CALDICOT NEWS REVIEW 2000
WEST END JUNIOR SCHOOL
A structural survey has revealed major problems with the school buildings. Officials have stated that there is no immediate danger but that most of the external walls needed replacing. Work has already begun to erect steel supports. Monmouthshire Education Committee will discuss the future of the school at its next meeting.
Monmouthshire County Council is to allocate funds for the building of a skate park in Caldicot.
Caldicot man Phil Bates has been chosen to represent Wales on FIFA's list of assistant referees. This means that the former Caldicot Town player can be called upon to run the line at matches anywhere in the world.
HOPES RISE FOR SKATE PARK
Caldicot Skate Park Committee have been informed that their lottery bid has successfully passed through the first phase. The bid is for £30,510 towards a facility next to the leisure centre. Monmouthshire County Council has agreed to contribute £22,800 and Caldicot Town Council £15,000. If all goes well the skate park, which has yet to receive planning permission, should open in 2001.
NEW ACCESS ROAD
Work is about to start on the construction of a new access road to Caldicot Leisure Centre and the Choir Hall. The new road will mean that leisure centre and choir hall traffic will no longer need to pass through the campus of Caldicot Comprehensive School. The news was welcomed by the headmaster, Mr John Norwood, who said it would greatly increase the safety of children at the school.
Concern continues over potential problems arising from the continued growth of Caldicot, in particular the new Crest Kingsmead Estate. In a letter to the Free Press, Ron Stewart, a town councillor, criticised Monmouthshire County Council for allowing excessive building in the town.
LOCAL BOYS MAKE GOOD
Two ex-pupils of Caldicot Comprehensive School are making their mark in publishing. Michael Breslin is about to publish his first novel, The Unfair Advantage, a thriller set in the world of motor racing. The book is to be published by Rough Diamond Media of Caversham, Berkshire, whose legal director is Malcolm Dowden, who was in the same year as Michael at Caldicot School.
GREEN LANE SCHOOL
Children from Green Lane School, who thought that they would have to transfer to other school sites while their own school was being rebuilt, have learnt that they will not have to move after all. After pressure from parents, Monmouthshire County Council rejected its own working party’s arguments that it would be unsafe to keep the school open while building work was carried out.
Friends of the Earth Cymru have claimed that the ‘Orange’ phone mast on the roof of Caldicot Comprehensive School could be a health risk. They argue that prolonged exposure to low levels of radiation can cause headaches, memory loss and high blood pressure. The Headteacher, Mr John Norwood, rejected the FOE call for the mast to be taken down. He pointed out that an independent risk assessment had concluded that there was no risk.
COUNSELLING SERVICE SET UP
A new counselling service has been set up at Caldicot Resource Centre. It will offer people with problems such as stress, relationships, finance and drugs a chance to talk them over in privacy and with confidentiality assured.
A former teacher at Caldicot Comprehensive School is setting up a new charity Everybody’s Child to help Romanian families whose children have HIV or Aids. Paul Davies left Caldicot in 1997 to work in a Romanian hospice and set up the charity as a result of his experiences.
Complaints that the people of Caldicot are suffering because the town has only one supermarket, giving Somerfields a local monopoly, have resulted in Monmouthshire County Council commissioning a survey of retail shopping patterns in the town. County Councillor Mike Smith, who raised the issue, also used the County Council Planning Committee meeting to draw attention to the number of empty shops in Caldicot.
CRACKDOWN ON YOUTHS
Caldicot police are using the camcorder presented to them by Caldicot Town Council to monitor the behaviour of youths in the town centre during the daytime. The move is in response to complaints from residents, shopkeepers and shoppers about the activities of school pupils at lunchtimes.
LOCAL INDUSTRY IN WORRIES OVER HIGH POUND
The news this month has been dominated by developments in local industry.
There has been considerable anxiety over the future of Llanwern steelworks, which has been badly hit by the high level of the pound. Last year’s merger between British Steel and Corus, the Dutch Steelmaker, has already led to concern over jobs at the Llanwern plant. Members of the Amalgamated Engineering and Electrical Union have joined delegations to Parliament and the Welsh Assembly. It is estimated that, should the plant close, not only the 3,000 workers directly employed at Llanwern but also a further 9,000 contractors and others would lose their jobs.
Graham Bevington, the new Managing Director at Mitel, Caldicot’s biggest employer, also stated that the exchange rate was causing problems. While pointing out that, while there were no fears for the future of the Caldicot factory, planned expansion might be diverted away from the UK into Europe.
