Compared with other parts of Denbighshire unemployment rates and other forms of deprivation are relatively low. However, there are small pockets of poverty and deprivation in individual households and in neighbourhood clusters.
2020 data for household income shows that medium and lower quartile salaries in the area have increase since 2015, medium incomes seeing a rise from £24,350 to £28,750, and lower incomes from £13,700 to £16,700. This is consistent with the Conwy and Denbighshire and Wales averages where 32% of households fall below 60% of the GB median of £19,967.
In common with other parts of Denbighshire, the public sector is a major employer in the area. The Health and Social Care, Education and public administration sectors combined employ over a thousand Dee Valley residents. Manufacturing (513), Whole sale and retail trade (422) Accommodation and Food (298), Construction (276) and Agriculture (158) are also significant sectors.
Agriculture and Forestry hold additional significance due to their land management role and the knock on impact this has for tourism and environmental resilience.
Tourism is also of major significance to the local economy bringing in revenue to the area through retail trade, accommodation and food spend. As at November 2020, 24.4% (11) of all town centre outlets were vacant in Corwen, with 4.9% (7) being vacant in Llangollen.
The completion of the steam railway extension to Corwen is seen as an important development for the area. This tourism asset will help broaden the tourism base across the Dee Valley helping more westerly parts of the valley build on the historic tourism successes of Llangollen. High profile events such as the Llangollen International Musical Eisteddfod, and Corwen Walking Festival bring in many visitors. In addition the valley abounds with tourism assets including the landscape, recognised as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), many historic and heritage sites (discussed below) as well as a strong food, accommodation and activities offer.
However, feedback from residents and Elected Members have expressed some concerns that restrictions associated with AONB status and heritage protection measures, can act as a ‘red tape’ barrier to some types of further investment. Concerns have also been raised that traffic and parking in Llangollen have harmed the prospects of further development in tourism and retail trade.
Education and skills are a crucial enabler of prosperity. In recent years, schools provision in the Dee Valley has undergone significant restructuring as Denbighshire’s Modernising Education Programme has sought to place school provision on a more sustainable footing. Currently education assets in the Dee Valley include:
- Ysgol Dinas Bran, Bilingual non-denominational secondary school
- Ysgol Bro Dyfrdwy, Welsh language non-denominational primary school
- Ysgol Bryn Collen, a non-denominational primary school that is predominantly English medium with significant use of Welsh
- Ysgol Carrog, a non-denominational primary school that is predominantly English medium with significant use of Welsh
- Ysgol Caer Drewyn, a non-denominational primary school that is predominantly English medium with significant use of Welsh
- Ysgol Gymraeg y Gwernant, Welsh language non-denominational primary school
The Dee is a major river with the some flooding risks at various points along the Valley. In recent years the Corwen area has suffered from several flooding incidents affecting homes, businesses and agricultural land.
The Dee Valley AONB includes many significant habitats and sites of significance for biodiversity and geo-diversity. Links between land management, sustainable food production and tourism via collaborative work between the AONB and local food businesses in the Dee Valley to establish a food network – Llangollen and Dee Valley Good Grub Club.
Transport and access to services are a matter of concern to some residents in the Dee Valley, particularly at its Western end. Llandrillo, Corwen and Llangollen appear as relatively deprived in the Access to Services domain of the Welsh Index of Multiple Deprivation due to the relatively long travel times by public or private transport to local facilities such as GPs, dentists, shops and post offices. People living in these area may have a higher risk of social isolation. TransCymru services since 2014 have improved connections with neighbouring counties. Key routes cross local authority boundaries including parts of Gwynedd, Denbighshire and Wrexham and require partnership working in transport planning and investment. Recent engagement did, however, highlight that connections to the North Wales Coast remained poor.
There is growing interest in exploring renewable energy production in the area.
The Dee Valley area has a number of health assets not least the countryside environment and the outdoor leisure facilities it offers. The countryside can play a key role in encouraging and enabling residents to choose healthy lifestyles. A variety of Community Miles routes have been developed at the Sun Bank and Old Railway sites.
More extensive walking routes in the Valley include a portion of the Offa’s Dyke route, Dee Valley Way, North Berwyn Way and Tegid Way. Annual walking festivals at Corwen and Llangollen provide a focus for promoting these activities to residents and visitors alike. There are also famous mountain biking trails in the Berwyn range above Cynwyd. The river itself offers opportunities for a range of water sports and angling.
The range of sports clubs and facilities such as Corwen leisure centre, the sports ground at War Memorial Park / Parc Dyfrydwy, and the Llangollen leisure centre also provide opportunities for active lifestyles. Several private providers also offer gym and spa facilities in the area.
