Statement of Andrew Atkinson

We invited them to tell you a little about who they are, any political history and about their political leanings.

I love Gresford, it’s an outstanding village with a superb community spirit and I would be proud to do all that I can for our area, working hard to make our community even better.
I live locally with my wife Anwen and our two young children, both of whom attend All Saints School.
We live just over the Gresford/Llay ward boundary, having previously lived on Vicarage Lane in the village.
I’ve been self-employed since I was 17 years old, running a cleaning business. I have experience as a County Councillor in another area when we lived away from Wrexham for a few years. I’ve also been a children’s charity trustee and a director of a social enterprise that runs leisure centres in England and Wales.
For the last couple of years I have been the Chairman of the Wrexham Town Centre Forum Steering Group, where we work as volunteers to improve Wrexham town centre putting on events like the Street Festivals, organising Clean-up Days and more. I’m also a director of the local Citizens Advice service.
I love getting involved in what’s going on in the village as well as organising events like the Santa visits or doing anything that I can in a practical way to improve the village.
We are so fortunate in Gresford to have such a great community spirit with residents volunteering and getting involved in village life in every way they can and I will support them in every way possible.
Although Gresford is a fantastic village, there is still a lot that needs doing and I’ve been out and about working hard to hear the views of every resident and listening to what their priorities are for the ward.
I’m also extremely passionate about improving Wrexham town centre, and believe that this a key part of the role of a Councillor in addition to ward work. Whether it’s improving the look and feel of our town or working to tackle anti-social behaviour, I’m actively involved and keen to make a difference.
With regard to my political history, I stood as the Conservative candidate for Wrexham in the General Election in May 2015 and in the Assembly Election in May 2016. I’m passionate about localism and want to see more decisions taken locally, with local people getting their say over what matters to them.
There are a number of key issues in Gresford and in Wrexham that get raised with me on a daily basis, I’m determined to get them sorted out and to improve our community.
The top priority for me is sorting out the eyesore site on the corner of the High Street. I had to originally suggest planning enforcement action as sadly this was not being looked at. It’s unacceptable that it can be left like this and if elected I will focus on resolving this issue once and for all.
Whether it’s dog fouling, speeding cars, road safety, or any of the many other issues that get raised with me, if elected I won’t just log them with the Council, I’ll work on pro-active solutions and new approaches and keep residents updated every step of the way.
I have no interest in petty party politics and will work with anyone to get the job done.
Wrexham Council needs a good shake up and Gresford needs strong representation to make sure that we get our fair share and to see that improvements are made.
I hope that residents will give me a chance so that I can demonstrate how hard I will work for them and then hold me to account thereafter.
Please get in touch if you have any questions for me.

Questions & Answers

1. Often we are told that highways, street lighting, bin collections and anti-social behaviour are some of the issues people care most about. Aside from those what are the key local issues in your ward? (The question below will ask what you think should be done)

The number one issue in the ward and my top priority to resolve once and for all is the long-standing eyesore site on the corner of the High Street. I’ve done all that I can to progress this from the side-lines and hope to be elected to have a much better chance of getting it sorted. Road safety is also a key issue with speeding cars in all parts of the ward, but especially worrying near to the school. Inappropriate parking also causes issues with this and is reported a lot. Dog fouling is a big concern for many, it’s disgusting and thoughtless. Road works is a big issue locally with regard to poor planning. As well as issues like street lighting and the time it takes to repair faulty lights, parts of our ward being used for commuter parking and mess left by bin-collectors. There are many others too that I have discussed with residents and logged with the Council which I regularly follow up on for progress reports.

2. Further to the above issues you have specified, at a ward level what would you do to resolve these problems if elected?

The site on the corner- I originally suggested planning enforcement action, this has been too slow and inconsistent. I will work towards a last resort of a compulsory purchase order, I’m currently making the case for this with my petition to highlight resident’s feelings. I will engage with the site owner to further explore all other options including financial backers and even opportunities with housing associations & more. The status quo is not an option, this is my top priority. I have previously started a scheme to clamp down on dog fouling. It uses information from residents to help our enforcement officers target their efforts, and more. More bins are needed and I may have identified funding for this and for free bags. Road safety needs a holistic approach of speed indicator devices, double yellow lines, enforcement and more. Road works need better co-ordination and forward planning. I have a plan to address all of these issues which I will happily discuss with residents.

3. As a councillor and as a member of the council what would be in your power, and your priority, to help local businesses?

