CARMARTHENSHIRE County Council’s Executive Board has unveiled its aspirations to regenerate its rural communities – strengthening local economies, creating jobs and business opportunities and protecting the Welsh language.
It is the first time ever that a wide-ranging strategy has been developed by the council to specifically focus on its rural areas.
Over 60 per cent of Carmarthenshire’s population lives in a rural area* and the council’s executive board was the first to create a specific portfolio to represent rural affairs.
That position is held by Cllr Cefin Campbell, who chairs a cross-party task group to investigate, understand and plan what is needed to create more sustainable rural communities and economies.
Cllr Campbell presented his ‘Moving Rural Carmarthenshire Forward’ report to Executive Board for the first time this week, securing the full backing of colleagues to progress the report to Full Council.
At the heart of the new strategy is an emphasis on creating jobs and business opportunities so that young people stay and settle in Carmarthenshire, instead of migrating to find good quality jobs and lifestyles elsewhere.
There is also an emphasis on encouraging young people to return to their roots, with incentives to help them set up businesses to support themselves and the local economy.
Initiatives being looked at include making innovative use of vacant or unused agricultural buildings to create hubs for entrepreneurs, and improving broadband provision so that digital connectivity isn’t a barrier to rural development.
A Carmarthenshire ‘brand’ could be developed to support and grow the county’s diverse agriculture and food production sector, encouraging communities to buy local to create a re-circulating ‘Carmarthenshire pound’, and boosting the county’s growing tourism sector.
The council’s commitment to reduce carbon emissions and use of plastics also features as part of the plan, with proposals to work with partners and agencies to create a more sustainable environment, with new infrastructure including an investment in rapid charging points for electric vehicles.
Rising to the challenges created by Brexit is a key focus, to ensure the agricultural industries – which make up the majority of businesses in rural Carmarthenshire – are not adversely affected, with Cllr Campbell calling on Welsh Government to take more action to forward plan.
The report also details a ‘Ten Rural Towns Initiative’ which will launch in the autumn to ensure market towns, from Llandovery to St Clears, are more economically, socially, environmentally and culturally sustainable for the future.
“More than 60 per cent of the population of Carmarthenshire live in rural areas, so we are talking about having an impact on the vast majority of people,” said Cllr Campbell.
“Regenerating the economy is an integral part of this report. The important message is that we are currently losing about 1,000 young people in Carmarthenshire each year – many talented people have left; we hope to attract them back to the county. We want to create an infrastructure that will help them with their entrepreneurial skills.
“We need sustainable housing, we need to be less strict on our planning guidelines for rural development, and we need to support our village schools so that it will attract more families to set up in the area.”
He added: “Our recommendations include an array of initiatives which will allow our young people to live and work locally. These developments will also strengthen the position of the Welsh language as demographic changes are one of the key reasons for its gradual demise.”
Council Leader, Cllr Emlyn Dole, said: “The Welsh Government is paying attention to this report – it’s innovative and essential.”