Statement of Aled Roberts
We invited them to tell you a little about who they are, any political history and about their political leanings.
I have lived in the Ponciau ward all my life apart from the three years I spent studying law at Aberystwyth University.
I worked as a solicitor in Wrexham for over 20 years specialising in criminal and child care law. I am married to Llinos and we have two children - Osian who is at Cardiff University and Ifan who is in the sixth form at Ysgol Morgan Llwyd.
I have always been active in village life - I am the Secretary of Ebeneser Chapel and the Company Secretary at the Stiwt. I am currently the Chair of Governors at Ysgol ID Hooson in Rhos and Ysgol Morgan Llwyd.
I previously represented Ponciau on both Wrexham Maelor Borough Council and on Wrexham CBC between 1990 and 2012 when I decided not to seek re-election when I was elected to the Welsh Assembly. I served as a Regional Assembly Member for North Wales between 2011 and 2016 when I lost my seat.
Since then I have re-joined the Board at the Stiwt where I volunteer and I have also become involved with local disability charities as well as assisting people with their benefit appeals.
I have always been involved with a number of musical societies locally and currently enjoy singing with Cor Ger Y Ffin and John's Boys .
I love living in Rhos where we have raised our family. We are still fortunate to live in a close-knit and supportive community and I would seek your support so that I can represent the area to the best of my ability.
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)
Care for the elderly is a real issue with concerns over the future of Plas Yn Rhos and the recent decision by Wrexham Council to close the day centre for the elderly on the site. Probably the issue which has been raised most with me during this campaign is the problem with parking on our narrow streets. Young families have raised concerns with capacity at some of our schools and this needs to be addressed by the council who also need to tackle the issue of housing for young families
2. Further to the above issues you have specified, at a ward level what would you do to resolve these problems if elected?
Wrexham Council have already taken the decision to close the day centre but nothing seems to have been done to engage with alternative providers and there is a suspicion that the Council is reluctant to ensure the facility continues. I would press for action to be taken on the day centre together with meaningful discussions with the health board on re-designing the current accommodation. Little can be done about many of the parking issues as many of our streets are narrow with right angled junctions which were not designed for current levels of car-usage but there is clearly a need for the Council to sort out a parking strategy which includes the provision of disabled parking adjacent to properties as in other authorities. The Council also need to review school capacities and ensure that any increasing demand is reflected in capital bids to the Welsh Government. I have previously called for Wrexham Council to start building council houses again.
3. As a councillor and as a member of the council what would be in your power, and your priority, to help local businesses?
Local businesses in Rhos and Johnstown benefit greatly from rural business rate relief provided by the Welsh Government and I would lobby the Government to ensure it continues. At a borough wide level the Council could be pro-active in increasing the percentage of goods and services that they procure locally as well as co-ordinating and supporting the efforts of local businesses through bodies such as the Town Centre Forum.
4. How do you think adult social care in Wrexham should be funded?
I have recently been appointed to the Board of Social Care Wales which is the new body to regulate adult and children social care across Wales but which is also tasked with leading improvement and innovation in the field. Whilst we celebrate the fact that people are generally living longer this creates ever-increasing demand on adult social care budgets. I would want to encourage more joined-up working between the NHS and social care locally. Ultimately governments at both UK and Welsh level are going to have to face whether taxation needs raising, but our job locally is to ensure that we make the most efficient use of the resources available.
5. What do you think is the most urgent thing, in the power of councillors, required to improve the local education system?
I am proud that Kirsty Williams as the Lib Dem Education Minister in Wales has taken action to tackle class sizes through a new Welsh Government grant as I do think that giving teachers more time with each child is an important tool in raising standards. As a school governor at both a primary and secondary school I know that there are real pressures currently on school budgets and the incoming council needs to tackle what are very historic patterns of spend in some areas. Raising standards, however, is achieved by creating a challenging but supportive relationship with our schools by going down to individual subject areas and holding school leaders to account. Whilst tackling under-performance, however, we need to also celebrate the achievements of our young people which in Wrexham might be in music or sporting achievement as much as exam grades. We also need to recognise the progress made by each individual which might not always be reflected in absolute grades.
