S4C ... just report the bad news

S4C's Annual Report was published today, and I read two stories about it on Golwg 360 and the BBC website:

     Nifer gwylwyr S4C yn syrthio – Golwg 360
     Her S4C i'r dyfodol yn ôl eu hadroddiad blynyddol – BBC

Both reports give as their only audience figure the fact that the average number of peak hour viewers fell from 30,000 in 2009 to 28,000 in 2010.

Expecting the worst, I armed myself with a stiff drink before reading the report itself. Click the image to open it:


But I was rather pleasantly surprised by what was in it. For example:

•  The weekly reach has risen by 11.8% from 551,000 to 616,000. The figures for Wales are up by 4.0% from 449,000 to 467,000. The figures for viewers outside Wales are up by 46.1% from 102,000 to 149,000

•  The number of on-demand sessions on Clic has risen by 44.2% from 1,113,843 (though this was reported as 1,089,114 in last year's report) to 1,606,162

•  The most popular programme in 2009 had 427,000 viewers, in 2010 the most popular programme had 459,000 viewers

Of course it's a shame that one group of figures has gone down. But why on earth is this the only figure to be reported, especially since the overall figures have in fact risen rather than gone down? Are we a nation of masochists?

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No marks for Welsh Tories on education

I suppose it's not uncommon in politics for someone to take an independent report and read into it what they'd like it to say rather than what it actually says.

Angela Burns, the new Shadow Minster for Education, provided a perfect example of it yesterday in the Tory press briefing which Betsan Powys reported here on her blog:

Their main line of attack was on education. Paul Davies laid out the argument that education in Wales "is not in great shape".

Angela Burns took that argument between her teeth and shook it. The Independent Task and Finish Group's report, "The Structure of Education Services in Wales" confirms what her party has been arguing for years - that if schools were funded directly, they'd be better and do better.

Leighton Andrews ought to accept it, she said, and though the report stops short of recommending 100% direct funding, the Tory group absolutely welcome the fact that the group "plainly support this principle".

It is certainly true that the Tories have been trying to whittle down or abolish much of the role of local education authorities and fund individual schools directly from central government. But trying to claim that the Task and Finish Group support the Tory position on this is very wide of the mark.

The Task and Finish Group was set up in October 2010, and reported in March 2011:

     The Structure of Education Services in Wales

One of the group's main recommendations is to cut out the duplication inherent in having 22 separate local education authorities. Some steps have already been made to do this by forming regional consortia. These are South East Wales (Blaenau Gwent, Cardiff, Monmouth, Newport, Torfaen and the Vale of Glamorgan), South Central Wales (Bridgend, Caerffili, Merthyr and RCT ... otherwise known as ESIS), South West and Mid Wales (Sir Gâr, Ceredigion, Neath Port Talbot, Pembrokeshire, Powys, and Swansea) and North Wales (Conwy, Denbigh, Gwynedd, Ffint, Wrecsam and Ynys Môn). However the North Wales Consortium really seems to have no organized structure at present and is probably best described as what's left over, although Gwynedd and Ynys Môn have been working together for some years as Cynnal. This is what the report says:

We recommend that the four current local authority regional consortia be formalised and underpinned by a local government political mandate. This must not be a new tier of government but rather in the context of individual local authority education departments acknowledging that it is essential to cooperate to ensure both economy of scale and the delivery of high quality services.

This very much fits in with the general agenda of co-operation between local authorities rather than a wholescale reform of local government.

In terms of finance, the report says:

We recommend that, in terms of finance, the guiding principle should be that funding goes directly to the level where delivery and performance lies, be that school, clusters of schools, FE colleges, regional consortia or nationally. For example, in respect of the School Effectiveness Framework composite grant, 85 per cent of the funding should go directly to school bank accounts.

So even if Angela Burns was thinking about the SEF composite grant, the recommendation made by the group is completely contrary to what she says. And it's easy to understand why: it's pointless passing on money directly to schools for those services that are better provided on a wider basis. The whole point of the Welsh SEF is that it's designed to work at three levels: the national, the local and that of the individual school or college.

We need to remember that the Tory fixation with "freeing" schools from local authority control in England is a way of bypassing local democratic accountability and making schools accountable only to central government instead. No doubt the Welsh Tories have the exactly the same centralizing agenda in mind for Wales.

Angela Burns may be new to this job, but that's hardly an excuse for spouting off before she's grasped the basics of her shadow portfolio. No doubt she was under the misapprehension that there was no difference between Tory policy and the T&F Group's recommendations when she claimed that Leighton Andrews "ought to accept it". The irony is that, as we can read here, he has already accepted pretty much everything the Group recommended.

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Nuclear subsidy: another £1.2bn

As if to underline the fact that no nuclear power station can or has ever been operated on a commercial basis without public subsidy, the current French government has just announced that it intends to give the industry a further €1bn.

     Wall Street Journal, 28 June 2011

Once you dig yourself into the hole of becoming dependent on nuclear power, you just have to keep on paying out for it. In contrast, the UK has a golden opportunity to get out of nuclear power when the current plants reach the end of their working life and generate that electricity from renewables instead.

Yet as the WSJ article suggests, Sarkozy's government is probably promoting the "there is no alternative" position now because the French public are getting increasing concerned about nuclear, and because there's a good chance that whoever emerges from the left as his opponent in the presidential elections next year will run on a platform of reducing or eventually phasing out nuclear power in France.

But the quote of the day must surely be in the Los Angeles Times' version of the story, where Sarkozy says,

"Our power stations are more expensive because they are safer."

No, Nicolas. Did you stop to think that your power stations might be more expensive because you keep pouring so much public money into them?

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Nuclear: what the UK government and media aren't telling us

I'm going to make no apologies for re-posting two items which Paul Flynn has just highlighted on his blog concerning the continuing nuclear disaster at Fukushima. It's important that these reports reach as wide an audience as possible ... both because the mainstream media in the UK are not going to report it, and because the Westminster government is doing everything it can to play down the dangers of nuclear power in its pig-headed determination to build new nuclear reactors here.

The first report is from Al Jazeera. I've just quoted some highlights, but it's worth reading the whole article by clicking the link at the bottom.

Scientific experts believe Japan's nuclear disaster to be far worse than governments are revealing to the public

"Fukushima is the biggest industrial catastrophe in the history of mankind," Arnold Gundersen, a former nuclear industry senior vice president, told Al Jazeera.

"Fukushima has three nuclear reactors exposed and four fuel cores exposed," he said, "You probably have the equivalent of 20 nuclear reactor cores because of the fuel cores, and they are all in desperate need of being cooled, and there is no means to cool them effectively."

TEPCO has been spraying water on several of the reactors and fuel cores, but this has led to even greater problems, such as radiation being emitted into the air in steam and evaporated sea water - as well as generating hundreds of thousands of tons of highly radioactive sea water that has to be disposed of.

"The problem is how to keep it cool," says Gundersen. "They are pouring in water and the question is what are they going to do with the waste that comes out of that system, because it is going to contain plutonium and uranium. Where do you put the water?"

Even though the plant is now shut down, fission products such as uranium continue to generate heat, and therefore require cooling.

"The fuels are now a molten blob at the bottom of the reactor," Gundersen added. "TEPCO announced they had a melt through. A melt down is when the fuel collapses to the bottom of the reactor, and a melt through means it has melted through some layers. That blob is incredibly radioactive, and now you have water on top of it. The water picks up enormous amounts of radiation, so you add more water and you are generating hundreds of thousands of tons of highly radioactive water."

