The National Assembly's petitions committee came to Wrecsam today. It's an innovation that allows Welsh citizens to raise their concerns directly with their representatives and this was a well-attended session.
No surprises there - first up was a evidence regarding a petition of nearly 20,000 names opposing the West cheshire/North East Wales sub-regional strategy.
Carrie Harper, Pol Wong and myself spoke for 15 minutes and then answered questions from the committee, arguing that the impact of the strategy on Wrecsam, Flintshire and Denbighshire was negative in terms of housing, local services, communities, Welsh identity, the environment and our carbon footprint. The key argument was that this was to the detriment of Assembly policies and that this was why the Assembly should reconsider its role in the strategy. We also wanted a specific North-east Wales Spatial Plan to reflect the needs of our communities and local people, wherever they come from originally.
In response, Cllr Dennis Knowles (leader of Wirral Council and chair of the Mersey Dee Alliance) droned on about the strategy for the full 15 minutes.
Backing him up were Wrecsam Council leader Aled Roberts and Flintshire's deputy leader Tony Sharps.
Sharps made an, er, interesting contribution after initially admitting that he hadn't prepared as he wasn't expecting questions. Apparently we need more people moving into north-east Wales because we don't have the skills to meet demand at Airbus and other factories in Flintshire. That'll be an eye-opener to the many hundreds of skilled local engineering workers who have lost their jobs in the past year. It also begs the question of what Airbus's own extensive apprenticeship scheme is doing if they can't meet demand at the plant.
Aled Roberts claimed that Network Rail only want to deliver the Bidston-Deeside part of the rail line, which was news to everyone present.
The feedback after the meeting from friend and neutral alike was very positive. It's safe to say this was far more constructive debate than last February's Wrecsam Council scrutiny committee, when three councillors opposed the council's role in the Mersey-Dee Alliance. The questioning from the petitions committee was sharp and exposed many of the holes in the sub-regional strategy.
Whether that's enough to change the Assembly on this matter remains to be seen, but the pressure put on defenders of the current unsustainable strategy is mounting.