Tower Regeneration: a site visit

Tower Colliery has now closed, and the site is being restored through Tower Regeneration Limited (TRL).  I have been to one working group meeting, representing Open Spaces Society (as the Local Correspondent for Rhondda Cynon Taf), and last Friday we had a site visit.

The whole Tower site is about 250 hectares close to Hirwaun and Rhigos villages, and over a third will be put in trust for local people’s use.  The caption above some photographs of the site reads “If you think you are a person of influence, Try ordering my dog around.”

We were visiting the former tip 107, which straddles the bypass.  TRL have created ponds and nature has been taking the tip back. Our group included the RCT ecologist Richard, tourism Ceri and regeneration officers, community councillor,  Natalie Sargent from Coalfields Regeneration Trust and, of course, our guides from TRL, and the dog.

Since restoration began, the trees around the ponds have grown high and might hinder creating a more accessible route.  (Later, I remembered my Kilvey Hill friend Blod and his horse Macsen who are trained loggers – maybe that’s a solution to tidy the birch and remove blackthorn.)  The present path is made by using rubber and topped off to create a solid enough surface for walkers.

The nearby A465 and smaller roads are background noise to observing the diverse plants and fish, we were told, in the ponds.  Like much of the Valleys, it is beautiful. On the far side of the pond is a stone bridge, with fossils, and then we walked up a slope where conifers have failed to establish (“probably a good thing” Richard the ecologist said, because many plants he hopes to see like poor soils).

That was the smaller triangle before we went under the A465. There’s parking available and the area could house various facilities and create jobs. I liked the tyres and reflections.

On the other side is a huge concreted area where buildings have been demolished, and the old railway line. Everything opens up – or maybe it was the sun.  The wind was bitter.

We walked along and round the top of the site, groups chatting and getting split. there’s still the odd tangle of iron.

At the far end, we climbed back over the other side of the low hill. It is a massive area and could include a multi user path.  I’ve looked out the leaflets by British Horse Society and Sustrans on good designs.  Runners, cycling and horse riding or driving could all be accommodated and linked to other trails.

There’s a ridge of land with the road below, with great landscapes and also so many tiny flowering lichens making subtle colours under our feet.

TRL want people who “will do” actions to add to the success and sustainability of the project.  I specifically want to see rights of way – probably multi user, bridleways or byways – designed into it and on the Definitive Map, and a status for the land which will protect it for the people of Hirwaun and Rhigos, well, the Valleys really, forever.

 

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“Landmarks” at Made in Roath

Made in Roath has an annual October festival which has a brilliant range of open exhibitions, happenings and events from dawn to dusk – all free to the public.

My highlight this year was “Landmarks” by Unity and Rufus Musafa  who have had fun combining Unity’s hip-hop graffiti-style art with Rufus’ rapper-style poetry and lyrics.

They performed at Inkspot in their exhibition space, which was like a warm green fairy glen.  Unity worked the loopback and tech.  Rufus is bilingual and I loved listening to her in Welsh with the language rhythms.

Landmarks refers to the weeding of words from the Oxford Junior Dictionary, which Robert McFarlane (among others) had noticed removed many words of nature: bluebell, otter, catkin …. to make way for digital words.

I think these are two fantastic creative women.  Rufus was at the Worker’s Gallery, Ynyshir, 3rd birthday do last Sunday, improvising with Bel Blue and it was amazing.  I’m writing up an interview with Unity for the next Women’s Arts Association Newsletter, which will be interesting.

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Western Communities, Bridgend: talking about Open Spaces

I was really pleased to get an invitation to talk about Open Spaces Society at the Westward Community Centre, thanks to Councillor Charles Smith.

I first met Charles as the chair of Save Morfa Beach and he held together a formidable range of users of the beach who saved the footpath access along a track through land owned by Tata Steel in Neath Port Talbot.

The Western Bridgend Communities Group was involved in another successful campaign: to save their green spaces from predatory development by the housing association Valleys 2 Coast (V2C).  The planning applications were on land given in 2003 by the council to V2C along with the estate: the green spaces have been used as town or village greens ever since the estates were built.

Of course, in a decent world, these greens would be dedicated as town and village greens by V2C.  It was a terrible error for the councils to have failed to get them registered.  The well-designed estates of Cefn Cribwr and Cefn Glas campaigned, with Open Spaces Society in support, and gained refusal of the proposed developments earlier this year.  The application for Lower Llansantffraid, Sarn (below) was withdrawn.

