition lasted from the 31st July to the 6th November 1917. it was fought in the heaviest rain for 30 years which made the mud so deep that men and horses drowned. The battle ground to a halt when British and Canadian forces captured Passchendaele, this village was barely five miles beyond the starting point of the offensive. There were approximately 325,000 Allied casualties and some 260,000 German casualties by the battles end, amongst the many Welsh casualties was the poet Hedd Wyn.

Saturday, 22 October 2011


News that David Cameron has directly intervened in an independent inquiry into political funding to demand a more favourable outcome for the Conservatives, should not really come as much of a surprise to most independently minded observers. Nor should the fact that the Conservatives apparently favour a severe clampdown on Labour's trade union donations come as much as a surprise.

The Independent (Saturday 22nd October 2001) reveals that the Committee on Standards in Public Life will propose a £10,000 cap on donations to parties by individuals and organisations in a sensible effort to "take the big money out of politics". With this avenue of potential funding cut off, if the proposals go through, political parties would receive a multimillion-pound increase in state funding.

The proposals would also bring in much stricter controls over the affiliation fees paid by the unions to Labour (as a Labour loathing Unison member I would more than warmly welcome this) but they would apparently not be subject to the cap. The Independent says that Cameron has apparently made a last-minute appeal to the committee to revise its draft proposals.

Somewhat naturally the Conservatives, who tend to have more flush individual donors, who no doubt pay for what they get, than other parties, are not surprisingly in favour a £50,000 pound cap. One wonders whether the Conservative mask has finally slipped so that their true colours are revealed or whether or not Cameron is merely reverting to type.

Friday, 21 October 2011


The decision to say no the application for drilling for shale gas at a site in Llandow in the Vale of Glamorgan yesterday is to be welcomed. There is a definite need for a pause for thought and a real need for the Welsh government to develop coherent policy in relation to test drilling for shale gas in Wales.

Environmentally there are still too many unanswered questions in relation to the environmental price that can be paid extraction of shale gas. In USA, the Shale Gas extraction industry made headway because it was exempted from groundwater protection laws, with some pretty dire consequences for some US communities.

US land laws also helped as it grants landowners under whose land the gas is extracted a share of the proceeds, encouraging many of them to ignore wider environmental concerns. this, however, is not the USA, in the UK people don't have that option as we have the Crown Estates.

Interestingly enough, there are potentially some parallels with the headlong and equally ill-thought out dash for gas in the 1980's (for Con Dems read Conservatives) with the possibility of a potential if short term revenue stream that may well be something that's excites the Conservatives. Ironically money aside what is actually driving this potentially seriously environmentally damaging and polluting shale gas extraction industry are belated thoughts of energy security.

Serious questions need to be asked as to who exactly reaps the financial benefits and who pays the price for the rapid expansion of the home grown energy sector? Whether it's relatively remote rural mountain top wind farms, open cast coal mines, large cross country electricity pylons close to some of our communities (rural or urban) or off-shore wind farms established in our coastal waters.

The Welsh government can rightly be criticised for passing the buck by insisting that county councillors had enough power, knowledge and control to make their own decision, whether that be test-drilling or developing policy for future fracking for shale gas. Simply calling for the Westminster government to work to develop policy on fracking with the devolved governments across the UK is not good enough, the Labour Government in Cardiff is not standing up for Wales, it is sleepwalking for Wales.

Thursday, 20 October 2011


He won't be by his friends
The news that the Libyan ex-leader Col Muammar Gaddafi has been killed after fleeing an assault on his home town of Sirte will I suspect lead to the shedding of few tears for his passing. He may be missed by members of his family and his friends but by few other people. There will be more tears from the relatives of his victims and their surviving family members. Gaddafi may not have dodged the NATO bullets but he has successfully avoided a day in court at the Hague on War Crimes charges. Hopefully the National Transition Council will once its fully in-charge will publish any recovered paperwork relating to the supply or arms to the previous regime and hopefully have a full and public investigation into just who supplied the Libyan dictator with his weapons over the long and brutal years of his rule.