In common with other parts of Denbighshire, the Dee Valley has relatively high rates of older people (over 65) meaning that the impact of age related illness is likely to be felt more here than in other parts of the UK. Significant research suggests that the number of older people with dementia is set to increase. Numbers of people whose illnesses or frailty means that they are no-longer able to perform daily self-care tasks are also predicted to increase; making health in older age a priority for the area. At the western end of the Valley encompassing Llandrillo, Cynwyd and Corwen there have been some concerns about the ability of the market to meet demand for social care services. A partnership approach to developing the Cysgod y Gaer residential and day care site in Corwen is intended to mitigate this problem but increasing demands and a continuing difficult economic climate for home care, residential and nursing care providers means that this risk may remain into the future.
The main community health assets are the Health Centre at Corwen and a Health Centre developed at Llangollen bringing together GPs and a number of out-patient services formerly carried out at the now closed Llangollen Community Hospital.
The vast majority people living in the Dee Valley identify as White with 99% in Corwen, Llandrillo and Llangollen 98%, this compares to 95% for Wales as a whole and 85% for England. In the Dee Valley 57% of people identified as being Welsh, 29% as British and 23% as English. Just 3% of the resident population has other national identities. This is similar to Denbighshire as a whole but the Dee valley has fewer people identifying as English (Denbighshire 27%) and more identifying as Welsh (Denbighshire 51%).
Llangollen has a similar proportion of its population, who are disabled or experience a limiting long-term illness, to Denbighshire as a whole. This is higher than proportions across Wales. In the other parts of the Valley, at Corwen and Llandrillo the proportions are slightly lower. The Disability Sport swimming programme available at Corwen Leisure Centre is an example of directed services to support this group.
There is little research about other protected characteristics that is specific to the Dee Valley area. Nevertheless, many of the challenges faced by different groups, described in other parts of this assessment, are likely to affect some Dee Valley residents too.
In common with other part of Denbighshire and Conwy rates of crime and anti-social behaviour are low. Another common characteristic was the extent to which resident’s value and participate in community activities and volunteering. Examples include many sports clubs, music, arts and historical societies, religious organisations and charitable giving.
The former Healthy Living Centre in Corwen was transferred to the community, enabling grant funding to be drawn down to improve information, community provision and youth work in the locality. Re-branded as Canolfan Ni the centre is now run by the South Denbighshire Community Partnership. Many community groups use the centre independently and in delivering collaborative programmes with Denbighshire County Council’s Youth Service. The Youth Service also work out of the Youth Centre in Llangollen engaging partners and local young people to deliver programmes that support community resilience.
Llangollen town hall was also transferred into the management of Llangollen Town Council.
From our engagement work we are aware of concerns about the affordability and availability of housing. During August 2020 to 2021, house prices in Llangollen and Corwen rose by 11 and 18% respectively, meaning that housing in the Dee valley is now even less likely to be affordable to local residents.
The Dee Valley contains significant Welsh speaking communities particular in the Western part of the area with as many as 60% Welsh speakers in Llandrillo, 46% in Corwen and down to around 20% in Llangollen. The census recorded 2,532 Welsh speakers in the Dee Valley in 2011.
The Dee Valley is rich in both cultural and heritage assets. The area was home to Welsh leader Owain Glyndwr who is remembered in an historic statue and annual festival at Corwen. The Llangollen International Musical Eisteddfod is one of the longest standing and most culturally significant events in Wales attracting major performers and bringing in thousands of visitors each year. Llangollen Pavilion which hosts the Eisteddfod also host many events and conferences throughout the year.
Telford’s Aqueduct, canal and Horseshoe Falls, which span the area from Llantysillio, through Llangollen and across the border into Froncysyllte are a World Heritage site celebrating a spectacular engineering feat of the Victorian age. The areas industrial heritage can also be seen in the range of industrial archaeological sites associated with the slate industry across the Berwyn Range.
Past engineering achievements can also be seen in the majestic horseshoe pass and historic bridges crossing the Dee at Carrog and Llangollen, the Chain Bridge and road and rail combination at Berwyn.
The Rhug Chapel, the old parish church at Llangar, Valley Crucis Abbey, Castell Dinas Bran, Eliseg’s pillar and Caer Drewyn Hillfort attest the areas significance in the Early Modern, Medieval, Early Christian and Iron Age periods, with the Berwyn Range and Llantysilio Mountain also containing a number of older Bronze Age monuments.
Culture, landscape, agriculture and heritage are central to the tourism in the area.
The range of heritage, cultural and environmental assets and developments provides the Dee Valley’s contribution to a Globally Responsible Wales. Sustainability principles will be implemented through the Wellbeing Plan, Local Development and Regeneration Plans, biodiversity and conservation work.
Positive and Successful Experiences
The county conversation workshop participants shared positive experiences such as having the opportunity to set up a new business when moving into the area. One participant said they were drawn to the area by friendliness and the surrounding environment.
