Wednesday, 5 August 2020

Falling population means Wrexham housing schemes must be halted

Challenge to scrap Labour's Developer Plan

Plans to allow 7,700 new homes to be built in Wrexham should be paused after new population estimates show the borough's population could actually shrink by 2028.

The call has come from Plaid Cymru councillor Carrie Harper, a long-term critic of the borough's plans to allow thousands of homes to be built on greenfield sites around the town.

It comes after new Welsh Government population estimates point to a 1.5% reduction in the borough's population - in complete contrast to earlier projections that estimated a 10% rise in the population. She said: 
"The Welsh Government's population projections have been used to justify building thousands of new homes on green fields around Wrexham and we've consistently argued that these projections were unrealistic and out of step with reality. The past seven years have seen a static population and now this trend is set to continue for the coming decade.

"This means we have to adapt to a changing reality. The Welsh Government and its Planning Minister Julie James cannot ignore this and keep working hand in glove with developers.

"Plaid Cymru at all levels have argued that a lot of these new estates were being built as Cheshire overspill rather than responding to local need. We need to see more affordable housing, more bungalows and retirement homes, more starter homes for young families and more council housing. This plan didn't deliver on any of these because it allows developers to dictate and they will always opt for the most profitable executive housing.

"Communities in Gwersyllt, Stansty, Llay, Gresford, Rossett and most recently on the Holt Road side of town all understand the big housing developers are closing in on Wrexham with little regard for the pressures this puts on our roads, schools, health services and other infrastructure.

"These new figures mean we can't carry on regardless. Wrexham has been left without protection from greenfield development for too long by Welsh Government and a succession of do-nothing planning ministers. It's time to shape up or ship out - we need someone in charge who will take responsibility for this free for all."
Just two weeks ago, Plaid Cymru pointed out that the population in the borough had risen by just 156 in the past seven years.

Cllr Harper said the new figures raised questions about the way population projections were used as a foundation for house numbers: 
"Back in 2011, the Welsh Government was demanding 13,000 new homes in the plan because they said there was going to be a 20% increase in population. That was halved to 10% as they realised they were totally wrong and now it's gone down to -1.5% in the latest statistics. 
"This no way to build communities in Wrexham - it's imposing false targets that don't allow communities to develop at their own pace. What we've got now is a complete mess and the minister has to step in and press the pause button. It has to stop now.

"Over the coming week, Plaid Cymru locally will be outlining an alternative housing strategy that meets the needs of local residents and builds in the interests of communities not of the housing corporations."
Just last week, Wrexham councillors voted to refuse planning permission for 600 houses on a greenfield site on the Holt Road that's seen as vital for the emerging LDP to meet its targets.

Help stop the Local Development Plan - please sign here.

Thursday, 30 July 2020

Wrexham benefits from £550,000 anti-crime scheme

Search Conducted' After Four Males Seen Acting Suspiciously in Caia Park -  Wrexham.com

Queensway ward in the heart of Caia Park is to benefit from a £550,000 project to cut crime.

The news has been welcomed by local Plaid Cymru councillor Carrie Harper, who worked with her colleague Police and Crime Commissioner Arfon Jones, to secure the funding from the Home Office.

Cllr Harper said:
"This area of Caia Park was identified for funding and I'm pleased the bid was successful. The priorities for the bid were shaped by local people who filled in an online community survey, local people said they wanted additional cctv, crime prevention packs, alley closures and improved lighting, all are now in the way. This is a great example of asking local people what improvements they want to help tackle crime and then delivering, it’s been a great partnership approach. We need to crack crime in the ward and any measures that help that are welcome.

"The aim is to tackle theft, burglary and robbery – which account for up to 40 per cent of all the offences committed.

"Three garage blocks will be demolished and 200 metres of additional fencing will be provided as well as improved lighting and gates to secure seven alleyways. But a big element in the scheme will involve the community in preventing crime themselves. The crime prevention packs include window and door security and were the most popular item in the online survey."
Another important element of the Caia Park scheme will be an environmental fund to tackle graffiti, landscape communal areas, cut bushes and remove trees.

North Wales Police and Crime Commissioner Arfon Jones, a former police inspector, said:
“It is so important the people of North Wales feel safe in their communities. It’s about taking every opportunity we can to prevent acquisitive crimes, where offenders take property from victims whether through theft, burglary or robbery.

“It’s vital we invest in our towns and in particular the communities which perhaps need more help, so we can make them safer for everyone. If we can improve security through better street lighting, for example, it can make a big difference to public safety.

