Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Let the people decide on town centre changes

A Freedom of Information request by Plaid Wrecsam has revealed the council has plans to demolish the Memorial Hall as part of its masterplan to re-organise the Bodhyfryd part of town, which currently houses the police station, courts, Waterworld and Crown Buildings.
 Wrexham.com report that the police tower block will be demolished within two years and that will mean the courts will move, due to the need for custody suites.
 The FOI also shows that the council's consultants recommend that Waterworld is closed and replaced with another leisure facility on the Crown Buildings site.
 This leaves a huge open space in the town centre with easy access to the ring road. It is also opposite another prime site, the old Groves school, which has needed re-developing for the past decade.
 What does the council intend to do with this blank canvas? The council faces some limitations with regard to the Groves school due to covenants limiting future use for education and there seems to be a commitment to retain the original school building by converting it to apartments, but nothing else is set in stone.
 Given the council's abysmal track record of listening to local opinion on matters of importance, now is the time that the public should start to demand a say in how our town centre is re-developed. This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity that should not be missed. Town centres are rapidly changing due to online shopping and out-of-town shopping centres such as Cheshire Oaks. 
 Bodhyfryd (which translates as "beautiful place") is a wonderful opportunity - if handled imaginatively - to regenerate our town centre. 
 In the past, the council has relied on outside consultants. All too often these consultants will take an idea from another town (which explains why we've got so many identikit town centres) and superimpose it on Wrecsam, regardless of whether it works.
 How about we do things differently this time round? How about we ask the imaginative and creative people of our county borough to come up with their own plan? Let's use the creative skills we have in terms of architects, planners, engineers, dreamers and schemers to come up with something innovative and unique that will make people proud once again to say "This is Wrecsam".
 Over to you...

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Health critic offered platform in North Wales.

Press Release.

An outspoken critic of the Welsh Government’s handling of the NHS could be invited to speak in North Wales.

A motion to the North Wales Community Health Council inviting rebel Labour MP Ann Clwyd to speak is being considered at their meeting next week.

Ms Clwyd has been at the centre of a bitter row with Carwyn Jones, the First Minister, after he criticised her for not providing evidence of complaints against the Welsh NHS in the wake of her husband’s death in a Cardiff hospital.
Attempts to invite her to attend the Assembly’s health scrutiny committee to give evidence were then blocked by Labour AMs.

Now Cllr Arfon Jones, of Wrexham, and other Plaid Cymru members of the CHC are pushing the health council to invite Ms Clwyd to address them and have the opportunity to provide evidence of the issues in the NHS. Cllr Jones said: 

“The gagging of a senior MP on a matter of vital importance is very disturbing. That’s why I and other CHC members felt it important to give her a platform and speak up for patients, which is after all the CHC’s remit.

“What has happened so far is Labour tribalism at its worst. The Health Committee should scrutinise the work of the NHS in Wales and partisan Labour AMs have have failed to do because they put their party before the public interest.”

His call was backed by Councillor Mair Rowlands: 

"Ann Clwyd is respected across the political spectrum in Wales and has a deep knowledge of the NHS. We really do need to hear her views on the performance of our Health Service and what can be done to improve things.

 “Putting a gagging order on her is already proving to be counterproductive for the Labour Party in Wales as more and more people want to hear her views. Many people are already scared about future services in Ysbyty Glan Clwyd and her comments would be a valuable contribution to the debate about the future of Health Services in North Wales.”
If accepted, the motion to allow Ms Clwyd to speak will be voted upon next week.

The move was welcomed by Plaid Cymru’s North Wales AM Llyr Gruffydd, who has raised a number of concerns about Betsi Cadwaladr’s senior management over the past three years:

“I’m glad our representatives on the Community Health Council are taking this forward. Ann Clwyd has been treated very shabbily by the First Minister and other Labour AMs who recently cynically blocked an opportunity for her to present evidence to the Assembly’s Health Committee. She should be given a fair opportunity to provide evidence of what she sees are failings in the service.”

Sunday, 30 March 2014

War on Wales!

The following is a letter to the Daily Post in response to an article quoting Carwyn Jones accusing Westminster politicians of a 'War on Wales' following Cameron and other's recent attacks on the performance of the Welsh Government:

Dear Editor,

Your article "War on Wales" (Post, March 28th) is another perfect example of Welsh Labour spin and hypocrisy. They have spent the last four years blaming all and sundry for the austerity measures, forgetting of course a certain Gordon Brown who got us in this mess in the first place.

