Please find below my latest newsletter and I hope that you have had a good summer.
August has been a busy month for me and I have been out and about at a variety of local shows and events. I am pictured below with Georgia and Isabelle at the Guilsfield show. I was also pleased to attend shows in Dolfor, Trefeglwys, Llanfyllin, Montgomery, Carno, Berriew and Llanbrynmair and was disappointed that that Llanguirg Show had to be cancelled due to high winds.
As always, if you would like to contact me or meet me to discuss any issue or concern in more detail, please do not hesitate to contact me either by calling my office on 01686 610887 or emailing me at email@example.com
This newsletter is also available in Welsh so if you would prefer to receive it in the Welsh language, please contact me.
Russell George AM
Assembly Member for Montgomeryshire
NHS Future Fit Update
Following many years of consultation, you will be aware that plans were given the go ahead earlier this year (29th January 2019) to transform hospital services for the half a million residents of Mid Wales, Shropshire, and Telford.
However, Telford Council has challenged the decision-making process and recommendations. It has formally referred the matter to the UK Government's Health Secretary who has asked an independent panel to look into the matter further before making a decision.
Under the initial plans, the Royal Shrewsbury Hospital will become a new Emergency Care centre and The Princess Royal Hospital in Telford will become a Planned Care centre, with a 24-hour Urgent Care centre at both hospitals.
I welcome the initial decision which comes after many years of deliberation by a programme board called “Future Fit”. The Board, considered the outcome and feedback from a public consultation, impact assessments on the different options and the findings of an independent review.
This would be positive for us in Mid Wales, as not only will we see life-saving emergency healthcare located in Shrewsbury, with the large investment that comes with it, we will also see the return of the women and children’s consultant-led inpatient service return to Shrewsbury.
However, the change would mean that some planned and elective healthcare will be delivered in Telford, so during this process, I also expressed the view in my own consultation response that, alongside the proposed reconfiguration of services in Shropshire, it is essential that some planned care is delivered locally in our local community hospitals in Llanidloes, Newtown, Welshpool and Machynlleth, to prevent the need to travel out of county to see a consultant. I will be keen to understand how the Shrewsbury and Telford Hospital NHS Trust will work in partnership with Powys Teaching Health Board to achieve this going forward.
I hope that the UK Government's Secretrary of State for Health upholds the original decision, which will allow building works to commence on the Shrewsbury site for a new Emergency Centre.
Police News - Newtown CCTV & County Lines Activity
I raised a series of issues with Dafydd Llywelyn, the Dyfed Powys Police & Crime Commissioner, who provided me with an update on Newtown CCTV and County Lines activity.
A number of CCTV cameras have been installed in Newtown, and the system is now active. I informed him of the concerns which I had on further locations that I believe need to be covered.
With regard to County Lines activity, the tackling of Organised Crime Groups has, over the past few years, become a key priority for policing in Powys. Work has been ongoing to tackle and dismantle some of these gangs through operations. I was pleased with the progress reported to me, but clearly there is work to be done. Current operations have resulted in more than 40 people being remanded to prison as well as many more lower level users being offered support intervention with the aim of steering them away from criminality via effective drug treatment programmes.
I asked Dafydd Llywelyn to attend a meeting with me locally, with key local leaders in our area to discuss operations further.
I have asked the Welsh Government Minister for Economy & Infrastructure, Ken Skates, for detailed plans to be brought forward for a roundabout at the Moat Lane crossing in Caersws to resolve congestion and road safety at this pinch point.
Investment in Montgomeryshire's transport network
Following the successful opening of the Newtown Bypass, earlier this year, progress is now needed on a number of other road infrastructure projects, some of which have been in the pipeline for a number of years.
Now that it is open, the Newtown Bypass has the potential to transform the economy of towns such as Newtown, Llanidloes and Machynlleth. It has resolved local traffic congestion issues, and it is already helping to boost tourism and the wider Mid Wales economy.
However, attention now needs to turn to other much needed transport projects across the county and I hope we now see progress on a new Dyfi Bridge in Machynlleth after slow progress to date.
I also firmly believe that we now need a significant road improvement scheme to improve the road between Welshpool and Shrewsbury. The lengthy delays to the repairs on the Cefn Bridge on the A458 near Trewern clearly illustrate the importance of having good road infrastructure on one of the main arteries which links Wales and England as does the need for progress on the Pant-Llanymynech bypass.
I have also had discussions about a number of relatively small schemes, and a number of projects which could be brought forward quickly to help traffic flow and safety concerns at a number of key pinch points. These include the potential for a roundabout at the Moat Lane crossing near Caersws and the dualling of road sections by Llangurig and Llanidloes. Having good infrastructure is key to supporting our local economy to grow.
Changes to Mid Wales landscapes unacceptable
I have been a long-time supporter of protecting the Mid Wales landscape and in my view, proposals in a recent Welsh Government consultation are entirely unacceptable.
The National Development Framework is a new development plan which will set the direction for development in Wales from 2020 to 2040. It sets a strategy for addressing the Welsh Government's national priorities through the planning system.
The draft framework, which was published last month contains proposals for "large scale wind development to be directed towards Priority Areas for Wind and Solar Energy". Over a dozen areas have been identified throughout Wales.
According to the document, there will be a presumption in favour of "large scale on-shore wind development in these areas and an acceptance of landscape change."
Also, "a strategic review of landscape and visual impact identified the Priority Areas for Solar and Wind Energy as the most appropriate locations to accommodate landscape change. There is, therefore, an acceptance of landscape change in these areas."
Like many of you, I’m passionate about protecting our environment. The news story below discusses a further event I’m involved with regarding efforts to achieve a greener environment locally. I believe Mid Wales people recognise the importance of tackling climate change by reducing emissions, and we need to invest in renewable technologies, and ensure we have a mixed basket of different forms of renewable energy solutions.