Meanwhile, several months of speculation came to an end with the sale of Whitbread Brewery to the Belgian company, Interbrew. Whitbread has sold all its breweries in order to concentrate on its leisure concerns, primarily the Merriott Hotel Chain, which includes St Pierre Hotel and golf course. The Magor brewery is a major employer in the Caldicot area, with 400 workers. Brian Birchall, Whitbread director for Wales, spoke to workers at the plant to reassure them that there was no immediate threat to jobs
ROW OVER SCHOOL BUILDING WORK
A row has broken out in Caldicot political circles over proposals to temporarily close Green Lane School while essential building work is carried out. Monmouthshire County Council officials had originally recommended that pupils should be transferred to other school sites during the work but parents, supported by the local branch of Plaid Cymru, strongly objected, forcing a reversal of the decision.
Rhodri Morgan, First Secretary of the Welsh Assembly, visited Mitel Telecom to officially launch a £600,000 machine which will double the speed of production at the Caldicot factory. The machine is part of a £2.5 million investment programme at Caldicot, which will create 60 new jobs, bringing the number of workers at the plant to 843.
Fears of severe job losses at the Corus Steelworks at Llanwern did not materialise. The long-awaited announcement of cutbacks by Corus revealed that the redundancies would be in Yorkshire rather than in South Wales. However, concern continues to be expressed over the long term future of the plant, particularly given the problems created by the continued high level of the pound.
PHONE MAST TO GO
Governors at Caldicot Comprehensive School have decided that the phone mast on the school roof should be taken down once the contract with Orange runs out later this year. The decision was taken following a petition from staff which expressed concern over possible risks from radio waves to pupils' health.
GREEN LANE SCHOOL
The row over repairs to Green Lane School has continued. Councillor Bill Edwards of Caldicot opposed Monmouthshire County Council's decision to keep the school open during a period of major repairs. Councillor Edwards insisted upon a recorded vote so that he could register his fears of the possibility of accidents to children during the work.
PARENTS CALL FOR WELSH SCHOOL
A group of Caldicot parents are campaigning for a Welsh medium school to be established in the south of the county. At present, pupils who attend the Welsh language nursery in Caldicot can only continue with Welsh medium education beyond the age of five if they travel out of county to Newport or stay within the county but take the even longer journey to Abergavenny. There are fears that pupils from Monmouthshire will not be allowed to attend the school in Newport if Newport CBC needs all the places for its own children. An action group, Parents for Welsh Medium Education, has been formed.
REVENGE OF THE NINJA!
Wildlife in the lake in Caldicot Castle Country Park is facing an unusual but deadly threat in the form of turtles. The South American turtles, known as 'snappers' can grow to up to four feet long. They were originally brought as pets during the craze for the Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon series several years ago but have been released into the lake by their owners when they grew larger. Countryside wardens have been removing turtles from the lake.
TOWN RALLIES IN SUPPORT OF HEADTEACHER
Caldicot hit national headlines during July with the conviction of Marjorie Evans, headteacher of a local primary school, for common assault against a ten year old pupil at the school. It was alleged that Mrs Evans slapped the boy, who has behavioural and learning difficulties, across the face after he had kicked and tried to head butt her. She was given a three month prison sentence, suspended for a year. Mrs Evans continues to hotly deny the charges, arguing that she merely restrained the child. She is appealing against the verdict. Following the conviction, a second teacher was suspended from the school and Gwent Constabulary and Monmouthshire County Council announced that they were launching an investigation into incidents of "inappropriate physical handling" and "inappropriate emotional responses to children" at the school.
The case has caused outrage locally and nationally, with strong support being expressed for Mrs Evans. The court had received a large postbag, including letters from parents and past pupils. County Councillor Graham Powell, Chairman of the Governors at the school, stated that Mrs Evans still had his personal support. A petition in her favour has been signed by over 300 parents. There has been widespread condemnation of the severity of the sentence.
It is understood that, whatever the feeling of the school governors, Monmouthshire County Council will insist that Mrs Evans is dismissed from her job, a decision which is likely to be highly unpopular in Caldicot.
WHAT THE PAPERS SAID
The following comments on the sentence were taken from the editorial columns of national newspapers on 29 July:
"a monstrous over-reaction … a topsy turvy judgement." - Daily Mirror.
"an extreme decision [which] grew out of a minor incident." - Daily Telegraph.
"wildly disproportionate … the law is an ass." - Daily Mail.
"a disgrace." - The Express.
