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Local elections: Yscir - where no-one wants to stand

By David Deans
BBC News

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  • Wales local elections 2017
image captionThe Yscir ward has no big towns but includes a few villages, including Aberyscir

It is picturesque, with stunning views of Pen y Fan and a charming rural setting, but Yscir has a unique problem.

The Powys community, near Brecon, which has about 1,000 residents, is the only ward in Wales where no-one wants to stand as a councillor.

It is set to go unrepresented on Thursday as voters across Wales go to the polls for the local elections.

But why does nobody want to represent Yscir?

Elsewhere in Wales, there are 92 uncontested seats, where councillors will be returned without any votes being cast, but Yscir currently stands alone as being unrepresented.

Incumbent Gillian Thomas, one of several independent councillors in Powys, is retiring and, so far, no-one wants to replace her.

  • Uncontested seats 'mockery of democracy'

And the impending void is news to some people.

Retired couple Tess and Brian Birtles, of Aberyscir, had not heard their ward would be left without a voice.

media captionBrian Birtles, who lives in the village of Aberyscir, says it is a disappointment that no one is standing in the ward

Mr Birtles, a former communications firm boss, said he was disappointed, adding: "Powys could have done more to encourage people to stand in the ward, because ultimately it will mean that we're not represented at the local government."

Still, he does not want the job himself.

"I'd find it immensely frustrating," he said, "because it doesn't seem very much is done by the councils these days apart from cutting services and reducing costs."

image captionTess Birtles' seven acre (2.8 hectare) home is beside the River Yscir

"It's quite sad", Mrs Birtles added, speculating people might not want to stand "because we're not suffering the austerity measures that some areas are experiencing" with many of the residents retirees.

People, in Yscir, she said, were "living the good life".

But that is not to say they all think it is rosy in the garden.

There have been complaints about changes to waste services, while the decision to close Welsh-medium stream at Brecon High School has also sparked debate.

Why is Gillian Thomas retiring?

image copyrightPowys council
image captionGillian Thomas has served as a councillor since 1990

Ms Thomas, 79, said it was "not good for democracy" no-one had put their name forward.

"When I won the last election I said that would be my last term," she said. "My age is getting on, and I want to do things I want to do."

Ms Thomas, who had previously had a farm in the ward before moving to Brecon, said she had found the job "very rewarding".

"When my husband died very suddenly at an early age, it really saved me that I had an outside interest," she said.

So, what is putting people off taking up the cudgels in Ms Thomas' absence?

"I think it's quite big shoes to fill," said Valerie Davies, who has lived with her husband, Peter, in Aberyscir for eight years.

She said the lack of a willing replacement was a "sad reflection" on the community, but also questioned who would want to join a club "being continually attacked by the rest of the populace".

'A bit petty'

Mr Davies - 35-year army veteran who, like his wife, is now retired - said most people's dealings with the council concerned planning.

"It wasn't advertised or publicised that nobody was standing," he added.

He said he might consider it, but added: "The dealings I've had with parish councils over the years, it always ends up looking a bit petty."

What about younger residents?

image captionEliot Lawrence works as a a nursery reception teacher

Eliot Lawrence, 32, of nearby Cradoc, was also unaware of the vacancy.

"It's not ideal, really," he said. "I've not got any major, pressing concerns, but if something did happen and there's no-one to fight for it, it would be an issue then."

But he admitted he would not consider battling for the seat, adding: "It's not something that interests me really."

Colin Badhan, 76, who runs a B&B in Battle, also did not fancy the job.

image captionColin Badhan, a retired environmental engineer, said he was interested in assembly politics but not local politics

"When I get the local magazine pushed through the door it all seems pretty petty stuff, to me anyway," he added.

While fellow Battle resident Jennifer Puttick was "shocked" no-one was standing, she could understand why.

"Maybe a lot of people are wising up. There's not a lot you can do now," she said. "There's rules and regulations already set in place."

But residents' reasons for not throwing their hats into the ring seem no more exotic than those you might find across Wales.

So, it is just...

Something about Powys?

image copyrightGeograph/Bill Nicholls
image captionPowys County Hall

There are 92 uncontested wards across Wales this year - where not enough people have been nominated to trigger an election and where those nominated are elected by default.

And Powys also has the second largest number of these - 16 - behind Gwynedd's 21.

A rural county, Powys' HQ is situated 25 miles (40km) from Aberyscir in Llandrindod Wells.

One senior political figure at the authority said it meets during the day and not the evening, due to distances members have to travel, and this reduces the candidate pool.

'Modernise their approach'

Jessica Blair of Electoral Reform Society Cymru said: "Rural areas do see higher rates of uncontested seats and there are likely numerous factors for this, such as geography and smaller population size."

But she pointed out Scotland, with fewer councillors over a larger geographical area, had only three uncontested seats. She argued it was an indicator of the "health of local democracy and a failure of councils to modernise their approach to working in rural areas".

Steve Thomas, chief executive of the Welsh Local Government Association, said he was unsurprised there were uncontested seats in rural areas and distances were "an issue".

But he said the lack of political organisations had an impact - with the prevalence of independent candidates "who rely solely on their own resources" proving a differentiating factor from some other elections in other parts of Wales.

For its part, Powys said timings for meetings would be reviewed after the elections, with views sought from councillors.

To fill the Yscir post, Powys will need to re-open the nominations and hold a separate election later in 2017.

In the meantime, the little ward, with its assortment of opinions, concerns, frustrations and voices, will remain silent in the council chamber.

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