Wednesday, 19 October 2011


BBC Newsnight'S Sue Lloyd-Roberts was smuggled into Homs, which is the scene of some of Syria's strongest anti-government protests and most violent army crackdowns, to see what life is like for people there.

The Syrian city of Homs was one of the first cities to join the Syrian anti-government uprising when it began back in March. Thousands of city residents gathered in the main square to call for the lifting of the government's emergency laws and a genuine democracy.

Since that time the city has been effectively besieged by President Bashar al-Assad's armed forces and has been the scene of almost daily attacks. The unofficial title of the "Capital of the Syrian Revolution" has been earned at a heavy price without almost half of the killings of civilians since the uprising began, estimated to be at least 3,000, having taken place there.

Tuesday, 18 October 2011


Yesterday David (“Call me Prime Minister”) Cameron called for a "trusted, simple and transparent" market – simples everything is fine now. Now quite – anybody who thought for a moment that at the end of the energy summit that their energy bill was going to drop, seriously needs to have their head read. That's not what this was about this was literally David Cameron's Tony Blair moment – the energy summit was about looking good, sounding good, sounding concerned and saying the right things without actually doing anything.

Chris Huhne (the energy secretary) blamed the consumers (us) by saying that at the end of the day it's up to us (as consumers) to shop around and we should not expect the government to somehow resolve the issue of high energy prices. The caring Conservative (and that is definitely an oxymoron) went on to say that the energy companies are not charities ("They're not the Salvation Army”) they are private companies and that there is only so much that a government can do.

What was unsaid was that there is only so much a government can do short of any form of regulation. Part of the problem is that the privatised energy market is an almost sacred ideological inheritance from the Thatcher years. Expecting a Conservative Government (which despite Lib Dem bleating is what we effectively have) to tamper with the ‘free energy market’ would be a little like expecting Labour to remove clause 4 or curb the power and influence of the Trade Unions.

So after that stern talking too from David Cameron the Energy Cartel members are effectively free from pressure to cut domestic prices despite previous Ofgen (the energy regulator) reports that hinted at profiteering. Despite the energy summit and previous calls for firms to cut their gas prices, little will happen partially because Ofgen is toothless and partially because the UK Government has no appetite for regulating the allegedly ‘free’ energy market, even when it no longer works.

While, wholesale energy costs fell in 2009 – 2010; there was no corresponding fall in the energy costs for hard pressed energy consumers. We can no longer afford the luxury of an effectively unregulated energy market or its consequences. Ofgen has failed, it has failed to protect consumers, failed to regulate the energy companies or the so called ‘free’ energy market.

Plaid has rightly repeated calls for a windfall tax on energy companies profits after September's inflation figures were published, and show a 13% increase in gas bills and 7.5% in electricity. The money raised from a windfall tax could be returned to users to cap costs and introduce better insulation and other elements which will not just be cheaper, but also more environmentally friendly.

In October 2009 the then Tory Energy Spokesman, Greg Clark (currently a Minister of State in the Department for Communities and Local Government) said that the "cartel" of the big 6 energy firms would be referred to the Competition Commission by an incoming Conservative Government. The (then) Tory Energy Spokesperson also condemned the unacceptable lag between the cost of wholesale gas prices and household energy bills - noting that customers were on average being charged some £74 pound too much for their energy per year.

Strangely enough that pre-election pledge for an independent inquiry into the £25 billion-a-year energy industry which has been subject to lengthy and repeated criticisms surrounding accusations of profiteering on electricity and gas, was quietly kicked in to the long grass by the Com Dem Coalition Government. Heaven forbid that we let simple ideological principle get in the way of profit.