6. What do you think should be done with the Groves school building, and the site?
I supported the retention of the Groves building during my previous time as a councillor and believed that the plans by Coleg Cambria were an exciting opportunity not only for the site but for post 16 education in the borough. I must admit to not understanding the reason for the Council withdrawing from the deal at that time. The new council needs to be clear on its proposals to develop the site and plans to use the buildings need to be drawn up swiftly to avoid the significant maintenance costs which are currently falling on the education department
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 do not accept the housing demand figures which the Welsh Government are seeking to impose on Wrexham. It is also the case ( and has been throughout the period form when the original local plan was opposed by the Planning Inspectorate) that there are a large number of planning permissions within the county which have not been activated as well as a large number of empty properties. Those of us who have been canvassing in recent weeks will have seen at first hand that this is the case. We obviously need to have an adopted local plan in place as soon as possible but one which reflects local need rather than flawed historical assumptions made by the Welsh Government and the Planning Inspectorate. The plan should concentrate on the development of brownfield sites which are not as attractive to developers who prefer cheaper virgin greenfield sites. We also need to ensure that the Public Open Space policy which was adopted whilst I was Leader of the Council previously is retained
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?
I support proper enforcement of litter and dog-fouling but have no preference for whether this is carried out in-house or by a third party subject to the most cost-efficient method. I am in favour of a zero tolerance policy
9. Do you favour the current Executive Board system or a politically balanced system? Why?
I prefer the politically balances system which was in place before the current Independent/Tory administration introduced a cabinet system. Previously there was opposition representation on the Executive Board which provided for more open and transparent decision making.
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?
I believe that your first responsibility at local level is to your ward rather than any political party to which you belong. That said, I have always stood as a Liberal or a Liberal Democrat even at local elections because I have felt that residents should know where my political beliefs lie and that I was a member of that party. I can never envisage changing my political allegiance but if I did so I would resign and trigger a by-election.
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?
During the time that I previously served on the Council we had to take many difficult decisions. Cuts are not something new to Wrexham Council and services have had to be re-shaped over the last 10 years or so. What I fail to understand, under the current administration, is why they had to employ external consultants at a cost of many millions to identify how they should re-shape services in an area which they had little or no experience of. Surely those difficult decisions are best taken by councillors based on the advice of officers who should know the area and their own departments well. I would want to re-visit the current proposals so that the new Council can be re-assured that the right questions have been asked whilst realising the difficulties as some services are statutory and have to be provided The one thing I do know is that cuts on top of previous cuts make the whole situation more difficult annually and this is the greatest challenge facing the new council
12. With the 'Reshaping' programme, which specific areas would you look to grow and create revenue streams in?
We have to be innovative and make use of ideas and opportunities such as the proposals for solar farms which were put forward by officers and supported by councillors whilst I was Leader previously. These now provide significant revenue to the council and we need to be bold to make use of such opportunities. Work previously undertaken identified those areas previously where income streams could be increased. We have to be careful though because Wrexham is not an affluent area and there can be a tipping point where increasing charges can actually lead to reductions in income. We also need to look at opportunities where increased volume on lower charges can also lead to increases in revenue.
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?
Many have been involved in shaping the Masterplan and any new administration needs to resist the temptation to re-write all that has gone before. Empty units and reducing footfall are not unique to Wrexham and are as much to do with each and every one of us using online shopping and other changes in habit. The Masterplan recognises the role of independent shops in creating an offer which would be unique to Wrexham and the new Council needs to ensure that the improvements identified within the Masterplan are delivered through working alongside its partners in the Town Centre Forum and local businesses
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?
Many local politicians are deeply involved within their communities and I would hope that most in my village see me as approachable. I will keep in touch with residents through the ward FOCUS newsletter as I have done in the past. My home and mobile phone numbers are readily available in the village and I am active on social media.
