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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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Significant step forward for Llanelli’s multi-million-pound Pentre Awel

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LLANELLI’S ground-breaking Pentre Awel project has taken a major step forward paving the way for building work to start as early as this autumn.

Carmarthenshire County Council’s planning committee has today (Thursday, June 23) approved reserved matters for access, appearance, landscaping, layout and scale for Zone One of the landmark project.

It follows the outline planning application, which was granted back in August 2019, and means work can officially commence on-site.

Pentre Awel is the first development of its scope and size in Wales providing world-class medical research and health care delivery and supporting and encouraging people to lead active and healthy lives.

Detailed design work has been undertaken on Zone One, which will bring together education, business, research, leisure and health in a single building. These facilities will be linked together in a ‘street’ layout, connected by a central atrium comprising a reception, café and other public amenities. The street will be the community heart of the village with lots of exhibition space and breakout areas enjoying spectacular views across the lake, and to the Loughor Estuary and Carmarthen Bay.

The designs showcase the council’s ambition to create a development that is landscape-led, connected to local communities and amenities and is sustainable. The  facilities will maximise the use of daylight and natural ventilation where possible, and bring the ‘outside inside’ to promote good physical and mental wellbeing.

Externally, Pentre Awel will enjoy landscaped outdoor public spaces for recreation, with walking and cycling paths and stunning coastal views, all set around the freshwater lake as a key defining feature.

Site clearance, ground investigation and ecology works have already started on site with ‘spade-in-the-ground-works’ expected to get underway this autumn and full completion estimated for summer 2024.

Cabinet Member for Regeneration, Leisure, Culture and Tourism Cllr Gareth John said: “This is yet another exciting step forward for this ambitious and truly innovative project that will benefit people locally in Llanelli, as well as across Carmarthenshire and South West Wales as a whole.

“Pentre Awel will deliver a significant programme of community benefits and economic regeneration across the county, creating major employment and training opportunities, along with world-class leisure and health facilities for our residents.

“It is important that local businesses benefit from this project, and I was delighted that more than 100 businesses recently attended a ‘Meet the Buyer’ event at Parc y Scarlets to find out more about the opportunities available. I look forward to seeing building work starting on site very soon.”

Pentre Awel is being delivered by Carmarthenshire County Council in partnership with Hywel Dda University Health Board, Universities and Colleges including Cardiff University, Coleg Sir Gȃr, the University of Wales Trinity Saint David and Swansea University. It is part-funded by the Swansea Bay City Deal (£40million).

As well as improving health and wellbeing, the project will create over 1,800 jobs and training/apprenticeship opportunities, and is expected to boost the local economy by a £467million over the next 15 years.

Bouygues UK has been awarded a two-stage design and build contract for Zone One with a key focus on social value to ensure employment and training opportunities for local people are maximised during the construction phase.

Zone One includes a new state-of-the-art leisure centre; hydrotherapy pool; education, research and business development space; a clinical research and delivery centre with community level clinical trials; and a well-being skills centre delivering health and care training.

Later phases of the scheme include a hotel, a range of social and affordable housing, assisted living accommodation and a nursing home.

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The Welsh Government launches Basic Income pilot scheme

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FROM 1 July 2022, more than 500 people leaving care in Wales will be offered £1600 each month (before tax) for two years to support them as they make the transition to adult life.

Launched by First Minister Mark Drakeford, it is hoped the pilot will set care leavers on a path to live healthy, happy and fulfilling lives.

The radical approach has trust, autonomy and respect at its centre. It will provide independence and security to people who have faced immense challenges during their childhood, giving them greater control and empowering them to make decisions about their future.

The £20 million pilot, which will run for three years, will be evaluated to carefully examine its effect on the lives of those involved

Social Justice Minister Jane Hutt said the scheme is a direct investment in the lives and futures of some of Wales’ most vulnerable young people.

Those taking part in the pilot will also receive individual advice and support to help them manage their finances and develop their financial and budgeting skills.

Local authorities will play a key role in supporting them throughout the pilot. Voices from Care Cymru will also work with the young people to give them advice on wellbeing, education, employment and help them plan their future after the pilot.

To launch the scheme, First Minister Mark Drakeford, Social Justice Minister Jane Hutt and Deputy Minister for Social Services Julie Morgan met with people taking part in the pilot, and young people who themselves have been in care, to talk about the impact this support will have on peoples’ lives.

