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Opinion: Powys County Council, elections, parking and more

Cllr Pete Lewington kicks off our new weekly Sunday opinion column with his take on the current state of Powys County Council and the issues which he has raised.

By Cllr Peter Lewington
County Councillor for Newtown West

1 week ago 978 views

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This piece was wrriten by County Councillor Pete Lewington (Welsh Conservatives - Newtown West) and is unedited. All About Newtown is not liable for any opinions expressed or contained within.

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I would like to start what I hope will be a regular column by thanking the editor for providing this opportunity to contribute to the Sunday morning opinion column – I believe it is vitally important to engage with our residents at every possible opportunity to understand their needs and to ensure our local and national democracies are robust, efficient and working for them.

We heard this week of the planned closure of Treowen by the Powys County Council Liberal Democrat led Cabinet which was extremely disappointing news and in stark contrast to their commitments made ahead of the May 2022 Powys County Council elections not to close schools.

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In addition to misleading our residents with their broken election promise to fight school closures I believe this is a shortsighted decision as we need an overall plan for education in Newtown (and indeed Powys) rather than this piecemeal approach. It must be joined up and address all the issues we face at a town level such as equality of provision, available places, quality of buildings, transportation links etc. It can’t be right for a strength of the proposed merger to be that learners would benefit from an improved learning environment and a more efficient model of education as that implies that other pupils in Newtown will be disadvantaged and if so, what will be done to address that – we can’t have a two tier education provision.

I firmly believe that a good education is vital to future success in life and that this is best delivered in the local area rather than ripping the heart out of the community against their wishes. Treowen school will lose its unique identity and its education provision will no longer be linked to the community. I have serious concerns with this decision as the site for the new build Ysgol Calon y Dderwen may not have sufficient adequate capacity to accommodate additional children, the area may not be able to accommodate the additional traffic at school drop off and pick up times, and a significant number of further homes are likely to be developed in the Treowen area.

Residents have been left feeling extremely frustrated as they feel the consultation was a waste of time. The Liberal democrats should have shown the public that they were truly listening and care about their needs as well as staying true to their election pledge.

I fear that the Liberal democrats are in a state of disarray with regards to education as in recent weeks we have had their would be MP suggest that the Newtown pupil referral unit would be closing. I was totally outraged that he made such an ill-judged statement without checking his facts or thinking through the impact of such a statement on our residents. I raised my concerns with both the leader of the council and the chief executive and was assured that no decision had been made and a full business case is being prepared on the two pupil referral units. This is the same Councillor who was photographed celebrating the liberal democrats’ county council tax increase of 7.5% - another broken election promise from the Lib Dems who campaigned on “not going anywhere near 5%”. Local people deserve better than this and I and my colleagues on Powys CC will fight hard to ensure they get it! 

The Powys Car Park review working group of which I am a member has concluded its work and many recommendations were suggested to benefit our residents. A formal report is being prepared for cabinet who will make the final decision on whether or not to accept these proposals. One that I hope they do agree to and for which I have fought is the introduction of an affordable £1 for 1 hour parking in our car parks  to help our beleaguered residents and businesses before its too late to save our Town Centres.

Another matter impacting many of our residents who run local building related businesses is the recently published in-depth review of the Red Dragon housing development in Newtown which highlighted significant failings in managing the project. I first called for a review of the process and risks involved in this project back in 2023 as I was concerned that following the principal contractor entering administration numerous Powys companies were left out of pocket and owed thousands. If a Project Bank account had been in place as required by Powys County Council it would have protected the sub-contractors as the monies held in this account would have been ring fenced with amounts payable to subcontractors secure and only paid to them.

Powys County Council needs to reflect on the financial damage done to these sub-contractors. The internal auditors have found multiple major failings not least of which was the absence of the Project Bank Account and the failure to action their concerns of the increased likelihood of the principal contractor going into administration, which has clearly cost numerous Powys companies considerable sums of money.

Consequently in view of the multiple significant failings identified in the report which are laid fairly and squarely at Powys County Council’s door I have raised the issue of compensation as morally these subcontractors should not be expected to pay for the council’s multiple failings – they entered into these works in good faith and have been badly let down by Powys county council who now need to do the right thing and protect its reputation by making amends for its failures. A paper explaining in detail the council’s response about compensation is being prepared. 

In recent weeks I have been pleased to attend the official opening of the new Antur Cymru Enterprise Hub in Bear Lanes shopping centre along with our MP Craig Williams and I sincerely hope that start up business will take advantage of this opportunity to test trade their products at the hub.

I was also honoured to attend the 150th anniversary celebration of Newtown Fire station which was a special occasion, and I would like to formally record not only my thanks but my admiration for crew members both past and present who constantly put themselves in danger to keep us safe – thank you.

Cllr Pete Lewington
Newtown West

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