Wednesday, 18 October 2017

Plaid Cymru slate Tories for "callous approach to welfare reform"

88% of Wrexham council tenants transferred to Universal Credit to date are in rent arrears. Those were the worrying figures given to councillors recently at Wrexham's Housing and Environment Scrutiny Committee. 

Plaid Cymru's Carrie Harper who sits on the committee and represents the Queensway ward in Caia Park said: "The figures we have to date reflect the relatively small number of claimants transferred but we expect that number to rise sharply this month following the accelerated roll out of the scheme locally. Unfortunately, looking at figures from England where there has already been full roll out, having this level of council tenants in arrears following the transfer is the norm. There is also concern about the impact on private tenants as well, who won't have access to as much help and advice."

"We estimate that approximately 7000 households across Wrexham will ultimately be affected by this. The transfer of housing benefit claimants to Universal Credit is a particular concern due to the excessive payment delays people are experiencing. People are often waiting 6 weeks or more for their claims to be processed, meaning that rent arrears increase significantly over that period, leaving many without access to any money at all. In other areas where roll out is accelerating, charities are warning about increases in food bank usage and a spike in loan sharks targeting communities. I fear we will be facing similar issues here as the Tories seem determined to plough on with this flawed scheme, despite warnings from all quarters about the detrimental impact it's having. How they can ignore the misery they're inflicting across the UK with this callous approach to welfare reform is beyond me".

"The indifferent attitude of this spiteful Tory Government to the suffering of others has unfortunately become a familiar theme. We see interview after interview of detached robotic spin from them on welfare reform, only surpassed by the vulgar displays of back patting  in the House of Commons from the likes of Ian Duncan Smith who ushered this scheme in, as he smugly claims it will be a 'great driver for change'. Rather than driving change, Universal Credit is driving people into poverty."

If you are affected by the roll out of Universal Credit and would like further advice, you can contact the Universal Credit helpline directly but please be aware calls are still charged at 55p per minute from a mobile and this will remain the case for several weeks.

Alternatively please get in touch with Contact Wrexham based on Lord Street on 01978 29200. If you're a council tenant you can also get advice from your local estate office, please see contact numbers below:

Broughton Estate office - 01978 722020
Caia Estate office - 01978 317040
Gwersyllt Estate office -  01978 722100
Plas Madoc Estate office - 01978 813000
Rhos Estate office - 01978 832500
Wrexham Central Estate Office - 01978 292062

Thursday, 5 October 2017

Welsh Government blamed for nursing shortage at Maelor hospital

 
A growing shortage of nurses in Wrexham’s Maelor Hospital has been highlighted in the Assembly by Plaid Cymru’s North Wales AM.

Llyr Gruffydd AM raised his concerns with First Minister Carwyn Jones during questions in the Assembly chamber, saying that the Welsh Government should bear direct responsibility for this failure.

He said: “Latest statistics show that there are 92 nursing posts vacant in Wrexham’s Maelor Hospital at the moment with a growing number of nurses approaching retirement age.

“This shortage is leading to specialist nurses having to work on general wards and to staff being stretched to the limit. At its worst, it will mean ward closures. This is a daily and intensifying crisis in the hospital, the largest in north Wales.

“In an attempt to remedy the situation, Betsi Cadwaladr health board have used a private agency to recruit abroad, going to Barcelona and India in recent years. In both cases, the benefits have been questionable. Only four nurses from India passed the language test, for example. This is a short-term panic measure not a long-term thought-out strategy.

“Will the First Minister accept that the Welsh Government, which has been directly running Betsi Cadwaladr health board for two and a half years now, is responsible for failing to adequately plan to ensure there are enough nurses being trained and recruited here in the North for local hospitals?”

Mr Gruffydd has welcomed the fact that nurse training had re-started at Glyndwr University and praised the university for its pro-active approach to a serious problem for the NHS in north Wales. He was, however, critical of the Welsh Government and Betsi Cadwaladr for not allowing those students to go on placement to NHS settings in Wales.

He added: “We have 35 trainee nurses who are being trained in Wrexham. In a short time, they could be filling the gaps in the workforce in the Maelor hospital and elsewhere in the North. But instead of providing them with placements, obstacles have been put in their way to the extent that they are having to be placed in Chester, Telford and private nursing placements.”

Carwyn Jones's response is, to put it kindly, misleading. He conflates healthcare training with nursing degrees and his claims that there is increased training completely misses the point that much of that increase is down to Glyndwr University's new course. These trainees, of course, are the ones barred from getting placements in hospitals in Wales because of Welsh Government rules. Unless that's reversed, we will see these nurses lost to the NHS in Wales. 


Supply teachers short-changed by Welsh Government policy

Supply teachers and schools are being short-changed by a failing Welsh Government, according to Plaid Cymru.

Llyr Gruffydd, Plaid Cymru’s shadow secretary for education and children, has called for the Welsh Government to urgently re-think its policy after revealing that a private agency is taking almost a third of supply teachers’ pay.

New Directions Education Ltd is a Cardiff-based firm that provides supply teachers to a number of schools in Wales and England. It retains about 30% of the money paid by schools for the supply teachers, money that previously went directly to the teachers. It also pays its two directors a dividend of £100,000 apiece and both shared a further £430,000 dividend from the firm's parent company.

Now, as a result of a Welsh Government agreement, more and more councils are instructing schools to only use New Directions rather than employing supply teachers directly. This has prompted concerns that money from the education budget is effectively being siphoned off to the private sector.
The company, which is owned by Jeffrey and Zoe Tune, both of Cyncoed in Cardiff, were last year responsible for employing 1300 of Wales’s 4,900 supply teachers.

Llyr Gruffydd, Plaid Cymru’s shadow secretary for education and children, said: 
“I’ve been approached by a number of very demoralised supply teachers, including a constituent who was earning £115 a day as a supply teacher. She’s had a letter from Denbighshire Council to say that all schools must work through New Directions, with a few exceptions, and that will mean her pay is cut to £85.

"Another is considering giving up a job he's done for 18 years because of the drastic cut in pay and lack of any personal development or pension payments. It's demoralising teachers."

Plaid Cymru has condemned the Welsh Government for failing to do more to ensure money for education remains in the system rather than backing a private company providing supply teachers throughout Wales.