Few people this winter will have as snug a relationship with the gas companies as that exists between the political parties (within the Westminster village) and the energy supply companies. Before the last Westminster general election, the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats made repeated criticisms (and much political capital) from New Labour for its failure to tackle prices charged by the Big Six suppliers. Both the opposition parties publicly and repeatedly demanded an inquiry by the Competition Commission.

Any faint hope that the nefarious activities of the energy supply cartel might have prompted the reform of the industry did not happen. All the talk of encouraging new entrants to break the hold of the cartel which controls 99 per cent of the market and any thoughts of imposing price caps or windfall taxes to curb excessive profiteering have come to naught Only four months into the new Coalition Government, it was revealed that there was to be no inquiry and the Department of Energy and Climate Change quietly confirmed (17th August 2010) that it had no plans to refer the industry to the Competition Commission.

Perhaps there ought to be an inquiry into the dubious (and financial rewarding (in cash and kind) relationship between our political parties and the representatives of the energy supply companies who are pretty keen to shower enough goodies around during Party conference season (and beyond) – perhaps not? I mean it might upset the dinner guests...

Monday, 17 October 2011


I have some recollection that when it was suggested that electricity pylons be taken down and electricity cables be put underground in the Snowdonia national park much was made of the cost and the difficulty. Apparently things are different in Scotland where work to remove electricity pylons and to bury the cables in the Cairngorm National Park has been announced.

The pylons are to go as part of an upgrade to Beauly to Denny electricity line by Scottish and Southern Energy (SSE). Around 33 miles (53 km) of overhead transmission line will come down between Boat of Garten and Cairnmore. Locally some communities have been understandably up in arms about the impact on their local landscape, while others are to benefit from the removal of existing pylons. Amazing what you can achieve if you really want to...especially in Scotland.

Sunday, 16 October 2011


I am still in a profound state of shock after Saturday mornings referee related events 11,500 miles south of where I watched the game. Yesterday afternoon at the football, many in the crowd of Newport County supporters were in a similar state. James Corrigan of the Independent on Sunday has I feel summed up what many people in Wales are feeling, I repost it in it's entirety:

Bitter doesn't even begin to describe the sheer scale of Welsh grievance

With all the abuse heading in his direction, I wouldn't be Alain Rolland for all the croissants in Ireland. However unfair, however unjust, the taunts concerning his French ancestry will carry on throughout my lifetime and, undoubtedly, that of my four-year-old son as well.

I can't explain what it was like to be Welsh on the morning of Saturday 15 October 2011. We don't need to revert to war, economics, death or life for any hyperbolic baloney. It was sport at its most elemental, which evoked a criss-cross of emotions that will forever pattern the nation's sporting heart.

Somewhere in a corner of the land of a white cloud which will never be any longer, or indeed any less white, Andy Haden knew that his sentence of recrimination was finally at an end. Haden, of course, was the All Black lock-forward who leapt out of that line-out at the Arms Park 33 years ago, causing another panicking referee to award a penalty to deny Wales victory. That glory would merely have been famous – this would have been immortal.

How do Wales react now? Some genuises, probably in Britain's very own media, will do the usual trick of employing the damnable powers of hindsight to point out that when it truly mattered Wales fell short of the miracle which dangled like the most joyous apple at Eden Park.

Let them talk about James Hook's missed penalties, Stephen Jones's hit post, the drop goal which was begged to make Jonny Wilkinson's seem like a backheel in the local park. Let them talk about the International Rugby Board's directive to the refs to show zero tolerance in regard of tackles deemed dangerous.

What a laugh that is. The IRB, the most toothless governing body in any big-time sport, coming over all big man and sticking up for their official. The IRB happen to reel off more ignored directives than the banking system. Yes, let them say what they want. And let the patronising of "a little country" go into its inevitable overdrive. In Wales we won't listen. We will carry this injustice like a badge of honour.

