Oriel Mostyn

The remodelled Oriel Mostyn in Llandudno has won Ellis Williams the Gold Medal for Architecture at this year's National Eisteddfod.

The handsome but hardly spectacular façade of the original building does little to prepare you for the extraordinary dynamics of the new space inside. There are some words about it here, but the pictures tell you what words can't. These are from David Roberts Photography:






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The M4 relief road has not yet been built

I suppose that any incident that closes the section of the M4 through the Brynglas tunnels is like a red rag to those few people who still want to see a new motorway built on the Gwent Levels parallel to the M4, and I must thank Oggy Bloggy Ogwr for repeating the points I made before in this post about why it was such a bad idea and why the Welsh Government was right to reject it in 2009.

But I would emphasize one point, which is that there is a problem on that section of the M4, and that a relief road is needed both to provide a better alternative for local traffic that passes through Newport and to increase the resilience of the M4 on the rare occasions when it is closed because of an accident. However, there is all the difference in the world between a relief road and a new parallel motorway.

When Ieuan Wyn Jones made the decision not to proceed with the new motorway, he also made the decision to improve the Southern Distributor Road and the road serving the Llanwern steelworks in order to provide this much needed alternative, as shown below. Click the map for an enlarged version.


As yet these improvements haven't been made, we are still in the process of consultation. But when these improvements have been implemented, this relief road will provide an alternative which will very much reduce the impact and delays resulting from the sort of closure we have just seen.

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The WMES Annual Report

On Friday, the Welsh Government published its first annual report on the Welsh-medium Education Strategy:


It was strange that nearly all the reports in the media focused on the fact that there was a target of 30% of seven year olds being taught in Welsh by 2020, almost as if this was some sort of surprise. But this target, and the intermediate target that the figure should be 25% by 2015, is nothing new. What is much more critical is how much progress has been made towards achieving the targets, and the annual report focuses on this.

Last week, in this post, I commented on the numbers that now attend Welsh-medium schools. The numbers in Welsh-medium (and dual stream and transitional) primary schools have risen by just 0.5%—from 23.06% to 23.56% in the past two years—and this rate of increase would be nowhere near enough to meet the target.

However the numbers in WM schools are not an exact reflection of the numbers that are educated in Welsh. A more accurate measure is the number that are assessed in Welsh as a first language, and this is the basis of the WMES targets. On this measure, it's encouraging to note that the percentage has risen much faster, from 21.0% in 2009 to 21.8% in 2010. If this rate of increase were to be maintained, the targets would probably be met.

Now of course the Welsh Government could point to this as evidence that good progress is being made, but I would sound a note of warning. The discrepancy between the percentage in WM education (23.56%) and those being assessed in Welsh as a first language (21.8%) is largely a result of the fact that a significant number of smaller, traditionally WM schools have had rather patchy WM provision. What appears to have happened is that these schools have inceased the number of assessments in Welsh as a first language, and it is this which accounts for the bulk of the 0.8% rise between 2009 and 2010.

But this is a "soft target", because it represents an improvement in what is happening within WM schools. It might well be possible to get every child in a WM school assessed in Welsh, but the numbers being assesed in Welsh can never realistically be greater than the numbers in WM schools. In other words there is a structural problem which can only be solved by increasing the number of WM places available, which in most local authorities will mean increasing the number of WM schools. Unless we concentrate on this, there will be no chance of us meeting the 25% target in 2015 or the 30% target in 2020. As the potential to build new schools has been severely curtailled as a result of the Welsh Government scrapping all the work done to date on the remainder of the 21st Century Schools project, there will be no choice other than to convert existing EM schools to WM in order to meet the targets. That is a bullet that must be bitten.


One other thing I found interesting in the report was this graph comparing the percentages being assessed in Welsh by local authority in 2000 and 2010:


Gold stars to Torfaen, Monmouthshire, Cardiff, Swansea and Pembrokeshire for some good increases. Swansea's increase is a surprise to me. Black marks to Neath Port Talbot and Wrecsam for managing to preside over falls rather than increases; and to places like Ynys Môn, Ceredigion, Fflintshire and Blaenau Gwent which have only marginally increased their provision.

As most of us will know, Blaenau Gwent has just been relieved of its responsibilities for its failure in education generally, and I can't help but think that its failure with regard to WM provision is symptomatic of its wider failings. But isn't transferring responsibility for education in Blaenau Gwent to a task force from Neath Port Talbot a case of the blind leading the blind?

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What about the other half?

The news that half of the revenue from the marine part of the Crown Estate is to be given to coastal communities is a significant step in the right direction, and I think we should give the ConDem government in Westminster some credit for that.

