Thursday, 21 August 2014

Squeaky bum time for the British establishment.

One thing you can say about Tommy Sheridan is that he doesn't 'beat about the bush' and he was at his 'tub thumping best' last night before a capacity crowd in Coatbridge. He had that many 'one liners' it was difficult to keep up with them, but his most memorable for me was, 'it's squeaky bum time for the British establishment' referring of course to Westminster  'scraping the bottom of the barrel' in getting other foreign leaders to try and influence the referendum result i.e Tony Abbott, Barack Obama, and the Chinese Premier that none of us could remember his name. Tommy's answer to Obama was, if independence is good enough for the US, it's good enough for Scotland!

The essence of Tommy Sheridan's argument was all economic and social, he claimed that it was those that weren't struggling were the ones who wished to retain the status quo whilst those that were struggling financially by Tory cuts were those who demanded change and were going to vote Yes. It was a class war and a Yes vote by the working class of Scotland was in their economic interest; whilst a No vote meant continued austerity and hardship. The UK is not OK because the unelected government in Westminster were punishing the poor for the mistakes of the rich. The 200 so called stars who signed the letter calling for a no vote were doing the bidding of the UK government and as Tommy described 'millionaires who are intervening because the result is too close to call and they're kicking themselves for letting it get this far.'

Tommy then went to describe the effects of austerity on Scotland, 25% of children living in poverty,
1 in 6 pensioners living in poverty and the difference between top and bottom earners had increased from 43 x in 1998 to 143x in 2014. He said that austerity measures would get worst with a no vote including big cuts to the NHS in Scotland as a consequence of reduced funding on the NHS in England and a reduction in the Barnett consequential. If we were really to become better together why are we not better now? The answer is clear, 'the poor are being punished for the mistakes of the rich.'

In calling for a yes vote, Tommy reminded the audience that the last time Scotland elected a Tory government was 1951, but had been ruled by a Tory administration unelected by Scottish voters for 35 years since then, that was unacceptable and a yes vote will, '...consign the Tories in Scotland to panda status'

I very much doubt if there were any neutral or undecided voters left in the hall at the end of Tommy's speech and hand on heart I would think the vast majority would be voting yes.

Finally, this was Tommy's 80th Hope Over Fear meeting and if Scotland vote for independence the people of Scotland will owe him an immense debt of gratitude for his unrelentless campaigning and his deep sense of commitment and enthusiasm for seeing a better more equal Scotland.

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Independence is a 'normal' state of affairs.

These were the words Nicola Sturgeon used to open a Yes Scotland campaign meeting at Lochgelly, Fife, before a massive audience of four hundred and sixty people last night. Independence is the 'normal' state of affairs because since World War II the number of independence nations in the world has increased from 50 to 200, none of whom have ever gone back to be ruled by their imperial masters.

Nicola's argument for independence rested on two points; Can we do it, and, Why should we do it?

Can we do it : Like in Wales many of the apologists in the Better Together camp argue that Scotland is too too small, too weak and too poor for independence. Nicola demolished that argument by quoting Scotland's continuing disproportionate contribution to Scientific inventions i.e. Dolly the sheep! Scotland would not be the smallest independent nation by any means and at present Scotland would have the 14th highest GDP contribution in the world whilst zither UK is at 18th place.
The other point the 'cynics' make is that Scotland is over dependant on oil; which is not true! Oil makes up 15% of Scotland's GDP, oil is a bonus, Scotland is not dependant on it, there are other sectors that earn Scotland a vast amount of money, Food and Drink, Life Sciences and Renewable Energy to name just a few. A further argument by 'Better Together ' is that Scotland cannot afford its welfare bill! Again not true, Scotland us not subsidised, all it's welfare and pensions is fully funded by Scottish taxation.

Why should we do it : We should do it because decisions about Scotland should be made in Scotland by people elected by the people of Scotland and not by a party 600 miles away which has never been elected by the people of Scotland. Independence is not a magic wand and we shall make mistakes in an independent Scotland but at least it will be mistakes made by people elected by the Scottish people. With independence comes the ability to use Scottish resources in the way we believe they should be used, to protect public services from austerity cuts and redirect spending away from nuclear weapons to public services. Scotland decides our priorities and not Westminster.
To properly serve the people of Scotland we need to access ALL the levers of economic policy. The Social Security system has been dismantled by a government hardly represented in Scotland and in opposition to the wishes of the Scottish people. We need to prioritise how we spend our resources.
We are not anti Tory, we are pro democracy, we want the government we vote for.

