IT is always difficult scheduling an interview with a politician and especially difficult if that politician is as busy as Llanelli’s Nia Griffith MP. A number of issues raised in Parliament relate to our town and sometimes, we just need to be sure that the people we elect to represent us are monitoring and contributing to addressing some of those issues. Despite it being a weekend, Nia Griffith MP agreed to meet us at her office in Pottery Street to go through some of the items, relating to Llanelli. This is how it went:-
There have been some issues relating to this area of Wales, which you have been involved with in Parliament this week. Can you give us an overview of some of those issues, particularly issues surrounding the steel industry?
I’ve been to see Simon hart, the new Secretary of State for wales with other steel MPS because we really have to get a level playing field for our steel industry. We’ve got to make the government realise just how important it is to put all the support in we possibly can. There’s no way we want to see any possibility of losing this absolutely fundamental industry for our communities. That has been the number one priority.
Employment is a critical issue in this part of Wales. Both those companies TATA in Port Talbot and Trostre. They’re a massive employer. It will have a huge impact on Llanelli and surrounding areas wouldn’t it?
Absolutely. Not only an impact here, but of course on other industries which depend on the steel industry and all the contractors that come in and work in the companies. And we are obviously very, very concerned and we need the government to realise just how important it is and how important is that we keep our steel industry because we all know once something’s gone it’s gone and it’s very, very difficult to, to re establish or bring back. So we want them to be looking very, very carefully at that level playing field, trying to make sure that the terms and conditions, the energy prices and so forth are right for our steel. Obviously to get some decent trade deals for us going forward.
Looking at policing in Wales, there have been some key recommendations that policing becomes devolved. Are you in favour?
There’s been a police plan. We’ve had the idea that because the police work with the community so closely the other services need to be coordinating with the police. So clearly there needs to be a Welsh sense of direction on that. There needs to be a tying in really with what our police forces do on the ground with the aims of Welsh government in terms of our communities. When you come to the bigger question of justice, of course, that’s another issue. That’s a whole big issue about how do you finance any sort of separate justice system. So I think on the practical side, what really matters is what’s delivered in communities and how the police work together with the other services.
What’s been going on with the motorhomes and the taxation?
This is something that’s been brought to my attention by some of the people living in the area. Plus of course we have a couple of companies who are very involved in this business and it’s one of those things that government has tried to push through. A tax which would actually tax motorhomes a lot more on the basis that they pollute more than a smaller vehicle. But we all know these are vehicles that are not used every day. Nobody’s travelling back and forth every day to work in one of these. These are perhaps doing 3,000miles a year on those holiday trips, which provide cheap, good value for money holidays for many people. We benefit from tourists coming to this area. People living in this area benefit from where they can go. And of course there are the actual people who are manufacturing and selling the vehicles. So it just seemed very unfair because if it’s to tackle emissions, it’s not actually doing it the right way around because these are vehicles that are not used every day.
Would that apply to a car pulling a caravan?
It’s specific this time to motor homes. But you are obviously referring back to the time there was a chancellor called George Osborne who brought in a caravan tax and there was the same sort of outcry at that time. So you’ve got to look at the practicality. If this is giving people a good holiday here, in this country, at cheap cost that’s really valuable. It means that they’re not actually flying. So if you want to make the carbon argument, you’ve got that as well.
Closer to home we have the on-going issue of the bus, school transport. We’ve seen the outcry on social media. We’ve seen the protest and campaigns with local councillors getting involved. It seems quite outrageous doesn’t it? Children have to walk three miles in the dark along paths that are flooded half the time. We want children walking to school and we want to encourage all of those kinds of things. Some of these routes are unrealistic aren’t they?
Look, it’s absolutely the case that three miles along a dark path is no way for a child to be going to school. I’ve walked the paths and what I have been really shocked at is that this should have been sorted out in the months leading up to what’s happened now. It should have been sorted out in the six months leading up, not left to the last minute. The three-mile rule applies right across the UK. Realistically I don’t think anybody expects a child living nearly three miles away from a school to walk, but we’ve always managed in the past because we’ve had bus services. We’ve had the local bus service at a reasonable price with the gradual privatisation of those services and more and more subsidies being taken away. What’s happened of course is the price has gone up for parents. The bus companies have found some routes to be uneconomical so we’ve got fewer and fewer bus routes. Obviously what’s just happened now has been that they’ve been looking at those vehicles as if they were public service buses and therefore would have to comply with the disability legislation. What we want the government do is to include those buses as exemptions for school transport because we know that often they are only put on in term time. They’re going exactly at the time the children go to school. So we want them to be classed in the same way as a vehicle put on by the authority for the schools.
