Gwynedd Leader – looking back and to the future
At the beginning of a new year, Plaid Cymru’s Gwynedd Council Leader, Councillor Dyfed Edwards looks ahead to 2017 and shares his thoughts about his recent term at the helm in Gwynedd.
Within five months county council elections will be upon us following current councils five year term. Next May Gwynedd Council will also celebrate its 21st birthday. The new Gwynedd Council was formed in 1996 by combining the former Gwynedd County Council with Arfon, Dwyfor and Meirionnydd district councils. In 2017 Gwynedd Council will come of age and what is significant about this period is that Plaid Cymru in Gwynedd has been in power for the entire period. Today with a clear majority; for some time in a formal coalition with Labour; and at other times leading without a majority. The period has been a fruitful one for Gwynedd some of which I will identify below.
Our aim, as Plaid Cymru in Gwynedd, is to recognise the contribution of everyone and create a Future Gwynedd – a Gwynedd that acknowledges yesterday’s traditions but also reaches out to create a New Gwynedd. Gwynedd today is a collection of communities that is a microcosm of the rest of Wales: communities in need; communities under pressure but communities also full of opportunity. For us to create hope, we must not settle for a repeat of the past but venture and demonstrate the possibilities of a new world.
That is why we have pushed the boundaries for the Welsh language in Gwynedd so we create a sustainable future for her. Since their inception around 6,000 children and young people have been through our innovative language centres, therefore creating a new town of Welsh speakers. 6,000 children and young people is the same sized population of our third largest town in Gwynedd! The first Centre was established in the 80s and since then they have made a key contribution to ensuring that non-Welsh speaking children and young people are given the opportunity to learn the language. And with the challenge of encouraging and promoting the use of Welsh among children and young people in our schools, Gwynedd Schools Language Charter was established in 2011. This is a scheme that provides the children and young people themselves with ownership of using Welsh socially within our schools, creating a context in which children of all backgrounds feel confident in speaking the language. The Welsh language will flourish as we create a positive context for her.
Since its formation, the Council has adopted Welsh as the main language of administration. As the largest employer in the county, we have a unique opportunity to promote the use of Welsh in the workplace and set the language at the centre of our activities. Ensuring positive factors for the Welsh language within the Council has an influence on the status of Welsh in our towns and villages, as our workforce return home to their families and friends creating a confidence and positive expectation of the Welsh language. Gwynedd Council asks the rest of the public sector in the county to follow our lead and implement policies that promote Welsh in every aspect of organisations work. Locally, we can achieve even more in partnership with the rest of the public sector.
And if Welsh is to continue as the main language of our communities and within the Council, we must ensure adequate infrastructure is in place for the language. We need to make the right social-economic conditions that are required in order for the language to flourish. It is not an exaggeration to say that we are facing a critical turning point in the county with our ageing population and the high percentage of young people leaving our communities. The challenge for us is to try to offer opportunities for good jobs, housing and a good quality of life in rural Wales. Yes, we have wealth - a wealth of natural resources, environmental richness and cultural treasure. But we have poverty and deprivation too. Spectacular views can be striking but the sight of poverty and despair is ugly.
Responding to the situation, we are determined to create new opportunities in housing by declaring that any new house built in our seaside communities will be available only for local people. As a Council we have also co-operated with other partners in establishing County Community Land Trust offering houses and suitable plots for local people. Gwynedd Council's financial capability will help to ensure the supply of new houses and land that will be within financial reach to local people. Where the open market is pushing people out, the intervention by the public sector must seek to redress this. And it is great to see our housing associations building houses again. We are desperately in need of an adequate supply of suitable housing in Gwynedd, especially within our former quarrying and coastal villages. Currently, there are over 2,000 people on our waiting list for housing in Gwynedd. And the amount of rented homes available on offer to people at the moment? 12. There are only 12 social homes available across the whole of Gwynedd at any one time. There is an urgent need for more housing in Gwynedd.
Gwynedd is in a strong position to turn our natural resources, our heritage, our culture and our environment into unique economic assets. This is why we are working tirelessly on a bid to secure World Heritage status for the slate industry and associated communities in Gwynedd. This is an opportunity for us to tell our cultural and industrial story to the world and welcome people to experience the richness of our history and heritage. Just like the real life story of turning Gwynedd’s heritage into an economic opportunity in an incredible 80 mile an hour zip wire ride in the Ogwen Valley zooming above Penrhyn quarry, once known as the largest quarry in the world! Thanks to the vision of one businessman, quarries in Bethesda and Blaenau Ffestiniog have now been given a new lease of life.
And as part of our response to sustaining communities in rural Wales we founded Digital Gwynedd to promote access and use of broadband across the county. As a result, a significant number of businesses and individuals make maximum use of information technology and use it to promote and market their businesses. You can now work digitally in the picturesque Snowdonia or on the beaches of Pen Llŷn. We turned an alleged disadvantage into a competitive advantage.
Gwynedd has a history of harnessing our landscape and natural resources into economic opportunities. And there are possible innovative developments happening in the depths of Snowdonia National Park as we look forward to an international development of significance in Snowdonia Enterprise Zone as plans for a space portal site at Llanbedr and energy site in Trawsfynydd come to fruition. This is an opportunity that only occurs once in a lifetime - the opportunity of turning our Enterprise Zone into a Future Zone as Meirionnydd communities see the benefits from quality sustainable jobs.
There is an honourable tradition of maximizing education as a path for a better future in Gwynedd. That was certainly the vision of the quarrymen and others in establishing the University of Bangor in the late nineteenth century. That was also the intention of Silyn Roberts, the socialist and member of the ILP in Dyffryn Nantlle, whilst campaigning to establish a branch of the WEA in the north in the same period. Our job today is to grab the same vision and turn it into a program for a new century. Our goal at Gwynedd Council is to ensure a network of education centres which means new buildings with the most up-to-date resources; ensure strong leadership in schools and develop the necessary support to deliver quality education to our children and young people. It has meant a revolution but if we want to ensure the best possible opportunities for all Gwynedd children and young people, we have a responsibility to provide the right conditions to make success possible.
What we understand of governing in Gwynedd is that we need to lead responsibly but enterprisingly; to illustrate the possibilities of a new world and then to create it in a sustainable and robust manner. And above all, to own our own future, to create our tomorrow and to base everything on our values and aspirations. Gwynedd is not a 'branch factory' but the fruits of our own imagination. Yesterday’s path is filled with the challenges and efforts of our fathers and our ancestors from the Great Strike of Penrhyn to the Friction Dynamex Strike. Our future path can clearly be seen in our new uniforms and tomorrow’s traditions.