Please find below my monthly update on my work in Montgomeryshire and the National Assembly for Wales including information about a funding advice day on 8th November for community groups to learn about what sources of funding are available to them to support their activities.
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If you would like further information on anything which may not be mentioned in the newsletter or would like my support on any other matter, please don't hesitate to contact me on 01686 610887 or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
Russell George AM
Assembly Member for Montgomeryshire
Funding Advice for Community Groups
I’m looking forward to hosting a funding advice day for community groups on Friday 8th November between 10am and 12pm at the Corn Exchange, Welshpool Town Hall.
This event, which is totally free to attend, is aimed at community groups, to promote what funding opportunities are available to support their activities.
A number of funding bodies have been invited to make short presentations, and make themselves available for one to one meetings. Sport Wales, the Heritage Fund, the Arts Council for Wales, the National Lottery Community Fund, Community Foundation Wales and the Powys Association for Voluntary Organisations are among the organisations that will be attending the event.
The presentations will begin at 10am and there is no need to pre-register so please feel free to drop in for any funding advice which you require to support your group.
Access to Banking
Last month, the National Assembly’s Economy, Infrastructure and Skills Committee, which I Chair, launched an alarming report on access to banking and ATMs across Wales. Between January 2015 and August 2019, Wales lost over two fifths of its bank branches, 239 in all. We know this only too well here in Montgomeryshire, having lost a number of bank branches from our high streets in recent years which has hit communities hard.
Our committee is agreed that we cannot sit back and ignore the problem and my Committee has recommended that the Welsh Government urgently map out banking services and ATMs to assess the real impact which these closures are having on people, especially vulnerable people, elderly people, small businesses and those who rely on cash.
The Welsh Government must also work to make Wales’ voice heard at a UK-level to ensure that the actions being taken by the UK Government’s Joint Authorities Cash Strategy Group safeguard access to cash; and work with LINK and the regulators to strengthen the free-to-use ATM network. It should also look at changing planning rules to protect banking facilities and incorporate the need for banks in their work on town centre regeneration.
The Welsh Government's proposal for a community bank is also a suggestion which is worth looking at but the viability of such a project has been questioned, and it remains to be seen whether or not this is the best use of public money to solve the problem. Collaboration between the banks to provide much-needed services, such as through shared branch ‘hubs’ may be a more appropriate way forward.
Just as our inquiry was launched, I was extremely disappointed with Barclays' decision to stop its customers making cash withdrawals from the Post Office right across the UK, and I wrote to them to ask them to reconsider this regrettable decision which would have come into force in January 2020. I'm therefore pleased that they have taken on board these concerns and have been persuaded to change their mind, meaning that customers will still be able to withdraw cash at the Post Office as well as making other essential banking transactions.
From my perspective, I will continue to campaign for the retention of essential banking services here in Montgomeryshire. We are not yet ready to go cashless and online banking is not right or possible for everyone, especially in rural areas with poor broadband connectivity.
Last month, I had a number of meetings with mobile network operators, and the telecoms regulator, Ofcom.
The UK’s four mobile network operators (MNOs) and the UK Government have been working towards a £1 billion proposal to build a Shared Rural Network that would see 4G mobile coverage extended to 95% of the UK’s landmass.
To help reach 95%, the Shared Rural Network proposal will be delivered by focusing on eliminating virtually all partial not-spots (i.e. where there is coverage from one or more operators, but not all). This will be made possible by all four MNOs sharing each other’s infrastructure.
New publicly funded infrastructure, to be shared by all four MNOs, will also be built in areas of the country where there is currently no coverage (total not-spots).
Both industry and the UK Government aim to reach a formal agreement in the near future in what should be a positive development for mobile coverage here in Montgomeryshire.
Newtown Bypass after works..
Whilst the Newtown bypass is open, the contractors have continued to carry out ongoing drainage works at various locations around the bypass and have been planting and carrying out landscaping works along with placing permanent fencing and removing temporary fencing. It is anticipated that these works will be completed by the end of the year. The landscaping team will continue to work through the autumn to undertake the remaining seasonal planting. Over the next four years, landscaping works will be monitored and managed as per the commitments made.
I have received a few safety concerns relating to the bypass, which include the lack of arrow signs signalling drivers to get back into lane before exiting roundabouts whereby two lanes go back to only one. This is an issue I have raised with the Welsh Government and they say that a road safety audit has been completed. The project team have also raised this as a concern and have suggested additional road markings, however, bizarrely, the recommendations have not been accepted by the auditor based on the lack of evidence that accidents have occurred and at the current time will just monitor the situation. I will keep pressing this safety issue as I believe safety measures should be put into place before an accident happens and not wait until after. If you have witnessed any incidents along the bypass I would like to hear from you as it helps to build the case for additional measures.
Since the original confirmation of construction of the bypass, various works in Newtown have taken place by utility companies which had been deferred so as not to add to congestion problems until the bypass was open. Having been postponed for so long, these much needed works have been taking place. The Dolfor road was closed over the School Summer holiday to avoid disruption expected during term time. Further gas mains work on the Llanidloes road out of Newtown have been taking place.
Many have asked about reinstating the roundabout at McDonalds and a pedestrian crossing on the Dolfor road amongst other traffic improvements in and around the town. I have raised these with Powys County Council as the road through the town will soon be handed over to the Council for its responsibility. Both Welsh Government and Powys County Council have been resistant for a roundabout to be returned at the McDonalds junction. Reasons highlighted to me include that the original roundabout did not work well as it wasn’t really large enough and the other reason is that pedestrians need to cross this area which works better with lights.
The Council is currently monitoring traffic flows and changes to traffic behaviour as drivers establish different routes in and out of the town. I was pleased that the Welsh Government agreed to name four key roundabouts after local heroes which are Laura Ashley, Pryce Pryce Jones, Robert Owen and David Davies.
Draft National Development Framework
In October, a delegation from the Campaign for the Protection of Rural Wales and I met with Julie James AM, the Minister for Local Government, to discuss the Draft National Development Framework which will set the direction for development in Wales from 2020 to 2040.
As I mentioned in my last newsletter, the draft contains proposals for "large scale wind and solar development to be directed towards Priority Areas for Wind and Solar Energy". I have provided a full update on what this means for North Powys here.
The Minister was informed of the concerns of many mid Wales people, and I think it is crucially important that representations are made by residents who wish to protect our landscapes.
The consultation period and deadline for responses has been extended by two weeks and will now close on Friday 15th November 2019.
The Draft National Development Framework Consultation is available here.
Bus Pass Application - Deadline approaching...
Don't forget that if you are eligible for a bus pass, you have until 31st December to renew or apply for your new pass. I had taken up the matter of the Transport for Wales online application portal not operating with the Minister, but have now been reassured that it is back up and running and can be accessed by clicking here.
Paper forms have also been distributed to all local councils so that people can pick them up from Council officers, and I also have paper copies available in my Newtown office.
If anyone is worried about making an application, help and support is available from the Transport for Wales helpline: 0300 303 4240.