The most significant aspect of the decision is that this money will be distributed within the country from which the revenues were generated, although in the case of Scotland the Highlands and Islands and the remainder of Scotland will be treated separately. The total revenue from the marine part of the Crown Estate was £47.4m last year, and this table from the Treasury press release shows the breakdown:

Wales ... £2.3m (4.9%)
England ... £36.4m (76.8%)
Northern Ireland ... £0.9m (1.9%)
Scotland, Highlands and Islands ... £3.7m (7.8%)
Rest of Scotland ... £4.1m (8.6%)

UK total ... £47.4m

It's also interesting to note the breakdown of that revenue by activity:

Dredging ... £15.5m (32.7%)
Coastal ... £14.3m (30.2%)
Cables/pipelines ... £11.5m (24.3%)
Renewables ... £3.5m (7.4%)
Aquaculture ... £2.6m (5.5%)

Crown Estate Annual Report, 2011

As we can see, renewables currently accounts for a quite a small percentage of the marine revenue, but this will increase dramatically as the next round of offshore windfarms is developed.

Previously the Crown Estate had operated a Marine Communities Fund worth between £500,000 and £600,000 a year, which I'm sure they thought was very generous. The new Coastal Communities Fund will distribute forty times more of the money, and I'm sure the Tories and LibDems think that they are now being even more generous.

But when you go into a pub and order a pint of beer, what would you think of a landlord who drank half of it himself and then gave you the half empty glass? Are we expected to thank him for only drinking half of it?


It's very easy to be "generous" with someone else's money. The issue of principle is that the revenue generated from leasing and granting various rights for activities in Welsh waters doesn't belong to anyone other than ourselves. It should be for us to set the terms on under which our marine resources are are used, and what the revenue generated will be used for.

So let's give the Tories and LibDems in Westminster some credit for not drinking the whole pint and leaving us with just the dregs, which is what Labour had done when they were in power there. Acknowledging the principle that revenue from marine resources should rightly be apportioned to the country where that revenue is generated is a big step in the right direction, and has set a precedent which will make the remaining steps that much easier.

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A Senior Labour Source

It appears that a "senior Labour source" has told Martin Shipton that there's something abnormal about a person who uses both Welsh and English.

     Labour slate 'Welsh only' AM for using English in Assembly business

What the story doesn't make clear is that this source is very senior indeed ... 65 million years old.

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Geraint and Gwyneth speak out

At last year's Eisteddfod, it was announced that a new synthetic voice capable of reading Welsh text and converting it to speech had been developed by a Polish company called Ivona. However it was at that stage only a demonstration rather than a fully working product. I've checked a few times since then to see if it had been developed further, and I'm pleased to say that it has. There is now a male and a female voice, and as an example of how they sound I've taken the text from a story on the BBC's Newyddion site and recorded it in each voice:



Ysgol newydd: Pryder am y Gymraeg yn Nyffryn Tywi

Dywed rhieni yn Nyffryn Tywi na fydd ysgol uwchradd newydd yn ardal Ffairfach, Llandeilo, yn bodloni'r galw am addysg cyfrwng Cymraeg. Bydd yr ysgol newydd yn cael ei hagor yn 2015, a bydd ysgolion Tregib (Llandeilo) a Phantycelyn (Llanymddyfri) yn cau.

Dywed rhai rhieni fod angen ysgol sy'n dysgu'r rhan fwyaf o bynciau, ac eithrio gwyddoniaeth, drwy gyfrwng y Gymraeg. Ond statws 2B fydd yr ysgol newydd, lle mae yna ddewis i dderbyn yr holl wersi drwy gyfrwng y Saesneg, neu 80% drwy gyfrwng y Gymraeg.

Yn ôl rhai rhieni dylid sefydlu ysgol categori 2A, fel Ysgol Maes yr Yrfa, lle mae 80% o'r pynciau yn cael eu dysgu drwy'r Gymraeg. Bydd yn rhaid i deuluoedd sydd am i'w plant gael addysg 2A anfon eu plant i Ysgol Maes yr Yrfa yng Nghefneithin.

Dywed Dr Hywel Glyn Lewis, darlithydd mewn dwyieithrwydd, y dylai Cyngor Sir Caerfyrddin ystyried gweithio ar y cyd gyda Chyngor Powys a sefydlu ysgol 2A ar gyfer yr ardal. Byddai hynny o bosibl yn golygu gwasanaethu ardaloedd Pontsenni a Thecastell yn ne Powys. Pryder Dr Lewis yw y byddai plant sy'n mynychu ysgolion cynradd cyfrwng Cymraeg yn colli'r iaith drwy fynychu ysgolion uwchradd lle nad oes darpariaeth ddigonol.

Mae rhieni ardal Llanymddyfri hefyd yn anhapus fod yr ysgol newydd wedi ei lleoli yn ardal Llandeilo. Dywed ymgyrchwyr y dylid wedi dewis ardal sydd rhwng Llandeilo a Llandysul.

BBC, 20 July 2011

OK, it's not absolutely perfect, but it's miles ahead of previous attempts to get a natural sounding synthetic Welsh voice. If you want a comparison, try using the "Darllenwch y dudalen" feature on say this page of the Bwrdd yr Iaith website. Highlight some text and click "darllen testun".