However, from my perspective, it seems as though the Welsh Government is determined to do all it can to ignore the views of Mid Wales people. Local people have seen off a number of attempts to destroy large areas of Powys' beautiful countryside with large scale pylon infrastructure, and I have no doubt that local people will campaign again to prevent any kind of devastating proposals see the light of day.
In my experience, affected communities will not sit back without a fight and accept the Welsh Government's top down assertion that there has to be an "acceptance of landscape change".
This draft Development Framework includes proposals which could devastate vast swathes of Powys, I am concerned that the current proposals do not include any detail of how energy produced would then be connected to the National Grid. I would encourage communities to make their views known loud and clear before the consultation closes on November 1st.
The Draft National Development Framework Consultation is available to view here
There will also be drop-in sessions to enable residents to discuss the National Development Framework with Welsh Government officials. A session will be held at Newtown Library on 17th September (2pm - 7.30pm).
A Greener, Cleaner World
On Thursday 26th September at 6pm, I am sponsoring and supporting an event in Newtown at the Elephant & Castle Hotel where there will be an opportunity to consider how we could or should adjust and adapt our lifestyles to make a tangible and practical difference to protect our environment.
Environmental issues are often presented as academic research or political campaigns but how do we apply the science to our every day lives and jobs, sometimes under complex and trying circumstances?
There will be 6 presenters representing a range of ordinary jobs in health and medicine, teaching, learning, farming, caring jobs and retail. I hope their testimony will deliver first hand experiences and form an appeal for help and constructive conversation rather than offer opinions or foregone conclusions.
The second half of the evening will open up the discussion to the audience and I look forward to some great brain storming and creative thinking in response to the presenters’ situations.
If you have a background in any of the sectors above or any other matter you consider relevant, please come and share your knowledge. If you want to simply listen and learn more please also feel free to attend. There will be a chance to continue engagement beyond the meeting in writing or online so if you don’t feel able to speak publicly or don’t get a chance, there will be more opportunities to contribute.
If you have an interest in a community wide approach to improving our environment; wish to meet others across a variety of sectors; and learn more about a their challenges, you will be most welcome. Please let me know if you would like to attend.
Transport for Wales - Cambrian Line Rail Services
We have seen an unacceptable level of service on the Cambrian Line over recent months. In August, I was pleased to meet with the Shrewsbury Aberyswyth Rail Passengers' Association (SARPA) which is an active rail users group campaigning on various issues from train times and frequency of trains to station maintenance.
I met with them, not only in my role as Assembly Member for Montgomeryshire, but as Chair of the National Assembly's Economy, Infrastructure & Skills Committee, to update them on the committee's scrutiny of the new Wales and Borders rail franchise which was won by KeolisAmey and runs under the brand name, Transport for Wales (TffW). I encouraged them to share any concerns which they have with me and if any residents have issues with the rail service on the Cambrian Line, please do get in touch.
I recently asked for details of the cancelled or delayed trains on the Cambrian line between 14th October 2018 to 18th July 2019. 3.4% of services were cancelled and 73.5% of services arrived on time at every station.
Over recent months, we have seen cancelled trains, delayed trains, a lack of staff, signalling problems, short formed trains (2 carriages instead of 4), poor or lack of quality information to passengers when issues do occur and overcrowding.
When TfW took over the franchise last year, commitments of change were promised, which we have sadly not yet seen to the extent I would have expected. I will be meeting with senior officials from TfW next month to further discuss matters, and ask them to update me on their plans for being prepared for the Autumn weather.
Transport for Wales tell us that that the Cambrian Line is unique to the rest of the route. In order for trains to run on the Cambrian line, the fleet is required to have the European Railway Traffic Management System installed which relies on the kit in the train communicating to signals and trackside equipment.
As a result, TfW tell me that this limits the fleet that can currently run on the Cambrian and means that in the case of any failures to trains or high passenger numbers (especially in the summer months), there are limited options for replacement services which can lead to delays occurring for longer or cancellations.
A new fleet of trains is being built specifically for the Cambrian Line and will be introduced from 2022. These trains will deliver increased capacity for passengers but will also run with faster acceleration, allowing services to meet the timetable more reliably.
However, until the new trains are introduced, TfW has made a commitment that they will be increasing the frequency of services to one train per hour throughout the day and making improvements to facilities at Machynlleth station in 2021.
"Monty" The Osprey
At the beginning of the month, I was delighted to revisit the Dyfi Ospreys Project, an internationally renowned project which is one of the leading osprey conservation, engagement and research projects in the world. I paid another visit to "Monty", who modestly describes himself as "arguably the most famous and loved Osprey in the world".
He has a laid-back character and is seldom agitated so it is always a pleasure to visit Monty. Whenever I visit, I am always struck by the dedication of the team of staff which run one of Montgomeryshire Wildlife Trust's flagship projects.
Since 2008, visitor numbers have increased from around 2,000 a year to approximately 40,000 today and millions more around the world watch their live streaming and social media.
The Dyfi Osprey Project closed on the 30th August so that they can start work on the new Dyfi Wildlife Centre and I look forward to returning to the new centre when it opens next year.
Last year, the Trust was successful in its application to the Heritage Lottery Fund to develop this brand new visitor centre at Cors Dyfi which will bring all the current amenities – the toilets, the café and seating areas, interpretation and osprey screens, the shop and volunteer areas all into one new building - the Dyfi Wildlife Centre, which will open in 2020.
The new centre will undoubtedly be a great asset to the Wildlife Trust and further contribute to the Trust's existing record of encouraging people of all ages to learn more about these fantastic rare birds, biodiversity and nature conservation; supporting the wider tourism industry; and boosting the local economy.