“However we can’t achieve these goals on our own. We need to work in partnership with the people, local authorities as well as community groups if we are to have any chance of success.
“We know from analysis that burglaries, for example, are persistently and disproportionately concentrated in certain communities. Queensway and Rhyl West are real hotspots when it comes to acquisitive crimes. It’s time for that to change.

“We can help prevent a lot of crime by taking simple measures such as better street lighting, putting gates on alleys and adding security features to community buildings."

Covid-19 deaths and the need for active intervention in Wrexham to prevent local lockdown

The very sad news that three people with Covid-19 died yesterday in Wrexham Maelor Hospital is a reminder that we still face huge challenges with this pandemic.

Localised testing is now taking place in Caia Park and Hightown and Wrexham Maelor as well as community hospitals in the region are also facing rising infection rates.

Welsh Government is talking about a localised lockdown and that is something we should try to avoid at all costs. That's why Plaid Cymru locally is calling for active interventions from public health authorities to avoid a full lockdown.

We want mandatory masks to be worn in public in critical areas. These should be provided free of charge for residents and shoppers.

We also want to see more targetted testing in those areas seen as most problematic by the authorities to identify and isolate those with the disease. Asking people to visit a testing centre when they may not have symptoms will not identify everyone.

In the hospital, we are hearing too many cases of Covid-19 patients being placed with non-Covid-19 patients. If you have concerns, either as an NHS worker, patient or relative, please get in touch as we are collecting evidence for an investigation into the outbreak. 

You can contact Cllr Carrie Harper in confidence on plaidwrecsam@gmail.com to share your experiences.

As a last resort, the Deeside emergency hospital set up earlier this year to deal with the pandemic should be activated to take confirmed Covid-19 cases in the region and help isolate those confirmed cases. 

The last few months have been incredibly difficult for all concerned and this latest developments shows we're not out of the woods yet. Please stay safe and take all the precautions needed to ensure this virus does not take hold again in Wrexham.

Monday, 27 July 2020

Covid-19 testing in Hightown and Caia Park

In response to news (see below) that local testing centres were being established in Caia Park and Hightown to carry out more Covid-19 testing, Caia Park councillor Carrie Harper said:
"There has been concern in the community about the rise in positive cases in Wrexham and specifically in the hospital. Today we've had confirmation that there are 60-70 cases in the Maelor and now testing is to be made easier in the Hightown and Caia Park area. 
"Presumably this is based on some evidence of cases in those localities and it would be useful to know if there is any intelligence identifying local clusters. 
"Given the concerns, it would be useful to know when this was identified and which organisation made the decision to open testing centres in specific areas."
Mobile testing units are being introduced this week to make it easier for people living in communities on the edge of Wrexham town centre to get a Covid-19 test.

The easy-access testing facilities will be based in Hightown and Caia Park for several days starting from Wednesday (July 29). As well as making it easier to get a test, the move will help public health experts get
a better understanding of the situation in Wrexham.

Residents living in these areas are being encouraged to get a test if they think they have symptoms…no matter how mild.

The work is being co-ordinated by Public Health Wales, Wrexham Council and other partners, with support from local voluntary sector organisation AVOW and community groups. Just like in other parts of the country, the testing stations will be managed by the army.

Even if you have mild symptoms, you should get a test.

However, if you feel really unwell, you should still contact your GP as normal (or call 999 if you think there’s something seriously wrong).
For example, don’t try to walk to a testing centre if you’re struggling to catch your breath.

Dr Chris Williams of Public Health Wales says:
“Providing easy-access testing will help us further understand the situation in Wrexham.
“We’re encouraging anyone who thinks they may have symptoms – even very mild ones – to take advantage of the mobile testing units while they’re in the area, and go and get a test.
“Testing is a really important part of the strategy for managing Covid-19 in Wales, so it’s important people step forward if they think they have symptoms.
“Covid-19 can spread in community settings, not just in workplaces.
“If you do test positive, you’ll be given advice by contact tracers at Wrexham Council.
“They’ll advise you on how long to isolate for and what support you can get to help you through the isolation period.
“They’ll also ask for your help in tracing people you’ve been in close contact with
recently.”
Where and when you can get a test

The mobile testing centres will be at Caia Park Health Centre on Prince Charles Road, and at a location in Hightown yet to be finalised, from Wednesday, July 29. You can just turn-up between 8am and 7pm. 

The location in Hightown is still to be confirmed.

Other ways to get a test
You can also apply for a test online or by phone. (https://gov.wales/apply-coronavirus-test )

Worrying number of Covid-19 cases in Wrexham - call for clear communication

Wrexham borough continues to show a worrying number of new Covid-19 cases - with more than 100 new cases in the past 21 days.  

There are growing concerns about new cases at the town's Wrexham Maelor hospital, which have prompted warnings from Betsi Cadwaladr health board to wear masks at all times in the hospital.

