Statement of Michael Gordon Morris
We invited them to tell you a little about who they are, any political history and about their political leanings.
Hello I am Michael Morris and am seeking re-election as the Councillor for the Holt Ward on Wrexham County Borough Council.
I have represented the ward for a considerable time and have lived in it, at Isycoed, all of my life. My mother originated from Holt and there are still family members living there. Wiith the exception of five years working in private industry, I have worked mainly in local government finance and administration. In 2006 I took a flexible part time post which allows me to attend Council meetings as necessary.
The Ward is one of the largest in terms of geographical spread and population within the County. It extends from the boundary of Rossett to rural Borras, the whole of the Wrexham Industrial Estate, Isycoed and since 2010, an extended Abenbury to the Kingsmill area of Wrexham. I have always felt it is important to represent the three communities of Holt, Abenbury and Isycoed equally. Each has their own unique features and issues.
I have always attended Abenbury and Holt Community Council monthly meetings and have been a member of Isycoed Community Council since the late 1970’s. My attendance rate, as with County Borough meetings, is very high.
I stand as a Conservative Councillor because that is the way I vote at a general election. I am conscious that at local level, National politics should not hamper good local decisions and as such I vote for what I feel is best locally. I have chaired the Planning Committee since 1999 under different political administrations and with full cross party support. I strongly believe that as a local councillor it is not appropriate to overly promote political views which may discourage some ward constituents from making contact.
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)
Often at ward level it is the general things that are important and affect daily lives. These vary depending on the area of the ward. In Holt, dog fouling is often cited as a big problem, lack of opportunities for children’s play, the provision of smaller bungalows so that older members of the community can remain in the village but down size to a property of a more manageable size. Common to the ward as a whole is indiscriminate littering and fly tipping on the more remote lanes. The industrial estate suffers from this, particularly around Pentre Maelor with HGV drivers parking up over night and irresponsibly disposing of their rubbish. On the industrial estate we are seeing increasing problems with inconsiderate parking usually when businesses have outgrown their premises and resort to parking on roads and pavements often dangerously. At Isycoed there are concerns over the development of a proposed power station and the development of agricultural land for employment purposes.
2. Further to the above issues you have specified, at a ward level what would you do to resolve these problems if elected?
None of the issues listed have a quick fix and many are ongoing. I will continue to press for a designated lorry park on the industrial estate although this is reliant on private investment. I have requested additional visits from the enforcement teams in relation to the dog fouling and general litter issues. I am currently working with both Holt and Abenbury community councils to ensure the continuation of the play schemes which operate weekly and discussions are ongoing to ensure the proposed multiuse games area at Holt gets developed appropriately. As the current chair of the Planning Policy Panel I am hoping we include suitable policies in the draft Local Plan to safeguard appropriate development. Unfortunately, we are reliant on support for policies from the Local Plan public enquiry and national planning policies which we have to comply with.
3. As a councillor and as a member of the council what would be in your power, and your priority, to help local businesses?
It is important that the Council continue to work closely with the Town Centre Forum and the Wrexham Industrial Estate Business Forum where there is a dedicated Council Business Manager. We should also take full advantage of any grants or incentives from Welsh Government such as support for the Vibrant & Viable Places Initiative, business rate relief and ensure that the Council can assist with business development so that the area can compete with neighbouring authorities in attracting new investment. Continue support for the markets which are a feature of the town and encourage a diverse economy to make the area more attractive. Recent examples of good partnership working include the relocation on Moneypenny to their prestigious new offices and Clwyd Compounders to their new unit on Wrexham Industrial Estate.
4. How do you think adult social care in Wrexham should be funded?
The demands for adult social care is a national problem as the population age profile is now extended. I think it should be a mixture of predominantly national funding but with some local funding to ensure local demands can be addressed appropriately. It presupposes a close working relationship with the Health Board to ensure the best possible use of financial resources. An imminent green paper may force a strengthening of this relationship
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 now managed by a regional body covering the North Wales Authorities. They should be best placed therefore to extend existing good practice to less successful schools. It is important that as a body, they are accountable to each Local Authority. School Governing Bodies now have greater autonomy and control in the management of schools and with that comes the need for well trained Governors with Wrexham Council perhaps introducing more enhanced or mandatory training to allow then to fulfil their role and challenge in a meaningful way. The Council should take full advantage of the C21st school programme to ensure young people have the best possible learning environment.
