Friday, 14 June 2013

Carmarthenshire misses the bus

This month's meeting of Carmarthenshire County Council was dominated by a debate about planning and the Welsh language, and it is worth reflecting on what happened and the implications of the vote.

Carmarthenshire still has (just) the largest number of Welsh speakers of all the Welsh counties; it also showed one of the largest declines in the last census. For those two reasons Carmarthenshire is in the spotlight. What happens here matters, and that is why the Welsh Government set up a group of its own to examine what has been happening to the language in Carmarthenshire - note, specifically in Carmarthenshire.

That in turn means that what Carmarthenshire itself has to say is likely to resonate much more loudly than usual in Cardiff Bay.

The result of the vote on Wednesday means that instead of making itself heard, the County Council has opted to stay silent during a period when some critical decisions will be made about planning and the language.

Although there was some confusion about dates in Wednesday's debate, the important thing to remember is that the Welsh Government, having sat on its hands for two years, will be making up its mind about TAN20 (the planning guidance which covers the language) in the next couple of months.

By wrecking the motion calling on the Government to set up an independent, statutory body to handle the linguistic aspects of planning applications, the Labour Party and its "Independent" partners have ensured that Carmarthenshire County Council, and more importantly the people of Carmarthenshire, will not now have a say because the council's own cross-party group will not report back until early 2014 when the new TAN20 is done and dusted.

There have been some pretty dark chapters in the recent history of this council, and this is one of the blackest.

The wrecking amendment was tabled (in English only) by Callum Higgins, who is still in his early 20s and clearly has his sights set on becoming a career politician. Party loyalty clearly means more to him than loyalty to the community in which he grew up.

It was seconded by Pam Palmer, of all people. Pam cannot speak Welsh and appears not to have made the slightest effort to learn it. Last year she referred to Machynlleth as "the town whose name I shall not attempt to pronounce". Despite that she clearly thinks she is entitled to determine what happens to the language.

Shameful is the only word for it.

What was also clear from watching the debate on Wednesday was that a lot of backroom fixing had gone on in the run-up to the meeting.

In the row which followed the recent planning decision at Penybanc, Carmarthenshire once again found itself in the spotlight. There was some surprise that the Head of Planning, Eifion Bowen, had spoken out and called for an independent body to be set up, as proposed in the original Plaid motion.

A number of councillors referred to this, but in a characteristic intervention the chief executive claimed that he was not aware of any such statement. Perhaps Mr Bowen would like to comment himself.....

Of course, the chief executive would never invite someone to speak in the council chamber with the cameras rolling if he did not have a pretty good idea of what was going to be said.

So Eifion Bowen waffled and repeated several times that all he really wanted was clarity and certainty. He did not actually deny making his comments; he just avoided any refence to what he had said. But here he is speaking on camera to the BBC.

Someone, most likely someone sitting not a million miles from him in the council chamber, had clearly had words with Eifion Bowen.

To end on a positive note, there were some very good speeches during the debate. Alun Lenny, Emlyn Dole  and Cefin Campbell were impressive and balanced, but Sian Caiach deserves special praise. She spoke sincerely and from the heart about her wish as a non-Welsh speaker to see an end to the neglect, indifference and destruction which threatens to rob this county of its identity and one of its greatest riches.


Jac o' the North, said...

Timing is everything. The 'Welsh' Government will only make up its mind after the English Planning Inspectorate has forced on Welsh local authorities the insane and destructive LDPs that will remain effective until 2027.

Will TAN20 give the Welsh Government, or local authorities, the power to reverse LDPs and other Planning Inspectorate impositions? If not, then it's worthless, because by the time TAN20 can be implemented the Welsh language will be all but dead as a community language.

Anonymous said...

Kleys not forget that caiachs intervention was based on the 'fact' that the deadline for consultation reps indeed was June 13th. Quite obviously she decided to speak fi cllr Glynog davies as she thought she had an opportunity to make a point. It's also obvious that she hasn't down her research.

Anonymous said...

The point is that there is a huge lack of support for the welsh language in some aspects of the council's provision. The provision of welsh medium primary and secondary education is very good in many areas but is having major problems in some areas meeting demand or insisting that children travel far too long distances to get it.
In Llanelli we should have started streaming one of the 4 english medium secondary schools which will be under used to a welsh one rather than make Ysgol y Strade a mega school with resulting problems.
Also the standard of welsh language teaching in english medium primary and secondary schools has not impressed me in Llanelli. I actually moved 2 of my children to a different school because of the poor quality of outcome with my elder ones.
Our planning has certainly not been sensitive to the language and I suspect the Unionism of the Labour and affiliated independent groups causes some of them to suspect welsh speaking to be a subversive influence despite both groups having examples of 1st language native welsh speakers who seem all all too ready to sell out their language whenever it becomes politically inconvenient.
Its a topic we all need to discuss more and consult more on and not divert into a "task and finish " group to surface some time in the future.

Sian Caiach

Steffan said...

I believe the Welsh language has been neglected in recent years, this isn't helped by English people coming over and diluting our language and culture by not even bothering to learn just the simplest of words. I went to a Welsh school and speak it every day but I do believe the Welsh Assembly Government and the language board need to encourage people to use it often and enforce every single business in Wales to make bilingual signs as I am so fed up going into shops and seeing just English signs up when Welsh should be the official language. The Welsh language needs to be actively encouraged to be used every day.

gaynor said...

the other night i went into the fish and chip shop in Llandeilo and said "shw mae fish a chips bach plis" the response was "I don't speak Welsh" "Ok bach is small" I said "and fish a chips are fish and chips" did you get it this time?" the girl in question was probably not English but a product of our secondary education system in carms which fails miserably to consolidate the work done in the primary schools when it comes to the language. I despair. many English people commit to the language and many Welsh speakers do not transfer it - this element in our national linguistic psyche is donwright weird and baffles me. I mean if a some tourist walked into my shop and asked for pesche, poisson, pescadore and frites I'd bloody get it. and i don't speak any of those languages

Anonymous said...

Our young people in Wales need houses, work , shops, offices and builders need work et .Wales is part of a big wide world and shops need customers so please dont stop Wales moving forward , like the rest of the World ,i can remember a few years ago there were many councilors in Carmarthen area that were against the new shopping area , cinema etc now our young people dont have to go to Swansea to see all the new films they are here on our doorstep , the language is another matter, Please dont live in the past

Anonymous said...

Just because they dont speak welsh it does not mean that they are English, they could be as Welsh as you , what sort of Wales are you trying to make.. ?