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Sunday, February 18, 2018

Gales serves up victory in top food competition

* Gales chef Jack Hatley, second from right, receives the overall winner's prize. 

Three of the top eateries in North East Wales went head to head in the grand final of the Year of the Sea Food challenge – with Gales of Llangollen being crowned the overall winner.

Over the past month 12 eateries across Wrexham, Flintshire and Denbighshire have put their best fin forward to showcase the best of local produce and hit the rather tricky ‘Year of the Sea’ brief.

The challenge took inspiration from the 2018 Welsh ‘Year of the Sea’, with the North East Wales Tourism and Marketing team inviting local eateries to create a dish that would celebrate the region’s amazing coastline, epic inland waterways and great local produce.

Each restaurant has been visited by a mystery diner, including food bloggers from South Wales, local press (such as and food writers, who had the very difficult task of tasting and scoring the dishes.

While Year of the Sea may seem a difficult challenge for a semi landlocked North East Wales, all the participating rose the challenge and offered their interpretations of the classic fish and chips with a twist or their surf and turf dishes.

Friday saw the three finalists – The Fat Boar Wrexham, Gales of Llangollen and the Royal Oak in Bangor on Dee – compete against each other in a live cook off at Hafod in Coleg Cambria.

Each restaurant faced tough critique from a panel of experts and top chefs, including Kevin Lynn – Machine House, Kerry Thatcher – Food Division Visit Wales, Chris Nelson – Artisan Street Food Chef, Alex Jones – Bank Wine Bar Wrexham, Caroline Dawson – Welsh Seafood Cluster Manager and Tracey Hughes – Porters Delicatessen Llangollen.

Speaking yesterday Joe Bickerton, Destination Manager at Wrexham Council, said the standard of competition this year had been excellent – with all three finalists scoring a whopping 59/60 in the mystery diner feedback.

First up was The Royal Oak, with their ‘Surf & Slurp’ – a dish billed as a ‘winter hearty dish that will warm you up from the inside’.

Providing a background on the dish, Lee Williams, general manager of the restaurant, explained it was made of locally sourced pork from Lewis’ farm shop and Menai Mussels which were freshly delivered.

The competition entry was also described as being a hit with customers, with between 60-70 dishes being served over the past month, all of which receiving positive. feedback.

Next up was Gales of Llangollen, who also offered their unique twist on surf and turf with sous vide Pen y Lan pork belly, saffron mash, American sauce, a smiling langoustine and a couple of lovely quails eggs.

Finally was another interpretation of the classic surf and turf, with the Fat Boar serving up an massive 18oz bone-in Celtic pride ribeye, giant crab claws, Perl las sauce. Crispy ‘spiralised’ Covent Garden potato, Anglesey salted roast tomato and Wrexham Lager battered onion rings.

After a lot of deliberation from the Judges, Gales of Llangollen was crowned the winner of the Year of the Sea Food Challenge – with judges describing their dish as having a ‘good use of local produce’ and the ‘visual wow factor’ – a vote that matched the verdict in room.

In what was a tough competition, the Fat Boar came in second and The Royal Oak third.

* The full list of entrants this year was:  Gales of Llangollen , Old Wives Tales, Corwen , Fat Boar, Mold , Druid Inn , Fat Boar, Wrexham , Lot 11, Wrexham , Croes Howell , Royal Oak Bangor on Dee , Lemon Tree, Wrexham , Holt Lodge , Hafod Restaurant, Coleg Cambria and The Alyn, Rossett 

Saturday, February 17, 2018

County gets £1.2m to fill in potholes

Clwyd South AM Ken Skates has welcomed Welsh Government investment of almost £4m to improve the state of roads across North East Wales. 

Cabinet Secretary for Local Government and Public Services, Alun Davies, recently committed the cash to fixing potholes throughout the region.

The windfall includes £1.4m for Wrexham, which according to Welsh Government statistics has the worst roads in North Wales. 

In total an extra £7.9m will be spent in North Wales, which includes £1,427,33 for Wrexham; £1,204,380 for Denbighshire and £1,427,133 for Flintshire. 

Mr Skates, whose constituency includes Wrexham and Denbighshire, said: “Budgets remain extremely stretched because of the cruel and relentless Tory austerity agenda which has seen more than £1.4bn snatched from Wales by Westminster since 2010. 