"They are still emitting radioactive gases and an enormous amount of radioactive liquid," he said. "It will be at least a year before it stops boiling, and until it stops boiling, it's going to be cranking out radioactive steam and liquids."

"Units one through three have nuclear waste on the floor, the melted core, that has plutonium in it, and that has to be removed from the environment for hundreds of thousands of years," he said. "Somehow, robotically, they will have to go in there and manage to put it in a container and store it for infinity, and that technology doesn't exist. Nobody knows how to pick up the molten core from the floor, there is no solution available now for picking that up from the floor."

Al Jazeera, 16 June 2011

The second is an interview with American scientist Michio Kaku, from CNN. As well as this video, the transcript is here.


The lesson to be drawn from these two reports is that we were being drip fed false information at the time. The policy seems to have been to systematically understate how serious the disaster is (is, not was, for it will be many months before they can shut the reactors down, let alone start the clean up operation) in the hope that when the truth eventually does come out, Fukushima will have ceased to be headline news.

Several countries in Europe have heeded the lesson and have now decided to cancel their plans to build new nuclear power stations. The UK needs to do the same.

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Choosing Welsh-medium Education

There's a story on the BBC website today about why so many parents, particularly parents who do not themselves speak Welsh, are choosing Welsh-medium education for their children.

     Di-Gymraeg yn dewis addysg Gymraeg

Strangely—or perhaps not—this story is only in Welsh and doesn't appear on the English pages of the BBC website; even though it is primarily about, and therefore of interest to, parents who do not speak Welsh. As far as I can tell, the only English media to carry the story is the Caerffili Observer.

The full version is on the Bwrdd yr Iaith website, which I've copied:

Language no longer a barrier as more parents send children to Welsh language schools

Parents who cannot speak Welsh themselves are no longer viewing their inability to speak the language as a barrier to sending their children to Welsh medium schools, according to the findings of a new survey.

The survey which was carried out by the Welsh Language Board found that 65 per cent of parents who send their children to a Welsh medium school are not Welsh speakers themselves and do not view their inability to speak the language as a hindrance in their children's education.

The survey also found that over half of the parents questioned did not have Welsh speakers within their extended family, suggesting there is no longer a language barrier in educating a child outside of their first language. 97 per cent pinpointed the desire for their children to be able to speak the language as the main incentive for them choosing a Welsh medium education for their children.

The survey questioned parents with children in primary aged Welsh language education and was conducted in conjunction with the Welsh Language Board's 'Introducing Welsh' campaign. The 'Introducing Welsh' campaign reflects the advantages of introducing children to the Welsh language and promotes benefits such as an improvement in communication skills and greater job prospects for the future and can be viewed in Welsh or English.

Speaking in response to the survey findings Meri Huws, chair of the Welsh Language Board, said: "These findings demonstrate that parents should not be put off from sending their children to Welsh medium schools, even if they do not speak Welsh themselves. The benefits of learning Welsh from a young age are highly advantageous for both their education and in their future careers.

"It is fantastic to see the continuing trend of parents no longer perceiving their own inability to speak the language as an obstacle in their children's education.

"It is also great to see that parents are taking on board and championing the benefits of being bilingual as they make education choices for their children. Nearly half those surveyed believed that the single greatest benefit for their child speaking Welsh was the greater employment prospects that it would deliver, which in this highly competitive jobs market is a huge advantage."

The 'Introducing Welsh' campaign looks to encourage parents, in particular new parents, to give their child a head-start in life by introducing them to Welsh. It gives parents advice on the advantages of using Welsh in the home and raising children bilingually and encourages you to get friends, family and neighbours involved in your child's development.

Bwrdd yr Iaith, 21 June 2011

However the BBC Cymru version adds this personal touch to the end of their story:

Rhys Evans, a non Welsh speaking parent in Cardiff, "definitely wanted" his children to speak Welsh.

"How can an additional skill be a bad thing for them to have, especially when that skill is their own country's language?" he said.

His five year old daughter is already at school, and his three year old daughter will start Welsh medium education in September.

"I'm helping her with maths. Maths is tedious no matter what language it's in!"



Full details of the survey are available here. Several things should be noted:

The survey was commissioned by BYIG, but not carried out by them, and the press release was produced by the company that did the survey. There was no specific question about whether parents viewed their inability to speak Welsh as a hindrance in their children's education, although that could reasonably be concluded from their decision to send their children to WM schools. Obviously, the fact that parents can't themselves speak Welsh will affect their ability to help their children's education, and that particular question was asked in the context of then asking about the support available to parents. But that's not the same thing as saying it hinders their children's education.

It should also be noted that some parents gave more than one response to the questions about their main motivation for choosing WM education and what they thought was the single main benefit of being able to speak Welsh for their child.

The press release was withdrawn from the BYIG site, and that's probably a good thing. With some better editing it would have been fine, but that can't be done after it's gone out. However the faults in the press release don't invalidate the survey itself.

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It's not my flag, my flag's a Dragon

This is what Neville Southall—one of the great players of Wales, and Everton—has just said in relation to the plan by the British Olympic Association and English Football Association to force through a British football team without the agreement of the Welsh, Scottish or Northern Irish football associations:

The whole point of going to the Olympics is that special moment when your flag goes up. What flag are they going to put up if they win it? The Union Jack? It's not my flag. My flag's a Dragon.

As a Welshman I'd rather play for Wales if I was in the Olympics. I would want to go and represent my country.

BBC, 22 June 2011

Well said, Neville. The wider issue is not just about the web of deception and outright lies now being used by the BOA and FA to cobble together a couple of football teams, it's about all sportsmen and women in Wales being able to compete for their own country.

The real scandal is not just these football teams; it's that competitors in all the other events aren't allowed to compete as part of a Welsh Olympic team.

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TAN 8 and devolving energy to Wales

After I wrote my previous post regarding the extent of onshore wind developments in Wales, Carwyn Jones made a written statement on the subject. As always, it's best to read the statement itself rather than the way it was reported:

     Written Statement - Planning for Renewable Energy in Wales

The reaction to this statement from some quarters took me a little by surprise. For example Glyn Davies, one of the most prominent voices against wind power, was reported as saying it was "hugely welcome news - it's all I could have hoped for." One thing I have learned, for example in this post and the subsequent comments, is that Glyn doesn't really have much idea of what he's talking about when it comes to wind energy. It appears to me that he has jumped on a bandwagon, and having found himself to be unable to handle the ride, wants to get off quickly by claiming some sort of victory without actually getting what he'd wanted.

In the most basic terms, what Carwyn has done is state that the indicative capacity figures contained in TAN 8 should be considered as maximums. This is the relevant table:

Indicative Capacity targets for Strategic Search Areas

A  Clocaenog Forest ... 140 MW
B  Carno North ... 290 MW
C  Newtown South ... 70 MW
D  Nant-y-Moch ... 140 MW
E  Pontardawe ... 100 MW
F  Coed Morgannwg ... 290 MW
G  Brechfa Forest ... 90 MW

Total ... 1,120 MW

TAN 8, Table 1

To put things into perspective, the total onshore wind capacity in Wales is currently 376 MW. So TAN 8 still envisages us tripling the amount of onshore wind farm capacity in Wales from its present level.

Now I trust it is obvious from what I've written on the subject that I am in favour of wind power. I believe we should aim to produce the energy we need in Wales from renewable sources, and wind can and should play a major part in meeting this need. For me, the biggest problem with TAN 8 is that it got the balance between onshore and offshore wind wrong. The target it set was that there should be 1000 MW of additional wind generating capacity in Wales by 2010: 800 MW additional onshore and 200 MW additional offshore.