The figures on some days represents a half of all cases in Wales and come on the back of an outbreak associated with Rowan Foods on the town's industrial estate. It's not believed that this rise is linked to Rowan Foods but is more localised in certain areas.

Councillor Carrie Harper, Plaid Cymru's Wrexham spokesperson, called for greater clarity from Public Health Wales, which is leading the local Outbreak Control Team dealing with the issue. She said:
"The persistent numbers of new cases in Wrexham, although relatively low, is a concern. I'm aware of patients in Wrexham Maelor hospital who have acquired Covid-19 on at least one ward and I'm sure staff and patients would like assurances from Public Health Wales that thorough testing and screening is in place to prevent any wider outbreak.

"While we all understand the need to avoid speculation, where there is an information vacuum there will always be rumours flying about. The need for clear communication about the facts has never been more important and PHW needs to provide that clarity now to allay fears in the community."

Wednesday, 22 July 2020

Wrexham's population has grown by just 156 in the past seven years - so why are we planning to build 7,700 new homes in the borough?

Next Monday sees Wrexham's Planning Committee decide on whether to approve 600 new homes on a greenfield site off the Cefn Road. It's part of a larger development that could total 1600 houses that would cover the existing rugby club and grounds if permitted.

Plaid Cymru locally has for the past decade argued that the basis for these huge greenfield site developments are being built on shaky foundations. Here we summarise our objections and hope that community need is put before developer greed when it comes to future planning permissions.


WHY ARE THEY BUILDING ON GREENFIELD SITES IN WREXHAM?

Wrexham's population has grown by just 156 people in the past seven years - so why are we planning to build 7,700 new homes in the borough?

Wrexham Council based its draft LDP on Welsh Government projections that estimated the borough's population would increase by a staggering 20% by 2036.

That projection estimated an increase of 1193 people every year from 2013 until 2028 (see table below). 


To date the average increase has been just 22 per year over the past seven years. Below is the Welsh Government's own mid-year population estimates:

2013 135,801
2014 135,953
2015 135,418
2016 135,408
2017 135,571
2018 136,126
2019 135,957

By 2014, there was new information and this incredible rise had been downgraded to 'just' 10% - still an increase from 135,000 to 150,000. It's still way out because Wrexham's population is static at around 135,000. 

As Plaid Cymru has said for a decade now, the population projections are flawed and, as such, do not provide a platform or rationale for building 7,700 new houses.

Wrexham has hundreds of empty properties that desperately need to be prioritised and upgraded to create homes. Office and commercial space in the town centre is also being re-purposed for urban living. 

So why do we keep seeing large-scale housing developments being proposed for greenfield sites?

In part it's because we have a planning system that's led by developers' greed rather than community need.

A community needs to expand to meet demand - that may need additional homes as well as jobs, services and infrastructure. The large developer is only interested in maximising profit - which means providing houses.

That's why we see, time and again, developers gaining planning permission with the promise of a community contribution and affordable housing only to return to the planning authority to plead poverty.

The planning authority should be there for the people of Wrexham. However all too often we see the planners ignoring community concerns and even their own draft Local Development Plan.

Eighteen months ago, Plaid Cymru's regional MS Llyr Gruffydd revealed that the estimated total housing allocation across the six counties of north Wales was just 400 a year - whereas Wrexham's LDP was planning for 517 annually in just one county!

Back then Mr Gruffydd, who is also Plaid Cymru’s shadow planning minister, said:
“Over the past decade, councils across the North have been pressured into adopting Local Development Plans based on high levels of growth and the consequent need to allocate land for thousands of new homes. Our contention has always been that these projections are based on a flawed analysis that depends too much on past growth rather than predicting future growth and specific local circumstances. 
“There is a case to say ‘rip it up and start again’ because the LDPs are based on over-estimates of housing need. That would create a lot of additional work for hard-pressed councils but we need to look at de-allocating greenfield sites for housing before it’s too late.  
“As we prepare for a National Development Framework for the whole of Wales, it’s vital that we take a bottom-up approach to community development rather than impose more unwanted and unrealistic targets on our local authorities. Part of the disconnect people feel with their national and local government is that developers rule the roost rather than communities. We have to redress that balance so that communities develop far more organically and provide the services, infrastructure and housing needed for the future.”
Councillor Carrie Harper, who has led the challenge to the overdevelopment of greenfield sites around Wrexham, said:
"There is a huge new estate of 365 homes currently being built in Llay, planning permission has been granted for 400 new homes in Stansty with plans for a further 455 on the circus field between Gwersyllt and Stansty.

