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Neath Port Talbot

Global Centre of Rail Excellence on track at former opencast site: £50 million capital funding confirmed by Welsh Government

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Plans for the construction of a world class rail testing facility on a former opencast mining site at the head of the Dulais and Tawe Valleys have taken a giant leap forward today, with the announcement of £50million Welsh Government support for the delivery of the Global Centre of Rail Excellence (GCRE). 

The train, rail infrastructure and technology testing facility, will provide unique capability in the UK and Europe, to support innovation in the UK and international rail industry, including the testing of cutting-edge, green technologies. Welsh Government has been working in partnership with Neath Port Talbot and Powys Councils to develop proposals for the GCRE, which will be located on the site of Nant Helen Open Cast Mine in Onllwyn, currently operated by Celtic Energy. 

In order to deliver the first phase of the project, the Welsh Government has confirmed a £50million capital funding loan to be given to Powys Council. Earlier this month the UK Government pledged up to £30million funding to the pioneering project in the Spring Budget.

In further milestone developments, a land option deal has been completed for the sites at the Nant Helen surface mine and Onllwyn coal washery, which will see Celtic Energy gift all the land necessary for the project. A formal planning application will also be submitted this week for a purpose-built, modern railway infrastructure, systems and rolling stock test and validation complex.  The facility will act as a driver for accelerated rail industry innovation, investment and growth in Wales, the wider United Kingdom and internationally.

To take the project forward a new GCRE Company will be established as the project transitions from Government led, supported by industry to industry led, supported by Government.

Ken Skates, Minister for Economy, Transport and North Wales, said: “This is an enormously significant step forward in our plans to deliver a world class facility with unique to Europe integrated capabilities.  GCRE will be a powerful ‘magnet’ project bringing a major global industry closer to Wales. It will provide a raft of vital services and wide ranging research, development and innovation platforms to UK and international train manufacturers, network operators, the wider industry, supply chain and academia. It will also provide significant direct benefits to our national operator Transport for Wales.

“Working alongside our public and private sector partners we will deliver high quality jobs and training opportunities whilst supporting Welsh exports for decades to come.”  

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A joint venture was established in 2019 between Welsh Government and both Powys and Neath Port Talbot Councils to support project development and delivery. The proposals are the result of collaborative working with partners and extensive engagement and consultation with stakeholders and local communities.

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Nigel Brinn Corporate Director (Economy and Environment) at Powys County Council said: “We are delighted that both UK and Welsh Governments have confirmed that they are able to invest in this extremely important project on the Powys border. The opportunity to deliver such an innovative and economically beneficial restoration and after use for the site is very much welcomed by all at Powys County Council.

“We look forward to progressing the project as quickly as possible with our Joint Venture Partners of Welsh Government and Neath Port Talbot Council. We are fully committed to doing everything we possibly can to play our part in delivering this project of truly international significance.

“The opportunity and potential of this project is widely acknowledged and we are absolutely committed to ensuring that the maximum overall benefit to the region is achieved. We are extremely excited about the opportunity that this initial investment will create, working with research and development partners to establish this Centre of Rail Excellence.”

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Neath Port Talbot Council’s Corporate Director of Environment and Regeneration, Nicola Pearce, said: “Neath Port Talbot Council, the Welsh Government and Powys County Council have worked hard with a range of partners to help reach this key milestone. Subject to planning and other approvals, the Global Centre of Rail Excellence will create a world class facility for research, development and testing of rail technology offering major opportunities for economic growth in the South Wales Valleys and throughout Neath Port Talbot.

“We look forward to continuing to work with the Welsh Government and our other partners as this project is delivered.”

The plans are an important addition to the site strategy being brought forward by Celtic Energy, following approval of its restoration proposals in April 2020, and second planning application, approved in July 2020.

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Will Watson, Celtic Energy Chief Executive, said: “As our coal mine operations come to the end of their natural lives, we have been working hard to ensure that local communities continue to benefit from well-paid, sustainable employment, whilst we diversify our sites from coal to property, tourism and green energy.

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“We are delighted that the Global Centre of Rail Excellence project has reached another key milestone and we are looking forward to continuing our close working relationship with Welsh Government, local authorities and rail industry players to help deliver a world class facility that will benefit people locally and globally.”

Richard Walters, Celtic Energy Chairman, added: “As part of the project we have been committed to ensure that the generations, who have previously relied on the coal industry for local employment, continue to benefit from access to sustainable employment. They will now have opportunities to support and promote the expanding rail industry in Wales and across the UK more widely.”


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Transport for Wales

New trains for Wales and Borders services go on show

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Brand new trains that aim to transform services across Wales and the English borders have been on show today at Chester railway station.

Assembled by CAF at their factory in Newport, the first Class 197 train with its ‘Made in Wales’ tag was revealed to the public today (Friday 1 July), offering a taste of what’s to come for customers in the next few months.

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TfW are spending £800 million on new trains throughout their network and the Class 197 will be the first of the brand-new stock to enter service in North Wales before the end of this year.