Llyr Gruffydd said: “Back in 2015 a report by the National Assembly’s Children, Young People and Education Committee agreed that a more strategic approach was needed for supply teachers, suggesting an all-Wales model based on Northern Ireland’s system or a cooperative. That decision was kicked into the long grass by the then Government and since then private agencies have flourished. This has intensified with an all-Wales agreement with a single agency, New Directions Education Ltd.

“The agreement with New Directions comes to an end in August 2018, which should provide an opportunity to deliver a new service that keeps education money in the public sector rather than private pockets. But we now learn that the Welsh Government and Kirsty Williams have decided not to introduce a new model for supplying temporary teachers until 2019. In a letter to the education committee, the cabinet secretary explains she won’t be introducing a new model because the Assembly does not yet have control over teachers’ pay and conditions.

“This, frankly, is a poor excuse for doing nothing and kicking the issue into even longer grass.

"Plaid Cymru would like to see a not-for-profit agency set up as in Northern Ireland or a cooperative for supply teachers to coordinate with schools and local authorities. This kind of model would ensure more money goes directly to the teachers, would keep money in the education system rather than spent on dividends and create a degree of flexibility for schools and teachers alike."




Monday, 2 October 2017

HMO conversions rejected by Wrexham planners

61 Regent St - application to turn offices into a HMO was turned down tonight


Tonight's planning committee lasted three hours, partly because of two contentious applications for Houses of Multiple Occupation (HMOs) in Wrexham town centre.

The two planning applications before the committee were:

45 Alexandra Road in the Offa ward. This is a three-bed terraced house that the owner wants to turn into a four-bedsit HMO.

and

61 Regent St in the Brynyffynnon ward. This is currently an office on the main road into Wrexham (opposite the Sorting Office) which the owner wants to turn into a HMO for five people.

Both local members, who are part of an informal grouping of town-centre councillors, argued passionately against the applications.

The argument against turning Regent St into a HMO was two-fold. Firstly it would disrupt an established row of offices, placing residential dwellings amid a business setting. In a fragile economic climate it was felt by many that this would not help local business confidence.

 Secondly, and crucially, the available amenity space for five people's bins, washing and relaxation space outdoors was a pathetic 10.7m2. The point was made that HMOs often cause problems because tenants are boxed in with inadequate space and not treated like human beings. By contrast, anyone looking to build a new three-bedroom house would be expected to provide a 50m2 garden or amenity space. This was essentially expecting people to "relax" in a car park.

The vote against granting planning permission was unanimous.

Alexandra Road saw similar arguments being rolled out, but Offa ward has a crucial difference - 11% of its houses are already homes with multiple persons, a slightly different definition but an indication of the pressures facing the densely packed terraces in the area. Landlords have looked to cram as many bodies in as possible to maximise profit.

 Cllr Alun Jenkins explained how 57 out of 300 homes in the Bersham Road area were already HMOs - about 20%. This is double the accepted threshold of the Welsh Government, but the council's lack of a clear policy on this makes decisive action difficult. At present the council opts for a 10% threshold within a 50m radius, which is random to say the least and often misses the 'feel' of a neighbourhood. There was also concern that many HMOs are not licensed - 'beneath the radar' or exempt from licensing because they're run by charities or Registered Social Landlords.

Opposition centred on a lack of parking - four bedsits could easily mean four cars outside a terraced house. The vote to reject was again convincing but there was a warning from chief planning officer Dave Williams that future appeals against such decisions could easily mean costs being awarded against the council.

 HMO planning applications are now a monthly occurence here in Wrexham and it appears the rate is increasing.

 This is partly because the Welsh Government insisted that any HMO with more than three people had to be licensed, whereas prior to 2016 it was six or more people. The Welsh Government also allowed local councils the power to develop their own policy towards HMOs - something Wrexham Council is still working towards. In the meantime, we continue to see Welsh Government Planning Inspectors overturning decisions made by local representatives. Something has to give.

But it's also to do with a lack of affordable housing, especially in the public sector. Councils must start building affordable homes so that people aren't forced to rent substandard bedsits at extortionate rates. This is part of Plaid Cymru's local manifesto to tackle the housing problem.

Check out where licensed HMOs are located on the register.




New hope for stranded village as rail bosses visit

Plaid Cymru AM raises community concerns

A village left stranded because of a faulty railway bridge is hoping that a high-level visit by Network Rail officials will resolve the problem.

Villagers at Sydallt near Wrexham have been left without a bus service because the Oak Alyn railway bridge connecting the village has been narrowed because of fears for the structure.

The bus being used for the service between Mold and Wrexham was too wide to negotiate the narrowed bridge and re-routed the service, leaving villagers without public transport. Some villagers have been forced to use taxis at a cost of up to £150 a month because there is no bus.

Gwersyllt Community Council took up the matter after concerns were raised by Councillor Sharon Thomas and contacted Plaid Cymru’s regional AM Llyr Gruffydd.

He, in turn, raised the matter with Network Rail’s senior management team in Cardiff, who came out on Friday to see the problem for themselves.

Llyr Gruffydd said:
“I’m glad senior managers have seen the problem for themselves and local residents were able to explain to them directly how this issue has impacted on the community. There was agreement that Network Rail needed to do some exploratory work to assess how sound the structure was and, if necessary, to re-prioritise its bridge maintenance programme.
“We were given assurances that an engineer would carry out an intrusive survey to assess corrosion on the bridge and that could see the bridge deemed safe enough to widen again. This would enable the bus currently being used for the Mold-Wrexham service to come back to Sydallt.
“I’ll be working with Gwersyllt councillors Sharon Thomas, Gwenfair Jones and Arfon Jones to make sure the promises made are kept and work begins as soon as possible on the bridge.”
Community councillor Sharon Thomas added: 
“I was thankful for the opportunity of a meeting with Network Rail and Wrexham Council on the bridge following the ongoing support of Gwersyllt Community Council, Llyr Gruffydd and Plaid Cymru on this issue. I was also keen for local residents and bus users to be directly involved and given the opportunity to have their say on this matter.
“Following the positive meeting that took place I look forward to the joint work on the bridge and surrounding area taking place between Network Rail and Wrexham Council to bring about much-needed improvements, and enable the current bus service to access Tan yr Allt again. I hope the work will commence sooner rather than later, so local residents are not inconvenienced any longer than is necessary.”