If anyone wants to try out the Ivona voices, just put some text into the box on this page, then choose either Geraint or Gwyneth from the drop down menu to read it out. They'll even read things in English, but with a Welsh accent. That's cool.

The voices are still beta versions and not yet for sale, though I expect they soon will be, maybe in time for the Eisteddfod. When they are, the personal version of the programme should be able to read Welsh text from any computer application or web page. But I hope we will also see the BBC, Golwg360, councils and private companies install a button which will read the text on their Welsh pages automatically.

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Round and round in circles

The dithering and directionless nature of the new Welsh Government was illustrated perfectly when they decided last month to put the west Wales badger cull on hold pending a review, even though nothing had changed since the previous decision to go ahead.

When in coalition with Plaid Cymru, Labour could leave it to Plaid ministers like Elin Jones to take tough decisions like this. But it's hard to escape the conclusion that we now have a government that aren't capable of making such decisions on their own, and that they'll always need someone to hold their hand.

So, as we can read here, they have now turned to Professor Chris Gaskell to lead a review panel. But the question he must be asking is why on earth he's being asked to do something that he's already done ... and done more than once.

For example, there seems to be a sense of "how many times do we have to say the same thing over and over again" in this letter he wrote in his capacity as Chair of the DEFRA Science Advisory Council in December 2007:

It is worth stating at the outset that in the absence of new data, and we have seen none, nor has any been presented in the King report, the SAC sees no rationale in changing the advice on the current science base for bovine TB that it has already given to your predecessor as CSA. The subsequent debate would seem to us to be more around the policy options that may arise from these observations, rather than the evidence itself.

However, it is the opinion of the SAC that despite the alternative presentations of the implications of the ISG results, there is substantial agreement about the basic scientific evidence.

Specifically, in relation to the potential effectiveness of badger culling, there appears to be agreement on the following basic points between King and the ISG:

•  That simultaneous, coordinated and repeated culls of badgers in large, geographically distinct and isolated areas where there is a high prevalence of bTB in cattle should lead to a modest reduction in outbreaks in cattle within the area culled.

•  That culling badgers would lead to an increase in bTB breakdowns in cattle in the surrounding areas (“the edge effect”).

•  That culling of badgers on its own, would not eradicate bTB in cattle.

However such agreement presumes that:

•  Any culled area is sufficiently large for the benefits to offset the detrimental edge effects that follow culling. This would, in the opinion of SAC, mean culling areas preferably of at least several hundred square kilometres.

•  That natural, or ‘hard’ boundaries such as rivers and motorways at the edges of culling areas might assist in reducing the edge effect although, in practice, impermeable boundaries would be, in the opinion of SAC, difficult to achieve.

Letter to DEFRA, December 2007

Then, in only April of this year, another group he was part of said almost exactly the same thing, as recorded in this note.


It is ridiculous for politicians to think that if they keep asking the same questions over and over, they will magically get a different answer. And although I sure that Chris Gaskell and the others on the new review panel will be paid well for their work, I can't help wondering whether they might prefer to get on with other things rather than waste yet more taxpayers' money.

The science is clear enough, but policies must be decided by politicians ... or at least by politicians who are prepared to take the hard decisions. John Griffiths is no Elin Jones.

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Another BBC misquote

I must admit to not having much time for navel-gazing programmes about what being Welsh is, but I read this report about today's Eye on Wales radio programme and saw that Adam Price was being quoted:

Former Plaid Cymru MP Adam Price believes the language issues "cuts both ways".

"It creates a deeper sense of national identity and gives us a tangible source of distinctiveness," said Mr Price. "On the other hand, it does divide us between two communities."

That sounded a little odd, so I listened to the programme on iPlayer and found that what he actually said was much fuller than that. This is the relevant extact:


Yet the BBC not only puts its very edited version in direct quotation marks, but actually manages to reverse the point he had made by missing out the "in some people's eyes" from:

"On the other hand it does divide us, in some people's eyes, between two communities ..."

There's something reassuring about the BBC's editorial bias. Like an ugly factory on a hillside, it would be quite a shock to wake up one morning and find it had disappeared.

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Flapping in the wind

Only three weeks ago Carwyn Jones issued a written Cabinet Statement on renewable energy in Wales, addressing in particular the issue of onshore wind capacity and TAN 8. This is one of the key parts of it:

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.

Cabinet Statement, June 2011

It was clear to me that the purpose of this statement was to make it appear as if he was concerned about the protests against wind farms; and to point the finger of blame at the Westminster government by making it appear that if the TAN 8 capacities were exceeded it would be their fault rather than the fault of the Welsh government.

This was disingenuous, because the Welsh Government itself has not—or at least not consistently—regarded the capacity figures in TAN 8 as upper limits. The public and media might have been fooled by it, but the industry was not.


Because what Carwyn Jones said made no objective sense, the Minister for Environment and Sustainable Development, John Griffiths, has now had to write a letter—sent to Heads of Planning in Wales, the Department of Energy and Climate Change, the Infrastructure Planning Commission, energy companies and other interested parties—to clarify the position. The full text of that letter is here.

