Friday, 30 October 2015

Call to tackle 2,500 empty homes in Wrexham by Plaid Cymru

These derelict buildings stand within a few yards of each other on the Rhosddu Road near Wrexham town centre. The first is in the process of being brought back into use by the local council after being empty for years. The old printworks (with the scaffolding) has had planning permission for six flats for the best part of a decade while the handsome stone building is a derelict council property lying idle.

They are typical of the many thousands of houses and derelict buildings that should be brought back into productive use in our borough, especially in light of the huge pressure to build on greenfield sites by developers.

Thousands of empty houses in Wrexham should be turned into homes rather than allowing new developments on greenfield sites, according to Plaid Cymru’s Carrie Harper.

Cllr Harper, who is Plaid Cymru’s Assembly candidate for Wrexham, said: “We asked the council for information on the number of empty homes in Wrexham and the numbers are quite staggering.

“There are 2,501 empty houses in the borough. Of those 1,191 are long-term empty and a further 1,310 are short-term. There are a further 400 properties lying empty that pay non-domestic rates, including derelict council buildings.

“It seems crazy that, at a time when large-scale housing estates are being pushed on greenfield sites, that all these houses are lying idle. We have thousands of people on waiting lists for housing yet these figures reveal that almost every community has dozens of empty houses and derelict buildings.”

She said the council was working to bring some homes back into use but that it could be painfully slow. 

Cllr Harper added: “There are Government schemes that have brought empty houses back into homes for people but we need to speed that process up. We also need to look at derelict buildings that could be converted into housing in our communities.

“Otherwise we’re going to see thousands of houses built on greenfield sites for the benefit of developers rather than local communities. I’m sure we all know of houses in streets nearby that have been empty for far too long. Rather than trashing our countryside, lets’s get these back into use.”

See which communities have the most empty homes:

• Please post pictures of empty properties in your area and let's get houses in Wrexham turned into homes.

Action needed to save steel industry after job losses in Wrexham

Action has been urged to save the struggling steel industry by Plaid Cymru's Carrie Harper.

Cllr Harper, the party's candidate for Wrexham in the Assembly elections next year, made her comments after job losses were announced in Caparo Steel in the town today.

Cllr Harper said: "Caparo Steel is a highly specialised operation and the factory in Wrexham remains profitable, despite the company going into administration. I understand the jobs have gone locally because it supplied two sister companies that have closed and short-term cutbacks were inevitable as a result.

 "It's vital that the steel industry in Wales is maintained because it is vital for the future economic growth of our country.
 "The job losses in Wrexham leave about 80 workers and I'm hopeful that it's possible to find a solution, whether that's a management buyout or another company taking over the factory, to enable us to maintain a strong manufacturing base here in the north-east."

Cllr Harper added that steel remains an important part of the Welsh economy, despite the massive job losses in the north-east in the past few decades:

 "This region lost 13,000 jobs when Shotton Steel closed in the 1980s, a further 1200 jobs when Brymbo Steel closed and, even though the jobs remaining are comparatively small, they are highly skilled and specialised. Wales cannot afford to continue losing skilled work and that's why we need urgent action rather than the do-nothing attitude of the Tory Government."

Thursday, 22 October 2015

Open Letter to First Minister, Carwyn Jones, regarding the funding of CAMU and lack of funding Saith Seren.

October 20, 2015

Rt. Hon Carwyn Jones AM
First Minister
Welsh Assembly Government

Dear First Minister

I am writing to you in your capacity as Minister with responsibility for the Welsh Language. I look forward to meeting you next Thursday, 22 October, when you attend the official opening of the Hwb Welsh language in the Workplace centre CAMU , Cambria College, Yale site, Wrexham. I am a member of the Advisory Panel of CAMU, representing the Wrexham area Welsh community newspaper, Y Clawdd (as Chief Editor of the paper), and the Wrexham Welsh Centre, Saith Seren (as a member of the Management Board).

I welcome the Government's investment of £300,000 in order to promote the Welsh language in this area, especially as I have lived here all my life, and have taught at Ysgol Morgan Llwyd, the local Welsh medium secondary school, for over two decades. The main aim of 'Camu' is to increase the numbers of people in the area who are able to use Welsh in the workplace, which is a praiseworthy objective.

However, as you know, all learners who will pass through the centre, in addition to the hundreds of young people who have received Welsh medium education here, and who generally come from non-Welsh-speaking homes, need somewhere to go to hear and use the Welsh language in the community on a regular basis, rather than within the walls of a school or college, or they will lose the language, as thousands have done so before them.