I don't want to be too critical of the decision, for it was based on decent research and evaluation that reflected the best understanding at the time. If anyone wants to read it all, it's here:

     Facilitating Planning for Renewable Energy in Wales: Meeting the Target
     ARUP Final Report of August 2004

However it has since become obvious that the economics of offshore wind power (not least through increasing the ROC tariff to 2 per MWh) mean that offshore wind is going to expand much more quickly than was anticipated only six or seven years ago. As the total amount wind energy we can put into the grid system while at the same time keeping it stable (given the way we currently operate it, and without developing more storage in the form of pumped hydro or hydrogen) is somewhere in the region of 30%, it does not make sense to put too much of this on land if there are already plans to build windfarms out at sea.

For Wales, these plans are well advanced. We have two operating offshore windfarms at North Hoyle (60 MW) and Rhyl Flats (90 MW) and the much larger windfarm at Gwynt y Môr (576 MW) is due for completion in 2014. These are shown on the map below:


Together these have a capacity of 726 MW and should produce 2.4 TWh of electricity a year, assuming a 35% capacity factor for the smaller two and 38% for Gwynt y Môr which is further out to sea and will use bigger, more efficient turbines. But Round 3 of offshore wind development includes the Irish Sea Zone which will bring about 3,715 MW ashore to Wales, roughly the proportion of the zone which is in Welsh waters.


At the same 38% capacity factor (although I suspect it will be more like 40% in practice) the windfarms in this zone will produce 12.4 TWh of electricity a year. This will mean that north Wales will be producing 14.8 TWh of electricity a year from offshore wind. [Note: Click to display, click again to hide]

We can also add the electricity that will be produced from the Bristol Channel Zone:


The plans for this Zone are more advanced, and we can read about what RWE are calling the Atlantic Array here. It will have a capacity of 1,500 MW and about a third of the area they are planning to develop will be in Welsh waters. This 500 MW will produce about 1.7 TWh of electricity a year at 38%.


Now let's add up the figures. Wales will, by about 2020, be producing something like 16.7 TWh of electricity a year from offshore wind. But the total consumption of electricity in Wales is currently only about 20 TWh. So the share from wind will equate to roughly 80% of all the electricity we use; domestic, industrial and commercial.

With figures of this magnitude, the amount of electricity we produce from onshore wind pales by comparison. Let's say we did go ahead and build onshore windfarms up to the installed capacity figures in TAN 8. That 1,120 MW would, at a capacity factor of 26%, produce 2.6 TWh of electricity a year. 2.6 TWh a year is by no means insignificant, and would be an acceptable way of producing renewable electricity if we had no other options. But we do have other options.

Adding offshore and onshore wind energy together, we will be producing some 18.3 TWh of electricity a year from wind, which equates to over 90% of our current needs. This is terribly unbalanced, and can only be sustainable in the current generating environment by having a large neighbour that generates much less electricity from wind than we do. To put this in perspective, this report shows that Denmark only generates 24% of its electricity from wind, Portugal and Spain 14%, Ireland, 10.1% and Germany 9.4%.


For this reason, I think that the target for onshore wind in Wales as set out in TAN 8 needs to be revised. Even though I think the arguments used against wind power are often overstated, and even though I don't object to any of the windfarms built so far in Wales, it is obviously better for us to switch the emphasis to offshore generation.

Obviously any figure I pick will be arbitrary, but it seems to me that it would be better to double the amount of onshore capacity in Wales than to triple it. That will leave opportunity for appropriately sized and sited windfarms and, as I suggested in my previous post, such smaller scale windfarms would be perfectly suited to be at least partly (if not fully) owned by the communities close to where they are located.


I now want to move on to the second aspect of Carwyn Jones' statement. It said:

In our view the TAN 8 capacities should be regarded as upper limits and we call upon UK Government to respect this position when they finalise the Renewable Energy National Policy Statement and to not allow proliferation when they take decisions on individual projects in Wales.

It is this overcapacity which has led to proposals for major new overhead grid infrastructure. We contend that the level of capacity within the Strategic Search Areas which we set in 2005 would negate the need for the large obtrusive pylons which are causing such concern. My Government would not support the construction of large pylons in Mid Wales and my Ministers are pressing this case with National Grid Transmission and with Ofgem.

It has always been our position, as set out in our Energy Policy Statement that such connections should be delivered by less intrusive techniques, and as sensitively as possible, including the use of undergrounding. In cases where communities get the disbenefits of major infrastructure without the economic advantages high voltage power brings to city areas, we believe a new approach must be taken to the undergrounding of high voltage power lines.

I think there is quite an element of doublespeak in the sentence I highlighted. If he is saying that the TAN 8 figures were chosen to keep them below the level that would require substantial improvements to the distribution infrastructure, I would find that hard to justify from the information in the Arup reports (Appendix C in particular). It appears to me to be a retrospective justification which was not part of his thinking (for Carwyn Jones was the minister responsible for TAN 8) at the time. If however he is simply talking about whether any improvements are by means of "large obtrusive pylons" or by less intrusive means such as undergrounding, then he is not actually saying anything at all. Any amount of capacity could be linked to the existing distribution infrastructure by underground cable ... it would just be a bigger cable.

So it again surprises me that Glyn Davies now suggests he would be satisfied (though surprised) if a windfarm could be connected by means of 132kV cable rather than 400kV cable. Here is an example of two 132kV cable routes side by side, and I don't think many people would be able to tell the difference between one of these and a route carrying 400kV cables.


The point that matters more is the distinction between the National Grid and the power distribution companies. Generally speaking National Grid operates a network at 400kV and 275kV. 132kV is the next voltage step down, but is usually operated and maintained by the power distribution companies rather than National Grid. Generally speaking, it is easier and cheaper for a windfarm operator to connect to the distribution network rather than to the National Grid. According to Appendix C in the Arup report, a windfarm with an installed capacity of 100 MW can be connected to the distribution network at 132kV, and smaller ones of 20-25 MW at 33 or 66kV.


As can be seen on the map above (taken from this post) the National Grid in Wales has two main spurs, one in north and one in south Wales, but with no interconnexion between them. This situation is exacerbated by the fact that each is in a separate power distribution company area, giving no real incentive for any north-south interconnexion. It isn't too much of an exaggeration to say that both Scottish Power in the north and Western Power Distribution in the south both stretch themselves to get robust supplies into mid Wales from either direction.

It is impossible to devise an integrated energy strategy for Wales without addressing this, and this is in part why energy is not devolved to Wales as it is to Scotland. But we can solve both the physical and the political problem with better north-south interconnexions. This would allow electricity generated in mid Wales to feed into the distribution network both northwards and southwards, and therefore avoid the necessity to extend the National Grid into mid Wales at 400kV.


This means that fighting for energy to be devolved to Wales will reduce the necessity for 400kV cables between mid Wales and England. Surely that's a win-win situation for everybody in Wales. Of course if the Labour party had shown even the slightest degree of foresight, they would have devolved energy to Wales when they were in power at Westminster. But Carwyn Jones' late conversion to devolving this responsibility to Wales is surely better than him or his party not having been converted at all.

From this report yesterday, it looks like it won't be easy to win this responsibility in the face of an intransigent Westminster government that is much more concerned about Wales supplying electricity to England than Wales' own energy needs. But if Carwyn really is serious (and I do wonder whether he is just posturing, claiming to want something he suspects will be refused simply in order to be able to point the finger of blame at the Tories for refusing it) he will have wide support from across the political spectrum in Wales.

