Thursday, 15 September 2016

Council to honour Wrecsam raised Welsh hero

Great news, I had an e-mail passed to me confirming that Wrecsam council will be flying the flag of Owain Glyndwr from the Guildhall tomorrow to mark Owain Glyndwr Day.

On 16th September 1400, Owain Glyndwr was proclaimed Prince of Wales at Glyndyfrdwy near Corwen, making him the last true Prince of Wales. 

Welsh Braveheart Glyndwr, who was brought up in the Wrecsam Maelor area, led a 15-year war of Independence against the English crown and also set up Wales' first parliament 600 years ago. He sacrificed everything for a free Wales with its own national institutions. 

Don't forget to raise a glass tomorrow to a true Welsh hero! 

I Gymru. 

Rate relief 'a missed opportunity' for small businesses

The Cardiff Labour Government's decision to maintain the current business rates relief has been described as a missed opportunity by Plaid Cymru.

Small Business Rates Relief is the largest scheme helping businesses in Wales. It provides 100% relief for properties with a rateable value of £6,000 or less, and tapered relief for properties between £6,001 and £12,000.

Around 51% or 56,000 non-domestic properties in Wales are eligible for 100% relief and a further 19% receive partial relief.

According to the latest figures, over 4,250 business properties are liable for non-domestic rates in Wrexham.

However, most businesses in Wrexham town centre do not qualify for this rate relief because their rateable value is far higher, due to the system not having been reviewed since the economic downturn.

Responding to the Welsh Government announcement on business rates, Plaid Cymru Shadow Cabinet Secretary for Finance and Economy Adam Price said:

“The business sector in Wales will be extremely disappointed to see the Labour government row back on one of its top manifesto pledges for this year’s Assembly election. Despite business owners being promised a better deal after the election, what the Labour government has given them is business as usual. In these uncertain political times businesses need support that they can depend on, but Labour is clearly unwilling to deliver it. As we made clear in our Programme for Opposition, reduction in business rates remains a key issue for us and we will be seeking to press this home in our discussions with the Welsh Government on future budget priorities.”

Plaid Cymru's plan would take far more small businesses out of paying rates, enabling them to spend money more effectively on improving their businesses and employing more staff.

Wednesday, 14 September 2016

Wrexham's drug problem - address the causes not the symptoms

A private meeting for the town's traders was held in the Guildhall last night. The aim of the meeting was to discuss the ongoing problem of drug and alcohol misuse in the town centre and associated anti-social behaviour.

One of the people present have asked that this post is removed. 

I have removed all reference to what was discussed at the meeting but will end by retaining what I said in conclusion to my original article:

There are solutions to the drug problem blighting Wrexham as a whole. They're not easy and would take a united front involving politicians, police and all other agencies.

What's clear is that treating it with a sticking plaster rather than addressing the underlying problems will not work - the PSPO is just moving the problem on.

Thursday, 8 September 2016

Council opposes fire engine cuts plan

Caia Park Community Council has become the first local council to oppose plans to axe one of Wrexham's two fire engines.

The community council was particularly concerned that the ongoing problem of arson attacks in the area would only be made worse if there was reduced cover.

Councillor Carrie Harper, of Plaid Cymru, said: "If this happens and the one fire engine is sent out to an incident then what happens if there's a fire somewhere else? Response times will increase and that's quite scary."

Councillors unanimously supported the motion and agreed to contact other community councils in the area to support the opposition to the proposal.

“This council opposes North Wales Fire and Rescue Authority’s plan to save £1m by cutting 24 firefighters’ jobs and one of Wrexham’s two fire engines.
Wrexham’s fire services are already dealing with 43% of all North Wales arson and a large proportion of the road traffic accidents across the North. As community councillors, we are very aware of the work being done in terms of fire prevention that needs enhancing to pro-actively stop fires, but there will always be a need for a comprehensive emergency service that has the firefighters and appliances available to deal with any incident.
This proposal comes at a time when £15m has been spent on a brand new combined station in the town with the ambulance service.
This makes even less when you consider that the Welsh Government is anticipating a 20% rise in the borough’s population over the coming years and the new prison opens in 2017.
Both will inevitably mean more work for our fire service.
This council calls on the NWFRA to scrap its plan to cut Wrexham’s fire service and supports proper funding of this essential emergency service.

This council also resolves to ask other community councils in the Wrexham area to support the motion.”

Friday, 2 September 2016

Cutting fire engine would endanger lives - Plaid

Plans to cut one of Wrexham’s two fire engines and 24 firefighters’ jobs would endanger lives says Plaid Cymru – the Party of Wales.

 Plaid Cymru’s Wrexham spokesperson Marc Jones, who has organised a street petition against the proposal for tomorrow opposite the Horse and Jockey in Wrexham town centre between 10-12am, said: 

“The Fire Authority’s plan to save £1m by cutting 24 jobs and one of the town’s two fire appliances defies logic. They’ve just spent £15m on a brand new combined station in the town with the ambulance service.

“Why cut the service to the bone now?

“This makes even less when the Welsh Government expects there to be a 20% rise in the borough’s population over the coming years and there is a huge new prison opening in 2017.

 “We also have an ongoing arson problem in the area with Wrexham’s fire services are already dealing with 43% of all North Wales arson and a large proportion of the road traffic accidents across the North.”