Both participants agreed that there is a great sense of community in the area. The independent shops show great strength within the vibrant community.
As part of the County Conversation, focus groups were held with all mainstream secondary school councils and the youth council. A theme common across all sessions with young people was the positive impact of having access to local green spaces, beaches and scenery throughout the county. They enjoy that these areas are peaceful and calm with opportunities to spot wildlife. It was felt that there are a lot of good walking areas and outdoor spaces which were especially important as they are a free activity for young people to enjoy.
The young people we engaged mentioned the community spirit they have experienced is important. There were many other important aspects of the community that they valued. Some examples include:
- Community events
- Small well connected and friendly community
- Small and independent businesses
- Feeling safe in the community
Young people, particularly in the north of Denbighshire, expressed their enjoyment of a great selection of restaurants and tourism activities such as arcades within their local areas.
The participants envisioned Llangollen to be place where there are more opportunities and activities for young people. It is felt important for young people to have more training opportunities to prepare them for business and employment in the future.
The participants hoped that in the future the local community was one where social enterprise was supported. Suggestions were raised around community asset transfers as it is felt that this would give the community a commercial income and enable support for other ventures in the town. They felt it would be useful if there was support to assist people in putting together business plans to run these assets which would promote community development support further.
Other comments around expectations include:
- Play equipment in local parks has become unmaintained and needs some investment.
- The cuts in funding within Local Authorities such as Denbighshire County Council. It was felt this is a disservice and more should be done to explain about the difficulties of managing finances to ensure provisions are offered.
Some young people had ambitious and specific career aspirations such a being prime minster or working in the Bermuda Triangle finding new aquatic creatures. In the main, having a successful career featured as a high priority for all young people throughout this engagement. Some young people could see themselves progressing through education to university and others wanted to start their own businesses.
Whilst many could see themselves moving overseas, most young people envisioned themselves staying and settling here in Wales with a successful career and a happy family.
What needs to be done now?
The participants felt that economic improvements would help such as having an increased future generations focus, where economic lessons should be supported within schools as it would teach young people how to prepare for independent living, employment and the new world after Covid-19. Recruitment issues in specific sectors e.g. hospitality industry as it is no longer as desirable as it used to be, were raised and so too the implications of Brexit.
Participants emphasised the importance of encouraging heathy lifestyles within the community.
Risks and barriers to overcome
Participants said that town and county councillors can have different opinions and this can result in them not being fully representative of their communities.
They said culture change can take a long time, specifically in relation to people feeling empowered to ‘get on and do’.
It was felt that perhaps the council should communicate more.
Throughout all focus groups that were held with young people, it was frequently mentioned that there are not enough activities for young people. Young people noted that when the weather is bad they struggle to find activities that are affordable, and they can often be labelled ‘trouble makers’ if they are seen in groups on the street with nowhere to go. Some ideas of improvements that were suggested include:
- More investment is needed in youth club’s facilities to make them more attractive to young people. As well as more organised events and better publicity.
- There is a lack of sport activities in general. One young person mentioned that the sports activities on offer are those that may be perceived as male activities e.g. football; and there is a particular lack in female sport such as gymnastics and netball.
- Investment and maintenance of local parks
- Reduce the prices of leisure centres to make them more accessible to young people and locals in the area, namely SC2.
- Utilise leisure centres for activities and clubs aimed at secondary school students as it is felt that there is a lot of young children and infants.
- More sports facilities and other types of equipment’s in outdoor spaces such as volley ball nets and racket sports.
- Reading cafes and healthier food restaurants for young people to socialise in
- Make better use of unused land in towns, a popular idea was an outdoor swimming pool
- Better cycle paths
Young people were enthusiastic about their enjoyment of cultural and community events and they wanted to see more arranged in their communities. Music events and other outdoor events were popular suggestions and it was suggested that annual events would increase tourism into areas. Pupils from one school agreed that there could be better use of events areas and facilities. An example was given of the site which the Eisteddfod is hosted on which isn’t used at certain times of the year. It was proposed that this could be used during these times for events and activities targeted at young people.
There was also a call for a number of environmental improvements across the county, including:
- More bins in the community. Specifically, those that are split into general waste and recycling
- Increase litter pickers to reduce harmful litter
- Biodegradable dog bag dispensers
- Less factories which cause pollution
- Increased environmental education in schools
An important point to note is that young people want to be involved in decision making. They expressed an interest in wanting to understand what the council does and to have the opportunity to have their voices heard within the local council.
Other common themes included:
- Increased employment opportunities for young people especially those with no experience
- Public transport improvements to support young people e.g. lower prices and better routes throughout the county
- Dog specific parks and fields
- Disabled young adult clubs
- Community safety concerns e.g. better street lighting and increased police presence
- Updated highstreets shops as there is currently a lot of charity shops