Now that Westminster politicians are fighting back, Welsh Labour who have just woken up from their complacent comatose state cry foul and go on the attack against all those who decry their woeful management of Welsh public services, and that includes of course one of their own.

We must remember it is not just the government in Westminster who are critical of the Welsh Government's performance but also the respected Labour backbench MP, Ann Clwyd who has personal experience of failings in the Welsh NHS and who has been 'gagged' by her own colleagues in the Assembly from giving evidence to the Health Committee.

The Welsh Government should seek to put their own house in order before they seek to stifle debate.
Arfon Jones,

Sunday, 23 March 2014

The objectivity of the Public Services Ombudsman for Wales.

Following a recent meeting of Wrexham CBC, I made a complaint against another Councillor from the authority that he/she had breached the Councillors Code of Conduct. I cannot elaborate as the Ombudsman imposes gagging orders on making complaints public. A decision was rapidly made not to investigate my complaint and reasons were laid out, which I accept. However contained within the letter was the following paragraph:
I would however like to take this opportunity to remind you of your obligations under the Code of Conduct, specifically paragraph 6(1)(d) "You must not make vexatious, malicious or frivolous complaints against other members or anyone who works for, or on behalf of, your authority."
So you ask yourself, where did that come from? The answer seems obvious, it came from the Councillor complained of initially in his/her response or an officer acting for him/her.

Frankly, I would argue that my complaint was made in 'good faith' and having chosen to investigate and dismiss the original complaint by me, the Ombudsman then seems to uphold a 'counter complaint' which I have not seen or have commented on,  that I have breached the Code of Conduct for making the complaint in the first place.

This is a perverse way of conducting investigations and will do nothing to encourage Councillors from reporting 'perceived breaches' of the Code of Conduct to the Ombudsman in future.

Unfortunately it seems that I will have no recourse to see the response to the initial complaint as the Freedom of Information Act does not apply to big chunks of the law governing how the Ombudsman operates.

In the interests of fairness and impartiality this is something that legislators need to rectify.

Why you should vote Plaid Cymru in the European Elections.

This is a letter I have sent to the Daily Post and Western Mail today regarding the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. I have tried to make it as succinct and as understandable as I can, I don't know whether I've succeeded!

Dear Editor,

I recently wrote to all four Welsh MEP's to ascertain their position on a little known and secretive trade treaty currently being negotiated between the EU and the US called the TTIP or the Transatlantic Trade & Investment Partnership.

The negotiations around this so called trade treaty is shrouded in secrecy for a reason and that reason is its negative implications for the public good of the people of the European Union including Wales. The only beneficiaries of this treaty are the profit margins of transatlantic corporations.

The top priority of the treaty negotiations is to reduce 'regulatory barriers' in Europe to the levels in the US, which would mean LESS employment protection, social welfare, food safety standards, use of toxic chemicals and other environmental protections.

The European Commission have actually admitted that implementation will bring, "prolonged and substantial dislocation to European workers as companies will be encouraged to source goods and services from US states where Labour standards are lower and trade union rights are non-existent." 

Three replies to my letter were received, the Labour and Tory MEP expressed support for the treaty, albeit with differing degrees of enthusiasm. The UKIP MEP unsurprisingly failed to respond whilst Plaid Cymru's Jill Evans was the only one to identify the concerns and dangers that implementing of this treaty would have on the Welsh national interest.

This is further evidence that Plaid Cymru along with their partners in the European Free Alliance are the only Welsh party to stand up to protect Welsh workers and small businesses. 

Arfon Jones, 

Monday, 17 March 2014

Fracking protest camp set up

A protest camp has been just been set up at Kingsmarsh, Farndon (near Wrexham but just in England) where exploratory drilling for coal bed methane is happening right now.
What's wrong with coal bed methane? Just about everything. 

The same company, Dart Energy, is currently applying for planning permission for a similar operation in Wrexham.
If allowed to go ahead, we face drilling and fracking operations all over the country, with all the associated problems these will bring. In the words of one placard yesterday, "Once you frack, you can never go back."

