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The Knowledge

Local taxi drivers could soon have a to take a driver knowledge test, as part of plans being considered by Rhondda Cynon Taf council .

At the moment, people who want to apply for a Joint Hackney Carriage and Private Hire Vehicle drivers' licence must achieve a BTEC qualification - in Transporting Passengers - which was a requirement introduced in February 2013.

Prospective taxi drivers must also provide a satisfactory medical, pass a DVLA check on their driving history and provide a Disclosure and Barring Service check.

Now, in a report by Louse Davies - RCT's head of environmental health, trading standards and community safety - it is revealed that the local authority will consider adding the driver knowledge test.

It will "further improve customer experience", match the policy of neighbouring Cardiff and Caerphilly councils, and address "poor local knowledge and the communication skills" of people applying to be taxi drivers.

The report says: "The aim of the driver knowledge test is to further enhance the protection of public safety and provide public reassurance.

"This in turn will ensure a more professional customer service is delivered to taxi/ private hire vehicle users.

"There has been a rise in the number of 'out of area' applications and changes in market forces.

"In the absence of a local knowledge test there is an expressed perception from applicants that it is easier and cheaper to licence as a driver in RCT than with other local authorities.

"The driver knowledge test introduction will address poor local knowledge and the communication skills of potential applicants."

If agreed, the test will have to be passed as a pre-application requirement - and will cost the applicant around £30 to cover the cost to the council of administering the scheme.

RCT council's cabinet members will discuss the proposal on Thursday, February 16.


12 homes and a shop could be built on the old nursery school site in Hirwaun
The Co-op could move there from its current site in the village

Plans to transform the site of a now-demolished nursery could see a new Co-op store and 12 homes built in a Cynon Valley village.

Rhondda Housing wants full planning permission for the project at the former Hirwaun Nursery School off Brecon Road.

It could see the village's existing Co-op store move there from its current location.

The nursery closed in 2005 and the buildings have since been demolished, and the new convenience store would have a retail sales area on the ground floor, and a bakery, office, staff room and toilet on the first floor.

The store would have 14 parking spaces, a cycle store, a trolley bay and a cash machine.

The whole site, 4,000 sqm in total, would also include eight one-bedroom flats, one two-bedroom bungalow, two three-bedroom houses and one four-bedroom house.

A new access road would be built at the centre of the site off Brecon Road, to be used by residents, shoppers and for servicing the store.

The council has received 15 letters of objection over the development - raising concerns about the access being created on a perceived blind spot on the road, while Brecon Road is described as already being busy with parking problems, which the store would make worse.

Other issues raised concern loss of privacy for local residents, that the store would look out of place in an area full of terraced homes, and that insufficient consultation has taken place with residents.

Hirwaun Community Council, however, is supporting the development - welcoming Co-op's move there, which is felt will benefit the village. But it also raises concerns about parking and traffic congestion, and state they would not like to see another retail store in the old Co-op.

A report by Rhondda Cynon Taf council's service director for planning says it is not thought that the store would be "a threat" to the retail centre of the village.

It says: "The Co-op trade currently from a unit at 62a Tramway, to the south of the application site.

"This store is small and its physical constraints, lack of dedicated servicing and parking provision mean that it is no longer suited to Co-op’s operational requirements.

"The proposed development would therefore ensure that an existing facility close to the retail centre of Hirwaun is maintained/improved and the small scale A1 use proposed is not considered a threat to the existing centre of Hirwaun."

In recommending the application for approval, the report adds: "The site is located within the settlement boundary identified in the Local Development Plan and would beneficially deliver social housing in the Hirwaun area.

"It would also bring a replacement and improved shopping facility for the area. The proposed development is considered acceptable in terms of scale, layout, design and its impact on the residential amenity of neighbouring properties.

"The proposal is also acceptable in terms of highway safety and parking."

The council's development control committee will discuss the development on Thursday, February 16.


The old Aberdare Boys' Comprehensive School should be completely demolished next month

A school where generations of Aberdare boys were taught is fast being demolished - and it could be completely gone next month.

The old Aberdare Boys' Comprehensive School, at Cwmdare Road, is being demolished and replaced by 98 homes - and developer WDL Homes says the demolition process is on track.

The building was last named Aberdare High School and used a temporary Cwmdare campus for Aberdare Community School from September 2014 to May 2015. Planning permission for the homes was granted in November 2016, after the school was sold by the local authority.

The homes plan does not include development of the lower school building which will be retained for educational use, while the on-site Cwmdare Community Sports Centre will be retained.

Former Aberdare Boys' School buildings in Cwmdare could soon be converted into 98 homes

John Butcher, development director at WDL Homes, said: "We were on site the week before Christmas, and the demolition work started just afterwards.