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Wind power in perspective

A story in the Guardian yesterday helped put the extent of onshore wind power in the UK into perspective. The UK has only 1.11 wind turbines per 100 sq km.

     Wind industry counters claim that countryside is 'paved with turbines'

The report said that England had a density of only 0.49 turbines per 100 sq km, but gave no figures for any of the other countries of Britain. That of course led me to find out what the density is for Wales. I couldn't find the report the Guardian referred to on the RenewableUK website, but we can get a fairly good idea of the figures from this list. It is slightly out of date (October 2010) but close enough for comparison purposes. These are the figures:

UK ... 2,615 turbines over 243,610 sq km = 1.07 per 100 sq km

Wales ... 498 turbines over 20,779 sq km = 2.39 per 100 sq km
Scotland ... 1,293 turbines over 78,772 sq km = 1.64 per 100 sq km
Northern Ireland ... 213 turbines over 13,843 sq km = 1.54 per 100 sq km
England and Cornwall ... 611 turbines over 130,395 sq km = 0.47 per 100 sq km

So yes, the density of onshore wind turbines in Wales is more than twice that of the UK as a whole, and five times as great as in England.


But is this a good or a bad thing? One way of putting it into perspective is to look at other European countries. These are the figures reported in the Guardian:

Denmark ... 10.85 turbines per 100 sq km
Germany ... 5.95 turbines per 100 sq km
Netherlands ... 5.54 turbines per 100 sq km
Spain ... 3.39 turbines per 100 sq km

So Wales has nowhere near the same density of turbines as these countries, and the density of turbines in some parts of these countries will be much greater than elsewhere: for example Navarre in the Basque Country and Schleswig-Holstein in Germany.

A second way of putting things into perspective is the remind ourselves just how little renewable energy the UK produces compared with all the other countries in the EU. This is from a post I wrote in April this year. If the image is too small to read, click it to open the pdf version.


Even though the UK has better renewable resources than virtually every other member of the EU, it is right at the bottom of the table, ahead of just Luxembourg and Malta. There's some helpful additional information from the German statistics office here.


With this perspective, I think it's fair to make the following points:

•  The UK is not taking its commitments towards renewable energy seriously enough

•  The UK government has left it to Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland to bear the lion's share of the UK's commitments to renewable energy, leaving England to bear very little of the burden

The second is to some extent understandable. Wales, Scotland and NI have better renewable resources and are therefore better placed to take advantage of them. But England is doing nowhere near its fair share.

Now if you are a NIMBY—and Wales has more than its fair share of those—the obvious solution is to claim that Wales has made a big mistake with wind power and that we should have sat with our hands in our pockets and done nothing more than England. I'm proud that we haven't, even though we have done less than some of our European neighbours. We in Wales have taken a decent share of responsibility for meeting climate change targets; it is not our fault if our neighbours on the other side of Clawdd Offa haven't. They are in the wrong, but two wrongs won't make anything right.


But that said, I think there are many things about our energy policy that are wrong. In the first place we need to change the balance with regard to wind power from onshore to offshore windfarms. Offshore wind power is much more effective than onshore; winds are stronger and more consistent meaning that they should operate at a capacity factor of about 35% as opposed to about 25% onshore. There can be no possible problem with noise or flicker.

We should also put much more effort into developing other forms of renewable energy, particularly tidal energy. I have written about why we should be developing offshore tidal lagoons here. Tidal power will be able to deliver the bulk of our energy requirements in Wales. At a smaller scale there is also plenty of potential for solar, hydro and other renewables ... and all this needs to be complemented with energy saving measures.

But there is still a place for onshore wind, and there are a number of ways we could improve the situation in Wales. First and foremost we could pass legislation requiring a minimum proportion of any new onshore windfarms to be owned by the community. It would be a welcome and imaginative addition to the rather lacklustre proposals outlined by Carwyn Jones this week. About a third of windfarms in Denmark are owned collectively by individual shareholders rather than by large energy companies, and they now require that a minimum of 20% of any development is owned by the local community:


We could also set up incentives for local ownership through non-domestic rates. In England, even the Tories are proposing that local communities can retain NDR for the first six years. For an example of how that could work, look at this proposal for a small four turbine windfarm only a few metres on the English side of the border near Knighton. There'd be nothing to stop the Welsh Government introducing better, permanent incentives for Welsh communities. These are our natural resources, it is only right that we should retain a greater part of the profits that are being made from them.

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Dream of independence ... but not by night

When I read Adam Price's essay about the future for Plaid Cyrmu in the Western Mail today I was a little perplexed at his choice of phrase when he said:

We behave – to borrow an analogy from another context – like “closet nationalists”, frightened of people’s reactions to who we really are and what we believe. This convinces no-one and leaves us looking weak and even devious, which is worse. It’s time we came out and said it: our dream is Welsh independence.

Western Mail, 15 June 2011

Isn't dream rather wishy-washy? Aim, purpose, goal all seem to be better words for him to have chosen.

So it was time for a little lateral thinking; to join up the dots in a different way, and to remember that someone born in Wales had already given the answer:

All men dream: but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake in the day to find that it was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dreams with open eyes, to make it possible.

T E Lawrence, Seven Pillars of Wisdom 1922

Time to live rather more dangerously. That is what you meant, Adam, isn't it?

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Carwyn's double standards

Night owl that I am, I've just seen the rerun of yesterday's First Minister's questions on S4C and was struck by the marked difference in his response to two of the questions.

When asked about whether the Welsh Government had been active in preparing a business plan to support the electrification of the south Wales line between Cardiff and Swansea, he said that nothing had been done because this was not devolved to Wales, but that the WG would help the UK government if and when asked to.

But when asked about potential changes in the electoral system to the Assembly due to the change in Westminster constituencies, he said that the UK government should not make any changes without the consent of the Assembly, even though this is something that is not devolved to Wales.

Our rather slow-witted First Minister seems want to have his cake and eat it.

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Italy, Murakami and Rifkin say No to nuclear

Following from the example of both Switzerland and Germany, Italy has now become the latest country in Europe to say No to nuclear power ... or, to be more precise, to say Yes to a moratorium on nuclear.

This is an amazing victory because of the tactics that the Berlusconi government used to try and defeat it. They first tried to ban the referendum on legal grounds, and when that failed the Berlusconi media empire, which controls the bulk of the Italian media, decided not to give it any coverage.

The vagaries of the Italian referendum system mean that a referendum can only succeed if the turnout is greater than 50%. This gives rise to the ridiculous situation that a referendum could be lost if 49% said Yes and 51% didn't vote, but could be won if only 26% said Yes and 25% said No. The No supporters didn't have to campaign for a No vote, they just had to do nothing. That means that virtually everyone who turned out to vote, voted Yes. 96% in total. The turnout was 57%. It was a stunning, overwhelming rejection of nuclear power.

Of course Berlusconi hardly helped himself. There were four different ballots, including a vote on his effective immunity from prosecution and water privatization, so there were four different reasons to get out and vote ... and this is in fact the first referendum to obtain the 50% threshold since 1995.


This decision, along side the similar decisions in Germany and Switzerland, should give other countries in Europe plenty of reason to follow suit. Not least the government of the UK. The coalition agreement between the Tories and LibDems stated that new nuclear would only be permitted to go ahead if it received no public subsidy, but it is now become obvious that they are trying to sneak those subsidies through anyway. This is a report from last month:

UK breaks promise on nuclear power subsidies, say MPs

MPs have urged ministers to admit they are tacitly subsidising nuclear power despite promising that the industry would not receive such support.