“Within that context, I’m delighted that the Welsh Labour Government has secured this significant investment in North East Wales to help fix our roads. The winter has been very damaging for our road network and it’s important that it’s rectified quickly.” 

Mr Skates also welcomed ‘rapidly progressing’ plans to tackle congestion on the A483 and at Halton Roundabout near Chirk. Both will be addressed within three years. 

The latest tranche of Welsh Government funding for roads will be administered by local councils. Figures released in February 2017 showed Wrexham council’s roads were rated as the worst in North Wales – while neighbouring Flintshire’s were the best. 

Mr Davies said: “In my discussions with local government, they have been clear about the pressures on the road network and how in some parts of Wales the state of local roads is simply not up to a safe standard. I am really pleased to be able to make this funding available to support a comprehensive refurbishment programme and improve future resilience of the roads network.” 

Welsh Local Government Spokesman for Transport, Andrew Morgan, said: “We are grateful to Welsh Government for listening to our calls for further funding to maintain the highway network. Residents, businesses and tourists across Wales rely on our roads on a daily basis and so it is vital to ensure that they are in a good condition.” 

Friday, February 16, 2018

AM calls for new plan to tackle fuel poverty

North Wales Assembly Member Mark Isherwood, who chairs the Assembly Cross Party Group on Fuel Poverty and Energy Efficiency, has made fresh calls for a revised Fuel Poverty Strategy for Wales, emphasising that the existing Welsh Government strategy has not worked.    

A household in Wales is in fuel poverty if they spend 10% or more of their income on energy costs.

Speaking in the Assembly Mr Isherwood (pictured) expressed concern that in 2010 the Welsh Government set out its strategy to eradicate fuel poverty in Wales in all households by 2018, but less than 10 months away from the target date, the most recent statistics show that almost 300,000 households in Wales are living in fuel poverty, 23% of the total, unable to afford to adequately heat their home, or in crippling debt with their energy supplier. 

He said: “It is clear therefore that the Welsh Government Strategy has not worked.

“The objectives of the 2010 Fuel Poverty Strategy are still relevant – it is still vital that we reduce the impact of fuel poverty on households and work to eradicate fuel poverty, it is still vital that we create green jobs and business opportunities, and it is still vital that we reduce energy inefficiency in the domestic sector. 

“However, many of the mechanisms and measures contained within the 2010 Fuel Poverty Strategy are out of date or no longer applicable.

“Although the Nest and Arbed schemes are helping, these alone are not sufficient to tackle the problem. 

“The Cabinet Secretary for Energy, Planning and Rural Affairs’ announcement of £104 million investment over the next four years in increasing the energy efficiency of up to 25,000 low income households in Wales is welcomed. However, this will not eradicate fuel poverty by 2018.  This equates to an average of 6,250 homes a year - and if the schemes were to continue to assist similar numbers each year, it would take 48 years to eradicate fuel poverty in Wales.”

Mr Isherwood stated that the annual cost to the Welsh NHS for treating people who are made ill by living in a cold damp home is approximately £67 million.

He added: “With current demand on the Welsh NHS higher than ever before, more needs to be done to tackle cold homes.

“Eradicating fuel poverty will not only lead to a healthier population, but will also contribute to our decarbonisation targets. 

“What is needed now is a revised Fuel Poverty Strategy with ambitious targets and investment in order to eradicate fuel poverty in Wales as a social justice issue once and for all. As the Bevan and Joseph Rowntree Foundations told the Assembly’s Communities, Equality and Local Government Committee three  years ago “fuel poverty should have a higher profile in the Welsh Government’s tackling poverty action plan, because it is a fundamental human need to have a warm home. And as Age Cymru have said ‘the time is right for the Welsh Government to refresh its Fuel Poverty Strategy.”

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Soloists sought to bid for glittering eisteddfod prize

* Sian Dicker receives her Pendine International Voice of the Future award from Mario Kreft at last year's eisteddfod.

A “sensational” soprano who won one of the main prizes at an international festival is urging young soloists from around the world to enter this year’s competition to launch their career on the global stage.

