RURAL Wales needs a development plan, was the message of the Baroness of Ely, Assembly Member Eluned Morgan, when she visited Welshpool last Thursday.
Ms Morgan revealed her Rural Wales Plan that details ideas for stimulating the economy through support for infrastructure, skills, business, agriculture, regional economies and tourism.
She said: “What we could do is look at adding value to the agriculture sector.
“We need to create the world’s best shepherd’s pie. Using the raw material and responding to market demand.
“What we’ve done is make sure we’re competing in quality and addressing the demand, which right now is in ready meals. 79 million ready meals are eaten by adults every week.
“We need to adapt and go to where the demand is which means adding value.”
When asked how economic growth could be encouraged in Powys, Ms Morgan identified a need to develop infrastructure.
She said: “You’ve got to develop the right infrastructure, super fast broadband is as important as a decent road.
“Welsh Gov is way ahead of other rural areas on this, by the end of the year I think 94 per cent of rural Wales will be covered by super fast broadband. But if you look at mobile phone coverage that’s really problematic.
“We need to think carefully about developing economically. Take the electricity grid infrastructure, I was at Radnor Hills yesterday and they were telling me that within two years they wouldn’t be able to expand any further because the grid infrastructure could not support their infrastructure.
“20 years from now we’ll all be driving electric vehicles. How are Powys people going to get around if there’s no infrastructure to support those vehicles.
“I phoned Tesla and asked about getting charging points installed. They are willing to install charging systems in, for example, hotels.
“I then got in touch with some of the top hotels in Wales, then you’d be bringing people driving Teslas with a bit of money being attracted to Wales as tourists.”
Another key area is that of transport, with few train lines and dwindling bus services, Ms Morgan had an alternative suggestion for how people might get around.
She added: “What we have are answers for cities being implemented in rural areas.
“We subsidise buses by £150 million every year.
“You see these buses trundling around almost empty. I would rather think creatively, could we give those subsidies to community electric vehicles? I would rather pay it for people to use the subsidy than run empty buses.
“What I’m thinking about is old people who need to do their shopping in a rural area, they still need to get to and from the bus stops.
“These are all just ideas at the moment.”
Rural Wales has an aging population and does not have a vast amount of opportunities for young people.
Ms Morgan said: “We need to give young people a reason to live here.
“One thing we are suggesting to look at developing is identifying forestry in North Powys managed by NRW to create a woodland leisure resort.
“In other words to develop a kind of centre parks, one of the reasons is that one of the people in the group developed Blue Stone, a very big eco-style development that employs 800 people. North Powys, geographically, is a really good place for it.”
Another suggestion from Ms Morgan was the construction of eco-homes for the elderly with apprenticeships available during construction.
She said: “A lot of rural Wales has poverty issues. Looking after older people is part of the foundational economy.
“What we want to get on with is developing eco-homes for older people. A member of the group has built an eco-village and he reckons he can do it for the same price as building a normal home, the difference is that running that home costs next to nothing.
“They are well insulated and utilise solar panels.
“We need to make sure there’s a supply chain behind it. Going back to skills, we need the Welsh Government.
“If we started a scheme like this with apprenticeships we could build it into this exercise.”
She also mentioned the possibility of paid community care schemes.
Ms Morgan added: “In terms of care, instead of farming out to the private sector, why don’t we pay members of the community to be the carers. So it’s your neighbours looking after you.
“There are examples where this is being done with the Solva Care model where it’s voluntary and builds up to being paid. We’re paying private sector now so why not.
“In the mean time I think asking housing associations and community groups, getting Welsh Government to support them, there would be more stakes and more interest.
“The aging population is a demographic problem that we are facing and are going to confront, I don’t think the Brexit situation is going to help because a lot of people providing this care at the moment are from Eastern Europe. It’s going to be challenging.”
With an ever increasing demand for energy, Ms Morgan also spoke about the significance of local green energy production.
“We need to do a lot more in terms of local energy production,” she said.
“Rural Wales needs to understand there needs to be localised energy production and distribution. Both solar and wind.
“Realistically wind is still the cheapest form of renewable energy. Mostly things that can be exploited, have been in Wales.”
“People in Powys need to think what their children’s future will look like without the energy infrastructure.
“You won’t get the money unless you agree to have wind farms and the necessary infrastructure.”