Wednesday, 22 February 2012

New crossing to improve road safety

Cllr Marc Jones (right) pictured with Cllr Dave Bithell, lead member for environment and transport on Wrecsam Council.

Work is almost complete on the new zebra crossing on the Abenbury Road, which will go some way to making the road safer after a young girl's lucky escape two months ago. That accident spurred on the community and local councillor Marc Jones to organise an online petition as well as one that gathered hundreds of names on nearby estates.

Cllr Jones said:

"I'm very glad work is being done to make the road safer. The council has moved quickly on this issue to respond to community concerns and it shows what can be done when people work together.

"Work is also going ahead on the Cefn Road/Abenbury Road junction, which should also make that stretch of road safer by removing a dangerous traffic island and creating a roundabout at the junction.

"The bus stop has also been expanded so that children waiting for school buses in the mornings don't spill out onto the road as before."

Many children witnessed the accident in December, in which the girl was in collision with a car as she crossed the road from the nearby shop.

Cllr Jones said:

"When it's finished the crossing will, I hope, slow down drivers and allow pedestrians of all ages to cross the road more safely. Anything that reduces speeds on this stretch of road, which is between two very built-up areas with many young children crossing to go to the shop or playing fields, has to be a good thing."

Friday, 17 February 2012

Tackling fuel poverty a priority for Plaid - £500,000 extra for new heating

Plaid Cymru Councillor Arfon Jones has called on Wrecsam Council to do more to assist those in fuel poverty by increasing the amount of money allocated to heating council houses by half a million pounds this year.

Wrecsam Council’s Executive Board will discuss how they will allocate the £13 million Housing Capital Programme next Tuesday. Officers have recommended that £2.1 million is spent on heating from the Housing Revenue Account, but Councillor Jones wants to increase that to £2.6 million to speed up gas installations so that hundreds of houses and flats currently heated by inefficient Economy Seven Storage Heaters are replaced before next winter.

Cllr Jones, who represents Gwersyllt West, said:
“We know that hypothermia is a big killer and that fuel poverty is an issue for many of our tenants. Despite that, we are allowing some tenants to spend up to half of their disposable income on expensive and inefficient electrical storage heaters. We should allocate whatever resources that are necessary to convert the hundreds of flats and houses to either gas or air source heat pumps before next winter.

"We are neglecting our responsibilities to our tenants by not addressing the question of fuel poverty especially as there are cheaper alternatives available. The potential savings for a four-bedroomed house is a whopping £500 a year.”

Cllr Jones added:
“I have asked my colleagues on the Executive Board to amend the officers' recommendations and to increase the budget for heating to £2.6 million with the additional money coming from the budget for porches and window surrounds. This would improve the quality of life for hundreds of our tenants.”

Thursday, 16 February 2012

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Please sir, can we have some more? Croneyism vs Cooperatives

The AWEMA scandal that has arisen regarding the mis-spending of millions of Welsh Government funds is a direct result of the croney culture that Labour in Wales has encouraged over decades.
To make matters worse the charity was run by Labour activists who, despite numerous criticisms over the years, were never challenged by their fellow Labour members in charge of the Welsh Government.
Similar criticisms can be made of the lack of governance and controls over Communities First projects such as the one in Plas Madoc, where the full extent of the failure to spend money intended for one of Wales's poorest communities has still not been properly revealed.
Communities First is a Labour flagship policy for Wales, spending millions in our poorest areas without any meaningful measure of success or failure. At its best, it has empowered people in those communities; at its worst it has entrenched the dependency culture that sees communities rely on handouts and grants instead of developing their own initiatives and relying on their own abilities.
By contrast to this top-down approach, there is growing trend towards community cooperatives in Wales as witnessed by the recent opening of Saith Seren, the Welsh Centre in Wrecsam, the Pengwern venture in Llan Ffestiniog and now the 12-strong cooperative behind Cwrw Llyn (a new microbrewery on the Llyn peninsula).
These are the tip of a grassroots iceberg that is sprouting up in areas where the market has failed. It is particularly marked in the pub trade, where rampant pubco capitalism is wrecking traditional boozers and community pubs.
But football fans, another group of people who have suffered greatly at the hands of vulture capitalism in recent years, have also turned to cooperatives with both Swansea and Wrecsam fans buying their clubs and securing their future.
Where communities and groups realise there are opportunities (and crucially have access to some funding, usually their own), then these grassroots DIY ventures can quickly get off the ground and thrive. They are not reliant on the whims of grant providers, who often make the recipients jump through more hoops than its worth. They do not get de-railed by bureaucracy. They do not have to belong to the right political party to secure that funding.
It would be an interesting research project to assess how many Labour Party members and supporters head up the various quangos and charities that receive Welsh Government largesse. This culture of croneyism is centralist state control of the worst kind. It invites people to bring their begging bowl to the top table.
It can be challenged by the kind of community cooperativism that is flourishing in many parts of Wales.

