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."

Wednesday, 14 June 2017

Challenge to fire engine cuts plan

Plans by the North Wales Fire and Rescue Authority to consult again on cutting one of Wrexham's two whole-time fire engines are being challenged by Plaid Cymru.

The original bid to cut the fire engine was shelved in March 2017 because of public opposition. Thousands signed petitions, protested and marched through the town to oppose the cut.

Now the new fire authority is coming back to consult again on the matter, which would lead to the loss of 24 full-time firefighters' jobs.

Councillor Marc Jones, Plaid Cymru's leader on Wrexham Council, led the protests last year against the cuts. He said:
"The fire authority is looking to cut services despite huge public opposition. Wrexham's public, together with the Fire Brigades Union and the help of councillors, fought them off once. If we have to do it again, we will.
"Wrexham's firefighters are very much part of the community, we value their service and we won't lose that service without a hell of a fight.
"I want us to fight this proposal locally and in Westminster. It's clear the Tories don't have a mandate for ongoing cuts to public services here in Wales. Our emergency services, whether it's fire, police or ambulance crews, don't come cheap. These are well-trained, experienced experts doing a great job under very difficult circumstances."
Cllr Jones is to ask the council's new executive board at its meeting next Tuesday to continue to back opposition to the proposed cut. He added:

"The council made it very clear last year that it was opposed to the cut and it would be good to re-affirm its opposition to proposals to axe 24 full-time jobs and one of Wrexham's two whole-time fire engines in light of this new consultation.
"Given that the six councils also provide the funding for the North Wales Fire and Rescue Authority, we as elected members need to ensure it has sufficient funding to continue the level of service in the Wrexham area. I'd like our council to insist that the NWFRA re-examines its own senior staffing arrangements and spending commitments prior to any cuts to frontline services."

Monday, 12 June 2017

Anger over HMO plan for busy Wrexham street

A planning application to allow a terrace house to be converted into a House of Multiple Occupation (HMO) has been deferred by councillors angry at the problems caused by Wrexham's booming private rental industry.

The house at 10 Talbot Rd had already been turned into a two twin-room home and the owner has since sub-divided once more to fit in a total of seven people. The retrospective planning application was to approve this further sub-division.

Plaid Cymru's representative on the planning committee, Councillor Marc Jones, said Talbot Road was part of Wrexham's busy inner ring road, where parking is so bad that cars straddle both pavements. There are regular jams on the road due to this problem. More people in this area will inevitably mean more cars and more problems for residents.

He added:
"One objector to the application had stated that the street of 45 homes only had 10 families living there. Despite this, the council's own statistics suggested only four HMOs within 50 metres of the house."
Councillors heard that the size of the rooms in the house did not meet licensing guidelines. There were also concerns about the tenant's amenity space.

One main obstacle to the feeling among councillors to reject the planning application was the knowledge that the Planning Inspectorate had already overturned a similar objection on the grounds that there were too many HMOs in the area.

That view was challenged by Cllr Jones. He said: 
"The retrospective planning application puts the council in a difficult position. Despite the Planning Inspector siding with the landlord in the past, this council should not roll over, otherwise I'd question the point of having this committee at all.
"There's no thought been given here for either the tenants who have to live in this house or the neighbourhood as a whole."
Cllr Jones moved a motion to defer the application on the basis that more work was needed to assess the density of HMOs in the area, which could form the basis of a legitimate grounds for refusal.

He was supported 9-5 by the planning committee. The application will come back to the planning committee next month.

Saturday, 10 June 2017

Regenerating Wrexham - trying something new isn't an option, it's essential

Plaid Cymru's manifesto for Wrexham included a call to pilot free parking in the town to improve footfall.
 This pilot would enable the council to assess its effectiveness and finesse any issues with the system being abused by those who normally pay for parking in the town anyway. It could start at 9.30am, for example, and end earlier than the average working day. Or it could be in distinct blocks to enable shoppers to have enough time in the town.
 It's clear from this that free parking, which is in effect for special events, street festivals and Christmas, DOES improve footfall and the economic viability of town centre shops and businesses.
 The current council's reluctance to offer free parking is largely based on a concern that it would lose £587,000 a year in income. That's understandable when further budget cuts are being faced but it misses the point spectacularly... the council's over-arching aim should be to create a vibrant and prosperous town centre that boost the economy. Just looking at things from the silo of car parking and income generated from council car parks is too narrow a worldview.
 It also contradicts the council's stated aim of creating a masterplan for the town centre.
 What's needed now is a cross-cutting approach that looks at every opportunity to maximise footfall and boost trade. That also means tackling anti-social behaviour and the drug problem blighting some areas of the town.
 Small but significant steps are being taken but giant strides are needed to transform Wrexham town. Trying something new isn't an option - it's essential.

Read more of Plaid Cymru's local manifesto at PlaidWrecsam.Cymru 

Friday, 9 June 2017

Election reflections

A presidential election focussed on UK issues was never going to be easy for Plaid Cymru. We were squeezed as many of our supporters lent their vote to Labour to "keep the Tories out".
 Despite that, in Wrexham - a constituency bombarded by Tories and Labour as a key marginal - our vote held up well and Carrie Harper stood out as a candidate in the few hustings that were held.
 It was heartening to see the increased turnout - especially among young people who it's clear were inspired to vote by a manifesto of radical change. That was Corbyn's manifesto, not Welsh Labour's.
 Of course, Welsh Labour will claim the credit for those successes but this was very much a British election where concerns over what the Tories would do to the NHS were prevalent.
 And, for all the talk of Labour success in north Wales, it should be remembered that they only succeeded in keeping their seats and regaining one of the most marginal Tory victories in 2015. Ian Lucas's majority remains a slender 1800. The Tories, with their new-found extreme right Unionist chums in the DUP, continue to rule. This was not a victory for Labour, it was making up some of the lost ground against a Government run by some of the least talented people to have graced public office.
 The youth vote was inspired into action largely via social media. It seems this may be the election where social media did play a role, despite many pundits claiming that for the past few years.
 The next Assembly elections, where the spotlight turns on Welsh Labour's performance in charge of health, education, transport and other key policy areas, will be fascinating. Labour's failure to seize opportunities to defend Wales against Tory attacks - e.g. in legislating against zero-hour contracts or devolving policing and greater tax-varying powers - will be in focus.
 Two visits by Theresa May to Wrexham didn't do the local candidate much good. It'll be interesting to see where he goes next.

 What of the other parties? It was good to see the back of the Kippers, who combine terrible politics with laughable incompetence. The Lib Dems have finally disappeared as an elected body in Wales - despite their proud history and some decent individuals, they have proved themselves to be as nasty and underhanded as ever. Neither party will be missed.
  What's clear is that politics in Wrexham as in Wales is in complete flux. People are abandoning previous tribal loyalties and that can only be a good thing.
 Plaid Cymru has had a difficult election, despite the wonderful win in Ceredigion to the hugely able Ben Lake. We have to consider how we work for Wales against huge odds in terms of the UK party machines with their millionaire backers and a media (including a BBC that seems allergic to mentioning Plaid Cymru) that regularly airbrushes Wales out of any debate.
 A night without sleep doesn't lend itself to any profound revelations but the weeks and months to come will see Plaid activists continue to build and campaign in our communities, as we look to transform our nation.
 Finally, a word of thanks to the Plaid Wrecsam team - many are new to politics and have thrown themselves into campaigning on the streets in recent months. We had a tenth of the spending power of Labour and the Tories but 100% of the commitment. We'll continue to build Team Plaid Wrecsam as the best way to achieve the change Wrexham needs.