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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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Cyclist killed on A40 was serving police officer, force confirms

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A CYCLIST who died after a crash with a van on the A40 in Carmarthenshire was a serving police officer with Dyfed-Powys Police, the force has confirmed in a statement to Herald.Wales.

The driver of the van involved in the crash, which happened on Thursday (Feb 25) has been arrested on suspicion of causing death by dangerous driving, it was confirmed on Friday (Feb 26).

Police are investigating the fatal collision, which caused the road to be closed for 12 hours, and are asking for any witnesses to come forward by calling 101.

37-year-old Lynwen Thomas, who is a former student at Ysgol Bro Myrddin, Croes-y-Ceiliog, Carmarthen, was a sergeant and a very well-respected member of Dyfed-Powys Police.

A spokesperson for the police said in a statement: “Our thoughts are with her family, friends and colleagues, who have all been offered specialist support. We ask that family members are given the privacy they need at this difficult time.”

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Pembrokeshire residents urged to take a virtual GP consultation when offered

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PEMBROKESHIRE residents are being urged to take up the offer of a virtual consultation, over the phone or video call with their GP, to help Keep Wales Safe during the current lockdown ‘stay at home’ restrictions.

The way we access local NHS services is changing, with more ways in which you can consult your doctor or nurse. Most surgeries now offer telephone as well as electronic advice consultations in the first instance. Following your advice call, a face to face appointment may be organised, but video consultations are also available. You can now speak to a doctor or healthcare professional using the video camera in your smartphone, tablet or computer and a connection to the internet. This is often more convenient and can save you time, as you will not need to travel for a face-to-face appointment. The system used is confidential and secure.

In a recent YouGov survey carried out for the Welsh Government’s Keep Wales Safe campaign only 27% of residents in Mid and West Wales had made use of the GP virtual service over the past 12 months with just 57% having heard of the service. However, 88% believed it was important to have access to a remote GP consultation once they had learnt of its existence.

Jill Paterson, Director of Primary Care, Community and Long Term Care at Hywel Dda University Health Board, said: “If you are offered a video consultation appointment this is because your Health Care Professional has indicated that is it safe and appropriate to do so. Your video appointment will be confidential and will not be recorded. If you require support please contact your GP surgery using the number provided in the appointment confirmation.”

She continued: “By putting off small problems or regular appointments you could potentially be putting more strain on NHS emergency services so please, help us to help you, do not put anything off. Local GP surgeries are open and are there to offer medical advice and consult patients.”

After being offered a video consultation you will be sent a letter, email or text with details of your appointment. This communication will contain details of the service that has requested to see you by video and have provided a web address link. You can type or copy the web address link into a web browser via an internet enabled device and this will take you to the video clinic waiting area.

  • In order to access your virtual appointment, you will need:
  • Access to a device that will allow you to access the internet. You should use Google Chrome or Microsoft Edge web browser on a desktop or laptop, or on an Android tablet or smartphone or Safari web browser on an Apple iMac, MacBook, iPad, or iPhone.
  • Your device will need a webcam (camera), speakers and microphone.
  • A good internet connection (if you can watch a YouTube video, this is good indication that you have a good connection).
  • An internet usage plan that is sufficient to cover the data consumption of a video call – ideally use a Wi-Fi connection if you have this available.

Sixty two percent of those surveyed by YouGov in Mid and West Wales said they will continue to access NHS services using the new ways that have been introduced as a result of the pandemic. The new methods include making more use of pharmacists; virtual GP consultations and using the NHS 111 online and telephone services.

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‘Cautious optimism’ for county’s tourism sector – but clarity still needed

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‘GIVE us clarity’ is the overriding message from the County’s tourism and hospitality businesses as the sector looks forward with cautious optimism to another busy season.

In a meeting hosted by Preseli Pembrokeshire MP Stephen Crabb, thirty key local businesses were able to share their views with Paul Davies MS, Pembrokeshire County Council, the National Park and Visit Pembrokeshire.

The meeting focussed on the need for business support measures so long as uncertainty remains over the timetable for re-opening the economy in Wales.

Stephen Crabb said: “There is a lot of belief around that this summer will see another ‘staycation’ boom so long as the vaccination programme continues to make good progress and infection rates fall. Pembrokeshire has had a lot of national media coverage in recent months and could experience a bumper season but it’s crucial we get the re-opening right. There is a clear need for some kind of timetable to help businesses prepare appropriately and for clear rules to avoid confusion and contradictory messages.”

Paul Davies said: “It was a pleasure to hear from tourism businesses across Pembrokeshire about some of the challenges that they’re currently facing. The message was pretty clear – they want clarity from the Welsh Government and some timescales by which they can start to plan for reopening. I’ll certainly be taking back the concerns highlighted during the meeting and raising them with Welsh Government Ministers at the Senedd.”

Emma Thornton from Visit Pembrokeshire added: “Great to attend the Hospitality and Tourism Round table event today and to have the opportunity to discuss the ongoing challenges our industry faces over the coming months but also to share a collective optimism for what we believe will be a really strong year for tourism in Pembrokeshire when we are able to reopen and welcome our visitors back.

“Visit Pembrokeshire as the new Destination Management (DMO) for Pembrokeshire will be working closely with local stakeholders and businesses to help realise this opportunity in a sustainable and responsible way mindful of protecting what makes our beautiful county so special”

Stephen Crabb: Wants clarity for tourism businesses

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