THE 'THIS IS NEWPORT' AWARDS 2008

Politician of the year - Matthew Evans

Not a difficult one. The Conservatives took control of Newport City Council for the first time in thirty years and successfully marginalised their coalition partners, the Liberal Democrats. Evans has succeeded in grabbing some media intention including some questionable policy decisions (see later). He has been not been dealt the best hand either given the impact of the credit crunch on City regeneration and the Council's budget. Worthy mentions also go to Rosemary Butler and Paul Flynn, for keeping Newport in the limelight.

Political comedian of the year - David Attwell

Peter Davies, the Conservative member for Stow Hill, has provided plenty of entertainment again this year. There's loads of evidence some of it unprintable but also some terrible malfunctions like his decision to end the Mayor's use of the Mansion House. But his Langstone colleague deadly serious David Attwell has given Davies more than a run for his money, not least his posturing about bus lanes that could cost the Council its original funding. The absurd picture of Attwell and his leader Evans power spraying Malpas Road of the green bus lane paint in Council safety jackets will live long in the memory. His unsteady Transporter Bridge interview on the BBC's 'Wales Today' with Anne Gatehouse (from the Friends of the Bridge) declaring that the cupboard is bare with a clarion call for extra funds for the bridge recently closed by the new Council, is comedy gold.

Pointless policy decision of the year - Mansion House debacle

With the City's regeneration plans falling about our ears the new Council took irrelevant, bizarre and some would say spiteful decisions. The decision to remove some bus lanes left Newport as just about the only city in the UK taking this regressive step - the words of UK coach operator, National Express. But the decision to prevent the Mayor from using the Mansion House for civic functions, taking in isolation by Cllr Peter Davies smacked more of spite than anything else.

The 'It Will Never Be Built' Award - City Spires

Plenty of competition here. Friars Walk, City Vizion and Art College are all hanging by a thread but may figure in next year's awards! But the honour goes to another Modus scheme, City Spires, the never to be built landmark development opposite the new railway station (another troubled proposal). 

Worst City service - Newport Bus

The City's bus service is a shadow of its former self. Holiday and off peak services have continued to disappear. All this despite three fare increases during the year, due to increasing oil prices, although there were no reductions as prices fell. Another possible candidate was the general standard of customer service offered by retailers in the City Centre criticised by a number of organisations. Another possibility was whoever is responsible for organising the provision of pitches and lighting for outdoor sports on the astroturf at Spytty Park. Competitions such as the Floodlit Astroturf League have been inexplicably delayed due to Council incompetence.

Best City service - Newport City Council Education

The City Council's Education service, particularly its ability to get children in disadvantaged areas to develop good standards of numeracy and literacy. Newport has achieved the highest-ever rating for a Local Education Authority (LEA) in Wales. Following a recent inspection, Her Majesty's Inspectorate for Education and Training in Wales, Estyn, praised Newport LEA as officially the best in Wales and described pupil performance as “outstanding”. This means that Newport school pupils are benefiting from the best education standards in the country. A team of nine Estyn inspectors visited Newport in January and awarded the highest possible grades for strategic management and support for school improvement. They stated that the LEA support for “numeracy and literacy is outstanding and has a significant impact on raising standards, particularly in primary schools.” The Estyn report follows official National Curriculum assessment figures from the National Assembly last year, which showed that Newport outperforms the majority of other Welsh local authorities in the core subjects of English, mathematics and science. In fact, using the Core Subject Indicator, Newport is the top authority in Wales at Key Stage 1 and Key Stage 2 and is sixth at Key Stage 3. Other possible candidate in this category was the prodigious Dragons Taxis, although rocketing prices pushed it out of contention.

City event of the year - Duffy (Newport Centre)

Duffy's superb concert at Newport Centre was a rare opportunity to see a world class star in Newport. Rob Brydon (at the Riverfront) in November was also superb by all accounts. Regular events including those held at Tredegar House continue to maintain a vibrant social calendar in the City despite the nearby attractions of Bristol and Cardiff.

Restaurant of the year - The Chandlery

The Chandlery continues to offer high quality food at reasonable prices. It has had another superb year. Credit to Simon and Jane Newcombe. The Waterloo Hotel was a worthy contender and has become a welcome addition to restaurants (and hotels) in the City. Others mentioned in dispatches include Vittorios, Villa Dino and Gemelli.

Cafe of the year - Bar Piazza

Brilliant Italian cafe in the corner of John Frost Square - consistently good quality food and normally very busy with a regular clientele.