She finished with a plea, this is a massive opportunity for Scotland, let's take this opportunity we may not get another one.

There then followed an hour of questions from the NHS to Maritime law, Scottish defence to the only question on currency, which were all answered in a confident and competent manner, she came over as being very honest in her answers. Irrespective of one's political allegiances one would have to have been extremely partisan not to be impressed by this polished performance.

Saturday, 9 August 2014

Wrecsam protesters occupy Barclays in solidarity with Gaza

For the third weekend running, Wales for Gaza campaigners organised a protest in Wrecsam this Saturday. This coincided with a huge demo in London and so organisers decided to try something a bit different today by staging an occupation of Barclays, one of a number of UK businesses that trade with Israel. 
 About 30 protesters made their way peacefully into the bank and sat down. More campaigners stayed outside to let people know what was happening.
 A statement by campaigners, they said: 
"We targetted Barclays because it invests in the arms trade and specifically in El-Bit, an Israeli defence company that provides drones and military systems that have been used to bomb Gaza."
 Contrary to some reports, protesters did not close down the bank. It was staff who closed the doors - when they started letting people in again, many came in specifically to donate to Medical Aid for Palestine! 

 The police arrived after half an hour and protesters refused to leave. The police accepted the situation and campaigners then took a collective decision to leave as peacefully as they had arrived, having made their point and ensured that Wrecsam was playing its part in the campaign for Gaza.

• So far more than £450 has been raised for Gaza in Wrecsam.

Thursday, 7 August 2014

The Prison Saga!

Letter sent to the Daily Post and Leader today:

Dear Editor,

Concerns have been expressed recently as to whether health services in North East Wales are sufficiently robust to cope with the new prison population of 2200 inmates in Wrecsam and we have had no reassurances that sufficient resources will be put into this area.

Likewise, with Policing, it was shocking to hear the North Wales Police & Crime Commissioner, Winston Roddick, publicly admit that he didn't have a clue what the additional policing implications of this prison would be and obviously he has not identified additional resources for the purpose.

These two examples begs the question of exactly what the Ministry of Justice led strategic planning group for this prison are actually doing in terms of ensuring a robust infrastructure to cope with the extra demands of the prison population, many of whom will be vulnerable individuals.


Councillor Arfon Jones.

Deiseb - M4 - Petition.

Arwyddwch y ddeiseb bwysig yma ynglyn a gwastraff arian ar yr M4 yng Nghasnewydd.

Please sign this important petition to oppose the Welsh Government's decision to waste taxpayers money on a white elephant project to ease congestion around Newport.

Atal cynllun yr M4 newydd  / Reverse decision on new M4 Petition | GoPetition

Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Planning Speech

The following speech is to object to a planning application by Castlemead Homes to build 20 homes on land which is 'outside of settlement' and in the 'green barrier'. Planning Officers recommended the grant of this application on the basis that Wrexham has no Local Development Plan and there is no 5 year Land Supply as calculated by the Joint Housing Land Availability Studies and as such planners argue that Technical Advice Note 1 overrides local policies:

I don’t know about members of the committee but the one thing that struck me in reading this report was the ‘doubts’ expressed therein by Planning Officers that  they are recommending that you grant this application even though it conflicts with, not one, not two but three of our existing valid Planning policies. They seem to find themselves stuck between a rock and a hard place, either complying with policies or addressing land supply issues.

However, before I try to dismantle the arguments for recommending this application perhaps you will allow me to raise some points not included in the report.

I refer to the discussion that took place at the Planning Policy Panel on the 8th May 2014, where this site was classed as ‘Ruled Out’ in the Candidate Sites list for consideration for inclusion in the LDP (Site Reference is GWE07CS, Page 96 of 211) You seriously cannot have a Planning Policy officer discounting this site in the LDP and another Planning Officer recommending granting an application to develop… this makes a mockery of the development plan process.