We happen to be good losers – we've been forced to be – and the two aspects about this loss which were good were the character and the grievance. However vehementlythe wannabe Vince Lombardis out there will insist it's only about the winning, that won't mean a hill of daffodils where I'm from. It hurt. It bloody hurt. The tears of our toddlers simply summed up our gloom.

I made contact with Sam Warburton's twin brother, Ben, as the desperation submerged. "Gutted, mate," was his response. There was nothing more to be said. No, nobody should escape the merciless reach of the rulebook just because of their reputation. Sam Warbuton's tackle was an instant,the sort of instant which only sport can produce, and the referee had to make a call. In one sense, I applaud Rolland for acting as he saw fit, for putting the regulations he is conditioned to regard as gospel before the qualities of the individual. But you can't escape the sporting truth: this was wrong on every count. In the head, in the heart, in the context. Everything.

So where do Wales go from here? To a third- and fourth-place play-off. And I wouldn't be surprised if we filled the Millennium Stadium again. But then, when that consoling hero-worship subsides, Warren Gatland has to sit down and decide on his future. The All Blacks will come knocking, be sure of it, and the Wales head coach will face a choice from the sickest imagination of Beelzebub. The call of the homeland versus the camaraderie of his creation. My guess, but I would say this, is the latter.

As the gnarled Kiwi tends to, he applied the centre of the hammer to the sweet spot of the nail with his after-match assessment. This cannot be just another inspired Welsh rising, not another size-defying Grand Slam, not another pointless claim to the myth of the Seventies. There were eight players in that starting XV who are 23 or younger. That isn't potential, that's a promise. Well, it will be if the Welsh Rugby Union listen to everything Gatland says when he lays out his demands. He has shown what he can do when he is allowed an extended period with the boys, and those boys have shown what they can do when they are allowed the required time to take on board the man's vision.

No doubt the Welsh regions will benefit from this glorious exposure of pure talent, but at the same time they must realise what it will require to bring the dream to fruition. It needs Gatland to call the shots of the entire domestic game. There is way, way too much at stake to let these past six weeks become one more false dawn.

We in Wales are experts at turning the negative into the positive and toasting the brave vanquished. This has to be more than that. A building block, a stepping stone. And excuse us while we use Rolland's head as leverage. Bitter? You bet. In fact, that doesn't even begin to approximate to the scale of our gripe. Maybe "dwyn" does. Robbed, as we say in Wales.

James Corrigan, Independent on Sunday: The Last Word: Sunday, 16 October 2011

Thursday, 13 October 2011


Conservative dominated Monmouthshire County Council (MCC) desire to dispose of the cattle market site (and the Cattle Market) in Abergavenny to temporarily boost the local authorities coffers is well known and well documented. Now MCC to fulfil it's development plans has to persuade the National Assembly to repeal the original parliamentary legislation (dating for the 19th century) which gives Abergavenny the legal right to hold a market within the town - as part of one of three Abergavenny Improvement Acts.

MCC has long struggled to balance the books for many years, suffering from a poor financial settlement, which has driven the Authority to dispose of its assets for relative short term financial gain. The harsh reality is that MCC, along with many local authorities across Wales, is far too small to be viable in terms of finances, delivery of services and economies of scale. What has effectively happened is that local residents in Monmouthshire (and elsewhere) have ended up paying the price for the demise of Gwent.

Most people can see, with the exception of MCC and its planners; that the public, given a choice, are more than happy to buy local produce and to support local retailers. Most people don't want to see a local high street entirely dominated by national chains. A successful dynamic and diverse local economy has a place for the larger retailer and the supermarket chain, but, not at the expense of everything else and particularly when it will lead to the destruction of our small town high streets.

Over a number of years there have been various ongoing campaigns to retain the livestock market (n Abergavenny and to preserve the unique character of Abergavenny as a traditional market town shows. There have been detailed surveys (of residents, visitors and local small farmers have been undertaken), petitions raised and research commissioned and conducted over the years - all showing that both local residents, visitors and many local farmers wish to retain an active Cattle Market in Abergavenny.