In it, he directly contradicts what Carwyn Jones had said in the Cabinet Statement. He now says that the Welsh Government's energy policy is definitively set out in the document entitled "A Low Carbon Revolution" of March 2010.

This is a rather problematic document, because it chooses to set out its targets for renewable energy on a different basis to TAN 8. The targets in TAN 8 are set out in terms of installed capacity, but the targets in ALCR are set out in terms of electricity produced. For onshore wind, that target is:

to have 4.5 kWh/d/p of installed onshore wind generation capacity by 2015/2017

As we can see, the people who draughted this were not really aware of the difference between capacity and production, and the sentence therefore makes no sense. The word "capacity" is redundant when talking about the actual amount of electricity produced. However the units make clear what is meant, and the target of 4.5 kWh per day per person equates to 4.927 TWh per year based on the 3m people in Wales.

The problem comes when trying to equate this production target with the installed capacity necessary to generate it, because it depends on what capacity factor has been assumed. Appendix 1 to the document specifically says that a 30% capacity factor has been assumed for onshore wind, and on that basis the installed capacity would need to be 1,875 MW. It would be impossible for anybody who read that document to have come to any other conclusion about what was meant.

But a capacity factor of 30% is much too optimistic for onshore wind. A more realistic figure based on the average of the past seven years would be about 26%, but on that basis the installed capacity would need to be 2,163 MW ... a full 288 MW more.

In his letter John Griffiths has said that the ALCR target is equivalent to 2,000 MW of installed onshore capacity, which would mean a capacity factor of 28.15%. This is very obviously a retrospective calculation, but the delight of the wind industry at him making such a mistake (and thereby allowing them an extra 125 MW capacity) was all too clear from their reaction in this story.


Put in a nutshell, Carwyn Jones' Cabinet Statement was complete tosh, because the Welsh Government had already adopted a renewable energy policy that exceeded the TAN 8 targets for onshore wind. But John Griffiths, in trying to undo the damage caused by his leader and placate a whole load of angry people in the wind industry and no doubt Westminster too, has now gone too far in the other direction and increased the target yet again from 1,875 MW to 2,000 MW installed capacity. The Welsh Government is just flapping in the wind.


I'm well aware that the figures I've given might not mean very much to some people. So let me try and put the figures into perspective. At present, Wales has just over 400 MW of installed onshore wind capacity. The precise breakdown as at October last year was 376 MW, but more has been added since then.

If we were to stick to the capacities in TAN 8, it would mean 1,120 MW of installed onshore capacity or almost three times the capacity we have now. But if the Welsh Government aims for 2,000 MW of installed onshore capacity as indicated in John Griffiths' letter, it will mean we have five times the capacity we have now. However this won't equate to three or five times the number of wind turbines, because wind turbines are getting bigger. But it will mean very many more turbines.

The question to ask is how many is too many. This is obviously a value judgement; for some people any wind turbine is something to be opposed; for others any wind turbine close to where they live is something to be opposed. I don't have much time for either of those positions. For me, producing the energy we need from renewable sources is of paramount importance for both our economic future and the planet, and wind turbines are one of the easiest ways of doing it. Wind energy is a good thing, but—just like malt whisky or chocolate fudge cake—it is possible to have too much of a good thing.

In round terms Wales consumes 20 TWh per year of electricity. If we look at ALCR, we will see that in addition to the 4.5 kWh/d/p = 4.927 TWh from onshore wind, it envisages a further 15 kWh/d/p = 16.425 TWh per year from offshore wind. I think the figure for offshore wind is entirely reasonable, and my own calculation (in this post) put the figure at 16.7 TWh per year based on the Round 3 wind farm zones. But adding the two ALCR figures together, Wales will produce about 21.35 TWh per year of electricity from wind, which is more than we consume. Wales will become the first country in the world to generate more than all the electricity it needs from wind.


But of course Wales doesn't exist in isolation; we have neighbours on all sides and we have and still can export energy to them. In itself producing more electricity than we consume isn't a problem, and in future our energy exports will be a major factor in our economic success as an independent nation. But any resource on this scale needs to be planned, and the lack of coherent planning is a problem. The way that UK energy policy works is to provide a financial incentive for renewables in the form of ROCs. As onshore wind is now a well established technology, it has become profitable and risk-free for energy companies to put up windfarms. But there is no UK-wide guidance as to where these windfarms should be.

Because Wales is generally windier than England, and because land values are generally lower than in England, it is usually much more profitable to site onshore windfarms in Wales than in England. This is why there are so many applications to build windfarms, and why Wales already has five times more wind turbines per 100 sq km than England. These are the figures, based on the link above:

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 far as the UK government is concerned, why should they mind if a disproportionate share of the UK's renewable energy is generated outside England? That's why UK governments of all political hues haven't had any coherent policy on where onshore windfarms should be located. They don't need to, for they know full well that market forces will mean that more of them will end up on the hills of Powys and Ceredigion than on the South Downs or the Pennines.

