Look on this as a brief introduction to Montgomeryshire. I was interviewed for Post Cynta and Newyddion yesterday about what amounts to the redesign of Welshpool. Not that many Welsh speakers in Welshpool! Its big stuff for a comparatively small town - incuding a new livestock market, a new Tesco, a new hotel, a restaurant area, lots more retail space, a new one-way traffic system and a local council redevelment plan on top. Most of it will be finished within two years. I've welcomed the plans, though I admit to concerns about possible impact on current businesses. But a lot of thought's been invested in the design to minimise the downside as far as possible. I was wearing my President of CPRW hat, and the BBC's John Meredith, a fine man, set out to challenge me about the downside. There remains the incorrect perception that the CPRW is always against change. On balance, I think the redesgn is positive.
Most of my visitors are strangers to Montgomeryshire, and don't know her as intimately as I do. I've never lived anywhere else, never will, and am very proud of her. It was a terrible mistake that Montgomeryshire was not established as a unitary authority in 1993 (and it was a Conservative Government wot done it!). I still display my disgust by wearing a Montgomeryshire badge with pride and bloodymindedness. Anyway, let me share a little of her with you.
She's big, with not many more than 50,000 residents - but growing fast. When I was a boy, the population had fallen to around 36,000, mainly as a result of changes in farming practices. There had also been work in lead mining and the handling of sheep wool. Also noteworthy was the employment associated with the presence of one of the world's greatest entrepreneurs, Pryce Pryce-Jones. From the 1970's on, Government intervention encouraged people to move back to Montgomeryshire, particularly Newtown (which was designated under the New Towns Act). I was much involved in this redevelopment of the economy of Mid Wales.
Today, the largest town is Newtown. Next comes Welshpool. Then its Llanidloes and Machynlleth, followed by Llanfyllin and Llanfair Caereinion. Much of the population growth in along the the 'international' border with England, at places like Arddleen, Four Crosses, and Churchstoke. Recently, Montgomeryshire has grown through acquisition - the Tanat Valley being welcomed into her embrace. I was born on a farm near Castle Caereinion, and moved two miles down the road to Cil Farm, Berriew on marriage. From an industrial standpoint, Mongomeryshire is an extension of the West Midlands, and looks to Shrewsbury for many of its services. Dominating Montgomeryshire are mountains and the valleys of the rivers Severn and Vyrnwy. The Severn is born in the West of Montgomeryshire, in the Plynlymon mountains, while the Vyrnwy is best known for the spectacular Lake Vyrnwy, which was built over 100 years ago to supply water to Liverpool. It still supplies 80% of Liverpool's water today. And for as long as even centenarians can remember, Montgomeryshire has sent Liberal Democrats (or their predecessors) to Westminster (except 1979-83). Like 'Old Man River', I finish on a low note.