SPORT

Top team - Newport Cricket Club

Honours go to Newport Cricket Club, winners of the Welsh Cricket Association Gwalia Cup in September beating North Walians Northop in an exciting final. Newport Club coach Mike Knight reflecting on the win claimed, ' It was a very proud day in the history of Newport Cricket Club. With nearly all our players coming through our junior ranks, it really was a day to savour. Hopefully, this will be the stepping stone for further success in the near future, they're certainly good enough!' Honourable mentions to Newport YMCA who had a fantastic run in the Welsh Cup ending with a semi final defeat to Bangor City in March. YMCA beat Welshpool  and Llangefni on their way there. Credit also to Newport County, the last winners of the FAW Premier Cup having memorably defeated Cardiff City at Ninian Park in the semis and then Llanelli at home in the final in March.

Coach of the year - Peter Beadle

Beadle was a mixed bag. He lost it on that infamous day in 2006 against Swansea City in the Cup (probably his undoing) and was never far away from controversy. However, Newport County under Beadle and his coaching staff including Scott Young were always an intimidating and difficult team to beat. The players played with passion and fire. Some of them were slightly past it but Beadle produced a County team that were on the edge of the play off battle in the last two seasons. Two final day defeats prevented them going any further. He was rightly rewarded with the FAW Premier Cup in March, County's first silverware for a generation. He was sacked as manager at the end of the following month.

Distinguished services to Newport sport - the late Tim Stone

The loss of Tim Stone in April was immediately felt by those in the City who love their speedway. Without Stone's drive and ambition speedway would never have returned to Newport after its departure from Somerton Park in 1977. Stone built a purpose built track and stadium in 1996-97 and it has been the home of Newport Wasps and more particularly of speedway racing ever since. Stone's vision means it is one of the few arenas in the UK dedicated to the sport with the ability to run winter meetings and training schools. Thankfully, the sport will be returning there in 2009.

Sporting joke of the year - Newport County's transfer policy

The sight of Messrs Holdsworth and Blight in tandem has not been an edifying spectacle. Having deconstructed last year's squad it appears most of this year's team are either on loan or from Redbridge and not particularly good. The supposedly savvy Holdsworth has appeared out of his depth as County have struggled to keep out of the relegation zone. You might also ask what happened to the prize money from last year's victory in the FAW Premier Cup?

Unsung heroes of the year - the Malletts

The takeover of Newport Wasps by Steve and Nick Mallett following protracted negotiations has ensured the return of speedway to the City. More than that, they have in a short period of time instilled renewed optimism among the loyal band of Wasps fans. They have also built a team that, barring injuries, will challenge for honours next season and should have the fans flooding back to Queensway Meadows.

Most difficult job - Newport RFC coach

To listen to the media you would think that Newport Gwent Dragons coach Paul Turner has the devil's own job just to get a side out on the weekend. Poor little Paul and his sorry band of helpers scour the 'streets of Gwent' for players who have that special grit and determination we so admire in the plucky Dragons. Actually, Turner has a 30+ squad of professional players, the biggest pool of semi professional players available to any Welsh coach and a budget of nearly £3 million. The fact that he has won nothing, not even come close to it and has failed to qualify for the European Cup on one occasion by losing to a virtually unknown Italian side and that he consistently fails to make the grade at every level seems to matter not a jot. By contrast, we have had three coaches of the Newport RFC team during Turner's reign. The last, Ian Hemburrow, was sacked for finishing seventh in a league of fourteen sides, whereas Turner was considered a success for finishing eighth in a league of ten!

Sporting journalist of the year - Michael Pearlman

Obviously O.Dyke and Islwyn are prime candidates but Michael Pearlman has consistently stood out among the hum-drum brown-nosers of the local rag. This is his take on County's woes this season "I remain steadfast in my summation that most of County’s woes stem from their disastrous summer and the subsequent months where they’ve operated a revolving door policy with players coming and going in huge numbers. However, it would be unwise, and indeed detrimental, to expect Chris Blight and co. to dip further into their own pockets, the Exiles are best served by battling through until the end of the campaign making the best of what they have. " He was outspoken on a number of issues recently not least in defending Leighton James in his "what is best for Cardiff City is not necessarily best for Welsh football" statement and his criticism of BBC Wales's team of the year in their own awards ceremony - Cardiff City - in a year when Wales won the Grand Slam. Robin Davey was as fitful as ever only momentarily returning to form to slam our Llanelli-loving media for their constant reference to the day the Scarlets beat a very average All Blacks team in 1972 conveniently forgetting when Newport beat one of the very best for the only time on their tour in 1963-4.