Llyr Gruffydd AM meets with local residents Percy Matthias and Gail Hughes on Sydallt's Oak Alyn bridge together with Gwersyllt community councillors Sharon Thomas, Gwenfair Jones and Arfon Jones. Others present included Roger Davies from Wrexham Council and various senior managers from Network Rail.

Thursday, 28 September 2017

Calls for Wrexham Minister to "take a lead" and withdraw license for radioactive mud dump off the Welsh coast

Minister for the Environment and Rural Affairs Leslie Griffiths is facing growing calls to withdraw a license which will allow hundreds of thousands of tonnes of radioactive mud to be dumped off the Welsh coast. 

The mud, which would be brought from England when the new Hinkley Point nuclear power station is built and dumped off the Cardiff coast, is causing growing concern from experts and politicians alike. 

Plaid Cymru Wrexham spokesperson Carrie Harper said: "Experts are warning that communities along the Welsh coast could be exposed to doses of marine radio activity if this radioactive mud dump goes ahead. If that's not a good enough reason to immediately withdraw this license pending further investigation into the dangers, I don't know what is. I'd respectfully urge the Minister Leslie Griffiths to take a lead on this."

"In Wrexham, we have already experienced what it's like to be failed by Welsh Labour Minsters and used as a dumping ground. We are reminded every summer by the putrid smell of Hafod Quarry in Johnstown, which is used to dump rubbish from Merseyside despite huge local protests. One of her predecessors Carwyn Jones,  Environment Minster at the time, refused to step in and help us then. I hope the current Minister does not continue the tradition of failing Welsh communities on such a key health and environmental issue."

The license allowing the dumping of 300,000 tonnes of polluted mud off the Welsh coast was agreed in 2013, with French firm EDF energy undertaking the project.

A petition calling for the Welsh Government to direct Natural Resources Wales to suspend the license can be signed by clicking  HERE


Right to be Welsh?

.


Every year I receive a household reminder form in order to check who is eligible to vote at my address. Every year the nationality of everyone in our house is listed as “British” by default. Every year I contact electoral services to request everyone at this address be registered as Welsh. This year there was an option to change it to Welsh online, great I thought, so I happily amended the details for all 3 of us. I also contacted electoral services to query why the system annoyingly defaults back to British every year. The response was as follows:


“The Electoral Commission’s advice on this is:  

Whilst individuals may choose to write their nationality on a canvass form as ‘English’, ‘Welsh’ or ‘Scottish’ their nationality should be recorded on the Electoral Registration Officer’s systems as British.

This is because the nationality that is relevant for registration purposes is ‘British’ as set out in the British Nationality Act 1981.”


So for the last several years at least, it seems I have been wasting my time , along with many thousands  of other people I’m sure across Wales, Scotland and England,  asking to be  registered under my identity of choice.  In my naivety I thought the system would be updated with this information but it would seem it is actually completely ignored because of Electoral Commission guidance. That begs the question, why give people the option to enter their own identity at all? It would seem this is just a token gesture to appease. Literally a meaningless tick box.

Does it matter anyway? Well yes I think it does. Identity is not something anyone can or should impose on someone else, it’s a choice. I respect the fact that people may choose to be registered as British, some may prefer Welsh British and that’s up to them but me, well I’m just Welsh thank you very much. Having spent some time mulling over identity issues, I came to the conclusion a long time ago that I have no idea what being  ‘British’ actually means, I don’t identify with that term and it doesn’t have meaning for me in my daily life.  For instance, one of the biggest symbols of Britishness is undoubtedly the Union Jack , Wales is not represented on that flag so what is it supposed to mean to me? In what way would I identify with it? Being Welsh however is just a given, that’s what I am, it’s who I am, however unofficial.  I suspect that many others in Scotland and England would share that sentiment.

For now at least  though, it seems  that I have no right to be registered as a Welsh person, there is no right to be Scottish or English either, a British identity will be forced on us all whether we like it or not, dictated by an act of Parliament that is almost 4o years old and an ideology going back a lot further.



Wednesday, 27 September 2017

Turkeys don't vote for Christmas...

WREXHAM COUNCIL VOTES TO KEEP HIGHER COUNCILLOR PAY

At full council this afternoon Tory, Independent and Lib Dem councillors in Wrexham voted to keep senior councillors salaries at a higher level rather than reduce it.

At a time when frontline services are being cut with much worse to come, this slippery decision will cost £41,700 every year.

Plaid Cymru voted to make the cut to senior salaries and Cllr Carrie Harper reminded council that they were paid to make #difficultdecisions.

The recorded vote revealed 31 voted for, 16 against.

VOTED TO KEEP THE HIGHER SALARIES (Tories, Independents and Lib Dems)

Bill Baldwin
Trevor Bates
Sonya Benbow-Jones
I David Bithell
David A Bithell
Mike Dixon
Alan Edwards
David Griffiths
Alun Jenkins
Dave Kelly
Geoff Lowe
Joan Lowe
David Maddocks
Tina Mannering
Mike Morris
Beverley Paterson-Jones
John McCusker
Paul Pemberton
John Phillips
John Pritchard
Mark Pritchard
Paul Roberts
Rondo Roberts
Paul Rogers
Rodney Skelland
Debbie Wallice
Rob Walsh
Barry Warburton
Andy Williams
Nigel Williams
Phil Wynn

VOTED AGAINST

Brian Apsley
Paul Blackwell
Brian Cameron
Krista Childs
Dana Davies
Mike Davies
Carrie Harper
Frank Hemmings
Kevin Hughes
Adrienne Jeorett
Gwenfair Jones
Marc Jones
Paul Jones
Malcolm King
Graham Rogers
Derek Wright

Tuesday, 26 September 2017

Health bosses challenged over lack of de-tox beds

Health bosses have been challenged to step up to the mark to deal with Wrexham's drug problem.

Plaid Cymru councillors in Wrexham say the health board is failing to play its part in dealing with the ongoing problems facing the town. Plaid's group leader Marc Jones said: 
"Here in Wrexham we have Hafan Wen, a de-tox centre with 25 beds near the Maelor Hospital. Originally all 25 beds were commissioned by Betsi Cadwaladr Health Board for people wanting to get off drugs or alcohol here in north Wales. 
 "Despite rising demand, BCUHB now only commissions 13 of those beds and the result is a wait of up to five months to access the service. Given the nature of the problem facing those trying to come off drugs and alcohol that is way too long to wait.  
 "The problems caused as a result of not having quicker access to de-tox are hugely damaging for the people involved and also the wider community, which is having to live with the consequences of this very visible drug problem. 
"This is not the solution to the problems we're facing in Wrexham but it is one step to finding a comprehensive answer."
The other 12 beds in Hafan Wen are now commissioned by health authorities in England, where patients can often get a bed within a matter of weeks. 

