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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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Life saving medical kit for police on the roads

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POLICE officers have been given equipment that improves the chance of survival for those injured in a serious crash, as part of Dyfed-Powys Police’s effort to reduce the number of people who die on the roads.

The medical kits are being given to roads policing officers, who are often the first at the scene of a serious crash. They are described as the best available to deal with the type of bleeding they encounter at road traffic collisions, and also in the case of knife and glass wounds, and are the same as those issued to ambulance crews.

Sergeant Owen Dillon, of Brecon Roads Policing Unit, worked with the Welsh Ambulance Service to trial the kit, which he has called ‘simple to use, but effective’.

He said: “We work really hard to reduce the number of collisions on the roads, but unfortunately they do still happen, and people can become seriously injured.”

“It only takes a few minutes for someone to bleed to death, so it’s vital that police officers – who are often first at scene – can deal quickly with any bleeding while waiting for paramedics.”

The equipment has been bought with funding of around £1,000 from the Police and Crime Commissioner. Traffic officers in Carmarthenshire, Ceredigion, Pembrokeshire and Powys will keep the equipment in their patrol cars.

Police and Crime Commissioner, Dafydd Llywelyn, added: “Keeping people safe is a top priority for me and this investment will equip officers with the best medical kit possible to deal with immediate life threatening injuries. I am committed to ensuring Dyfed-Powys plays an active role in keeping road users safe.”

Police officers are already trained to use tourniquets and bandages, and the Roads Policing Units who work as part of Op Darwen – the force’s campaign to reduce casualties on the roads – are being given the additional training they need to use this equipment.

Figures show that in 2018, 67 motorcyclists were either killed or seriously injured on roads in Carmarthenshire, Ceredigion, Pembrokeshire and Powys, and men were eight times more likely to be affected than women.

The Welsh Ambulance Service is committed to working in partnership with other emergency services to save lives.

Carl Powell, Clinical Support Officer for the Welsh Ambulance Service, said: “It is vital that Roads Policing Officers, who are often the first on scene and confronted with serious and life threatening injuries, are supported in preserving life with equipment that is effective in dealing with major bleeding.

“The trauma packs are a proven lifesaving asset and need minimal educational input to be used.”

As part of the Op Darwen, the force is urging motorcyclists to ride safely, and reminding drivers to be vigilant to motorbikes and other powered two-wheelers.

The campaign will run until October, when statistics say the roads are busiest. Roads Policing Units are working across the Dyfed-Powys Police area using a combination of education, engagement and enforcement, to reduce the number of casualties on the roads.

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Trimsaran: Male arrested on suspicion of terror offences

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OFFICERS from the Welsh Extremism Counter Terrorist Unit (WECTU) have arrested a 57-year-old-man at a property in Trimsaran on Tuesday, June 11.

Armed officers from WECTU, supported by officers from Dyfed Powys Police, attended the property to execute a search warrant.

After finding chemicals at the property, Police arrested the as-yet-unnamed man on suspicion of offences relating to being concerned in the commission, preparation or instigation of acts of terrorism.

The man remains in police custody, while officers continue their investigations at the property, which remains cordoned off.

A spokeswoman for the Wales Extremism and Counter Terrorism Unit said there was no risk to neighbouring properties.

She said: “Officers from the Wales Extremism and Counter Terrorism Unit (WECTU) supported by Dyfed Powys Police executed a search warrant at an address in the Trimsaran area on Tuesday, June 11.

“A specialist search continues after chemicals were found at the premises and a cordon remains in place. Armed officers were also deployed as a precaution to ensure the safety of officers and the public.

“A 57-year-old man was arrested as a result of the initial search on Tuesday. He remains in custody on suspicion of being concerned in the commission, preparation or instigation of acts of terrorism, under section 41 of the Terrorism Act (TACT) 2000.”

Counter-Terrorism Policing and UK intelligence services have foiled 19 attack plots since March 2017 and are currently running nearly 800 live investigations.

In a statement on the UK’s level of preparedness made on Friday, June 14, Deputy Assistant Commissioner Dean Haydon, the UK’s Senior National Coordinator for Counter-Terrorism, said: “Counter-Terrorism Policing and UK intelligence services have foiled 19 attack plots since March 2017 and that we are currently running nearly 800 live investigations, it clearly shows that the UK is still facing an unprecedented level of threat from terrorism.”