6. What do you think should be done with the Groves school building, and the site?
Listing brings additional challenges as alterations or adaptions will be very limited to ensure the building or its setting is not affected. The covenants mean it can only be developed for educational purposes. Demolition was controversial but the advice given by CADW, reinforced independently, was that it did not meet the criteria for listing. The most pressing need is for primary education and the advice received is that the building would not convert well. It is easier to convert for secondary education but there are surplus places in that sector. It would be foolish to dispose of The Groves to a third party and then look to acquire land (probably at full development prices) to build new primary schools. As part of the Local Plan process, some housing sites may have to contribute to education but these sites may not be developed for a decade. It is hoped that with the decision to list The Groves comes additional funding from W. G. to ensure primary education on site can be met.
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?
New population and household projections recently received from W.G. indicate that pleasingly the numbers have dropped resulting in a requirement of approx 8,400 homes for the Local Plan to 2028. Allowing for existing permissions not started, viable brown field sites and allowing for a windfall allowance (conversions etc) there is likely to be a need for 4,000 homes outside of existing settlements. W.G. gives guidance that these sites have to be in sustainable locations and as a result two key sites have been put forward the remainder being located in communities with the most facilities. All sites will be available for comment in the Draft Plan. Coupled with this will be new policies on the delivery of affordable housing with new lower thresholds. It is not an option not to comply with Welsh Government’s requirement to adopt a Local Plan that is acceptable to them and the guidance does not give the Council the option to resist new development or engineer it purely for local need.
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?
Dog fouling and litter is one of the most frequently raised concerns. I have no problem with the service being provided by a third party or anyone else who can effectively address the problem. A lenient approach introduces a degree of subjectivity which is difficult to adopt in an equitable manner. I do feel that the current system should be kept under constant review as I do not feel that rural villages get a fair apportionment of the enforcement officers time and I think that there is an over emphasis on offenders dropping cigarette butts. Visually these have less impact than, for example, a drinks can or take away wrapper.
9. Do you favour the current Executive Board system or a politically balanced system? Why?
This matter should be reviewed by the Council post elections and not as was attempted in the last month or so of the outgoing council. I have no problem with a debate in the reduction of the number of members making up the Executive Board and personally I have no objection to a politically balanced Executive Board provided that ALL members take up their responsibilities as portfolio holders which was previously refused by the Labour members on the Board.
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?
It would depend on the circumstances at the time and the view of the electorate within the ward. It may not be possible to react to local issues if slavishly following national political lines. This makes an assumption that the electorate vote purely on party political lines which many do not.
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?
The savings of £30m already made have affected all levels of service delivery. The deeper savings go the more difficult it is to avoid making unpalatable decisions. I think at this stage the emphasis should be on delivering services as efficiently as possible and demonstrate they provide value for money.
12. With the 'Reshaping' programme, which specific areas would you look to grow and create revenue streams in?
Often Council’s are restricted by legislation in terms of raising funds or charging for services. Some charges are set nationally (e.g. planning application fees). There is also a need to balance public expectation on what we should and should not charge for and what are discretionary and mandatory services. Annual consultation on the budget and possible income generation takes place but should continue to be improved through meaningful engagement to ensure a better understanding of all of the issues.
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 Town Centre Masterplan is an important strategic document. I think it is necessary to widen the offer of the town and to diversify to make the town more resilient and vibrant. Nationally, shopping patterns have changed significantly with the advent of more comprehensive online shopping. Reports indicate a lack of restaurants and cultural opportunities however these will only be successful if other factors are in place to support them. Small businesses need support via rate relief or other initiatives and practical support such as accessibility, parking charges etc. The possible development of the Bodhyfryd site is an exciting opportunity and could see the development of town centre living, shopping and recreational facilities. It has to be acknowledged however most of the town centre properties are in multiple private ownerships meaning influence over them is challenging.
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 am always accessible via email or phone and never fail to respond to constituents in the ward although acknowledge that not all problems can be solved. Having such a geographically widespread ward makes general communication challenging hence my attendance at Community Council meetings, visiting all areas regularly and working with community groups to increase accessibility. I also contribute occasionally to the Holt Village website and would look to expand this subject to the site host’s approval.
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?
I think this links in with Q13 to some extent. There is the proposed new Arts Hub in the town which despite some recent comments did receive cross party support initially. The funding put in by the Council has attracted a £2.5m Arts Council grant and £770k of Vibrant & Viable Places monies. Partnership working is the key to being able to provide some of these facilities. Experience shows that provision for the arts is rarely an income generator in terms of cash but it does enhance an area and contributes to making an area a more attractive place to visit. Arts, in its widest sense, including cultural and tourism aspects needs to be supported and enhanced as and when financing will allow.
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?
It is difficult in the current climate for the Council to support financially as indeed it would be with any other business. Recognising the importance that the presence of the Football Club has in the town, I would expect the Council officers to help with any practical support or expertise and to work with the club to maximise any opportunities and to support grant applications.
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?
