ANDY RUTHERFORD looks back at events in Gwent during November and December.
Outrage as free parking is axed
WHAT began as a protest against Newport council’s plan to end festive free parking at the end of January turned into an Argus campaign backed by more than 4,000 people.
And after the council refused to back down on that plan, some city retailers took action of their own, banning councillors from their shops.
From December 3 to January 31 drivers were able to use council-owned car parks for five hours and pay nothing – but from February 1 motorists must pay £1 for a three-hour period.
Council officers argue that the free scheme is not financially sustainable, with the Argus reporting that the scheme costs £850,000 a year.
Conservative, and some Labour councillors criticised the plan to reintroduce a charge, but the real anger came from traders who have already had to endure tough economic conditions for some time.
Tony Turner, of AD Turner and Sons Butchers, in the market hall, echoed the views of many when he called the charging proposal “absolute nonsense”.
“There’s no consideration from this council at the moment. We’re trying to run businesses in the market and they’ve taken our buses away, and now our parking,” he said, referring to long-running gas works in High Street which had halted bus services.
The Argus launched a campaign to try to persuade the council to change its stance, and dozens of retailers took up the challenge too, taking petition forms and asking shoppers to sign them. Some, such as the Elbow Room hair salon in Austin Friars, collected hundreds of signatures.
The council debated the issue in mid-December, but after an at times heated discussion, voted to maintain the policy of reintroducing a charge from February. Facing a budget shortfall of around £8 million, council leaders said tough choices had to be made and free parking could not be maintained.
Council leader Bob Bright said the issue had been blown out of proportion, but Conservative councillor David Fouweather said the decision “must have been run like a pantomime” and branded councillor Bright as “Captain Hook”.
Less than a week before Christmas, incensed traders banned all Labour councillors from their stores. Steve Reynolds, owner of Toy Army in the market hall, said he was “completely fed up with them”.
“The gas works, the work they are doing to the market car park, and now getting rid of the free parking, they are killing us in here,” he said.
As the year came to a close, the issue remained very much a live one, with the idea of a voucher reward scheme suggested by Argus editor Kevin Ward up for consideration.
GWENT Wildlife Trust announced it will campaign against proposals for a £250 million race track at Ebbw Vale.
The trust said the plans – which would lead to the creation of a unique facility in Wales promising thousands of jobs – would virtually wipe out valuable habitats over an area the size of Abergavenny.
The proposed Circuit of Wales site at Rassau is not wasteland, claimed the trust, but full of wildlife including small mammals, which attract birds of prey such as the hen harrier and red kite.
The trust is concerned that publicity surrounding the development made no mention of the nature conservation value of the area, and that 300 hectares of habitats are under threat.
AN investigation was demanded over allegations exclusively revealed in the Argus that the Welsh Ambulance Services NHS Trust spent £65,000 putting up two staff at a Gwent hotel – one of them allegedly staying there for four years.
Trust sources told the Argus that its south-east Wales regional utilisation manager, Gillian Pleming, now heading back to North Wales, was housed at the Parkway Hotel, Cwmbran, on weekdays for the last four years.
It was also claimed that while working as south-east Wales regional director, Gordon Roberts stayed at the Parkway for a while until 18 months ago, when he too took up a post back in North Wales.
The claims were made in the same week that a review of the service was announced by the Welsh Government, in light of declining performance.
JUST four months after an operation in the USA paid for with more than £58,000 that Argus readers helped raise, threeyear- old Bayli Lippiett was walking unaided, for 20 steps, kicking a football, riding his tricycle and climbing the stairs at his home in Blackwood.
The youngster, who has cerebral palsy, could not walk before his operation, but parents Darren and Katherine were determined to give him the chance, despite the hefty price tag for surgery that is only performed at a Missouri hospital.
Selective dorsal rhizotomy involves removing a bone from one vertebra, with an incision being made in the spine to stop faulty messages from the brain getting to the legs. This helps balance, enabling the patient to walk.
Mrs Lippiett said his progress has been “unbelievable”.
A GRIEVING Ebbw Vale woman said she forgives a nurse whose mistake led to her newborn baby dying after being fed a day’s worth of food in just an hour.
An inquest into the death of seven-day-old Maisie Faith Waters in Bristol concluded with her heartbroken mother, Laura Bennett, 23, of Willowtown, saying she bore no grudge toward Martyn Woods.
“He came up to us and apologised (after the inquest) which took a lot of courage. At first I was bitter, but now I know his account I know he didn’t do it intentionally, he just made a mistake. A big mistake.”
Maisie died while being treated for a congenital heart defect at Bristol Royal Infirmary on August 16, 2011.
