10 towns proposal at heart of plans for rural economy
A PROPOSAL to rejuvenate 10 towns is at the heart of far-reaching plans to boost Carmarthenshire’s rural economy.
For the past two years a cross-party group at the council has been analysing the issues facing rural life, such as job opportunities, transport and Brexit uncertainty for farmers, and has now published a report.
The report’s 55 recommendations have been approved by the council’s executive board.
One of the recommendations is to help revitalise 10 towns – Llandovery, St Clears, Whitland, Newcastle Emlyn, Laugharne, Cwmamman, Llanybydder, Kidwelly, Llandeilo and Cross Hands – by developing specific proposals with communities there.
“The impact will be on the villages around as well,” said Cefin Campbell, executive board member for communities and rural affairs, who introduced the group’s report at a meeting on July 1.
These could include business hubs to support new and existing businesses in the area, and also public sector hubs.
The task group wants to boost spending within Carmarthenshire and reverse the trend of around 1,000 young people leaving the county annually.
The report also said a greater roll-out of superfast broadband was needed - plus an understanding of why uptake of existing digital infrastructure was low - and better transport links, more affordable housing, and homes for young families.
Mr Campbell called for less strict planning guidelines and different procurement methods to boost housing supply and support local producers.
Agriculture was described as the backbone of many rural communities with “immeasurable” value, despite only employing 2.9% of the county’s workforce.
Brexit is causing uncertainty, and a lack of processing facilities has long been a bugbear for dairy farmers.
Carmarthenshire has around 475 dairy farms - 28% of Wales’s total - but the vast majority of milk is transported out of the county and Wales for processing.
The task group has recommended developing a processing facility, based on a co-operative model, to include milk, cream, yoghurt and ice cream.
Mr Campbell called on the Welsh Government to bring forward a plan recognising the importance of agriculture, and also asked for more money for small rural schools.
Carmarthenshire has 17 rural schools with fewer than 50 pupils, and sustaining them was described by executive board member for education councillor Glynog Davies as a “vast” financial challenge.
As part of its work, the task group commissioned a survey which asked people what the main challenges were facing rural communities.
Tourism is a significant growth sector in the county, and the report recommended developing new cycle routes on disused railway lines where possible.
Mr Campbell also said the county needed to better showcase its numerous rural events and shows.
The report, which also said that 50.2% of the population in Carmarthenshire’s rural wards spoke Welsh, will go before full council before a costed action plan is developed.
Chief executive Wendy Walters said taking the plans forward would mean a redirection of existing resources.
She said if new officers were needed “we would seriously have to look at the resource implications of that.”