The Energy and Climate Change Select Committee's report accused ministers of disguising the subsidy and distorting the reforms.

The report says the government is hampered by a coalition agreement that pledges to allow new nuclear power stations to be built "provided that they receive no public subsidy".

But the nuclear industry has refused to build new power stations without further inducements, so ministers are proposing long-term contracts at a guaranteed price for nuclear power.

BBC, 16 May 2011

I'll leave people to judge for themselves the twisted standards by which Tory MPs think they should openly go back on their commitments. Surely the right thing to do is to condemn the government for even thinking of reneging on such a clear commitment.


Continuing the theme of nuclear power, I'd like to draw people's attention to two other significant things which have happened in the past week which would not have been widely reported in our media. The first is the speech by the Japanese author Haruki Murakami when he accepted the Premi Internacional Catalunya award for developing cultural, scientific and human values worldwide.

The problem with Japan's nuclear plant is the absence of idealism.
The next ten years should be the years of idealism once again.


Haruki Murakami was awarded the 23rd Premi Internacional Catalunya at a ceremony that took place on Thursday evening at the Catalan Government’s Palace. The Japanese writer delivered an acceptance speech in which he deeply and bitterly criticised nuclear power and especially the way in which his country has been dealing with it for many decades.

“The Japanese people should have been saying “no” to nuclear energy. That is my opinion”, he said. Then he added “We should have put all our efforts into technological power, knowledge and the social capital we had as a country to develop an effective way that could have substituted nuclear power. It would have been the way to assume a collective responsibility towards the numerous victims of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.”

Murakami said he would donate the 80,000 euros awarded with the prize to the victims of Japan’s earthquake, tsunami and nuclear accident of Fukushima.


Yesterday you criticised the nuclear companies, saying they prefer efficiency over security. You were talking earlier that love is the world’s engine. Maybe those companies should be more concerned about love?

I entered the University of Tokyo in 1968. Those were years of revolution. Young people were very idealistic and very political. Those years are gone. People are not interested in idealism any more and they are trying to make a profit. The problem with the nuclear plant in Japan is the absence of idealism. I think the next ten years should be the years of idealism again. We should build up a new value system. In 1968, 1969, people were saying “peace and love”. Maybe we should have the age of “peace and love” again. It will be easier to be optimistic. It’s not easy right now, but we should be if we want to survive. Capitalism is on the turning point right now; we have to seek for the revival of humanism. Efficiency and conviniency is the easy way, but we should seek for the hard way sometimes. That is what I feel and I think we should think about it again. I’m a bit embarrassed to say that! [he laughs] But still I’m going to write very dark stories, very twisted, brutal, bloody stories. Although I’m idealistic and optimistic, and I believe in love.

Catalan News Agency, 11 June 2011

It is sometimes hard to understand why people are turning against nuclear power, particularly when so many politicians are bent on persuading us that there is no alternative to nuclear if we want to "keep the lights on". There are alternatives, much better alternatives. For us now, we can echo Murakami and say,

We should put all our efforts into technological power, knowledge and the social capital we have as a country to develop an effective way that can be a substitute for nuclear power.

For us in Wales, the only answer is put our effort into developing sustainable power from renewables. Particularly the one renewable that we have better potential to harness than virtually anywhere else in the world. The tide.


Finally, and with thanks to Bella Caledonia, another thing that particularly drew my attention was this interview on nuclear power featuring Jeremy Rifkin on French television last month.


This should act firstly as a reminder that nuclear power is not commercially viable. Companies can make huge sums of money from building them and running them, but only if government provides the framework of subsidies, using taxpayer's money, that they can exploit.

But secondly he points to a new way of producing the power we need at a much more sustainable, local level using a multiplicity of sources rather than by using a heavily centralized model.

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A year without a Belgian Government

It has now been exactly a year since the Belgian Federal elections, but no federal government has yet been formed. In the early days I followed the negotiations with some sense of anticipation, and you can read some of the things I wrote in these posts. I still check up every week or so, but nothing now seems to be happening.

In a nutshell (and excluding the small German speaking community in Wallonia) Belgium is made up of two language communities and three regions: Dutch speaking Flanders, French speaking Wallonia and bi-lingual Brussels. The Flemish N-VA campaigned on the basis of fundamental reform of Belgium, giving more autonomy to the regions. They made a breakthrough in Flanders, becoming the biggest party there. In Wallonia the Parti Socialiste won most seats, wanting to keep Belgium as it is because Wallonia is less prosperous than Flanders and they fear they will lose out in any arrangement that gives the regions more autonomy. I think it's fair to say that Flanders and Wallonia would have gone their separate ways years ago had it not been for Brussels, which neither are willing to let go of.


What you think of the negotiations and who is to blame for the impasse will depend on which region you're from. Although the N-VA want the eventual independence of Flanders, the other Flemish parties are not prepared to contemplate diluting the N-VA's demands for more autonomy in order to make a deal with the French speaking parties.

There are probably two reasons for this: first, that they want more autonomy too, although maybe not independence; but second, because public opinion in Flanders is not only still very firmly behind the N-VA, but in fact growing. No other party would turn their backs on a party that has far more public support than they do. It would be electoral suicide. These are the results of a poll from last week:


     Flemish Nationalists confirm their No 1 status – FlandersNews, 10 June 2011

Support for the N-VA has gone up by over five percentage points at the expense of all other parties except the Greens; and Bart De Wever, the N-VA leader, has a personal popularity rating of 53%. What's his secret? We in Plaid could do with some of it.


So what happens next? The BBC seems to think that there won't be new elections because it won't change anything. I'm not so sure. Something has to happen, and new election will provide an excuse for some compromise, even though the faces round the table might be exactly the same. The N-VA are in a position of strength, and so have nothing to fear from a new election. In fact it will probably further strengthen their hand.

Has the year been a waste of time? Well, probably not. The N-VA's stated position has been that they want to see Belgium "very gently disappear". Is there a better way of convincing others that the Federal government is irrelevant than to simply do without one for more than a year? The sky hasn't fallen on their heads. It's now too late to organize an election before summer, but I think there'll be one in autumn.

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Forming our Constitution

Although the UK has somehow managed to live without a constitution, no democratic country with any sense would do the same, especially not a newly independent one. Besides, one of the main reasons for wanting to Wales become independent is so that we can create a country which is better than the UK; one which defines what rights and duties we have as citizens, and one which makes its structures transparent rather than hides them behind an establishment that exists only because it was in place before the idea of one-person-one-vote was ever taken seriously.

But constitutions are tricky things. For as well as defining what rights and duties we have as citizens, any constitution should also define the limits of how far the state can intrude into our lives. In particular it must define the limits of government, so it is important that drawing up a constitution is not left primarily in the hands of the very same politicians who might hope to be part of government, whether at an individual or a party level.

Drawing up a constitution for Wales will need input from a wide range of people in different walks of life. In a sense it's easy to identify what we might call the "specialists" because they will be recognized by their peers and could be appointed to the body that would draft our constitution by broad consensus. These will include academics, lawyers, diplomats, elder statesmen, the police, the armed forces, trades unions, business, faith groups, charities, voluntary organizations ... and a few politicians.

But I think we should also aim to involve people who are not specialists. We will need input from the public at large, and a way of interacting with them so that we all have a way of making meaningful contributions.


This brings me to a story that I've just read in the Telegraph.