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 have been involved in the group that restored the Stiwt since 1986 and have continued to be involved since the theatre was restored. The support for the arts is one of those areas where support is not a statutory responsibility of the local authority and there is a danger that the arts and provision such as the schools music service suffer unless there is a strong steer from councillors to support activities which might not be statutory but contribute a great deal to our quality of life locally
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?
I have supported Wrexham for over 40 years - before the great days of winning promotion to the then Second Division. As a season ticket holder and WST member I have always had to declare an interest in any Council debates but I believe that the new Council does need to look at the manner in which the planning applications were considered. I would also want the Council to support the Club in any discussions with the FAW and Welsh Government regarding much needed improvements to the Racecourse.
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?
We need to support the night-time economy whilst recognising that we also need to build on the sector which has seen new eating venues open in the town. As the father of two young adults I also feel, however, that we need to be more pro-active with our partners in ensuring that there is zero tolerance on drugs.
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?
I remain to be convinced personally that PSPOs are effective and do not merely transfer problems to other adjoining areas. We also have to ask whether the PSPOs were properly enforced at the time that they were set up and the Police need to maintain a zero tolerance to drug use in particular. I also recognise, however, that there are no easy answers and the only way that we will tackle the issue effectively is to work in a co-ordinated way with partner agencies.
19. New Psychoactive Substances are a recent well documented problem in and around town, what do you think is the solution?
This is a national problem which needs the UK Government to be bold in reviewing the effectiveness of current legislation. From what I've read the current issues in the town might suggest a prevalence amongst certain groups which can only be dealt with by all agencies working together. This also means that we need to be hard on looking at strategies which might have been in place for a number of years but whose success is debatable. The reality is that these substances are cheap and we need to look at what can be done locally within current legislation looking at lessons learnt elsewhere
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?
When I was first elected in 1990 a small attendance allowance was paid which meant that many could not afford to consider to become councillors. This meant that the Council was dominated by certain demographic groups. I do, however, consider that increasing allowances when cuts are being made elsewhere cannot be justified especially when staff pay within the same authority was frozen. I can see the need for councillors to have good access to IT but question the need for expensive iPads when there are cheaper alternatives available and surely these could be purchased out of the 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?
Whilst I was a Councillor we remained committed to a facility at Plas Madoc as there are few leisure facilities in the south of the borough. The estate needed a facility although we probably would have looked to provide a smaller facility in the fullness of time. Again I have no difficulty with facilities being run by external providers if they provide better value for the council and the current agreement with Freedom Leisure means that the system is in place for the term of the next council.
22. What actions would you take, or support, as a councillor to encourage Welsh language use growth? Or, if you are against this, why?
I speak Welsh at home and believe passionately in the right of Welsh speakers to be able to access services in their own language. Strides have been taken in Wrexham in recent years but new legal obligations mean that further steps will have to be taken
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 support any moves that would make Wrexham Council more open and transparent whilst ensuring that any additional costs are proportionate to the improvement achieved
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 am proud of the gender balance which we have achieved as a party in the candidates who we are putting forward whilst recognising that there is still more to be done in ensuring that the council becomes more representative. I am both male and getting older but that does not mean that I am not conscious of the work that needs to be done. The present Council took steps with regard to the timing of meetings and other issues which I think makes it more difficult for certain groups to take an active role in the Council and the new Council should review the position. I have also always supported the reduction of the voting age to 16 year.
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?
I have always been heavily involved in voluntary activities in Rhos and Ponciau but since I no longer spend four days a week in Cardiff the past year has allowed me to become more involved. I have helped at the Stiwt through manning the box office for our successful panto, I have represented residents at benefits tribunals in a voluntary capacity and I have also worked locally with disability charities
In a few hundred characters to wrap this up, why should people vote for you?
I have always sought to represent the village to the best of my ability - this is where I have lived throughout my life and where we have raised our children. I have continued to be involved with many societies and schools locally and know and understand the problems that we face as an area. I ask for your support on May 4th so that I may once again represent the area
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