The management and service expenditure of the town centre were scrutinised tonight by councillors, with concerns raised about car parking, street drinking and Wrexham’s public toilets.
In the report put before the Employment, Business and Investment Scrutiny Committee, it was noted that ‘reviewing the cost and co-ordination of the services the Council delivers in Wrexham Town Centre has proven to be complex’.
Council Leader Neil Rogers emphasised the report ‘excluded private retail parks’ pointing out the 19% of the car parks in Wrexham were under Council Control. The report was presented, with sections highlighted including suggestions to coordinate town centre work more inside the Council.
The report, which can be viewed in full on the Council website here states that a review of the town centre services has concluded several points; including the less than ideal co-ordination in the delivery of Wrexham Town Centre services between departments of the Council.
Speaking about the report Councillor David Taylor said: “There isn’t a lot of coordination, every department is looking after its budget at the end of the day.
“It is all about how we get over the hurdle to get departments working together, and who oversees it to get people working together.”
Chairman of the meeting, Cllr Rodney Skelland queried: “There is no break down of the budget from the Environment Department. There is actually nothing, no breakdown.”
The meeting was told: “What we tried to do was give an indication of the resources the Environment Department put it. Often this is men and women working, rather than specific budgets.
“Where there are identifiable budgets these have been given. Where it is just ‘man hours’ then it is the resource the Environment Department puts in.”
One of the hot topics of debate in Wrexham at the moment is the cost of parking in the town centre. During the meeting reference was made to the lack of information in the report regarding income from Council run car parks.
Cllr Phil Wynn: “This report makes no reference to the car park income in the town centre which is possibly the biggest revenue generator in the town centre.
“This is a starter but gives no direction to where we are going with this. The town centre will not be exempt from being part of the savings that have to be made.”
Cllr Wynn was told that car park revenue was given annually, rather than a more detailed breakdown. This afternoon Wrexham.com was provided with more detailed information this afternoon after we submitted a Freedom of Information request. More details of the FOI and car parking will be published on Wrexham.com soon.
Cllr Wynn also raised the idea of a not for profit company being setup to run Wrexham Town Centre, citing examples from around the UK. The meeting was told that only five responses were made to a ‘BID’, or a business investment district, and the feeling was negative to those who responded. Clarity was also given that any BID would be on top of Council services, but would not replace them.
Cllr Rogers said to a comment of the large cuts underway and in the future: “We gave a commitment that cleaning of the town centre will be maintained at previous levels.”
One of the main focuses of the meeting was a discussion on the state of public toilets in the town centre.
Councillor David Taylor said: “When tourists come in to the town centre, we need the toilets clean. We need to show we are a welcoming friendly clean town that they would want to visit again.
“If there is no coordinated answer to these issues then these people will not want to come back.”
Concerns of Wrexham’s public toilets was echoed by Councillor William Baldwin, who suggested councillors visit his shop in the town and ask people about their thoughts on Wrexham’s toilets after one Councillor suggested there was not a problem.
Within the meeting report a breakdown of the overall expenditure of the town centre toilets is provided, with a total of £30,629 allocated in the 2014/2015 budget. These costs include water rates, electricity and maintaining the cleanliness of the toilets.
An interesting titbit was was raised in the meeting, with members told that Marks and Spencer get a Welsh Government Grant for members of the public to use their facilities.
Cllr Baldwin suggested a potential revenue raiser, stating: “We have four million people through the bus station, lets charge 20p each to use the toilet.”
The meeting was told that charging people to use the toilets was a ‘pressing issue’ as ‘they are not pleasant after they have been abused.’
Council Officer Steve Bayley said: “It is the people who use the toilets that are the problem. They are cleaned in the day. We have a huge problem with toilets across town, they are not being used for the purpose they were intended.”
One example was given of one town centre toilet that has been burned for the fourth weekend in a row. Previously £16,000 was spent on ‘two large security guards to vet users’ of the toilet, however due to the cuts this is no longer possible.
One option suggested was to close all toilets aside from the bus station toilets, to allow focusing of resources to make one perfect toilet.
Cllr Baldwin and Cllr Rogers exchanged views on how to deal with and the consequence of those who commit criminality in the toilets, with sentencing and restitution being mentioned and that it was out of the Council’s hands.
Queries were also raised about signage in the town centre, with Councillor Alun Jenkins stating: “We have some hidden gems and people miss things. We need to point people to places.”
Cllr Rogers pointed out that new signage had been implemented in the town, along with several fixed maps situated across the town. Cllr Rogers added: “We cannot have signs pointing people to signs, I suggest when this meeting is over members go outside and look at the signs.”
The meeting was told by Wrexham Council: “Traditional signage works, but we are moving to a new age. The new app has maps of the town centre, shops, restaurants and offers. Lots of people use that navigation method to get around the town centre.
Cllr Jenkins revealed that he did not have a mobile phone, and he has heard that sometimes the town centre app wont install on older devices. Ignoring the quip about ‘putting him in the museum’, he went on to ask for more signage. However he mentioned again his idea to licence A-Frames in and around town.
Concerns surrounding drinking issues during the day where also raised by Cllr Baldwin, who said: “We are attracting undesirables, not from another country, but other parts of this country and its bringing this town down.
“You can see them staggering in to the pub, when perhaps they should just be staggering out.”
A similar issue was raised in yesterday’s Town Centre Forum meeting, where members were told that there had been several complaints of street drinking on Yorke Street.
It was noted that the public house mentioned in tonight’s meeting has been reported to the Licensing Department of Wrexham Council.
The overall theme of the meeting was a desire to see an increase in linked up work, planning and budgeting between departments who work in and on the town centre. Another theme was to have a person heading and controlling such coordination.
Cllr Taylor asked the current Town Centre Manager Isobel Garner what her ‘scope’ was, with a view to seeing if she was able to take on the role of a ‘conduit’ to liase with all areas of the town centre and being ‘the person’ to manage.
The Town Centre Manager gave an overview of her position and responsibilities, saying that the query could be ‘investigated and explored further however the interaction was cut as Cllr Rogers said: “I dont think its fair to ask an Officer about their responsibilities like this”.
Cllr Taylor apologised saying he was not trying to put anyone on the spot.
The meeting was challenged in the report to not only consider its contents but to ‘consider how they wish to proceed with the review of services delivered in Wrexham
A group of four Councillors seemed keen to progress the work to a ‘Task and Finish Group’, with one moving it as a proposal. The chair asked for a seconder to dead silence, then two more came on board and the motion was formally put to the vote.
Three councillors voted in favour, one voted against and the roughly eight others abstained as the discussion on the agenda item petered out.
The next agenda item was related, as it was on the promotion update on the town centre – you can read our report on that by clicking here…!