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Alex Seabrook

Alex Seabrook is a Local Democracy Reporter covering Cardiff and the Vale of Glamorgan, based at Wales Online.

Hundreds of petitioners are calling for a new health centre to be built in Llantwit Major in the Vale of Glamorgan.

More than 800 local people are urging the Cardiff and Vale University Health Board (UHB) to build a health centre on Eagleswell Road, where a former primary school closed in 2015.

The disused plot of land is currently owned by Vale of Glamorgan council, and is allocated for 72 potential houses in the local development plan.

But campaigners want the council to allow the health board to build a new health centre there, complaining the town’s current surgeries aren’t up to scratch.

Councillor Gwyn John, of the Llantwit First Independent party, is organising the petition. He raised concerns that the hundreds of new houses in and around Llantwit Major aren’t seeing the increased investment in local public services needed to cater for the growing population.

He said: “There are more and more houses in the town. There’s hardly any green space left and our services are really struggling.”

Two doctors surgeries currently cater for the town: Coastal Vale and Western Vale. Cllr John claimed Coastal Vale is “at capacity” and the Western Vale building is “over 50 years old”.

He said: “The actual building needs replacing, it’s not in a great condition. It needs replacing and modernising.”

Cardiff and Vale UHB is drawing up plans for major changes on how clinical services are delivered. This will likely see three ‘health and wellbeing centres’ with services like x-rays, out-of-hours GPs, community mental health teams, and ambulatory care.

The health board is also planning nine ‘wellbeing hubs’, either developing existing places like health centres, leisure centres or libraries; or in new buildings such as Maelfa in Cardiff. These wellbeing hubs will include GP services, midwifery, and primary mental health care.

The idea is to move clinical services away from large hospitals like the University Hospital of Wales, at the Heath in Cardiff, avoiding the need for people to travel long distances for care.

Cllr John supports this move but says residents in the western part of the Vale of Glamorgan are currently underserved with health services — and with the hundreds of new houses being built in the area, Llantwit would be ideal for a new health centre.

He is hoping to get many more signatures for his petition to build the new health centre in Llantwit Major, with a table set up on the precinct in the town on Saturday, for residents who aren’t on the internet or haven’t seen the campaign online yet.

He said: “It’s all very well building homes, that’s fine. But we have to have the infrastructure.”

The health board said any investment in new health and wellbeing centres or wellbeing hubs is some time away.

A Cardiff and Vale UHB spokesperson said: “The intention is for a wellbeing hub to be placed in the western Vale, but this may be some years away as part of our overall plan. In terms of where the site will be based, this will be subject to an engagement process.

“There will be a health and wellbeing centre in the Vale; work will be commencing in terms of engagement in relation to this within the next few months.”

A Vale of Glamorgan council spokesperson said: “Any need for a new medical centre would be a matter for the Cardiff and Vale University Health Board.

“No planning application for such a building has been submitted and currently the land in question has been allocated  as a significant strategic development site for the council’s house building programme. Under the local development plan, it would be used to meet the housing needs of those on the council’s waiting list.”

A Labour councillor in the Vale of Glamorgan has left the party to stand as an independent.

Councillor Owen Griffiths, representing the Buttrills ward in Barry, said he left due to disagreements over Black Lives Matter protests and the attitude of Labour group leaders.

He quit the Labour party this month and will not stand again in the local council elections in May next year. He claimed the Vale Labour group was a “toxic and bullying environment”.

Cllr Griffiths, who was first elected to the council in 2017, is one of the youngest councillors in the Vale.

He said: “I feel that the attitude of some senior members was disrespectful and disparaging of newly elected members. I felt there was a failure to develop those elected recently and a sense of an old boys’ network.

“I feel many have been elected for too long and never challenged. Those not in favour are quickly sidelined and made to feel not welcome.”

During internal debates around Black Lives Matter—which saw huge protests and demonstrations worldwide last summer for racial equality—Cllr Griffiths claimed some Labour councillors used “inappropriate language” and were “hostile to opposing views”.

