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The land and people the council forgot

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Open to the elements: a property left to rot by the Council. Enforcement action would be taken against a private property owner for allowing this - by the Council

Open to the elements: a property left to rot by the Council. Enforcement action would be taken against a
private property owner for allowing this – by the Council

A RUN down council estate in Furnace is to be offered up for sale lock stock and barrel to a commercial developer with a promise of 14 ‘affordable homes’ replacing the 46 which once occupied the site.

However, the council has been accused of abandoning the Brynmefys estate to disrepair and dereliction, affecting the lives of the small number of families who still live there. Council officers have turned a blind eye to illegal tipping on the site for years, while colonies of bats inhabit deserted homes. There is a problem with vermin and the overgrown and crumbling relics of the post war social housing boom are rotting away as the remaining residents watch.

Penyfai Lane is one of the most desirable roads to live on in Llanelli with its outstanding views of the Gower peninsula. A building plot there would set you back a small fortune.

A stone’s throw away from Penyfai Lane is a most desirable plot of land, which happens to be owned – at the moment – by Carmarthenshire County Council.

On a bright July morning I visited Brynmefys with Herald TV’s video crew.

It really looked and felt like the land and people that time and the council had forgot.

If it were not for one of the helpful residents who saw us wandering around the estate who informed us that we were actually on the Brynmefys estate we would have been lost, as no signage indicates the estate’s existence.

We would have asked the council for directions, but there was no telephone box on the estate

Brynmefys has been left to fall into rack and ruin to the point where it is now so overgrown that the remaining resident’s properties have to have a cordon sanitaire cut through weeds and trees which threaten to reach the crest of the chimney pots. Loose tiles threaten to fall onto any children unfortunate enough to be playing in the immaculately kept gardens of the remaining residents homes.

They don’t complain much. They have been living with this neglect for two decades or more. They have become used to clearing their own path up to a point where they literally hit a wall of weeds, which have had absolutely no attention from any of the county council’s departments.

They don’t complain about their requests to the county council to clear up the illegal tip on their estate, which go ignored.

They don’t complain about the way the county council ignores their requests to fix the roof of the local hall, which has now begun to resemble the abandoned homes.

They don’t complain about the huge expense the Council have gone to build a bat house on the estate to try and persuade the bats out of the abandoned homes so that they can get the go ahead to knock them down.

In fact, the residents have become somewhat expert at identifying the different species of bats in the homes.

One resident told me that there are around five colonies of bats and that the homes contain at least one of the rarest bats in the UK. So rare is the Greater Horseshoe bat, in fact, that the species has special protection under UK and EU law.

Many opportunities to maintain and upgrade the estate appear to have gonebegging. Documentationrelating to the estate indicates that grant funding was available to the residents of Brynmefys during the 1980’s when the estate was fully occupied.

Llanelli Borough Council should have offered owners of the homes on the Brynmefys estate 90% grants for three months from April 1984. The former authority did not. Instead, more limited grant support was only made available during the 1990’s.

These Council Tax-paying residents of Carmarthenshire are proud owners of their homes and freeholds.

They have raised their families there and continue to tend their homes and gardens like any homeowner would except that their neighbours are those we would frequently be told on some TV channel are neighbours from hell.

Unlike bats, the residents are not afforded the same protection under local authority powers to do something about homes, which fall into disrepair or are considered a danger or are abandoned.

The irony is that it is the enforcers themselves who are the culprits, the owners of these properties, which are in such an abominable state. Some have suggested that a major developer is interested in taking over the estate and ready to build affordable homes.

There is, however, an elephant in the room every time the developers meet with the landowners.

What to do about the remaining residents.

Looking through the online documents of the County Council it is evident that much time and effort has gone into finding a solution on how to, well to put it politely, ‘get rid of’ the remaining residents.

A modest plot in the Penyfai Lane area might cost you a small fortune but the residents of Brynmefys told The Herald that they have never been offered any more than a paltry amount for their homes from the Council and potential developers.

