The Federation of Small Businesses in Wales and the Freight Transport Association (FTA) have called for an immediate cut in Severn Crossings tolls once the bridges pass into public hands.

In a joint statement issued today, following the recent announcement of a further increase in tolls on the crossings, the organisations have called for the tolls to be reduced to the level where they only cover maintenance once the current contract with Severn River Crossing plc comes to an end.

Both the Federation and the FTA are concerned that the current tolls levied on hauliers, small businesses and other motorists are damaging the economy of South Wales.  A recent report by Arup for the Welsh Government suggested that if the bridge tolls were abolished it could boost economic output in Wales by £107 million.

Ian Gallagher, the Head of Policy at the Freight Transport Association Head of Policy for Wales and the South West said:  “For too long businesses have had to pay high tolls to use the Severn Crossings; which are a vital artery between Wales and England. FTA believes that the tolls must be reduced as soon as the bridges pass into public ownership. As we look to the future, it is clear that the method by which the Seven Crossings were funded is not a suitable blueprint for new infrastructure projects, and we would call for government to steer well clear of any similar schemes.”

Head of External Affairs at the Federation of Small Businesses Wales, Iestyn Davies added:  “The current system of tolls places an unfair burden on road users to fund bridges that form a vital part of the UK’s transport infrastructure. However, we take some comfort from assurances that we have received from Wales’ First Minister Carwyn Jones who has told us that if the Welsh Government is given control of the crossings that, after raising sufficient money for maintenance, he would ‘Look to reduce the toll levels paid by users of the Crossings and alleviate the burden on the economy’.”



The hotels are getting cleaned, the bookshops are getting their stock in, and the pubs are preparing their stash so that they can welcome the large influx of guests that are expected to attempt to follow in Wales most famous hellraiser and poet.

Dylan Thomas fans are expected to pour into South Wales in 2014 from Europe, the US, and even the Far East in order to join in a yearlong celebration that marks the 100th anniversary of his birthday. The British Council Wales and Welsh Government have joined tasks in order to create many different cultural and educational events across North America, Argentina, Australia, and India to help educate more people about Wales and Thomas. This is in addition to the 100 Dylan Thomas festivities that are already planned.

Owner of Swansea’s Dylans Bookstore, Jeff Towns, stated that he believes the centenary is going to once again cement the global reputation of the poet while also helping Wales out as the amount of visitors are going to help boost the economy. He explained that Americans loved Thomas following his untimely death in NYC and especially because Bob Dylan and Richard Burton made his name public fodder.

Towns’ store is in the birthplace of Thomas and is a huge fan of Thomas, so much that he has a line of poetry from the poet tattooed onto his arm. He then went on to say that Europe loves Thomas because of his poetry and not so much his rock star image. Towns went on to say that he thinks Europeans do not have the same prejudice towards Thomas that exists in Wales and England because they are focused on his work and not what he did or what his image did back in the day before his death.

 



Today will be the launching of a new campaign that will be outlining changes to the organ donation system in Wales. The campaign dubbed ‘It’s About Time’ will provide the necessary information on the move to an ‘opt out’ system. The campaign will begin on digital platforms before moving across other media.

After AMs voted to approve the Human Transplantation Bill in July, the legislation will come into full force in Wales on 1 December 2015. Under the new legislation, persons who are over 18 years of age and have been resident in Wales for over 12 months will need to give a clear indication of their wish not to have their organs donated in order for them not to be included in donation once they die. If this is not done, it would be deemed that they have given their consent.

People can therefore decide to opt out or opt in or choose not to act and be deemed that they have given their consent. Even though donated organs in Wales are given to people across the UK, it is expected that there will be an increase of 25% in available organs in Wales alone. Based on the current figures, this would lead to 45 extra organs being donated each year.

While the process was ongoing, it faced a lot of opposition especially from several faith groups. The major being issues like the role of the family. Under the legislation, the family has a right to object if they can be able to prove that they know what the wishes of the deceased were.

The aim of the new campaign is to offer the necessary information concerning the changes to ensure that people discuss their wishes with their family to avoid any kind of confusion and distress.

Mark Drakeford, the Health Minister indicated that the law would be able to provide more organs to assist the people on the organ waiting list by increasing the number of organs for transplant.



Owain Glyndwr, the Welsh freedom fighter, was described by Fidel Castro as the first guerilla leader and even Shakespeare made a reference to him saying he was not on the roll of the common men. The Cowbridge bases author and lecturer Terry Breverton sees Glyndwr in somewhat of a different light however, and he describes this eloquently in the new 240 page biography entitled Owain Glyndwr.

Breverton believes that Glyndwr, who birth dates are circa 1359-1415, is a largely neglected name in Welsh history and that the fierce “hit and run” military campaign which he fought against the English rule has been wrongly derided as a revolt, insurrection or uprising. Breverton asserts that this was in fact a full on war of independence which, for the first time, totally united the Welsh nation.