Here's more information about resistance to fracking and other extreme energy extraction methods in Britain:

The camp address:
Kingsmarsh, Farndon, Chester, CH3 6NF.
The drilling rig can clearly be seen from the A534 Wrexham to Broxton road.
The lane is marked by a Kingsmarsh B&B sign at the end and the camp is near the site gate, a few hundred yards up the lane.

The Kingsmarsh camp is calling for urgent donations of:
camping equipment, bedding, cooking equipment, firewood, pallets, tarps, hammer, nails, hand saw, screwdriver, screws, vegetarian meals, food supplies, tea, coffee, tobacco... or just call down there and see what they need.

Tuesday, 4 March 2014

The Tories and Europe.

I really struggle to follow British Conservatives's rationale for leaving Europe or even wanting an in out referendum on the one hand; and refusing to cut the European budget on the other. 

George Monbiot sums up the contradiction in their stance nicely in his weekly Guardian column:
In July 2013 the British government imposed a £26,000 cap on the total benefits a household can receive. In the same month it was pursuing a different policy in urgent discussions in Brussels: fighting tooth and nail to prevent the imposition of a proposed cap precisely 10 times that size (€300,000, or £260,000). The European commission wanted this to be as much money as a single farmer could receive in subsidies. The British government was having none of it.It won, with the result that this measure is now discretionary – member states can decide whether or not to cap farmers' benefits. Unsurprisingly, the British government has decided not to. The biggest 174 landowners in England take £120m between them. A €300,000 cap would have saved about £70m.

Monday, 3 March 2014

Fracking plan under Wrecsam put on hold

Wrecsam's planning authority has tonight deferred plans to allow an Australian multinational firm to test underground seams beneath the town for methane gas.

 Councillors may have decided not to press ahead in light of the weight of public opinion and concerns that the drilling would disturb the Gresford colliery seams, where the bodies of 266 men and boys still lie after the 1934 mining disaster. There are other, broader environmental concerns about polluting the water table and nearby rivers both during the testing operation and the consequences of the testing leading to full-scale exploration for coal bed methane.

Thursday, 27 February 2014

'Enough is enough' - 27% housing growth plan condemned

Plaid Cymru campaigners have branded a plan to increase Wrexham's population by 26,300 - 20% - within 20 years as "ludicrous".

New population projections show that the North Wales population is expected to rise by 38,600 by 2036 with two thirds of that projected growth in just one county - Wrexham. The numbers of homes is expected to rise by 27%, the highest outside Cardiff.
 Plaid Cymru candidate for Wrexham Carrie Harper said:
"We've been battling against these Welsh Government population and housing projections for some years now. They are completely at odds with local need and I challenge anyone in the Welsh Government to explain why Wrexham is going to see such a dramatic population growth - which is clearly not a natural growth - when neighbouring counties such as Flintshire and Denbighshire are virtually static. 
 "This seems to be more about enabling big housing developers to build large new commuter estates along the A483 than creating sustainable communities that have adequate jobs, schools and other services for the population. 
 "It's somewhat ironic that these ludicrous projections are being made public the day after news emerges of Plas Madoc Leisure Centre and other community facilities being closed. Other services are also being cut or are already full. Where are all these new people meant to send their kids to school? Where will they access health and other public services? How will the roads and other infrastructure cope, especially as we are seeing public transport being cut back? This has the makings of a disaster for the people of Wrexham, who have not been consulted on this and are expected to put up with their green fields and playing areas being Tarmaced by developers.
 "It's time to say enough is enough. We have seen a huge increase in the number of homes in the area - many of which are not affordable and way beyond the pockets of local people. We need a new style of planning system that starts with the local community assessing its local needs in terms of housing, work and services and then feeding that into a county-wide and nationwide picture. That way we can assess demand and plan for growth where it is needed.
 "This system just opens the floodgates for developers to build where they want without regard for the people and the impact their housing estates will have on existing villages and towns."