So the only means of control over where windfarms will be sited is locally, through the planning system. TAN 8 was in fact a very creditable attempt to place limits on the number of windfarms in Wales through the planning process. That is why the recent protests against TAN 8 were so misguided. For without TAN 8 or something like it, there would be even more onshore windfarms in even more areas of Wales.


But the hassles of getting major projects decided locally through the planning system have proved too much for governments at Westminster, and the previous Labour government decided to bulldozer its way over it. The ConDem coalition are themselves perfectly happy to continue it with merely cosmetic changes, for the force of the system doesn't rest with the Infrastructure Planning Commission or the new Major Infrastructure Planning Unit that is likely to replace it, but with National Policy Statements which it will have little choice but to rubber stamp.

The latest NPSs about energy were set out only a few weeks ago in the documents on this page, in particular EN-3. These will over-rule any planning policies the Welsh Government has or will make with regard to energy, such as TAN 8. EN-3 specifically says the Westminster NPS is:

the primary decision-making policy document for the IPC on nationally significant onshore renewable energy infrastructure projects in England and Wales.

By "nationally significant" they mean any project over 50 MW, and planning applications for such projects will be decided by the IPC/MIPU instead of by ministers in Wales. This is in marked contrast with the position in both Scotland and Northern Ireland, where the same document says:

In Scotland the IPC will not examine applications for nationally significant generating stations or electricity network infrastructure.

In Northern Ireland, planning consents for all energy infrastructure projects are devolved to the Northern Ireland Executive, so the IPC will not examine applications for energy infrastructure in Northern Ireland.

We need to ask why we in Wales are being treated in a different way from the other devolved administrations, and we need to fight to change this. This is not a party political matter because all parties in Wales want it devolved, even the unionist parties; but those very same parties in Westminster refuse to let it be devolved.


If this isn't changed, Wales will be in the absurd position of being able to control the development of small windfarms up to 50 MW (maybe twenty or so 2.4 MW turbines) but have no control whatsoever over larger windfarms. This will only encourage windfarm developers to opt for bigger rather than smaller schemes, because they know that if the planning decision is made in Wales, they will be less likely to get approval than if the planning decision in made by the IPC.

The effect of the current system of split responsibilities will actually serve to encourage over-development of any particular site. A site that might be ideal for six or seven wind turbines might well be expanded to over twenty wind turbines just to get it over the 50 MW threshold. And even if we increased the limit from 50 MW to 100 MW (which is being put forward as a compromise) it would only mean that a site that might be suitable for twenty-five or so wind turbines gets expanded to forty to get it over the 100 MW threshold. So it's pointless tinkering with the figure, it has to be either all or nothing.

Devolution of planning decisions about energy to Wales is of course no guarantee that our government will make the right decisions. But to paraphrase FDR only slightly, "Those making decisions about energy projects might be incompetent bastards, but at least they'll be our incompetent bastards."

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What Catalans Want

Entirely by coincidence—I think—Toni Strubell, one of the deputies from the Catalan Parlament who was at Westminster last month and who was in the picture in my previous post, has just published a book about Catalan independence. It's in English and this is from the publisher's press release:

Catalonia Press is thrilled to announce the publication of “What Catalans Want”, a gorgeous full-color collection of interviews in English by Toni Strubell accompanied by striking photographs by Lluís Brunet, with a poignant prologue by Irish novelist Colm Tóibín. The book takes a close look at Catalonia at a time when the country’s political future as a Spanish autonomous region is being seriously questioned for the first time since it came into being in 1980.

“What Catalans Want” contains interviews of more than 30 representative Catalan personalities in various key areas of public life. The book’s aim is to discover why so many Catalans feel as uncomfortable about continuing to form part of Spain as they feel enthused about being full independent members of the European Union. Could the Catalan question—fanned by ongoing Spanish political, economic, and cultural oppression—be welling up into a political issue on the same order as Scotland’s?

The book delves into this essential question by concentrating on what matters most: the opinion of those affected, from the presidents of Catalonia and FC Barcelona, professors of economics and communications, business professionals and community leaders, writers, journalists, and historians, and many more. This book appears at a time when the current crisis has destroyed the country’s traditional image as an “oasis” of satisfaction, enjoying what was seen as an “ample” margin of autonomy and economic welfare. Instead, independent polls now reveal that more than 40% of Catalans would vote in favor of an independent Catalan state, in large part for economic reasons. The book also explores the recent unofficial independentist polls that were held in over 500 municipalities in which over 90% of the participants voted for independence.

Why have things come to a head? And why do most foreign tourists visiting the country have so little idea what is going on? “What Catalans Want” aims to answer the first question while obviating the need for the second.

Catalonia Press

Best of all, they have released a forty page sample of the book as a free pdf. Just click the image to read it.