Cllr Jones added: 
"Given the scale of the problem we're facing, it doesn't make sense to have a de-tox service in the town that people locally can't access. De-tox is the first step to rehabilitation. We're calling on health board bosses to invest in long-term solutions rather than maintaining the problem as it is."
Cllr Jones said many of the homeless in Wrexham had underlying drug and alcohol problems as well as mental health issues, which made it all the more important that the health board engaged more fully with the council, the police and other agencies in tackling one of the town's most pressing problems.

Benefit changes will increase rent arrears and reliance on loan sharks

Plaid Cymru councillors have expressed concerns about the impact of rolling out Universal Credit for council tenants in Wrexham next month. They fear tenants could be forced to turn to loan sharks if payments are delayed.

Councillor Carrie Harper, who represents the Queensway ward, said: "The full digital roll out for Universal Credit has already happened in England. In Wales, only two local authorities have had full roll out, including Flintshire. What concerns me is that since full digital roll out in April 2017, rent arrears have increased by £40,000 in Flintshire."

The situation in England is worse with 89% of council tenants on UC reporting arrears.

The changes in benefit payments mean that councils will no longer receive housing benefit payments directly and there are concerns that this will lead to an increase in arrears for both council and private tenants who are facing financial difficulties.

Cllr Harper added: "Although there are a few individuals locally already on this new benefit, from October 4th all new applicants and anyone who reports a change of circumstances transfer over to UC. So we can expect numbers to increase but there are no figures or projections in terms of how many people this is likely to affect." 

She said the uncertainty caused by the changes is a concern not just to tenants but those involved in tenancy support, advice services and estate office staff: "It's important that the right services are in places to support people otherwise we will be seeing people facing eviction for rent arrears. This next phase will put pressure on services at a time when many of these are facing financial uncertainty themselves. 

 "I think Wrexham has learned some lessons from Flintshire's experiences and I hope we can avoid a few pitfalls but there's huge uncertainty about all this. The worst aspect is the potential for payment delays - there will be a minimum six-week delay for people to get their money, the reality is probably a minimum of eight weeks I'm told.

"We've already had one eviction in Caia because of UC arrears. The chances are that every tenant who's moved onto UC will get a notice seeking possession as they'll be instantly in arrears. Staff will obviously give some leeway knowing people are waiting for payments but the letters go out regardless. Obviously it's very easy for tenants to build up arrears quickly because of the delays but also by spending their first payment because they've been waiting so long.

"It's very important that the council doesn't evict for these temporary payment problems."

She said the worst-case scenario would mean tenants being evicted, then placed in temporary accommodation but failing to get back on the housing list because they were in arrears. 

Cllr Harper added: "This is a very costly situation that ultimately costs the council a lot of money. How many instances of this we're talking about I don't know but it's a likely outcome for anyone evicted from what I can gather.

"I'm already aware of people taking expensive pay-day loans to clear arrears because of UC. The real concern will be whether people are forced to go to loan sharks to tide them over."

Wednesday, 20 September 2017

HMP Berwyn catering for English prisoners while Wrexham inmates go to Altcourse

HMP Berwyn, which opened in February, will be the largest prison in Europe when full. But Plaid Cymru’s regional AM is critical that the vast majority of prisoners from north Wales are still going to prisons across the border. Fewer than 10% of the inmates in Berwyn are currently from Wales.

Llyr Gruffydd, Plaid Cymru AM for North Wales, said:

 “HMP Berwyn was sold as a prison for North Wales. The statistics show that this is not the case.
“The vast majority of prisoners in HMP Berwyn to date are from England, just 10% are from north Wales. This is despite the fact that in June there were 228 men from north Wales being sent to HMP Altcourse. At the same time there were fewer than 40 in HMP Berwyn.
“Even prisoners from Wrexham are far more likely to end up in Altcourse than in Berwyn by a factor of 10-1. In March there were 58 Wrexham men in Altcourse and under five in Berwyn.
“I accept that the prison is still not at capacity but are the ratios likely to remain the same? If so, then Berwyn has been built to cope with overcrowding in English prisons rather than meet local needs.
“In addition, the failure to provide for young offenders and women means that both these categories are still being sent over the border. There are 200 young offenders from Wales in Stoke Heath and there is still no women’s prison in Wales. This could and should have been a part of the plan for Berwyn but the UK Government ignored Welsh needs once again.
“Prison is not meant to be easy but punishing families with extra distances to travel and maintain contact isn’t fair. Rehabilitation and resettlement is meant to play a large part in ensuring prisoners do not re-offend. How does the Ministry of Justice explain that when prisoners from both England and Wales are being sent in different directions?”

Mr Gruffydd will be raising these concerns during a debate called today by Plaid Cymru on the proposal for another new prison in Wales, this time in the Port Talbot area. He added: 
“If this is allowed to happen it will mean that Wales will be importing prisoners and still have no facilities for women and youth offenders here in the North.”

His comments were echoed by prison reformers.

Andrew Neilson, Director of Campaigns at the Howard League for Penal Reform, said:
“These figures underline the fact that Berwyn was never built to cater for the needs of Wales in mind. A prison of this size – which will eventually hold around 2,000 prisoners – was built in response to the overcrowding crisis in English prisons.
“There is plentiful of evidence that the closer to home someone is jailed, the easier it is to maintain family contacts and return to the community safely at the end of a sentence. We would hope that wherever possible Welsh prisoners are imprisoned in Wales but the pressures of overcrowding in the system as a whole mean that prisoners are often placed where there is a space rather than in the prison that would suit them best.
“The government should take bold action to reduce prison numbers and ease pressure on the system rather than continue the failed policy of building more and more prisons, only to fill them as quickly as they are built.”