Monday, 13 February 2012

Comrade Battle rewarded!

I don't suppose it should come as any surprise that another Labour apparatchik lands a plumb and well paid job as Chair of the Cardiff and Vale University Health Board.
Maria Battle is the Senior Director of Consumer Focus Wales where she is the leader of the independent consumer rights champion with the focus on vulnerable consumers. Maria was formerly the Deputy/Acting Childrens Commissioner for Wales and Director of Age Concern Ceredigion.

Ms Battle is a long standing Labourite having stood twice for Labour in Ceredigion both for the Assembly and for Westminster in the 2000 by-election.

HT to @RedwinaHartski for the tip, "Pleased to appoint yet another Party loyalist to chair yet another public body."

Saturday, 11 February 2012

Radio Ceredigion.

Cefnogwch ymdrech Radio Ceredigion 2012 Cyf i ennill y drwydded i redeg Radio Ceredigion fel fod y gwasanaeth a ddarperir yn adlewyrchu natur ddwyieithog yr ardal.

Dyma arghymellion Cymuned i OFCOM:
Mae'n hanfodol i ardal Ceredigion bod ysytyriaeth ddofn o natur y sir yn elfen greiddiol wrth gloriannu ceisiadau trwydded Town & Country a Radio Ceredigion 2012 cyf.

Yn ôl eich canllawiau eich hunain, diben radio lleol yw adlewyrchu'r cymunedau a wasanaethir. Yng Ngheredigion, ceir sir naturiol ddwyieithog, lle mae modd clywed Cymraeg a Saesneg fel ei gilydd drwy'r sir. Y mae'n arwydd o iechyd y gymuned bod pawb, boed yn siaradwyr Cymraeg neu beidio, yn arfer ar glywed y Gymraeg bob dydd. Y mae'n rhan annatod o fyw mewn cymuned ddwyieithog.

Mae cais Town & Country am drwydded newydd Radio Ceredigion yn sôn am eu hymrwymiad i ddarpariaeth lleol, ddwyieithog, gan gynnwys peth darpariaeth Cymraeg. Wrth ystyuried yr ymrwymiad hynny, hoffwn dynnu eich sylw at eich ymchwil chi eich hunain (yn benodol eich Adroddiad Samplo Cynnwys) sydd yn dangos mai arwynebol yw darpariaeth ddwyieithog bresennol Town & Country, er ei bod yn ofyniad yn eu trwydded.

Yn ôl yr adroddiad, ail-ddarllediadau ac hysbysiadau sydd yn cyflawni rhan helaeth o'u darllediadau Cymraeg presennol. Mae'r cais newydd yn cynnwys ymrwymiad i raglenni penodol Cymraeg, ond nid oes ymrwymiad i ddwyieithrwydd, ac anodd yw credu nad gwthio'r Gymraeg i'r neilltu a wna'r cwmni, mewn ymgais i gadw amseroedd brig ar gyfer darlledu Saesneg yn unig. Crêd Town and Country bod eu gorsaf yn Sir Gâr yn fodel llwyddiannus, a dyma yn union a ddigwydd yno.