"Add in the 130 approved for Rossett on top of the 1500 on Ruthin Road and more than 1600 on the Cefn Road and you have 4,150 new homes, most of which are being built on greenfield sites without adequate services, schools, health or infrastructure to cope. 
"Of course some new homes are needed as family units become smaller but the LDP was based on Welsh Government projections that the borough's population will rise significantly over the coming decades - initially it was 20% and subsequently downgraded to 10%. It's now clear that even that downgrading overstates the case. 
"Our focus needs to be on providing affordable homes for the many people on our waiting lists. The council is starting to build a small number of council houses to meet that need and we will be pushing for other pieces of council-owned land to be used productively like this."
Please sign our petition against urban sprawl in Wrexham: 

Thursday, 9 July 2020

Building back better - the opportunities for Wrexham



by Carrie Harper, Plaid Cymru Councillor for the Queensway ward on Wrexham Council

Business as usual is not an option if we want to build shock-resistant communities post-Covid. The virus has exposed the extent of our reliance on complex global supply chains and we have increasingly relied on local businesses, local inventiveness and local people to support us in our hour of need.

This idea of ‘localism’, also offers us a path to recovery based on building strong, sustainable and durable communities going forward, and it’s one that should sound familiar to people in Wales.

Wales has often been described as a community of communities and, when it comes to real sustainability, for many generations we have been world leaders. With the onset of globalisation, Welsh community blueprints – rooted in basic ideas such as local food production, cradling a vibrant local culture and valuing our environment – have too often been brushed aside in the name of progress.

Covid-19 is shining a spotlight on a core idea we in Wales already knew: backing local is not just a fluffy feel-good kind of thing to do, it’s absolutely fundamental to our well-being on all levels. The basic principles that naturally emerge from this way of thinking give us the foundation for dealing with huge issues such as climate change, along with the road map to improving our quality of life and ultimately building community wealth across the country.

Grim

According to figures released by HMRC, almost a third of all workers in the north of Wales are currently on furlough or are receiving self-employment support. That’s more than 100,000 families bracing themselves for what comes next in the face of tapering UK Government support schemes, forecasts of a synchronised global recession and Brexit also still looming on the horizon.

It’s a bleak picture and a worrying time for our communities that will demand the best of us all politically in forging a path ahead. On a local level over the last few weeks I’ve spoken to many worried workers following announcements about job losses on a scale I’ve never seen in my lifetime.

Just last week Airbus in Broughton announced 1435 job losses, having already laid off 500 agency workers. Magellan, based in Llay, has also announced 240 job losses, Mail Solutions and others locally are also facing job cuts. The picture across Wales is sadly just as depressingly grim and many fear this is only the tip of the iceberg.

This is not going to be easy, there is no sugar coating it but the current crisis is also an opportunity for bold ideas that both allow us to protect livelihoods and to build back better. So what does that mean in practice?

It means we have the opportunity to re-think this idea that bigger is better and should start looking closer to home for solutions. A global economy that prioritises economic growth over all else in a race to the bottom is a very one-dimensional way of looking at the world. It is also causing immeasurable environmental damage and it’s left our community infrastructure weak and vulnerable to any sort of trauma.

It’s also an idea whose time has passed according to Bangor University lecturer Dr Ed Jones, who today published an article predicting that more businesses and Governments “will want to have their supplies closer to home as they emerge from months of unprecedented lockdown”.

He also specifically refers to Flintshire and Wrexham as being very well positioned to take advantage of what he terms the ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution’ revolving around artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things, autonomous vehicles, 3D printing, nanotechnology, energy storage and quantum computing. Given our manufacturing skill base in north-east, we are actually perfectly placed for this transition.

Knitting together the economic powerhouse potential of the north of Wales, along with our sustainable food-producing geography and the green potential of our coast, and we start to glimpse what a real economic plan for the north of Wales based on our needs and aspirations actually looks like.

Add to this a population crying out for well-paid work across this range of sectors and others, and the way forward is increasingly obvious. We’re more than someone else’s playground, this is where we live and work. We need to ensure our young people have the option to stay in Wales because we’re offering quality work, quality training and quality research opportunities.

No more ‘see the north West of England’ and a lifeboat economy for us, the future’s local and the north of Wales could be about to bloom.

Crumbs

In order to future proof the Welsh economy, we need an economic recovery package that not only addresses the immediate challenges but also looks beyond its nose in terms of what comes next. It will mean all of us playing our part in terms of a switch to backing local at all levels and driving societal change that delivers more sustainable outcomes.

Plaid Cymru has long championed the idea of more local procurement for instance, using the huge budgets of local authorities, health boards and the public sector generally to ensure the Welsh pound stays in Wales and goes into the pockets of local businesses.