I had a very enjoyable time talking about Open Spaces Society and what we do, using local examples.  Western Bridgend Communities Group are OSS members, and set a high standard for looking after their green spaces.

The Future Generations Act may provide the policy framework in Wales for councils to claw back some protection of these greens within local development plans and planning guidance.

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Looking for commitment on Footpath 48a in Tonteg

Local Correspondents for Open Spaces Society have opportunities to object to any path orders, and I have had to refuse to withdraw objections to an order to extinguish a footpath through a new estate in Tonteg in Rhondda Cynon Taf.  I posted about this before, in March 2013, March 2015 and February this year as the site was developed.

There is good news and not-so-good news.  The good news is that the developer has removed the wooden fence across the path where it offers a short walk to the shops on Main Road instead of a long drive round from the estate.

I have been sent the full layout for a green space and pavement and this now includes a cycle path as well as a pleasant area to walk through, roughly on the same route as Footpath 48a.  So far, these are proposals and to some extent visible on the ground (with lots of metal fencing).

There is still an issue of commitment to pedestrian enjoyment of the route, with kerb levels relative to the unfinished road surface level tempting to car drivers who seem to think that pavement are nice places to park. Are the kerbs going to be high enough?

Will the green spaces be defended? Already, strange works have appeared suggesting possible entrances across a green area. One moment all is well, then not so.

I remain skeptical about these things though hopeful.  I asked and have been assured that the “cycle path and that length of the footpath that proceeds from the estate to the community route has been passed onto the Transport Planning team  for possible inclusion in RCT’s draft Integrated Map Network (INM)”.

If all is done, it should improve the health and well-being on the estate and save a few car journeys.  I dare not back off yet, having been caught out by empty promises before, although, with the Welsh Future Generations Act, and our Active Travel Act in place, the council and I should be in agreement.

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“Parochial Artist” Gayle Rogers at Cynon Valley Museum, Aberdare

Cynon Valley Museum and Gallery work hard, in their modern guise of a trust, to maintain Aberdare’s reputation for culture. One of the Valleys’ artist activists, Dr Gayle Rogers, has a solo exhibition there until July 8th 2017. Anyone who loves the valleys’ wild landscapes will feel an echo with her work if they visit – it’s free.

I went on Saturday, when Gayle was there all day with a stream of visitors. She has called her show “The Parochial Artist”.

She explains that a politician sent her an email with the sentence “Parochialism is the death of humanity”: her work does capture the local but in an honest and positive way and is not narrow in scope.  For example, far from death, the new life of renewables (at Pen y Cymoedd) emerges in the mist.

The same views – Afan valley, Mardy, Rhigos – are revisited in different seasons or (of course in Wales) in different volumes of rain from mist to downpour.

The works, mostly in pastels, charcoal and watercolour, are plein air or done in the field rather than in a studio.  There are photos of the artist at work.

There are also monotype prints.

Gayle’s activist and feminist wit is also represented, as well as a nod to her well-known brightly coloured prints and mugs.  The mugs which members of the Workers Gallery in Ynishir receive each year are limited editions to make a set over 4 years.

Cynon Valley Museum and Gallery has a freindly welcome, and plenty of local craft gifts and cards (always a good thing to buy).

They seem very accommodating of local art, and actively support equality.  There are also books and a cafe.

The gallery, like the ones in the Muni in Pontypridd and Rhondda Heritage Park, faced closure from austerity forced on Welsh councils.  People like Gayle petitioned and organised to keep them open.  There’s a story to be told, and a big change to these formerly public assets.  How sad that councils see public assets, like museums and open spaces, as troublesome costs.  They may come to regret that but too late.

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A tour of Eglwysilan common

The common land on Mynydd Elwysilan hasn’t featured enough in this blog except as a site of crime and conflict. It’s easy to forget what a wonderful asset Eglwysilan is, for cooperative commoners to graze their stock, for the public to access and enjoy. This is about a tour one damp afternoon last week, mostly on the Rhondda Cynon Taff CBC side, and then in Caerphilly CBC.

Some of the footpaths to Egwlysilan are part of the Pontypridd Circular Walk: these are views of the paths PON 10 and 11 from Bryntail Road above Rhydfelin.

The path 11 climbs quickly to views of the common, with nice stone wall features.

This is the Nelson end of the common in Caerphilly, coming off Heol Fawr in Llanafon, with the byway open to all traffic (BOAT) branching left, and the tarmac road to the right.  A grey sky doesn’t spoil the magnificent views.