Problems then escalated in March when the Vale council voted through the budget for the current financial year, including raising council tax. Cllr Griffiths abstained from voting, and was reprimanded by the group for doing so. Usually councillors vote together with their party.

In a letter of resignation, seen by the Local Democracy Reporting Service, he said: “As with any working environment, you should not have to tolerate bullying, nor should you be made to feel unwelcome.

“Unfortunately, since 2019, I have not felt welcome nor have I felt able to actively contribute my views within this group. I feel it is no longer an option or appropriate for me to remain in a hostile, damaging and toxic environment.”

A spokesperson for the Vale Labour party said: “We thank Cllr Griffiths for his service as a Labour councillor and we wish him well for the future.”

His departure leaves the Labour party with just 13 councillors left in the Vale of Glamorgan, despite Labour running the council. The administration is a coalition, backed up by several independent councillors who were previously Conservative until a dramatic row in 2019.

Call for debate and scrutiny of proposed nuclear fusion power plant near Barry

A call has been made for a proper debate and scrutiny over a proposed nuclear fusion power plant near Barry.

Vale of Glamorgan council put forward Aberthaw, a recently closed coal-fired power plant, as a potential site for a fusion prototype.

The UK government last year called for suggestions for possible sites to pioneer the technology which could generate electricity with low carbon emissions.

But opposition councillors on the Vale council have claimed the cabinet has “rushed through” its decision to suggest Aberthaw as a site.

Plaid Councillor Ian Johnson said: “It was strange that the council leadership did not consult with other parties or ask a cross-party scrutiny committee to consider issues before making the expression of interest about a possible future use of the Aberthaw plant.

“Even though it is an early point, many people will have questions about the technology, the impact of the development and the process, and discussing this in scrutiny would open up the debate and ensure transparency.”

Fusion technology is still in its infancy and no fusion reactor has ever created more power than it consumes. But scientists say it could be cleaner and safer than fission, the nuclear technology currently used to generate electricity.

If Aberthaw is chosen, the council is hoping the power plant could bring lots of high-tech high-paid jobs to the region. Westminster should decide on a site by the end of next year, and the power plant would be built by 2040, costing about £2 billion.

But the Vale’s cabinet used controversial emergency powers last month to put forward Aberthaw as a site, without consulting the full council or any scrutiny committees. Council leader Neil Moore said this was due to the deadline for suggestions at the end of last month.

However, Westminster made the initial call for suggestions in December last year, meaning the council had four months in total to debate and scrutinise the decision to put forward Aberthaw. The council debated the issue in a meeting this week, after the deadline passed.

Conservative Cllr Gordon Kemp said: “This is being dealt effectively without allowing any proper consideration or scrutiny. It’s an extremely significant matter, even if we ignore the issue of public concern over such a proposal.

“We’re looking at potentially a colossal, massive investment in the Vale. It could create many jobs, so I think it’s something that should have been discussed.

“I appreciate there are always deadlines on this. But I’m very concerned and surprised this wasn’t put before cabinet and scrutiny committees [earlier].”

Cllr Moore said the issue was “not a debate”, but promised to meet with the leaders of the opposition parties on the council, and to give a cross-party scrutiny committee a chance to consider the plans.

He said: “This is just for noting. We used the emergency procedure because it had to be in by a deadline. This is not a debate about what we can do.

“But I’m more than happy to have a meeting with the group leaders, and I’m more than happy to ask for an information report to go to the environment and regeneration scrutiny committee.”

The price tag for a planned new cancer hospital in Cardiff has tripled to more than half a billion pounds.

The new Velindre Cancer Centre, set for the Northern Meadows in Whitchurch, was previously estimated to cost £180 million. But this will only cover construction work.

The Welsh Government last month signed off the business case for the hospital, amid controversy about its environmental impacts and clinical model.

Now Velindre University NHS Trust has put out to tender the contract to build and maintain the new hospital, with an estimated value to that contract of £562 million.

Velindre is looking for contractors to design, construct, finance and maintain the new cancer centre. Details of the contract were revealed on Sell2Wales, a public procurement website.

