On May the 4th, the people of Splott will go to the polls to select their Councillors for the next four years. In the build-up to the elections, Inksplott will run a series of interviews with candidates. Next up is Huw Thomas, a current local Councillor and Labour candidate.
Inksplott: Hello! Thank you for being interviewed for Inksplott. Please tell us who you are and which party you represent.
Huw: My name is Huw Thomas, and I represent the Labour Party.
Inksplott: Why did you become a member of that party and for how long have you been a member?
Huw: I’ve always wanted to try and change the world, and so had always been interested in politics. About 10 years ago, I finally decided to join the Labour party because, in my opinion, they are the only party who have delivered progressive change for the better in our country, from the NHS, to the minimum wage, to devolution. Don’t let anyone tell you that all parties are the same!
Inksplott: Why did you move here?
Huw: I grew up in Mid-Wales, but after university there was little chance of a decent job there. I moved to Splott in 2008 – a ‘happy accident’ as it just happened to be close to where I got a job. I soon learnt what a lovely area it is and have been here ever since.
Inksplott: Please list your top three ‘successes in Splott’.
Huw: I’m proud of a lot of what we’ve achieved over the last 5 years, but here are a few favourites:
- Getting the Old Library on Singleton Road back into public use. I remember during the last election campaign, people were fearful that it would be demolished, or turned into flats, and I was determined this should not be allowed to happen to Cardiff’s oldest branch library. By pushing through a Community Asset Transfer, and working with some amazing people at the Old Illts RFC, we achieved something remarkable. When I see how the building is now used, I feel an immense sense of pride.
- I’ve got to mention the new Hub on Splott Park. There was a lot of concern in the community when the old pool closed, another victim of relentless austerity. But by thinking outside the box, and being innovative, we managed to deliver something really special – I can’t think of another area anywhere in Wales that’s had our level of investment in the last 5 years. Leisure facilities in the area have been enhanced for the next generation. I’m also pleased that the old Star Centre is now going to be put to good use as an NHS physiotherapy and occupational health centre.
- Finally, I’m a firm believer that education is the best route out of poverty and I’ve been on the governing body of Willows High School and Ysgol Glan Morfa since 2012. My fellow Labour candidates Jane and Ed are also governors at other schools. When I took office in 2012, education in Cardiff was in a bad place, with many schools (including in Splott) in special measures. 5 years on, the position has been transformed, with schools in our community seeing year-on-year record results. Thanks to Labour running the Council, spend per pupil has increased, and school results across Cardiff have risen from below, to above the Welsh average. It’s sometimes tough being a Councillor, but every time I visit one of our schools, I’m reminded it’s all worth it.
Inksplott: Please list the three things that you wish you could have done but they didn’t quite happen and why.
Huw: I really don’t think the planning process works to the benefit of local communities. Before I was elected in 2012, I was involved in the campaign against the Incinerator. That still went ahead, despite the objections of most people in our area. The same happened with the demolition of the Old College on Universtity Place, despite me and Ed Stubbs trying every trick in the book to save it, from trying to get the building listed, to protesting outside the developer’s office. The ability of local Councillors to influence planning is extremely limited, and I really think there’s a case for reform.
On a related note, housing is one of the biggest areas of casework I deal with. We’ve made big strides in reducing the housing waiting list, bringing it down from nearly 12,000 to 8,900 by building more affordable homes and keeping properties empty for less time. But it’s still heart-breaking hearing how some people in our area have been living in overcrowded conditions for years. As a Councillor, your options to help them are very limited. That’s why we need to build more housing. But we also can’t just build more and more flats in areas of the city like Splott – we have to expand outwards. That’s why I get very angry when I hear politicians from other parties who refuse to build the necessary houses in the suburbs, where there’s space, but are quite prepared to push for even more flats in areas like ours.
Finally, we campaigned hard on issues like fly-tipping, dog fouling and rubbish in 2012. After our election, we succeeded in getting a zero tolerance approach adopted – we fined more people for dog fouling in 2012, than in the previous 4 years! There are also council teams collecting fly tipping and litter in Splott 3 days a week. But the area is still not as clean as I would like, and it’s generally 1% of the population who spoil it for the rest of us. That’s why I’ve been delighted to get involved with Keep Splott Tidy, where local residents are setting an example to others. My message would be: get involved with this group, and if you see it, report it (either via C2C or through your Councillors).
Inksplott: Please list your top five commitments to Splott if you are to be elected. What are you going to do for us?
Huw: Getting a new building for Willows High school is a priority, to allow the school to consolidate the progress it’s made. This of course, comes on top of the new building for Ysgol Glan Morfa, which recently got planning permission.
We also need to step up action against people who litter and fly-tippers, taking advantage of new Welsh Government rules that make it easier to issue fines.
I used to work for Sustrans, a charity that promoted sustainable transport, so I’m delighted with the ambition shown in the new cycling strategy. A new Labour council would implement this, and introduce 20 mph zones across the ward, making roads safer for pedestrians and cyclists.
It’s also vital that we get improved bus services in our area to help people, especially the elderly, who don’t have access to a car.
Finally, I’m committed to still being available and contactable to the people of Splott, and we’ll continue to hold multiple surgeries every month.
Inksplott: Please tell us why people should vote for you.
Huw: I live in the area, and I love the area! I’m involved in loads of community projects across the ward – from supporting the Moorland Community Centre, to being a trustee of Seren in the Community at the Playcentre. I like to think I’m a problem-solver, who can get things done. And most importantly, I don’t believe in talking our area down, just to win a couple of votes. I think our area’s lovely, and has the potential to be greater still – I know I can help make that happen.
Inksplott: How can the people of Splott get in touch with you and tell you what they would like?
Huw: You can call me on 07851 163 203; you can email me at email@example.com ; you can come to one of my surgeries (the next one is on April 12th, 6pm at the Moorland Community Centre), or pop round my house for a chat. I’m at 19, Wilson St (just please forgive the mess!!).
Inksplott: Please tell us a funny story about Splott.
Huw: At a public meeting to talk about the plans for the new Hub, I was once asked if it would “lead to the gentrification of Splott?”!!! I was pretty stumped how to answer! Do you think it has?
Inksplott: This is your free space to tell us anything you like. Off you go!
Huw: Some opposition candidates would have you believe that to be a good Councillor, you just have to “fight for the ward.” But in reality, shouting loudly doesn’t necessarily make you an effective councillor. Knowing who to speak to and how to influence them, being able to argue persuasively, and being able to think creatively are far more important in my opinion. I’ll never forget one case where I helped a disabled resident claim thousands in council tax rebate, to enable her to modify her home. I’d have got far more attention if I’d just started a petition, but it would have been nowhere near as effective.
As voters on May the 4th, you need to consider who can work most effectively as your Councillors.
Inksplott: Thank you Huw. Good luck in the election.
For more information about local councillor elections, click here