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Cabinet tackles second homes problem

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ON MONDAY, February 15, Cabinet members agreed to publish an affordable homes strategy for Pembrokeshire.

In November last year, Councillor David Lloyd submitted a notice of motion in November 2020, calling for the strategy to be developed as a matter of urgency.

In his supporting statement, Cllr Lloyd said that he had seen many streets in St Davids ‘hollowed out by local homes becoming second homes or holiday lets’.

Councils along the whole of the West Wales coast, stretching from Carmarthenshire to Anglesey, have expressed concern at spiralling house prices, as incomers buy-up properties and price locals out of the housing market.

At the end of the first lockdown in 2020, we spoke with Solva county councillor Mark Carter. He told us that one property in Solva went on the market on Thursday and was sold for significantly over the asking price by the following Monday morning. Local estate agents are reporting similar sales patterns around Wales’ west coast.

Urban flight from England, driven by the Covid pandemic and coastal Wales’ relative safety, is a factor in ratcheting up house prices.

Gwynedd estimated that almost 11% of local housing stock are second homes or used for occasional holiday lets. In Abersoch, one former council house was on the market for £380,000. The average wage in the area is £21,000 per year. The wage most people earn is under £16,000 per year.

In Ceredigion, New Quay’s permanent population has crashed as locals have been forced out of the local housing market by outsiders buying up properties as holiday lets and second homes.

In Carmarthenshire, 1,118 homes are not the owner’s sole or main dwelling – up to 40% in some areas. The effect there was to drive young people out of the market, splinter families, and break-up communities.

Pressure on the Welsh Government to act is now coming from every one of Wales’ west-coast councils.

On January 21, Carmarthenshire County Council passed a wide-ranging motion on the issue.

The motion called for a change in planning laws to ensure that planning permission must be sought to change the use of a primary dwelling into a second home/holiday accommodation.

It also called for local authorities to have the ability to set a cap on the number of second homes in each ward and allow the use of Section 106 (planning) agreements to prevent new properties from being used as second homes in wards with an unacceptable proportion of second homes.

One element of the motion passed in Carmarthenshire is particularly relevant to Pembrokeshire. Carmarthenshire Council approved the introduction of a licensing system for managing the conversion of a residential property into a commercial unit such as a holiday unit/house or Airbnb.

The Camarthenshire motion called for the closure of the ‘loophole’ that allows second homes to register as businesses. If owners do that, they opt out of paying domestic rates and council tax premiums and take advantage of business rate relief.

When pressed on the issue on February 3, Housing Minister Julie James told the Senedd she wouldn’t describe that situation as a loophole. 

However, Ms James disclosed the Welsh Government was considering a range of measures to thwart those registering their second homes as a business. Among the measures it is considering is doubling (at least) the number of nights for which a property is let to permit its owners to register it as a business.

The Minister added that Swansea was actively considering imposing the maximum 200% Council Tax premium. She added that work was ongoing to prevent the sale for use as second homes or holiday lets of properties built with the benefit of public funding support.

Speaking at Cabinet on Monday, February 15, David Lloyd said he was greatly encouraged that work was already underway looking at this issue.

“If we are to protect our communities and keep them cohesive, we have got to take radical action”, Cllr Lloyd added.

Cabinet member for Housing, Cllr Michelle Bateman, said that the situation had been brought into sharper focus since November and that they had seen the impact that covid-19 has had on house prices.

She added that work is ongoing but added that it was good to have it out in public’.

Cllr Jon Harvey said it was essential in the context of many areas in Pembrokeshire and said, setting up a task and finish group would be a ‘good move’.

He added that there was also an opportunity to lobby the Welsh Government over the use-classes order whereby houses could be listed as a primary or secondary residence.

Finance cabinet member Cllr Bob Kilmister added that there was a possibility of increasing second homes council tax which could bring extra support.

“We do have a major crisis for people in the coastal communities, and it is incumbent on us to find a way around this”, he said. “Housing is the most important issue there is in many respects because if you haven’t got a decent home, you haven’t got a start in life.”

Cllr Cris Tomos highlighted that a speaker at the last council meeting had said how concerned they were that rural and coastal communities were seeing more and more second homes.

He added: “The whole composition of communities is changing as less and less local people have houses, so then the whole resilience and composition of communities are changing. So we must have houses for local people so communities can thrive.”

The Cabinet unanimously supported the strategy.

The Leader, Cllr David Simpson, added that Cllr Lloyd could see that Cabinet was fully behind what he is trying to do and said they would move forward in a way that would benefit all of Pembrokeshire.

Cllr Lloyd concluded that the ongoing work confirmed the talent the council has got to deliver this project.

The Cabinet hopes the strategy will be ready for publication by September 2021.

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Crime Commissioner continues to secure funding for organisations that support victims of domestic and sexual violence

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THE POLICE and Crime Commissioner for Dyfed-Powys Police is again making the offer for organisations that support victims of domestic and sexual abuse to bid for additional funds.

