Lockdown & Loneliness: We need a well-being strategy that includes everyone in Wales

Responding to the news that people living alone in areas with additional restrictions may be able to meet another household indoors, Plaid Cymru Shadow Health Minister Rhun ap Iorwerth MS said:

“I have increasing concern for the welfare of those experiencing loneliness during periods of heightened restrictions – restrictions that now impact so many people in Wales.

“I’m pleased that the welfare of people living alone is being addressed but I’d like to see a wider strategy taking into account all the information we now have on the impact of coronavirus and lockdown on well-being and mental health.

“From the impact on our youngest children – including the effects of a disrupted education – right through to the impact on our elderly and most vulnerable who we know are more likely to suffer the effects of loneliness and isolation, we need a strategy that encompasses all of the Welsh population at this most challenging of times.”

Tackle Second Home Tax loophole, Rhun ap Iorwerth once again urges Government

A much criticised holiday home tax “loophole” is costing Anglesey Council as much as £1m a year, it is claimed, and the island’s Member of the Senedd, Rhun ap Iorwerth, has again raised this matter with Welsh Government in the hope that they will act to resolve it.

Welsh Revenue Authority figures for 2019/20 show that 36% of house sales on Anglesey were charged at the higher rates of Land Transaction Tax (LTT) – with the majority thought to be second homes and buy-to-lets. In 2017, the council became one of the first to introduce a second home levy, with some of the 25% premium helping first-time buyers up the housing ladder.

It was later increased to 35% to capitalise on the island’s popularity as a second home destination – second only to Gwynedd which charges a 50% premium. But according to the island’s MS, a tax “loophole” is costing the council as much as £1m a year

In the Senedd this week, Rhun ap Iorwerth MS once again raised his concerns regarding this matter with Welsh Government:

“There has been significant strengthening within communities in Wales in the feeling, such as in my constituency, where there is a high percentage of second homes and holiday homes, that steps do need to be taken to prevent the loss of further housing stock to those purchasing second homes.

“Plaid Cymru announced a series of steps to tackle this over the past few days, including changes to planning regulations, capping the number of second homes within any community, making it a requirement to have planning consent to turning a main residence into a second home, and so on.

“We recommend raising council tax for second homes, certainly to close the loopholes that have allowed some to opt out of paying council tax entirely. I appeal to the Government once again here to tackle that issue.”

Rhun ap Iorwerth welcomes ‘historic’ news as Ynys Mon secure the rights to host the International Island Games

Ynys Mon will welcome thousands of athletes and spectators to the north-west of Wales after the International Island Games (IIGA) Member Islands today voted overwhelmingly in favour of bringing one of the world’s biggest sporting events to the island for the first time ever.

Dubbed a mini-Olympics for the small islands of the world, the International Island Games is one of the largest multi-sport event in existence, and up to 24 nations or islands from across the globe will descend on north-west Wales to contest the bi-annual event.

Ynys Mon hosted Inter-Island Games Football and Gymnastic competitions in 2019 and 2015 respectively to significant local and international acclaim. This greatly aided the strong bid put forward by the island to host the full Games and the competition’s bid committee welcomed this historic news from the IIGA today.

Originally bidding to host the Games in 2025, Ynys Mon’s hosting of the competition will depend on the rescheduling of Guernsey’s hosting of the Games, which was set to take place next summer, but will now be postponed with a decision taken on when those Games will be played to be decided in coming months.

Guernsey’s hosting of the 2021 Games has been delayed as a result of the current global pandemic which has severely affected preparations for next summer.

Discussions between the International Island Games Association, Guernsey and current 2023 hosts Orkney will take place in the near future before a decision is reached on when those Games will now take place, and what effect that has on when Ynys Mon will host the Games.

Plaid Cymru MS Rhun ap Iorwerth, who is a Member of the Bid Committee, said:

“This is fantastic news for Ynys Môn, securing the rights to host the International Island Games, bringing one of the biggest multi-sport events in the world to the island for the first time ever.