  “In these circumstances, cutting the service would endanger lives. This is the reality of years of cuts and budget freezes - it's now affecting frontline services.”

Plaid Cymru is calling on the Fire Authority to re-think its proposal before cutting services in the largest town in the North.

Mr Jones added:  "Hundreds have already signed our online petition and we want to give people in the town a chance to show their opposition so that we cane challenge the North Wales Fire and Rescue Authority’s decision, which is currently out to consultation."

Friday, 26 August 2016

Lack of ambition for our economy

One thing you expect from an organisation called the North Wales Economic Ambition Board is, er, ambition for North Wales.

The board consists of all six local councils, the North Wales Business Council and four higher and further education institutes.

Its latest publication - A Growth Vision for the Economy of North Wales - talks of "Team North Wales" building a "single, joined-up vision for economic and employment growth for North Wales".

In truth, it's a shallow re-hash of ideas that see the North Wales economy begging for crumbs from to the "Northern Powerhouse" table.

It concentrates on existing strengths and expertise along the A55/A483 corridor but has nothing to say about the economy of the rural hinterland and how we can develop an economy that reflects our geography rather than seek to move people to jobs.

It talks in bland marketing-speak. In imagining Wales in 2035 it states "the economic advantages of being positioned between major economic centres such as Manchester and Dublin will be maximised". How? North Wales is a transit zone for trade and exports between those two cities and it's difficult to see how that will change.

The thrust is, in fact, largely about improving cross-border transport links with details of spending on improving the A55 and electrifying the north Wales rail line taking up the lion's share of the £1.6 bn spend listed under transport.

This dovetails neatly with the board's cross-border focus, which talks of "decisive and co-operative joint planning with Regional Partnerships such as Cheshire and Warrington". Why Warrington would want to plan anything with North Wales when it has Manchester and Liverpool in closer proximity is a mystery, unless it's to provide a commuting workforce that has good transport access to relatively cheap housing in a beautiful location.

True, there are aspects to commend - the focus on improving high-skilled jobs, retaining workers and developing specialist hubs by building on existing centres of excellence in terms of workplaces and colleges/universities. North Wales has got a lot going for it and we should be rightly proud of that.

However, there is precious little ambition on display if there are more references to Warrington in a vision than Bala or Blaenau or Denbigh or Flint.

It also misses several tricks to promote some of our other unique strengths:

• Nothing to suggest that promoting micro-businesses and encouraging entrepreneurship among local people can be a way forward
• No pathway or support for existing small local businesses to grow, a la Moneypenny or Ifor Williams Trailers, into medium-sized companies as outlined by Prof Karel Williams in this report. These medium-sized companies that grow organically, the Mittelstand, are the basis of Germany's strong and resilient economic model.
• No mention of social enterprises or cooperatives, despite the long tradition in rural Wales of such organisations and the more recent growth in the North, which has a plethora of community coop pubs, village shops, leisure centres, breweries and even a professional football club.
• No mention of our unique and respected food and drink industry and how that could be the basis for greater manufacturing output
• No mention of tourism, allegedly the largest employer in Wales. North Wales has been over-reliant on seasonal, low-paid tourist employment for too long which has skewed the economy. There is an opportunity, through adventure tourism that is year-round and involves higher spend, to create a more balanced economy in the hands of local people who will keep the money in the local economy rather than see it seep out.
• No vision for ensuring the rural economy can thrive by focussing on sustainable agriculture, small businesses and innovation rather than over-reliance on building new nuclear power plants and empty industrial units.
• No strategy or targets for local councils, health boards and other public bodies to ensure a greater proportion of the Welsh pound is retained within the region by a more progressive procurement policy or by better collaboration with local firms.
• No mention of renewing or transforming struggling town centres - from Holyhead to Wrexham traditional shopping centres are struggling under the combined pressures of online shopping, out-of-town retail parks and high rent and rates. Retail is an important part of the local economy and thriving towns are essential to economic success but they do not rate a mention.

Renewable energy gets a mention - as well it should given the potential for North Wales to continue to be a net exporter of electricity. But, while both Wylfa Newydd and Trawfynydd are touted for nuclear plants there's no mention of the more realistic and safer option of tidal lagoons and other clean energy options.

It's a report that looks as if it's been written in the 1970s in its desire to see people travel great distances to work. It ignores the growing cost of commuting, growing job insecurity and instability, the almost daily snarl-ups on the A55 and A483 and the desire of many to improve their work-life balance - all mitigate against long commutes. The wider environment, which should be central to any sustainable economic vision, doesn't get a look in.

Any transport "vision" that fails to mention buses is largely redundant in North Wales and integrated transport talks vaguely of "a regional passenger transport network that fully integrates transport modes". One has to ask, given the general thrust of the document, which region?

"Team North Wales" as a concept is laudable - we need a clear vision to deliver a stronger economy here in the North. But one that is fixated with chasing after the "Northern Powerhouse", when that increasingly looks to be moving further away from this area, is doomed to failure.

North Wales needs ambition to improve its economy and communities. Sadly this board seems devoid of ambition.

Monday, 22 August 2016

Groves school building listed

The Welsh Government has today decided to list the old Groves School building in Wrexham town centre.

