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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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How Wales created 19 new field hospitals in less than 8 weeks…

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Across Wales the Welsh Government is supporting the NHS to create new field hospitals and rapidly increase bed capacity.
Health boards have repurposed existing buildings, including the Principality Stadium, a holiday park and even a television studio to provide an additional 6,000 beds.Field hospitals are designed to support the NHS during the coronavirus pandemic by providing extra bed capacity but they will also help normal hospital services be restarted and support social care services.Last month, the first patients were admitted to Ysbyty Calon y Ddraig at the Principality Stadium, in Cardiff.

Four to six weeks

Here is how Wales almost doubled its bed capacity in less than eight weeks…The time it has taken to nearly double hospital bed capacity in Wales, creating field hospitals across the nation.

19 field hospitals in Wales
This includes the repurposing of Bluestone Holiday Park and Parc y Scarlets in west Wales and Venue Cymru in north Wales.

1,500 beds at the Ysbyty Calon y Ddraig
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Five days
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3,000
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£166m
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Three North Wales field hospitals have the name Enfys
Meaning rainbow – the symbol of hope and thank you to the NHS during the pandemic.
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7-year-old Mattie from Pembrey takes on home Pen y Fan-tastic challenge for Action for Children

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Plucky Mattie Denman will climb the equivalent of Pen y Fan in the drive at her family home in Pembrey on Friday 22nd May to raise funds for Action for Children.

Mattie (7), has always wanted to climb the highest mountain in South Wales and is unable to currently because of the coronavirus pandemic.  As the family exercise at home every day, she decided she wanted to do the 6-mile equivalent journey there while she waits for the chance to do it for real.  Mattie chose Action for Children as her mother, Sian, works for the charity in Carmarthenshire.

Mattie said: ‘My Mammy works for Action for Children and I want to help as well because lots of families need help.  My older brother and sister help Action for Children, so I asked Mammy if I could do something. We exercise everyday walking up and down the drive and I have always wanted to climb Pen y Fan, but we have never done it.

‘Mammy said I could pretend I am walking it and people will give money to the charity. I said brilliant, that is what I am going to do and I am super excited to do it. I will use mammy’s step counter and I hope I can help children that need support especially because it is so hard for some families because of coronavirus.’

Proud mum and family support practitioner for Action for Children, Sian, added: ‘Mattie has a lovely heart and really wanted to do something and I’m very proud she chose Pen y Fan as her home challenge.  Action for Children has been going the extra mile during the coronavirus pandemic continuing to support vulnerable families through phone and video sessions as well as food and help with the basics from our Emergency Appeal Fund. 

‘It is a tremendously challenging time for our families and every bit of money will directly help those in our communities who need it most.  I hope as many people as possible will donate to Mattie’s brilliant fundraising effort, it’ll make it even more special when we finally get to climb Pen y Fan for real.’

If you want to support Mattie’s Pen y Fan challenge please go to: https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/mattiesclimb

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Housebuilder launches Coronavirus move in package

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A South Wales housebuilder has launched new incentives which mean homes are ‘ready to move into’ during the Covid-19 crisis – without the need for tradespeople or delivery people.

People in Wales are allowed to move into new build houses during the lockdown – and many people have successfully done so.

However, the limitations of social distancing can add extra stress when it comes to having things like dishwashers, washing machines and turf installed in the new property.

That’s why Persimmon Homes West Wales has launched a new incentive package which gives purchasers the chance to buy a house with white goods and flooring already in place.

Sharon Bouhali, sales director at Persimmon Homes West Wales, said: “Our sales advisors have done a terrific job in talking with customers and guiding them through the buying process remotely, without the need of face-to-face meetings.

“It’s been a huge challenge, but we’ve risen to it – and Persimmon has sold more than 120 properties in South Wales during the lockdown period. We have customers moving into their new homes every week.

“But, understandably, some people are cautious about having too many tradespeople and contractors enter their home, even if they are doing their utmost to abide by social distancing rules.

“That’s why we have launched these new packages which mean people can turn the key, unpack and get on with enjoying their new home.”

The package includes carpets and vinyl throughout, turf in the back garden, sliding wardrobes, integrated fridge freezer, integrated washer/dryer, integrated dishwasher and £500 discount towards removal fees.

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Persimmon’s marketing suites in Wales remain closed for the time being. Visit www.persimmonhomes.com or call 01792 229800 for details of homes available.

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