Rate relief is very important for businesses in Gresford and Wrexham. Planning enforcement powers can be used to improve eyesore properties, improving the look and feel of the area. Supporting events and encouraging and supporting new enterprise is critical. Alternate uses through planning can help our town and villages diversify. Keeping our town clean and clamping down on anti-social behaviour and drug abuse is fundamental and I’m working on this with others. Many issues affecting our businesses are run from Westminster and Cardiff and better lobbying of our Governments is needed especially on rates. Parking charges must be kept low and bandings sensible. Attracting funding, grants and investment is extremely important. Our businesses need on-going promotion and support.

4. How do you think adult social care in Wrexham should be funded?

I think it has to be a mixture of local and National funding. We must do everything in our power to provide the best service possible to meet the needs of the local population, working even more closely with the health board to get the most for our money to make sure everyone has the support that they need.

5. What do you think is the most urgent thing, in the power of councillors, required to improve the local education system?

School improvement is managed regionally by GwE. There should be regular reports to the council so that we can ensure that there is full accountability. School Governors play a huge role now so we need to support them and make sure that all of them have the help, support and training that they need to reflect the significant part they play in our children’s education. I would like to see stronger links with local businesses and industry locally to develop future career paths and to help our young people choose subject options that will help them into good careers locally. This will help to make sure that we build on the skills that we need locally and that more of our young people are able to take up some of the great jobs and opportunities available in the Wrexham area. We are very fortunate in Gresford and the local area to have very good schools and if elected I will work very closely with them and help and support them and fight their corner in any way I can.

6. What do you think should be done with the Groves school building, and the site?

Lots of people of feel passionately about this building. It is now listed so we need to find a way to bring the building back into use for education. Whether it was the right or wrong decision, I fear this listing will add huge cost to any development and that cannot come out of the education budget. I believe that the Welsh Government should pay for the extra costs to develop this building as they took the decision. We need a modern, energy efficient school to fit the need. The challenge is that it’s rarely possible to have an empty building that fits your education need, there would probably be surplus capacity and what do you do with that on a site with safeguarding issues for children? We must as a Council find an answer to this and a way of developing the building to provide a great school for local children. This building must be used for education and I will work with anyone to get the best possible deal for education on the site that brings the building back into use.

7. What are your thoughts on the housing supply in Wrexham, and if you feel more housing needs to be created in volume, where would that be sited and who would it be targeted at?

I disagree entirely with the Welsh Government’s housing numbers that are being imposed on Wrexham and forcing so many of our green fields to be built on. Pressure needs to be put on them to revise these numbers. We need to develop brownfield sites first and look at the kind of homes that we need to keep our young people and first-time buyers in the communities they love. Executive homes are great but it can’t be all that we build. No councillor should offer up other wards for development to save their own but it should be brownfield sites first and then a fair allocation where the infrastructure can handle it. Gresford Doctors alone is a big concern for local residents, our infrastructure needs to be considered first.

8. On litter and dog fouling enforcement, do you think this should be provided via a third party, and should it be enforced to the letter of the law or in a more lenient manner?

Yes, with caution. There are pros and cons to both. I have no sympathy for those that let their dogs foul, it is not an accident, catch them, fine them. Littering has caused problems with the approach of Kingdom as it is possible to drop a tissue from your pocket etc and this needs leniency, not a heavy handed approach that drives shoppers away. In my experience private companies tend to catch far more people as they are financially incentivised, this of course causes problems too like we have already seen, but that can all be carefully written into contracts when making these decisions to ensure some safeguards. Primarily we should be concerned with tackling the issue and not seeing our town centre as a cash cow.

9. Do you favour the current Executive Board system or a politically balanced system? Why?

I like the fact that an Executive Board gives you dedicated Lead Members over each portfolio, whom, if they are doing their jobs properly know their brief inside out and lead on the key issues. I feel that this doesn’t work when other Councillors feel excluded and don’t feel that they have an opportunity to influence these decisions. The Lead Member’s need to demonstrate that they will listen to other people’s views and change their minds if necessary. Being politically balanced can help with this. I also feel that we could have less Lead Members and this should be looked at.

10. As has happened in Wrexham recently - if you change political allegiance from what you are currently seeking election for (eg. resigning from, or joining another party) will you trigger a by-election? If not, why not?

Whilst I have no plans to do this myself I do think that a by-election is the right thing to do. If you stand for a party, no matter how many people vote for you as a person, some vote for your party, changing your party without asking them is not right in my eyes.

11. 'Reshaping' Wrexham Council is a major theme impacting all areas of the local authority. What areas do you think could see deeper savings made and why?