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Catalan Caption Competition

I've only just seen this picture. It was taken last month in the Houses of Parliament and shows, from left to right, Agusti Soler, Hywel Williams, Manel Oronich, Toni Strubell, Elfyn Llwyd and Jonathan Edwards. The three Plaid Cymru MPs will be familiar faces, the three others are deputies in the Catalan Parlament from different pro-independence parties. They are holding the Estelada – the version of the traditional striped flag which includes a blue triangle and star, used by those who want to see an independent Catalunya. A nice display of solidarity between our two nations.


But on a less serious note, why are our three MPs looking at the camera and the three Catalans looking in the other direction?

Clever or amusing answers only, please.

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Steady Progress in Cardiff

I hardly think this will be a great surprise, but Cardiff Council have just confirmed that there were no statutory objections to the proposal to build new three form entry premises for Ysgol Treganna on the Sanitorium Road site. This means everything can go ahead without further reference to the Welsh government.

They've also announced that they're going to consult on extending the age range of three primaries to include a nursery class. Two of the three—Ysgol Pen y Groes and Ysgol Pen y Pîl—are recently established Welsh-medium schools. In the words of the news release:

Demand for provision continues to grow and there is need for a long term solution to accommodate the growth.


The establishment of a nursery at the school will help meet local demand for high quality, Welsh-medium nursery education.

Onwards and upwards.

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A New Independent Nation

Following the referendum in January, South Sudan officially becomes an independent nation today. I'm delighted for them, though a little jealous that they've achieved it before us.


Still, it won't be too long before Wales is independent as well. Our direction of travel is clear. It's just a matter of time, but let's work to make it sooner rather than later.


This is a video of the official flag raising ceremony from Al-Jazeera, and some more pictures of the celebrations.





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Numbers in Welsh-medium Education

The provisional results of the 2011 Schools Census have been released today, and are available here. The first thing I did was look at the numbers in Welsh-medium education.

Primary Schools

Welsh-medium (plus dual stream) ... 59,559
Total pupils ... 258,314
WM percentage ... 23.06%

Welsh-medium (plus dual stream) ... 59,880 (+ 321)
60,318 Total pupils ... 257,445 (- 869)
WM percentage ... 23.26%

Welsh-medium (plus dual stream and transitional) ... 60,318 (+ 438)
Total pupils ... 257,445 (- 869)
WM percentage ... 23.43%

Welsh-medium (plus dual stream and transitional) ... 61,073 (+ 755)
Total pupils ... 259,189 (+ 1,744)
WM percentage ... 23.56%

In last year's release, the figures did not include transitional schools, but this year's release does include that figure for last year. That's why there are two sets of figures for 2010. Transitional schools are those where between 50% and 70% of the curriculum is taught in Welsh, and which are expected to become WM in due course.

As we can see, things are moving in the right direction, but at a painfully slow rate. Yes, 755 is a better numerical increase than in previous years, but we need to note that the total number of children in primary schools has now started to rise again after ten years of decline, and the numbers need to be set in that context. In the overall increase of 1,744 this year, that 755 represents a proportion of just over 43%.

Secondary Schools

Welsh-medium (and bilingual) ... 41,916
Total pupils ... 205,412
WM percentage ... 20.40%

Welsh-medium (and bilingual) ... 43,432 (+ 1,516)
Total pupils ... 203,907 (- 1,505)
WM percentage ... 21.30%

Welsh-medium (and bilingual) ... 41,765 (- 1,667)
Total pupils ... 201,234 (- 2,673)
WM percentage ... 20.75%

I did say last year that the increase in the numbers of WM secondary school pupils in 2010 was unusually large; so although this year's decrease is disappointing, it does show a gradual progression compared with the 2009 figures. Therefore 2010 seems to be an anomaly. If anyone can shed some light on this, please make a comment below.


The Welsh-medium Education Strategy set as one of its targets an increase in the percentage of Key Stage 1 assessments in Welsh from 21% to 25% by 2015. This is a more accurate way of assessing the growth in WM than the raw numbers in WM schools because many schools—particularly traditional schools in some of the more Welsh-speaking areas—can be classified as WM but still provide only a very patchy education in Welsh.

Yet in broad terms there is an obvious correlation between KS1 assessments in Welsh and the percentage in WM primary schools. The WMES set a target of a 0.8% increase each year, but the percentage in WM primaries has gone up by only 0.5% in two years. This should act as a clear early warning sign that the 2015 target is not going to be met unless this slow rate of growth is addressed now.

We need to press Leighton Andrews for a plan of action to ensure that the 2015 target is not missed.

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The Wrong Headline

There was a story in the online version of the Western Mail this morning which was carried under the headline:

Welsh primary school pupils outperforming English counterparts

But when I looked again an hour or so later I couldn't help but notice that the headline had been changed—even though the story was exactly the same—to:

Welsh pupils fall behind English counterparts after primary school

That's more like it. The number one rule of journalism is that you must never let junior staff write headlines that show Wales in a good light.

We should be grateful that the more senior editors at what they like to call our national newspaper have a better sense of perspective about how bad Wales is.

