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2600 empty homes in Carmarthenshire

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COUNCILS across Wales are under pressure to return empty housing stock to use.

Ad Hoc Property Management reports that there are currently 43,028 homes lying empty in Wales, 18,000 of which have been empty for more than six months. Rhondda Cynon Taff is the worst area with 4,195 while Swansea, Cardiff and Conwy don’t fall far behind.

There are 2,667 empty homes in Carmarthenshire.

The company says that, with there being approximately 60,500 households on waiting lists for affordable housing in Wales, these empty homes are simply a wasted resource in the wake of a national housing shortage.

Ad Hoc claims that opportunities exist to regenerate empty properties to provide affordable homes, with the benefit for property owners being that tenanted properties are unlikely to suffer from the consequences of anti-social behaviour such as squatting and vandalism.

A spokesperson told us: ‘The Welsh government is committed to building 20,000 new affordable homes by 2021, and while that will be beneficial, something still needs to be done about all the empty homes. If more property owners were aware of the benefits of utilising their empty spaces as temporary affordable housing, then they would not only save themselves the headache of petty criminals and the cost of damage repairs, but they would also be helping to alleviate some of the strain put on Wales by the housing shortage’.

Under the Housing Act 2004, councils have the power to use Empty Dwelling Management Orders (EDMOs) as a last resort to bring unoccupied properties back into use.

Long-term empty properties pose a problem in two ways; they tend to decrease the quality of life in their area, by becoming magnets for vandalism and other antisocial behaviours, and they indirectly contribute to the problem of homelessness by limiting the pool of available housing.

Carmarthenshire’s County Council is taking proactive steps to bring vacant properties back into use.

As long ago as the Budget of 2014, then Council Leader Kevin Madge reported on the Council’s intention to secure vacant residential properties and bring them back into use for the private rented sector.

Four years on and the Executive Board under current leader Emlyn Dole established an arm’s length housing corporation to acquire properties and land for redevelopment and new development.

The authority adopted its first empty property strategy in light of the Housing Act from 2005-2009 and has followed that up with a succession of further plans, including a review of the process in 2015.

The number of empty properties brought back into use has steadily increased year on year.

Carmarthenshire’s target for returning empty properties during 2016/2017 was 160 properties and 174 properties were returned to use.

With a dedicated Empty Property Officer post, coordinating the Local Authority approach to empty properties, the Council is making active use of enforcement actions under different elements of its statutory powers, including the active use of Enforced Sales and the offer of financial assistance to owners of long-term vacant properties where they can be traced. The council also offers financial incentives through property management and leasing products, whilst offering affordable housing through an in-house Social Lettings Agency, Gosod Siml.

The waste of empty homes where a need exists has been described by Jonathan Edwards MP as ‘obscene’.

“There are a number of approaches which can and should be explored. In the case of Carmarthenshire, I know the Council takes a proactive approach with a dedicated team of staff who assist people in bringing their properties back into use,” the MP said.

Conservative government welfare cuts continue to fuel the rise in homelessness as figures show a staggering 10,884 Welsh households were assessed as homeless in the year 2016-2017.

A report by researchers from Sheffield Hallam University into the Welsh Government’s Houses into Homes scheme reported positive feedback from both property owners and local authorities regarding its operation. However, that report also revealed that the majority of owners who responded to a questionnaire about bringing a property back into use with the help of a Houses into Homes loan had acquired the property as an investment.

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Llanelli High Street shortlisted for prize

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LLANELLI HIGH STREET has been shortlisted in the Government’s Great British High Street Awards, in proud partnership with Visa, putting them in the running for up to £15,000.

After a rigorous selection process led by a panel of independent judges, the high street has been shortlisted for the Rising Star category, which celebrates high streets which are taking the lead to adapt and diversify.

The bid by Ymlaen Llanelli follows research commissioned by Visa in April 2019 demonstrating the positive impact that the local high street has on communities. The research found that nearly three quarters of consumers (71%) in Wales say that shopping locally makes them feel happy, with nearly half (45%) citing supporting local shops and knowing where their money is going as the main reason. Spending time with friends and family (25%) and offering a sense of community (18%) were other reasons cited for why high streets make people feel happier. The research also reveals that half of consumers (50%) feel that their high street gives them a sense of pride in their local community.

High Streets Minister Jake Berry MP said: “Congratulations to Llanelli for being shortlisted for the Rising Star Award for this year’s Great British High Street Awards.

“Llanelli high street is a hive of activity, with food festivals, childrens’ days and community get-togethers all part of the local calendar. A great example of how high streets can bring a renewed energy to communities.

“People are happier when they can see their hard-earned cash support local businesses. That is why we are celebrating those that go above and beyond to keep their high streets thriving for generations to come.”

Sundeep Kaur, Head of UK & Ireland Merchant Services at Visa, added: “We’ve seen some fantastic entries for this year’s Great British High Street Awards across both the Champion High Street and Rising Star categories. In particular, the desire to innovate stands out amongst this year’s entries, with high streets adapting to the challenges presented by a rapidly changing retail environment to find ways to thrive at a local level.

“As our research shows, high streets play a vital role at the heart of communities, so this is a great opportunity for those communities with shortlisted high streets to show their support by placing their votes on the Great British High Street website.”