Although it’s small savings in the grand scheme of things, I do believe that Councillors allowances could be less as well as Lead Member and Scrutiny Chair additional allowances. We need to attract talent to the Council but I still believe there are savings to be had in senior officer salaries too. No-one really wants to see services cut so there needs to be a focus on income generation for the Council and using in house skills instead of a reliance on costly external consultants where possible. Working with Community Councils and Community Groups to see what they may like to run for themselves can also deliver better services as well as savings in some cases.

12. With the 'Reshaping' programme, which specific areas would you look to grow and create revenue streams in?

If elected I will be looking at this with others to see what areas we can grow revenue streams in as I think this is extremely important. I think there could be greater opportunities for business sponsorship and involvement. We already see sponsorship on roundabouts etc and as maintenance of public land is so costly I think that this is something that could be developed further along with sports fields, events and other opportunities for the business community. Creating revenue streams must be a core focus of the Council.

13. The Town Centre Masterplan is an aspirational document which could shape and transform the town centre over the next ten years. What is your future vision for Wrexham town centre, and how will you help achieve it?

The Masterplan is incredibly important and we must get it right. I think there needs to be far more public ‘buy-in’ making sure residents are asked their priorities for the town, this needs to be done far more imaginatively and not with token consultation. My focus is on growing our economy with a first-class town centre that is smart, safe and has the right mix of national and independent retailers as well as diversifying to include leisure, offices, start-up business hubs, culture and more. We need to improve the retail base we have and certainly not add more retail space, we need a proper programme of contacting national chains asking them what they want to see in Wrexham in order for them to invest and expand here, then we have a tick list to work towards. I work on town centre issues every day and will continue to do this through my voluntary work with the Town Centre Forum, supporting and promoting new traders as well as organising Street Festivals, clean-up day’s and much more.

14. Many politicians are accused of being out of touch with voters and only surfacing before elections. What will you do to ensure you stay in touch through the coming years if you are elected?

I will always be approachable and accessible. I will hold regular surgeries, visit residents at home, be accessible through phone, email, social media and a good old fashioned chat at the shops, the school run or on the bus. I will produce regular newsletters as well as a monthly column in the Essentials magazine and my Facebook page updates. If elected I will continue to knock doors and ask residents their views. If there are planning applications or issues affecting a particular part of the ward I will engage with those residents, let them know what’s going on or hold a public meeting. Communication is key to accountability and residents deserve updates and important information to be shared and I will do that.

15. What are your thoughts on the current provision and support for the arts in Wrexham, and what would you do to support the arts?

The arts are extremely important and is a very important part of the local economy. Places like Un Deg Un have been setting the bar high for years with exhibitions and events, and whatever our views on the controversial arts hub, now that it is coming I hope it will be a success and generate more footfall to our town. Through helping to organise the Street Festivals and other events we work to include the arts and bring art, drama, music and culture to the town centre and engage local schools and individuals, I think this is really important. Gresford is particularly strong in this area as a community through village events and more, I will support and promote these events and work to organise more.

16. Wrexham Football Club had been let down greatly before being taken over by the fans themselves. As a councillor what action would you champion to help the club?

The fans have done an incredible job and we must support them however we can. The fans and the club have been let down and this may need a proper investigation and a commitment from the Council to see what they can do to mitigate some of these major issues. If elected I will happily meet with Trust members to see how I can help.

17. Wrexham's Night Time Economy employs a large number of people and generates revenue for the town. As a councillor what action would you like to see from Wrexham Council to improve that sector?

I do all I can to support the Night Time economy in Wrexham and to get a broader understanding of it. I’ve volunteered with the Street Pastors and met with bar, pub and club owners and managers and shadowed door staff to see the issues first hand. I’d like to see a scheme where taxi companies and fast food outlets can contribute to door staff for their street to help the situation when drinkers finish their night out. Nightsafe is a critical partnership that needs to be supported. As well as Council officers and Police, these meetings pull together the people that know best, the business owners, and I will continue to work with them to deliver a safe atmosphere that gives locals and visitors what they want- a cracking night out.

18. Wrexham Council currently has two Public Space Protection Orders (PSPO) in place in the town centre and Rhosddu area. How should anti social behaviour be tackled?

