I have been working relentlessly to meet residents, businesses, local authorities and community groups to gain a grassroots view of the issues affecting Rhyl and how local stakeholders would like to see the town progress. I felt that Rhyl has been forgotten over the years and been allowed to deteriorate and that with strong leadership we could turn its fortunes around.
I see the regeneration of Rhyl as requiring a multi-pronged approach focussing not only on the tourism sector but with a priority of making Rhyl an excellent place to live. Therefore the aspirations of residents need to be at the forefront of the decision making process and I feel consultation is imperative. Local needs such as education, employment, housing, security and health services are pivotal to this.
Schools & Colleges
I have been proud to support the construction of the new Rhyl High School building right from the time I voted for its funding as a county councillor. Once becoming MP, I worked with Denbighshire County Council and the development company, Willmott Dixon, to encourage the use of local contractors, discuss making the design seagull-proofed, and also to ensure the surrounding residents were looked after during the construction phase.
I have met with the head teacher of Blessed Edward Jones and the current Chair of Governors to discuss their ambitions for the new Catholic School. I have written to support the current consultation as I believe the amalgamation of Blessed Edward Jones and Ysgol Mair into the first 3 – 16 Catholic school in Wales, will ensure children in Rhyl and the surrounding areas have a choice of high standard education available to them.
I have visited Coleg Llandrillo on a number of occasions, talking to classes, working with them on community initiatives, meeting the lecturers and have also met with the new Chief Executive to look at ways in which I can assist the college to progress further.
I have also been providing opportunities for all schools to engage with politics and have visited schools, supported grant applications, carried out competitions for the schools and have provided opportunities for local children to visit Parliament.
Despite the National Health Service being devolved to Welsh Government in Wales, with my background as a GP I have ensured that I have taken an active role in working with Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board’s CEO, Chairman and others to ensure Welsh Government recognise the importance of investing in the redevelopment of The Royal Alexandra Hospital. This is a key priority in terms of the regeneration of Rhyl and also to help reduce the pressure on Ysbyty Glan Clwyd.
I have also met local GPs to discuss recruitment issues and visited Clarence House Surgery to meet Partners and staff.
My office and I work with individuals on a daily basis to assist them with any difficulties they have faced. A large proportion of the concerns we have received are linked to dissatisfaction with the local Health Board and so we have been working closely with the Health Board to improve the services.
I have been pleased to support the bold approach by Denbighshire County Council to improve the housing offer in West Rhyl. DCC have worked with the West Rhyl Housing Co-operative and housing associations to improve West Rhyl. The aim is to reduce the number of houses in multiple occupancy and instead offer high quality family properties and starter homes.
Safety and Security
I have been meeting regularly with North Wales Police, businesses, third sector services and Rhyl’s business group to ensure efforts are increased to tackle crime including antisocial behaviour, street drinking, illicit tobacco and drugs. During a recent meeting with the Police and Crime Commissioner, I raised concerns that Rhyl residents and I often feel that there is more lenience shown in Rhyl with regard to behaviour which would not be tolerated in other towns. I am keen to ensure a tough approach is taken to these activities to allow businesses to be given the chance to thrive and residents and visitors to feel safe.
A collaborative effort between the Police and Denbighshire County Council has seen the implementation of a Public Spaces Protection Order (PSPO) covering a large section of the Town Centre. This Order, which I supported in writing, allows increased powers for the local police force to reprimand any individuals or groups partaking in anti-social behaviour and activities such as street drinking or vagrancy. This was prolific around the railway station and bus station which are two of the main access points to the town and often the first impressions for visitors. I have met regularly with the police and with Denbighshire County Council to encourage the timely implementation of this order and since to ensure that progress that is necessary is being made and that there is correct enforcement in place.
Another priority to make people feel secure in their own homes was to secure the necessary flooding improvements for Rhyl East properties. Working with Natural Resources Wales (NRW) and Denbighshire County Council works have been ongoing for some time and are due to be completed imminently.
The next focus of this is to push for improvements and increased maintenance of Rhyl Cut by Natural Resources Wales. I have met with NRW to raise this concern, local community groups who are working tirelessly to improve the cut and has also worked with individual residents affected.
I organised an Over 50’s Fair in Rhyl Town Hall which had a wide range of exhibitors offering support to local people.
I have been working closely with Rhyl Citizens Advice Bureau to support people struggling with their benefit claims, in particular the Personal Independence Payment claims. I have managed to make significant process to rectify identified errors within the assessment process and have had success with the majority of PIP cases that have been brought to my attention.
We have also been working with individual community groups in Rhyl to provide Dementia Friends training in conjunction with the Alzheimer’s Society.
Transport and Infrastructure
Recently, a focus has been applied to public transport gateways and investment has been made to improve the bus station. £3m has been spent to upgrade Arriva Bus Depot and further investment has been made at Rhyl train station.
Coupled with the aesthetic improvements to the bus and train stations, I have been extremely active in campaigning for improved road and rail to the Vale of Clwyd. Working with the North Wales Economic Ambition Board to develop Growth Track 360, an agenda has been put in place to improve the rail and road links. Improving these links will provide local people with increased links to a wider jobs market and help to boost the local economy.
A clean and welcoming environment is a key component of a town’s regeneration efforts. To support this I have been working with Denbighshire County Council’s Street Scene team and making representations to the County when an area of the town needs additional attention. I have also worked with Coleg Llandrillo Rhyl to carry out litter picks around areas such as Brickfield Pond which are regularly used by residents and visitors.