We’ve not just talked the talk either, as Plaid-led councils such as Ceredigion and Carmarthen are already leading the way on this, as well as championing innovative ideas in terms of community ownership and renewable projects. It’s a no brainer, which would stop hundreds of millions leaking out of the Welsh economy every year and now needs to be made a legal requirement to ensure progress happens quickly.

Wales can be at the cutting edge of new innovative industries but is currently left with crumbs from the Westminster table because a half of all the UK’s research and development funding is centred in just three English cities – London, Cambridge and Oxford.

By contrast, Welsh universities get just 2% of that research and development funding. Innovation funds should be available for universities in Wales such as Glyndwr here in Wrexham to work with businesses and create a stronger domestic economy built around local supply chains and ownership.

We also need more economic levers devolved to deliver this change. Decisions for Wales must be made here in Wales.

We absolutely need an increased capacity to borrow in order to invest in this recovery, a policy Plaid has already outlined when launching the party’s emergency economic renewal plan. This includes the idea of an All Wales Renewal Fund, funding that could be used to provide an employment guarantee scheme for young people, as well as supporting and investing in local businesses.

We also have the opportunity to transform sectors hardest hit by the pandemic and help them transition ready for new opportunities, and to invest in a Green New Deal to create thousands of new jobs, energy-efficient homes and sustainable transport.

We have the skills, the vision and the opportunity to transform our economy and our communities for the better. All that’s missing is having the party in the driving seat with the political will to deliver this change.

The 2021 Senedd elections in 10 months’ time are a timely opportunity to remedy that problem.

Friday, 3 July 2020

'If there’s public money available to paint the Union Jack on aeroplanes, then there should be money for the people who build them'

Call to protect Airbus jobs 

A Plaid Cymru councillor whose father works at Airbus is calling for a united front to protect jobs and support workers.

Councillor Carrie Harper from Wrexham has asked people to sign a pledge calling on the UK Government to provide similar support to that seen in Germany and France to implement a shorter working week.

The pledge reads:

The recent announcement of 1435 job losses at Airbus in Broughton will have a huge impact on Wrexham, Flintshire and local supply chains.

Many who work at Airbus are devastated by this news. They are looking for leadership. The French and German Governments responded instantly to the Airbus announcement and put in place a two-year scheme to implement a shorter working week, along with a Government top-up for workers to make up the shortfall.

We need such a scheme here and we need it now.

We call for a united front to demand this same level of intervention for Airbus workers. Every one of these jobs matters.

If it can be done for the Bankers, it can be done for Broughton workers. If it can be done for the steel industry, it can be done for aviation. If there’s public money available to paint aeroplanes with the Union Jack, then there should be money for the people who build them.

We need everyone to stand up and fight for north-east Wales.

Please sign this pledge and show you're on board.
Cllr Harper backed the trade union campaign calling on people to write to their MPs to lobby the UK Government. As part of that she has written an open letter to her local Tory MP calling on her to take action:

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Tuesday, 30 June 2020

Criticism of the Israeli Government is not anti – Semitic : We cannot be afraid of speaking truth to power.


It seems odd to me and stating the obvious, to say that criticism of the Israeli Government is not anti -Semitic, any more than criticising the American Government could be regarded as anti-Christian.

Whilst genuine anti-semitism is a very real and a vile part of our reality that should of course be called out, we start on a very dangerous road when attempts are made to place the actions of any Government above scrutiny or beyond reproach.

I worry that of late, those lines are sadly becoming increasingly blurred, particularly as regards the Israeli occupation of Palestine. There would seem over recent years to be a determined attempt by the right in both the UK and US in particular, to label anyone who criticises this Israeli Government policy as ‘anti-semitic’. More generally it is in my view, often a rather sinister example of a smoke and mirrors tactic designed to shut down discussion and debate about very real human rights violations.

This week, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu plans to illegally annex a third of the West Bank, an area Israel already occupies. The timing is relevant in the sense that the Israeli Government see the Trump presidency as a one off opportunity for action that would have been condemned by previous US administrations.

Some, such as Labours Lisa Nandy, have called for sanctions if such a move goes ahead, she’s called for a ban on the imports of goods from illegal settlements.

Opposing the annexation plan and proposing sanctions is not nearly enough. We must also demand a complete end to the illegal occupation, the withdrawal of illegal settlements and the recognition of the state of Palestine within the 1967 borders if we want to promote lasting peace.

The plight of the Palestinian people is one close to my heart and to the hearts of many members of Plaid Cymru. In 2014, we held a rally in my home town of Wrexham to oppose the bombing of Gaza by Israel, which left 2,200 people dead, including hundreds of children and thousands more injured. It also left an estimated 20,000 homes uninhabitable.