Anti-social behaviour should be tackled head on. Residents want and deserve to feel safe in our town. I’ve put a lot of work into these issues long before it hit the headlines and hope that many others will also get involved now, this issue cannot be solved without everyone working together properly. The PSPO is not the answer to all our issues but it’s a tool to not just issue fines, but more importantly get those that need it the help they need. I want to see more in the town trained up with PSPO powers, this could be traffic wardens or other groups that can work alongside the police with their support. We need to look at getting ‘buy-in’ from some organisations to move to a more appropriate location and possibly have our services under one roof to support residents and shoppers as well as those with addictions. This is a huge issue that I will continue to work with others on, to tackle.

19. New Psychoactive Substances are a recent well documented problem in and around town, what do you think is the solution?

Psychoactive substances have been a game changer in the worst possible way. ’Legal Highs’ have made drugs even more accessible and cheap and escalated the problems we see in the town and other towns today. Stopping the supply is an un-enviable task for our police but drug dealers need to feel the full force of the law and their subsequent replacements hit hard too. Legal Highs need to be tackled from the Government too. Making sure those that need it get the support they need to kick their habits is hard as the timing has to be right for them but we need to push the help available in every way possible. I will continue my work on this with all the relevant agencies and do whatever I possibly can to pull all of the relevant decision makers together to tackle this issue. Everyone needs to work together on this regardless of their views.

20. Councillor pay, iPads as tools for the job, and allowances have all been topics of debate over the last few years. What is your view on this?

I have made clear that if elected I will pay for my own ipad, I will never claim expenses, I will pay for my own parking and would not accept any increase in allowances.

21. The ownership and operation of Plas Madoc Leisure Centre has been debated over recent years - where do you believe the responsibility for funding and running such public amenities should lie?

I’m glad that the Council paid a grant to Splash and that the Welsh Government also then supported them financially. The volunteers have done a great job and I will support them however I can. I have experience as an unpaid Director of a Leisure Trust and I really like the model, although it is not an easy one. We must help them however we can.

22. What actions would you take, or support, as a councillor to encourage Welsh language use growth? Or, if you are against this, why?

The Welsh language is incredibly important. This is Wales and we should do all that we can to encourage the use of the language and support it. I speak to residents that sometimes feel the language is pushed on them when they don’t want it, I think to avoid this in future we need to make it as fun and engaging as possible from childhood so that people enjoy using the language.

23. Currently Wrexham Council webcast their Full Council, Executive Board and Planning meetings, and some Scrutiny. Would you like to see the webcasting system rolled out to cover all meetings and how else do you think the local authority could involve the public more in the democratic process?

I’m all for webcasting as many meetings as possible. Local residents need to have the option to be able to see how they are represented. Many working people can’t attend meetings that they may wish to attend so webcasting is a brilliant solution that should cover as many meetings as possible. To boost engagement in democracy though I think consultations need to be completely re-thought. People need to know that if they bother to give their views the Council will actually listen. Not token, pat-on-the-head consultation but real consultation where views and decisions actually change as a direct result of engagement.

24. This will be the first time some people are old enough to vote, with that age limit possibly dropping in future. Candidates are on the whole older and male. What will you do to represent a more diverse viewpoint?

I’ll represent anyone, all of the residents of the ward. Many people think young people aren’t interested in what’s going on around them, but many are contacting me about what matters to them in our community; bus services, education, leisure, it’s all very important. Like anyone though, young people need to know that someone will actually listen to them though and act on their priorities.

25. What local activity have you taken part in over the last few months to improve your ward? Regardless of if you win, will you continue any such action that benefits your ward?

We’re fortunate in Gresford and Wrexham to have lots of fantastic volunteers to work with. There are so many people in Gresford working hard for our community. In the ward I tackle lots of casework issues raising resident’s concerns with the Council, I log these and I chase them up. I’ve done practical things like cleaning road and street signs and bus shelters or organising and supporting community events like the autism talk I arranged or the Santa visits I organised for local children. I support local businesses, events, charities and community groups through regular promotion on the local Facebook news page that I set up and run and I use this to update local residents with important community news and updates. In Wrexham I help organise Street Festivals, clean-up day’s, important public meetings in Rhosddu about tackling the drugs issue and much more. Whatever happens I will continue doing what I am doing.

In a few hundred characters to wrap this up, why should people vote for you?

I’m asking for people to give me a chance. Talk is cheap, actions speak louder than words. Please consider giving me a chance and holding me accountable thereafter. I’m tenacious and focussed on getting results, I’ll work with anyone to get the job done. I have no interest in petty party-politics, only in getting stuck in to issues affecting our community and working hard to make it even better. I’ll be on hand and approachable and will keep you updated every step of the way. Thanks. Andrew.

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