In a letter sent out today, the relevant minister Ken Skates said:
"I am writing to inform you that I have agreed a decision concerning the possible listing of the former Grove Park School, Wrexham as a building of special architectural or historic interest.
On the balance of the evidence presented to me, considering the merits of listing the building against the published criteria and in light of all the representations and all of the advice that has been submitted, I have agreed to the listing for the building’s special architectural interest as a building of definite quality and character as a key example of an interwar girl’s grammar school in the neo-classical tradition (in a 1930s interpretation) surviving largely intact.
I have carefully considered afresh all of the representations made about the building, the written and visual evidence and all of the specialist advice including the peer review and the advice that Wrexham County Borough Council commissioned. In particular, I have had specific regard to the listing criteria contained within Circulars 61/96 and 1/98. I have noted that there are arguments on both sides of the case which I consider demonstrates the finely balanced nature of the decision.
This decision has immediate effect and introduces a requirement for listed building consent to demolish the building or alter, or extend it in a way which affects it character as one of special architectural or historic interest.
 My officials have today written to Wrexham County Borough Council informing them of my decision."

The decision comes after a long campaign by Save our Heritage, a pressure group formed to stop Wrexham Council bulldozing the site. 

The school building and the rest of the site can now be used for the purpose for which it was covenanted to the council - as an educational site. The building can be adapted as a new primary school, which is desperately needed in the town as demand grows.

The council's own plans for the town centre show that it wants more housing. But without schools available locally, it's unlikely those houses would be attractive to young families.

The challenge now is for the council to deliver on its promise of building new schools on the site. 

Saturday, 20 August 2016

A Marginalised Region?

This is a talk given by Wales's finest historian John Davies in Mold in 2007. It deserved a wider audience, not least for those who believe the north-east of Wales is no more than an adjunct to Liverpool. Sadly John Bwlchllan died last year but his work lives on.

The north-east in the history of Wales
John Davies
My theme is the role that the inhabitants of the north-east – essentially the old counties of Flintshire and Denbighshire, or the one-time county of Clwyd – have played in the history of Wales. There is a tendency – in the south in particular, but also perhaps in the north-west – to consider the north-east to be a rather detached part of Wales, or, indeed, to be more of an adjunct of Merseyside than an integral part of the Welsh nation.
Evidence of the marginalization of the region is apparent from the fact that it did not become location of one of the founding constituent colleges of the University of Wales. Nor did it obtain the northern headquarters of the BBC in Wales, despite the fact that the number of inhabitants in the two original north-eastern counties exceeds that of the three original north-western counties by over a hundred thousand. It has no city, no out-station of the National Museum, and, as yet, no World Heritage Site. The region has not had its share of Welsh institutions, not because it is an unsuitable place in which to locate such institutions, but because we in the rest of Wales have connived in the region’s marginalization. And I speak as one from the rest of Wales, for in my advocacy of the north-east, I am inspired, not by any personal or family associations with the region, but by a feeling that that marginalization is fundamentally unjust.
My essential argument is that, rather than being an adjunct of the rest of Wales, the rest of Wales is in fact an adjunct of the north-east. To sustain my argument, I hope to show that the majority of the significant events in the history of Wales took place in the one-time county of Clwyd. If we go back to the very beginnings, we find that the first evidence of the existence of human beings in Wales comes from the Pontnewydd Cave in the Elwy Valley, west of St Asaph. It is a human tooth which is 250,000 years old, and was, as the journal Antiquity put it, in the ‘mouth of the first Welshman’. A neighbouring cave, that of Ffynnon Beuno, yielded Wales’s best artefact from the Palaeolithic Age and also the bones of prehistoric animals which Darwin studied while he was developing his theory of evolution.
During the Neolithic Age, when the emphasis seems to have be upon the seafarers following the western sea routes, it would be reasonable to expect that the north-east was not in the forefront. Yet Y Gop at Trelawnyd is the most astonishing monument of Neolithic Wales – a mound hardly less in size than the superb monuments of the same period at Newgrange in Ireland. 

