The Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS) includes 165 local democracy reporters, who are employed by regional news organisations. They provide impartial news coverage from top-tier and second-tier local authorities and other UK public service organisations. So it is effectively a public service news agency: BBC-funded, provided by the local news sector, and drawn upon for sharing news by qualifying partners such as Bylines Cymru. The scheme started in 2017 and has been replicated in Canada and New Zealand.
A local democracy reporters’ brief is to write about what and how decisions are made locally in the public’s name. There’s a serious democratic deficit in Wales, due in part to the paucity of accurate and appropriate public interest journalism available to and for the people of Wales about things affecting their daily lives. LDRS stories help bridge that gap, and we make every effort to do so too, within the scope of our model. We’ll regularly publish summaries of some stories to keep you informed, about your own community and others in Wales.
Bridgend County Borough Council proposes to increase charges and fees, including those for garden waste collections, bereavement services, pest control, and school dinners. Council tax could be increased by 9.5%, and the main bus station and public toilets closed. With pay pressures, inflation, and increased demand on services making budget reductions around £16mn, Council leader Huw David says this is the most challenging financial situation Bridgend CBC has faced. It saw a 3% increase in the Welsh Government’s provisional local government settlement, but this is less than inflation. Proposals will be debated before final decisions are made in February.
Lewis Smith, Local Democracy Reporter
An “unbearable stench” arose from Ty Llwyd Quarry, a dumping ground for chemicals including carcinogenic PCBs in the 1960s and 1970s. Last year alarms were sounded over leachate seeping into nearby woodland. The local community below called for urgent preventative action. But now Storm Henk has sent water “rushing” down the hillside. Ynysddu councillor Janine Reed attended the site, and said the “unbelievable” smell gave her a migraine and nausea. “This concerns me as people drive and walk along this road … [and use] public footpaths in the Pantyffynnon woodland.” She has repeated her and Cllr Jan Jones’ calls for immediate action. Caerphilly County Borough Council said it deployed testing staff as part of its ongoing site management and “will continue to closely monitor the situation.”
Nicholas Thomas, Local Democracy Reporter
Cardiff residents may need to reapply for parking permits as Cardiff Council proposes a new zonal parking system to tackle congestion. This would split the city into four parking zones, contained within the area south of the A48, west of the River Rhymney, east of the River Ely, and north of Cardiff Bay, each with its own restrictions. It’s hoped this would make it easier for residents to park on their street or adjoining roads and reduce commuter parking. The cabinet member for strategic planning and transport, Cllr Dan De’Ath, said “we need to reduce our reliance on the private car and get people to think more about taking public transport.” If the proposal is passed at a 18 January meeting, a public consultation will be launched.
Ted Peskett, Local Democracy Reporter
Charging e-scooters and e-bikes inside student accommodation is a “concern”, a senior fire service officer has said. David Morgans of Mid and West Wales Fire and Rescue Service gave a presentation about electric vehicle fires to members of the Mid and West Wales Fire Authority, saying such battery fires can take hold quickly and the smoke is highly toxic. There were 167 UK e-scooter and e-bike fires in 2021, mainly linked to how they were charged and the way conventional cycles had been converted into e-bikes. He said the risk could also apply to mobility scooters being charged inside a property. It’s against the law to use a privately-owned e-scooter on public roads, pavements, or cycle lanes, but many people own one.
Richard Youle, Local Democracy Reporter
The Conwy County Borough Council leader slammed the funding formula used to calculate how much money the authority is awarded by the Welsh Government annually. In December Conwy and Gwynedd came bottom of the local government settlement table of 22 Welsh authorities with a 2% budget rise. Conwy’s sum amounts to less than £4mn extra in 2024–2025, despite teacher and council staff pay increases of £12mn, inflation, and rising costs. It has one of the most elderly populations in the UK and high social care costs, and faces a funding gap of around £25mn next year. Leader Cllr Charlie McCoubrey said the formula is outdated and unfair: “If Conwy received the same amount per capita funding as Denbighshire after an adjustment for our tax base, it would be an additional £20mn every single year,” adding that much data used in calculation goes back to 2001, and some to 1991.
Richard Evans, Local Democracy Reporter
An oak tree in a Gwynedd park with connections to a Welsh children’s book is to be fenced off and cut back for public safety. The striking tree at Parc Meurig in Bethesda is believed to be at least 500 years old. Work will include cutting back the canopy and lopping back rotten branches. Concerns were raised that branches could fall, posing a public risk, particularly during high winds.
Councillor Dafydd Meurig, cabinet member for the environment department, said: “Parc Meurig is an important community asset for Dyffryn Ogwen. The area also has connections to Llyfr Mawr y Plant – a collection of children’s stories which is of huge cultural significance for Wales – and I’m sure generations of children have imagined the characters from the books living under the branches of the oak trees.” Anyone concerned or interested in the situation can speak with the council’s biodiversity officers during an informal session from 11–1 on Saturday 20 January, or you can send questions to [email protected].
Dale Spridgeon, Local Democracy Reporter
Isle of Anglesey
A couple who bought a vast Gothic-style Menai Bridge church building to convert into a home and a holiday let hope to reassure locals over its renovation. Craig Allison and Huw Williams, both 32, purchased the former English Presbyterian Church in October 2022. They’re keen to quash local rumours that they’re “American millionaires” and hope to calm complaints over temporary disruption during restoration. Huw, project manager of work on the Grade-II listed building on Telford Road, is a Welsh speaker from Machynlleth with family connections on Anglesey. His husband Craig is in the RAF, currently serving in Texas, but will shortly be based at RAF Valley on Anglesey.