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More on a Heathrow Rail Link

In my previous post I looked at how we could create a direct rail link into Heathrow airport from south Wales and the west of England without going into London, as had been proposed by Mark Hopwood of First Great Western.

However as I gave the matter a little more thought, I realized that if the proposed HS2 link direct to Heathrow airport goes ahead, it would make the proposed GWML western link much more viable. Being me, the only thing to do was draw it up to see how it would work. Click the image for a larger version.


The GWML is in black, this is also the route of CrossRail west of Paddington. HS1 to St Pancras is in navy. HS2 from Euston to Birmingham and beyond is in red. The Heathrow Connect / Heathrow Express spur is in orange.

When it comes to how to link Heathrow to HS2, I have to say that there does not seem to be very much clear thinking about what we are doing this for. In particular, we definitely don't need a high speed rail link between London and Heathrow. It is a short journey that takes only 15 minutes from Paddington ... and with CrossRail, about half a dozen stations in London will be only about half an hour away. It is pointless paying money to build a high speed route in order to cut that journey by five minutes at most.

The main benefit of linking Heathrow to HS2 is for those who want to get to Heathrow from the north and west, because it cuts out a journey into London and back out again. Also, as HS2 is extended north, the idea will be to entice people away from making domestic fights to Heathrow to then fly onward to destinations only served by Heathrow and not by their regional airports.

So as things stand at present, the priority is to build a spur for trains to and from the north, although if this becomes a loop so much the better. The spur will be likely to come down the Colne Valley to Terminal 5, as shown in dark blue and light blue. If this happens, it will account for more than half of the western link to the GWML as proposed on the map below, leaving only the small section shown in green above. This will probably be only a third or a quarter of the cost, because it will not need to be tunnelled.


Yet as I thought about it more, an HS2 spur to Heathrow didn't really make much sense. The only people who could use it would be those who wanted to get to Heathrow. The more obvious solution would be to build the dark blue section, put in a chord (in pink) and go back to Arup's original suggestion of a Heathrow Hub on the GWML.

What would then happen is that some high speed trains from the north would go direct to Euston (or on to the continent) on the red route, but that others (maybe every third train) would turn off and stop at the Heathrow Hub, but then carry on to Euston on the upgraded GWML to Old Oak Common, where it would rejoin the HS2 main line. This would only add maybe five minutes to the journey, only a little more than the time taken by stopping at Heathrow anyway.

The second point is that the trains which stopped at the Heathrow Hub would not need to stop at Old Oak Common as well, they would simply rejoin the HS2 main line there. The purpose of Old Oak is to provide an "across the platform" interchange with CrossRail, but because the Heathrow Hub is also on CrossRail it would be unnecessary to stop at both. I imagine that most trains from the north terminating at Euston would stop at either Old Oak or Heathrow for across the platform interchange with CrossRail, because CrossRail offers a much wider range of stations in central London. Not only is that more convenient for passengers, but it takes some of the strain off Euston and its tube links.


I had thought that the Heathrow Hub was dead in the water because the route chose for the main HS2 line didn't go through it. But the "red/darkblue/pink/black/Old Oak/red" loop achieves everything that routing the main HS2 line through Heathrow would do, though at the small inconvenience of adding a few minutes to the journey. Trying to achieve a loop from HS2 to Heathrow any other way would be horrendous. It would either mean a journey of "red/darkblue/lightblue/orange/black/OldOak/red" or some even more expensive tunneling.

But we need to remember that the Heathrow Hub is more than just a place that high speed and intercity trains stop. It will be one location on an internal transport system for Heathrow that will include all the terminals, car parks, rail and bus stations and hotels, as shown in diagrammatic form below. It will be an expensive project, and could only be justified by the HS2 and GWML passenger numbers combined, not by the GWML on its own.


So where does this leave Wales? Two choices. If the Heathrow Hub is built, then there will be little need for the GWML western link. Most trains (although I imagine there will be some that don't stop) from South Wales to Paddington would also stop at the Heathrow Hub. This stop would serve three groups of people:

•  those wanting the airport
•  those wanting to cross the platform to CrossRail (for a wider range of destinations in London without having to use the tube)
•  those wanting to travel to the continent on HS2/HS1

However, if the Heathrow Hub is not built there will be the HS2 spur to T5 instead, and it would be simple and comparatively cheap to build the green link. Some trains from south Wales to Paddington could then travel on the "black/green/lightblue/orange/black" loop, but only some, as this would add at least 15 minutes to the journey. I would imagine one train every two hours doing that, however other trains would stop at Reading (or maybe Maidenhead or Slough) where there would be an across the platform interchange with the one train every two hours from places like Oxford, Bristol and Exeter which makes a similar diversion. Plus maybe the Crossrail service.

One way or the other, we would get a direct rail service from south Wales to Heathrow.