Saturday, 16 September 2017

New HMO planning application rejected

Wrexham planning committee voted 14-0 to refuse a planning application to turn a 3-bedroom terrace house at 8 Albert St, Hightown, into six bedsits. There was one abstention. The decision was welcomed by local residents in the gallery.
 This is the latest HMO to be rejected by the planning committee, where members expressed concern about the impact such housing is having on parts of Wrexham. They rejected the application on parking grounds, criticising the Welsh Government's planning guidance that treated the change from a three-bed home to six bedsits as "neutral" in terms of impact on the street.
  Plaid Cymru councillors welcomed the decision, stating that licences for HMOs needed to be reviewed and tightened due to concerns about tenants' welfare.
 They are also calling for new council houses to be built as a priority to help answer housing need in the borough, believing that too many people on low incomes are being forced into substandard or unsuitable private accommodation.

Tuesday, 12 September 2017

Council leader stifles debate on The Groves

21st CENTURY SCHOOLS PLAN 'A MIXED BAG'
Plans to develop and improve schools in Wrexham have been described as a "mixed bag" by Plaid Cymru councillors.

Plaid Cymru's group has welcomed Wrexham Council's bid for 21st Century funding from the Welsh Government to improve schools, including plans to open a new Welsh-medium school for Borras.

But they have also criticised the plans as "vague" and "confusing" after the council refused to consider developing the vacant Groves site. They also condemned the failure to assess need for future Welsh-medium education need, including a second secondary school in the county.

Cllr Marc Jones, leader of the group, said: 
"We're fully behind the bid for 21st Century funding from the Welsh Government to improve our schools here in Wrexham. The new Welsh-medium school in Borras is long overdue given the pressures we've seen on the other schools in this category.
"Having said that, we are concerned - like many parents are - that there's no evidence of long-term planning to meet the evident demand for Welsh-medium education that's feeding through primary level and will soon impact on Ysgol Morgan Llwyd. The school has had to create a new form in Year Seven to cope with the growing demand and this is only going to increase in future. We want the council to be planning in detail for that growth now so that it can find a suitable site for a second school."
Cllr Jones also criticised attempts by the council leader to stifle debate on The Groves site: 
"Today's Executive Board had a report before it discussing schools and education. It acknowledged the pressures facing town-centre schools and mentioned The Groves site.
"That site was withdrawn from sale to Coleg Cambria by the council in November 2015 on the grounds that it was needed to meet the county's educational needs. Yet the 21st Century Schools Plan - which takes us to 2024 - does not mention developing the site and describes the building as being 'surplus to educational requirement'. If that's the case why did the council keep hold of it?
"The leader's refusal to take questions on that matter from a number of councillors was a disgrace and undermines the whole point of having the opportunity to quiz lead members on important matters like this. We need a wider discussion on what should happen to that site and the thought of it lying idle for another seven years is scandalous."

Wednesday, 16 August 2017

Public meeting to debate plans for 82 houses in Summerhill

Plaid Cymru's Gwersyllt West Councillor Gwenfair Jones has organised a public meeting to discuss plans to build 82 houses in the area.

She said: "You may be aware that developers have put in a planning application to build 82 houses on Chestnut Heights, Summerhill (Off Top Road).
 "I believe that this is an inappropriate site for housing because of the poor road infrastructure, not just on Top Road but also along the whole length of Summerhill Road with existing traffic calming exacerbating traffic problems. 
 "This land is also unstable with a large railway tunnel running underneath the site. 
 "Despite there not being a Local Development Plan in place, developers must show that there is an exceptional need to build on what is a green barrier site separating two settlements, that of Gwersyllt and Summerhill. 
 "Recent building and planning consent will, when completed, result in around 80 new units on Boozey Fields and the old Summerhill Hall site and it would therefore be difficult to justify anymore on the basis of local need.

In order to discuss the matter further I have arranged a

 PUBLIC MEETING

AT GWERSYLLT RESOURCE CENTRE,

SECOND AVENUE, GWERSYLLT,

AT 6.30pm on THURSDAY 24th AUGUST 2017.

Everyone is welcome to this meeting and if you are unable to attend, feel free to check out the application on Wrexham Council website and respond quoting reference number P/2017/0651 on planning@wrexham.gov.uk or in writing to The Planning Departement, Wrexham CBC, The Guildhall, Wrexham, LL11 1AY.

The planning officer is Matthew Phillips who is contactable on 01978 298994

To respond please get in touch with Gwenfair.Jones@wrexham.gov.uk on 07855724605.

Saturday, 12 August 2017

Caia Park Motorbike Hell

Most residents in Caia Park are now familiar with the daily irritation of multiple motorbikes whizzing recklessly around the community, with the accompanying noise echoing across the estate like a swarm of 10,000 angry bees.

Although the bikes have been an issue for a number of years, the problem has escalated to an epidemic this year, with up to 6 or more motorbikes at a time terrorising residents on an almost daily basis. Throughout the day and often until the early hours, teenagers hiding in their hoodies are regularly zipping across local footpaths, fields and roads.

The bikes of course are often completely illegal, many are stolen and often the riders have no tax or insurance and commit a list of driving offences on each trip. The police can have up to several hundred calls a week from frustrated residents but a no pursuit policy has effectively curbed meaningful attempts to tackle the problem to date. The policy was implemented understandably following the death of a teenager in a city across the border following a police pursuit, but the lack of options in the armoury to get to grips with this issue is driving local residents to distraction.

​As a local councillor and Caia Park resident, I have been getting several messages a day for some months now from local people desperate for a solution​, and I feel their pain. There is the irritation of children being woken up and people generally being disturbed by the noise but this is secondary to the physical danger posed by these reckless riders. Already, there have been at least two extremely serious incidents as a result of these bikes crashing into people and vehicles, one case involving a bike hitting a child. There have been countless other close calls reported to me and to the police, many involving near misses with young children. 

People are getting hurt and more people will be hurt unless this issue is tackled, as a local representative it's my job to make clear the danger posed to our community, the bottom line is that this situation simply cannot carry on. 

So what's been done up to now? Well this is ultimately a police issue, although there is some cross over in terms of the council where council properties are involved.  The council are cracking down on tenancies where there is evidence of anti social behaviour involving these bikes. The police are also doing what they can within the limitations they have but as we all know, the problem continues. Part of the challenge for both the police and the council is still a lack of information in terms of those responsible and identifying problem properties, therefore anyone with information is urged to send it in to the Police in the first instance but also to the Caia Park Estate Office if there are potential tenancy issues.

