Calon Cymru project to revitalise communities along the Heart of Wales railway

We have a railway, the Heart of Wales line between Swansea on the south Wales coast and Craven Arms in Shropshire.

The railway has four trains in each direction every day except Sunday, when there are two.

The towns and villages along the line have lost out in the rush to centralise services in the largest settlements. Llandovery, for example, has lost its Royal Mail sorting office and will soon lose its comprehensive school, if Carmarthenshire County Council’s school reorganisation plans proceed as intended. Families move away, shops and businesses lose trade and the downward slide continues.

Tourism is often proposed as the answer to rural decline, but over-dependence on a single industry is unwise, and in the context of Peak Oil, unrealistic. The days of ‘going out for a drive’ and of multiple short-break holidays have gone, except for the wealthiest, and they are not going to support a whole industry.

The Calon Cymru/ Heart of Wales project has a vision for more people living and working in the Heart of Wales line corridor. The railway itself would be central to the plan, moving people to work, school and college, and moving goods up and down the line.

The project idea came from architects, planners and others concerned about the depletion of services to rural communities, and will involve the creation of Community Land Trusts to acquire land and build homes – many with work spaces such as workshops and studios – to draw in enough people to form a ‘critical mass’ large enough to retain essential services.

The three main pillars of the plan are:

  • Community trusts to build affordable homes.
  • Social enterprises to develop forestry, farming, construction and other ventures in the railway corridor.
  • Expansion of train services on the railway as more passengers and goods travel by rail.

Calon Cymru, in a ’frequently asked questions’ document published in June 2009, argued that “anachronistic planning policies are throttling the life out of countless rural communities”. These policies include extreme reluctance to allow mixed business and residential land uses, with the result that suburban-style housing estates are preferred over the live-and-work buildings that characterise the centres of our historic towns, and give them character and dynamism. The preference for building new trunk roads rather than improving public transport has been another nail in the rural coffin.

While Calon Cymru is creating ripples of local interest, the idea has not yet become an action plan, let alone a project in progress. I believe that local resilience, in the new and inescapable world of declining oil supplies, higher energy prices, and higher food production and transport costs, will be essential, and if government is refusing to take matters seriously, we must create our own futures.

The website www.heartofwales.net has enough information to get us thinking about how to revitalise the communities along the Heart of Wales line.

Thank goodness Dr Beeching did not close this railway when he was wielding his dreaded axe back in the 1960s. The line, with its tunnels and viaducts as memorials to the hard labour of the men who built it in the 19th century, is a precious resource that we must safeguard.

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