"flies in the face of any common sense understanding of justice." - The Guardian.
JOB LOSSES AT LLANWERN
Concern over the future of Llanwern Steelworks continues with the announcement by Corus Steel, which owns the plant, of 450 job losses. Corus say that the cuts will be phased in over a year and will come mainly from natural wastage, although compulsory redundancies were a possibility.
Alan Howarth, the local MP, said he would do "absolutely everything" to support the steelworkers. The government has, however, been blamed by some for the job losses through allowing the high value of the pound to damage the international competitiveness of the plant. Fears for the long term future of Llanwern have been expressed by trade union representatives, who point out that major investment will be needed to reline number three furnace if the plant's future is to be secured.
Following last month's news of turtles being dumped in the lake at the country park, we have been informed that a large snake had also been at large in the vicinity. Our informant tells us that the reptile was a python which had, like the turtles, been dumped by an irresponsible pet-owner who was no longer willing or able to look after it. Country park wardens have now captured to python and it has been 'taken into custody' by Bristol Zoo.
RESCUE PACKAGE FOR LLANWERN
After months of speculation, Corus Steel have apparently secured the future of Llanwern steelworks, one of Caldicot's major employers, by announcing a £35 million investment programme. It was widely believed that the 'heavy end' at Llanwern would close with the loss of a thousand jobs and possibly that the whole works, which employs 3,000 people, would shut down. However, Corus has now decided that it will reline the No 3 blast furnace and keep the 'heavy end' open. In spite of the rescue package, the plant still faces serious problems due partly to the high value of sterling against the euro, a situation which Corus believes will continue for the foreseeable future. The company is embarking upon a restructuring programme which is likely to mean greater specialisation at each of its plants and more job losses.
MITEL WINS MAJOR CONTRACT
Telecommunications firm Mitel, Caldicot's biggest employer, has won a £54 contract to lead a consortium of companies in providing and maintaining computer equipment to schools in Glasgow. It is believed to be the biggest contract of its kind in the UK.
CALDICOT PEOPLE IN TV DRAMA
Film crews have visited the area to shoot scenes for a BBC television drama. The film, called Shoot, tells the story of a village football team that wins the lottery. Local people were invited to serve as extras in match scenes shot at Sudbrook Camp, in the shadow of the Second Severn Crossing.
ROW BREAKS OUT OVER TOWN CREST
Caldicot town council has complained that Caldicot Chamber of Trade has used its crest without permission. The Council asserts that it owns the copyright of the crest because it was given to them by the designer. The Chamber of Trade is disputing the issue.
CADET OF THE YEAR
Caldicot school student Rachel Lewis, aged 16, has been named Welsh cadet of the year by St John's Ambulance Brigade.
Complaints have been received that 'boy racers' have been driving recklessly and doing handbrake turns in the grounds of Caldicot Castle Country Park.
CASE AGAINST HEADTEACHER CONTINUES
The news in September continued to be dominated by the case of Mrs Marjorie Evans, headteacher of St Mary's Junior School Caldicot. On 1st September she was cleared on appeal of a charge of common assault against a ten year old pupil at the school. It was alleged that Mrs Evans slapped the boy, who has behavioural and learning difficulties, across the face after he had kicked and tried to headbutt her. At Cardiff Crown Court the judge accepted the defence case that the pupil's evidence was unreliable after hearing that he had talked of a plot to get rid of Mrs Evans. The judge also rejected as unreliable the evidence of another teacher at the school who had given evidence against the headteacher.
However, police quickly confirmed that a separate inquiry into "inappropriate handling" of pupils at the school by Mrs Evans and another teacher, Mrs Janet Bowen, was to continue. The charges against Mrs Bowen were subsequently dropped and her suspension from the school was lifted by the Board of Governors.
The charges against Mrs Evans have been sent to the Crown Prosecution Service. They include allegations that she tied two pupils together with a skipping rope, forcibly removed a boy from the library and shouted at pupils in an inappropriate voice. The complaints are reported to have come from other adults at the school rather than from parents or children. It is understood that Mrs Evans will be informed of the CPS decision at the end of October.
CHAIRMAN VOTED OFF SCHOOL GOVERNORS
In a separate development, governors at the school voted out their Chairman, County Councillor Graham Powell. At their Annual General Meeting they rejected him in favour of fellow Labour party member, town councillor Robert Gibbs.