The unlawful killings continue to this day, checkpoints and road blocks restrict freedom of movement and last year 900 Palestinians were displaced by Israel due to home demolitions and the expanding of illegal settlements. Israel’s illegal blockade of the Gaza strip continues to devastate Gaza’s 2 million inhabitants and discriminatory policies leave Palestinians without access to safe and clean drinking water.

Of course I couldn’t hope to sum up a 50 year occupation in a few short paragraphs but it’s a fact to say that the oppression of the Palestinian people is very real. It’s also key to differentiate between the Israeli Government and the people of Israel, many of whom also oppose the occupation, with thousands recently marching in Tel Aviv against Netanyahu’s plans.

But if we have any sort of moral compass at all, we cannot stand by in silence and allow justified criticisms of the Israeli Government to be conflated with anti Semitism unchallenged.

We cannot forget about Palestine, we cannot turn a blind eye to apartheid, we cannot turn our backs when a subjugated people reach out to us for support. 

Otherwise, from my heart to yours, what are we for?



Thursday, 18 June 2020

Housing developers move the goalposts - again


The old Air Products factory site in Cefn Mawr was granted planning permission for 232 houses in 2018. This was on condition that a quarter of the homes were affordable (i.e. for sale below market value) and a significant contribution was made towards local schools as a result of the increase in children.

Now the owners of the site - Yorkshire-based Prospect Estates Ltd - are trying to amend the planning permission to allow them to sell the land to a housing developer without either obligation. This will put an extra few million pounds in the developer's pocket.

At present, any housing development over 25 homes has to have an affordable percentage of 25% under the council's existing UDP.

Remarkably, the council's own housing chief Lawrence Isted is recommending that councillors ignore that policy to ensure developers make a profit. This is done through a viability assessment that normally factors in profits of between 16-20% per house. 

Mr Isted is also ignoring pleas from the local community council and his own education department, who have pointed out that local schools are already full. This development, if permitted, would probably mean an extra 50 primary school age children. 

Under the existing permission, the developer would be expected to pay about £500,000 towards additional school places. If permission is granted, that money would have to come from council coffers or we will see local children unable to get places in surrounding schools.

This is not the first time that developers have got outline planning permission by promising to contribute towards schools and affordable housing before seeking to move the goalposts. A cynic might say they know exactly what they're doing.

Wrexham Council's draft Local Development Plan has already slashed the number of affordable houses planned for the coming decade. This proposal by officers underlines the lack of commitment to affordable housing in the borough.

Monday, 15 June 2020

No floody good!

Yesterday's downpour overwhelmed many of Wrexham's drains, some of which are in dire need of repair and are recurring problems every time it rains.

The lack of funding for repairs is a recurring complaint from Wrexham Council's ruling coalition. So why did Wrexham Council fail to even bid for funding from the latest £16 million pot of money?

More than half of Welsh councils were granted funding - the largest being Conwy for coastal defence work and active travel - and many councils were given money to improve drainage in the wake of earlier flooding problems. The full list is here.

Councillor Carrie Harper, for Plaid Cymru, said: "Many parts of Wrexham suffered flash flooding yesterday and the scale of the downpour was unprecedented. However, there are regular problems in any rainfall in the borough that could and should have been addressed by this council.

"I'd like to know why no bid was put in to improve our roads and specifically our drainage problems. There's no point in people whinging about lack of funding if they don't bother to apply for money when it's available.

"This seems to be a missed opportunity to improve our roads and drainage. What were they thinking?"

Here's one example of the flooding Wrexham's Ruabon Road area faced yesterday.

Sunday, 14 June 2020

Ben’s a cut above the rest in raising money for local charity

 
Advance Brighter Futures means family

Due to current circumstances, many of us are probably in need of a good haircut and
might have been thinking about resorting to a so-called ‘haircut at home’.

Ben Williams was one of these people, but he actually used this as an opportunity to raise
funds to help out a local mental health charity that is very close to his heart.

Ben explained: 
“With the country in lockdown and all of the hairdressers closed, I was in need of a haircut, but I didn’t have many options.

“The idea of shaving my head came up, and that’s when I started to see it as an opportunity to do so as a fundraiser for Advance Brighter Futures (ABF). I asked people if they’d donate if I shaved it all off and they were really, really generous.

“My step-dad did the shaving and, overall, I raised £200 for an amazing charity. I get to see first-hand all the incredible work it does in the local area… plus, as an added bonus this haircut should last me until the hairdressers re-open!”

Ben has represented ABF for over two years now, originally starting as a volunteer in
February 2018, which then led to him becoming an employee in September 2019.