“I’m honoured to have been a part of the Bid Committee for the Games and want to thank Gareth Parry and all other Bid Committee Members, as well as key stakeholders from Welsh Government and Isle of Anglesey County Council, for working so hard to get us to this point.

“I’m looking forward to helping however I can in years to come to make sure the Games bring vital investment towards our leisure facilities on the island, and that a positive legacy is left for our future generations as a result of our hosting of the Games.

“The current climate may mean our hosting of the Games will be a bit later, but nonetheless this is fantastic news for the island, and it’s important we don’t let this opportunity to make a difference pass us by.”

Rhun ap Iorwerth responds to Hitachi’s withdrawal from Wylfa Newydd Project

In response to the announcement that Hitachi have officially withdrawn from the Wylfa Newydd project, Plaid Cymru MS for Anglesey Rhun ap Iorwerth MS said:

“Horizon were saying as recently as the last few weeks that their parent company, Hitachi, were still hopeful of winning the support of UK Government. Obviously, that support hasn’t been secured, and the hopes of those who wanted to see a new nuclear power station developed at Wylfa have been raised and dashed once again. To me, this was the danger in relying too much on external investment and on the ability of UK Government to deliver.

“While there will need to be urgent consideration now on alternative options for the site, there must be a step up also in the work to secure other opportunities for the island, including in fields that I am very supportive of such as tidal energy, hydrogen energy and advanced technologies in M-Sparc, for example. I will be pressing Welsh Government to respond to that challenge as a matter of urgency.

“I am also looking forward to seeing Plaid Cymru establishing the headquarters of a new national energy company for Wales on the island in future.”

Plaid Cymru calls for local lockdown blueprint

The Welsh Government should provide a clear strategy on local lockdowns so that the public understands the early warning signs, Plaid Cymru has said.

Rhun ap Iorwerth MS, Plaid Cymru Shadow Health Minister has said people should be able to have confidence that emergency responses are happening as quickly as possible. Mr ap Iorwerth said that “we all want to avoid new lockdowns if possible” but that a clear blueprint from the Welsh Government was needed on local lockdowns where they are deemed necessary, so that the public is fully aware before further lockdowns are imposed.

Local lockdown has been imposed on Caerphilly County Borough Council, and includes a requirement for everyone over the age of 11 to wear a face covering in shops.

Mr ap Iorwerth also renewed calls to make the wearing of face masks compulsory in shops, to help prevent lockdown in other areas of Wales.

Currently face coverings are not compulsory in shops in any other part of Wales. With rising infection rates in other county boroughs, Mr ap Iorwerth says it “makes sense to enforce the use of face coverings before the next spike.”

Rhun ap Iorwerth MS, Plaid Cymru Shadow Health Minister says:

“We all want to avoid new lockdowns if possible, but the Welsh Government must publish their local lockdown strategy – what is their early warning system, who makes the call and who is responsible for enforcing the rules? This should be sensitive to differences between communities in different parts of Wales.

“With the relaxing of restrictions, there has to be clearer enforcement of the basics, including social distancing, hand washing and – of course, the wearing of face masks. And without a clear guide for the alarm bells to watch for, the public did not have fair warning that a local lockdown could be imposed.

“Face masks should have been part of keeping us safe. They’re a preventative measure to limit transmission. And with rising infection rates in other county boroughs, the wearing of face coverings should be made compulsory in all shops in Wales at once. It makes no sense to only make it mandatory after a spike in cases has been confirmed.”

Plaid call for regular Coronavirus testing in schools

There should be regular, significant Coronavirus testing in schools, Plaid Cymru Shadow Health Minister, Rhun ap Iorwerth MS, has said.

Mr ap Iorwerth said it “just makes sense” for testing capacity to be used to help ensure our school settings remain safe to be opened fully.

Schools in Wales re-open this week.