We hear about these arms length companies and outsourcing and so on. A case has been made for the council to purchase tailor-made buses, electric buses. Looking at planning really for the future, is this something that you’d like to encourage?
I’m very, very interested in the idea of the municipal bus service. We have very few examples left in the UK now we have Cardiff, Nottingham and Reading. Because then you have public control, you have your voters telling your councillors we want this route, we don’t want this route. We’ve seen what’s happened over 30 years of privatisation. We’ve left a lot of rural communities with very, very poor services. So let’s get that back quickly. There’s a lot of focus on the railways, but the thing about a bus is you can try out a route tomorrow and if it works and if it’s popular, you can put on more buses. So I think it’s a great idea for local authorities to be looking at how they could actually provide bus services.
Wee are living in this very rural area, which is really isolated in parts. Car is King. I know Lee waters has been pushing for more use of public transport and cycling for a long time. You’re wanting to get people onto buses, getting people into cycling. Is there a disconnect here between what you as an MP and Lee waters our AM wants and what the council does? On their plans for the future, are they actually doing enough? Are they putting those things in place? Are they considering and discussing them because we all know it’s a short term when you’re a County councillor and you’re elected for a short time when you’re an MP or an AM. We need to be planning 20 or 30 years down the line don’t we?
We absolutely do need to be planning. We need to have the necessary powers as well. I mean, Welsh government has just had the opportunity to take over the railway service and now they’re putting through legislation about buses. This we hope will open up the way, but quite clearly if you live in a rural area what do you do. Of course, if you can possibly afford it, you want a car. But what about younger people? What about people who can’t afford cars? It is cutting back on opportunity. Some youngsters may not be going to college, some people may not be able to take up work in local towns like Carmarthen and Llanelli if they just can’t get there. Either because it’s very expensive or because the time of evening where they want to go home. There isn’t a bus service running. Again, with the different opening hours that we have now, it’s becoming more and more difficult. So yes, we need to look very, very seriously at how we can all benefit from better services. It’s totally unrealistic to tell people go and use the bus if there aren’t any buses.
Let’s finish on the issues on Sandy road and the Berlin wall, as the locals call it. Taylor Wimpey have applied for retrospective planning for the wall and plan to give it a coat of paint Are residents there getting short changed on this wall and are Taylor Wimpey running amok across those residents while the council allegedly turns a blind eye?
I think the problem started right from the very beginning by planning permission for houses to come so close to existing houses. Not taking into account all the issues like the flood plain and having to raise the land. I mean, all of these issues were raised at the time and what’s most disappointing about this is that we should never have got to this position. I can fully understand the residents being very, very concerned. I think we need some independent assessment of the situation. It’s all very well for the County to sign something off. But I don’t think people have much faith in that now. They worry that perhaps the developers are sometimes allowed to get away with things
We are seeing the same thing to a certain extent at Pwll and North Dock. We’re going to see a few hundred more homes down on those sites. Probably three to four hundred new cars added to the traffic daily now on that route. Calls are still being made for a bypass or to get something to divert the traffic from Sandy road because of the pollution levels and that that must be affecting so many people along that route.
Well I think the fact of the matter is that we have a very attractive area to live in. Obviously going westwards we don’t have the jobs. There are a lot of the jobs to the east of Llanelli and people are travelling eastwards so there is a bottleneck in Sandy Road. It could have been predicted and we absolutely have to get it sorted out. We’ve been nagging and nagging the County council. We have a meeting now in a couple of weeks time yet again when I understand the head of highways will be proposing some improvements. We desperately need those improvements and really that should come first before any more development. We live in a very attractive area and people want to live here we’ve got to get the roads right this time. Having made the mess they’ve made, they really now need to think through exactly how this is going to work before they even begin to lay a brick.