It's clear to me though that we need to develop a new approach as what's been done up to now simply isn't working, we need a community action plan in place to map out a way forward. Although there is no easy fix, it is ultimately only a combined and sustained effort from local organisations and the local community that can tackle this problem. In that spirit, all 5 local councillors in Caia Park will be requesting a meeting with the police in order to make clear residents concerns and to discuss the next steps and options available. In the meantime, I hope residents will continue to feed in as much information as they can to the Police and Estate Office, remember you can also pass on information anonymously if you prefer. 

This is our community, if we work together we can find a solution and end this motorbike hell.

North Wales Police  - 101
North Wales Police webchat  - Click here 
Caia Park Estate office - 01978 317 040

Thursday, 27 July 2017

The Chief Executive and the Living Wage

Plaid Cymru councillors have issued a statement about the departure of Wrexham's chief executive to start a new job in Walsall:
"We wish Dr Paterson well in her new post in Walsall.
"The departure of Wrexham Council's chief executive is an opportunity to re-think our pay structures. Plaid Cymru wants Wrexham Council to work towards the real Living Wage, currently £8.45 an hour, for all workers. There are currently around 2400 staff being paid below that level, about 40% of all council workers. Many are part-time and are overwhelmingly women.
"As a start, Plaid Cymru's group of councillors is proposing that the two strategic directors currently below the chief executive become joint chief executives rather than replacing Dr Paterson when she leaves. This arrangement worked when the previous chief executive left and could be made permanent, saving £100,000 a year. This could be used as a first step to ensure all council workers are paid the real Living Wage."

It has benefits in terms of reducing absentee levels, retention of staff and the costs of recruitment.

Other councils such as Gwynedd, Cardiff, Rhondda Cynon Tâf and Caerffili are working towards this goal. Wrexham should do the same.

Thursday, 20 July 2017

Government passing the buck over investment in The Racecourse

The need to invest in developing The Racecourse as a venue for international sport and live music events has been raised in the Assembly chamber.

Llyr Gruffydd, Plaid Cymru’s North Wales AM, said the Welsh Government was actively calling for and investing in major events arenas in Cardiff and Newport. He asked cabinet secretary Ken Skates why his government wasn’t as pro-active in promoting and investing in Wrexham's Racecourse stadium.

Ken Skates, in response, stated: 
“All of us would like to see The Racecourse receive investment to become a more active and vibrant hub in the community. My officials recently met with Wrexham Football Trust* – they discussed the vision for The Racecourse. The key significance will be the role local council plays in devising a master plan for the town to ensure that any development aligns with any other development in the area. “The Racecourse deserves to have the investment – that will only come as a result of a sound business case and a very clear vision.”
Mr Gruffydd commented: 
“I’m incredibly disappointed with this response. In recent weeks Mr Skates has been vocal in arguing for new investment in major events arenas for Newport and Cardiff. There the Government has seen fit to take a lead, which is completely in order. 
“But when it comes to advocating and arguing for a similar major event arena here in the North we see him pass the buck to the local council. 
 “It seems this Labour Government is failing to show the same commitment to economic development, sports facilities and entertainment hubs here in the North as it is in the South.”
Mr Gruffydd has also sought assurances that Wrexham will be the location for a new national football museum.

He questioned Ken Skates on plans for a major feasibility study into the matter: 
“I welcome the Welsh Government’s decision to commission a feasibility study into a National Football museum for Wales, as agreed in the budget agreement between Plaid Cymru and the Government last year. It’s long overdue and I’m confident that such a museum will be able to reflect past and future successes in the Beautiful Game. With that in mind, can the minister explain how a commitment to look into a football museum located in the North has become a feasibility study into a sports museum somewhere in Wales? I’m not the only person to sense a change in direction and alarm bells are ringing.” 
Mr Skates confirmed that the study would consider a sports museum and also look at options in all parts of Wales, but also stated that the preferred option was to locate it in Wrexham or elsewhere in the North.

Mr Gruffydd said later: 
“Like many people who believe a new national football museum for Wales should be based in Wrexham, I’m concerned that the brief has been altered. Moving the goalposts like this will only raise doubts about the Labour Government’s commitment to this important strategic project. Wrexham is where the FA of Wales was established, the home of early internationals and it’s home to the third oldest club in the world. It's the spiritual home of Welsh football and a national museum would provide a substantial economic boost to the area. 
Wrexham Council already has an extensive collection of Welsh football memorabilia that's been on show recently at the town's museum and I'd like to see that collection on permanent display for fans to be able to see.  
England has a national football museum in Manchester, Scotland has one in Glasgow and it makes perfect sense to locate our national museum in Wrexham. As well as recognising the historic importance of the area in developing football in Wales, it would also re-balance the economic benefits towards the North."


* We assume Mr Skates means the Wrexham Supporters' Trust.

Tuesday, 18 July 2017

Fire service chiefs want council's money - but fail to attend key meeting

Plaid Cymru campaigners at the forefront of last year's march to save our fire engine
A key Wrexham Council meeting to discuss proposed cuts to local fire services went ahead today WITHOUT the presence of anyone from the North Wales Fire and Rescue Service. 
This is despite the NWFRS expecting Wrexham Council, along with the five other councils in the North, to fund its service for the coming three years. It also wants the council to back cuts in service that will leave the borough with just one whole-time fire engine and lose 24 full-time firefighters' jobs.
 The all-member workshop had hoped to question senior officers from the Fire Service about the proposal to cut one of Wrexham's two whole-time fire appliances.
 There was a strong objection to the way the consultation was framed, with councillors expressing frustration that the same cuts were rejected clearly in last year's consultation and that this wasn't offering anything new. 
 Serious questions will now be posed for the NWFRS including:
• Why have they employed more senior officers while cutting frontline firefighters?
• Are the four senior fire officers - which cost £500,000 - needed when similar sized fire services make do on less?
• Has the NWFRS examined its vehicle purchasing policy?
• The failure to budget properly in the medium term has led to a shortfall that could have been avoided.
• Why was £600,000 moved from revenue accounts to the capital account, thus making the shortfall in the budget to run the service greater?
• Wrexham has 25% of all call-outs but not 25% of all appliances in the North. Can cuts be justified here?
• If these cuts go ahead, are there sufficient firefighters to operate specialist equipment such as the Aerial Ladder Platform based in Wrexham?

The point was also forcefully made that the new Ambulance and Fire centre in Wrexham has cost £15m, with £6m coming from the NWFRS. It has eight bays for fire appliances but, if the NWFRS has its way, could only have two fire engines to fill them!