Breverton points out that the army of volunteers who Glyndwr recruited beat back 6 separate invasions before his mysterious disappearance, and it is thought his children and the rest of his family were either dead or had been imprisoned for life by this time. Speaking of his book, Breverton says that if it hadn’t been for the 15 year struggle Owain Glyndwr against overwhelming odds Wales would not be the oldest nation in Europe.

Breverton went onto say that the war he fought was one of the defining eras in Welsh history yet hardly anyone knows who Glyndwr is and the main aim of this book was to address this and let everyone know what a literate and cultured warrior he really was. He was never captured, or betrayed, and he simply disappeared into the mists of time, and the history of Wales.

 

 



Few were surprised last summer when Roy Campbell-Moore quit his post with the National Dance Company Wales after being suspended for several weeks after his staff complained about him. He has not rested on his laurels however and has now moved onto the next stage in his career and become a dance photographer. He is now embarking on an international project that will last for 2 years and span Wales as well as reaching out to India.

The result is The Beauty And The Grit which features his series of photographic commission in several art galleries and theatres across both Wales and India and the first exhibition opens on the 10th January at the Theatr Brycheiniog in Brecon. This exhibition is a record of the work by the esteemed Welsh choreographer Jessie Brent as well as Addisu Demissie, a dance-artist from Ethiopia.

The pair recently performed a production of The World Behind Walls at Theatr Brycheiniog and positively illuminated the building through their performance inside and by having the audience outside watching from a canal boat.

Campbell-Moore was the founding artistic director for Diversions Dance that eventually became the NDC, National Dance Company, Wales. During his time there he worked with some of the most famous choreographers in the world and his work was seen internationally in magazines, dance festivals and exhibitions.

This latest artistic venture is the follow on from another creative project he undertook, In The Flow, when he took close up photographs of dancer in their working environment to create several sets of images with a theme.

Campbell-Moore himself says that as a former choreographer and dancer he has earned the trust of the dancers to work alongside them on stage while they are rehearsing and performing. This resulted in the thoughtful and authentic insights that when into In The Flow which showed how dancers created their own special energy in real working situations.

 

 



Later this month, a Newport mosaic artist will be preparing for a major regeneration project, taking place in Santiago, Chile. Stephanie Roberts, a ceramic mosaic sculptural artist, aged 41 and based at her studio in Pill, will have the opportunity to travel to Puente Alto, a suburb of Santiago Chile to participate in the 2014 1st International Mosaic Art Project.

Ms Roberts is among eight of the UK artists that have been chosen with the total number of international artists invited to participate being sixty. The mother of two will work on the project between January 13 and 24 alongside sixty international mosaic artists to decorate Puente Alto’s Town Hall. Ms Roberts will be working for at least six hours over the nine day period.

The project’s theme is “MagicGarden and Ms Roberts plans to create an industrial humming bird mosaic that is 5ft squared. Ms. Roberts is planning to carry her own industrial materials like lead, steel, and copper but she will also receive some ceramic tiles from the project organizers.

Ms Roberts shared that her mosaic explores how local heritage, environment, and materials influence people thus encouraging understanding, harmony and tolerance. She went on to add that she wanted to create art projects that represented the highest standards of mosaic art. According to Ms Roberts, this would bring quality education and finally awareness of this unique form of art.

Ms Roberts began undertaking mosaic art training after graduating with a BA (Hons) in Ceramics from UWIC at HowardGardens, Cardiff. She was currently still working for a Community Mosaic organization known as Pioneers between 1995 and 1997 before launching her solo career in 1999. Ms Roberts has received funding from EU, Local authorities and art grants, which has given her the freedom to be creative on a variety of projects including public art, residencies and regeneration projects all over South Wales and Southern England.

 



A transport expert has said that traffic lights in many Welsh communities are ready for culling. Additionally, many junctions in Wales do not have road markings or signals and therefore forcing pedestrians, drivers and cyclists to be always on the lookout for each other as they go on with their journeys. These junctions have been converted to a shared space.

Getting rid of traffic lights even on busy roads has reduced the amount of time that pedestrians and drivers need when travelling though Tim Shallcross of the Institute of Advanced Motorists has said that the idea is not receptive in Wales. Mr. Shallcross who stays in Carmarthenshire said that many people think that he should be certified for saying such as thing. He added that trying shared space and promoting that approach at other quiet places in Wales would be an exceptional thing to do however they would be required to first make pedestrians and drivers understand what they are.

He suggested that many of the traffic signals in Cardiff Bay were not needed, with each quite side road along Lloyd George Avenue that connects the Bay to the city centre having a full set of traffic lights.

In addition, he said that he imagined that if one drove in Cardiff Bay everyday the number of traffic lights present would annoy them. He went on and said that he gets the impression that the amount of traffic people anticipate is not usually what is experienced. Furthermore, there are traffic lights and pedestrian guardrails on the west towards Bute town, on the east across Lloyd George Avenue together with the south.