Y mae Real Radio, Radio 2 a Radio Wales yn darparu gwasanaethau brig di-Gymraeg yn barod yng Ngheredigion. Ofnwn mai bwriad Town & Country yw i ddarlledu cynnwys tebyg iawn, ac mae hyn yn codi cwestiwn pwysig. A ydy OFCOM yn bwriadu i bob lefel o Radio gario'r un fath o raglenni, neu a oes gwir ymrwymiad i ddarlledu lleol?

Yn yr un Adroddiad Samplo Cynnwys gan OFCOM, codir cwestiynau ynglŷn â darpariaeth newyddion yr orsaf yn ogystal. Er nad yw newyddion lleol rheolaidd yn ofyniad trwydded i'r orsaf, dywed eich adroddiad mai arwynebol ac achlysurol yw'r newyddion lleol – digon i gadw OFCOM draw, a dim mwy.

Cofier hefyd i gais T&C i newid amodau eu trwydded llynedd fethu, ar ôl i OFCOM dderbyn llu unfrydol, bron, o wrthwynebiadau i'w cais i ostwng cyfran y Gymraeg.

Ar y llaw arall, y mae Radio Ceredigion (Cydweithredol), trwy gais Radio Ceredigion 2012, yn ymrwymo i ddarparu rhaglenni a gwasanaeth cwbl ddwyieithog, gan gynnwys gwasanaeth newyddion lleol, mewn cydweithrediad gyda Golwg360. Mae bwrdd rheoli'r cwmni yn byw yn yr ardal, ac yn adnabod eu cymunedau'n dda. Credwn y byddai gwasanaeth dwyieithog RC(C) yn unigryw, naturiol a pherthnasol, gyda'r gymuned yn graidd ac yn sail i'r orsaf.

Er nad ydy OFCOM yn cael gwneud penderfyniadau gwleidyddol, yn anffodus nid oes modd peidio a gwneud yn yr achos hwn. Byddai dewis gwasanaeth nad ydyw'n cynnwys tocyn helaeth o ddwyieithrwydd naturiol, a darpariaeth iaith Saesneg sydd yn gwbl berthnasol i'n cymunedau dwyieithog, yn ddewis gwleidyddol a moesegol i droi cefn ar, ac i ddi-brisio, cymunedau a thraddodiadau Ceredigion.

Galwn arnoch chi felly i ddewis trwyddedai newydd sydd yn ymrwymiedig i ddwyieithrwydd go iawn, a rhoi cyfle iddyn nhw ddarparu ar gyfer Ceredigion mewn modd cynaladwy a Chymreig. Credwn o weld y ceisiadau mai dim ond Radio Ceredigion (Cydweithredol) sydd yn addo hynny.

Ysgrifennwch at OFCOM i gefnogi cais Radio Ceredigion 2012 Cyf.

Spinning the case for Wind-Energy.

This is a great demolition argument by Straight Statistics of claims made by Renewable UK supporting wind energy. The truth is that even if we cover the land mass of the UK with turbines wind will not meet our energy needs at any time not to mention peak demand time. We need a change of direction on renewable energy policy before we destroy our landscapes for ever.

Playing fields campaigner joins fight against housing over-development

Wrecsam's best-known campaigner for playing fields and open spaces has joined the fight against over-development in the borough. Lynne Hayes, coordinator of Save Open Spaces, voiced her concern after a planning inspector declared Wrecsam Council's Local Development Plan "unsound" because it was only permitting 8,000 homes in the coming decade. The inspector is seeking to impose 11,700 additional homes on a borough that has already seen a decade of unprecedented housebuilding.

Lynne Hayes said:

"I was dismayed to read that the planning inspector is now calling for 3,700 extra homes that are to be built on green field sites in the borough.

