Story of my election campaign, part 3: Disempowered

Why did Carmarthenshire County Council build a mini-estate of homes outside a village which now has no services?

How can a community regenerate itself when all its amenities have gone? No school, no pub, no hall. No public meeting places.  An empty chapel for sale.

These questions arise from visits to Cynghordy this week. Cynghordy is a dispersed village below the striking, curved, viaduct carrying the Heart of Wales railway between Llandovery and Llanyrtyd Wells. The primary school closed this year. The pub, the rambling Glanbran Arms, is closed and for sale. On the fringe of the village, a street of local authority homes appears to have scant relationship with the landscape. The houses are solid, but where are the jobs for the occupants? Where, in fact, is the community?

Lack of public services means no focal points for the village, and not even a public convenience, quite a significant absence when one is in the area for several hours. My first thought was to try the pub, before realising that those doors were closed, too. Even tourism, so often regarded as the saviour of rural areas, needs a certain level of services including places to eat and drink, or visitors will not return.

Back in Llandovery, I met a shopkeeper who said he is unlikely to carry on beyond the end of 2012. “Accountants’ fees and taxes mount up, but I have fewer customers,” he said. “This street is often deserted.” Supermarkets’ home delivery services are perhaps the killer blow. Tesco and Asda vans buzz up and down the byroads, and Sainsbury’s intends to join in. “Supermarkets undercut the prices I can sell at,” said the shopkeeper.

Online delivery services are one reason for the painful squeeze on local shops. Locally, high car parking charges are another. Carmarthenshire County Council charges 50p for a stay of up to 60 minutes in Llandovery’s town-centre car park, but the Co-op on the Brecon Road charges nothing. The simplest initial step to bring more people into the town would be to chop the charges. The county would lose revenue, but as more businesses close fewer people would have a reason to stop in Llandovery, and so income from the car park would decline anyway.

The main message this week from the lanes and streets is that many people in North East Carmarthenshire feel forgotten and some also feel disempowered. “Even if I did vote, what difference would it make?” a man said to me, near the Co-op. “None at all.” This is an alarming view, but one that the county council has exacerbated by ignoring public opinion (especially over the unpopular decision to close the high school, Ysgol Gyfun Pantycelyn), by discouraging the public from attending meetings, and by refusing to allow meetings to be recorded. The council has become too remote from the public that it is supposed to serve.

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