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Budget boost for rail campaigners

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A bridge near Lampeter: Much of the infrastructure is still in place

A bridge near Lampeter: Much of the infrastructure is still in place

THE RETURN of a railway service which last ran in the mid- 1960s moved a step closer to becoming a reality after the Welsh Government agreed to fund a feasibility study.

The railway track between Carmarthen and Aberystwyth was taken up shortly after it closed for commercial use in 1975 – a decade after the last passenger train ran – but much of the track bed and infrastructure remains in place.

While reopening the line has been discussed many times before, and has enjoyed cross-party support, the latest draft revenue budget allocates £300,000 towards carrying out a full feasibility study into reopening the line.

This follows on from a preliminary report published last year, which indicated that the project was potentially feasible, although large-scale works, including a tunnel costing in the region of £60m, would be necessary due to building on the track bed.

At the time, the then economy Minister Edwina Hart said that she was ‘open minded’ to alternative public transport links in the region, but pointed out that Aberystwyth and Carmarthen were already connected by a bus route.

When the matter was recently raised in the Senedd by UKIP, the First Minister said that the project was ‘close to my heart’. The project has also been supported by Plaid Cymru AMs, including Simon Thomas and Elin Jones, and Ceredigion’s Lib Dem MP Mark Williams.

It appears that the financial allocation was one of a number of Plaid Cymru priority areas, forming part of a £119m budget agreement with Labour.

Traws Link Cymru, who have been campaigning to get the line reopened, claim that ‘this is the breakthrough we have been waiting for’.

“Reopening the railway would bring social, cultural, and environmental benefits, and would provide an economic stimulus to West Wales.

“It would help alleviate transport poverty in the region, provide a safer form of transport, be a significant boost to tourism, and lead to improved connectivity,” a spokesperson added.

It currently takes more than two hours to travel between Aberystwyth and Carmarthen on public transport, but Traws Link Cymru hope that this journey time could be reduced to 90 minutes by train.

However, the cost of the project – estimated at between £350-750m – could prove problematic. Last year, the existing Welsh Government-supported bus service was used 102,000 times.

Edwina Hart also pointed out last year that funding of rail infrastructure was non-devolved at present.

It is also unclear whether external funding for large infrastructure projects will be as readily available in the future, given uncertainty surrounding European Union membership.

However, this funding commitment shows a political willingness to explore the viability of reintroducing this service.

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Community

RNLI in Wales urges people to stay safe as Storm Brendan hits

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The Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) is urging people to stay safe near the Welsh coast as severe weather could make our seas and coastlines particularly dangerous.

Lifesaving charity, the RNLI, is encouraging people to exercise extreme caution if visiting the shoreline, especially along exposed cliffs, seafronts and piers.

The expected strong winds and severe gales pose a severe safety risk to those visiting the coast.

Named Storm Brendan by Met Eireann, it swept eastwards across Ireland before making its way through the rest of the UK this morning with yellow wind warning in place for most of the Welsh coast.

Chris Cousens, RNLI Regional Water Safety Lead for Wales said:

‘This rough weather could make visiting parts of the Welsh coastline treacherous and bring very dangerous sea conditions.

‘Sadly, around 150 people lose their lives on British and Irish coasts each year and over half of these people didn’t plan on ever entering the water. Slips, trips and falls can be a major factor in these kinds of incidents.’

If you see someone else in danger in the water, call 999 and ask for the Coastguard. If you have something that floats that they can hold on to, throw it to them. Don’t go in the water yourself – too many people drown trying to save others.

The charity, which provides a search and rescue service around the UK and Ireland, is facing its own Perfect Storm as demand for its services has increased but it is facing a shortfall in funds. This past year, the RNLI has been busier than ever, and stormy conditions can mean additional call outs for the already extremely busy volunteer crews. Whatever the weather, RNLI volunteers will still be on call to rescue those at difficulty at sea.

The RNLI’s major new fundraising appeal, The Perfect Storm, which aims to help the charity get back to living within its means, is running throughout November and December. To find out more or to donate visit RNLI.org/ThePerfect Storm.

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Community

Are you missing out on a Council Tax reduction?

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IF YOU’RE struggling to pay your Council Tax bill, then help could be available for you through the Welsh Government’s flagship Council Tax Reduction Scheme (CTRS).

The scheme, which will continue to support vulnerable households in 2020-21, currently benefits one in five of all households in Wales. In the last year almost 280,000 low-income households have received help from the scheme, with 220,000 paying no council tax at all. Many more receive other discounts or exemptions.

You may be entitled to pay less council tax if:

• you believe you live on a low income
• you live alone, or with people/children who do not pay council tax
• you are a student
• you are disabled
• you are severely mentally impaired

Understanding why there are still vulnerable households not benefitting from the help they are entitled to is a priority for the Welsh Government. Last year we commissioned research to understand the circumstances of households in Wales and the effects of the UK Government’s Universal Credit on the CTRS.

The interim report out today shows that for many households, the move to Universal Credit can have a significant impact on council tax reduction awards. Whilst many households currently receiving a 100% reduction will continue to do so, for others, the move to Universal Credit is shown to have an adverse impact, particularly for employed households, self-employed households, and working households in receipt of a Disability Living Allowance or Personal Independence Payment.

Full findings of the interim report are available on the Welsh Government website. These findings will now be considered in more detail to inform the next stages of the research and policy development in this area.

Encouraging people to make sure they are not missing out on help they could be entitled to, Finance Minister Rebecca Evans said:

“Ensuring every household in Wales receives the council tax support they are entitled to is an important part of our commitment to making council tax fairer.

“Our scheme is already helping hundreds of thousands of households across Wales, but we know that there are still many missing out on the discounts, reductions and exemptions they are entitled to. I encourage everyone to check the Welsh Government website to find out if they could be paying less.”

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Success for Dyfed-Powys Police in targeting drugs suppliers in Ceredigion

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A drugs supplier in the Ceredigion area has been sentenced to 2 years and 2 months in prison.

Kylie Mason, 34, from Aberaeron, was arrested on the 28th October 2019, and later charged with 2 offences of possession with intent to supply a controlled drug and two offences of supply a controlled drug of Class A. She pleaded guilty at court and received a total sentence of two years and two months in prison on the 8th January.

Detective Sergeant Steven Jones said: “This is an excellent result for the Aberaeron community, who had raised concerns about this individual supplying drugs in the area. I hope this will serve as a warning to others who wish to bring drugs into the Ceredigion area that it will not be tolerated. This result will go a long way towards keeping our communities safe. If anyone is worried about drugs in their community I would urge them to contact police as we will take the appropriate action.”

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