About £200 million will cover construction costs. The 27-year contract will use the Welsh Government’s ‘mutual investment model’ to fund the hefty price tag, getting the private sector to pay the upfront costs, in return for an annual fee from the public purse.

This “innovative” way of financing major capital projects is also being used to fund the dualling of the Heads of the Valleys road from Dowlais Top to Hirwaun, and build two high schools in Cardiff. The Welsh Government said it is needed due to “scarce capital funding”.

Critics complain the financing model costs taxpayers enormously, with the Heads of the Valleys road widening costing £1.14 billion for just 11 miles of road. The mutual investment model is similar to the old ‘private finance initiatives’, long since scrapped due to huge costs.

A spokesman for Velindre said: “The process to find a contractor to build the new centre is now underway, with the tender live on the Sell2Wales website.

“The estimated capital cost of the new Velindre Cancer Centre included on the website is anticipated to be in the region of £200 million and the estimated value of the contract is an indicative assessment of the whole life cost of the scheme for the purpose of this advert.

“This includes not merely the capital value of construction over the construction period, but also, for example, the cost of maintenance and lifecycle investment over the life of the contract which will be 25 years from opening.”

A spokesman for the Save the Northern Meadows campaign, which previously raised concerns on the environmental impact and clinical model, said: “That figure wasn’t discussed in the Senedd. I’m sure it would have taken them by surprise. It hasn’t had proper scrutiny.”

The current Velindre Cancer Centre was built in 1956 and is running out of space, particularly for advances in medical technology like new radiotherapy machines. Planning permission for the new hospital was granted in 2017. It will likely open in 2024.

The Vale of Glamorgan council is bidding to turn Aberthaw, near Barry, into the world’s first nuclear fusion power plant.

Aberthaw is a former coal-fired power plant which was decommissioned in 2019, and was the last coal power plant in Wales.

Nuclear fusion is a futuristic low-carbon technology where energy is generated in the same way the sun produces heat and light: fusing hydrogen together to make helium.

In 2019, the UK government announced £220 million funding towards designing a concept of a fusion power station, and at the end of last year called for potential sites. Aberthaw is now one of them.

The Vale council is suggesting the former coal power plant as a site for the fusion power station, which could bring lots of high-paid and high-tech jobs to the region and potentially play a huge part in cutting emissions of carbon dioxide.

However, the plant wouldn’t open until 2040. Fusion technology is still in its early stages,  and reactors require huge amounts of electricity to generate energy, because of the super high temperatures required. No reactor has so far produced more energy than it consumes.

During a recent cabinet meeting, Councillor Lis Burnett, deputy leader of the Vale council, said: “Last October, the secretary of state for business, energy and industrial strategy announced £220 million towards the conceptual design for a fusion power station.

“STEP stands for spherical tokamak energy production. I have no idea what that means.”

The government’s fusion scheme is called: ‘spherical tokamak for energy production’. A tokamak, shaped like a giant doughnut, is where atoms are fused together to produce heat. The heat is then absorbed by the walls of the tokamak, and turned into electricity.

‘Tokamak’ comes from a Russian acronym: ‘toroidal chamber with magnetic coils’. ‘Toroidal’ means doughnut-shaped; and huge magnets are needed to control the hot plasma inside to stop it touching the walls of the machine and keep it under high pressure.

A spherical tokamak is shaped more like an apple without its core than a doughnut, and is smaller and relatively cheaper to operate than larger, traditional doughnut-shaped tokamaks. The technology is still, however, far more expensive than wind or solar power.

Cllr Burnett added: “It’s an innovative plan for a commercially viable fusion power station offering the realistic prospect of constructing a power plant by 2040. In November last year, the UK government invited expressions of interest to identify sites in the UK.”

Fusion technology is the opposite of how nuclear power plants currently work, with ‘fission’, where atoms are broken apart. Fusion is considered safer and cleaner than fission.

The government is hoping its STEP prototype, which would see a concept design produced by 2024, could help roll out commercial fusion power plants across the world. Construction would then start as soon as 2032, and the power plant becoming operational in 2040.