Establishing the Wrexham Welsh Centre, Saith Seren, in 2012
The Wrexham Welsh Centre, Saith Seren, opened in 2012 in order to achieve exactly this need, thereby normalizing the use of Welsh in an area that is occupied largely by non-Welsh speakers. The centre was opened with voluntary financial contributions from ordinary people with a love of the language, and an agreement with the Clwyd Alyn Housing Association, who bought the Saith Seren building (or ‘Seven Stars’ as it was) in order for us to establish the Wrexham Welsh Centre there and to rent it from them.

The centre was very successful in organising social activities through Welsh in the first few years, but financial problems came to the surface, mainly due to the high rent which was being asked by Clwyd Alyn Association. By spring 2015, despite all efforts to try to ensure some kind of grant or financial support from public bodies, the heart-breaking announcement had to be made that the Wrexham Welsh Centre, Saith Seren would be forced to close its doors for the last time in May, and six members of staff would lose their jobs.

Last nail in the coffin of Wrexham’s Welsh speaking ‘society’?

For me, this would have been the final nail in the coffin of the possibility of ​​maintaining any kind of Welsh-speaking social ‘society’ in Wrexham. The town’s chapels were instrumental in doing this in the past, but the numbers who attend them have fallen dramatically, and so the solution to maintaining the language does not lie with the chapels. I remember the time before ‘Saith Seren’, when I was a member of the entertainment committee of Menter Maelor, when we tried to organise Welsh language events in the town. We used one location after another to try to find which was the most suitable, and more often than not we were very disappointed by the numbers who attended those events. This changed with the advent of the Welsh Language Centre, as it acts as a familiar focal point for the vast majority of Welsh social activities in the town.

Fortunately, some people decided that the centre wasn’t going to die without a fight, and Aran Jones, who runs the company 'Say Something in…. (Welsh)' started an on-line campaign, asking people to sign up to a commitment of £10 per month to save the centre, and I ran the campaign in Wrexham. We needed to raise £ 3,000 per month, which is a huge sum, and there were times during the campaign when we didn’t think it was going to work. However, after three months of active campaigning, and following extremely generous donations from more than 200 people, many of whom live outside the town as well as locals, we arrived at the total that was needed to keep the centre open. This showed clearly how much importance the Wrexham Welsh Centre has in the eyes of people who understand the reason for its existence and the important role it plays.

Wrexham Welsh Centre, Saith Seren, relaunched in 2015

The newsletter which is attached is a record of some of the activities that have taken place since the centre was saved in May. As you can see there have been many successful gigs (Steve Eaves, Geraint Lovegreen, Moniars etc.) and the centre has been the catalyst for many of our learners to succeed at the National Eisteddfod. This is what people who don’t usually have the opportunity to practice using Welsh desperately need; somewhere to go to meet other learners and native speakers in a homely, social setting, and not in a classroom. This is also crucial in order to show the young people of the town that the Welsh language is alive and well, not just the language of education, media and the Eisteddfod.

The centre is now on somewhat steadier ground, and we are succeeding financially to some extent. However, we are investigating all possible sources in order to secure our future in the long term. We are fully aware that relying on voluntary donations from individuals is not a sustainable position over the long term. We are still here today, but only by a hair’s breadth, as we only narrowly managed to survive, and if we have to close in a year or two, all the effort we’ve put in counts for nothing in my opinion. I have three children, two of which are 3 and 5 years old, and I want to the Wrexham Welsh Centre, Saith Seren to exist when they will be old enough to go out and socialize in years to come.

The only way I can realistically see that happening is if we get financial support from public bodies. Ideally, we'd like to buy the building and pay a mortgage rather than wasting money on rent. Unfortunately, the price Clwyd Alyn Association is asking is very high, because they have spent a substantial amount on renovation. We are responsible for all maintenance work because of the nature of the agreement, so there is little incentive for them to sell. The Welsh Government has just given £300,000 towards the establishment of the CAMU Welsh Language in the Workplace Hub, and an additional £ 130,000 has come from other partners (Wrexham and Flintshire councils), which gives total of £ 430,000. Even a portion of this money would have enabled us to buy Saith Seren and secure the future of the Wrexham Welsh Centre for future generations.

The £ 430,000 has been spent on adapting a block of a building bloc that existed already, and I find it very hard to see where all this money has been spent. This is extremely frustrating for us in Saith Seren as was have to scrimp and save every penny. I ask you to consider on Thursday whether the government is getting value for money when considering the aims of the Bwrw Mlaen grant fund, and whether those aims would have any chance of being properly achieved without the help of Saith Seren.

Fulfilling the requirements of the grant without remuneration

When one of your officers came to visit us at the beginning of the summer, she was under the impression that we were part of the Hwb Cymraeg Cambria application, though we were not. I am sure that the college will emphasize that they are working with us, by sending their learners on us to socialize after being with them. One of the criteria of the grant was that there would be "opportunities for young people to socialize in Welsh, in the community”, and we help them to achieve this, but have not received a penny of the grant money for doing so. I realise that collaboration between agencies such as local authorities and colleges is essential in order to successfully apply for the Bwrw Mlaen grant, but there was no cooperation obtained from Cambria College or Wrexham Council in terms of sharing the grant application in our case.