To continue and support the Night safe scheme and Town centre Forum and facilitate such things as the wellbeing room in the refurbished Brook Street toilets which was funded by Wrexham CBC and other partners. It is a matter of working together with all relevant agencies such as proprietors, Police, Council, voluntary groups and licensing regulators to ensure the best possible outcome.
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?
PSPOs have a role to play but are a short term feature and tend to be reactionary. They are one tool available but anti social behaviour needs to be addressed by all agencies including Health in any way that is effective and timely.
19. New Psychoactive Substances are a recent well documented problem in and around town, what do you think is the solution?
This is not a problem unique to Wrexham. 2016 legislation makes the selling of NPSs illegal but can still be consumed and so enforcement is difficult. Evidence suggests that they are less expensive to acquire than the more conventional drugs hence their use is more attractive. Again its is a multi agency approach but there is no quick solution. The dangers of using NPSs needs to be more widely explained via the education process.
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?
Allowances are set by the Independent Remunerations Panel (IRP). Cllrs. can opt to receive in full or part. Some claim and then donate a % to groups of their choice. Some do not claim expenses such as travel and subsistence. Cllrs. decide individually how they deal with allowances and this is probably better than trying to enforce a blanket policy. It may be that if a Cllr has a job he/she may lose pay for attending council duties. Some may have taken a part time post to free up time for council duties. There may be merit in the IRP looking at a performance related allowance linked to member’s attendance. Being too prescriptive could deter all but the retired and financially independent from seeking election which goes against the ethos of inclusiveness. IT facilities are essential. There have been proven savings by reducing printing and mailing costs. I would want a device recommended and sourced by the specialist IT section at the Council. I would not be against paying for it myself
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?
The Council still operates leisure and resource facilities across the whole of the County. Given financial constraints, the Council need to review where and how it spends its funding. At the time I recollect Plas Madoc was running at a loss of £0.5m per annum and faced a huge repair and maintenance bill for the future with many items of plant coming to the end of their life. The decision was taken to close it and eventually if was handed over to a local trust under the principles of Together in Wrexham who were confident they could turn the situation around. The Council has supported the trust financially every year since with a £50k grant as well as funding considerable costs at the time of hand over. Welsh Government has this year allocated a capital grant for major works in the sum of £0.5m which underpins the original findings of the condition survey at the time of handover.
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 and cultural heritage should be supported but by encouragement rather than restrictive legislation from Welsh Government. The implications of complying with it’s legislated standards has an estimated cost of £350k for Wrexham Council. The Welsh Government are now reviewing legislation following concerns expressed from bodies across Wales.
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?
Subject to finance and available facilities, I would agree with webcasting all meetings where the public can attend as of right. I have found it a useful tool in terms of the Planning Committee and ensures what is said and voted on is captured accurately. There is already budget review consultation and the more recent “Wrexham we want” consultation exercise. I envisage when the Public Service Board is full operational this will be another vehicle for consultation.
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?
It is important to aim to engage with all sections of the community. Community Councils now have powers to appoint youth members to their council and this could encourage more interest from the younger age group.
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?
• Pressed for road resurfacing schemes in Holt and Isycoed. • Supported Abenbury as treasurer of the Residents’ Assoc helping with fundraising events. • Worked with Holt Community Council to secure a multi-use games area • Worked with Groundwork to start a trial play scheme at Pentre Maelor. • Tried to secure sound planning conditions for developments to avoid conflict with residents’ amenity, the most recent being HMP Berwyn. Problems with inadequate parking at the prison necessitated meetings with other affected businesses, the Police, as well as residents and Prison staff. • Requested a report to be presented to Planning Cttee on HMP Berwyn’s failure to comply with some pre-occupation conditions. • Ongoing issues over amenity land at Llwyn Onn and Abenbury Fields which has not been handed over by the developer. • Represented and supported residents concerns at the enquiry into the building of a power station at Isycoed. If I do not win, happy to support as I have done for 34yrs
In a few hundred characters to wrap this up, why should people vote for you?
I would ask residents to support my candidacy in this election. As I have said in my election address, it is inevitable that you cannot please everyone all of the time and often a compromise is the best solution. I am conscientious, fair minded and diligent in my approach to Council duties and do have a wealth of experience and local knowledge. I have always engaged with and offered support to the network of voluntary groups in Holt such as the Town Trust, History Society, Kenyon Hall Committee and Church and some years ago to the Youth Club and the Community Centre. I am currently a member of the Holt Endowed School Foundation and Borras Quarry Liaison Committee and have recently been invited to act as a Trustee of the William & John Jones Charitable trust in Wrexham.
Social & Web links
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OTHER CANDIDATES FOR Holt
- Welsh Labour