Another document considered at that meeting was the Brownfield capacity of individual settlements. The brownfield capacity of Gwersyllt is 100 units; this begs the question why are officers are recommending building 20 houses out of settlement and in a green barrier whilst we have capacity for 100 houses on brownfield sites, but as we all know  it is cheaper for developers to build in the green barrier than brownfield sites because of remediation for contamination. This I believe is an issue of such significance so as to justify refusal.

The next point I wish to make relates to the concept of ‘PREMATURITY’, yes that’s a new one on me as well. The reference point for this is Paragraph 2.6.3 Planning Policy Wales (Chapter 2 – Development Plans) and I quote:

“Questions of prematurity may arise where an LDP is in preparation but the plan has not yet been adopted. In these circumstances refusing planning permission on grounds of prematurity may be justifiable in respect of development proposals which are individually so substantial, OR WHOSE CUMULATIVE EFFECT WOULD BE SO SIGNIFICANT that to grant permission would predetermine decisions… which ought properly to be taken in the LDP context. Refusal will therefore not usually be justified EXCEPT in cases where a development proposal goes to the HEART OF A PLAN.

I would contend that if this application is granted it WILL go to the HEART of Wrexham’s LDP considerations because at this moment in time Wrexham’s policies DO NOT ALLOW building outside of settlement or in the green barrier and if you grant this application you will be predetermining what is in the final LDP. It is my understanding that PINS have upheld a decision by yourselves to refuse to allow building outside of settlement and in a green barrier in Penycae last year.

If you grant this application you will have set a precedent and open the floodgates for more applications to build outside our plans that PROHIBIT building outside of settlement and in the green barrier. This is yet again a significant issue to justify refusal.

I will now move onto the officer’s comments for justifying his recommendation which relates mainly to TAN1 and Joint Housing Land Availability Study (JHLAS). The planning officer in his report (Page 42) states that in TAN1 that, if there is less than 5 years land supply then, “the need to increase supply should be given considerable weight.” 

WCBC own statement in the JHLAS (2013) says:

“The need to increase the 5 year supply will not override the need to take account of all other planning constraints and material considerations” (Paragraph 3.5)

There is also a need to be aware that Land supply housing figures changes from year to year as the Planning Inspectorate keeps moving the goalposts. The following quote, Paragraph 3.3 of WCBC JHLAS exemplifies the unreliability of the figures:

“WCBC acknowledges that the land supply, as based upon past build rates, is below the necessary 5 years and is aware of the requirement in such cases to take appropriate steps to increase the land supply as set out in TAN1.  However, in calculating the 5 year land supply, WCBC maintain that past completion rates should remain as 5 years and not 10 years as set out in the 2012 guidance.  As such this would result in a land supply of 4.59 years not 3.44 years and would be more reflective of market conditions.  This will also allow for a direct comparison with earlier JHLASs.  Furthermore, during the last 10 years, particularly between the periods 2006-2007 and 2007-2008, there were exceptionally high levels of housing completions where 948 units and 606 units were built respectively.  As this was during a boom period in the economy it distorts the average number of completions, particularly when it is highly unlikely that such a level of development will occur over the next few years.  The Council considers that the average completions over the past five years represent a more accurate picture of building trends.”

The JHLAS also states that are 850 units from the old UDP which expired in 2011 which are still undeveloped, nearly all these have Planning Permission but have not been brought forward because of poor market conditions. Some of these units HAVE NOT been included in the Land supply figures.

What this basically means is that you are being asked to grant planning permission to an out of settlement plot whilst there are over 150 units of the 850 units from the UDP which are NOT included in the Land Supply figures. We shouldn’t be granting planning permission based on a shortage of 5 year land supply just because developers can’t be bothered to develop land because they can’t make enough money out of them; in circumstances such as these we need to stick to the policies we have
I would also like to add to this debate comments made by Bob Dewey a respected Planning Consultant on behalf of the residents of Chestnut Court:

“A recent application in Penycae for residential development in a green barrier was rejected on appeal by the inspector who made it clear that in his view the development was contrary to both national and local policies for green barriers and (perhaps most significantly) that green barriers should only be reviewed as part of the development plan process. He also indicated that DESPITE the lack of a 5 year supply, green barriers should not be released.”
“… TAN1 clearly states that whilst the need to increase (housing) supply is worthy of considerable weight, it is only acceptable… ‘provided the development otherwise comply with plan policies.’