The Bronze Age – the period extending from about 2,400 to 600 BC – the central role of the north-east is even more apparent. Flintshire yielded by far the most astonishing Bronze Age artefact found in Britain – the elaborate ceremonial cape which came to light in Mold in 1833. And may I say that we in Wales have as good a right to see the cape repatriated to Wales from the British Museum as have the Greeks to demand the return of the Elgin Marbles.
By the opening of the last pre-Christian millennium, the north-east – and one could include in the term the county of Montgomery – was an area of intense activity. The earliest ramparts of the great hill-fort at Dinorben date from 1000 BC, making them broadly contemporaneous with the first Temple in Jerusalem. Although it has been much undermined by quarrying, Dinorben is still astonishing, and what is even more astonishing is that it is only one of the north-east’s supendous group of hill-forts. Dinorben, Penycorddyn Mawr, Llanymynech, Breiddin, Ffridd Faldwyn and the rest are among the most spectacular monuments of British prehistory. Hardly anything on that scale was built anywhere else in Wales. Some of the forts contain the foundations of considerable groups of houses indicating that this part of Wales, in the last centuries of prehistory, was capable of sustaining quasi-urban communities. Some of the earliest evidence of links between Wales and the Celtic civilization coming into existence in central Europe has come from the north-east. As the Hallstatt culture developed into that known as La Tène, the north-east is again represented, with the hanging bowl from Cerrigydrudion and the fire dogs from Capel Garmon.
So far, I have been considering prehistory, the era before the availablity of written records; with the availability of such records, we are, of course, ushered into the historical era. It is in the north-east that the historical era in Wales begins. The first written evidence of any area of Wales is Tacitus’s 1st-century account of the Roman attack upon the Deceangli, the people living between the Dee and the Clwyd. The huge military camp discovered at Rhyn Park near the mouth of the Ceiriog Valley indicates the scale of the Roman preparations and the degree of resistance they expected. Tacitus’s account, however, suggests that the Deceangli accepted Roman rule peacefully. Part of the appeal of the area to the Romans was its lead deposits, deposits that had long been exploited in prehistory and which would loom large in the history of the north-east almost until the 20th century.
Following the collapse of the Roman Empire, the main focus of the history of Wales is concerned with the growth of the Christian church and the state-building activities of the Welsh rulers. Among the most important indications of the growth of the Christian church are the inscribed stones of the 5th to 8th centuries, and the most varied group of such stones comes from the western part of the old Denbighshire, the area around Penmachno. The most important monument to state-building in early Christian Wales is the Eliseg Pillar near Llangollen, which celebrates the achievements of the royal house of Powys. Equally indicative of the achievments of that house is Offa’s Dyke, which can be seen at its best in the north-east. That Offa, king of Mercia, felt the need to demarcate the border between his kingdom and that of Powys, surely indicates that the early Powys had attained a substantial amount of territorial coherence.
The historical record increases markedly from the 12th century onwards. By then it is evident that the north-east belonged to two distinct polities. Its southern part - the cantrefi and commotes of Maelor, Iâl, Nanheudwy, Cynllaith and Edeirnion – were part of Powys, while the northern and western part – the Perfeddwlad, that is the four cantrefi of Tegeingl, Dyffryn Clwyd, Rhos and Rhufoniog – were considered by the rulers of Gwynedd to constitute the eastern part of their territories, a part that they knew as Gwynedd Is Conwy.
In the late 12th century, Powys split into two, and Maelor, Iâl, Nanheudwy, Cynllaith and Edeirnion came to constitute Powys Fadog. It was these two constituent parts of the north-east – the Perfeddwlad and Powys Fadog – which provided the stage for the major drama of 13th Century Wales, the attempt of the rulers of Gwynedd to gain hegemony over the rulers of the rest of Wales. The success of that attempt ebbed and flowed, and the measuring rod of success and failure always depended upon who ruled the Perfeddwlad. When it was ruled by Gwynedd, the cause of the two Llywelyns was in the ascendant; when it was ruled by the kings of England, that cause was in jeopardy. And of course, when the final loss of the Perfeddwlad came about in 1277, that prepared the way for the last chapter in the history of the Welsh principality, a chapter which – with the attack upon Hawarden and the proclamation of the Statute of Rhuddlan – had the north-east as its main stage.
The Edwardian conquest endowed Wales with its most distinguished buildings, the Edwardian castles – the “magnificent badges of our
servitude”, to quote the comment of that distinguished native of Flintshire,Thomas Pennant. When we think of the castles, we tend to think of the north-west, of Caernarfon, Conwy, Harlech and Beaumaris. Yet, it should be borne in mind that the talented architect of those splendid castles, James of St George, had honed his skills in the north-east, in his work on the castles of Flint and Rhuddlan. Furthermore, the most ingenious example of medieval defensive architecture in Wales, and very possibly in Europe – the triple octagonal tower gate at Denbigh – is very much one of the treasures of the north-east.
The next great crisis in the history of Wales – the Rising of Owain Glyndwˆ r – is again very much a north-eastern affair. Glyndwˆ r was quintessentially a figure of the north-eastern March; he represented the senior line of the lords of Powys Fadog, and lived at Sycharth, Llansilin, a mere stone’s throw from the English border. Many of the major events of the Rising – the quarrel with Grey of Ruthin, the proclamation of Owain as prince in Glyndyfyrdwy, the attacks on the north-eastern towns and the burning of Sycharth – were events in the north-east. The north-east was also the setting for that crisis in the history of the English monarchy which in part led to the Rising – the capture of Richard II at Flint Castle and his
eventual murder.
While central to the story of war and rebellion, the north-east was also central to more peaceful and cultural pursuits. That was in part the consequence of the fact that, from the late 15th to the late 18th
century, the north-east was unquestionably the most prosperous part of Wales. It has a higher proportion of land of high fertility than any other part of Wales. It played a central part in the rise of the woollen industry; of the 62 fulling mills built in Wales between 1400 and 1500, the majority were built in Flintshite and what would be Denbighshire. The continuing exploitation of the leadmines of Tegeingl and Maelor was also important, as were the incipient industries of the north-eastern coalfield. The most evident fruit of this prosperity is architectural. The north-east has the wonderful shrine at Holywell and the splendid late medieval churches of St Giles, Wrexham, St Eurgain, Northop, and above all All Saints, Gresford, by far the finest parish church in Wales. But the north- east’s true architectural richness comes from its large number of humbler buildings – the many two-aisled churches of the Vale of Clwyd, for example, and the gentry and yeomen’s houses of the countryside and the sparkling black-and-white buildings of Ruthin.