Now MCC should have made the most of these real opportunities to get things right when it came to planning the long term economic future of Abergavenny - they did not. They repeatedly failed to grasp opportunities to begin the whole sorry process afresh, working hand in hand with concerned local residents, farmers and small businesses to ensure that Abergavenny retains its Cattle Market and it's fundamentally unique character as a market town - yet for reasons of short term financial gain they chose not too.

Across Monmouthshire (and elsewhere in England and Wales) we have to often in the past seen ill-thought out unsympathetic redevelopments that have had a detrimental effect on the local economies in both Chepstow and Monmouth and elsewhere. The retention of the cattle market in Abergavenny presents a real opportunity to do something fundamentally different, something that should be able to address both environmental and economic concerns and contribute to the retention of the unique character of the market town that is Abergavenny.

Oddly enough the National Assembly Ministers has to repeal the nineteenth century Abergavenny Improvement Acts before any development of the cattle market site can actually take place. Additionally under Section 77 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 the National Assembly has the power to call in any applications for planning permission for their own determination, something that clearly should have been done in this specific case - so far they have chosen not to do this.

While there is often a tendency to consider that development proposals are best dealt with by planning authorities that know their area, its needs and sensitivities, it is pretty obvious that with regard to MCC, and the redevelopment of Abergavenny and its cattle market this is clearly not the case, hence a real a pressing need to call in this proposed development. Even when MCC changed the composition of the Planning Committee because it returned the wrong verdict (against rather than in favour of the development), there was barely a peep from the National Assembly.

Even at the eleventh hour, planning applications can be called in when they raise issues of more than local importance, issues which are in conflict with national planning policies; could have wide effects beyond their immediate locality; may give rise to substantial controversy beyond the immediate locality and are likely significantly to affect sites of scientific, nature conservation or historic interest or areas of landscape importance which covers almost every single aspect of MCC's proposed redevelopment of Abergavenny cattle market.

Most people can see that Abergavenny needs to retain its unique, attractive features and not join the sterile trend towards large retail and supermarket-dominated clone town centre deserts – save for MCC and the National Assembly that is. In the not so recent past a whole range of suppliers, traders and small businesses who sell to consumers and too each other have along with whole communities suffered from this increasingly well recognised but misguided model of retailing and economic development. Elsewhere in Monmouthshire, the damage done to Monmouth and Chepstow by ill-thought out retail chain dominated economic redevelopment - no one in their right mind would want to damage Abergavenny's economy and unique character as a market town - save for MCC that is.

Wednesday, 12 October 2011


As multi nationals and the People's Republic of China (PRC) continue to chase to attempt to secure control of the worlds resources one thing they are both seeking to secure control of (for different reasons) is food and the land it grows upon. With purchasable governments in certain quarters of the world it's the small farmer who's felling the pinch, losing both his land, the ability to feed his family not to mention the ability to feed other people. Planet-wide it has been estimated that there are some 500 million small farms (less than two hectares in size) which feed around one third of the planets population.

Half of the planet's undernourished citizens are dependent on small farms for their food. Some 80% of food consumed in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa is produced by small farms. As our planet's population continues to increase (it's estimated to reach around 9.2 billion people by 2050) there will be a corresponding rise of around 70% in demand for food (UN). So with the PRC chasing food as well as minerals to feed it's population and it's economy and the multi nationals chasing a fast buck no doubt at the expense of local indigenous inhabitants who won't be able or willing to pay top dollar or euro for foodstuffs that are destined for distant foreign markets.

Local people will be driven into dire poverty, they lose their land in the process along with the ability to feed themselves and other peoples. Oxfam's recent  report 'Land and Power' makes interesting and alarming reading. One of the great ironies is that many of the developers are working with local governments who are being helped out by the world Bank and the International Monetary Fund - this surely is the kind of alleged 'free market' development much of Asia and sub-Saharan Africa can well do without.

