Thursday, 28 February 2013

Where their once stood an oak tree, there now sits an acorn.

Local politics. I'm not sure there's a more interesting way of saying that. Before I blog regarding mental health I thought I would introduce you all to the ball of string that is Welsh local politics. I know, to most politics is a dull and boring subject, left to the seekers of power, or the very vocal minority.

I'll place my own position for you so there's no disguise, I'm left of centre. I would have said I was a natural Liberal Democrats voter, but I can't bring myself to say that anymore. You could probably say I'm naive enough to still believe that negative situations can be changed with hard work into positive ones, but I'm struggling to see the wood from coed at the moment.

Pontypool used to be a successful, by all accounts, vibrant town that had a large permanent market and a huge local park for the residents use. A central and important train station, a history of pottery, and the ubiquitous mining nearby. Fast forward to 2013 and the town centre and market are lacklustre and the area is designated as deprived.

The reasons behind this are many. Cwmbran was built as a New Town. It has all the big commercial players, it's designed to make shopping easy if not interesting. The train station is now on the edge of town, a good mile and a half away. A supermarket has entered the town centre which has placed pressure on the local shops. Larger named bands won't relocate into the empty shops here as Cwmbran is ten minuets drive away. The rugby club, positioned in the park is no longer as successful as it was driving away the tens of thousands that would have passed through the town in the past when games were on. The industry that was once here has long since closed/relocated/gone under. A story not unfamiliar to many, many towns. So, what's the answer?

Interestingly, the County Council have their offices in the town, there is also a Community Council which was established in 2006. I immediately visited both websites for these parties and was struck that the Council website was not really very current, the blog set up in 2006 had not been updated since. The County Council's communications were better but not brilliant, their free paper doesn't even reach my door and I'm ten minuets walk away from their offices. I'm unsure if the fact that the County Council is here is clouding the issue, the more I ponder it the more I'm convinced it has but poor old Ponty is suffering from a complete lack of identity and function.

You only need to look at the online communities set up my local people to see the general unhappiness. A lot of people talk of the Council, without directing their annoyance to the correct place. To be fair, the Community Council is in some sort of enforced hiding or that's how it appears. You see, a few years back, Pontypool won approximately £13 million pounds in grants for regeneration. As far as I can tell, most of this money has not been spent yet. I know the centre has been re-cobbled, there are some general "art" installations, the market is due a refurbishment in May, but given that it's half empty and that future rents will be more than current I can't see how it might work economically. This is the reason that the general local population are hopping mad. The general upkeep of the town is bad, there are rundown shop fronts, graffiti of willies on the boards, the green areas in town and unplanted, unkept and rubbish is everywhere.

There's more administration in this town than anything else and I'm not sure what the answer is. I'm pretty sure it's not what's happening right now. To me, it's like there's a void. The two Councils have some sort of plan, I've read the paper, but it's vague on how they will get business booming again, it appears they think that it will just appear if they "regen", but that's not the case. Unless there is care taken on an ongoing basis then the town will not look cared for, it's not the big money spends that can make the difference it's the local, small and independent ideas that will change the environment. It also has to be said that the general whining and harking back to the past will not enliven the now. Personally I have some thoughts, I'm not convinced a town with two/three supermarkets can support a 7 day a week independent market. That might be unpopular, but I know of no other town that has one. I'm sure that the town needs a Community space, like a town hall/market area at the weekends. Check out Frome's Cheese and Grain development as an inspiration. There are no restaurants in town, not one, with no other entertainment than a Weatherspoons. There are no bands that play here, no theatre, no films, nothing. A town does not prosper by day alone. What is more surprising is a park that offers hectares of grounds, with a large leisure centre and a dry ski slope! It has a bandstand (that no one uses) and nothing happens in it. Nothing. No festivals in the summer, the only local event I can find is the annual fireworks display which just proves that Pontypool can hold in it more than ten people at a time. I tried to find the local group that takes care of the park, their website was down.

As you can tell, I have a lot to say on the subject and this post is mostly an outpouring of my current view of the town. Part two will be my ideas for the future, what could be done and the positives and initiatives I can see already taking place. I will update this post with appropriate photos as and when. If you have any ideas on how to regenerate a failing town or any of your own experiences then please feel free to share them!

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