Less immediately evident, but perhaps more significant, was the role of the north-east in the history of the Welsh literature of the late medieval period. Saunders Lewis liked to describe that as “Canrif Fawr Llenyddiaeth Gymraeg” (the Great Century of Welsh Literature) and indeed the roll call of the distinguished poets of the era gives credence to his description. That roll call would include Tudur Aled, Guto’r Glyn, Gutun Owain, Iolo Goch, Dafydd ab Edmwnd and Lewys Glyn Cothi. Of the poets listed, all, with the exception of Lewys Glyn Cothi, were natives of the north-east and depended upon the gentry of that region – Hywel ap Dafydd of Northop, for example – for the patronage which sustained them.
Not content with being central to the flowering of late medieval Welsh culture, the north-east was even more central to the next cultural phase – the Renaissance. Indeed, the Renaissance in Wales is essentially an episode in the history of the counties of Denbigh and Flint. The architectural pre-eminence evident in late 15th and early 16th Century Holywell and Gresford is even more evident in late 16th and early 17th Century Bachegraig, Plas Clough and Plas Teg. Of the Welshmen of distinction in that era, the greatest humanist, William Salesbury, was a native of Llansannan, the greatest benefactor, William Morgan, of Penmachno, the greatest scholar, John Davies of Mallwyd, of Llanferres, the leading financier, Richard Clough, of Denbigh, and the most dedicated gardener, Thomas Hanmer, of Bettisfield. It has been argued that the factor which above all distinguishes Welsh-language culture from the cultures associated with other Celtic languages is the readiness of some in Wales to embrace Renaissance ideas; without the north-east, Wales would not have been endowed with that benefit.
The pre-eminence of the north-east remained apparent in the mid and late 17th century. In that era, Wrexham was almost certainly the largest town in Wales, and its role as a centre of progressive thinking was evident during the Civil War years. The most gifted of the gentry families of those years was the Myddelton family of Chirk, and the most successful land accumulators of the era was the Watkin Wynn family of Wynnstay, near Ruabon, who, by the mid 18th century, had made Wynnstay the centre of by far the largest landed estate in Wales.
In the late 18th century, Wales’s leading naturalist and historian was Thomas Pennant of Plas Downing, near Mostyn, author of Tours in Wales, the first volume of which appeared in 1778. The title of the work would suggest Wales as a whole, but it is evident that he considered that the only region deserving of extended treatment was the north-east. It was his work that convinced leading figures in England that Wales was intellectually interesting, thus initiating the stream of penpushing English tourists who visited into Wales from the 1780s onwards. That tradition reached its climax with George Borrow, whose main interest was the north-east and who spent the first half of his Welsh visit at Llangollen.
An indication of what was considered interesting in Wales comes from the piece of doggerel entitled ‘the Seven Wonders of Wales’, which was probably written in the 1790s:
Pistyll Rhaeadr and Wrexham steeple, Snowdon’s mountain without its people, Overton’s yew trees, St Winifred’s wells, Llangollen’s bridge and Gresford’s bells.
Of the seven, Snowdon, at the time, was in Caernarfonshire and Pistyll Rhaeadr was shared between Denbighshire and Montgomeryshire; Wrexham’s steeple, Llangollen’s bridge and Gresford’s bells were in Denbighshire, while Overton’s yews and Winifred’s wells were in Flintshire. Thus, Wales’s tourist attractions were being interpreted almost exclusively in terms of the north-east.
This was partly the consequence of the fact that the north-east was the first part of Wales to have turnpike roads linking the region to the road network of the kingdom as a whole. The first act authorising a turnpike road in Wales was that of 1752, and concerned the linking of Ellesmere in Shropshire with Overton in Flintshire and Wrexham in Denbighshire. A further twenty Wales-related acts were passed in the following fifteen years, half of which involved the north-east. It may have been the breaking down of isolation caused by roadbuilding which caused the north-east to be, in the late 18th Century, the most politically aware part of Wales. Petitions in favour of parliamentary reform came disproportionately from Denbighshire and Flintshire. Those counties were also at the forefront of agricultural improvement in late 18th century Wales, with the innovations of the Watkin Wynns of Wynnstay and the insistence of Philip Yorke of Erddig that ‘every field of my estate will be kept to the culture I shall dictate’.
The pre-eminence in Welsh culture enjoyed by the north-east in the late medieval and the Renaissance eras was equally apparent in later periods. The movement which eventually gave rise to the National Eisteddfod had its roots in the north-east, where there was a proud memory of the 16th Century eisteddfodau at Caerwys. If theatre in Wales has its roots in the Interlude, then the north-east is the birthplace of Welsh drama. (Perhaps the later efforts of Lord Howard de Walden at Chirk and of R. O. F. Wynne at Garthewin are echoes of those earlier endeavours.)
In the 19th century, the novel in Welsh first reached a distinguished level with the writings of Daniel Owen of Mold and again, perhaps, the later writings of Islwyn Ffowc Elis of Wrexham and the Ceiriog Valley are echoes of that early endeavour. Among the first permanent schools to be established in Wales was that of Gabriel Goodman at Ruthin, the beginning of educational innovation which perhaps had its echoes in the 20th Century in Flintshire’s pioneering role in the field of Welsh-medium education. It would be tedious to recount the number of times one has had to disagree with the statement that Rhydfelen in Glamorgan was the first Welsh- medium secondary school in the world. Rhydfelen was opened in 1962, six years after the opening of Glan Clwyd in Flintshire.
But if it is evident that the north-east, time and time again, has made a wholly disproportionate contribution to the history and culture of Wales, why does the region now seem to have been marginalised? Some would maintain that that is the result of the Industrial Revolution which caused the south-east to become far and away the most populous part of Wales. Yet it could be argued that the industrialization of the north-east was both earlier and more fundamental than the industrialization of the south-east.
The great innovation in heavy industry in the 18th Century – the smelting of iron with coke rather than charcoal – was adopted in Bersham in 1721, decades before such an innovation was adopted in Merthyr. I mentioned that the north- east has no out-station of the National Museum. Bersham, with its fascinating evidence of its industrial past, would make an admirable National Museum of iron-making. Merthyr and other southern centres produced iron in bulk, but rarely manufactured objects made from iron. The industry in the north-east was far more sophisticated. There, objects were made from iron, in particular virtually all the cylinders used in Watt’s steam engines. Furthermore, iron from the south- eastern works was not used to create ironwork masterpieces such as those produced by the Davies family of Esclusham, masterpieces that can still be seen in Chirk, Leeswood and Wrexham. Industrial development in the north-east was far more varied and innovative, extending from metalwork to chemicals, from textiles to pottery, and from paper to shipbuilding. In 1774, Dr Johnson counted nineteen different works within two miles of St Winifred’s Well in Holywell. By today, Greenfield, below Holywell, is a veritable open-air museum of industrial archaeology. In 1801, some 30,000 people lived in the essentially industrial 25-mile belt between Holywell and Wrexham. In 1801, hardly half that number lived in the equivalent industrial belt between Merthyr and Pontypool.
Of course, from the mid 19th century onwards, the astonishing growth of coalmining in the south-east made that region the heartland of industry in Wales, and the heartland too of industrial militancy in Wales. Yet it should be remembered that the first trade-union members in Wales were not in Merthyr. They were in Bagillt, where a branch of the Friendly Associated Coalminers’ Union was established in 1830. Much has rightly been made of the significance of the Merthyr Rising of 1831, but in stressing the significance of the Merthyr Rising, we have perhaps tended to neglect to stress the significance of the Mold Riots of 1869.
Furthermore, it could be argued that the growth in coalmining – the key to the popualtion supremacy of the south-east – is not in itself an advance in industrialization. Indeed, the distinguished economic historian, John Williams, argued that mining coal is an extractive industry, just like agriculture, and therefore raised doubts about whether the south Wales coalfield was ever industrialized in the fullest sense of the word.
In marked contrast, the north-east was industrialised in the fullest sense of the word, and its development of a more varied industrial base than that which developed in the south-east saved it from the worst rigours of the depression of the 1920s and 1930s. Indeed, in the inter-war years, all the counties of Wales suffered from a fall in population, with the sole exception of Flintshire. And, above all, industrialisation in the north-east resulted in the building of the finest structure to grace the land of Wales. I am referring to the wonderful Pontcysyllte aqueduct, whose recognition as a World Heritage site is, I devoutly hope, shortly to be announced.
And there, I had better stop. I began preparing this talk in the belief that without the north-east, Wales would have been a much poorer place. While working on the theme, I came to the conclusion that, without the north- east, Wales, in any meaningful sense, would not exist at all.