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The Rail Link to Heathrow ... Plan B

It was interesting to read that Mark Hopwood, the Managing Director of First Great Western, is calling for a direct western link between Heathrow airport and the Great Western Main Line. This would enable passengers not only from south Wales, but from all over south west England to be able to reach Heathrow directly rather than travel into London and than back out again.

Speaking to a meeting of Cardiff Breakfast Club yesterday, Mr Hopwood, whose company’s franchise includes operating the South Wales to Paddington intercity service, said he had identified a potential route into one of the world’s busiest airport for commuters travelling from South Wales.

He said he recognised the frustration of the current position of passengers having to first take a train to Paddington and then head back westwards again on the Heathrow Express service.

He said: “We are looking at the benefits of a western access into Heathrow rather than first having to go out to London and then come back. It would only take around four to five miles of new railway across land which is currently not really used for anything. We think getting a link into Heathrow would not be as difficult as other railway projects being thought about.”

Mr Hopwood said the proposed route could exploit one of two empty rail platforms at Terminal Five.

Western Mail, 1 July 2011

Until recently, I had hoped that the route chosen for the new high speed rail link between London and Birmingham (and beyond) would have included Arup's proposed Heathrow Hub, as had been Tory policy before they were elected. Details are here and here. But I think everyone except Cheryl Gillan has little choice but to accept that the Tories are sticking with the more easterly route that happens to go through her back garden, and therefore we need to focus our attention on Plan B instead.


At present Heathrow Connect and the Heathrow Express run on the GWML from Paddington before turning off to Heathrow at Hayes and Harlington. The intention was to continue the branch that currently stops at Terminal 5 on to Staines as Airtrack, but this scheme has now been dropped. However the platforms for it are already built, so they can just as easily be used for this link instead. The black dotted line that I've added to the diagram below shows in schematic terms how the western link would branch off the GWML west of Iver and connect to the station under Terminal 5.


The image below, taken from this study, shows how the link works in more detail. The tunnel is necessary because the stations at Heathrow are already underground. The route cuts through a golf club, but that shouldn't be too big a problem. Click the image for a larger version.


I reckon the scheme would cost a few hundred million pounds, but it would shave at least an hour off the journey to Heathrow (two twenty minute journeys in and out from Paddington, plus a change and a wait) from any station served by the Great Western Main Line. Most trains would probably still run directly to Paddington, but others would divert via Heathrow. There could also be a shuttle service from say Reading.

We in Wales (or at least in the south) should be right at the forefront of the group lobbying for this to happen. But we'll be joined by people from Oxford, Swindon, Gloucester, Bath, Bristol and all points west, who will get exactly the same benefit from it as we will.

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Attack of the jellyfish

I've just read this story in the Edinburgh Evening News about the nuclear power station at Torness being shut down because jellyfish had clogged the intake for the cooling system.

On its own, this incident would not be too serious. Both reactors were shut down safely on Tuesday afternoon, although this does raise questions about why it has only just been reported. However it is not all that easy to start the reactors up again after a shutdown. As yet EDF Energy have not given any dates, but the National Grid don't expect them to be back on line until the 5th or 6th July ... which means both reactors will not have been producing energy for more than a week.


My reason for highlighting this story is simply that it provides an example of the sort of minor, unexpected things that can shut down a nuclear reactor without any warning. Things like this can happen to any power station, but only nuclear power stations take so long to start producing electricity again after the event which caused the shutdown has been fixed.

But how often do these things happen? Are events like these so rare as to not have any significant effect on overall electricity generation when evened-out over the years?

Well, no. Events like this are in fact quite frequent. This report in the Guardian in March of this year details a whole list of unplanned shutdowns at Torness in the last quarter of 2010, including one where the cooling intake had been blocked ... but on that occasion by seaweed rather than jellyfish. However there were also some more serious events which could be called safety blunders.

The revelations have reignited concerns about the safety of Britain's nuclear stations. French-owned EDF Energy admitted that it had not followed the correct procedures, but insisted that there had been no danger to the public.

A report posted online by the UK government's Nuclear Installations Inspectorate (NII) discloses that there were two significant safety "events" at Torness in September last year. "Correct operational procedures appear not have been observed," says the report.

In one incident, an equipment malfunction cut off the electricity supplied to a gas circulator. Gas circulators are critical components because they ensure that air is kept moving to cool reactor fuel and prevent it from overheating.

The second incident also involved problems with electricity supply, though this time to a radioactive fuel dismantling facility at Torness. According to EDF Energy, the two events were "entirely unconnected".

The NII report says: "The events included contributions from operators not complying in full with the instructions provided to ensure safe limits and conditions are observed during plant operations."

Guardian, 22 March 2011

One of the most frequent criticisms of renewable power from sources such as wind is that it requires backup. That's true, of course. But so does every form of generation; including gas, coal ... and nuclear.

Over the last five years the load factor of nuclear power stations in the UK has varied between a high of 72.4% in 2005 and a low of 49.4% in 2008 (Table 5.10). This shows that nuclear is by no means as reliable a source of power as some people would have us think.

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