The building includes a number of impressive features, which the couple intend to incorporate into their home’s design. Huw said: “A lot of locals have memories of coming to the church. It played a big part in their lives and we’re very sensitive to that … We’re happy to talk to anyone about what we’re doing, if anyone wants to share any memories or stories of the church, we’d love to hear them, and we want people to know it’s in safe hands.”
Dale Spridgeon, Local Democracy Reporter
Merthyr Tydfil County Borough Council is set to agree a consultation with trades unions on potential redundancies in a bid to make savings. The council is faced with a projected budget deficit of £13mn for 2024–2025. Cuts are being explored to “ensure the council continues to provide quality affordable services to the community … within an uncertain financial climate resulting from the continued effects of the pay award; energy costs; supply chain costs; and contractual costs … along with loss of income and increased costs during Covid”.
If approved by councillors on 17 January, the council will issue a Section 188 letter to unions (there is a duty on the employer to consult trade union representatives under 1992 legislation) to start a 45-day consultation exercise, and will notify the Secretary of State for Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy of the potential for 100 voluntary or compulsory redundancies. ‘Green book’ employees working in schools form part of the consultation, but teachers are excluded from the grounds contained within this Section 188.
Anthony Lewis, Local Democracy Reporter
Work on a new bomb-making building at an arms factory was started nearly eight months ago – without planning permission. The oversight came to light after the planning application form was published, nearly a month after weapons manufacturer BAE Global Combat Systems Munitions Ltd submitted it on 1 December. The site at Glascoed near Pontypool was developed in 1938 as a bomb-filling factory for the Royal Navy, and has supplied ammunition to UK troops since it was privatised by the Thatcher government in the 1980s.
Planning applications for new developments at the factory – which has been picketed by peace protesters opposed to arms sales to Israel since the latest assaults on Gaza – aren’t published in the usual way on the Monmouthshire County Council website, but can only be viewed by appointment. The council published this particular application after being contacted by the LDRS, revealing that work started on the development in May 2023. It appears that council planners were aware of the development since at least 15 June, when the arms firm sought ‘pre-application advice’.
The application form refers to other plans not published online including ‘sensitive’ information about ‘storage of hazardous substances’. It was spotted by local resident Charlotte Fleming, who was concerned at the lack of information available and that a deadline for public comments was due to close on 10 January. After being contacted by the LDRS, the council updated its website and said it would extend the consultation period until 24 January.
Twm Owen, Local Democracy Reporter
People at risk of homelessness in Newport must be housed in expensive temporary accommodation like hotels and B&Bs because there’s not enough emergency accommodation available. These typically cost Newport City Council £65, equivalent to around £23,000 a year. Its ability to fund homelessness services is under “severe pressure” because demand is so great and supply so low, leader Jane Mudd told cabinet colleagues on 10 January. So far this financial year, the council has overspent by more than £2mn against its budget for housing and communities, “primarily” because of homelessness provision.
The cabinet noted the cost-of-living crisis had pushed more people closer to poverty and at risk of losing their homes. A cabinet report shows the council has seen a ‘significant increase in costs’ in the last two years, in light of a new Welsh Government policy to ‘dramatically reduce homelessness’. It has overspent because it hasn’t identified a way to raise “sufficient income to offset costs”. Increased demand has a knock-on effect, as the council also has to spend more on staffing to provide extra support. “The level of challenge is unprecedented,” Cllr Mudd said. Welsh Government figures show 540 households in Newport were under threat of homelessness last year, the fifth-highest of any Welsh council. Provisional figures show that 35 of Wales’ 135 recorded rough sleepers were in Newport in September, the highest in Wales.
Nicholas Thomas, Local Democracy Reporter
Pembrokeshire faces the largest budget funding gap in its history, of £28.4mn, with bleak warnings of a need for substantial council tax rises. At the 8 January meeting of the Pembrokeshire County Council cabinet, members received a report on the provisional local government settlement for 2024–2025. Pembrokeshire will receive a 2.5% increase in the Aggregate External Finance (AEF) rate, some £5.372mn, rather than a projected 3.1%, which would still have been problematic.
Cabinet member for Corporate Finance Cllr Alec Cormack said: “Each year, the percentage of revenue paid for by council tax increases and the AEF goes down, there is no sign of that reversing. We will have to … find more of that budget from council tax. Because we have the lowest council tax in Wales, that puts us in a difficult position.” He added: “Welsh Government has done as much as they could,” as it has its own gap following reductions in UK government funding.
Leader Cllr David Simpson said increased pressures on adult and children’s services, an extra £9mn alone, would equate to a council tax rise of 12.5% just to cover that. The Welsh Government will debate and announce the final Local Government Settlement on 27 February, with a six-week consultation period on the provisional settlement ending on 31 January. A recent public consultation on the 2024–2025 Pembrokeshire budget included the option of increasing council tax by as much as 25%.
Bruce Sinclair, Local Democracy Reporter
These stories from 11 of 22 Welsh local authorities and other public bodies are a selection from among a large number, chosen on the basis of wider public interest, and are lightly-edited summaries of the original stories by the Local Democracy Reporters credited.