Tuesday, 19 July 2016

Time to bury fracking for good – Plaid Cymru

Plaid Cymru’s North Wales AM has welcomed news that licences to drill for unconventional gas in parts of Wrexham have run out of time, saying it’s time to look at alternatives to fracking.

Llyr Gruffydd, a consistent opponent of hydraulic fracturing (fracking) on the grounds of safety, said: “Attempts by multinational companies such as iGas to start drilling for shale gas have been met with opposition on both sides of the England-Wales border. It’s now clear that the company has decided not to pursue its plan to test drill in the Borras area, which is very welcome news for local residents.

“However, there are still licences to drill in parts of Flintshire and Cheshire and we must remain vigilant. These companies may yet return to Wrexham and any activities in neighbouring areas could also impact on the water table. Fracking and unconventional drilling has been banned in many countries and has been linked with pollution of water sources, health problems and environmental pollution. Over the past two years I have pushed the Welsh Government into a position where it would call in any new planning proposal and I want to make sure that Wales is frack-free.”

Mr Gruffydd, who has visited the Borras camp set up to defend the community from fracking, said: “We have to move away from fossil fuels and develop alternative energy sources – something we’re lucky to have in abundance here in Wales. We have well-established hydro and offshore windpower, emerging solar energy and huge potential for tidal power that could provide green, clean energy for the next century. The stance taken against fracking should be seen in the context of global warming and climate change as well as the threat to local communities, people’s health and clean water.”
Daz Picken, a Borras resident and supporter of the community camp, added: “This is great news for Borras, which was the nearest community to the planned drill site. Many local people were involved in Frack-Free Wrexham and supported the camp. We can’t be complacent that iGas and other companies will just give up and we’ll continue to support campaigners in neighbouring counties but we’re determined to make sure Wrexham is kept frack free.”

Fly the flag in Wrexham - let's have a permanent legacy for the football

Plaid Cymru has today launched a petition calling on Wrexham Council to work with local businesses and public bodies to fly the flag for Wales. The call comes in the wake of the Welsh football team's success in the recent European championship.

The petition aims to provide a permanent legacy for the town, which was one of the few not to have a fanzone during the competition.