CHARGES AGAINST HEADTEACHER DROPPED
Police have dropped all charges against Mrs Marjorie Evans, headteacher of St Mary's Junior School, Caldicot. The move followed a decision from the Crown Prosecution Service relating to allegations that she had tied two pupils together with a skipping rope, forcibly removed a boy from the library and shouted at pupils in an inappropriate voice. Following the decision, school governors decided to lift her suspension from the school, which had lasted thirteen months. Mrs Evans was also granted compassionate leave in order to give her the opportunity to recover from her ordeal, the strain of which has had an impact upon her health. It is understood that Mrs Evans has subsequently consulted her lawyers and the National Union of Teachers regarding a possible claim for compensation.
In the meantime staff at the school have been attempting to heal the rifts which occurred during Mrs Evans' court case and the police investigation at the school. Staff training days have been used to conduct team building exercises.
TOWN COUNCILLOR JOINS PLAID
Caldicot Town Council's only Independent member, Andrew Huntley, has joined Plaid Cymru. Councillor Huntley, who does not speak Welsh, will bring the Plaid group on the council to four. It will, nevertheless, remain heavily outnumbered by the ruling Labour group.
ST MARY'S JUNIOR SCHOOL
The long running saga of Marjorie Evans, headteacher of St Mary's, took yet more twists. At the start of the month she was re-instated by school governors following her acquittal upon appeal of a charge of common assault against a pupil. Other charges against her had also been dropped by Gwent police following a report from the Crown Prosecution Service. 56 year old Mrs Evans stated that she was looking forward to returning to the school as soon as possible.
Nevertheless, internal disciplinary action against Mrs Evans remains on the cards. Discussion of the 400 page report compiled by Gwent police produced a rift between governors body. While the governing body decided not to convene a disciplinary panel it did not rule out the possibility of future action. One of the governors, County Councillor Graham Powell, stated that he would ask the local education authority to dismiss the existing body and appoint a new one if disciplinary action was taken.
It is understood that several governors, including supporters of Mrs Evans, were angered by Councillor Powell's public outburst, as well as by his practice of speaking to the press in advance of the release of agreed statements. Councillor Powell had already outraged fellow Labour councillors, who had withdrawn the whip form him following accusations that he had harassed a council official at County Hall. The local educational authority followed-up this action by establishing a panel to discuss his position as school governor. If the panel, which is due to meet early in December, finds against him he could be removed from his position.
BUSINESS AND EMPLOYMENT NEWS
LLANWERN: Hopes of securing the future of jobs at Llanwern Steelworks were raised by news that Corus Steel had abandoned its attempts to buy the Huta Catowice steel plant in Poland. Nevertheless, deep concerns remained that, as adverse trading conditions continued to hit sales, Corus would retract its decision to invest £35 million on relining the Number Three blast furnace at Llanwern.
OLD PILL FARM: Monmouthshire County Council has received a £178,000 grant to complete the refurbishment of Caldicot's Old Pill Farm Industrial Estate. The grant will allow the clearing of three old Nissen huts and the conversion of a 2000 square feet stone barn in the middle of the estate into five small units.
MITEL: Management at the Caldicot telecommunications plant, which employs 865 people, announced that it was hoping to create sixty highly skilled jobs. The expansion will be dependent upon a decision by directors in Canada, who will decide whether to invest in Caldicot or in Mitel plants elsewhere in the UK, Sweden or in the Far East.
WILKINSON'S: The giant Wilkinson Distribution Centre began to supply the company's network of stores. The 850,000 square foot centre at the Gwent Europark, Magor, took twelve months to build and employs 300 people.
Caldicot Town F.C. travelled all the way to Anglesey to play Lalnfair PG in the third round of the Welsh Cup on 25 November, only to have the match abandoned after 35 minutes due to a waterlogged pitch. It has not been Caldicot's season so far. The club languishes at the bottom of the CC Sports Welsh League Division 2 with only one point from eight games.
Reverend Terry Palmer has retired after 43 years as rector of Portskewett.
REMEMBERING THE FALLEN
A group of Year 11 pupils at Caldicot Comprehensive School produced a Book of Remembrance to commemorate the men who fell during the wars of the 20th century. Copies of the book, which contains details of all those whose names appear on the town war memorial, were presented to Caldicot Library, local churches and the town council. The book was produced with the assistance of a grant from Caldicot Town Council's Millennium Fund. The pupils were following up there project by preparing to publish it on the internet.
WHERE THERE'S MUCK THERE'S BRASS
Thieves stole more than £4,000 worth of copper and other metals from Caldicot Sewage Works.
