Talgarth is a small agricultural town with an ancient heritage, within the boundary of the Brecon Beacons National Park. The shops in the town centre have suffered a decline in recent years as a consequence of the almost impassable trunk road passing through it. With the relief road now constructed, the challenge is to attract the beneficial passing traffic and visitors.
The closure of the nearby mid Wales psychiatric hospital had a severe impact on employment. The town bucks the trend of the surrounding district by scoring high on indices of multiple deprivation but due to its size often misses out on development funding because the more affluent character of the surrounding district skews the statistics.
Talgarth Town Council has a number of actions that promote sustainability, being a committed participant in The Green Dragon environmental management scheme and also the council has supported citizens’ applications to the county council for more allotments.
The council is committed to a local action plan which has proved crucial in obtaining financial and other support. The plan contains 31 issues requiring action that are ranked in order of priority and arranged according to themes such as housing, tourism and employment. The plan has been well received by Powys County Council, The Brecon Beacons National Park Authority and Welsh Government colleagues. It gives credibility to the partnership in the town and shows that funding applications are responding to a proven need.
When funding becomes suddenly available, at for instance the end of a financial year, and there is a small window of opportunity for applying, the action plan is useful because it is a pre-determined list of potential projects waiting for such funding opportunities to come along.
While there is no doubt that this action plan is a success, the town requires an over-arching vision to work towards, which would need to be subscribed to not just by the council and citizens but by the county council, the National Park Authority and even the Welsh Government.
A regeneration group involving councillors and other citizens was set up in 2004, and in 2006 published a regeneration plan. This plan has drawn up a list of priorities for action - the first of which is improvements to the fabric of the town, in particular a refurbishment of the closed shop fronts in preparation for their re-use. The proposal is that by developing the shops and creating a more pleasant town centre, businesses will be encouraged to set up in the town. In particular the council is exploring the potential for a co-operative grouping of the artists and crafts people of the district, of whom there is wealth, and whether they could use the shops as retail outlets and workshops/studios. This would begin to build the town’s reputation as a centre of arts and crafts, as well as building upon the multitude of outdoor sports and activities available locally.
The council has also conducted a local needs housing survey which has identified a requirement for affordable housing, particularly for younger residents. The council will be working with the Rural Housing Enabler to tackle this.
The regeneration plan also identifies the importance of the market and commits - not only to maintain the status of the livestock market but also to develop other market activity. It has a thriving livestock market which holds sales weekly for sheep and monthly for cattle. This is on-going work but there is already an established farmers’ and local producers’ market each month selling produce and craft work.
A local group is working to restore the old water mill in the centre of the town - a grade 2 listed building - following initial works by the town council. The group was successful in 2010 in bidding for the Big Lottery / BBC partnership’s Village SOS fund. The mill will produce flour for its own bakery and there will also be an ‘eco-café’ and education centre as part of the mill complex.
The council has led an architectural appraisal of one of its fixed assets – the town hall - in order to develop it as a community asset. There is the potential to convert the building to mixed use providing a library service in the basement and enhanced facilities for performance. The council is considering what would be the most suitable environmentally-friendly technology for meeting the hall’s energy needs. Linking the hydro-electric potential of the mill to the town hall basement would provide a carbon neutral hub of co-located community facilities.
The council provides the use of the town hall free for a number of community activities including a volunteer-led luncheon group for the elderly.
Through these various council projects, the community has been energised and Talgarth has been noted by Powys County Council, the National Park Authority and Welsh Government as a best practice example for partnership approaches.
Central to the success so far has been the inspiration, leadership and persistence of Richard (Lord) Livsey, former MP for Brecon and Radnor and a son of the town. Through him, councillors and other community leaders were given the opportunity to learn about the journey of a similar sized town in West Wales – Narberth. The story of Narberth’s regeneration was an inspiration for the people of Talgarth.
As ever, a core group of committed individuals are an essential ingredient but in addition, the council is notable because its members display a wide range of essential skills. The council has fortuitously a collective strength that is greater than the sum of its parts. Realising this, the council has the willingness to lead and to stand up against more powerful bodies when it believes it is acting in the town’s best interest.
A salient point to note for learning purposes comes from the experiences of this particular council in the management of a contentious issue. Sometimes, town and community councils may become embroilled in a complex planning issue that stretches the resources and tests the limits of understanding of what are essentially voluntary, non-specialised bodies. In Talgarth’s case it was fortunate that there was sufficient skill and experience gained from work outside the council that the individuals involved were able to give an issue proper scrutiny and to dissect technical planning details in order to formulate an argument. If town and community councils are to become champions of sustainability they need to be given the necessary training to use the statutory planning process to achieve the sustainable outcomes they desire for their communities.
Thanks to: Cllr. Bob Martin, Mayor and council leader
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