Friday, 7 October 2011


With a cabinet reshuffle pending there may be some speculation as to whose going to get the push - Ken Clarke may have moved himself up the list with his spat with Teresa May, along with a few others including possibly the fantastic Dr Fox, who has previous and current form for dropping himself in it, previously he has fluffed up on his expenses and has been the recipient of some odd donations.

Thursday, 6 October 2011


The BBC liberates Kabul in 2001
The rout of the Taliban and their flight from Kabul (and most of Afghanistan) following NATO's invasion of Afghanistan (back in 2001) and the relative ease of victory was it turned out somewhat deceptive. If someone had told us ten years ago that some of our service personnel (including some of my relatives) would be effectively commuting to Afghanistan to fight the Taliban insurgency many people might well have doubted their sanity.

Yet NATO's war in Afghanistan War will be 10 years old this Friday (7th October), a pro-US government sits in Kabul, Osama Bin Laden is (admittedly somewhat belatedly) dead (and won't be missed by most)and NATO plans to leave in 2014. Job done? Not quite, the rules of the game and the objectives have changed. Despite the best efforts of the US and NATO the war shows no sign of drawing to a satisfactory conclusion however that will finally be measured.

No wonder that there will be no official commemoration or recognition of this anniversary in the USA. NATO casualties continue to mount and victory whatever that is may be as elusive as ever. The elusive nature of success in Afghanistan is partially down to the ongoing Taliban insurgency and its support and sanctuary from Pakistan, not to mention the Afghan government's spectacular corruption and incompetence.

CIA statistics record that Afghanistan has the world's second-highest infant mortality rate with 149.2 of every 1,000 children die before they reach their first birthday. At five years of age some 26 percent of them are dead. For those Afghan children who make it through childhood, six of every 10 will grow up stunted, ending up short in stature and mentally challenged as a result of malnutrition during the early years of life. Over 70 percent of Afghans are illiterate and life expectancy stands at 45 years of age (Angola's is worse).

Few impartial observers doubt that after NATO departs the Taliban and their militant allies will stream back into Afghanistan from their sanctuaries in Pakistan. By 2014 if Afghanistan's standing army is not ready and the Afghan government is not ready to support it then some thirteen years of war, thousands of lives, and billions of dollars will have been squandered for nothing and the country will fall will some pretty grim consequences, even by Afghan standards, especially for Afghan women.

Let's be honest, the US and NATO took their eye of the ball by invading Iraq, serious efforts to build up a serious Afghan army did not really begin until 2009. Before the Taliban insurgency began NATO's intention was to create a small Afghan force to deal with internal disorder of a domestic variety rather than a full scale insurgency. The new Afghan army would also provide the Afghan people with a visible sign of unity after several decades of conflict and civil war.

NATO training mission began in earnest around two years ago, at that point the Afghan army's desertion rate stood at around 85 percent. There have been some significant improvements from January to June (2011), NATO figures, show that around 24,000 soldiers, some 14 percent of the 170,000-man force, deserted.

Despite this relative good news ongoing problems with literacy and competence remain. Aside from fighting the insurgents, now NATO has got into the education process and operates numerous elementary schools. NATO estimates that Afghan security forces will reach around fifty percent overall literacy rates by 2012.

Another significant problem to be faced in 2014 is the Afghan government, which by most estimates is probably the most corrupt on earth. At present the levels of corruption show few signs of abating. Doctors working in government hospitals have been noted to leave wounded Afghan soldiers to expire in their hospital beds if bribes are not paid. For ordinary Afghans the medical infrastructure in the country could be best described as fragile.

Vast amounts of aid are being poured in Afghanistan, yet the Afghan government does not have a transparent, workable budget, at least not in the normal sense. For 2001 the Afghan budget is nominally $14.3 billion dollars over 90% of which comes from foreign aid, much of it purloined on the way to its intended purposes.

