Day 02: Neath Port Talbot to Bridgend
Ben, our support driver from yesterday, returned to the fray today to take myself and my wife Rhiannon to Port Talbot Parkway Station. Today it was just the two of us walking, but we are expecting a few more accompanying walkers tomorrow. We got to the station around 8:20 and set off at 8:50 to continue along the Welsh Coast Path which runs past the Port Talbot Steelworks. The Steelworks looked quite dramatic with sunlight peering through gaps in the cloud. We continued along the Welsh Coast Path and stopped for a mid-morning coffee break by the entrance to the Crematorium. At this point, the Coast Path splits because when it initially opened the rights to cross the Tata Steel site had not been negotiated and an alternative more inland route was incorporated when the path was inaugurated.
We continued past Margam Country Park alongside the busy A48 which in some parts had wide grass verges which made for more pleasant walking than on the pavement. Our spirits were buoyed by several motorists hooting and waving, all of which I interpreted as signs of approval. The weather up to this point had been dry and cloudy, but shortly before we were due to stop for lunch our waterproofs were put on as a shower approached. We stopped for lunch on a side road on the edge of Pyle. Ben our support driver had left us a short while earlier, but Alison from the Bridgend for Europe group drove out to collect some of the things we did not want to carry. After walking through the northeast part of Pyle we had a pleasant stretch walking along a minor road which eventually brought us into Bridgend on the LLangewydd road. We passed the medieval castle on a hill overlooking the town, confusingly known as Newcastle Castle, to descend a slope down to the river which we crossed on the Old Bridge which dates from around 1425. We walked through the centre of the town and arrived at the Railway Station at 15:25. We took photos with members of the Bridgend for Europe outside the station and then got the next train back to Swansea.
Today we covered 23.4 km (14.5 miles).
Port Talbot – an example of difficult choices?
Walking past the Port Talbot Steelworks this morning started me thinking about the balance that has to be made between the benefits of the plant in terms of providing jobs and tax to the government versus the costs in terms of air quality and increased respiratory diseases. Banksy visited the town in December last year and produced an artwork which highlighted the problem of dust particles in the air. I felt that it was unfortunate for the residents of Port Talbot that after his visit the national press seemed to focus only on the value of the graffiti artwork and how much it would be sold for rather than the issue of air quality that he tried to raise awareness of. I hope that some people reading these lines will take the initiative of researching the impact of air quality in the town on aspects such as the prevalence of respiratory diseases, life expectancy and house prices amongst others. I hope that by writing these lines I do not become the story rather than the air quality issue which is I am sure of far more concern to local residents.
I am intrigued to find that on the 5th of February this year, planning approval was given for the construction of a replacement secondary dust extraction system at the sinter plant on the site which is forty years old. It is forecast that this will reduce the level of dust emissions in the air by 75% which is no doubt a welcome initiative for the local residents. Doubtless planning for this was going on over a longer period than two months, but it does seem a strange coincidence that this planning approval has been announced only two months after Banksy’s visit. Hopefully, it will be constructed fairly rapidly so as to improve the quality of life of local residents.
Port Talbot is a good example of one of our post-industrial cities. Apparently, at its peak in the 1960s the steelworks employed around 18,000 people, now it is reported to employ around 4,000. This type of change has happened all around Europe due to less labour intensive processes being used in the UK and also competition from countries with lower costs such as China. The future of the Port Talbot Steelworks will no doubt depend on various factors such as currency exchange rates, trade tariffs and government support, amongst others.