GOVERNOR AXED AS HEAD'S CASE TAKES NEW TWISTS
The long-running case of Marjorie Evans, headteacher of St Mary's Junior School, Caldicot, took several new turns during December.
At the start of the month, County Councillor Graham Powell was removed from the school's governing body following a ruling by a disciplinary panel composed of senior councillors. Councillor Powell was accused of making abusive accusations against council officers at a governor's meeting. Councillor Powell has been outspoken in his support of Mrs Evans, although other supporters of Mrs Evans on the governing body are understood to be unhappy with his confrontational style, believing this to be unhelpful in a delicate situation.
Councillor Powell has claimed that there is a "witch-hunt" to remove him and Mrs Evans in order to pave the way for the closure of the school so that it can be replaced by a Welsh medium school. The claim has been hotly denied by the Director of Education, Mr Phil Cooke.
Mr Cooke also denied suggestions that the county council was negotiating an early retirement package for Mrs Evans as a means of allowing the whole matter to be quietly dropped. In spite of Mrs Evans' acquittal on charges of slapping a pupil, the governing body accepted a recommendation from Mr Cooke that a special panel be set up to investigate problems at the school. Governors had been presented with a series of reports drawn up by the police and local education authority, which were subsequently leaked to the South Wales Argus. The reports allege that "in excess of fifteen incidents have been identified involving Mrs Evans. These incidents range from inappropriate behaviour to that which can only be described as gross misconduct".
In the meantime, Mrs Evans has been officially on leave, her suspension having been lifted in November. Mrs Evans has frequently stated that she was determined to return to the school and dramatically announced that she would be in school on 22nd December, the last day of the school term but backed down when the Chairman of the Governors, backed by the local education authority, responded by stating that if she attended school she would be suspended.
LLANWERN FEARS GROW
Fears that Llanwern Steelworks, one of Caldicot's major employers, will face more heavy job losses, or even complete closure, continue to grow. Llanwern workers have been particularly disturbed by the decision by Corus Steel to "review" its plans to invest 35 million in lining the plant's Number Three furnace. Local M.P. Alan Howarth has warned that closure of the plant would "wreak devastation" in Gwent. He has written to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Gordon Brown, and to Welsh Assembly First Secretary, Rhodri Morgan, to express his concern. Sir Brian Moffat, Chairman of Corus Steel, is expected to make a new statement about the future of the plant in the new year.
WELSH SCHOOL TO OPEN
Monmouthshire County Council has decided to open a Welsh medium primary school in South Monmouthshire. As a temporary measure the school, due to open in September 2001, will be housed at Sudbrook Primary School, which will close in the summer when its pupils are transferred to a new school at Portskewett. Although facilities at Sudbrook are recognised as being sub-standard, campaigners have welcomed the move. At present, primary-aged children from the Caldicot area go to Newport for Welsh medium education. Parents feared that if the Newport school became full, pupils from Monmouthshire would no longer be accepted, making the long journey to the Welsh-school at Abergavenny.
CALL FOR NEW STORE
A survey commissioned by Monmouthshire County Council has backed local residents' calls for a new food store in Caldicot. Since the closure of the Kwik Save store in 1999, Somerfield's have enjoyed a local monopoly, prompting complaints of high prices and lack of choice. The survey into retail shopping habits found that people in the Caldicot catchment area spent £26 million a year on groceries, but that many do their weekly shopping in Chepstow, Newport or elsewhere. It recommended the establishment of a food store on a four acre site close to the town centre so that customers drawn to the store would also spend money in the town's other shops. Two sites have been suggested. The favoured site is on the King George VI Playing Fields. However, this land is held in trust and plans to build on it are likely to be met with strong objections. The other site is on part of the grounds of Caldicot Comprehensive School. It is understood that companies like Tesco and Sainsbury are interested and may be willing to pay £1 million per acre for land.
Representatives of the town council, county council and Chamber of Trade have formed the Caldicot Regeneration Group to promote the development of the town centre and other improvements to the town. They will be meeting at the town's choir hall at 7pm on 3rd January to discuss the proposals.
MATTHEWS BACK AT MITEL
Gwent billionaire Terry Matthews, co-founder of Mitel, has bought back half the company. He has purchased the switchgear section, which employs 665 people at Mitel's Caldicot plant. The move has been welcomed by local workers, who believe that Mr Matthews' commitment to the company will improve job security. Following the deal, Mr Matthews announced that he would be putting £15 million a year into Mitel's research programme in an effort to launch a new generation of internet-based products.
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