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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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Join the Dyfed-Powys Police and Crime Panel as an independent member

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THE Dyfed Powys Police and Crime Panel is looking for two members to join them in their work to support and challenge the Dyfed Powys Police and Crime Commissioner.

The Panel is made of up of members nominated by Carmarthenshire, Ceredigion, Pembrokeshire and Powys county councils along with at least two independent members.

Opportunities have now arisen for two independent members to join the Panel and carry out key statutory roles that will support the Commissioner exercise his role effectively.

Members will be expected to attend and take part in regular meetings and take part in decision making, creating reports and making recommendations to the Commissioner.

They will review the Commissioner’s annual draft Police and Crime Plan and annual draft budget, review and scrutinise his decisions and actions, and if necessary review the proposed appointment or removal of the Chief Constable and other senior police force appointments.

Applicants will need to demonstrate that they can take a balanced and objective approach in supporting the Panel and the Commissioner, make strategic and well-informed decisions, and interpret and question financial, statistical and performance related information.

They will also need to be able to act as a ‘critical friend’, challenging views or proposals for change constructively.

Applications close on May 31, and appointments to the Panel will be made until October 31, 2024. 

For further information, visit www.dppoliceandcrimepanel.wales

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Successful Fire Service and Health Board partnership to enhance COVID-19 vaccine roll out comes to end

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TUESDAY 11 May 2021 marked the end of a hugely successful partnership between Mid and West Wales Fire and Rescue Service and Hywel Dda University Health Board, initiated to enhance the roll out of the COVID-19 vaccine to the communities of Carmarthenshire, Ceredigion and Pembrokeshire.

Since February, Community Safety Staff from Mid and West Wales Fire and Rescue Service have transported 125 passengers over 9450 miles to ensure they were able to receive their COVID-19 vaccination.

Chris Davies, Chief Fire Officer for Mid and West Wales Fire and Rescue Service said: “Recognising the configuration of our Service, the areas we cover and indeed the people we employee, this seemed an ideal opportunity for us to widen our response to the pandemic and support our partners in safeguarding our communities.

“Whilst we already collaborate with the Welsh Ambulance Service Trust, this opportunity enabled us to expand our assistance further within the health arena. This partnership with Hywel Dda University Health Board was the first of its kind for Fire and Rescue Services in Wales and paved the way for a number of similar partnerships for us and the other Fire and Rescue Services in Wales.

“I am extremely proud of our staff who have participated in this collaboration and have made a huge difference to the lives of so many people. Their contribution has without doubt had a positive impact on our response to this global pandemic”.

Mydrian Harries, Corporate Head of Prevention and Protection for Mid and West Wales Fire and Rescue Service, coordinated the Service’s response to this call for assistance.

“Our communities are at the heart of our core business. Knowing we were in a position to make an impact, we put in place a robust solution in record time, to not only ensure the safety and wellbeing of our staff, but to also safeguard those who were eligible for the COVID-19 vaccination, but may have had barriers preventing them from attending their appointments.

“Using this partnership as template within which we could expand, we have since been able to offer our assistance to other Health Boards across the Service area. Indeed, a group of 10 vaccine heroes from our Service have joined Powys Teaching Health Board’s vaccination team, playing their part in distributing vaccines at mass vaccination sites in Newtown and Builth Wells. This is another fantastic example of how working together has been vital in our ongoing response to the COVID-19 pandemic.”

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Brand new features unveiled at Scolton Manor Park

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ONE of Pembrokeshire’s best-loved family destinations has announced it will be unveiling several new attractions in June, ready for the summer holidays.  

Among the new features at Scolton Manor are an eco-explorer village, a 1.2km woodland cycle track, an outdoor pirate ship play area and a dedicated railway attraction complete with steam train locomotive ‘Margaret’ and ‘Scolton Express’ play train.

Mark Thomas, manager of Scolton Manor Park, said the team were looking forward to showing visitors the new attractions.

“We’re delighted with our new facilities and believe they will perfectly complement the attractions we have here already at Scolton,” he said.

The woodland eco-explorer village aims to give children more opportunities for outside play and spark their enthusiasm to discover more about the natural world.  

Cllr Paul Miller, Cabinet Member for Economy, Tourism, Culture and Leisure, said the village is perfect for all young explorers from toddlers right through to older children.

“Children love playing outside and we want to inspire them through their play to not only find out more about biodiversity and the environment but also how to care for it,” he said.

“As well as eco-explorer areas, games and activities there will be fun tips on how they can reuse, reduce and recycle more and protect the environment.”

The eco-explorer village is funded by a £50,000 grant from the Landfill Disposals Tax Community Scheme and £25,000 grant from Community Facilities Programme (Welsh Government), in partnership with the Pembrokeshire Beekeepers’ Association.

Mark Thomas said the current attractions at Scolton have also proved very popular since the outdoor areas at the park re-opened to the public earlier this spring.

As well as an adventure play area for older children which includes a 30-metre zip wire, a spinning climbing web and ‘super swings’,  younger visitors can enjoy the wooden playground, sensory musical play area and woodland play features.

“The many and varied attractions at Scolton enhance its role as a community facility while providing a wide range of countryside experiences at a lower cost,” said Mark.

“The new features in particular will also help to continue the development of the site into a must-visit tourist attraction within mid and North Pembrokeshire.”

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