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Bridgend Ford plant closing next year with loss of 1700 jobs

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FORD’S engine plant in Bridgend – which has been operational since 1977 – will close in September next year, with the loss of 1,700 jobs.

The site employs workers from across South Wales, with many more people employed by companies that supply both goods and services to the plant.

Trade union leaders were told the news on Thursday (Jun 6) morning at a meeting at Ford’s Essex headquarters. The company is believed to have pointed at Bridgend’s coast disadvantage in comparison with other sites. Plans are said to include redeployment of employees to other Ford sites.

GMB, the union for Ford workers in Bridgend, has reacted with shock to the announcement, with Regional Organiser Jeff Beck saying: “We’re hugely shocked by today’s announcement, it’s a real hammer blow for the Welsh economy and the community in Bridgend.
“Regardless of today’s announcement GMB will continue to work with Ford, our sister unions and the Welsh Government to find a solution to the issue and mitigate the effects of this devastating news.
“What makes it worse is Donald Trump is in this country talking about a possible trade deal between the UK and the US – yet when the plant closes the new line is likely to be produced in

Mexico by an American company. So much for the special relationship Mr Trump.”

This comes after an investigation by GMB revealed Wales has lost 13,000 manufacturing jobs in just 10 years. The statistics were released ahead of GMB’s Annual Congress, which begins in Brighton on Sunday (Jun 9). They show 13,000 jobs in the sector disappeared between 2008 and 2018 – a fall of nearly 8%. In 2008, Wales supported 168,000 permanent and temporary manufacturing jobs. By 2018, that had slumped to just 155,000.

Welsh Conservative Shadow Minister for Business, Russell George AM, said: “After an extended difficult period of uncertainty for workers in Bridgend, today’s announcement was the last news we were hoping for.

Illustrative image of a Ford Logo, Cambridge,. (Photo by: Newscast/UIG via Getty Images)

“The Welsh Government must act swiftly now to support the workers of the area, and to reassure the world that Wales continues to be a place of automotive excellence.
“With the Bridgend site closing in late 2020 the next step is to attract new business opportunities to the area for these skilled workers.”
Suzy Davies, AM for South Wales West, said: “This is terrible news for the employees of Bridgend Ford and is a devastating blow for the whole area.
“It is crucial today that appropriate support is made available for affected employees during this difficult time. My thoughts are with the families involved, and I intend to extend my full support to those in need throughout the coming months.
“I implore the Welsh Government to do everything within its power to ensure retraining is available to these extremely skilled workers, and to help them find alternative employment with the utmost urgency.”

The plant’s closure come just months after Ford revealed that it would cut the site’s workforce by 370, in the first phase of almost 1,000 job losses, as the company looked to reorganise its European operations. The Bridgend plant makes engines for Jaguar Land Rover, but that contract will end this year, and investment in the new Dragon engine has been scaled back.

Welsh Liberal Democrat Leader Jane Dodds said: “This is devastating news for workers, their families and the wider community. The effects of this decision will be felt across the Welsh economy, but nowhere as acutely as in Bridgend.
“The Welsh and UK Governments must urgently do all they can to support employees, help them find new work and protect Bridgend’s economy. However, we must accept that nothing can stop this being a dark day for Bridgend and the Welsh car industry.
“Ford Bridgend has become yet another devastating casualty of Brexit. This year we’ve already seen Honda announce the closure of its Swindon plant and several car makers temporarily shutdown their factories. How much longer are we prepared to allow this to continue?
“This is yet more evidence we must give the people the final say and the opportunity to choose an Exit from Brexit. Only by stopping Brexit can we save jobs and protect the Welsh economy.”

Assembly Member for Bridgend and former First Minister Carwyn Jones said: “Ford intend to shut the engine plant by next September. No reason given as to why it should be Bridgend. The workers deserve so much better than this after all their efforts and hard work. They did all that was asked of them.”

Leader of Plaid Cymru, Adam Price, said: “Closure would be one of the most bitter blows for the Welsh economy for more than 30 years. Ford is jewel in the crown of the car industry – which is the hardcore of our manufacturing sector – the implications of this in terms of the supply chain and job losses is very grave.”

The future of the Bridgend site had been questioned for some time, dating back to the ‘One Ford’ plan which was introduced in 2008. From that point, Ford operated as one global company, with Ford UK and Ford Europe no longer designing different cars to the rest of the world. The same car models were then sold worldwide, and further investment went to plants that were the most efficient.

Bridgend was no longer just competing with plants in Cologne and Valencia, but with the rest of world.

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