Once Afghanistan (just like Iraq) is out of sight and out of mind will the money keep flowing in. Or will the West make the same mistake is made in the late 1980s and drop any interest in the country? The last time that happened the Afghan people were abandoned following their effective defeat of a faltering Soviet Union, they paid the butchers bill in spades. After the civil war the Taliban swept into power...appearing reasonable in comparison with the warlords (who are NATO allies this time around) and we are all painfully aware of what followed.

Wednesday, 5 October 2011


News that the Port of Mostyn (on the Flintshire coast) has been chosen to be a base for supporting and maintaining a giant offshore wind, which will create 100 jobs, is good news for the north. The RWE npower deal which is worth £50 million pounds will run for the 25 year life of Gwynt y Môr off-shore wind farm. Once the offshore wind farm once fully operational in 2014 the wind farm is expected to generate electricity for about 400,000 homes and will consist of 160 wind turbines sited about 10 miles off the coast near Colwyn Bay and Llandudno.

In the south, Mabey Bridge's wind turbine tower manufacturing factory in Chepstow has been up and running since May 2011, as part of the company's £38 million investment in the renewable energy sector. The 25,000 square metre facility can make up to 300 wind turbine towers per year. The factory has provided a boost to the local economy, by creating 240 new skilled jobs.

What we need is real direction when it comes to the development of safe and secure energy resources, power generation can provide the potential for real sustainable long term job opportunities. We need to create a flexible decentralised power generation system which will create sustainable long-term jobs for local people, not damage the environment and contribute to providing our local communities with a long-term viable economic energy future, some of which can be community owned and community beneficial, will provide a real future dividend for our communities.

The telling question is will Labour in Wales step up to the plate and actually grasp the opportunity to drive and develop energy policy in Wales? Or not?

Tuesday, 4 October 2011


The Conservatives (sorry Con Dems) since coming to power have imposed a bank levy which will raise an estimated £2.5 billion pounds a year. Sounds good and reasonable, unless, you note that during the same period they have slashed corporation tax rates from 28% to 24% which means that any impact on the finance houses in the City will be relatively minimal.

As for the levy itself, which originally proposed that a levy of 0.07% on all of a banks liabilities, HM Treasury has watered it down, saying that the banks won't have to pay the tax on the first £20 billion pounds of their liabilities. The chancellor has also chosen not to take forward the recommendation of Sir David Walker that banks should be forced to disclose all pay packages above £1 million pounds.

Also there won't be any action to curb the bonus culture which is expected to see £7 billion pounds splashed out this year. Just for the record, back in 2010, the big 4 banks between them managed to pay some 200 of their staff an average of £1 million pounds last year, very nice if you can get it., even better if we are in tough economic times and all in it together so to speak.

Oddly enough it gets better or worse depending on where you stand, the Conservatives have also been accused of introducing laws to give a full tax exemption for British companies tax haven branches which allows them to benefit from an 8% tax rate for profits diverted to havens via internal financing.

A Daily Mirror investigation suggests that of the 498 Tory MPs and peers some 134 have been or are employed in the financial sector, this figure also includes 70 of the party’s 305 MPs. It has also been suggested that among the 193 Conservative peers, over a third work or have worked in finance or banking.

The Financial Times has noted that an investigation by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism which has revealed that financial services companies and individuals donated £11.4m to the Tory party in the first three quarters of 2010. The investigation noted that some 450 separate donations to Conservative Central Office were made by individuals, companies and limited liability partnerships and that 27%, or £3.3m, of the £12.18m donated to the party came from hedge funds, financiers and private equity firms.

Clearly the Conservatives have come a long way over the last few years since those heady days in opposition when they needed to look good, by way of comparison with the years of new Labour sleaze. So it should come as no surprise that Mr Osborne will soon fly off to do battle on behalf of the City banks in Europe to prevent a pan European levy on the banks, still with hired help it's may be appropriate to pay for what you get. I wonder what his hourly rate is?