Other sites put forward for a STEP prototype include Ratcliffe-on-Soar, a coal power station in Nottinghamshire; and Moorside nuclear power station near Sellafield in Cumbria. The government should decide which site to choose by the end of 2022.

Professor Ian Chapman, chief executive of the UK Atomic Energy Authority, said: “STEP is a novel, challenging and game-changing programme; aiming to realise the potential of fusion energy to provide almost limitless, clean, secure, sustainable low carbon energy in the second half of this century.

“We believe that the community which hosts this facility will place itself at the forefront of a global clean energy revolution — with all the benefits that entails.”

Penarth Pier Pavilion could soon become a live music or an exhibition space as a major refurbishment is underway.

Vale of Glamorgan council is refurbishing the art deco building on Penarth’s seafront, after taking it over from the charity Penarth Arts and Craft Limited in February.

Plans for the pavilion include a new cafe, which opened last month, run by the council’s own Big Fresh Catering Company.

A public consultation on what the building’s future use should be runs until Wednesday, April 21. So far more than 1,000 responses have been sent to the council.

Rob Thomas, managing director of Vale of Glamorgan council, said: “Having recently taken over operation of Penarth Pier Pavilion, we have quickly set about assessing the condition of the building, arranging repairs and organising for it to be thoroughly cleaned.

“A cafe operated by the council’s Big Fresh Catering Company is also up and running.”

The Big Fresh Cafe is selling food and drink from local suppliers, with profits going towards healthy school meals for school pupils in the Vale of Glamorgan.

The council has suggested using the building for a live music venue, an exhibition space, or a meeting space for talks, classes and after-school clubs.

People interested in suggesting ideas can fill out a survey on the council’s website or use voting boxes inside the Big Fresh Cafe.

Mr Thomas said: “This is a thrilling opportunity to re-establish the pavilion as a focal point for Penarth and a space that the whole community can enjoy.

“We already have a number of exciting ideas for how that can be achieved but would also love to hear suggestions from residents as we enter a new era for this historic building.”

The pavilion had previously been run by Penarth Arts and Craft Limited for several years, but the charity struggled with the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and several directors leaving.

Since taking over the pavilion, the council has been cleaning the inside and outside of the building, checking the fire alarm, addressing electric issues, and improving the heating system.

The council set up the Big Fresh Catering Company in 2019 as a commercial operation preparing school meals for Vale pupils. The company also provides food for businesses and private events across Wales.

A shake-up of hospital services in Cardiff and the Vale of Glamorgan over the next decade could see virtual appointments and x-rays in GP surgeries.

Health bosses want to build on the changes seen during the coronavirus pandemic to push more clinical services into local communities and away from large hospitals.

A wide-ranging programme is being drawn up by Cardiff and Vale University Health Board, about how its services — delivered by 14,000 staff and costing £1.4 billion each year — could change over the next 10 years.

The plans include delivering clinical services closer to home where possible, to avoid the need for patients to travel into traditional hospitals like the University Hospital of Wales (UHW).

Abigail Harris, executive director of strategic planning at Cardiff and Vale UHB, said: “We have identified a need to change the way we deliver services in order to provide high-quality, safe and sustainable care for the future.

“We are proposing a number of transformations to our clinical services, focusing on providing more care closer to home wherever possible and redeveloping our two major acute hospital sites as centres of excellence.”

The Shaping Our Future Clinical Services programme is currently out for public consultation, and the health board is looking to hear from the public about their views and priorities.

An online survey is open until Monday, April 19, on the website shapingourfuturewellbeing.com.

The programme includes a major plan for a “renewed” UHW.

The hospital, at the Heath in Cardiff, is the largest in Wales with space for 1,000 beds.

It was built in the 1960s, and as healthcare has changed massively since then, the building no longer has the space required.

Due to this the health board want to build a “state-the-art” hospital, that is more sustainable and energy efficient and “suitable for the mid-21st century”, according to a brochure published about the programme.

As well as changing practices in healthcare, the health of the 500,000 people living in Cardiff and the Vale of Glamorgan is changing too.

The population of the area covered by the health board is ageing, increasingly suffering long-term illness and mental ill health, and is getting lonelier.