"As a playing field campaigner, I find it incredible that we are to lose even more green space. In recent years we have seen threats to so many playing fields in the borough. In Acton Community alone there have been threats to fields such as The Nine Acre field, The Groves school site, Rhosnesni Lane Spider Park, Dean Road Playing field, Barkers Lane school playing field and on land at Acton Park. This is despite the fact that Acton Community has a proven deficit in playing provision of over 21 acres.

"None of the threats to build on these fields have been for affordable housing, the housing built on Barkers lane school field are the like of which most ‘average’ waged inhabitants of Wrexham can only dream of.

"May I remind the inspector that Wrexham LDP aims to protect and enhance areas of open space- outlining on paragraph 6.23 that 'any loss of open space which would exacerbate existing deficits of public open space will not be permitted'.”

Thursday, 9 February 2012

Which fields will you concrete over for new homes, Ken?

Labour AM 'out of touch' as he backs 12,000 new homes for Wrecsam

A Labour politician has been challenged to name the green fields on which he wants new housing built.

The Plaid Cymru group on Wrecsam council have hit back at a statement from Labour AM Ken Skates supporting thousands of extra homes for the county, claiming the Labour party is out of touch with local people.

The Labour AM made a statement supporting plans for an extra 10,000 general market houses in Wrecsam. He mistakenly claimed the houses would be affordable for local people.

Plaid Councillor Carrie Harper said:

“It really is surprising that an Assembly Member is so poorly informed about the current situation with Local Development Plans for the area he is supposed to represent. Far from being ‘affordable’ for local people, as Mr Skates suggests, the vast majority of the new houses planned will be general market houses built by private developers.

"In addition to that, the Planning Inspector is also demanding that Wrecsam reduce the amount of affordable housing that should be provided, which wasn't much to start with. Given that local people would need to secure a deposit of at least £20,000 in order to get a mortgage, it clear that these houses will not be affordable and nor are they intended to provide for the local population. Mr Skates would know this if he had taken the time to research the average local wage."

The statement from Plaid comes in the wake of a letter published by the Planning Inspectorate today that is now demanding nearly 12,000 general market houses be built in the town. The letter also insists the council expand its settlement boundaries and build houses on green fields.

Plaid Councillor Arfon Jones added:

“The extra houses now being demanded by the Planning Inspector will have to be accommodated on open green space. I wonder which fields in Wrecsam Mr Skates would suggest they go on?”

Plaid Cymru remain steadfast in their opposition to the plans and have vowed to challenge both Labour and the Planning Inspectorate.

Leader of the Plaid group in Wrecsam, Cllr Marc Jones said:

“I would be interested to know if either the Labour party or the Planning Inspector have considered the impact such a huge population increase will have on Wrecsam? The latest demands for 12,000 houses could see the town’s population boom by almost 30,000. Additionally, there are no plans to provide the infrastructure improvements needed to support such an increase, only plans to build the houses. Who is providing the extra hospital, extra schools and road network improvements that will be essential?

“Quite simply, these plans cannot be allowed to go ahead, they will damage the town and surrounding area beyond recognition. We also need to be clear that the houses planned are not going to be affordable or accessible for the vast majority of local people. The impact of a further 12,000 general market houses in Wrecsam will be catastrophic, with the merging of villages and the disappearance of our green fields. It is beyond me how Labour can possibly think this is a good idea, let alone be backing it. It’s time they stopped pandering to the developers and started defending our communities. Plaid Cymru will fight these plans every step of the way."

NOTE from Lawrence Isted, Head of Community Wellbeing and Development, Wrexham County Borough Council

Overall the Inspector's conclusions are that, on the evidence, the plan is unsound as it does not meet the identified need for general housing and affordable housing and that it cannot do so without changing the LDP strategy to allow the allocation of green field sites outside of settlement boundaries. He refers to the established need for housing being 11,786 which would require 3721 houses to be allocated above the 8065 presently proposed in the LDP.