Carrie Harper, speaking for Plaid Cymru in Wrexham, said: "There was such a great feeling in Wrexham surrounding the footballing success that we wanted to build on it. Plaid Cymru had called for a fanzone back in February and, as this is Welsh football's spiritual home, we've also been pushing for a National Football Museum and an upgrade to the Racecourse stadium. 

 "Now we want to see Wrexham town centre offer a colourful and attractive display of our national flag as was seen in Cardiff during the team's parade in front of fans. I very much hope local people, local businesses and the local council can get behind this and help improve our town centre visually."

The petition, which can be signed here, states: 

“Wrexham, along with other parts of Wales, celebrated our national football team's success in the Euro 2016 Championships. This is Welsh football's spiritual home and we want to build on this feel-good factor by having a permanent legacy for our town and our country.
 We, the undersigned, call on Wrexham Council to work with local businesses and other institutions to erect Welsh flags in the town centre and other strategic sites to provide a visible, colourful and attractive display for visitors and local people alike."

Monday, 18 July 2016

13,000 houses based on the wrong population figures

Wrexham Council's Local Development Plan intends to permit 13,000 houses to be built in the borough in the next decade to cope with the anticipated 20% growth in population in coming years.

These population figures are projections - i.e. guesswork - by civil servants. Plaid Cymru's contention is that these projections are flawed because they do not take into consideration the unique circumstances that have affected Wrexham in the past decade. 

We now have proof that the anticipated population boom is not happening now and, given the economic uncertainty locally, is unlikely to happen in the coming decade.

The following net migration figures into Wrexham from the UK and from outside the UK are for the past 10 years:

                            Net int’l                            Net migration                                  Total net migration 
Year                    migration                       (from other parts of the UK)           into Wrexham
2003-4                   102                                         224                                            326
2004-5                   203                                         214                                            417
2005-6                   680                                         408                                          1088
2006-7                   571                                         386                                            957
2007-8                   663                                         308                                            971
2008-9                   866                                         -40                                             826
2009-10                595                                         -36                                              559
2010-11                431                                         259                                             690
2011-12                400                                         -44                                              356
2012-13                471                                         -362                                            109
2013-14                145                                         -114                                              31

In that decade, the borough’s population has risen from 129,000 to 136,000. Remember that this was a time of exceptional growth due to a housing boom, high employment, migration due to the EU accession states, the formation and expansion of Glyndwr University and Chester protecting its greenbelt.

What we can say with some certainty is that – based on evidence not population projections - Wrexham’s population is not now growing at anything like the rate it was 10 years ago. Back then it rose by almost 1,000 a year prior to the economic crash. In fact the last year of stats show a net growth of just 31.

Yet Wrexham’s Local Development Plan is planning to permit 13,000 extra houses for the borough based on these Welsh Government population projections. These projections have no basis in reality. Rather than building unwanted houses on greenfield sites, what we need to be doing now is ensuring that the 2,500 empty properties in the borough are brought back into use by encouraging landlords to sell/let them or ensuring the council gets its act together.

Friday, 15 July 2016

Weasel words over the Iraq war

Today of all days is not one for politicians such as Wrexham's Labour MP to try to weasel out of his responsibility for the Iraq war. Yet today's Leader carries his claim, unchallenged, that he opposed the war in 2003. He did not. That lie is nailed in this letter by Mabon ap Gwynfor that may - or may not - be published in the Leader:

Dear Editor 
I welcome Ian Lucas MP's admission of the Labour Government’s “massive mistake” in going to war in Iraq in 2003 (Leader, Friday 15 July). A war which resulted in hundreds of thousands of deaths both directly and indirectly. 
A war for which we will be paying the price for many decades to come. However, as a matter of accuracy it is worth correcting an impression Mr Lucas has created in the Press Release which the Leader published, namely that Mr Lucas voted against the Iraq war.  
According to Hansard, Mr Lucas did indeed vote against an amendment to the motion to go to war, which was to be welcomed. However when it came to a vote on the actual motion itself, the trigger for war on 18 March 2003, Hansard records show that Mr Lucas abstained from that vote. 
To clarify, when the opportunity came to vote against a motion to go to war, Mr Lucas abstained. Furthermore Mr Lucas says that he believes Tony Blair’s assertion that he acted in good faith, a lame excuse by the former Prime Minister to ease his troubled conscience. 
Blair took the country to war without due diligence or proper checks and balances; having withheld evidence from his Cabinet; and based on a claim which has not only transpired to be false, but was known to be false at the time because it was a figment of a spy’s excitable imagination that was inspired by Hollywood blockbuster films.  
Nothing good has come out of this atrocity. Mr Blair must be held jointly responsible for what has transpired and prosecuted. Ian Lucas and his Labour colleagues had a chance to stop him – and they failed.

Mabon ap Gwynfor
Plaid Cymru - The Party Of Wales, Clwyd South

Wrexham Leader 15/7/16

THE SUPPORT of Tony Blair for George Bush’s agenda in the Middle East in the run up to the Iraq war was “a massive mistake”, according to Wrexham MP Ian Lucas.

In a speech in the Commons following the publication of the Chilcot report, Mr Lucas described his reservations at the time – which led him to vote for an amendment opposing the Iraq war. He described a visit to the UN in New York and how the political climate in America led to war.