A report in the local press from 2007 – as usual – swallowed what the council had claimed hook, line, and sinker. At that time, then Head of Housing and Public Protection, Robin Staines, said: “We are fully committed to providing a solution to the Brynmefys estate that will try to help the residents still living there. We also want to ensure that we maximise the receipt from the sale as that this will make a significant contribution to additional affordable housing in the area.”

While the County Council seeks to profit, when residents seek compensation it is another story.

Residents are being penalised for happening to have bought their home on an estate owned by the council, which has systematically run it down to the point where everybody else left.

A vacant site, with infrastructure and services makes for an immensely desirable piece of development land for any property developers lucky enough to be chosen as the preferred contractors by Carmarthenshire County Council.

In the rush for easy cash, Brynmefys’ residents have been forgotten about, neglected and left to rot as much as the abandoned homes the Council own on the estate. They wonder what happened to the council’s duty of care towards them and their families.

In July 2015 Carmarthenshire County Council issued this press release: “A range of affordable homes will be built in Llanelli as part of a development opportunity at the former Brynmefys housing estate in Furnace.

“Carmarthenshire County Council is selling the land on the open market, creating a prime investment opportunity for a housing developer, with good transport links, sea views and a semi-rural location.”

Carmarthenshire County Council’s track record on delivering ‘affordable homes’ is questionable, at best. Large developments’ builders have managed to wriggle out of Section 106 agreements relating to so-called ‘affordable homes’, while very small developments have been held to them.

Developers at Brynmefys can choose from one of three options – to build 14 affordable homes on the site for low cost home ownership as part of their overall scheme; build 14 affordable homes on other Council-owned land elsewhere in Llanelli; or, provide the Council with the equivalent value of 14 affordable homes as an additional receipt, allowing the Council to build its own elsewhere.

The recognition that the Council has abandoned the idea of providing affordable homes of any description at Brynmefys and has tuned in to the potential for flogging a desirable site to a private developer is highlighted by a CHS business plan dating from December 2013.

In July, Cllr Linda Evans, Executive Board Member for Housing, said of the plans to pass the buck for Brynmefys: “This is a significant development opportunity which will provide a mix of new homes in Llanelli, MANY of which will be affordable homes. I have considered these proposals in fine detail, and have decided to offer potential developers three different options – all of which will have a positive outcome for local families taking their first step on the property ladder.”

The Herald has unearthed plans dating back to 2001 for what is described as ‘Improved development of newly built houses at Brynmefys providing better mix of house type… We are looking to partner with a housing developer to provide houses for sale on the land freed up by the development. This should reduce the authorities’ scheme costs by providing an element of cross-subsidy for the land released to the developer’.

Moving forward to 2005, Carmarthenshire County Council’s Empty Homes Policy attempted to tackle the problem: ‘Redevelopment of the Brynmefys estate, Llanelli by working with a developer to provide at least 80 affordable homes with different types of tenancy.’ This work was due to be completed by April 2007.

A planning application by Gwalia CYF to build 103 affordable dwellings on the site was withdrawn in 2010.

The plan has evaporated, together with the promise of EIGHTY affordable homes.

Whether 14 affordable homes dotted around the Llanelli locality will ever see the light of day, and even whether 14 qualifies as ‘many’ compared to the promise in 2007 to provide 80, are both open questions.

The same press release claims: ‘The council has, for some time, been working with a small number of homeowners who own properties on the site.

‘Some have taken up the Council’s offer of alternative accommodation, but those remaining will be contacted by the chosen developer who will work with them before the scheme progresses’.

Home owners on the estate have been offered £30,000 to move by the council or 70% mortgages to relocate elsewhere. Quite why the council thinks those options are attractive to retired couples who successfully paid off their mortgages years ago is unclear.

The council’s Head of Housing and Public Protection, Robin Staines, said: “We are fully committed to providing a solution at Brynmefys that will try to help the residents still living there.”

Of course, the alternative is to continue to run down the estate and try and force the remaining residents out. In fact, it appears as though the solution the council proposes is one to a problem it has created itself.

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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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