On the question of sustainable development Mr Dewey goes on to say, “ The applicant’s assertion that the Welsh Government has a presumption in favour of sustainable development ignores the proviso in Planning Policy Wales which makes such a presumption conditional upon there being no adopted development plan, or policies being outdated or superseded or there being no relevant policies. Clearly , none of these provisos is applicable and thus there is no presumption in favour of the development.

In concluding can I make another two brief points:
  1. Planning Policy Panel which some of you are members of are currently looking at the number of units on brownfield sites and I believe that this work should be completed before decision on green barrier and out of settlement development is made.
  2.  When the Planning Inspectorate rejected our draft LDP it was claimed that 8,000 houses over the life of the plan was insufficient and that we should plan for 12,000. Since then the 2011 Census has indicated that Wrexham CBC should project for an increase of 9,000 house which goes to show that projecting future build figures on past completions is flawed, unreliable and an inexact science which is  made even more so by changing the ‘goal posts’ from 5 years completions to 10 years to justify increasing the numbers of builds

I f you grant this application tonight you will have handed over responsibility for writing our Local Development Plan to the developers by setting a precedent and opened the floodgates to developing the green barrier, it will be a flood that will be difficult to turn back.

Please reject this application.

Please feel free to use any part of this speech to support objections to granting planning permission in the green barrier or outside of settlement and can I also suggest that you may wish to ask for a copy of you'r authority's JHLAS (Joint Housing Land Availability Study) which are currently being used by Planning Authorities to 'ride roughsod' over planning policies.

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Plas Madoc campaigners "kicked in the teeth" by councillors

The refusal by Labour, Tory and Democratic Independent councillors to support a proposal to help re-open Plas Madoc Leisure Centre has been described as a "kick in the teeth" by Plaid Cymru.

 Mabon ap Gwynfor, Plaid Cymru spokesperson for Clwyd South, said:
"Campaigners for the new Trust aiming to re-open Plas Madoc were given new hope last week when reports emerged that Labour councillors were going to back a £100,000 support package for the centre.
 "This was in response to a motion submitted by Wrexham Independent Group, who campaigned against the closure of Plas Madoc, to fund Splash Community Trust with £50,000 to allow them to re-open the centre.
 "So today's Executive Board could have undone some of the damage caused when the Labour-run council closed the centre in April. However, instead of new hope we had a new kick in the teeth as Labour, Tory and Democratic Independents lined up to vote down the amendment.
 "All the talk of Labour backing was just bluff and  bluster for the newspapers." 
Councillor David A Bithell, Leader of Wrexham Independent Group, said:
"Despite considerable opposition and public protests and a motion to give the trust a life line - Labour are trying to give Plas Madoc a slow death. Deferring this to September 9th is another nail in the coffin, time is running out before the bulldozers move in !

 "Labour and the Democratic Independents have let people down in Wrexham South and I hope that the voters will remember who closed Plas Madoc come the next election."

Monday, 4 August 2014

Special Care Baby Unit - Seven years of consistent campaigning

News that Betsi Cadwaladr Health Board is considering downgrading Wrecsam Maelor's Special Care Baby Unit to a midwife-led unit is another blow to the health service locally.

The news report reveals that the health board almost had to close the doors of the SCBU in Ysbyty Glan Clwyd recently due to recruitment problems with specialist doctors. This is where the Welsh Government opted to place the Sub-Regional Neonatal Intensive Care Centre for North Wales, having U-turned on its earlier decision to move the most critical intensive care cases to Arrowe Park on the Wirral.

The campaign locally to retain a full consultant-led SCBU in Wrecsam has been spearheaded by Cherish, the local neonatal charity, and fully supported by Plaid Wrecsam.

In fact, in a rare blast from the past, we've unearthed this SEVEN-YEAR-OLD story from an earlier version of this blog. If a week's a long time in politics, in blogging terms this is positively pre-historic.