Jill Evans, Plaid Cymru's MEP, has also hit out at the population projections:

"Today’s figures show a significant change from the projections published in 2008. Projected demand in some places has almost halved. It’s important that Local Authorities are able to reflect this in their plans."The Local Development Plans drawn up by Local Authorities are based on inaccurate data, and it’s important now that they are able to adjust these plans in light of the revised statistics. The Welsh Government should allow Local Authorities to revisit their LDPs and adjust them to meet the new projected local needs."Housing demand is still going up and we need to work fast to meet that demand. But that needs to be done sensitively and in line with the local area."While we need to build hundreds of new homes all over Wales over the coming years, we can’t be brazen about this."Plaid Cymru is clear that this means building the right kind of homes in the right places, and at the right prices. Getting the balance right in our communities is crucial, and it’s important that our Local Authorities are allowed to meet local needs."

Wrexham Council - A 'Closed Shop'

This is a letter I sent to the Daily Post following last night's Wrexham CBC Full Council meeting:

Dear Editor,

When opposition Councillors presented their alternative budget at Wrexham Council's meeting last night they were subject to criticism from the Council Leader for not engaging with the budget setting process over the previous 12 months. That was manifestly untrue as we have consistently made suggestions on how to make savings with Consultants and the Mayor being just two suggestions. The truth of the matter is that Wrexham Council is a 'closed shop' with views of backbench Councillors being regularly ignored and all decisions being made by a handful of well paid Councillors heavily influenced by officers.

Many Councillors tried to make the point that Wrexham Council were lacking openness and transparency in their decision making but were berated and attacked by members of the Labour/Tory coalition.

Personally I am glad so many members of the public were present to witness how the current administration operate, I am sure they will agree that it did not show Wrexham Council in a good light.

Councillor Arfon Jones. 

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

The Magnificent Seven

Public meeting: Save Plas Madoc Leisure Centre
7.30pm, Air Products Social Club, Acrefair
Thursday, 20 February

Mass lobby before full council meeting to vote on the budget (and Plas Madoc closure):
6pm, Llwyn Isaf outside the Guildhall
Wednesday, 26 February

Saturday, 8 February 2014

How many commissioned services?

At a recent workshop of Wrexham Council on Commissioned services I posed the following question to a senior officer:

How many services do Wrexham Council commission from the third or not for profit sector and what is the total value?

The answer I had was, "About 180" and "With a value of about £8 million"

Now bearing in mind that this was a workshop on the subject I asked the question one would have expected an 'exact' response not an 'about' response, particularly as we are talking taxpayers money here.

But what makes this answer particularly revealing is the fact that it doesn't correspond to answers to TWO previous Freedom of Information requests on the same subject.

The first request can be found on the What Do They Know website which shows that in 2013/14 Wrexham Council commissioned services from 120 organisations with a total value of £6.9 million.

Another FOIA request asked similar questions but for financial year 2012/13, so is not strictly comparable but this figure SHOULD be the most accurate because this figure SHOULD be in the Council's Statement of Accounts for 2012/13 which have been audited and approved by the Wales Audit Office. This FOIA response showed that Wrexham Council had 195 funding agreements with a a total value of just over £7 million.

These anomalies pose a whole host of questions for our Audit Committee and the Wales Audit Office to ask before we approve the 2013/14 accounts in September this year.

Friday, 7 February 2014

Fund Plas Madoc for next five years – Plaid Cymru

Gone in 60 days?

Calls have been made for Wrexham Council to fund Plas Madoc Leisure Centre for five years while a community enterprise is set up to run the centre – otherwise it will be gone in 60 days.

 Mabon ap Gwynfor, a regular user of the centre and speaking on behalf of Plaid Cymru in Clwyd South, said: 