The birdsong and sight of larks rising, and bright stonechats making a curious mechanical chuck was a constant background, but I failed to get any birds in the photos.

This being the common today, it is hard to avoid issues: some messy patches are possibly the reality of “improvement” (as it said on the paper form).

I wasn’t alone.  A cyclist was climbing over a blockage of the two byways 118 and 119 where they join the road.  Same muck and boulders as other obstructions.  It is sad. I couldn’t get through.

More mess, from the mucky block and mucky ditches, which don’t have permission.

It leaves a sour taste instead of enjoying the common, to have ditches everywhere.

I cheered myself up with my shot of a pylon, and drove round through Abertridwr and over to Egwlysilan village, and round to where the sheep by the broken sign were cute.

The continuing obstructions of access and the efforts to remove them have become the main topic in this blog, and have a history going back to 2012.

In June 2012, Caerphilly CBC, egged on by Open Spaces Society and South Wales Trail Riding Folk cleared the byways and everyone celebrated.  In 2013, one commoner who dug up the byway was told to pay £26,000 to Caerphilly CBC by the court.  It goes on and on.  meanwhile, councils have closed teams that used to help keep byways open and the police don’t seem to like detecting the offenders on the common.

Hopefully, everyone standing together will make a permanent change.  The public meeting this Friday should help.  Meanwhile, I’ve got more obstructions to report as Local Correspondent for Open Spaces Society.

THIS MEETING HAS BEEN CANCELLED: IT WILL BE REARRANGED

Taff Meadow Community Centre, Broadway, Pontypridd, CF37 1DB

26 May at 18:30 to 21:30

 

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Eglwysilan: more blocked access on common land

A couple of weeks ago, we went back to the top of Penyrheol Ely Road on Mynydd Eglwysilan common with another Bonkas 4×4 Wales working party.  Sure enough, there was again a distinctive pile of muck, boulders and wool on byway PON 112.

Apart from the obvious disgusting nature of the deposits, this is also a criminal offence.  Meanwhile, a bike rider shared a photo from further along the byway which soon achieved its own notoriety as “gruesome” in the local press and even in the Sunday Times and on Radio 2.  It’s a black ram’s head topping a scarecrow figure with the testicles below.

Why is someone having a go at 4×4 drivers who are trying to keep highways useable? The problems on Eglwysilan affect walkers, riders, commoners, cyclists, drivers – in fact, everyone with a right.  It’s not a game. The owners are not showing any responsibility for maintaining those rights and are not supporting the restoration of rights like unblocking these byways.  Why?

We headed off to a long-standing blockage near the Rose & Crown in Eglwysilan. I’ve walked and driven the byway PON 113 in the past unhindered. This is the same gateway a year ago, May 2016, and now in May 2017 from the common side. The metal gate and kissing gate are both piled with earth.

We got to work with shovel and pitch-fork, and got the main gate open.  If this is a criminal offence, it should be reported to our crime-fighting police.

The police station in Ponty answered but then announced that its mail box (sic) was full.  It is hard to report to the police on 101 because they say that obstructions to the byway and beheaded sheep should be reported to the council.

The obstruction of this access point ignores the clearly signed “Llwybr Treftadaeth / Heritage Trail”, and a wooden sign for Eglwysilan Common has been thrown to the side of the earth well away from the kissing gate.

This used to be the quickest route onto the common from the Garth the other side of the Taff valley: before the A470 was built, I’ve been told horses would be ridden across and up behind the Rose &  Crown on the bridleway, and then up the byway.

Back at home, as the Open Spaces Society Local Correspondent, I emailed the forms notifying the Director of Highway of the obstructions on PON 112 and 113. I thought both were in Rhondda Cynon Taf CBC, but had an email back to say that the PON 113 is in Caerphilly CBC – the boundary runs down the side of the byway.  I’ve posted that off to Caerphilly.  Why RCT couldn’t forward the email, I don’t know: they need to work together.

Others have been busy: most important is the public meeting called under the “Community Trigger” because of the unsatisfactory responses to the issues on this common. So far, Bonkas4x4, Ramblers, Open Spaces will be represented among the public and agencies like council and police should be there.

PROBLEMS FOR COUNCIL AND POLICE REPS: MEETING POSTPONED

Taff Meadow Community Centre, Broadway, Pontypridd, CF37 1DB

26 May at 18:30 to 21:30

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