With Public Health Wales data showing an increase in new cases last week and with a warning “Coronavirus is still circulating in the community” issued as pupils return to school,

Mr ap Iorwerth has said the “only way to be sure of the full picture” is to test in schools as widely as possible. This is especially important as people often display no or very mild symptoms.

Currently, swab tests are only available for members of the public in Wales with symptoms of coronavirus, with the exception of care home settings.

Recommendations from a recent report by the Royal Society DELVE Initiative include “implementing an effective monitoring regime…including broad surveillance, linked to an effective, sufficiently scaled and rapid test-trace-isolate system.” This report has led to the Children’s Commissioner in England calling for teachers and pupils in England to have weekly tests.

Premier League footballers received twice weekly tests throughout May – July and regular testing is expected to continue when the league restarts. The testing regime has been very effective in finding positive cases where the person displayed no symptoms.

Mr ap Iorwerth said that “if it’s important enough for our footballers, it should be important enough for our teachers, students and everyone who works in our schools.”

Rhun ap Iorwerth MS, Plaid Cymru Shadow Health Minister, said,

“Testing has been available for everyone in Wales who displays symptoms of coronavirus for some time. However, we know that children – and many adults – often display no or mild symptoms, so the only way to be sure of the full picture is if testing capacity is used as much as possible to bring possible cases and clusters to light.

“Schools are the new unknown. Given that it is so important for them to remain open and safe for everyone in them, it just makes sense to use the testing capacity in Wales to provide reassurance to teachers, parents and pupils alike that we have a complete picture of where coronavirus might be circulating.

“This is especially important as people return from holiday into school settings, amid reports that there is increased risk of transmission from holidays to certain locations.

“It’s important that the Welsh Government gives us a programme of ‘broad surveillance’ – they should start in areas where coronavirus is known to be circulating, they should test as widely as possible, and regular sampling should start now, as pupils return to schools.

“If regular testing is deemed important enough for our footballers, then it should be important enough for our teachers, students and everyone who works in our schools.”

Ynys Mon MS writes to Welsh Government regarding AS/A Level results

I have written to Welsh Government today asking them to reinstate teacher-assessed grades for this year’s A and AS Level students. You can find a full copy of my letter to Education Minister Kirsty Williams below.

Thank you very much to everybody that has contacted my office to share your experiences regarding this vitally important matter. I feel for you all and very much appreciate that you, or your family, have contacted me at this difficult time.

Pete’s Burger Bar belongs at Penrhos, says Rhun ap Iorwerth MS

Ynys Môn MS calls again on Land & Lakes to allow the popular ‘burger van’ to resume trading at long-standing Penrhos site.

Ynys Môn Member of the Senedd, Rhun ap Iorwerth, has asked Land & Lakes to look again at the decision to terminate the business’ contract, which came as a huge disappointment to both Blue Davies, the business owner who has been operating at the site for 10 years, and to many in the local community who were regular customers pre-Covid. 1,624 people have signed a petition calling on the company to reconsider the decision.

Rhun ap Iorwerth MS said:

“I appreciate that trading had to be ceased during the lockdown period in the interests of public safety, and to comply with regulations, but the decision to permanently terminate Pete’s Burger Bar’s agreement has raised strong feelings in the local community.

“Now that restrictions have been eased locally, I am calling on Land & Lakes to reinstate the contract, especially given that the business has given an assurance that steps can be put in place to ensure that clusters of people do not gather in an unsafe manner, and that risks could be mitigated through safe Covid-19 practices.

“What we have here is a business, operated by a young family, who face financial uncertainty and are eager to keep trading at Penrhos as they have done successfully for years. They are willing to work with Land & Lakes and relevant authorities to agree on a safe way to operate, and I strongly believe that they should be given the opportunity to do so.”

Blue Davies, who runs Pete’s Burger Bar, said:

“It was a shock that our contract with Land & Lakes was terminated just as lockdown started easing and the coastal park re-opened. They are telling me that the decision is being upheld because of concerns surrounding social distancing in the car park. I have offered to work with both Land & Lakes and the local authority in ensuring that I operate the business safely and make proper use of signage and cones and so on, but I’m not being given that opportunity.