They discussed how they hope the financial stability will give people the opportunity to make positive life choices as they leave care and provide a more solid foundation from which to build their adult lives.

First Minister Mark Drakeford said: “We want all our young people to have the best possible chance in life and fulfil their full potential. The state is the guardian of people leaving care and so has a real obligation to support them as they start their adult life.

“Our focus will be on opening up their world to all its possibilities and create an independence from services as their lives develop.

“Many of those involved in this pilot don’t have the support lots of people – myself included – have been lucky enough to enjoy as we started out on our path to adulthood.

“Our radical initiative will not only improve the lives of those taking part in the pilot, but will reap rewards for the rest of Welsh society. If we succeed in what we are attempting today this will be just the first step in what could be a journey that benefits generations to come.”

Minister for Social Justice Jane Hutt said:

“We’re in the midst of a cost-of-living crisis like no other and we therefore need new ways of supporting people who are most in need.

“Our Basic Income pilot is an incredibly exciting project giving financial stability to a generation of young people. Too many people leaving care face huge barriers to achieving their hopes and ambitions; such as problems with getting a safe and stable home, to securing a job and building a fulfilling career. This scheme will help people live a life free of such barriers and limitations.

“We will carefully evaluate the lessons learnt from the pilot. Listening to everyone who takes part will be crucial in determining the success of this globally ambitious project. We will examine whether Basic Income is an efficient way to support society’s most vulnerable and not only benefit the individual, but wider society too.”

Tiff Evans of Voices from Care Cymru, speaking on behalf of young people who have experienced care, said: “This is a brilliant opportunity for care leavers in Wales. It is good to see that care leavers in Wales are being thought of and Welsh Government are providing this opportunity for them as young people to become responsible, control some parts of their lives and have a chance to thrive and be financially independent.

“We thank Welsh Government for investing in them and their future and we look forward to other changes and developments for care experienced young people in Wales in order for them to reach life aspirations.”

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Community checks out new Carmarthenshire Policing Hub and Custody Suite

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POLICE and Crime Commissioner Dafydd Llywelyn today (24.06.22) hosted an open doors event for local stakeholders at Dyfed-Powys’ new Custody Suite and Policing Hub, that is currently under construction at Dafen, Llanelli Carmarthenshire.

Planning permission was granted to the Office of Police and Crime Commissioner by Carmarthenshire County Council back in April 2021 for the proposed development, which is to be an ambitious sustainable construction, with a BREEAM excellence rating.

Wilmott Dixon, who are the Construction Contractor have been on site since autumn preparing for the first construction phases, with specific progress now beginning made on the development, that aims to be completed by May 2023.

PCC Dafydd Llywelyn said; “This is a major investment for us which will see an ambitious, modern, sustainable fit for purpose policing hub and custody suite that will meet the needs and expectations of modern policing. 

“During the planning application process between 2020 and 2021, we engaged widely with the local community,  and It was a pleasure to open the door, and welcome local community representatives to the construction site today, to show the progress that has been made to date.

“I’ve worked extremely hard with partners over recent years to ensure that we get to this position and I now look forward to seeing the construction work continue to develop at pace over the year”.

In being a BREEAM related development, the new build will offer a more sustainable environment, that aims to enhance the well-being of the people who work within it, and help protect natural resources.

Amongst some of the sustainable credentials of the new build will be a photovoltaic solar power installation to minimise the carbon footprint of the building; a rainwater harvesting facility for toilets and non-potable water, and electric car charging facilities.

Chief Inspector Richard Hopkin, Dyfed-Powys Police’s operational lead on the new build, said: “We feel very fortunate to be having a new build custody suite and hub coming to Llanelli.

“Our current Llanelli estate is old, so to see a new build that is being designed with such consideration for the environment and the wellbeing of our staff and the community within which it sits is really positive.

“The development will provide a fit for purpose, future proof solution which will complement the town centre Neighbourhood Police Team base.”

Ian Jones, Director at Willmott Dixon commented, “This is the first project that we have worked on with Dyfed Powys Police, and as part of what has being a collaborative partnership, we are delighted to have the opportunity to deliver this development. 

“This is a purpose‐built, new custody suite to replace and supplement provision of custody within Carmarthenshire which will provide excellent facilities to meet the needs of modern law enforcement and detainee wellbeing for Dyfed Powys Police. 

“We were delighted to have the opportunity to welcome guests to the site to show them first-hand how construction is progressing.”

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