According to Sian Dicker, 27, being crowned the Pendine International Voice of the Future at the Llangollen International Musical Eisteddfod has been a boost to her career aspirations to become a leading opera singer.

Organisers say entries are already flooding in for the prestigious competition, which will see some of the world’s best young singers compete for the Pendine Trophy and a first prize of £6,000, along with two runner-up prizes of £2,000.

Every year the picturesque town of Llangollen in the Dee Valley welcomes around 4,000 international performers and as many as 50,000 visitors to the week-long festival of music and dance.

Among the highlights of the week is the prestigious Pendine International Voice of the Future competition, which showcases young talent alongside other gifted global performers.

Once again this year the arts-loving care organisation Pendine Park is contributing  £5,000 to the prize fund, with the balance coming from Sir Bryn’s Terfel’s foundation and Llangollen Eisteddfod

Following her experience last year, Sian, from Trowbridge in Wiltshire, is urging other young soloists not to miss the March 2nd deadline.

Sian said: “The Pendine International Voice of the Future competition is the perfect platform for aspiring soloists to launch or accelerate their musical careers.

“Whilst the money has been incredibly beneficial, the real value is the unique experience of taking part alongside world-class competitors, learning from one another and making connections with other artistes.

“The International Eisteddfod is so welcoming and inclusive to performers from all backgrounds. I would urge any singer to enter and absorb everything that this special international-standard musical performance offers them.”

Since her winning performance wowed the adjudicators, leading soprano Elin Manahan Thomas and composer Gareth Jones, Sian has used the prize money to fund the final year of her Masters at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. She is also collaborating with pianist Stephen Rose, who was the accompanist in last year’s Pendine International Voice of the Future competition.

Pendine Park proprietors Mario Kreft MBE and his wife, Gill, recently established the Pendine Arts and Community Trust, which supports more than 20 arts organisations, including the Llangollen Eisteddfod.

Mario said: “The standard of competition last year was exceptional and Sian’s sensational performance was truly worthy of winning the title.

“Our aim in supporting the competition in conjunction with Sir Bryn Terfel is to provide a springboard for brilliant young singers from around the world to achieve their dreams of establishing a career on the global stage.

“Sir Bryn is living proof that supreme talent can take you a long way and we are delighted to doing our bit to help gifted young singers attain new heights.

“The competition chimes perfectly with our ethos at Pendine Park because the arts in general and music in particular provide the golden thread running through everything we do to enrich the lives of our residents and staff alike.”

The final of this year’s competition will take place on Wednesday July 4 as part of The Classical Collection evening concert which will see the festival’s music director, Vicky Yannoula, who is also an accomplished pianist, performing on the iconic pavilion stage for the first time.

She will be joining forces with another distinguished pianist, Peter Jablonski, to perform a “dynamic and moving musical collaboration”.

Vicky said: “The Pendine International Voice of the Future competition grows in prestige each year and the calibre of entrants so far has been exceptional. I am looking forward to sharing a stage with the talented finalists in a celebration of two powerful instruments, voice and piano.”

The competition will span two days of the 2018 festival, with the preliminary round requiring competitors to perform a contrasting programme of up to eight minutes of music - Oratorio/Opera/Lieder/Song - to be sung in the original language. For the final this year, selected competitors will take to the Royal International Pavilion stage where they will be required to perform up to 11 minutes of music.

* The competition is open to anyone over 19 and under the age of 28 on the day of the competition. Entries for the 2018 competition will close on Friday, 2nd March, and hopefuls can apply on the Eisteddfod participants’ website

Tickets for The Classical Collection and all other evening concerts are available from or phone the Box Office on 01978 862001.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Time to challenge mental health stigma, say AMs

* From left, Wrexham AM Lesley Griffiths, ABF trustee Phillip Jones, chief officer Lorrisa Roberts, engagement officer Hannah Murphy, mental health lifestyle coach Tracey Jones and Clwyd South AM Ken Skates.

Two Assembly Members have spoken about the importance of challenging stigma after visiting a Wrexham-based mental health charity. 

Lesley Griffiths and Ken Skates were invited to Advance Brighter Futures last Friday to coincide with Time to Talk Day earlier this month.

Mr Skates said: “Mental health is an issue which is very important to me and Time to Talk Day offers a timely reminder that we all need to be more open about it.