“I am overwhelmed with the support I’ve received from the community at this difficult time for us as a young family, and urge the company to look again at the decision to allow me to keep trading. I have enquired with the County Council about an alternative spot at Newry beach as I really need to get back out trading as soon as possible, but preferably I would like to get back up and running at Penrhos.”

Possible Welsh Government Study exploring future public rail and active travel opportunities for Amlwch-Gaerwen rail corridor welcomed.

Senedd Member for Ynys Môn, Rhun ap Iorwerth has welcomed Welsh Government’s decision to seek funding to build the case for reintroducing a passenger rail service across the island from Amlwch to Gaerwen, and on to Bangor. Mr ap Iorwerth says he’s pleased that the study proposed includes incorporating a multi-use path alongside, something he’s long advocated.

Responding to a letter from Mr ap Iorwerth seeking an update on the Government’s position, an official in the Transport Department confirmed that a formal request has been made to UK Government’s railways ‘ideas fund’ looking at how a rail service initially from Amlwch, through Llangefni, Gaerwen and Bangor, could eventually go on to Llandudno as part of the rail network.

“This is an important step forward, and it’s this kind of serious study that we need to consider the opportunities and challenges for this line.” Mr ap Iorwerth said.

“I particularly welcome the fact that the Government specifies the need to look at the options for active travel alongside the railway, and how to incorporate ‘Heritage Railway’ use, too. I’ve long been eager to bring together groups that have opposing visions for the line.

“At the same time, I’ve been corresponding with the local authority and others recently about various options that could be investigated for active travel paths. There are many opportunities on that front, but only one option on the island for developing rail as public transport.

“Professor Mark Barry of Cardiff University recently outlined how he saw potential for including the Amlwch line as part of expansion of rail across the north west.

“There has been significant underfunding of rail infrastructure in Wales over the years, with Wales getting less than 2% of rail improvement spending, despite having 11% of the tracks. We should be looking not only to improve the tracks we already have, but to expand the network, too.

“Here on Anglesey we have one of the few lines that was mothballed rather than dug up following Beeching-driven cuts. We have some funding set aside from UK Government for developing ideas, and we need to try to access that, as well as taking advantage of various active travel schemes, too.”

The Ynys Môn MS added:

“I’ve been invited by Welsh Government to add my support to the proposal by corresponding with UK Ministers, an opportunity I will most certainly be taking up. Various local interest groups would be asked their views, too, which is vital, of course – these are plans that can benefit the whole island in economic, social, transport and wellbeing terms.”

Welsh Parliament Member for Ynys Mon supports calls for sport and play facilities in Dwyran

Rhun ap Iorwerth MS supports the calls to maintain and develop outdoor leisure facilities for the children and young people of Dwyran.

The Ynys Mon MS met members of the local community to hear their frustration at the lack of a children’s play park, especially given the recent development of new housing in the village with many young families living in newly-developed properties, and he also heard disappointment at the proposed sale of the recently closed village school estate, including the playing field.

Mr ap Iorwerth said housing development plans needed to include a commitment to developing community resources, and said he would write to the County Council to request the exclusion of the playing field from the sale of the school.

He also said he was ready to work with the community to see how a location could be secured and the necessary funding raised to provide a play park.

Mr ap Iorwerth said:

“I have met with many members of the community of Dwyran earlier this week who want to make sure that the young people of the area have sufficient play facilities for the future.

“I spoke with a group of young people and their parents in the village who raised concerns that there’s no play facilities for children and that they’d like to see housing developers in the area offer opportunities to create play facilities as part of their developments, and I completely agree.

“I will be working with the local community to see how I can help and see if we can develop a facility of some sort here. There are also concerns of plans to sell the playing field that was part of the former village school. Whilst the school does need to be sold by the County Council, I do think the field should be protected and excluded from any sale, so that the local people don’t lose this facility.”