Plaid's message has been consistent throughout that time - we want the best services delivered as local as possible. All along we've stood alongside parents, patients and staff who share our view. We accept that some acute services are best delivered at a specialist site but, if we accept that neonatal care is essentially an emergency service, then it has to be within easy reach of patients.

Saturday, 26 July 2014

Wrecsam rallies in solidarity with Gaza and Palestine

Today's Wrecsam rally in solidarity with the people of Gaza was capped by a lively march around the town, which certainly made people think about the 1000 people killed over the past fortnight.
There were speeches from Adam Phillips as well as messages of support from Aled Roberts AM and Ian Lucas MP. But the undoubted highlight was Sami, a 12-year-old boy who spoke from the heart about the plight of other children being killed in Gaza. It moved many to tears.

 Here's my speech to the rally:
 "Imagine you live in a strip of desert half the size of Anglesey, except there's 1.2m people living there. Imagine you've been herded there from all parts of Wales, where your families have lived for generations. You've had to leave on pain of death, many of your communities were bulldozed and people massacred. Imagine you have lived in this strip of land for generations, waiting to return to your home. The refugee camp that is the Gaza Strip has become a home for your children, your grandchildren, their children.
  Around your neck you have a key, your front door key, that you've clung onto since 1948 when you last locked that door. You dream of returning home. But instead of returning home, the people who kicked you out now text you to say you've got 10 minutes to leave your home before it's destroyed. You shelter in the UN-run school - it gets bombed. You go to the hospital - it gets bombed. These are no accidents - the Israeli army is one of the largest in the world and has huge resources to spy and monitor on activity in the Gaza strip. It knows exactly where and who it is targetting. This is the context for Palestinian militants launching pathetically ineffectual rocket attacks on Israel - 15,000 launched, 9 people killed over six years. They are nine people too many but these attacks are the slingshots against a Goliath. A rock hurled at a tank.  We're reaching some kind of end game now in Palestine. The Israeli hawks want to end Palestinian resistance once and for all, rather than let it fester on in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. For decades they have turned the screw slowly on these communities.  I last visited Palestine about 8 years ago - just the West Bank because Gaza was out of bounds. Even then it was like an open prison and the West Bank was little better. Among the places i went to was Bethlehem, a place we're all familiar with. It's as far from Jerusalem as Wrexham is from Chester but it can take half a day to enter because of military checkpoints and roadblocks.  A huge 30'-high concrete wall has been put up to separate the Palestinian West Bank from Israel  - it looks and feels like a prison with turrets all along to monitor the "inmates". You enter Bethlehem through a narrow turnstile with armed Israeli soldiers ready with their guns. Our guide took us to the family home on a hillside overlooking the town - it had a fantastic view but he had to keep the shutters down because Jewish settlers regularly fired from across the valley at his home. They wanted him and his family out so they could continue the colonisation of the West Bank.  That screw has been turned for generations and, unless we play our part, it will end with annhilation of an entire people. 800 dead in the past 10 days alone - enough is enough.  My biggest frustration today is that we've been here before… six years ago people in Wrecsam mobilised against another Israeli invasion of Gaza. Nothing was learned by Israel because they don't play by normal rules.  So what can we do? Boycott. Apartheid beaten by international boycott and internal resistance. Tell our politicians we don't want trade with an apartheid state. No arms, no exports, no football, no Eurovision... These are what makes Israel believe it's normal. But it's not normal to herd a million people into a refugee camp and bomb them to bits...  Let's challenge our politicians to stop Israel killing children. We can make a difference by our campaigning and by our actions."

Next Saturday will see another much-larger demo at 2pm in Queen's Square. Please spread the word.

Monday, 21 July 2014

Shale gas and ‘fracking’: examining the evidence

Press Release by the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health on Fracking for Unconventional Gas.