"The actual building removal should be complete by March 3, and the whole demolition process by March 17.
Aberdare High school

"In building the homes, we have to be mindful that Ty Gwyn is live and the sports centre still open - so a temporary access must be completed while we do the new access.

"Subject to permissions we should be on site in April, and then hopefully starting houseworks, if everything is in place, by May."
What exactly is being built?

WDL Homes' application for full planning permission revealed 30 of the new buildings will be affordable homes - developed on two parcels of land in the north of the site, and will comprise four four-bedroom houses, four two-bedroom bungalows, and 22 one-bedroom flats.

The remaining 68 buildings will be made up of 40 four-bedroom and 28 three-bedroom homes. The development will build upon what was the old school playing fields.


If you're a dog owner in Rhondda Cynon Taff, a huge clampdown could be coming your way

You'll be able to have your say on increased fines, dog bans on sports fields and schools, and fines if owners don't carry bags

There could soon be a big clampdown on dog fouling in Rhondda Cynon Taff - including potential fines for pet owners who don't carry bags to pick up dog mess.

Also being considered are bans for dogs on marked sports pitches and schools, a requirement for them to be kept on leads in playgrounds and cemeteries, and an increase in the maximum fine for irresponsible owners.

Separate suggestions for a clampdown have been put forward by the Labour-led council and the Plaid Cymru opposition group.

Plaid, at the end of January, revealed to us that their proposed action is one of its main pledges if they took office following the local election in May.

The RCT Plaid group said it would take immediate steps to introduce a £75 fine for those who can't prove they have a bag, or other means, to pick up dog mess - if they are questioned by a council officer.

They include highlighting areas where dogs would be banned (marked sports pitches and schools) and where they must be put on leads (council playgrounds and cemeteries), as well as an increase in dog fouling fines to a maximum of £100.

People will also be asked about the requirement for people to carry dog bags, or other means of picking up dog mess.

Pauline Jarman, councillor for Mountain Ash East, said Plaid's announcement came about after an online survey revealed that 95% of participants are concerned about dog mess on streets and public places, and 74% are very concerned.

She added that 69% of people who responded to the survey believe the amount of dog mess has increased and that communities want to see more action on the matter in RCT.

The leader of the local Plaid group said: “The proposed new rule is designed to target the irresponsible dog owners who fail to pick up dog mess because they do not carry the means to do so.

“Enforcement officers will have the authority to approach any dog walker and ask them to produce evidence that they either have bags or other means to clean up if the dog should foul.

"The offence is committed if the dog walker is unable to show the enforcement officer that they have that means.

“Most dog walkers would be able to satisfy the enforcement officers that they have the means to clean up should their dog foul because they carry sufficient bags.

“A Plaid Cymru-controlled council would trigger the public consultation shortly after they took office in May. Public opinion will valued and be fully taken into account.”

Meanwhile, the council's cabinet members will consider starting a public consultation to get residents' views on a wide range of dog fouling issues.

Andrew Morgan, leader of the council, said: “The issue of dog fouling has been a prevalent one, particularly over the last year to 18 months, and one which we have tried to tackle through awareness-raising, enforcement where necessary, provision of free dog bags and the installation of a number of new dog bins across the county borough every year.

“Recent engagement with residents at consultation events and feedback received via social media has consistently flagged up dog fouling as an issue and unfortunately it is clear that there are still some irresponsible dog owners who refuse to clean up after their dogs - and it can’t continue.

“Unfortunately there are some who don’t even carry dog bags with them when they walk their dogs.

"In this instance officers currently provide bags free-of-charge to encourage them to clean up after their dogs, but the introduction of a Public Spaces Protection Order would allow the council to be much tougher on irresponsible dog owners."

Councillor Joy Rosser, RCT cabinet member for prosperity, well-being and communities, added: “There are a range of options available to councils and we want to seek the views of residents regarding what measures they would like to see introduced in RCT to tackle this issue.

“In the meantime we are grateful for the support of South Wales Police who have agreed to a major joint enforcement operation involving dozens of police and council enforcement staff aimed at tackling anti-social behaviour - which includes dog fouling."


Here's when free parking and reduced charges will start across five Rhondda Cynon Taff towns
People in Aberdare, Pontypridd, Porth, Mountain Ash and Tonypandy will soon benefit

Free or reduced parking across five Rhondda Cynon Taff towns will come into force in two months' time.

During January, RCT council's cabinet members agreed to introduce the measures in a bid to boost the local economy - going beyond recommendations to reduce the charges in Porth, Mountain Ash and Tonypandy by abolishing the fees.