Is it possible to re-consider the way in which grants are distributed in this way, so that a centre such as us could realistically win such a grant? It's great to see so many new Welsh Centres, like us, which have a strong social component, have been funded by the government, such as 'Y Lle' in Llanelli, and 'Atom' in Carmarthen etc. and I hope that these centres manage to keep the language alive in those areas. I also hope that we do not lose the vulnerable Welsh-speaking society which exists here in Wrexham at present, because the brave, sincere and valuable Wrexham Welsh Centre initiative in Saith Seren did not meet the narrow criteria that are required in order to win a this type of grant from the Government, and because it did not receive the support it deserves from the local college and council.

Even Y Clawdd receives a £1,200 annual payment, so it makes no sense to me that the Wrecsam Welsh Centre, Saith Seren doesn’t get any financial assistance, when considering the excellent work the centre does to promote the use of Welsh in the town. If we do close in a year or two, I will also finish with Y Clawdd, which will in effect bring it to an end, as in my opinion, there will not be enough of a Welsh ‘society’ in Wrexham to justify a community paper documenting its activity.

Yours faithfully

Chris Evans
Wrecsam Community Paper, Y Clawdd
Management Board Member, Wrexham Welsh Centre Saith Seren

Wednesday, 21 October 2015

Address to Wrecsam Lifelong Learning Scrutiny Committee.

Below is an address by Eleri Vaughan Roberts to Wrecsam Lifelong Learning Scrutiny Committee regarding Admission Policy to Welsh Medium Education Schools.

Dear Committee,

On reading the report it is clear to see that the evidence and figures presented have been carefully placed and presented so to reflect well on the education department however there is a lot of vital information that is missing from the report, data that has been presented in a misleading manner and there is no real depth in the reports' response to data findings.

Whilst we as parents and supporters of accessible Welsh Medium Education are eager to support any gesture by the Authority to look at provision and address unmet demands for accessible provision county-wide we cannot help but feel frustrated at the Education departments firm stance of 'there are enough places available within the Borough, end of discussion,' and the general disdain at our eagerness to be involved with any consultation.

The report recognises that the Council should be ensuring that ' Welsh language and culture is promoted and supported.' Education is key in achieving these goals, the reality though, unfortunately, is that accessing WM education is a postcode lottery and not accessible for all and the Authority are currently failing many more families than available data can demonstrate, in accessing WME.

I would also like to take issue with the manner in which the report takes comfort in the knowledge that its Admissions Policy is akin with other L.A's. The population and geographical position of WCBC is very different to Denbighshire, Gwynedd and Conwy therefore the Authority are mistaken to commend themselves on having similar policies. Those Authorities have far more WM school and within reasonable distances. Whilst a 4 mile journey to school in Rural Denbighshire might take max 10 minutes, in Wrexham Town Centre it can easily take in excess of 40 minutes. This was the case for myself travelling from Summerhill to Ysgol Bodhyfryd and the reason for removing our daughter Erin from the school. Whilst comparing policies with other Counties is good practice, evaluating whether the policy best serves the Borough should be the priority. Whilst the policy may best serve the English medium schools I do not agree that it a fair method of distributing provision within WM schools.

So much vital data and statistics are missing from the report.

No statistics were given to demonstrate the following:

* number of applicants refused WM 1st/2nd choice who then opted for EM. Geographical position of these applicants.

*number of applicants who applied before the deadline who were refused 1st and 2nd WM choices.

*no data on how the steady increase in admissions at Primary level will affect Ysgol Morgan Llwyd

.*no data on projected population growth and its effect on school provisions.

* the report should include an analysis of why there is a growing demand for WM and should demonstrate evidence on whether or not it is considered that the demand will continue to grow and at what kind of rate.

*no data given on births registered within the Borough 2013-2015 compared with previous years?

*no data given on those registered as attending the Cylch Meithrin provision within the County.

*no data on the projected cost to the Authority to transport pupils to schools because their first choice was unavailable.

*no data to represent the number children who are missing out on a healthier lifestyle of walking to school because the school within a safe walking route is oversubscribed.

The report concedes that the issues relating to WME are not new issues. In fact it is easy to look back at previous reports from several years back all relaying the same information. Since those reports Ysgol Bro Alun has been built, however we are still no closer to providing enough spaces and a fair distribution of provision. The report does not investigate any new options that could provide a solution.