Scientists for Global Responsibility (SGR) and the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health (CIEH) have today published a report which reviews current evidence across a number of issues associated with shale gas extraction by hydraulic fracturing (fracking). These include environmental and public health aspects and socio-economic considerations.
Importantly, the report is an independent assessment which draws heavily on academic research. It highlights:
  • Major shortcomings in regulatory oversight regarding local environmental and public health risks.
  • The large potential for UK shale gas exploitation to undermine national and international efforts to tackle climate change.
  • The water-intensive nature of the fracking process which could cause water shortages in many areas.
The report also points out that, despite claims to the contrary, evidence of local environmental contamination from shale gas exploitation is well-reported in the scientific literature. However, extrapolation from the experience in the USA (where most fracking has been carried out to date) to the UK is not straightforward. Nevertheless, there is widespread concern that, even with strong regulation, the safety of fracking for the UK is in doubt.
Furthermore, the report highlights that local authorities and other regulators have undergone budget cuts, undermining their ability to provide adequate regulatory oversight. Yet paradoxically regulation is being presented as the way in which the process can be effectively managed to reduce the risks.
CIEH Chief Executive, Graham Jukes, OBE said: “The CIEH has consistently made the case for a full independent environmental impact assessment to be carried out on all shale gas extraction proposals before permission to drill is given.
‘In the enthusiasm to exploit new sources of energy we must assess and ensure that there are no unacceptable adverse impacts on the environment or on the health of people in the communities surrounding extraction sites. Despite central government encouragement for the process, local authorities should resist allowing shale gas extraction in their areas until they are satisfied on that point. We believe that there is currently insufficient evidence to provide such assurance for proposals in the UK and the precautionary principle should apply’
SGR Executive Director and co-author of the report, Dr Stuart Parkinson said: “The evidence we have gathered shows that exploiting yet another new source of fossil fuels – such as UK shale gas – is likely to further undermine efforts to tackle climate change. We need to focus on low carbon energy sources, especially renewables, together with concerted efforts to save energy.”

Sunday, 20 July 2014

#GazaJ19 London Protest : The Speeches.

Public Services.

Whilst I have never been a big fan of the Labour apparatchik and South Wales Police Commissioner, Alun Michael, I must commend and congratulate him on this occasion for not renewing a £3 million pound detention contract with G4S and keeping the business 'in house'. Whilst many of us were critical of the decision to establish Police Commissioners, many have indeed set their own course and gone against this government's decision to outsource public services and those actions should be welcomed.

Friday, 18 July 2014

Cymru'n Cefnogi Annibyniaeth | Wales Supporting Independence

£1bn splurged on Newport bypass: 'Time we had a government for the whole of Wales'

Letter to the Daily Post:

Dear Editor
News that the Labour Government in Cardiff has decided to splurge its entire capital spend on transport - £1 billion - on a 17-kilometre bypass for Newport is bad news for public transport and bad news for other much-needed road and rail projects in North Wales.
It's no surprise that the transport minister sneaked out the announcement in the final hour of the current session of Parliament without any chance for scrutiny or debate. 
There was a far cheaper and less environmentally damaging alternative "blue route" to the M4 bypass being proposed. This would also have been up and running more quickly than the "black route" Labour has opted for, in the teeth of opposition from Plaid Cymru and some of its own backbenchers.
 For us here in the North, this means no upgrade for the A55, no electrification of the North Wales coastal rail line and no proper dualling of the Wrexham-Saltney line.  As a result of this reckless decision, important alternatives have been put on hold.
It would appear the Cardiff Labour Government is only bothered about Cardiff transport problems. It's time we had a government of Wales for the whole of Wales - only Plaid Cymru can deliver that. 


Marc Jones

Thursday, 17 July 2014

Welcome to St Colin International Eisteddfod

One stupid letter deserves another I suppose.

The first stupid letter in the Leader was one calling for all placenames in Wales to be Welsh only. Now most placenames in Wales are Welsh and should be first on any signplace but others, like Prestatyn, are English in origin. There are numerous other examples that are in common parlance among Welsh speakers and non-Welsh speakers alike. In short, trying to impose a blanket ban would backfire.

Cue the stupid response:

The letter writer complains that having Welsh placenames only would mean foreign visitors would be unable to find places like, er, Llangollen.

Yes, that backwater that thousands of tourists fail to find because of its monoglot name. It's a disgrace! We need to begin an immediate campaign to rename Llangollen to make it easier for non-Welsh speakers to find the damned place. Llangollen means St Collen apparently. No, still too Welsh. How about St Colin?

PS I do quite like the idea of handing out Welsh dictionaries to visitors upon arrival.