Llanelli High Street is one of the 28 high streets that have been shortlisted for the Rising Star category, identifying high streets which are taking the lead to adapt and diversify. 12 high streets have been shortlisted in the Champion High Street category, which recognises the UK’s best high streets. All 40 high streets are now in the running to win a prize of up to £15,000 to be dedicated to a local high street initiative.

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Head Teacher at Primary school in Llanelli suspended

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THE HEAD TEACHER of a Welsh primary school has been suspended, it has been confirmed.

Catherine Lloyd-Jenkins, who is head at Ysgol Gymraeg Ffwrnes in Llanelli, has been suspended from her duties at the school with immediate effect.

Governors at the school have been unavailable for comment, but Carmarthenshire Council confirmed the news this morning.

It is understood that the chair of the governing body is currently out of the country, and the council would not comment further on the circumstances surrounding the suspension.

The council’s director of education, Gareth Morgans, said: “School staffing is a matter for the Governing Body, however, we can confirm the headteacher of Ysgol Ffwrnes has been suspended.

“It is not appropriate to comment further.”

Mrs Lloyd-Jenkins has worked at Ysgol Gymraeg Ffwrnes for 23 years, taking up a post at the school in 1996.

She has been the headteacher there for almost 20 years, taking over the role in 2000. She has also worked as a peer inspector at Estyn, the education and training inspectorate for Wales confirmed.

According to one local councillor, ‘serious concerns’ have been raised about the school in recent months.

“Local residents and parents have approached us raising serious concerns about the school in question,” said Carmarthenshire councillor Rob James.

“We are in dialogue with senior council officers to assert whether the allegations are credible and what action the council and governors have taken in response to these allegations.”

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Dyfed-Powys Police numbers at record low, say Labour

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POLICE officers based across the Dyfed-Powys area are now at their lowest levels in the last decade, with over 300 officers being lost across the region, claim Carmarthenshire Labour.

According to a freedom of information request by Carmarthenshire Labour, police officers based across Carmarthenshire, Pembrokeshire and Ceredigion are down 42% and are at record lows in both Carmarthenshire and Ceredigion.

The figures published by Dyfed-Powys Police show that Carmarthenshire has lost 160 officers in the last ten years, Pembrokeshire is down 107 officers and Ceredigion has lost 56 bobbies on the beat.

These figures come off the back of a poor report by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary that shows the force has gone backwards in the last year, with crime also on the increase.

HMIC’s recent PEEL (Police effectiveness, efficiency and legitimacy) report noted concerns about Dyfed-Powys Police’s performance in keeping people safe and reducing crime and specifically warned of failures to assess all incidents of domestic abuse.

Carmarthenshire Labour Leader Cllr Rob James claims that the figures show that the current Police and Crime Commissioner is now performing worse than their predecessor.

Rob James stated: “These figures that show a dramatic decrease in police numbers are extremely worrying and reinforce what communities are saying across Dyfed Powys – there are simply not enough police officers in our areas.

“The fact that we now have lower police numbers in the three counties compared to the end of the last Police and Crime Commissioner’s term with crime now on the rise illustrates that the Plaid Cymru Commissioner is failing in his duty to protect our communities.

“We need urgent action to make our communities safe once more, as there is a clear link between the loss of youth provision and cuts to officer numbers, and the rise of crime in our communities.

“There is little evidence that our Commissioner has grasped the nettle over the last three years in tackling this important issue.”

These claims however, have been slapped down by Police and Crime Comissioner, Dafydd Llewellyn. He said that said that Cllr James had misunderstood or misrepresented the information provided to him.
The Carmarthen data have a significant rider attached to them.

The explanatory note reads: ‘It should be noted that the figures for Carmarthenshire police division between 2008 and 2018 are not comparable as the structure of Carmarthenshire division in 2018 has altered to that of 2008 which has impacted upon the figures provided’.

That explanation is expanded upon concerning the Ceredigion data. Regarding them, an explanatory note warns that: ‘[T]he structures between 2008 and 2019 are not comparable as some sections that were recorded divisionally now come under the HQ remit, e.g. the Road Policing Unit, CID, etc.’.

Dafydd Llewelyn pointed out that note in his response to The Herald: “As outlined in the response to the Freedom of Information request, structures between 2008 and 2019 are not comparable as some sections that were recorded as divisionally based are now recorded under the HQ remit, for example, Roads Policing Unit, CID.”

Dafydd Llewelyn continued: “Since taking up my role as the elected person to represent the many communities across the four counties served by the force, I have increased the overall resource available by 4%. I have ploughed funding into dedicated teams to support front line officers and have invested in resources to support the most vulnerable in our communities.

“I have commissioned services specific to their needs – be that as victims of domestic abuse or young people choosing to leave their homes for reasons unknown to authorities. I will continue to do this. I will not be held to account by numbers on paper alone, but by the difference I can make to individuals’ quality of life.

“I will also use the opportunity I have to campaign for services appropriate to the very specific needs an area the size of Dyfed-Powys Police has and will work with the force to adapt according to those needs.”

He concluded by pointing out: “Carmarthenshire, Ceredigion, Pembrokeshire and Powys remain the safest counties nationally and I’m proud to be driving a service that is willing and able to flex and respond, despite the financial challenges faced day-in-day-out.”

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