NWFRS has done itself no favours today and there is growing resistance to any plan to cut the service in Wrexham.




Thursday, 13 July 2017

Community council rejects "skewed" consultation on fire engine cuts

Last night's meeting of Rhosddu Community Council agreed to support Councillor Marc Jones's motion rejecting the North Wales Fire and Rescue Authority plan to cut one of Wrexham's two fire engines and shed 24 firefighter jobs.
 
The decision came after councillors discussed the Fire Authority's consultation document, which they rejected as "skewed" and intending to lead consultees in a specific direction.

Cllr Marc Jones, of Plaid Cymru, said: 
"There was a clear feeling that the consultation was designed with only one option on the table. Wrexham has a 1,000 call-outs a year - a quarter of all those in the North - and this would stretch our crews beyond the limit. 
"Rhosddu CC agreed that any shortfall in funding should be made up by cutting the Fire Authority's senior fire officers and ensuring increased contributions by the six county councils. 
"We all value our firefighters, who risk life and limb to save other people."

Wednesday, 5 July 2017

North Wales has lost 132 police officers since 2010

Plaid Cymru attacks Tory cuts to policing

Devolution of policing would deliver £25 million boost to Welsh police forces

Plaid Cymru’s Westminster leader, Liz Saville Roberts, has criticised the UK Government for imposing sustained cuts to the police forces since 2010.

There are 750 fewer police officers in Wales now than there were in 2010, equivalent to a 10% drop since the Tories took office. North Wales Police has 132 fewer officers – an 8% fall in numbers in just seven years.

Now Plaid Cymru is calling for the devolution of policing to ensure more police officers on the beat.

Figures provided by Dyfed Powys Police show that if policing in Wales was funded on the basis of population, they would be better off by £25 million per year. Devolving policing to Wales, bringing Wales into line with Scotland and northern Ireland, would ensure that policing would be funded through the Barnett Formula, which is based on population, rather than the UK Government’s police funding formula.

The UK Government also intends on reforming its police funding formula which, if implemented, would deliver a further £32 million cut to the Welsh police forces.

Devolving policing could therefore protect the Welsh police forces from Westminster’s £32 million cut and instead deliver a £25 million boost to their finances.

Llyr Gruffydd, Plaid Cymru’s North Wales AM, said:

“The fall in police numbers is being felt acutely in certain communities here in the North, where anti-social behaviour is on the rise and there’s a feeling that police can’t cope. Losing one in every 12 police officers in the last seven years would stretch any organization and it’s clear that frontline policing has suffered as a result of Tory cuts and UK central government policies.”

During Prime Minister’s Questions, Plaid Cymru’s leader in Westminster, Liz Saville Roberts asked the Prime Minister:

“Police officer numbers in Wales have dropped by 10 per cent since her party came to power.

“If policing were devolved – as it is in northern Ireland and Scotland – Welsh forces would have extra funding worth £25 million at their disposal. This would more than replace those lost officers.

“What justification is there for refusing to devolve policing?”

The Prime Minister responded:

“We’ve been round this discussion before but can I just address the central issue of what the honourable lady is talking about which is about police budgets and is about the number of police officers.

“We are currently protecting police budgets, we’ve been doing that since 2015.

“That, I believe is acknowledged across the House and we’ve not just protected those police budgets – we are ensuring that the Police have the capabilities they need to deal with new types of crime - creating the National Cybercrime unit, creating the National Crime Agency – these are all important steps to ensure the Police can do their job of cutting crime and crime is at a record low.”

Elms expansion gets approval - local concerns ignored



Betsi Cadwaladr Health Board submitted a new plan to expand The Elms on the Rhosddu Road roundabout back in February. The centre provides drug and alcohol services. That extension was refused by Wrexham Council's planning committee.

On Monday, the health board came back with an amended plan - which didn't involve an extension at the back but a reconfiguration of offices inside and new windows on the upper floors. This new scheme has been approved.

Local Grosvenor councillor Marc Jones said:
"I spoke out at a planning committee as a local resident back in February against plans to extend The Elms. That extension was rejected but, as a result, I was advised that I couldn't take part in the debate on this latest application, which is deeply frustrating as a new councillor.

"My views are unchanged. The health board is willing to spend £2 million on expanding services in The Elms but is unwilling to engage with local people and elected representatives.

"I want them to understand that concentrating so many services in a small residential area is having a huge impact on the well-being of the wider population but also on jobs and small businesses in the immediate area.

"It's irresponsible to refuse to face up to the situation that's developed in recent years and simply maintaining the problem rather than looking for a solution is not what the NHS should be about. It's a very complex picture and the people needing help and treatment all have different needs, but that's precisely why the health board should be engaging with local people rather than trying to get its way by tinkering with planning guidelines.

"The speed with which they've managed to put in an appeal and submit a completely new planning application is in marked contrast to their speed in dealing with the problems Rhosddu residents face day to day.

"Wrexham's planning committee was right to reject the first planning application and found it had no narrow planning grounds to reject this new amended plan. The wider issue of increased anti-social behaviour and a failure to deal with the problem has not been addressed by the health board."

Tuesday, 4 July 2017

'Bring football home to Wrexham'

Ex-miner turned "Welsh wizard" Billy Meredith

Any new national football museum for Wales should be based in Wrexham, according to campaigners who believe the north-east is the sport's "spiritual home".

The call comes as the Welsh Government announces plans for a feasibility study in to the scheme.

The study was part of a comprehensive deal struck last year with Plaid Cymru, which has long campaigned for a national football museum to be based in Wrexham.

Plaid Cymru councillor Carrie Harper was among those who started the campaign for the museum in Wrexham two years ago. She said: 
"It's taken far too long to get to this stage but at least now we're going to see some progress. My concern with the tender is that the Welsh Government has not specified that we need it here in the north east - the only part of Wales that does not have a national museum.

"Wrexham is where the FA of Wales was established, the home of early internationals and the third oldest club in the world. It's the spiritual home of Welsh football and a national museum would provide a huge boost to the area."
Councillor Marc Jones, whose Grosvenor ward includes the Racecourse ground, added: 
"Wrexham Council already has an extensive collection of Welsh football memorabilia that's been on show recently at the town's museum and I'd like to see that collection on permanent display for fans to be able to see. 
"England has a national football museum in Manchester, Scotland has one in Glasgow and it makes perfect sense to locate our national museum in Wrexham. As well as recognising the historic importance of the area in developing football in Wales, it would also re-balance the economic benefits towards the North."
Funding for the football museum in Manchester was provided through the Heritage Lottery Fund as well as the local council and it attracted a million visitors in its first three years.