Advance Brighter Futures is a mental health and wellbeing charity, established in Wrexham
since 1992. It aims to ensure that no individual experiencing mental health problems
ever feels like they are on their own.

Ben said: 
“It started with me coming in to do two afternoons a week of administration work.
Following that I then volunteered to help out with the Erddig walk on a weekly basis too.

“I’m now on a nine-hour contract where I do admin work for them and I also continue to do the walk on a voluntary basis.

 “Advance Brighter Futures means family to me because everyone who works
here is part of one big family. ABF also means happiness because everybody here always
has a big smile on their face, which will brighten your day.”

Lorrisa Roberts, Chief Officer at Advance Brighter Futures, said: 
“It’s wonderful that Ben used his initiative to raise some money and bring awareness to the work we do, but it didn’t surprise me at all.

“Ben is someone who came in to us as a volunteer and understood our core values very quickly and is now employed by the charity. He represents us really well and I’d just like to say that Ben, you’re a credit to ABF”.

Lockdown has presented many challenges for charities across Wales, but ABF continues to
operate and provide its vital services, albeit in a much different way than usual.

Lorrisa explains: 
“Something we’re keen to stress is that we’re still open, and although you won’t be able to come to the building for support, we’ve set up our staff to work from home to provide telephone support to the people who need us.

“We’ve also been able to use Zoom to still offer our group sessions, and this has also been a great way for staff to keep in touch by having staff meetings. In many ways this has brought us all closer together.

“The country is in lockdown, but mental health certainly isn’t and our message is clear - we’re still here for you.”

For more information about the charity and the services on offer, please visit
www.advancebrighterfutureswrexham.co.uk



Minister ducks question on closing Hafod landfill



Dumping continues despite fire

Hafod landfill site went on fire a fortnight ago, causing a large plume of thick black smoke for more than three days.

The company running the site, Enovert, has now admitted it doesn't know what caused the blaze and yet has continued to dump waste there regardless.

Enough is enough - close down the tip and let's have a full investigation.

The Hafod tip fire has been raised in the Senedd Environment Committee during questions by Plaid Cymru's North Wales MS Llyr Gruffydd to Environment Minister Lesley Griffiths this week.

You can watch the exchange here.

There was no response to Mr Gruffydd's call to close down the site - at least until the investigation has taken place. This is an issue that should not be ducked.

The only area where this government seems willing to act is to ensure air-quality monitoring equipment is based in the local area for future fires. That's not very encouraging when local residents are concerned for their health in the wake of the fires at Hafod but also a few months earlier in Kronospan.

Since the tip was opened about 14 years ago, the arguments about waste have now moved on and dumping plastics and other waste is being replaced by a philosophy of recycling and re-use.

None of Wrexham's domestic waste is landfilled here so why are other councils still using it?
  • Landfill is unsustainable and, as has been shown, dangerous.

  • The petition has three simple demands:

  • Hafod landfill is too close to people's homes and should be closed

Independent air-monitoring equipment for future incidents should be located more strategically, with at least one kit in the North

An independent inquiry into the cause of the fire and management of the site should be undertaken.

Please sign and share the petition with friends and neighbours to keep the pressure up:

https://www.wrexhamplaid.cymru/close_hafod_tip

https://www.wrecsamplaid.cymru/cau_tomen_yr_hafod

Saturday, 13 June 2020

Reviving Wrexham town centre



Wrexham town centre already faced huge challenges, in keeping with others, due to the rise in online and out-of-town shopping among other changes in our lifestyles. Some work to turnaround our town had already begun.

The pandemic and subsequent lockdown has made reviving Wrexham a far bigger operation. Businesses have lost 10-12 weeks' trade and some, such as pubs, clubs and restaurants, are a long way from opening fully.

There are practical steps in place to make the town centre safer for visitors post-lockdown. These include social distancing signage, one-way systems along narrow streets such as Bank Street and a Click and Collect service in the High Street. Individual businesses wanting to extend their trade onto the nearest pavement are asked to contact the council's licensing department. Wardens will patrol town to ensure social distancing. 

The town centre team has delivered this basic plan in preparation for unlocking but it's clear that this, of itself, will not revive the town centre.

That relies on political initiative that has the support of town-centre businesses. Town-centre councillors, from every grouping, have worked well together in the past for the good of our town. It's time for more cooperation - between politicians, officers, local businesses, voluntary groups and trade unions - to revive our town. 

This needs to be a powerful lobby to ensure Welsh Government provides the support for more ambitious plans than signage and a few wardens in town.

A Wrexham Town Centre Forum meeting on Friday focussed on the above matters and, when wider and more ambitious calls were raised, either said it was beyond the remit of the forum or that "finances did not permit".

