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.”