Cllr Jones added: 
"When you visit the museum in Manchester you can't help being struck by the amount of coverage footballing pioneers such as Billy Meredith, originally from Chirk, are given. 
"Not only did he play for Wales, Manchester United and Manchester City, he was also instrumental in forming the first Players' Union and only retired from playing at the grand old age of 47. 
Something of the Ian Rush about our Billy?
"We need a national museum to showcase the achievements of people like Billy Meredith as well as those of Gareth Bale as they continue to make history."

Thursday, 29 June 2017

Spend £500,000 NOW on safer, cleaner streets


'We need to restore confidence in our town'


Plaid Cymru councillors have called on Wrexham Council to invest a £583,000 underspend from last year on making Wrexham's streets safer and cleaner.

Plaid Cymru group leader Marc Jones, who represents the Grosvenor ward that covers part of the town centre, said: 


"Plaid Cymru's group are all new councillors elected in May. We understand the financial pressures facing the council but we also understand the greater pressures facing our town centre businesses due to anti-social behaviour and the drugs problem.

"Shoppers are now keeping away from parts of the town due to ongoing problems that have been widely publicised.

"We need to restore confidence in our town centre and I know there's a lot of good work being done behind the scenes. Hopefully that will come good in the coming weeks and months.

"However, making our streets safer is something that needs to happen now.
"Traders are at their wits' end, businesses are losing money due to this and we need to restore the balance. We know the police have faced drastic cuts in recent years and that is something we need to reverse but in the here and now what we as councillors can do it make the case for council funding to be spent where it's most needed
 
"The £583,000 underspend on council services should therefore be invested in an immediate physical presence in the town centre areas most affected by anti-social behaviour. That's the Lord Street, Queen Square and King Street area of town. 
"The council already has security at the bus station and one lone worker in the rest of the town. For his safety and for greater reassurance, we want to expand that security so that people can see a visible presence but also deter anti-social behaviour. 
"Plaid Cymru's group of councillors also wants to see a pilot to attract more shoppers to town by varying parking charges. Unless we try something different by lowering parking costs and making it free at certain times to ensure our car parks are full rather than half empty, the town will continue to struggle. Town centre traders need every bit of help they can get at the moment and this is another part of that jigsaw.

"We also need to see a greater focus on cleaning up our streets. Weeds growing out of pavements and litter left uncollected adds to the sense of neglect. We want to work with the council to restore pride in our streets but that means investing in services.

"Let's use that £583,000 to kickstart a real change that brings confidence and pride back to Wrexham."

Tuesday, 27 June 2017

Planning Inspectorate allows 365 new homes in Llay

The Planning Inspectorate has today announced it will allow plans for 365 new homes to go ahead on the Gresford Road in Llay.
 The decision, which goes against Wrexham Council's planning committee decision to refuse the application in October 2015, was made after Labour Government ministers called in the matter.
 Llay is a large village that has seen rapid growth in housing over the past decade or so. Services have not kept pace and this new permitted development will mean even greater pressure being put on our GP practices, roads, education and social services.
 Plaid Cymru councillor Marc Jones said:
"The decision by the Planning Inspectorate undermines the democratic decision of the planning committee locally. The plan for the 365 sits outside the agreed settlement limit. The Planning Inspectorate chose to ignore this on the basis that there is insufficient land supply in the council's old development plan. 
 "This ignores the fact that the Welsh Government rejected a perfectly sound Local Development Plan  (LDP) back in 2012 that would have ensured sufficient land for housing development. Instead ministers chose to insist on a new plan that would have increased housing in Wrexham by at least 5,000 homes in the coming decade. 
 "The Government has since revised that figure down to something very similar to the original LDP. So we're back at square one at a cost of hundreds of thousands of pounds to the local council. But far worse than this is the fact that local communities such as Llay have been left defenceless against speculative developers who have seen an opportunity to take advantage of the lack of a development plan, which protects green spaces such as this. 
 "The people affected by this decision in Llay have every right to be furious with the Welsh Government for allowing this to happen in the first place."

"The people affected by this decision in Llay have every right to be furious with the Welsh Government for allowing this to happen"

Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Wrexham council re-affirms opposition to cutting fire engine

Wrexham Council has re-affirmed its "vehement" opposition to proposals by North Wales Fire and Rescue Authority to cut one of the town's two whole-time fire engines and 24 firefighters' jobs.

Plaid Cymru councillor Marc Jones asked two questions of the new council executive board in advance of the fire authority reconvening to discuss this proposal.
1. Can the council exec board re-affirm its opposition to proposals to axe 24 full-time firefighters' jobs and one of Wrexham's two whole-time fire engines, noting that the consultation incorrectly describes the town as having three when one is currently off the road due to insufficient part-time staffing?

2. What steps is the council taking to work with the North Wales Fire and Rescue Authority to ensure it has sufficient funding to continue the level of service in the Wrexham area - will it insist that the NWFRA re-examines its own senior staffing arrangements and spending commitments prior to any cuts to frontline services?
The response from Cllr Hugh Jones on behalf of the executive board re-affirmed the council's opposition to the planned cut and also confirmed that the council would be holding a workshop on the matter for all councillors next month.

Speaking after the meeting, Cllr Marc Jones said he was glad the council had expressed its opposition so clearly and unequivocally: 
"It's clear that this would be a dangerous and retrograde step, especially in light of the Grenfell disaster in London and the need to ensure we have an emergency service that has the capacity to cope with the worst possible scenarios. 
"As the Fire Authority is financed by the six local councils across the region, I felt it was important that our council challenges the Fire Authority to explain why it is cutting this vital frontline service when it is top-heavy in terms of senior officers and has transferred funds from its revenue account to its capital account in the last budget. This is money that could be spent on retaining the current level of service.  
"However, I would also point out that years of Tory cuts and austerity have created a situation where our emergency services are struggling to deliver what is needed. Any opposition to this immediate threat to our fire service has to be seen in that context and we need to broaden the campaign to challenge the ideology that's destroying important public services."