Providing an increase in capacity, reduced emissions and enhanced comfort onboard, these trains will allow TfW to run faster and more frequent services to key routes including services in South West Wales – Manchester to Milford Haven, Cardiff to Fishguard and Swansea to Pembroke Dock.

Offering leather seats, modern air conditioning systems, wider doors and customer information screens, the new trains will transform the customer experience. They’ve also been fitted with electronic charging points and disability features for those with limited mobility.

The Deputy Minister for Climate Change with responsibility for Transport, Lee Waters said: “I am pleased to welcome the new Class 197 trains to the rail network. These new vehicles represent a real transformational improvement on the trains that they will be replacing, providing comfortable and frequent services, encouraging people to leave their cars behind and move onto a more sustainable form of transport.”

Alexia Course, TfW’s Director of Transport Operations, said: “At Transport for Wales we’re continually moving forward with our transformational plans to improve public transport for the people of Wales and the borders.

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“The Class 197s on show at Chester railway station today will be an important part of the transformation of the Wales and Borders network, and when they enter service, they will enable us to run more services and carry more customers in comfort.

“The construction of our new trains has been four years in the making, and customers and colleagues are incredibly excited to welcome passengers onto them from later this year.

“It’s also important to recognise that these trains have been made in Wales at the CAF factory in Newport and the building of them has provided jobs and supported the local economy”.

Richard Garner, UK Director CAF said: “CAF is thrilled that the first of our Class 197 trains for the Wales and Borders network has been officially launched.

“We are immensely proud of our key role in delivering Transport for Wales’ vision to transform rail travel for passengers.

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“The manufacture of our trains is taking place at our state-of-the-art facility in Newport, South Wales. We see ourselves as a local manufacturer, supporting highly skilled jobs and bringing employment opportunities to the local area whilst focusing on sustainability issues and addressing the needs of the Welsh economy.

Our trains are being built in Wales to serve the Welsh communities”

(Lead image: Transport for Wales)

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Education

Council to review Swansea Valley ‘Super School’ decision made by previous administration

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A reprieve could be on the cards for Alltwen, Godre’rgraig and Llangiwg Primary schools as Neath Port Talbot’s new coalition administration say they want to review the decision made to create a new ‘super school’ in Pontardawe.

The new administration says it wants to establish if an alternative way to bring 21st Century School standards to the Swansea Valley can be achieved, which would be more acceptable to the community.

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The decision to establish a new £22.7m English-medium 3-11 school and specialist Learning Support Centre for pupils with a statement of Autistic Spectrum Disorder in Pontardawe to replace Alltwen, Godre’rgraig and Llangiwg Primary schools was taken by Neath Port Talbot Council’s Cabinet on October 20th, 2021.

The controversial decision triggered a process of communicating with local schools around the next steps and general planning for the construction of the new school and swimming pool.

A successful tender exercise took place to secure a contractor to begin stage one of a two stage process.

Neath Port Talbot Council say that under its own procurement rules, it says it has been necessary to approve the appointment of the contractor to undertake Stage 1 contract works only, with no obligation on the council to proceed to the second stage. Stage 1 includes developing the design information; carrying out assessments of traffic and site conditions; ground investigations; and obtaining planning approval.

The council say that this first stage contract does not commit them to the construction of the school and pool, with a further contract being entered into at Stage 2, which is the actual construction phase. 

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It adds that allowing stage 1 works to progress will ensure that the opportunities to meet the timescales of the October 2021 decision could still be realised if a review does not highlight any changes are needed to the project.

This will avoid further anxiety for the school staff and families due to unnecessary delays, particularly important for those pupils in Godre’rgraig Primary School who are currently educated in temporary accommodation awaiting the new school.

Neath Port Talbot Council say they will now start discussions with Welsh Government Ministers to establish what information they might require from the council. This will inform the consultation process which the council will undertake with stakeholders.

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Port Talbot

Port Talbot RNLI shop open again for business

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Following refurbishment, visitors to Port Talbot will once again be able to visit the shop located at the lifeboat station at Aberavon seafront.

The shop refit marks the start of a new era. The shop was opened in loving memory of the previous shop manager, Phil Jones, who sadly passed away in early 2021.

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Phil had kept the shop open single-handedly for over twelve years with much success. Phil’s wife and daughter kindly agreed to officially open the new shop on Sunday 12 June when many memories were shared and there were plenty of best wishes for the future.

RNLI shops started out as simple cake stalls run by volunteers to raise money for their local station. Around 1920 commemorative RNLI products were added and shops were selling souvenirs and Christmas cards, all profits helping to save lives at sea.

The RNLI now has over 170 shops around the coast and inland all of which are run by dedicated volunteers: Port Talbot is no exception.

The shop volunteer team has grown since April 2021 from a team of one to thirteen and is also involved with fundraising.

New Shop Manager Kirstee David says: “It has been amazing watching the shop team develop over the last twelve months and to see how passionate the team is about developing what we offer – and about the RNLI!”

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(Lead image: Port Talbot RNLI)

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