Iceland reviews constitution with help from online community

Tiny but tech-savvy Iceland is overhauling its constitution in the wake of an economic catastrophe and has turned to the internet to get input from citizens.

The 25-member council drafting the new constitution is reaching out to Icelanders online, especially through social media sites Facebook and Twitter, video-sharing site YouTube and photo site Flickr.

Iceland's population of 320,000 is among the world's most computer-literate. Two-thirds of Icelanders are on Facebook, so the constitutional council's weekly meetings are broadcast live on the social networking site as well as on the council's website.

"It is possible to register through other means, but most of the discussion takes place via Facebook," said Berghildur Bernhardsdottir, spokesman for the constitutional review project.

When the North Atlantic island nation gained independence from Denmark in 1944, it simply took the Danish constitution and made a few minor adjustments, such as substituting the word "president" for "king." A thorough review of the constitution has been on the agenda ever since, but action came only after the crisis in 2008, when Iceland's main commercial banks collapsed within a week, the krona currency plummeted and protests toppled the government.

"To me, it has long been clear that a comprehensive review of the constitution would only be carried out with the direct participation of the Icelandic people," said Iceland's Prime Minister Johanna Sigurdardottir, one of the champions of the constitutional review since taking office in 2009. She says it is a "distinct possibility" that the draft constitution will be put to the people in a referendum before Iceland's parliament debates final approval.

The 25 members of the constitutional council were elected by popular vote from a field of 522 candidates aged 18 and over. The council is basing its work on a 700-page report prepared by a committee that took into account the findings of 950 randomly selected Icelanders – the National Forum – who met for a day to discuss the division of powers, conservation and protection, foreign relations and more.

But, the internet component is still the most direct route for most Icelanders to weigh in. Members of the public must provide their names and addresses, and can then submit online recommendations, which are approved by local staff to avoid Internet heckling. The ideas are then passed on to the council, and are open for discussion online.

Telegraph, 10 June 2011

That sounded like a very interesting way of doing things, and one that we ourselves might learn from. So I've just taken a look at the website—which is helpfully in English as well as Icelandic—to see the main conclusions reached by this National Forum. Just click the image:


Reading through it, it's probably fair to say that a lot of the things in it are uncontentious "motherhood and apple pie" issues ... things that nobody could disagree with. But the way that they're said and the shades of emphasis they're given go a long way to reflect a country's national identity and values.

There is no "one size fits all" formula for how to write a perfect constitution. But that's not to say we can't learn from others, and I must admit that a rather broad smile crossed my face when I read the first paragraph:

COUNTRY AND NATION – Values and related issues regarding the independence of the country, culture and its advantages such as vision, the value of the Icelandic language and the country’s rural areas. The constitution is a covenant which guarantees sovereignty and independence for Icelanders and is written for the people in the country. The role of the constitution is to guard the Icelandic language, its culture and the nation’s resources. It should be introduced in schools and it must be guaranteed that the public can have a say in decisions regarding national affairs. The image of Iceland shall be strengthened, multiculturalism encouraged as well as separation between state and religion.

I wonder how many of us in Wales would have the courage to put our language right at the top of the list of what the constitution is for.

And I must also admit to being surprised by the prominence and strength of the second paragraph:

MORALITY – General moral values without special connection with government or politics such as honesty, respect, responsibility, tolerance, justice and sympathy. The constitution shall be based on moral values. The morality theme of the new constitution shall be respect for humans, freedom of speech and consideration. An emphasis shall be on the honesty of elected representatives, public officials, laws and legal ethics. To strengthen and improve the morality of the nation, ethics should be taught in the country’s schools and the social responsibility of the public must be increased. In Iceland a clear framework must be set up by which the authorities must work, focusing on respect, responsibility and duties towards the country's people.

Perhaps this is an understandable reaction to the feeling of being betrayed by the institutions of government; but there seems to be a healthy recognition that politicians are no more or less corrupt than the society that they are drawn from. If we want better standards in public life, the key is to make sure we instill better standards into society as a whole, starting with ourselves ... or if it's too late for that, our children.

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Stick to your plans, Ieuan

We are beginning to see signs of a concerted attempt to get Ieuan Wyn Jones to step down from his position of party leader immediately, as is clear from Betsan Powys' blog and this report in the Western Mail today.


Now I don't think Ieuan has handled this week particularly well. Being away on holiday is not the same thing as taking the principled stance of the other four. It smacks of selfishness, and he has therefore opened himself up to criticism he could have avoided. But that hardly justifies the level of bitterness being directed at him. As I mentioned in my post yesterday, there has been a lot of hype surrounding the queen's visit to the Assembly on Tuesday ... vastly inflating its importance by mistakenly trying to portray it as a "state opening". Elizabeth Windsor was not there to open the Fourth Assembly; she was merely a guest at the second day of the celebrations to mark its opening.

If someone like Carwyn Jones wants to criticize IWJ for not being present when the queen visits the national legislature, it would be as well to remind him that when she visited Holyrood in 2009, nearly fifty MSPs stayed away, including seventeen Labour MSPs. Believe it or not, eight of those Labour MSPs said they were not there because they had booked holidays in advance. When it comes to double standards, Labour don't just take the biscuit ... they scoff the whole packet.

The only substance to Labour's criticism might be that IWJ was on holiday when the Assembly was in session. But that is hardly an unusual occurrence.


But all this is now being used as a pretext to try and get Ieuan to step down from the leadership sooner rather than later. It doesn't take too much guesswork to realize who in Plaid wants to bounce the party into an early election, especially before the some of the potential leaders like Llyr Huws Gruffydd and Simon Thomas are able to establish themselves as AMs.

Nor does it take too much imagination to realize why those who oppose Plaid want to see us bounced into an early leadership election contest. They would much prefer to see an old has-been like Dafydd Elis-Thomas as leader, because it will ensure that Plaid goes backwards rather than forwards. On top of that, doing an early deal with Labour will just make life comfortable for Labour at the very time that they need to be put under most pressure to accept the devolution of more areas of responsibility, particularly fiscal responsibility, to Wales.


We in Plaid have more important things to do than rush to elect a new leader. We need to sort ourselves out as a party, and establish a clear direction and policy platform before we decide which of our AMs should lead the party. Ieuan needs to stick to his plans and remain leader while we do that.

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Just a Guest

I have been quite surprised at the number of commentators who have referred to the Fourth National Assembly being opened, or even officially opened, by the Queen yesterday. Some have even called it a state opening.

This is either assumption or invention. Elizabeth Windsor did not come to open the Assembly, she was simply one of the guests invited to be present at the occasion. Our Fourth Assembly could have opened with or without a celebration, with or without her ... and indeed with or without a number of those who might otherwise have felt able to attend

I've no objection to the celebration, but a better choice of guests would have resulted in more people being able to enjoy the event.

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More Welsh-medium Schools in Powys

In October last year Powys County Council commissioned a survey of parental preferences for Welsh-medium education in the county. I haven't been able to find the final report, but have found this from the minutes of a meeting in February this year.

Update on survey of Welsh-medium demand

Members received preliminary findings from a recent Powys-wide survey of parents of children born between September, 2007 and August, 2009, on the future demand for Welsh medium education.

It was noted that the data had not yet been weighted to reflect greater demand from families with more than one child.