Monday, 3 October 2011


The study commissioned by SEWTA (South East Wales Transport Alliance) amongst other things has recommended that extra trains should run (every two hours) on the line from Newport to Abergavenny, not to mention that Pontypool and New Inn station be developed (with park and ride facilities) accessed from the A4042. This along with the proposed (and much needed) new station at Caerleon and better car parking and bus links at Abergavenny and Cwmbran should be warmly welcomed.

The SEWTA Regional Transport Plan was approved by the Minister for Economy and Transport in January 2010 and following submission of a capital programme for 2010/11 implementation began in April 2010. SEWTA has produced proposals for the development of stations at Crumlin and Pye Corner stations (which would include bus stops and bike parking). The study of the Abergavenny line suggests that proposed improvements may result in an extra 168,000 new rail trips, something that will reduce car use, cut congestion and pollution.

The recent report builds on previous work, back in March 2010, SEWTA recommended on the line from Abergavenny via Newport to Cardiff, SEWTA has already proposed a new stations at St Mellons, and called for more frequent stopping services at Pontypool and New Inn. On the line from Chepstow via Newport to Cardiff, SEWTA has proposed new stations at Llanwern and Coedkernew, and an improved and more frequent services at Chepstow, Caldicot and Severn Tunnel Junction.

The SEWTA reports are well researched and well structured, and should have made a significant contribution to the debate, now is the time for action. Let's get it done...

Saturday, 1 October 2011


On a hot day (in Wales, even in early in October) when thirsty I simply turn the tap and get cool drinkable water to quench my thirst. It is very easy to forget that no everyone on this planet has that simple luxury. The fact that it's warm at the moment is down to weather rather than global warming. However, that said, it's worth noting that with global warming will come drought, which is the real silent killer.

The International Institute of Tropical Agricultural (in Nigeria) estimated in 2008 that by 2010 some 300 million people in sub-Saharan Africa (nearly a third of the region's population) would be suffering from malnutrition because of the on-going drought. By a strange quirk of fate most people don’t die of hunger during a drought, they die from dysentery and other disease which are spread by poor living conditions and a lack of sanitation. It has been estimated that around 1.6 million children per year die from a lack of access to clean drinking water and adequate sanitation.

The Hadley Centre for Climate Change has noted that there has been a 25% increase in worldwide drought through the 1990’s. It has been estimated that around 3% of the planets surface area is affected by extreme drought conditions. This figure could rise to around 30% if the climatic effects of global warming kick in big time and this excludes those areas affected by moderate drought conditions.

Now according to UNESCO, our planet has plenty of fresh water, the problem is a combination of uneven distribution, combined with mismanagement of limited resources and the fact that we harvest water on an industrial scale. UNESCO estimates that around 1.1 billion people do not have drinking water supplies and around 2.6 billion lack basic sanitation. Of this figure over half live in India and China not to mention the millions in sub-Saharan and tropical Africa.

By 2030, UNESCO has estimated that we will need approximately 55 percent more food, hence a need for more water for irrigation, something that already takes around 70 percent of all the water currently consumed by humanity. Factor in rapid urbanisation in developing and developed countries (UNESCO research projects that 2/3rds of the population of the planet will live in urban areas by 2030 – many in slums and squatter camps), and you begin to see the potential (if not the actual) scale of the problem and how access to fresh water and sanitation will be an ongoing problem.

When it comes to developing our nations water resources we need much more than short –term thinking and fast-buck solutions, we need sustainable long-term solutions. There is a distinct possibility that drought and major water shortages and other related crisis's may be a regular feature of life in the 21st century, pretending that it won't happen (here or elsewhere) is not an option. What's also not an option is for multi-national companies to move in and run (for a fat profit) state water resources in the developing world (or the developed world) for the benefit of distant shareholders (and the local elite be they elected or merely local tyrants) at the behest of the World Bank and the IMF.