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Neath Port Talbot

The multi-million pound new projects which the council say will help Neath Port Talbot meet the challenges of the post-Covid era

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New and refurbished schools, the major redevelopment of Neath’s town centre, the building of a self powering technology centre to attract new jobs and investment and the nearly completed Plaza Cinema project in Port Talbot.

These are just some of the projects contained in a progress report on the delivery of Neath Port Talbot Council’s £82.4m 2021/22 capital programme given to members of the council’s Cabinet in November.

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Capital projects are generally major schemes which are either new build, acquisition of land or property, lease of property, the refurbishment of an existing building or the purchase of new pieces of equipment.

In the current financial year, the council has been undertaking projects including:

Progressing the council’s 21st Century schools programme:

  • Cefn Saeson Comprehensive – Completing and opening of a new replacement 11-16 School (ahead of schedule) in the Cimla area. The school was opened to pupils in June 2021.
  • Abbey Primary – Continuing the construction of a new primary school to replace the current Abbey Primary which is based across three sites in Neath Abbey, Skewen and Longford.
  • Ysgol Gymraeg Ystalyfera Phase 3 – Progressing the addition of a new build block comprising six extra classrooms and 3G rugby pitch provision.

Continuing the council’s regeneration programme: 

  • Moving ahead with the redevelopment of Neath Town Centre including a new leisure centre and gym, modern library and retail facilities.
  • Making progress with developing Harbourside, the Port Talbot former dockland area destined to become an attractive site for new businesses, residents and visitors.
  • The Plaza Cinema – The redevelopment of the former cinema which inspired movie stars such as Richard Burton, Sir Anthony Hopkins and Michael Sheen into a community hub with a café, gym, office space, hall, multi-purpose rooms, a conference area, digital recording studio and shops.
  • The Bay Technology Centre – A self powering 25,000sq ft building of modern office and laboratory space, located on one of Wales’ premier Business Parks – the Baglan Energy Park – alongside the M4 in the heart of South Wales. Close to completion, it will host different size units for start-up companies, indigenous businesses and inward investors looking for a base to set up and grow their operations. 

The capital programme also includes :

  • Further investment of £3m into Disabled Facility Grants to assist people to live at home and investment of over £3m in Schools Capital Maintenance and Highways and Engineering Maintenance improvements. 
  • Redevelopment works at the Hillside Secure Unit in Neath.
  • Remodelling of the Council’s Waste Facility at Crymlyn Burrows as a Transfer Station with enhanced recycling capacity and facilities to accommodate the Council’s expanding recycling operation.

Cllr Carol Clement-Williams, Neath Port Talbot Council’s Cabinet Member for Finance, said: “It’s a tribute to all involved that these dynamic, major projects have been worked on throughout the pandemic and will now provide a major boost to our economy as we prepare to meet the challenges of the post-Covid 19 era.”

The cabinet formally gave its backing the 2021/22 Capital Programme and commended it to the full council for final approval.

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Education

Neath Abbey Welsh medium primary school given go-ahead

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Neath Port Talbot Council’s new Rainbow Coalition Cabinet has agreed to move forward with plans to open Neath Port Talbot’s first ever Welsh medium primary “starter school” at Neath Abbey.

The new Welsh medium starter school in premises previously occupied by Abbey Primary School at St John’s Terrace, Neath Abbey, could welcome its first pupils next January if fully approved.

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Part of the council’s strategy to increase Welsh medium education across the county borough, the Cabinet agreed to move the starter school plan to its next stage – publication of a statutory proposal to establish the new school.

The starter school model is used when establishing a new school, gradually allowing the facilities and staff to be used efficiently while the school grows to its full potential.

Under the plans, £200,000 would be set aside for refurbishments and improvements including the provision of learning walls and digital equipment ensuring the school can deliver the new curriculum.

Cllr Nia Jenkins, Cabinet Member for Education, Skills and Training, said: “This council has a ten year target to increase the number of Year 1 children taught through the medium of Welsh from 16.8% in 2020/21 to 31% (460 pupils) by 2032 and this proposed new school will help reach that target.

“It also complements the national vision for the Welsh language, to have a million Welsh speakers by 2050.”

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(Lead image: Neath Port Talbot Council)

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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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