The Commission for Welsh-speaking communities has announced a proposal to designate certain parts of Wales as ‘areas of higher density linguistic significance’.
According to the Commission’s first report, these areas could possess special powers in order to govern in favour of the Welsh language on a community level. The intention of the proposal is to allow divergence in public policy in accordance with local linguistic needs. The report outlines that which the Commission sees as the key policy areas that have the greatest impact on the language. The report also suggests ways in which local policies could diverge in order to maintain Welsh as a community language in areas where the language shift to English is most apparent. The report states the policy areas that could see changes made locally include planning, community development, the economy, education and housing.
The chair of the commission, Dr. Simon Brooks said:
‘The Commission has listened carefully to people’s views. Our preliminary finding is that further support is required to support Welsh as a community language, especially in socio-economic areas such as housing, planning, community development, as well as education. This could be achieved by allowing policies which impact on the social use of Welsh to be varied in different parts of Wales. To do this, the Commission believes that ‘areas of higher density linguistic significance’ should be designated, and our Position Paper discusses how this might be achieved.’
One of the ways in which report states that ‘areas of higher density linguistic significance’ could be created is for the Welsh Government to set a statistical threshold in order to give recognition to those communities that hold a high density of Welsh speakers, although the report also notes that this isn’t the only way of doing so. The Commission will consider in future if any such statistical threshold should be statutory.
The report also offers some comments on the importance of local economies to the language and on the Welsh Government’s ARFOR scheme:
‘The economy is important to the future of Welsh as a community language. Further research should therefore be undertaken on the relationship between economic development and the language. The Commission welcomes the contribution made by ARFOR. ARFOR should be made permanent, have its own executive, and include areas of (higher density) linguistic significance outside the four counties currently included in the programme. The Welsh language should also be treated fairly within economic development structures arranged along an east-west axis. In the next stage of its work, the Commission will discuss, amongst other things, public sector jobs, tourism, agriculture and land use.’
Jeremy Miles, the Minister of Education and Welsh Language said of the report:
‘I welcome the findings of the Commission’s report today. It’s crucial that our communities are strong and protected so Cymraeg can thrive. The challenges facing Welsh-speaking communities have intensified in recent years, which we saw in the census results last year and is reflected in the Commission’s paper. The paper acknowledges the importance of listening to the needs of our Welsh language communities directly, which why I have started a series of visits to hear from people about their lived experiences.’
The Commission was established in August 2022 to make recommendations regarding ways in which to strengthen Welsh language communities. The Commission has ten members drawn from various policy fields such as economics, housing, law, education, local government, community regeneration, language technology and language planning. The commission is expected to publish its final recommendations in August 2024. You can read the full report here.