A WREXHAM councillor has criticised the authority’s five-year plan for being too focused on the city centre.
At this month’s meeting of the council’s executive board, leader Esclusham Cllr Mark Pritchard (Ind) unveiled the draft five-year plan ahead of it being presented to full council.
The six priorities outlined in the plan for 2023-2028 are;
- Developing and decarbonising the environment.
- Developing the economy.
- Ensuring Wrexham is attractive and well-maintained.
- Ensuring Wrexham is a fair and safe space.
- Improving education and learning.
- Promoting health and wellbeing with focus on social services and good mental health.
But Glyn Ceiriog Cllr Trevor Bates, a member of the ruling coalition group of Independents and Conservatives felt much of the detail in the plan neglected rural wards like his.
He said: “From the plan I can see our first priority is to develop the economy and I can see many references throughout the plan to the city centre.
“But all I can see for our rural communities is a desire for beautiful countryside.
“I think I live in the most beautiful ward in the whole of the county. We already have beautiful countryside but that does not pay the bills.
“We also need to develop the economy in rural areas, support our farmers who are constantly having to diversify their businesses with little support from Wrexham Council or Welsh Government.
“Planning constraints and an increase in regulations are making it harder and harder for our rural communities. The way we’re going we won’t be able to see the fields for trees before long.”
“What are we going to do to boost our rural economy?”
He added: “Sometimes I look across at our council and think I’m the only one standing up for the rural communities. Perhaps look at your conscience councillors and see if we need to do something better.
“Away from the city centre our village halls are finding it harder and harder to stay open. They’re not getting any support outside the city centre from Wrexham Council.”
Cllr Bates also raised concerns about parts of rural Wrexham potentially being included in Welsh Government plans for a National Park, which he fears would bring an “extra layer of governance again”.
“Restrictions will make it even less likely to be able to harness hydro, solar or wind energy which might have aided the rural economy”, Cllr Bates said.
“I feel that fairness and equality is an unlikely outcome for our rural communities partly because of an unbalanced focus on the city centre and partly because of government policy.”
In response, chief officer for economy and planning David Fitzsimon said businesses and tourism are supported across the whole of the county borough by the council’s various teams.
“Our World Heritage Site, which is within a rural area, has had very significant investment”, Mr Fitzsimon said.
“Our City of Culture bid is not just focused within the city centre, that is absolutely for both rural and urban areas.
“The economy team have been invited to scrutiny committee in January to discuss actions and strategy for the rural areas and the team are examining that very issue at the moment.
“We do look forward in the new year to roll-out our placemaking strategy across the county borough and producing a strategy specifically for assisting our rural areas.”
Mr Fitzsimon said he could not see the creation of a National Park bringing more red tape to rural areas.
“My experience of National Parks is they are created in areas of high quality”, he said.
“They’re generally designated in areas of outstanding natural beauty where there are already strict controls planning wise.
“Whilst there are concerns about overly strict planning regulations they’re no stricter because rural areas already have strict controls imposed on them and I would argue the profile of being designated a National Park outweighs any fears about planning restrictions.”
Wrexham Council is in consultation with the Welsh Government about the potential creation of a National Park.
Earlier in the meeting opposition leader Ruabon Cllr Dana Davies (Lab) raised what she felt was a lack of detail in the council plan about housing and how the economy will be improved.
She also expressed concern about pressure on social services while wanting to see more on reducing poverty and inequality to help with that, and targets put in place.
Council leader Cllr Pritchard replied that there will be another workshop before the plan goes to full council to determine targets, and said more than £18m had been invested in social services as a priority in the last few years.
He added that money from the Welsh Government would help deliver more housing.
Executive board members subsequently voted to approve the plan.