These factors are adding to the need to redesign clinical services, and should impact the results of the new plans.

Emergency care is one service which could see changes.

Examples include new practices brought in due to Covid-19, like calling ahead of visiting the hospital to reduce waiting times; or completing assessments online before an appointment.

Virtual appointments are another new practice that could be here to stay, as the programme could recommend some appointments over to be held over video-call where appropriate — but still with face-to-face services if that’s better for each individual patient.

Elsewhere, some elective clinical services could be moved away from hospitals like UHW and into local communities.

This could mean having x-rays for example in health and wellbeing centres.

Ms Harris added: “Our Shaping Our Future Clinical Services programme is a fantastic opportunity for members of the public to learn more about our vision and have their say on our direction of travel as we develop our plans.

“I would like to encourage people to get involved in the programme and play their part before the end of the engagement period on April 19.”

Full details of the plans can be found on the website shapingourfuturewellbeing.com.

Cardiff’s Wales Millennium Centre has outlined its plans for comedians and bands to perform in a shipping container outside the theatre this summer.

Stand-up comics will start the programme of events in July, as staff test how to put on gigs outdoors and safely during a pandemic.

Live music will then follow, and in August and September the shipping container could host performances including theatre, sketch and drag.

The ambitious outdoor programme to restart live performances—after more than a year since live events stopped due to coronavirus and social distancing—would be wound down in the middle of September, as the Wales Millennium Centre (WMC) could fully reopen to the public.

Rio Architects, working on behalf of the Cardiff Bay venue, revealed the details of the outdoor performances while applying for planning permission to install the shipping container.

In planning documents, it said: “This summer, Wales Millennium Centre plans to present a diverse mix of performances and events to enable families, young people and adults to come together in a safe and managed way to enjoy live performance.

The proposed schedule of events.

“This programme will bring much needed employment to local and national artists suffering extreme financial hardship due to the restrictions on the sector and a safe and managed outlet for people to come together in the way only live performance can facilitate.

“Built into the plan of events is ample time for us to reflect after each event and implement any changes we consider necessary to ensure the successful and safe running of our season, as [we] build to a full programme.”

The first event will see a stand-up comedian perform to an invited audience of staff members, so ticketing and Covid-safety measures can be tested. The second event will also be a comedian, for another invite-only audience of “friends of WMC”.

The first public event is tentatively scheduled for July 17, with another standup comic. From the end of July, Sunday daytime performances could be added for family audiences, possibly with live music.

The programme would be expanded from August 5 to include Thursday nights and a fuller range of events including comedy, Welsh language theatre, gig theatre, sketch and drag.

Evening performances would run from 7.30pm until 9.10pm, while daytime performances would run from 2pm until 4pm All tickets would need to be bought in advance, with no walk-ups permitted access. All performances would use the shipping container as a stage.

The shipping container would be placed to the south of the main building, where the external seating area currently is. There is already another shipping container, which would be used as a bar.

Planning officers at Cardiff council have not yet approved planning permission for the performance container. 

Huge gas boilers could soon be built underneath the Eastern Bay Link Road in Cardiff as part of a proposed heat network.

Four 2.5 megawatt boilers would form a backup energy supply for the district heat network, which will supply low carbon heating to several major public buildings including the Wales Millenium Centre, the Senedd and County Hall.

Most of the heat will come from the Viridor waste incinerator, close to where the backup boilers will be built. But the gas boilers should ensure that buildings aren’t left without heat, if none is available from Viridor, during repairs or maintenance.

Sustainable Energy Ltd, an engineering company, is applying for planning permission to build the boilers — known as an ‘energy centre’ — underneath the link road. Currently there is an empty gap under the road, where the boilers are planned.

A map showing the planned Cardiff heat network Picture: Sustainable Energy Ltd

A spokesman for Sustainable Energy, in planning documents, said: “The energy centre will form a critical part of the Cardiff heat network currently under development by Cardiff council.

“The Cardiff heat network will allow low carbon heat from the Viridor energy recovery facility to be recovered and supplied initially to 11 key buildings, comprising a total heat demand of 12,460 megawatt hours per year.