The reduced fees - including a 50p short stay of one hour (down from 75p) and £1 two-hour stays (down from £1.50) - will still come into force in Aberdare and Pontypridd.

Long stays will also be reduced from £2.50 to £2 in Aberdare and Pontypridd, along with monthly permits from £37.50 to £20, annual permits from £375 to £200, and all-day Saturday parking from £2.50 to £1.
The changes will start from April

It has now been confirmed all of the changes will come into effect from Saturday, April 1.

RCT council leader Andrew Morgan, writing in his latest blog on the council website, said: "Significant reductions in charges were agreed for our key town centres of Aberdare and Pontypridd and charges will be removed in Mountain Ash, Tonypandy and Porth from April 1.

"We fully recognise that the trader environment for local shops and businesses is the most challenging it has ever been and the rationale for this decision was simple – to encourage more residents to opt to shop locally in our town centres, to improve local trade and to boost the local economy."


Further Funding Announced for Cross Valley Link

Mountain Ash’s Cross Valley Link project is set to take another step forward, thanks to the Welsh Government once again showing its support by releasing a further £351,000 funding.

The recent announcement comes months after the Welsh Government awarded Rhondda Cynon Taf Council £300,000 to carry out investigation works at the site – which brings their total investment in the scheme to £651,000. This funding is in addition to the Council’s £2m funding that was allocated by Cabinet in December and £1.95m that was allocated in 2015 as part of its wider 26.5m Highways, Transportation, Infrastructure and Strategic Projects (HTISP) programme. This brings total investment allocated to date for this important scheme to £4.601m.

Plans of the vital bridge and associated improvements that will help to link the A4059 and the Mountain Ash communities have now been submitted for approval and are set to go before the Council’s planning committee shortly.

This much needed scheme has been in the pipeline for many years and is now forging ahead thanks in part to the recent funding announcement from the Welsh Government and the RCTinvest programme.

The investment forms part of Rhondda Cynon Taf Council’s wider £200m RCTinvest programme, which is supporting key priority areas such as Leisure and Outdoor Leisure Facilities, Play Areas, Highways and Structures, Transport Infrastructure, Flood Alleviation, Schools, Recycling Facilities, Housing and Town and Village Centres, with investment.

Subject to planning approval, the major traffic project in the Cynon Valley will see a bridge built over the river and railway in Mountain Ash, linking communities with the main A4059 road by the end of 2019.

Leader of Rhondda Cynon Taf County Borough Council, Councillor Andrew Morgan, who is also Cabinet Member for Highways, said:

“The recent funding announcement is welcome and demonstrates Welsh Government’s support for the project that has been an aspiration in the Cynon Valley for many years and is now, finally, a reality.

“It is thanks to our strategic approach that we have been able to secure funding to deliver this scheme.

“As a result of the £3.95m funding put forward by the Council and the £651,000 Welsh Government funding, we are now developing this scheme in detail to take the project forward and we have already seen significant activity taking place on site throughout 2016.

“Following the comprehensive traffic surveys and analysis that have taken place over the last year, we have been able to evidence that this proposal has the potential to reduce congestion on the key junctions in the area and reduce journey times on strategic and local routes.

“The analysis that has been undertaken has considered current and future traffic scenarios to simulate traffic levels.

“It anticipates that the bridge will carry over 1,700 vehicles in each of the morning and afternoon peak hours in 2030.

“Plans have now been submitted and if accepted the Council will look to award a contractor as soon as possible to ensure works start as planned during 2018.”

Subject to planning permission and Compulsory Purchase of third party land, construction works are set to start in late 2018 and will link traffic from the A4059 to the B4257 at Miskin Road on the other side of the river in Mountain Ash – near the Baileys Arms pub and Glyngwyn Street. The new bridge will stretch from the Cwm Cynon Industrial Estate over the Afon Cynon River and the train line between Mountain Ash and Penrhiwceiber.

Preparatory works continue this month with further ground investigation works scheduled to be carried out adjacent to the track in the vicinity of the proposed bridge. Following discussions with Network Rail it has been agreed that the works will take place at night so as not to disrupt train services.

The works will take place from 8pm on Saturday 11 February (NB there will be no disruption to train services in the area) to 9am on Sunday 12 February. Further works will then be carried out from 10pm on Saturday 18 February to 5.30am on Sunday 19 February and at the same time for subsequent nights for a maximum of 7 nights (up to the morning of Sunday 26 February).

Last year, the following works were carried out:

Topographic/Drainage/Utilities surveys
Ground Investigation
Highways Design
Structures Design
Landscape Design
Flood Consequences Assessment
Compulsory Purchase Order preparatory works

These works have captured the technical data needed which will now inform technical analyses and generate reports which will help inform final scheme designs and mitigation measures.

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