“The proposal to set up a community enterprise to run Plas Madoc is an interesting one that needs further exploration. Anyone who attended the two demos at Plas Madoc and outside the Guildhall, as I have, will know the strength of feeling.
“But, as someone who was involved in setting up a community venture from scratch, I know from experience how much time it takes. Before the community and staff can make any meaningful decision on this, we need to have a full structural survey, a comprehensive repairs and maintenance schedule, details of employment rights and responsibilities and a fully costed business plan. 
“There’s also the little matter of finding a way to bridge the current £500,000 annual deficit. Yes, there may be grants available but grants are dependent on business plans. They will not be available in 60 days. 
“I note that the council leader says that Wrexham Council doesn’t have the capability to run the centre. With that in mind, I have to ask him how he thinks a community enterprise with no additional income stream would do so. I’m concerned that the council is setting the community to fail and would rather have guarantees that it will continue to fund the centre. 
“If it won’t do that and the council genuinely wants Plas Madoc to stay open and succeed, it has to provide a parachute to enable the community to make this scheme work.  
“When the council was withdrawing funding from The Venture and Caia Park Partnership, it did so over a number of years with a gradual taper. Why isn’t this being proposed for Plas Madoc? Why is Plas Madoc only being offered 60 days’ notice?”
 Llyr Gruffydd, Plaid Cymru’s North Wales AM (pictured with his kids at the protest), said:
Like the rest of the local community, I want to see Plas Madoc stay open and with a clear funding structure to help it stay open. The strength of feeling from campaigners suggests there is the appetite for a community-run centre but that would clearly take some time to set up.  
“The council must now show some support for the community, which feels badly let down by this hurried and frankly chaotic consultation. It makes sense to provide the guarantee of tapered funding while a community enterprise is established to run Plas Madoc. If they won’t provide that sort of funding, then it’s clear that talk of giving it to the community is just a bluff.”

Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Wrexham Council stands accused of ignoring protest groups

From Today's Leader:
A ROW has erupted over the way Wrexham Council treats campaigning members of the public.
Cllr Arfon Jones, who represents Plaid Cymru, has accused the local authority of ignoring protesters who are trying to save Plas Madoc Leisure Centre from closure.
However council leader Neil Rogers has rejected Cllr Jones’ comments and challenged him to submit an alternative budget making the necessary financial savings.
Cllr Jones said: “The Save Plas Madoc campaign group has tried and tried to have their voices heard, only to be blocked at every step of the way by this administration and its officers.
“They were prevented in asking questions at January’s executive board, despite complying with the constitution.
“They emailed questions to senior officers more than a fortnight ago and are still awaiting a reply.
“Next week members of the public will be barred from a workshop for members that will discuss the leisure review and more specifically the revelations of the haphazard way that the consultants have undertook the review.”
Cllr Jones added: “We appreciate savings have to be made and the administration has chosen to cut frontline services rather than the bureaucracy that is Wrexham Council. That was their decision and they should have the courage to face the public to justify that decision.
“The taxpaying public is not the enemy and the authority should not be circling the wagons to prevent them getting access to the democratic process.”
However in response Labour Cllr Rogers said: “I refute the allegation that Wrexham Council is defensive in the face of intense public criticism.
“Cllr Jones is fully aware of a discussion which took place with members, which he was present at, with the Sports Consultancy and I would ask him to revisit the discussion at this meeting.
“Cllr Jones also accuses the council of trying to block the Save Plas Madoc campaign at every stage when we have already extended the consultation end date to January 31 to allow as many people as possible to make their views known to us.
“We have not prevented questions being asked. This item will be discussed at the next meeting of executive board on February 11 and any member or member of the public can submit questions to be asked at that meeting.
“Cllr Jones also knows only too well that workshops are confidential and members will be discussing the consultants’ report only.
“He further goes on to say he appreciates savings have to be made and in light of these comments I offer him the opportunity to submit an alternative budget to make the savings necessary.”

Monday, 27 January 2014

Wrecsam Council accused of running away from public over leisure centre cuts

Labour-led Wrecsam Council has been accused of running away from scrutiny in the face of intense public criticism by campaign groups fighting cuts to front-line services. 

The criticism was levelled by Councillor Arfon Jones, of Plaid Cymru. He said: "The Save Plas Madoc campaign group have tried and tried to have their voices heard only to be blocked at every step of the way by this administration and its officers. 

 "They were prevented from asking questions at January's Executive Board despite complying with the constitution; they have emailed questions to senior officers more than a fortnight ago and are still awaiting a reply; next week members of the public will be barred from a workshop for members that will discuss the Leisure Review and more specifically the revelations of the haphazard way that the consultants have undertook the review."

Cllr Jones went on to say: "There are choices to made over making savings - this administration has chosen to cut front-line services rather than bureaucracy at Wrecsam Council. That was their decision and they should have the courage to face the public to justify that decision. 

 "The tax-paying public are not the enemy and the authority should not be 'circling the wagons' to prevent them getting access to the democratic process."

• Campaigners against the closure plans will be outside the Guildhall on Tuesday, February 4th at 1pm and also collecting names on the petition in Queen Square on Saturday, February 1st from 11am-1pm. Come and join us!