He told MPs: “The then US Government, acting in the long shadow of 9/11, included people with an agenda to intervene in the middle east. They used that context to justify the intervention.“In the immediate post-9/11 period, they made some really bad judgment calls. InIran, moderate forces had been holding sway before 2003. George Bush then made his dreadful “axis of evil” speech, which was part of the process that shattered any chance of a unified response to 9/11.

The alienation of Iran also had a massive negative impact on the post-war period in Iraq and undermined progress towards reconstruction. It was a massive mistake for the UK Government and Tony Blair to support the Bush and US agenda at that time.

“I am quite certain that Tony Blair acted in good faith. In March 2003, I think he believed, like Hans Blix, that Saddam possessed weapons of mass destruction. I believe that it was through UK insistence that the US agreed to involve the UN as much as it did.

“However, when the UN weapons inspectors asked for more time in March 2003, the allies should have given it to them.

“As Sir John Chilcot concludes at paragraph 339 of the report ‘At the time of the parliamentary vote of 18 March, diplomatic options had not been exhausted. The point had not been reached where military action was the last resort.

Mr Lucas told the House he shared this view – and as a result, voted against the Labour Whip.

He also criticised the Conservatives for failing to scrutinise the then Government, telling MPs: “The official Opposition failed in their constitutional duty to ask the difficult questions and hold the Government to account. It was left to other parties in the House and the Labour Back Benchers to hold the Government to account.

“The failure of the official Opposition to challenge the Prime Minister and theGovernment effectively made his wrong decision easier. This is a big lesson for the official Opposition today.”

Thursday, 14 July 2016

Have you thought about standing for Wrexham council?

Plaid Cymru Wrexham are currently in the process of selecting candidates for the 2016 council elections. We've had more interest than ever before and although we've already selected some candidates, we're keen to make sure as many people as possible have the opportunity to get involved. 

Following a recent membership surge after the European referendum we anticipate putting forward a big team of candidates locally, so If you're interesting in being part of changing Wrexham council for the better, then now's the time to throw your hat in the ring!

If you'd like to find out more, please get in touch with us at or call us for a chat on 07747 792 441 and we'll be happy to answer any questions you might have.

Labour MP wants to shut down Welsh farming

 Ian Lucas, Wrecsam's appalling Labour MP, stands up in the House of Commons and calls to effectively shut down farming in upland Wales. He asks whether it’s possible, post-Brexit, to look at subsidies for “farming in Wales” and spend it ‘elsewhere’. Note that he is not targetting wealthy absentee landlords and the barley barons of East Anglia who rake in hundreds of thousands of pounds of Common Agricultural Policy funding but specifically Wales.
It’s estimated that 80% of family farms in upland Wales would close without these payments and it’s clear that, post-Brexit, Lucas would be happy to see them go to the wall and Wales become a green desert. The impact of losing thousands of jobs in rural communities, the impact on the wider economy, on the Welsh language and culture as well as the environment and the need for sustainable food production is incalculable. It’s a disgrace that he represents a Welsh constituency.

GHA Coaches: Time to re-regulate our public transport

Image result for GHA coaches

The overnight collapse of Ruabon-based GHA Coaches with the loss of up to 400 jobs and disruption to thousands of passengers, including school children, raises questions about the way public transport is provided in Wales.

Bus services in the UK were de-regulated under Thatcher - with the significant exception of London, where they remain under government control. Transport for London provides an oversight and degree of central planning that is the envy of the rest of the UK. It is also democratically accountable.

The result was a race for the most profitable routes, with bus firms competing with each other to pick up passengers, while less popular journeys were abandoned.

Local councils and later the Welsh Government found themselves subsidising those less-popular routes until UK spending cuts led to drastic reductions in those subsidies.

This transport chaos is unique in the world. Nowhere else believes that the market can deliver public transport effectively and the seeing Deutsche Bahn (the German state-owned train company) running the privatised Wales and Borders train franchise only adds to the irony.

Complex integrated public transport demands an overview and degree of planning that is not possible with a myriad of private bus and rail companies all operating to maximise profit and return for their shareholders rather than providing a good service at a reasonable price.

This mess is nothing new. Back in 2014, the respected Local Transport Today magazine described the Labour Government's public transport policy as a mess".

It said the Welsh bus industry is "stumbling from one predicament to another as a bewildering array of reforms comes out of Cardiff ... Funding has been cut, rules have changed and further reforms are mooted... Then there is the cut to concessionary fares reimbursement, which could yet end up in the courts."

Nothing has changed.

Anyone who uses public transport in mainland Europe - as many thousands of Welsh fans did last month - will be making very unfavourable comparisons with the Welsh public transport network in terms of cost, comfort and speed.

At present we have no integrated ticketing in Wales - again unlike regulated London. Manchester is about to have a Transport for London-style franchise  with the UK Treasury pushing the Department of Transport to re-regulate. Why not Wales?

It's estimated that 40% of all bus journeys in Wales are concessionary, i.e. free or reduced fares paid for by the Welsh Government or local councils. That's almost half bus companies income being provided direct by the taxpayer without any input into where they operate and how much they charge.

With the collapse of one of the largest firms in Wales, surely now is the time to re-regulate our buses and make the case for public transport to be run in the public interest.

Until we do, Wales will continue to see a patchy public transport network totally at odds with the integrated public transport "vision" we are often presented with by this current Welsh Government.