INDEPENDENT candidate Ian Johnston, pictured, was elected Gwent’s first Police and Crime Commissioner after a poll in which just one in seven (14.3 per cent) of voters exercised their democratic right. The 60- year-old former senior officer with Gwent Police defeated Labour candidate Hamish Sandison into second place, and insisted he had a mandate despite earning the backing of just 7.1 per cent of the electorate.
He said he wants to review the regulations that allow police officers to be compulsorily retired after 30 years’ service, but he will not seek to reverse police station front-desk closure proposals.
LLANTARNAM School, Cwmbran, was put into special measures after assessors from Estyn deemed both its current performance and its prospects unsatisfactory.
A report said the performance of pupils sitting GCSE and equivalent qualifications is significantly lower than that of similar schools, and pupils do not make enough progress in literacy and learning skills.
The behaviour, attitude to learning, and social skills of the majority of pupils was also deemed to be poor, and too many of the teachers did not know how to manage bad behaviour properly.
Head teacher David Bright described the move as “deeply disappointing” and while accepting the recommendations, said “we believe some very general judgements are unfair”.
ONE of Wales’ most famous rugby clubs was saved after a fan pumped in more than £100,000 of his own money to stop it being wound up.
Pontypool RFC faced closure as a result of the costs it had incurred in the long-running legal battle with the Welsh Rugby Union over the club’s relegation from the Premiership.
Peter Jeffreys, who lives in Newport, and owns city-based medical services provider Medinet, agreed to pay players and coaches for the remainder of the season, also putting £60,000 toward solicitors’ fees, in addition to £22,500 he originally contributed to the club’s fighting fund.
“I’m more involved now than I ever really wanted to be, but I love the club, my dad brought me here, my sons come here. It means a lot to me,” he said.
MIXED news on the job front was reported, with 265 jobs axed at several Tata Steel-owned businesses in Gwent, but 185 others due to be created at the firm’s Llanwern plant.
Centres at Cross Keys, Tafarnaubach near Tredegar, and at Portskewett were scheduled for closure as part of a UKwide programme of closures by the company, with 900 jobs being lost overall.
But Llanwern’s hot strip mill is earmarked to re-open after being mothballed at the start of 2011, bringing 120 jobs.
This follows the re-opening of a blast furnace at the Port Talbot works.
A new service centre is also proposed at Llanwern, creating 65 jobs.
THREE buses and a heavy goods vehicle were destroyed in a blaze at a Newport bus depot.
The early-hours fire, at the Newport Transport bus depot in Corporation Road, Maindee, was believed to have been started deliberately.
There were no casualties, but the nearby Westonia House apartments were evacuated as a safety precaution.
PLANS to hand Caerphilly council bosses inflation-busting pay rises were greeted with fury.
Most of the other council staff have not had a wage rise in three years, but four of its high earners, including chief executive Anthony O’Sullivan, pictured, were slated for rises bigger than some staff’s annual salary.
Mr O’Sullivan’s pay packet was set to be increased by up to £27,000, from £120,000.
Later in the month, council leaders promised a rethink in the teeth of strong criticism, and after a walkout in protest by more than 600 staff.
CHILDREN could be at risk of harm in Newport unless staffing issues are addressed, according to a damning council report.
The report into Newport council’s children’s services department warned of staff shortages, low morale and high caseloads.
A third of staff had resigned in a 15-month period, and caseloads were at twice the recommended level set following a 2003 report in the wake of the notorious Victoria Climbie case in London. By August, 32 out of 89 staff had left in the previous 15 months, and at the end of November there were 18 vacancies with three staff on longterm sick leave.
NEWPORT will not feature in the title of the university to be formed through the merger between the University of Wales, Newport, and the University of Glamorgan.
The name of the new institution will be the University of South Wales, a choice favoured by staff, students, businesses and others. But the decision was given a mixed reception by politicians. Lindsay Whittle, Plaid Cymru AM for South Wales East, said the name does not capture the imagination, but Newport East AM John Griffiths called it “pretty strong”.
GWENT Music Support Service was facing up to the prospect of a huge funding cut after Newport council proposed to axe its entire contribution as part of moves to cut millions of pounds from its budget.
The proposal could see £292,000 taken from the service, which provides music tuition and runs a range of children’s orchestras and music groups.
It is also funded to the tune of more than £450,000 by other councils, Newport council wants the service to become self-financing, with schools having the option of subsidising fees or asking parents to help out.
FAMILY members visiting loved ones’ graves at Newport’s St Woolos cemetery were horrified to find dozens of graves under water after torrential rain triggered flooding.
Downpours caused flooding in the cemetery’s lower levels, in some areas to several feet.
“You can’t even see some of the stones because the water is so deep,” said Susan Attwood, 66, from Spytty, who had come to place holly wreaths.
Flooding has always been an issue due to the hilly nature of the site, but officials believe a filter bed underneath had become blocked, thus worsening the problem.
Further flooding on December 22/23 meant pumping equipment had to be brought in.