Gareth Jones [Powys Senior Manager] explained the data and the following points were noted:

•  There had been a response rate of 29% to the survey

•  43% of those parents who responded indicated that they would be very likely or fairly likely to choose Welsh-medium education

•  42% of respondents indicated they would be very likely or fairly likely to choose Welsh medium education if there was a school providing Welsh medium primary education within 10 miles of their home

•  Of those parents who responded to the survey, 91% were mainly English speaking

•  87% of respondents had indicated they would like their child to speak Welsh

It was noted that further analysis of the data would be needed and a final analysis was expected by the end of this month and a final report by the end of March, 2011.

Members suggested detailed geographical analysis of the data in order to establish the number of Welsh medium, English medium, and dual stream schools likely to be required in order to meet future demand in each geographical area.

Hywel Lovgreen [a governor at Ysgol Dafydd Llwyd] suggested that, given the data was just a guideline, it might be necessary for the Authority to be “visionary” and take a bold decision based on the trend of growing demand for Welsh medium education reflected in the statistics.

Chair commented that the data suggested that the overall demand for Welsh medium places was likely to double; it would be necessary to establish where the demand for places would be likely to be in order to make recommendations as to the location of future Welsh medium primary provision. It was likely that there would be more demand in some areas of the County than others, and, therefore more detailed analysis of the data would be necessary.

My reason for doing the search was as background to some very good news in the local media about a proposed new Welsh-medium school in Newtown.

Welsh school revelation for Newtown

Mynewtown can reveal that Newtown is set to be home to a ‘super school’ which will transform the way Welsh Medium education is delivered in the future. And the location of the proposed 300-pupil Welsh Medium Primary School is set to provoke fierce debate between the Town Hall Park and sports club grounds on a list of possible sites.

Powys County Council has established a board to review Welsh Medium primary school provision in the Severn Valley and mynewtown understands that while plans are in the very early stages, the central ‘super school’ concept will be recommended to the Cabinet for pupils in the Newtown catchment area.

Cabinet Member for Schools, Councillor Stephen Hayes said: “I can confirm that an Area Project Board established to help review Welsh Medium primary school provision in the Severn Valley is recommending a new Welsh medium primary school for 300 pupils in Newtown.

“As part of that work the council is compiling a list of locations in the town large enough to accommodate the project. The work is at a very early stage and no decisions have been made on possible site. The area project board's recommendations will be considered by a future meeting of the Cabinet.”

The list, we have been told, also includes Newtown’s current primary school sites as well as large patches of land like the sports grounds and the council depot on Pool Road. The soon-to-be-closed Focus site is also on the radar.

The Town Council is believed to be enraged by the suggestion of using the Town Hall grounds in the town centre while the sports field scenario is thought to be unlikely due to the cost of finding suitable alternative fields.

Initially it was thought that the school would accommodate children from the entire Severn Valley but a council spokesman confirmed this morning that the proposal is “just for the Newtown Catchment area”.

My Newtown, 1 June 2011

New primary school planned for Newtown

A new 300-pupil Welsh medium primary school will be built in Newtown under plans to transform education in the region.

Powys County Council said today an area project board set up to review Welsh medium education in the area has recommended a new school is built in the town to meet the demand and a list of potential sites are being drawn up. Council chiefs will discuss the issue at a cabinet meeting in the coming months.

The move comes as many schools in Powys face an uncertain future with many underpopulated primary schools facing the axe.

Shropshire Star, 2 June 2011

It's interesting to note that what was once thought to be a proposal for the whole of the Severn Valley area is now only going to serve the Newtown catchment area. At present the one WM school in Newtown is Ysgol Dafydd Llwyd, with 138 children. It isn't clear whether the new school is intended to replace it or supplement it, but even as a replacement (which would be more likely, since the current premises are inadequate) it means that the new school would more than double the WM provision in the Newtown area.

And if this new school is only intended to serve Newtown, there will almost certainly need to be other new WM schools in the remainder of the Severn Valley area, and in the other parts of Powys.

Dangerous things, these parental surveys ... I don't think there's been one that hasn't shown the demand for WM education to be at least twice as great as the number of places the LEA had been providing.

Update - 6 June 2011

Another story on the new school in the County Times which answers a few more questions. It is going to be a replacement for Ysgol Dafydd Llwyd, it will open in September 2013, and there are five sites under consideration.

Welsh medium primary school plans unveiled

Plans to build a new 300-pupil Welsh medium primary school for Newtown have been confirmed by Powys County Council. The school, which would replace Ysgol Dafydd Llwyd, has been recommended by the council’s area project board.

Calls for a new Welsh medium school in the Newtown area have been growing substantially over recent years with Ysgol Dafydd Llwyd, the only Welsh Medium primary school in the Newtown area, already hugely over-subscribed.

Councillor Stephen Hayes, Powys County Council’s cabinet member for schools, said: “I can confirm that an area project board, established to help review Welsh medium primary school provision in the Severn Valley, is recommending a new Welsh medium primary school for 300 pupils in Newtown.”

The County Times understands that five potential sites for the school are being considered, although Cllr Hayes said that the work on a location is still at a ‘very early stage’. He said: “As part of that work the council is compiling a list of locations in the town large enough to accommodate the project. The work is at a very early stage and no decisions have been made on a possible site.”

The sites under consideration are understood to include land near to Coleg Powys, a site near Maesyrhandir Primary School, one on Newtown High School’s campus, another near to Newtown Cricket Club and one in the Town Park. The plan will require around one-and-a-half hectares for construction of the school.

The news was revealed by Newtown Town and County Councillor Richard White, who said: “The area project board has come to the conclusion that Ysgol Dafydd Llwyd is bursting at the seams and a new school for 300 pupils needs to be built and ready by September 2013.”

Cllr Hayes confirmed that the proposal would go before the council’s cabinet. He said: “The area project board’s recommendations will be considered by a future meeting of the cabinet.”

County Times, 6 June 2011

The only suggestion I would make is the need to build in some flexibility for the future. 300 is by no means a large school, and it would make sense to find a site and design any new school in a way that would allow it to become a 420 place, two form entry school if future demand justified it.

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Elfyn Llwyd owes us an apology

I've just heard Elfyn Llwyd completely misrepresent Plaid Cymru's policy on nuclear power on Question Time.


He tried to make a distinction between "new" nuclear power stations and the building of new reactors at existing nuclear power stations, claiming that Plaid was not necessarily against an expansion of the Wylfa site and, amazingly, that we had voted for this policy in Conference.

This is totally disingenuous on his part, because neither the motion nor the amendment actually said this. The motion, as we can read here, said:

Conference reaffirms:

Plaid’s total opposition to the construction of any new nuclear power stations in Wales.

And the amendment added was:

However, Conference recognises that the decision as to whether a new nuclear power station is built at Wylfa is a matter for the UK government. If the station is given the go-ahead, Conference believes that the main economic benefit should accrue to the local community in terms of construction jobs, supply chain opportunities and the skills necessary for the operation of the station once completed.

The wording is critical to understanding the amendment. It talks about whether "a new nuclear power station is built at Wylfa", thus making it perfectly clear that the proposal to build new reactors at Wylfa constitutes a new nuclear power station. Plaid Cymru is totally opposed to any new nuclear power station in Wales including one at Wylfa. Elfyn's distinction was spurious and misleading.


One golden rule of public life is that if you don't understand what you're talking about, it's better not to say anything. The last thing we need as a party is for our MPs to start making up policy as they go along. But on the other hand this is so blatant a fabrication, and such a wanton distortion of the truth, that I suspect he deliberately chose to misrepresent what happened at Conference. It is no secret that some in the party leadership do not like policy being decided by the membership; but if he thinks he can force the party to accept the change in policy he wants because the membership won't speak out so as to maintain a semblance of unity, he's miscalculated badly. This subject is too important to fudge.


