‘Worse now than 10 years go’: Councillor fears census results for Welsh speaking heartlands
Gareth Williams, local democracy reporter
A Gwynedd councillor fears that the results of the recent census will indicate a further weakening of the Welsh language in its traditional heartlands.
According to the last nationwide survey in 2011, the county contained 17 of the 20 most Welsh speaking wards in the country, topped by Llanrug at 87.8%.
It means that Gwynedd has long been viewed as a bastion of the language where it remains the native tongue for most.
But with the results of the latest census expected to trickle in over the coming months, fears have been raised that issues including an ongoing housing crisis could impact the strength of the language in the areas long considered to be its strongest.
According to Gwynedd Council, 60% of residents are currently priced out of the housing market, with around 11% of its entire housing stock being used as second homes.
A debate earlier this week saw councillors unanimously back calls on the First Minister to allow the authority to speed up a review of the Joint Local Development Plan it shares with Anglesey, which forms the backbone of its entire planning policy and where thousands of homes should be built.
But the discussion also saw a warning from a councillor and outspoken proponent of the language, who foresees a further weakening of the language in communities across Gwynedd where it has been the spoken tongue for centuries.
“For over 50 years we’ve been aware of the problem of lack of homes in our communities,” said Cllr Alwyn Gruffydd during the full council meeting.
“More recently the situation has got even worse, Brexit has happened, the effects of Covid-19 are evident but what’s clear is that the effect are most profound on our most Welsh-speaking areas.
“A cynic would say its almost deliberate and an attempt to kill our language, and as a result our identity.
“It’s not a problem unique to us, Dr Simon Brooks’ report refers to areas in Cornwall but that greed has been allowed to displace need.
“We can’t discount the next census, and over the coming months we will know the latest situation.”
According to the last census, only in Gwynedd and Anglesey are over half the population able to speak Welsh, with around 19% of the Welsh population being proficient.
But despite the Welsh Government’s aim of increasing the number of Welsh speakers to a million by 2050, Cllr Gruffydd fears that while an increase will be noted in more Anglicised areas of the country, the fall will be noticeable in areas such as Gwynedd.
“If it was bad 10 years ago then it will be even worse now,” he added.
“Fine, there will be an overall rise thanks mainly to the Welsh medium schools in the south, but it won’t be a community language there,
“And you must have that nucleus of Welsh speaking communities if the language is to flourish, and it doesn’t look promising at all it must be said.
“There’s a need for urgency here, we need to own the issue and ensure that this housing problem is sorted once and for all and that we ask Anglesey to follow the same path.
“Otherwise its looking very gloomy.”