The Council’s Employment, Business and Investment Scrutiny Committee will meet at 4pm on Wednesday (agenda and documents here) to discuss a strategy proposed to bring “more co-ordinated approach” to services in Wrexham town centre.
Councillors will examine recommendations by a Task and Finish Group that the Council create and implement a new ‘Town Centre Strategy’, which the Council say “will help to co-ordinate the work of services covering a wide range of important areas in the town centre”.
The Council say: “The Wrexham Town Centre Management Task and Finish Group was set up in 2014, after the scrutiny committee reviewed the cost and co-ordination of a number of different services provided in the town centre. The group concluded that the council needed to be clear on its vision for the town centre, and set out its priorities for making it a viable, safe, accessible and prosperous place for people to live, work and visit.”
“The proposed Town Centre Strategy would outline those priorities, and bring together a number of different plans for a variety of service areas to help improve the town centre further.
“Examples of services working in the town centre include the enforcement, highway maintenance and Streetscene work carried out by the council’s Environment Department; licensing and Nightsafe work undertaken by Public Protection, and the wider economic strategies focused on town centre business handled by Assets and Economic Development.”
The report compiled by the Task and Finish Group also notes a number of ongoing regeneration schemes in the town centre including the reduction of anti-social behaviour at Wrexham Bus Station, improvements to town centre public toilets and increasing raft of public events – some with stated attendance figures, and others unmeasured.
As well as recommending the creation of a new Town Centre Strategy, the report also recommends that a new group of members and officers be set up from departments responsible for implementing the new strategy and to monitor its success.
Cllr Bill Baldwin, Chair of the Committee, said: “The issues of regeneration, vacancy rates, small businesses, anti-social behaviour and others have all been discussed in the context of Wrexham Town Centre, and the Task and Finish Group has undertaken exhaustive work in order to put together a comprehensive report.
“I look forward to chairing the discussion of this report and its findings – I imagine it will generate a very interesting discussion.”
In the Scrutiny report there is also a first public look at a Memorandum for the Town Centre Forum, with some changes that raised our eyebrows having being Forum members for many years. The Forum has traditionally been groups of traders and stakeholders who have met monthly with various topics discussed, occasionally in a very direct manner, and until the tail end of last year very well attended by senior Councillors.
The Memorandum notes that the Council will se the agenda in consultation with the Chairsperson, a subtle formal difference from previous workings where the Chair has been the point of contact to decide agenda items.
In the Memorandum the power is stated as being with the Chair of the Steering Group rather than the Chair of the Forum itself, so we asked a few questions to Mr Atkinson who currently holds that position.
We asked the Chair why is it not the Chair setting agenda in consultation with forum and stakeholders.
Mr Atkinson replied: “It’s a good point. We work with the Council as one group and different tasks are divided between different people so it’s no concern that a Council officer wrote it, I’m glad they offered. It’s only a concern if there are elements that need challenging but go un-challenged and I don’t think that’s the case at all. Whilst we are not there to scrutinize the Council but to work with them, we are there to represent traders, so the tail can’t wag the dog, everything we do has to be about the traders and making the town better not Council interests.”
In the September Town Centre Forum the issue of censoring the media was raised and discussed, with minutes noting that the media being present was not an issue with ‘if you don’t want it reported don’t say it’ being decided – with one of us from Wrexham.com noting that if there is an mistakes or irresponsible reporting then it should be challenged in the forum. In November when the changes were discussed we enquired if the Steering Group would be open to media, and were told no, but were also assured the Town Centre Forum would remain an open meeting to all.
We were surprised to see in the Memorandum a mention at introducing rules that could create secret section of meetings, much in the manner of ‘Part 2’ as used by Wrexham Council in public meetings.
We asked the Steering Group Chair about this rule, and pointed out it was contrary to recent debate and what was agreed. We also asked if the Steering Group or Wrexham Council proposed it (as it was not the Forum), and why the move to possible secret sections of meetings?
Mr Atkinson said: “Not as far as I’m concerned, no. That would be wrong. It’s still in the memorandum but I’m told that was a mistake as we already challenged it and agreed as a group that the press need to be at everything. That part will come out, nothing should be in secret.”
We enquired who had drafted the Memorandum, and were told ‘a Council Officer’ had volunteered.
The memorandum is part of a body of work to make the Town Centre Forum more appealing and relevant, as we have documented here, and we enquired what would encourage membership with the memorandum.
The Chair told us: “The change of meeting style should encourage membership. Meetings have got quite boring and need livening up a bit. There also needs to be a relevance to traders at all times or it’s pointless. It’s a great group, we’ve got lots done for the town but it’s early days in some ways, the Steering Group etc is still finding its feet and trying to be more representative, if we don’t get it sorted it’s pointless but I’m sure we will.”
Finally we pointed out that the “Town Centre Action Plan” is referenced in the forthcoming Council Scrutiny meeting documents and the Town Centre Forum memorandum, so we enquired if the document been ever made public and if so where can people find a copy as we could not remember sight of it.
The Chair told us: “It’s something we’ve been working on as a group, it’s far from a secret but we’ve just been getting on with it and reporting back on it in the Forum. We need people to know what we’re working on as we need more helpers.”
Perhaps indicating it wont be made public, he added: “The Town Centre Action plan is owned by the Steering Group and jointly developed by a team of volunteers in conjunction with officers and member, exploring ideas and solution to reduce vacancy rates, increase footfall, improve pride, and create jobs in the town. Summary reports will be fed back to the Town Centre Forum.”
The Scrutiny meeting is on Wednesday at 4pm at the Guildhall, and the next Town Centre Forum meeting is at 8:30am – 10am on Tuesday 7th Feb, again in the Guildhall.