A report is being prepared for the Planning Policy Panel to be held on Wednesday 15 February, 2012 setting out the options open to the Council.

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Plaid councillors stand firm against plans for extra 10,000 houses in Wrecsam

The Plaid Cymru group on Wrecsam council has expressed disbelief after the Planning Inspectorate demanded that more than 10,000 new houses be built in the borough.

Wrecsam Council has been preparing a new Local Development Plan over the last two years that sets out development levels in the county up until 2021. After extensive consultation and many objections, the council put forward a plan for 8,000 houses, yet the Cardiff-based Planning Inspectorate that ultimately signs the plan off has now indicated that a further 2,000 be built. The inspector is also looking to reduce the amount of houses that will be affordable for local people.

The formula used by the Welsh Government to calculate future housing demand has proved controversial across the country. Several local councils and local communities across Wales are objecting to plans to flood the country with new houses based on these central projections. The calculations are heavily based on past levels of in-migration from England and do not take into account local need, affordability, social problems or the current economic climate.

Plaid Cymru councillors in Wrecsam have consistently argued that the housing levels planned are way beyond anything needed locally and that councils are being forced to over-develop communities by the Welsh Government.

Councillor Arfon Jones, Gwersyllt West, said: “Although we believe the current housing numbers in the LDP are too high, an additional 2,000 homes will clearly have a hugely detrimental impact locally. For the Planning Inspector to insist on this is completely undemocratic and rides roughshod over the local decision making process.

"There has been consultation with local people during the preparation of the plan, with thousands of locals clearly saying they did not want to see Wrecsam over-developed or for previous high rates of development to continue. The Inspector's demands completely ignore these views and also those of councillors and council officers who feel 10,000 homes are simply not sustainable.”

Plaid councillor Carrie Harper, who represents Queensway ward, has been part of a panel preparing the LDP. She said: “This is the West Cheshire Plan mark 2. Although the original strategy was scrapped due to huge levels of objections locally, they are now looking to force these houses on us through the back door. They are not needed, will not be affordable for the majority of local people and will put huge pressure on our services and infrastructure. The plans will no doubt also have a huge impact on the character and identity of our town.

“We are challenging the Welsh Government over this unsustainable and undemocratic method of planning, a petition is currently lodged with the Government's Petition Committee asking that these plans be recalled and re-thought to make sure they are based on genuine local need. We are perfectly capable of establishing what we need in Wrecsam without centralised interference and outside pressure from faceless civil servants who don’t have a clue about our town.”

Plaid group leader Marc Jones (Whitegate ward) added: “This top-down approach to planning for local communities isn't sustainable or progressive, we must oppose it at every stage. Forcing development on communities rather than allowing organic growth is completely illogical and ultimately very damaging.

"Wrecsam has already been over-developed and the current demands by the Planning Inspector would see the town's population surge by as much as another 26,000. It seems there is no thought of the impact this will have on our environment, road network, local hospitals, schools and other services.

"Local planning officers fear this will mean having to build the 2,000 extra homes on greenfield sites. That's not what the people of Wrecsam want and we will oppose any centrally imposed scheme that ignores local people's wishes. If that means sitting in front of bulldozers, then so be it.

“As a party we will oppose the Inspector's illogical demands. I'm sure Plaid Cymru Assembly Members will also be joining us in challenging the Labour Government in Cardiff over their damaging housing projections for Wales. We need to put the needs of our communities before the demands of housing developers.”

Monday, 6 February 2012

Wales Audit Office investigate top civil servant over Llangollen project

Attempts by the Permanent Secretary of Wales to hush up growing concerns over the handling of the 'Powys Fadog' community project in Llangollen have spectacularly backfired. The country’s top civil servant Dame Gillian Morgan is now under investigation herself for her role in stopping the project.