Funding was made available last year, in light of the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on organisations supporting victims of domestic and sexual violence.

It was part of a £76 million package of support made available by the UK Government.

Police and Crime Commissioner Dafydd Llywelyn said: “Thanks to this additional funding, we can ensure that victims and survivors of domestic abuse and sexual violence in Dyfed-Powys can access specialist services for support, at a time when they are needed the most.

“Unfortunately, we have seen a rise in domestic violence during the pandemic and victims need help now more than ever and I am grateful for the work of all the service providers across the Force area that help these men, women and families who are most in need.

“I want to reassure anyone who is in an abusive situation or relationship that you do not need to suffer in silence, and I urge anyone to report abuse to the Police on 101 or 999 in an emergency.

“This funding is open both to providers whom I currently commission and those that I do not currently fund. However, unlike the extraordinary Covid-19 funding provided in 2020/21, organisations do not need to be a registered charity, a charitable incorporated organisation, or a social enterprise to be eligible for this funding. They must, however, provide support services which have the purpose of helping victims of sexual violence or domestic abuse cope with the impacts of crime and, as far as possible, recover from the harm they have experienced. We would also encourage applications from small specialist organisations that support groups with protected characteristics.

“If you wish to submit a request for this funding, further guidance is available on my website, and can be requested via the office e-mail address.”

Closing date for submissions is close of play on Friday, March 12, 2021.

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Covid alert level lowered for whole of UK

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THE COVID alert level for all four nations of the United Kingdom has been lowered to alert level 4.

The decision comes following advice from the Joint Biosecurity Centre and in light of the most recent data.

In recent weeks, the R-rate and the number of covid cases has been on the decline.

Chief Medical Officer for Wales, Dr Frank Atherton said: “Following advice from the Joint Biosecurity Centre and in the light of the most recent data, the four UK Chief Medical Officers and NHS England National Medical Director agree that the UK alert level should move from level 5 to level 4 in all four nations.

“The health services across the four nations remain under significant pressure with a high number of patients in hospital, however thanks to the efforts of public we are now seeing numbers consistently declining, and the threat of the NHS and other health services being overwhelmed within 21 days has receded.

“We should be under no illusions – transmission rates, hospital pressures and deaths are still very high. In time, the vaccines will have a major impact and we encourage everyone to get vaccinated when they receive the offer. However for the time being it is really important that we all – vaccinated or not – remain vigilant and continue to follow the guidelines.

“We know how difficult the situation has been and remains to be for healthcare workers, we thank them for their immense effort, skill and professionalism throughout the pandemic.”

Under the Welsh Government’s Alert level 4 restrictions, schools and colleges, places of worship, community centres, playgrounds and public parks are among those that can be opened.

Theatres, entertainment venues, leisure facilities and outdoor visitors attractions are among the places that must remain close while the country is in Alert Level 4.

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Postmaster and politicians welcome Goodwick cash machine U-turn

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GOODWICK post office will now be keeping its ATM, after a U-turn by Post Office Ltd.

The machine was due to be removed within months with the post master, Jon Moverley saying that it would be a disaster for the village.

If the ATM had been removed, there would have been just two 24-hour ATMs serving the whole of Fishguard and Goodwick in the short term and three when the Co-op renovations are completed.

Both politicians and local residents then got behind the campaign to keep the ATM

Pembrokeshire politicians Paul Davies and Stephen Crabb have welcomed the news that Goodwick post office is now set to keep its ATM facility. Following representations made by both politicians to the Post Office, it’s now been confirmed that Goodwick Post Office will be included in the rollout of ATM machines across the post office network.

Mr Davies said “This is really welcome news. I’m pleased that the Post Office has listened to the representations made by the local community and decided to retain the ATM at Goodwick post office. The facility is so important for local people and businesses and it’s great that that’s been recognised and the Post Office has committed to keeping it.”

Following the Post Office’s decision to invest in Goodwick’s ATM rather than remove it, Stephen Crabb MP, who campaigned for the ATM to stay, commented: “It’s great news that the Post Office has overturned its own decision and will be keeping an ATM machine in Goodwick.

“Access to cash continues to be incredibly important for a number of people and businesses and I’m pleased to have played my part in working with John from the Post Office in Goodwick, Paul Davies MS and the wider community to highlight the ATMs importance to the area. It shows what can be achieved when we work together.”

The postmaster described the news as ‘brilliant’. Mr Moverley thanked supporters.

He said “Many thanks to all of you who have used the machine and complained to POL about the removal. We were also supported by our MP, MS and mayor, the National Federation of Sub-postmasters and our Chamber of Trade.

“Everyone did their bit, and it says an enormous amount about the strength of the community.

“We are delighted that locals and so many other people have come together to save this essential facility in the village.”

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