WREXHAM Council has been criticised for blocking politicians from asking questions about its approach to tackling homelessness.

There has been a sharp rise in rough sleeping in Wrexham in recent years and the county has the highest rate of homeless people per 10,000 of its population in the whole of Wales.

Plaid Cymru councillors submitted several queries to members of the local authority’s ruling executive board ahead of a meeting held to ask how they plan to address the problem.

It came after they raised concerns over a decision to spend £30,000 on installing fences to keep rough sleepers away from the town’s Guildhall and council offices on Lambpit Street.

They also challenged proposals to pay an external consultant to come up with ideas to reduce the the level of homelessness.

However, despite the questions being submitted ahead of last week’s deadline, they were told they could not ask them because of the upcoming general election.

The move has been condemned by group leader Marc Jones, who accused the council of failing to provide adequate support for those without a roof over their head.

He said: “Both Carrie (Harper) and myself wanted to ask legitimate questions about issues surrounding homelessness and what the council is doing about it.

“With only a few hours’ notice, we were told these were not going to be permitted by the monitoring officer because it’s a pre-election period and could be politicised.

“It’s not right that those in power take a pick-and-mix approach to the democratic process, stopping certain questions from being asked and debated while permitting others to continue.

“The questions relate to the £30,000 that the council is spending on gating off entrances to the Guildhall and offices in Lambpit Street plus the unknown sum, likely to be in the tens of thousands, to appoint a consultant via Sell2Wales to assess rough sleeping needs.”

He added: “We have very many experts locally through various agencies and within the council itself who have a very thorough knowledge of the homeless problem, so I’m baffled as to why we need an outside consultant.

“At a time when rough sleepers need practical support and we have a good understanding of who and where they are, this ruling coalition seem more interested in moving them off council property and commissioning more reports.”

A count was carried out on the streets of Wrexham in late 2017 which found 24 individuals sleeping on the streets, while all 16 night shelter beds across the area were fully occupied.

A new survey is set to be undertaken during the winter as part of the consultant’s review, which the council said was aimed at understanding the barriers people face in finding accommodation.

The authority’s chief executive Ian Bancroft has also defended its actions in preventing Plaid Cymru councillors from asking questions on its homeless strategy.

In a statement, he said the decision was taken because of restrictions surrounding the pre-election period, which is also known as ‘purdah’.

He added fences were put up outside council offices as a result of complaints about anti-social behaviour from members of the public.

Mr Bancroft said: “It was explained at executive board that there are constraints on the council during the pre-election period and that a risk based approach had been adopted with a view to ensuring that where possible business continues as usual, but that where there was a risk of issues becoming politicised locally these matters would not be considered during this period.

“The issue of installing fencing was due to a specific problem of rough sleepers and was taken forward as a result of complaints from the public due to anti-social behaviour and the issue of risk to staff and public.

“This work has been done alongside the actions taken to  support individuals into sustainable housing solutions .

“Welsh Government has highlighted Wrexham and the other key urban areas in Wales as areas for further support on the issue of rough sleeping.

“Therefore short term funding is available for this work so, in addition to producing a regional strategy for homelessness, we are seeking a consultant to assess the work of all the partners who work in this area.”

He said an action plan would be produced at a later date to identify measures required to address homelessness in Wrexham.