THE Carmarthenshire MP believes that more needs to be done to improve Ammanford as a town – and believes the local government needs to step its game up.

Speaking to the South Wales Guardian, Jonathan Edwards – MP for Carmarthen East and Dinefwr – spoke about a number of issues in the locality including reviving Ammanford as a regional centre, the Towy Valley pylon plans and the Llandeilo bypass.

He said: “What I think would really help Ammanford would be if the county council recognised Ammanford as a regional town, as they used to do in the old days, and that it needs a bit of support rather than being left with its own devices. Because the tax base for Ammanford town itself is extremely small but Ammanford performs a far bigger function [than some neighbouring, bigger areas] and the way that stock transfer and all these things have happened over the last few years really hasn’t helped Ammanford. And I think the county council really needs to step in to make sure that Ammanford’s status as a regional centre is preserved and enhanced.”

Mr Edwards said that towns need to be reinvented to fit in with the way life is now, with more people shopping online and therefore not really going to towns to make them commercially viable and that they should look to being meeting places.

“If you look at the critical mass of population around the Amman Valley is quite large. You’re looking around more than 20,000 people within a five-, six-mile radius. So the question is, how do you make Ammanford the town that people actually want to come into the centre of town?” he asked.

“So I think it’s a lot about a good café culture, good restaurants, good social scene, good nighttime economy, and those things are important when people are working from home. They can think ‘right, if I put my laptop down, I’m going to pop in for an hour and a half. I’m going to have a chat with my friends and family. We’re going to meet up in town.’

“I think that’s more likely to be the way forward. I don’t think even large cities like Swansea are going to compete as big commercial centres because the reality is people will shop on the internet and I’m as guilty as anybody.

“It is the convenience thing. I think maybe if you have that reinvented town where people want to come in to meet, then shops and commercial centres will operate around that, because then there’s a critical mass of population coming in, so it all becomes self-sustainable. So I think that’s the sort of vision approach we need.

“How you put it all together is the big question. You need to give people confidence to venture, to set up these businesses in areas. I think Llandeilo is quite successful in that a lot of the businesses in the town, they’re all different. So the town itself then acts as a big department store.

“So rather than people competing against each other, so what you need is actually business people and aspiring business people working together to see how they can help each other. And then I think they all can sort of hopefully slot together then.”

On the Llandeilo bypass, Mr Edwards was critical of the Welsh Government’s handling of the situation. He said: “It should have been built by now. There was a budget agreement. Those things are supposed to be set in stone and it’s just been undermined and undermined, so I’m fearful that it’s never going to be built with the way things are going at the moment.”

Speaking about the pylon topic, which is currently at the forefront of many in the Towy Valley’s minds, he stressed that Welsh Government policy needs to be created very carefully to ensure that the networks are able to be connected but that the natural beauty of the area remains intact, highlighting cable ploughing as an option which is cheaper than most undergrounding methods, stating that pylons would have a huge impact on the county and highlighted an earlier situation which was similar but was governed by the UK Government, where cable ploughing was successfully implemented across Carmarthenshire including Abergwili and Carmarthen.

Mr Edwards also spoke about the strength of the mental health services in the region, including Shadows Depression Support Group and the Jac Lewis Foundation and the concerns over funding for these services. “They do an incredible job and are great examples of positive change that can be done via third sector organisations working directly in our communities. We need to make sure that the funding is there in a sustainable manner for the long term.

“We are all aware of the challenges in terms of funding health services in Wales, and the liabilities are only going to get bigger and bigger. It’s going to eat up more and more of the Welsh Government’s budget. But the question is, how do you deliver mental health services in our communities and then how do you fund and enhance those sustainably?

“We need to make sure that the services are preserved, that’s that long term guarantee and vision rather than this short term thing that we face all the time, which then leads to the crisis we faced with Shadows funding.”