"The fact that it’s often difficult to talk about can make things even harder. Talking and listening can change people’s lives – and that’s the key message of Time to Talk Day.”

Advance Brighter Futures was established in Wrexham in 1992. Its services offer people a confidential space to build emotional wellbeing and resilience, helping them get on track to where they want to be after a difficult periods of their life. 

Mrs Griffiths said: “Advance Brighter Futures is an established local organisation which supports people with mild, moderate and severe mental illness and has been raising awareness and supporting people experiencing mental health problems for over 25 years.

“Mental health issues are common, with one in four people being affected at any one time. People in and around Wrexham are fortunate that charities like ABF are on hand to listen, promote wellbeing and ultimately help work towards recovery.” 

Hannah Murphy coordinates the BYW project which supports people currently in acute and secondary mental health care services. She said: “The third sector have become key in mental health services and not just an optional extra. Our intervention is now often the difference between life and death.”

Mr Skates added: “I would like to thank Hannah for inviting us to meet with the ABF Team and for their warm welcome. They are doing an incredible job supporting local people, and Lesley and I will do whatever we can to help them.”

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Witness plea following serious collision

Police are appealing for witnesses following a serious collision in Chirk on Friday evening (February 9).
Shortly before 6.15pm a collision occurred on Colliery Road, Chirk when a woman, who was walking her dog, was struck by a vehicle.

An ambulance was called and the 57-year-old was taken to the Maelor Hospital in Wrexham with serious leg injuries. She has since been transferred to hospital in Stoke. The woman’s dog died at the scene.
PC Robert Williams of the Roads Policing Unit said: “I am appealing for anybody who may have witnessed the collision to come forward.
“Equally, if anybody has any dashcam footage from their vehicle, or if anybody who lives in the vicinity that has private CCTV that may assist our investigation I would urge them to contact us immediately.”
* Anybody with information is asked to contact officers at the Roads Policing Unit on 101, or via the live web chat quoting reference number W016411.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Councillors support move against Universal Credit

The UK Government should pause the roll-out of Universal Credit and powers over the scheme should be devolved to the National Assembly for Wales, according to Denbighshire Council.

A motion calling on the UK Government to pause the roll-out of Universal Credit, and for the Welsh Government to demand devolution powers to vary how Universal Credit is paid in Wales, similar to the powers devolved to Scotland and Northern Ireland, was put forward by the Plaid Cymru group and supported by the majority of Denbighshire councillors at the full council meeting

Cllr Rhys Thomas, Lower Denbigh, who proposed the motion on behalf of Plaid Cymru, said: “Universal Credit has already been partially rolled out in the south of Denbighshire and will be partially rolled out in the north of the county in April.

"Evidence from across the country shows that it is having a devastating impact on the recipients and their families, causing serious financial difficulties for a great many people.

“Not only is the system complicated, but accessing it is dependent on recipients having a bank account and having access to the internet. We all know the difficulties in accessing broadband for many across the county, as well as the lack of community banks that we have.

"It will be paid in arrears and the housing benefit element will be paid directly to the recipient and not the landlord. This will cause particular trouble especially for those who have very low income and are already in arrears.

"We’re concerned that more people could get into financial difficulties and become homeless as a result. It is also paid per household not per individual, for no reason other than ideology on behalf of the Tory Government.

"This is a disgrace and could well lead to perpetuating the controlling behaviour of some people, and humiliating some very vulnerable people. Finally, it’s paid five weeks in arrears. For anybody on the bread line this delay will just push them more into debt and financial difficulties.

“Denbighshire Council agreed that the roll-out must be paused until the Government have resolved the problems surrounding its implementation at the very least.”

Cllr Thomas explained how benefit claimants in Scotland had greater flexibility: “The 2016 Scotland Act gave the Scottish Government powers to vary how Universal Credit is paid in Scotland. People living in Scotland making a new Universal Credit claim can opt to be paid monthly or twice monthly and have the relevant housing costs in the Universal Credit award paid to themselves or to their landlord.

"This will make things a lot easier for people in Scotland and will likely push less people into poverty and financial difficulties there. This is why we are calling on the Welsh Government to demand similar powers for Wales.”