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Delays to schemes to improve Wrexham communities caused by ‘photo shoot’ row, councillor claims

NOTE: This content is old - Published: Thursday, Mar 14th, 2019.

Delays to schemes to improve communities in Wrexham have been caused by a row over a photo shoot, it’s been claimed.

Wrexham Council has a significant back log of environmental improvement projects, such as new parking initiatives or repairs to fences.

One councillor said he had been waiting nine years since first applying for money to tackle parking problems in part of Caia Park.

A Plaid Cymru representative said the issue was caused when stricter criteria was introduced to decide whether applications should go ahead in 2016.

Cllr Carrie Harper claimed tighter standards, which prevent work being carried out on roads unless there is a benefit to council tenants, were only introduced because leading councillors were upset at not being invited to a photo shoot.

She said it was held in 2016 to celebrate the completion of a scheme to plant wildflowers on verges along Cefn Road, which garnered nationwide attention.
But Cllr Harper said it led to a fall out when senior figures took offence at not being asked to take part.

Speaking at a meeting of the homes and environment scrutiny committee yesterday, she said: “There was a flower planting scheme put forward by Cllr Ronnie Prince and he’d used his environmental budget to fund planting some wild flowers on the Cefn Road to increase biodiversity.

“It was a very successful scheme, very beautiful and got UK-wide coverage, but I understand that certain leading councillors were unhappy they weren’t invited to a photo opp to publicise this scheme and claimed Cllr Prince shouldn’t have even funded the flowers because they were planted on highways land.

“Following that scheme, all estate offices were told the money from the environmental budget couldn’t be spent on highways land.

“Since then, that has stupidly caused a whole host of issues for us right across the borough.”

The Queensway councillor added: “If that’s right, it’s ridiculous that the driver for preventing this scheme, according to several sources I’ve spoken to, was because of people throwing their toys because they didn’t get their picture in the paper.

“I’ll be clear that that’s not aimed at anyone in the room today and tenants have been losing out on beneficial projects within our community because of this.”

Cllr Harper said several initiatives she had put forward had been rejected.

They included plans to install off street parking on Cefn Road and motorbike barriers in Gwenfro.

In response, Cllr David Griffiths (Ind), lead member for housing, said Cllr Harper should name the person she was referring to in relation to the photo issue.

He said: “It’s not for an argument Carrie because I understand your passion, but if you’re going to say things about people going for photograph opportunities, and they didn’t do it for that, you need to name those individuals.

“Other than that we can’t look at it, because it’s just a throw away comment and that can harm people by doing that.”

Officers said the decision was taken based on legal guidance, which meant funding could only be used for schemes which have a direct benefit to council house tenants.

They added the reason was because the money came directly from the authority’s ringfenced Housing Revenue Account.

As an example, they said while funding work to the public highway to deliver off street parking schemes would be acceptable, paying for repairs to roads would not.

The council’s head of housing and economy admitted there had been problems, but added staff were working through the back log.

Steve Bayley said: “There are two very clear checks we have to follow.

“First of all the legality of what we’re doing, and that’s very clear now that we can be quite open in the way we use HRA money as it benefits tenants.

“The second is the definition of the scheme and unless we have a very rigid set of things we can and can’t do, there’s always going to be some subjectivity in the interpretation of how the scheme is implemented.

“We are getting on top of it and I know there’s frustration.”

At the end of the meeting, the committee voted in favour of asking estate officers to provide frequent updates on schemes.

They also requested an update at a future meeting with details of the progress made and reasons for any delays.

By Liam Randall – BBC Local Democracy Reporter (more here on the LDR scheme).



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