Liaison has been ongoing with development companies for the waterfront developments including the proposed aquatic centre, improvements to the Pavilion Theatre, new leisure zones, the transformation of the sky tower into a lit-up beacon, Marina Quay, Premier Inn and Travelodge.
The £23m Marina Quay development on the former Rhyl funfair site is set to open this summer with 500 jobs created on site. I have been actively encouraging the developers and the County Council to put in safeguards to ensure that the new shopping park links with the town centre and to work to fill the units with retailers that will attract people to the town and not take away from the town centre.
As well as this, the Premier Inn build on the seafront, a waterfront development and aquatic centre have been given the green light, creating 60 new jobs, and it is estimated that these will attract 350,000 additional visitors to the town each year.
The Pavilion Theatre is undergoing a major refurbishment, including a restaurant looking out to sea and the creation of an arts centre.
With more and more people visiting every year and more attractions on the way, Rhyl again will have the pull factor to attracting tourists back time and time again.
Ensuring local people benefit first from the additional jobs that will be available is a main priority and I have worked with the development companies, retail operators, Rhyl College and the Department of Work and Pensions to ensure skills and jobs fairs are organised and that there are training opportunities available locally for the specific skill sets that will be required such as barista training.
When meeting with development companies and Denbighshire County Council, I have raised the issues of seagulls. Numerous suggestions I have made have been taken up by the local authority to improve the issues moving forward and I have also encouraged all development companies to consider seagull deterrents and seagull proofing their buildings during the initial design and construction phases.
It is hoped that the numerous seafront regeneration schemes will have a positive spin-off effect on the struggling town centre. In addition, I have been working with the county council on individual projects within the town centre and in persuading them to relax over-zealous parking restrictions, providing additional town centre parking and reducing Pay and Display charges. I have made numerous suggestions which could be investigated to assist the revival of the high street including reversal of pedestrianisation and to regenerate the Queen’s Market area which, with the right offer, could be used to attract people into the town centre.
I have met the Valuation Office Agency regarding high business rates in Rhyl, have raised the issue at Prime Minister’s Questions and have been lobbying Welsh Government to offer better small business rate relief, similar to that already on offer in England.
I have also been meeting and writing to developers and national retailers such as Primark to promote Rhyl to them. I make contact with new businesses as they establish to welcome them to the town and offer support.
I have carried out walk arounds of Rhyl Town Centre businesses, calling at any business that requested a visit to discuss any issues or suggestions for the town.
Seeking a high level of ambition for Rhyl is imperative to help the town reach its potential and this will only be successful with support from all stakeholders.
Last month, I was pleased to be given the chance to promote the excellent regeneration work currently ongoing at the Great British Coastal Conference in Hull. The conference, hosted by the Minister for Coastal Communities, Andrew Percy MP, was intended to help all interested parties unlock the full economic potential of coastal communities, to rebalance the economy and help all areas of the country thrive. I wanted to take the opportunity to present the revival of Rhyl at the Coastal Conference as I believe it is important to highlight the excellent achievements going on locally and to showcase this on a national stage.
During my first week at Westminster, just days after the General Election, I bumped into the Prime Minister. I told him that one of my main priorities as the new MP for the Vale of Clwyd was to try to assist in turning around the fortunes of Rhyl. He recounted his memories of holidaying in the town as a child and gave his commitment to support me in my efforts. Later that week he appeared on the regional BBC TV news programme, citing the regeneration of Rhyl as one of his key ambitions in Wales.
In my last column, I referred to the town centre and the urgent need to reduce business rates. The other area of Rhyl needing particular attention is the seafront. With a shut down Sun Centre, burnt out Grange Hotel, largely empty “Children’s Village”, non-functional sky tower and empty funfair site, it’s no wonder that many of those who are proud to call Rhyl their town are in such despair at the moment.
Before I was elected, I felt it was important to make contact with Neptune Developments, the County Council’s recently appointed development partner for the seafront. Since May, I have met with them twice. I am impressed by their past record elsewhere and their plans for Rhyl, which extend from the Pavilion Theatre site, westwards to the Vue Cinema area. Some of their proposals have already been announced while others are to follow soon. Existing tourism operators on the prom have also given me their thoughts and I have been pleased to help put them in touch with Neptune to ensure future plans are developed in conjunction with existing success stories.
Last week I met with Scarborough Developments for the second time. They are hoping to develop the former funfair or ‘Ocean Plaza’ site, rebranded by them as ‘Marina Quay’. There is no doubt that this area of land has been a blight on the area for too long. There is a desperate need for progress but also a need to secure a development which can truly provide a boost to West Rhyl and the town as a whole.
This week I have asked to meet Chesham Estates, who are the company behind the delayed Premier Inn proposals for the former Honey Club site. I will be seeking assurances that work on the new hotel will start within the next few months.
Of concern to all of us is also the future of the Royal Alexandra Hospital. Its impressive Victorian facade is a landmark on East Parade, and recent comments from Betsi Cadwaladr Health Board cast doubt on the promised on-site community hospital development. This was sadly all too predictable in view of the slow progress of other NHS projects locally, such as the delivery at Glan Clwyd of a sub regional Neonatal Intensive Care Centre and vascular specialist centre for emergency and major surgery. The seafront needs the Royal Alex just as much as it needs leisure developments and we must all exert the strongest pressure to ensure the community hospital plans see the light of day.
Rhyl’s leisure provision needs to be able to compete with that found elsewhere but the town also needs to be able to offer something above and beyond that, so that it is once again seen as an exciting destination. Last week I wrote to the Prime Minister to update him on Neptune’s latest proposals and although economic development and tourism are devolved to the Welsh Assembly, I know he remains keen to help me ensure Rhyl starts to change for the better.