I can only apologize to those who have been misled by what one of our leaders has said. It is hugely embarrassing. But it's not enough for me or others like me to do it. An abject and humble apology is required from Elfyn himself ... both to the party he has misrepresented and, more importantly, to the public at large. Question Time attracts a huge audience, so he needs to make every effort to repair the damage that has been caused by his words in an equally public way.

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When Carwyn Jones was younger, every boy wanted to be a train driver when they grew up. Saving their pocket money for a platform ticket, they would spend many an afternoon marvelling at the power of the locomotives and the skill of the men who drove them.


But some people never had the drive to realize their ambition. So while the governments of Scotland and Northern Ireland are now driving the locomotive of change in these islands, an older Carwyn Jones and his friends in the Welsh Labour party seem quite happy to be left on the platform watching the train pull away.


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The Future of Ysgol Gyfun Llanhari

Ysgol Gyfun Llanhari is one of the longer established Welsh-medium secondary schools. Over the years it has seen its catchment area reduced in size more than once as new WM secondaries have been set up, the most recent example being when Bridgend opened Ysgol Gyfun Gymraeg Llangynwyd in 2008. This diverted the intake from the four WM primaries in Bridgend, leaving Llanhari with just three WM feeder primaries at Llantrisant, Tonyrefail and Dolau. As a result, its Year 7 intake fell from over 154 to 68.

Now of course this will be made up in future years as more and more parents choose WM education, but Rhondda Cynon Taf reckon it will take until about 2020 for the Year 7 intake to get back to 135. So in the next few years they will have an underused building on their hands, and in fact the school will fall below 500 children. This had put a question mark over its future viability, though it must be said that relative isolation and average rather than excellent inspection reports have contributed to that uncertainty.


Meanwhile RCT are having great trouble meeting the parental demand for WM primary places. Only a few weeks ago, as we can read here, the parents of 22 children wanting WM nursery places were told by the council that there were none available, and that they would have to send their children to English medium nursery schools instead. They were able to do this because of a loophole in the regulations which means that a local authority is only obliged to provide places for children of statutory school age, rather than nursery age.

Exactly the same thing happened a few week later with parents who wanted their children to go to Ysgol Gynradd Llwyncelyn, where the parents of 26 more children were at first told that they would have to continue their education in English ... although they were told a week later that places would be found.


To put things bluntly, RCT have done precious little to meet the increase in demand for WM education despite the fact that their own projections, obtained by Leanne Wood, were that the figures for primary aged children would rise from 4,150 in 2011 to 4,237 in 2012 and 4,336 in 2013.

It is therefore some relief to find that RCT have finally managed to put together a plan that will go some way towards solving these problems.

     Welsh Medium Education – The Future of YG Llanhari

In short, the idea is to create a new 240 place primary department at YG Llanhari, making use of the surplus space that will exist at the school over the next ten years or so. In effect Llanhari will become an "all through" school for children from the ages of 3 to 18, although the new primary department will only be one of four primaries that act as feeders for the much larger secondary department.

In a way, this isn't such a bad proposal. It is going to be quicker and cheaper to modify the unused accommodation at Llanhari than it would be to build a new WM primary or a new extension to one of the other primaries (Tonyrefail could be extended). In fact, the site at Llanhari has a lot of land, and the report even talks about increasing the size of the primary unit from 240 to 420 if the demand continues to grow:

4.7  The existing accommodation would be redesigned to meet the requirements of the Foundation Phase and Key Stage 2, with suitable security and segregation between the primary and secondary provision. Whilst the new primary school will have a hall, there will still be the opportunities to share the secondary school’s facilities such as the hall, sports and catering facilities. The modifications will be planned over a number of years as the numbers entering the primary section grow. The School will operate two catchment areas, one for primary aged pupils, the other for secondary aged pupils.

4.8  The capital cost of remodelling the existing provision at YG Llanhari to create a new primary school will be £3,300,000 in total, of which £2,300,000 will be required in the period to September 2012, with the remainder spread over the following 3 years. This capital cost will be met from within existing Education capital budgets, primarily the unallocated School Modernisation capital budget. YG Llanhari has sufficient land to enable the development to occur without impacting on the land available for play and for future development. Furthermore, the site provides the opportunity that the 3-11 age range in the Primary Department could be expanded in the future from a 240 pupil provision to a 420 pupil provision, depending on demand.

The plan will be discussed at the RCT Cabinet meeting on 6 June. I can't imagine them not saying yes, nor can I imagine there being any objections because no existing schools would need to be closed. So if everything goes according to plan, the new primary unit at Llanhari will open for Reception and Year 1 children in September 2012.


The report mentions something else which is interesting. The old opencast mining site at Llanillid (or Llanilid, I've seen both and have to confess that I don't know which is correct) is being redeveloped to includes Valleywood, the Dragon International film studio project, to the south with the northern part of the site set to include a large number of new housing units.

4.5  Planning permission has been sought to develop 2,000 homes on the neighbouring Llanillid site. This will result in a new 600 pupil primary school being built on the site, which we would recommend is a dual-language school, similar to Dolau Primary School.

My reaction to this is mixed. On one hand we should welcome the fact that at least 300 of the 600 places will be WM, and that this will take the total primary school capacity in the YG Llanhari feeder area from the current 932 to 1,591, or indeed more if the Primary unit at Llanhari is increased in size. But I have my doubts as to whether dual stream schools are in fact the best way forward.

On the negative side, parents who choose Welsh-medium education tend to want the schools to have a specifically Welsh environment and ethos, and having to share that with an English-medium section will dilute both. On the other hand, the vast majority of any child's time at school will be spent in one or other of the streams, and getting 90% of what you want isn't really so bad.

However dual stream schools do have the one big advantage of flexibility. As the pattern of demand changes there is no reason why each new intake should not change to accommodate it. What might start as a new yearly intake of 40 WM and 40 EM could easily become 60 WM and 20 EM with no disruption to any of the children who are already at the school. In fact, if the numbers justify it, there's no reason why a dual stream school should not eventually become a completely WM school. Two examples of this happening are here and here.

So I'm relatively open to the idea of dual stream schools, although a lot will depend on the way an individual school is laid out because some degree of separation will be desirable. I'd be interested to know what others think.

Update - 6 June 2011

The BBC featured the decision on Newyddion this evening.


It appears that the existing sixth form block is going to be used for the new primary unit. That's not a problem for now, but it might indicate a potential problem when the secondary numbers get back up to 800 or so in nine years' time because current policies seem to favour closing school sixth forms in favour of tertiary colleges. It might be worth getting RCT to confirm its intentions.

On the other hand there's plenty of time to build a new sixth form block before then, for the fabric of the school is hardly in the best of condition. I'd be willing to bet that RCT will have another crisis in primary provision before then which will require them to think about increasing the size of this primary unit from one from entry to two form entry.

Update - 4 July 2011

I've just taken a look at the consultaltion document, which is here. There are no surprises, but I thought I'd show the map for the new catchment areas:


Talbot Green, Ynysddu and the part of Pontyclun south of the railway are all in the new Llanhari catchment area. This will be slightly awkward for children in those areas, because they were within easy walking distance of YGGG Llantrisant and will have a longer journey to the new school. Obviously this won't affect children already attending Llantrisant, and younger siblings will be able to follow them.

But it's difficult to see how else the catchment areas could be defined, and the silver lining is that children from these areas will get free transport to Llanhari because the walking distance is greater than one-and-a-half miles.

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