Each of these lights usually leads passengers to a traffic island where there is another set of signals. Before they reach the Wales Millennium Centre, there are other traffic lights and islands. According to John Dales a street design expert, there are many junctions in Britain than those required and that any junction with signals could use a new look. He then asks if there is a need for the presence of the signals.

 



Welsh Government Task and Finish group has recommended that a new work plan for Barmarthen, Bangor and Aberytwith areas should be implemented. These regions need to be developed as “city regions” to stop the regeneration of the economy and infrastructural regeneration within these three regions.

This recommendation comes following setting up of a Task and Finish group by the government of Wales in a bid to increase the popularity of Welsh language. The taskforce was set up after the release of 2011 census reports that showed a 20 percent decline in the population of Welsh speakers.

Welsh speakers have for instance become a minority in areas that would traditionally have a large population of natives especially in Carmarthenshire and Ceredigion. The taskforce made seven recommendations to the ministers for consideration with some of them being highlighted below.

To enhance the promotion of Aberystwyth, Bangor and Carmarthen as cities.

To provide consistent education curriculum for 3-14 year olds throughout Gwynedd, Anglesey, Carmarthenshire and Ceredigion in order to ensure that pupils become fluent and confident in English and Welsh.

To enhance the effect of Welsh government initiatives meant to promote Welsh language through use of assessment measurement tools like TAN20 that allows planners to address different issues facing Welsh language speakers.

Make it easy for people to have access to Welsh medium provision that grow a Welsh culture within the different programmes through encouraging social and informal use of Welsh in day to day communication within schools and communities.

To encourage different people to be part of social activities that involve popularizing organizations, societies and initiatives meant to popularize Welsh as a language.

To set standards that expand bilingual operations and bilingual workforce between different agencies that use Welsh Language Standards.

To encourage the use of Welsh in local businesses, community based initiatives and in other social places in order to popularise the language to the masses.

The role of analyzing the proposal now lies with ministers.

Dr. Rhodri Llwyd Morgan who is the group chairperson was keen to note that the scope of the study was mainly centered on demographics within a certain area. According to Morgan, this report is meant to be easy to understand and not some hard to comprehend puzzle that shows how the population of Welsh speakers has been decreasing over the years. In many instances, the interaction of people within a certain geographical area may be one of the major reasons behind keeping a language alive, something that has changed a lot over time because people now move to different areas. The geographical barriers that made it absolutely necessary for languages to thrive are no longer available.

 



Over 50 countries took part in a competition at the Wales Millennium Centre to break a record of the biggest multicultural nativity play. The world record could be well set in Wales.

Rev Irfan John of the Methodist Church in Wales was the one who invited the people. Rev John has been working with culturally diverse people as well as acting as a medium for communication between churches and Synod. He has also supported refugees and asylum seekers.

The record seems to be set as the stage had 55 nationalities. Rev John considered the event as a way of bridging the gap between people as well as taking the message of peace across the world. John went on to say that he did not see reason for people in other parts of the world not to work together since people from different countries, nationalities, backgrounds and religions were able to work together in Cardiff.

Rev John went on to say that if they got the record, they would donate it to Cardiff as a way of being thankful for him and his family being offered asylum. Rev John, his wife Raheela and their children Daud, Karam, Iram and Iran were granted asylum in 2006 after fleeing persecution in Pakistan.

 



We understand that a Welsh government minister has set aside some funds to cater for improvements on the EbbwValley line that would allow the rail service to be able to carry more passengers. The move has the capability of providing a form of transportation to Newport however; it is not clear when the improvements are to begin. Today, the Argus continues its campaign that has lasted for ten years as they call for a rail service to Ebbw Vale from Newport and calling for this extra service to be given to Newport.

During the previous year, Edwina Hart, the Transport minister agreed for an allocation of £62 million in funding for the years between 2013 and 2016 to be set aside for the so-called phase 1 of the South East Wales Metro plan to improve the public transport system. Nevertheless, the Argus has received some information that this will include improvements to the rail transportation on the Ebbw Vale that would give room to a second train per hour. One of the improvements would include a passing loop at Lianhilleth. The main problem about this line is that it has a single track, which makes it unable for other trains to pass through it and therefore making it to have only one service per hour to Ebbw Vale from Cardiff. However, the Welsh government is not giving more information concerning the move.

Officials have just referred to a previous statement made by the assembly in October when Ms Hart said that she would be looking forward to the improvement in infrastructure that would enable a second train per hour to and from Ebbw Vale. In spite of the Argus inquiring for a time span, the amount of money the specific project would need or whether the railway line would go from Newport or Cardiff, officials have refused to give any more information. Where the extra train will pass through is possibly going to bring some controversy. Alun Davies, Blaenau Gwent’s AM and MP Nick Smith both want the extra service to go to Cardiff while the Argus newspaper and numerous people across the city want the extra service to go to Newport.