Developing new transport links, improving access to health services, regenerating communities and dramatically growing jobs by increasing tourism.
These are just some of the ideas from a special meeting of Neath Port Talbot Council’s Cabinet which gave its responses to a series of recommendations from an earlier Council Task and Finish Group which looked at the future of local valley areas.
The Task and Finish Group made it clear in a report that the social, environmental and economic success of the Valleys remained a priority for Neath Port Talbot Council, the Welsh Government and other stakeholders.
But it added that numerous attempts in the past through local, national and regional programmes, while achieving some positive and tangible results, had been “largely ineffective”.
In its response, the Cabinet identified transport as a key issue for the future of the valleys and welcomed the fact consultants have now been appointed by the Swansea Bay City Region to develop a feasibility study into the future of transport in the region.
The Cabinet’s responses were contained in a hard-hitting report which said public transport arrangements in South Wales valley areas were now “not fit for purpose”.
The report cited sharp reductions in Welsh Government funding since 2012 (concessionary fares, Bus Service Support Grant, etc) as one of the reasons.
The Cabinet now aims to promote a range of projects to support community regeneration in the Valleys including:
- Securing a share of the £25m of capital investment announced by the Welsh Government for a series of “strategic hubs” to link with the priorities of the Ministerial Taskforce for the Valleys focused on attracting investment and job creation.
- Working with the Welsh Government on the further development of the Cefn Coed site in Neath as part of the Valleys Landscape Park (which is benefiting from £7m of capital investment announced by Welsh Government).
- Work is also progressing with the Friends of Pontardawe Arts Centre and the Arts Council for Wales in securing the future of the venue through plans for a new cinema and a more commercial approach.
Regarding the future of tourism, the Cabinet said a planning application had now been received for the ambitious Afan Valley Adventure Park project which could create hundreds of jobs if successful in the future.
Work to restore East Pit is progressing and there is potential for the site to be used for tourism led regeneration – the support of Celtic Energy being needed to progress the project.
And the Council is working with Rhondda Cynon Taf Council on the possible reopening of the Rhondda Tunnel as an added attraction for cyclists, walkers and hikers.
Neath Port Talbot Council has also restored its tourism unit to maximise visits to local tourist destinations such as “Waterfall Country” in the Vale of Neath as well as Margam Country Park and Aberavon Beach. In 2016 alone there were 1.47 million visitors to the area who ploughed £110m into the local economy – supporting around 1,500 jobs.
The Special Cabinet Meeting also authorised a partnership with the independent think-tank The Bevan Foundation on developing valley communities in South Wales.
On the issue of access to health and well-being services, a shortage of GPs willing to work in valley areas has been identified as a major problem.
The Director of Primary Care for the ABMU Health Board has indicated her willingness to meet with Cabinet members to discuss the current position with an improvement in community transport seen as vital to increasing health care access.