Why Pontypridd Magistrates Court must be kept open

A consultation is currently under way with a view to closing a number of courts across Wales, including the Magistrates' Court at Pontypridd, the only one left in RCT following the closure several years ago of Llwynypia and Aberdare.

The consultation details can be found here and the deadline for anyone wishing to respond is the 8th of October.

RCT Welsh Lib Dems have submitted their response:

1st September 2015

The following response is submitted on behalf of Rhondda Cynon Taff Welsh Liberal Democrats. It relates specifically to the proposal to close Pontypridd Magistrates' Court.

Whilst we fully appreciate the need to be prudent with the public purse there is also a need to ensure that key services are provided in a way that is accessible. The introduction of new technology is all well and good and should be used wherever possible and practical in order to cut down the cost to the taxpayer. However, many people still have the need to physically attend the court.

As stated in the consultation document, Pontypridd is the only remaining Magistrates' Court in the county. It is unconscionable that it should be removed and that Rhondda Cynon Taff, the third largest Local Authority in Wales by population, should be left without such a facility.

Looking ahead, if the Minister for Public Services in Wales gets his way and a reorganization of Local Authorities takes place following his proposed outline then a new county could be formed consisting of Rhondda Cynon Taff, Merthyr and Bridgend. With a proposal to also close Bridgend then it would leave a large county with just a single Magistrates' Court at its furthest reaches.

The consultation report lacks detail and shows a certain casual attitude to research. It claims, for instance, that Pontypridd is the main administrative centre. It is difficult to see how this conclusion has been reached when the County Council Headquarters is located in Clydach Vale, in the Rhondda.

The report makes much of the fact that Pontypridd residents can travel to Merthyr with relative ease. A journey of only 20 minutes by car and 30 minutes by bus. This is indeed true, but it ignores the fact that not everyone using the Court at Pontypridd actually lives in that town, in fact the chances are most do not. It also gives the time for a journey form Pontypridd Bus station to Merthyr Bus Station. Merthyr Court site which gives times for the journey from Pontypridd states that the journey takes 46 minutes.

In 2010 the Courts at Aberdare and Llwynypia were closed. The argument put forward then was that it was only a 20 minute journey to Pontypridd for those affected.

This current consultation completely ignores the cumulative effects of closing Pontypridd Court on the ability of those people living in the Rhondda or the western side of the Pontypridd constituency to access services. For them it is an additional journey, which seems to have been overlooked and for which no transport figures are provided. This is surely a flaw in the assessment process.

By way of illustration:

The bus journey from Treforest, just outside Pontypridd, to Merthyr is timetabled at 55 minutes as passengers have to change at Pontypridd. Once again this is a journey to Merthyr bus station.

Travelling by bus from Church Village it takes 20 minutes to reach Pontypridd. There is a mere three minute time difference between the timed arrival of that bus and the departure of the Merthyr one which does not allow for any delays at all along the first leg of the journey.

For people from the Rhondda the situation is worse. Whilst on the map it looks at least as close as Pontypridd in fact for those using public transport it is a considerable extra distance. Public transport runs north to south up and down the valleys. The bus journey from Treorchy to Merthyr, according to the timetable, takes between 1 hour 37 minutes and 1 hour 49 minutes.

Residents in Tonyrefail face a journey of between 1hour 26 and 1 hour 40 minutes by bus, with one or two changes.

Travelling by train the journey from Treorchy takes 1hour 10 minutes. There is no rail link from the villages to the west of Pontypridd – Tonteg, Church Village, Llantwit Fardre, Llantrisant, etc.

These are just a few examples – the journey from Pontyclun, Brynna, Llanharan and other areas to the far west of the county will be even more problematic, but there is no consideration seemingly given to that. Their nearest alternative provision would of course be Bridgend, but you are also proposing to close that.

So the rather dismissive point that it is only 20 minutes by bus and 30 minutes by train from Pontypridd to Merthyr takes no consideration of the fact that the Pontypridd Court serves a much wider area than that town.

By means of context, Rhondda Cynon Taff is the third largest unitary authority by population in Wales and the Rhondda and Cynon Valleys are amongst the most deprived constituencies. The Welsh index Of Multiple Deprivation (WIMD) breaks down communities into small 'Lower Super Output Areas' (LSOAs) of which 17.5% in RCT are in the top 10% most deprived in Wales. 31.2% of the LSAOs in RCT fall into the top 20% most deprived in Wales.

The 2011 Census showed that 27.1% of households in Rhondda Cynon Taff do not have a car and therefore are reliant on public transport.

We are also led to believe that the Saturday Court at Pontypridd currently also covers the Maesteg and Bridgend areas. Will people from these areas be expected to go to Merthyr, or are alternative arrangements going to be made for them elsewhere?

Of course it is not just those people who need to use the services of the court who will be greatly inconvenienced by the extra travel involved.

Solicitors will not be too happy at having an extra 30 minutes added to their journey each way as this is dead time when they cannot be conducting business.

Magistrates give up their time for no financial reward – the extra money in travel expenses will not cover their costs if they are working and have to take time away from their place of work or are unable to carry out any self-employed work. For someone travelling from Tonypandy, for example, this is an extra hour on their travel time. It could be a disincentive to both existing and potential new Magistrates.

The details given in the consultation document are all too brief and in our opinion do not show any evidence of having taken any wider considerations into account. We strongly urge you to rethink your proposal to close the Court in Pontypridd.

Councillor Mike Powell, Rhondda Cynon Taff CBC

Karen Roberts, Chair RCT Welsh Liberal Democrats

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