No recommendations are given within the report on how to tackle the problem of families having siblings at different schools. This issue has so many implications, the greatest being the safeguarding of the child yet there are no answers on how this should be addressed.

According to the report the towns' WM schools incl Bro Alun have all admitted max numbers with two taking extra pupils. Does this not demonstrate the need to increase provision?

Is the increase in provision at Bodhyfryd to 60 a permanent fixture? The admission figures relating to Ysgol Plas Coch are also misleading. Admission figures for Ysgol Plas Coch have been reduced in recent years and despite plans for an extension there are no plans for increasing the provision.

A survey is currently being conducted by FIS asking questions about school choices. Whilst this could be viewed as being a positive step, we would like to know how do Authority propose to use this data? How do they propose to ensure that enough data is collected to ensure that the data is viable for use to make decisions? When evidence from a similar survey was put to the Lead Member at an Executive Board Meeting before the Summer, Cllr Williams branded the data as unreliable since only a small percentage of the Borough's population had responded. Will this Survey also result in being a pointless exercise?

Looking ahead, we must also look at the bigger picture. Much has been said recently about the cost implications of applying the new standards set by the Welsh Commissioner however if Wrexham Council employed a bilingual workforce then the impact of such standards would be minimal. If the Authority invests in providing a healthy, accessible and successful Welsh Medium Education structure then in turn it is potentially investing in a workforce that could contribute back in the future, future bilingual civil servants who will be committed to the ethos of promoting and supporting Welsh Language and culture.

There are no proactive recommendations within this report. It has not looked at short term and long term possibilities but serves only to try to justify why the admissions policy is proximity based. The greater detail of addressing failures and moving on to provide enough provision and to plan a fair distribution doesn't feature in this report however I believe that the Scrutiny Committee need these details along with all the other data that was not given in order to evaluate the true role of the admissions policy in relation to WM education.

Many Thanks

Eleri Roberts

Some excellent points made to a bland, boring and uninformative report...Diolch i Leri am baratoi a diolch i Judith am gyflwyno.

Tuesday, 20 October 2015

Want to avoid forced merger with Flintshire? Vote Plaid

Plaid Cymru halts Labour’s local government reforms
People of Wales will decide future local government
Plaid Cymru has stopped Labour from forcing through its centralisation agenda for Welsh local government without a mandate.
Concessions secured by Plaid Cymru mean no work will be able to start on implementing reforms until after the next Welsh election – allowing people to choose which party’s vision they wish to see delivered after May. This has stopped Labour's plans to force through a merger between Wrexham and Flintshire without regard for the wishes of local people.
It means Plaid Cymru’s vision to retain 22 Local Authorities working together as combined regional authorities would be possible should the party form the next Welsh Government.
Plaid Cymru’s demands also mean the next Welsh Government can introduce fairer voting systems at local government level, such as STV.
Plaid Cymru leader Leanne Wood said:
“Plaid Cymru has stopped Labour from enforcing their map for local government reorganisation through the back door before plans are put to people. Large scale changes to Local Government structures should not be decided by politicians with no mandate but should be decided by people in an election.
“The demands made by Plaid Cymru will mean that all parties can present their individual proposals in their manifestos and seek a mandate to implement them, without being bound by the current government’s preferences.
“It will allow a Plaid Cymru government to implement the changes that we want to see to the structure of Local Government, by retaining the existing 22 Local Authorities making them work together as combined regional authorities.
“Plaid Cymru has also ensured that we will have the ability to introduce proportional representation for local councils to allow for fairer voting systems like STV.
“The Party of Wales has acted in the best interests of the people of Wales, giving them the say on how they want their local councils to be elected and structured in future and halting the centralisation plans of Labour. We now seek a mandate for our proposals for localism and empowering Wales’ communities in the election to the National Assembly next May.”
The message for people in Wrexham and all other parts of Wales is simple - if you want to avoid Labour's forced mergers of councils, vote Plaid.

Monday, 5 October 2015

Let's have some honesty over housing plans

It's interesting to note that among those leading the charge against 365 new houses in Llay at last night's planning committee were a Labour councillor backed the local Labour AM and Labour MP.
 Yet it is the Labour Government in Cardiff that's insisting Wrexham Council gives permission for at least an extra 11,000 houses in the county borough over the coming decade. The very same government in which Lesley Griffiths is a minister.
 And it is Labour AM Ken Skates who is arguing for another 12,000 homes to be built in the area.
 The Labour Government's planning inspectorate rejected the council's Local Development Plan and ordered it to increase the number of houses by 4,000, which explains why the A483 corridor is now being subjected to massive housing developments such as the one in Llay.

 The people of Llay won't be fooled by the contradictions between what politicians say at one level and do on another. Labour has been running Wales for 16 years and have taken the people of Wrexham for granted for far too long. It's time...