“The energy centre will only provide heat to the network via gas boilers during periods when heat is not available from the Viridor energy recovery facility, due to maintenance or repairs, which is anticipated to be a maximum of six weeks of the year.”

Heat networks work by using a network of mostly underground pipes running hot water from a generator to buildings. They emit less carbon dioxide than burning natural gas in boilers within individual buildings, and are seen as critical in decarbonising heating.

Cardiff council is planning to install a heat network across Butetown and the Bay — which would supply heat to buildings like the new indoor arena at Cardiff Bay, Butetown Hub, Nelson House, Butetown Community Centre, Cardiff and Vale College, and Tresillian House.

The design of the backup boilers Picture: Sustainable Energy Ltd

Future phases of the district heat network could see other major public buildings included like the Magistrates Court, prison, St Davids 2 Centre, and Cardiff Bay police station, as well as homes and businesses.

The A4232 Eastern Bay Link Road, built in 2016 and 2017, runs from the Queen’s Gate roundabout in Cardiff Bay to Ocean Way and Rover Way in Splott.

Planning officers at Cardiff council have not yet approved permission for the four gas boilers.

Plans have been approved for 240 homes in the countryside near Llantwit Major, despite concerns about creaking infrastructure and noise pollution.

The Welsh Government applied for planning permission to build the homes on two sites of farmland between Llantwit Major and St Athan, just south of the newly built Northern Access Road.

Vale of Glamorgan council’s planning committee narrowly voted to approve the plans on March 24, after hearing from locals about the potential impacts on already stretched public services in Llantwit Major, and a noisy firing range very close to the planned houses.

The two sites of farmland were included in the council’s local development plan, making it hard for councillors to reject planning permission without risking costly legal challenges.

Councillor Gwyn John, representing Llantwit Major, said: “The local people aren’t happy. I’m opposed to this plan. It’s a loss of open countryside yet again, and the big issue of course that we’re concerned about in Llantwit Major is the impact on local infrastructure.

“We have two surgeries in Llantwit Major: one is nearly falling down. Our leisure centre is over 40 years old; it has never really been improved upon in that time. Our traffic is chock-a-block; the roads are gridlocked at peak periods.

“Who’s going to live in these homes? We’re building more and more homes all the time, but there are so many homes already available. There’s not the jobs in the area. The western Vale is becoming a concrete jungle.”

The plans are split across two parts: a western site of 7.9 hectares with 140 homes, adjacent to the B4265; and an eastern site of 4.3 hectares with 100 homes, north of Bethesda’r Fro Church. About 35 per cent of the planned homes will be affordable.

Both sites would be accessed off of the Northern Access Road, also known as Fford Bro Tathan. This new road was built in 2018 and 2019, running from the B4265 north of Boverton to the St Athan enterprise zone and Aston Martin factory.

Planning officers responded to Cllr John’s concerns by pointing to the newly built road, as an example of new traffic infrastructure in the area; and saying new residents of the proposed homes could help local shops by bringing them extra trade.

Another concern was noise pollution: the eastern site is close to a firing range used by the Ministry of Defence. Councillors on the planning committee feared future residents could suffer from hearing loud gunfire. Planning officers said they could make noise complaints.

David Harris, who lives in the local area, told the planning committee: “This site is located right opposite and within 200 metres of a live MOD firing range. This range can be used seven days a week, up to 11pm. It’s regularly used.

“No matter how much mitigation is used in the building fabric, you can’t reduce the exceptional noise of live gun fire when you have your windows open or when you’re in your garden. This fact alone makes this site totally inappropriate for residential development.”

Because the housing development is split into two sites, councillors voted on two separate planning applications, one for each site.

The second application, for the eastern site, only narrowly passed a vote. Six councillors voted in favour of granting planning permission, and six voted against, with four abstaining. Planning officers warned refusing permission could risk a costly legal challenge.

As the vote was tied, the chair of the planning committee, Cllr Jonathan Bird, used his casting vote to grant permission, effectively voting twice.

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