The project was just days away from beginning when Gillian Morgan intervened and over ruled all previous decisions by senior officials to get the venture off the ground, she also took away funding already awarded to the community group. The audit office is now investigating why the Permanent Secretary intervened and why she controversially chose to block the project.

With public concerns mounting after two separate calls for a Public Inquiry from Assembly Members were turned down, Gillian Morgan attempted to ‘quieten down the noise’ over River Lodge/Powys Fadog. She approached the Wales Audit Office in November to ask them to investigate the purchase of the River Lodge hotel in Llangollen,which she had blocked in January 2010. Following discussions with AMs Mark Isherwood and Llyr Huws Gruffydd, who had both raised concerns over the Permanent Secretaries involvement, the Audit Office have now expanded the investigation to look at the role she’s played in the saga.

Leader of Powys Fadog, Pol Wong said: “This investigation is long overdue, I can’t see how it’s reasonable for the Permanent Secretary to override the decisions of scores of officials made over a number of years without any reasonable explanation. In fact we were not even informed that it had been halted. Surely if there was a legitimate problem, she would have explained what it was several years ago, instead of refusing to answer questions. The Government have repeatedly refused to speak about their decision and have twice refused to hold a Public Inquiry. I have given evidence to the Auditor which up to now has not been even looked at”

“Considering the current economic climate and the fact that we will provide 30 jobs, child care facilities and bring in thousands of tourists to Llangollen from all over the world, it is baffling as to why the Permanent Secretary and Welsh Government are blocking this project. We would also now be paying £31,000 a year rent,instead the building is empty, deteriorating and is an eyesore on the gateway into Llangollen. The building has been broken into many times and much damage has been done, although it is not insured.”

“The Powys Fadog project is a fantastic opportunity for the people of north Wales,an institution that actually generates its own income and then uses that income to provide training for employment, business start up advice and support, as well as promoting Llangollen and Welsh culture internationally. This is a not for profit project run by local people for the local communities benefit. After all that we’ve been through, we are still 100% determined to make this project happen.”

North Wales Assembly Member Llyr Huws Gruffydd added: “I welcome the Audit Office investigation given the many unanswered questions and outstanding concerns about the handling of this community project. The project has the potential to contribute a great deal both economically and in terms of community benefits for north east Wales.It also has the potential to build cultural links internationally which is a Government priority. I will look forward to reading the Auditors report which I understand is due to be completed in May and will be publicly available”.

Thursday, 2 February 2012

Policing in North Wales!

Less than 12 months after a major shake up of Policing in North Wales it seems that North Wales Police have just undertaken an embarrassing U-turn in the face of severe criticisms from the most rural areas.

North Wales Police were forced to review their structure and how they deliver services following the Con Dems Government's announcement of 20% cuts in Policing budgets which has already resulted in the loss of 131 Police Officers and a massive increase in the force's overtime spending.

The new structure featured a number of response hubs strategically based around the force like Wrecsam, Mold and St Asaph which seemed to deliver and adequate service or at least there didn't seem to be any detriment. The case in respect of other hubs was altogether another matter, take for example Dolgellau and Porthmadog, and the areas that they had to cover. The placing of hubs in those two towns resulted in other significant sized towns with Policing demands like Tywyn, Pwllheli and Blaenau Ffestiniog being devoid of any response Policing and proving difficult to meet response times for serious incidents.

The other major change announced last May was to change the Command Structure within North Wales Police from a geographical structure of Eastern, Central and Western Division, to a centralised functional system i.e. One senior officer for a function like neighbourhood policing across the force rather than one taking up several functions for an area.

Whilst Mark Polin has responded to the complaints from certain areas of the force by announcing a return to geographical areas and appointing 3 Superintendents to manage Policing in those areas, it doesn't really improve the response times from Dolgellau to Tywyn or Porthmadog to Aberdaron.

It will be interesting to follow developments and to see how many more U-turns there will be in the coming months.