Finances were found to build a brand new hospital in 10 days in preparation for Covid-19. Finances have also to be found to rebuild our economy.

Wrexham will fail to revive if it has a poverty of ambition. I believe we have a wealth of talent and potential but are not making the most of that due to a lack of vision for what we can achieve.

Plaid Cymru councillors submitted a number of questions and proposals for the Forum, including some of the basic points that have been actioned above.

We also asked residents via the popular Wrexham Town Matters Facebook page to send in their proposals and had a good, positive response.

Here are some ideas that we believe merit further debate and action:

The Wrexham Pound - Giving residents some cash in the form of a "Wrexham Pound" to spend in local shops. It could be £20 per household. This can be redeemed by the local council but will clearly need funding from Welsh Government. A pilot project is in place in Mold and other cities have successfully pump primed their local economy in this way.
Better transport links into town - Some mention in the forum was made of cycle paths and a £3 million bid to improve these has gone in to Welsh Government. But, as Cllr David Bithell admitted during the forum, this is not a game changer and we need to tackle public transport urgently. At present we're totally reliant on a private bus operator, Arriva, to deliver services in Wrexham. Wrexham Council, when it has the powers, should invest in its own green bus service as other municipal councils do to reduce the carbon footprint and provide a decent public transport network to enable people to travel to and from the town centre. Aberdeen and Manchester already have hydrogen-powered buses.
Free car parking - In the meantime, free council car parking after 10am can provide a solution to the transport problem. This would encourage shoppers to come into town. The council will take a hit on its income but it may ensure businesses stay open and that is an overall benefit for the town.
Democratic voice for the town centre - The town centre lacks a lobbying voice. There are four community councils - Offa, Rhosddu, Acton and Caia Park - who serve the town centre but they concentrate their attention on the residential areas. The four town-centre councillors also face the same pressures. A Wrexham Town Council will a specific remit and budget to improve the town centre would help ensure a stronger and more accountable voice for our town centre.
Rebalance business rates - Town centre businesses currently pay a premium because of the outdated idea that the town centre has greater footfall. Welsh Government needs to rethink and rebalance the business rates system by reducing rates for town-centre businesses substantially while increasing those of the large supermarkets and out-of-town retailers. 
Reduce rents - Similarly, landlords of town-centre properties are going to have to realise that they cannot continue to charge the same premium rents for a retail area that is no longer premium. Better to have 75% of the current rent than zero.
Social media - The town centre as a whole needs to promote itself on social media. It's quick, effective and popular with all ages if done correctly. A lead needs to be taken to ensure all businesses and attractions in the town centre get exposure.

Wrexham town centre has many strengths and a walk round the town today revealed new businesses are gearing up to open alongside old favourites. If we get it right, we can make a success of this huge challenge.









Wednesday, 10 June 2020

Landfill is not the answer for our waste problem - it's time to move on


Zero Waste to Landfill - SELECT

More than 800 sign 'Close Hafod tip' petition 
A petition launched to close Hafod tip in the wake of the recent fire has already attracted more than 800 signatories.

The petition was launched by Plaid Cymru MS Llyr Gruffydd, who said "enough is enough - the people living in Ruabon and Johnstown have put up with the Hafod landfill's smells and pollution for more than a decade and it's time it was closed down.

"The landfill site was opened about 14 yrs ago, originally to take waste from Merseyside and the majority of the waste dumped there is still from England. This is a kick in the teeth for local residents as Wrexham Council leads the way in terms of recycling, with only 0.4% of its domestic waste going to landfill. None of it goes to Hafod.

"As with the Kronospan fire in January, mobile air-quality monitoring equipment had to be moved in from Swansea by Natural Resources Wales and took days to arrive. Arguably the worst of the damage had already been caused by the thick plume of smoke. Even so, within two hours, that equipment detected particulates above acceptable levels and residents were told to stay indoors with windows shut for three days (during the hottest spell of the year).

"Without wanting to alarm people, burning plastics and other waste creates dioxins and furans, chemicals that accumulate in the food chain and can cause cancer.

"The arguments about waste have now moved on and dumping plastics and other waste is being replaced by a philosophy of recycling and re-use. Landfill is unsustainable and, as has been shown here, dangerous. That's why we need other councils and businesses to rethink how they're dealing with their waste and stop using landfill."

The petition has three simple demands:
  • Hafod landfill is too close to people's homes and should be closed 
  • Independent air-monitoring equipment for future incidents should be located more strategically, with at least one kit in the North
  • An independent inquiry into the cause of the fire and the management of the site should be undertaken.
Please sign and share the petition:


Read more about how Wales is leading the way to a zero landfill future: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-50853509