This article is by Phil Bale, Labour Councillor for Llanishen and Thornhill.
Last May, I was honoured to have been re-elected to represent Llanishen and Thornhill on the City Council. Llanishen is one of the largest wards in Cardiff – represented by four Councillors – and its also where I grew up and have lived for most of my life. Yet it’s fair to say the past twelve months have been different to my previous five years on the Council!
For a start, I’ve moved from working in a team of three local Labour Councillors, to a team of just one! Across Cardiff North, the number of Labour Councillors elected in May 2017 also fell from eleven to four, although the number in Cardiff increased from 39 to 40 (out of 75).
As a result, I’ve had to work differently to manage my workload and am also working even closer now with others, including Cardiff North’s Assembly Member and Member of Parliament, Julie Morgan and Anna McMorrin, to ensure the voice of residents is heard within the Council and beyond!
There’s also been a shift in the amount of social media activity by Councillors over the past year or so. It’s now quite common in most of the city to find Facebook or Instagram pages where Councillors are posting local updates and which also help us to find out the views of residents on a whole range of issues. In recent years, my own Facebook page has attracted over 1,000 ‘Followers’ and whilst at times it can feel like you are never far away from it all, these sites are an important tool for communicating locally.
Finally, another noticeable change over recent years has been the growth in local community networks, events and activities. There are now social media networks on ‘Nextdoor’ and ‘Facebook’, including a new page set up by residents living on a new housing estate near Morrisons, helping residents share views and information with one another. One resident has set up a monthly litter pick group, others have set up new charities, whilst the new Community Hub in Llanishen village now hosts free weekly social events. And that’s all in addition to the great work being done by local schools, charities, clubs and businesses to strengthen and improve our community.
Campaigning remains an important part of my role on the Council. As well as the restoration and return of leisure and community facilities to Llanishen reservoir, the other main local campaign issue which has dominated my time on the Council has been trying to secure the future of Llanishen Police Station, which at one point was threatened with closure. After a long campaign with local Assembly Member, Julie Morgan and former Llanishen Councillors, Garry Hunt and Julia Magill, the past year finally saw a new Library and Community Hub open on the ground floor of the police station building.
Llanishen is the first ‘Community Hub’ to be based inside a non-Council owned building and is a great example of Councillors working with a range of partners to find ways to keep services local, despite the squeeze on Council budgets. As well as a new full-time library with a children’s reading area, residents in north Cardiff also have access to a range of advice services and training courses (as well as a popular supply of green and food waste bags!). Our local neighbourhood police team are still based on the first floor and hold regular community meetings and drop-in events. Over 700 people visited the Hub during its launch day alone in November 2017, which also coincided with another highly successful Christmas lights switch-on in Llanishen village. I’m very grateful to everyone who helped make this project happen – and if you haven’t had a chance to pop in yet, it’s well worth a visit!
I’ve also been kept busy with a large and varied mix of casework from residents. Over the past twelve months, this has included lobbying the Health Board after Newborough Avenue Clinic was closed and GP services moved to Gabalfa with little notice (from December 2017). I’ve also tried to help residents unhappy with the disruption and quality of street works undertaken by Virgin Media as part of the roll out of a new superfast broadband network – holding several drop-in events for residents with Virgin Media representatives.
In April, I hosted one of the biggest public meetings in Thornhill in recent years with well over 100 people attending to discuss local bus services. In particular, the re-routing of NAT’s X8 bus service down a residential street in Thornhill – without prior consultation – left a lot of unanswered questions for residents. Whilst NAT decided not to attend the meeting, Cardiff Council and Cardiff Bus did. As a result of local pressure, NAT Group also agreed to carry out a questionnaire with local residents to help decide on a way forward.
However, some of the most frequently raised issues can also be the hardest to solve, and include poor public transport links as well as the condition of local roads and parking problems, alongside a shortage of good quality, affordable homes. In Thornhill, for example, there are just eight Council owned flats in a community of more than 3,140 homes. I’ve therefore tried to use my voice on the Council to lobby for more investment in our city, whether that be in our schools, in more social housing or in our transport system – and not just to benefit my own ward, but all parts of Cardiff.
I’ve also continued to push hard for cultural change within your Council – I firmly believe it must become much more open, transparent and democratic in how it makes decisions which effect all our lives and that the Council needs to get even better at working for, and with, local residents to improve communities across Cardiff.
Over the past six years, it’s fair to say I’ve learnt a great deal about my home city and local Council (both good and bad!) but feel very fortunate to have worked with so many amazing people who continue to work so hard to make our city an even better place to live, work and enjoy. I really couldn’t ask for more than that!
Please feel free to visit my Facebook page Cllr Phil Bale – Llanishen and Thornhill News to stay up to date with my work as a Cardiff North Councillor. I also hold regular monthly advice surgeries and can be contacted via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Phil Bale (Councillor for Llanishen and Thornhill)