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Wales’ housing crisis pushing families into ‘despair’



WALES faces a housing crisis that is pushing families into absolute despair and leaving children traumatised, the Senedd heard.

Janet Finch-Saunders led a Conservative debate, warning that only 5,787 new homes were completed in 2022-23 – one of the lowest numbers since records began.

The Tories’ shadow housing minister said someone on the average salary would have to spend more than seven times their earnings for an average-priced home at £212,000.

She raised concerns about a rapid increase in demand in the rental market, saying supply has failed to keep up due to Welsh Government reforms of the sector.

Ms Finch-Saunders told the chamber that homelessness has hit record levels, with the number of children in temporary housing reaching more than 3,000 in February 2023.

She added that about 90,000 households are on the social housing waiting list.

“Those figures are unsustainable,” she said. “The cost to mental health and wellbeing is serious. The impact on the lives of many families and children is one of absolute despair.”

Ms Finch-Saunders said a family in temporary accommodation told her: “My children will always remember this trauma. This is not an environment where my children should live.”

The Aberconwy MS warned that homelessness and spending on poor accommodation has spiralled out of control, with councils spending £60m last year.

She raised the example of people on the housing waiting list in Cardiff sleeping in an old Toys ‘R’ Us building over Christmas

She asked: “How can any of you allow the people of Wales to live like this?”

The former businesswoman called for a taskforce to tackle the backlog in the slowest performing local authorities and a new planning apprentice post for every council.

She urged ministers to tackle the 103,000 vacant homes and support small developers to build houses on land owned by councils or the Welsh Government.

Mabon ap Gwynfor, who is Plaid Cymru’s shadow minister, focused on the interrelated nature of the housing and cost-of-living crises.

He said tens of thousands of people are living in a vicious cycle of housing uncertainty.

Mr Gwynfor told the Senedd: “They are forced to move regularly, they are living in rented accommodation of poor quality, or having to choose between having a roof over their heads or other essentials, such as heating and food.

“This uncertainty and inappropriate housing has a detrimental impact on the physical and mental health of people, which in turn puts huge pressure on the NHS and other budgets.”

The Dwyfor Meirionnydd MS argued the solution is clear: building more social housing at a scale not seen since the 1950s.

He warned that young people will pay the best part of £600,000 at today’s prices for a three-bedroom home over the lifetime of a mortgage.

Mike Hedges, a Labour backbencher, pointed to the potential role of cooperative housing.

He raised the example of Merthyr Valley Homes tenants voting to create the first tenant and employee mutual housing association in Wales.

Mr Hedges said Cwmpas’ Communities Creating Homes programme offers comprehensive free support tailored to each housing scheme.

He told MSs: “The project is expected to lead to a thriving cooperative and community-led housing sector, which is desperately needed.”

The Swansea East MS also raised concerns about empty properties – “a wasted resource in a time of substantial housing demand”.

The former lecturer and council leader called for compulsory purchase powers for councils when a house or flat has been empty for four to five years.

Lee Waters, the deputy minister for climate change, agreed with the Conservatives – at least on the need to build more homes and on some of the barriers.

He said the house building sector has faced significant challenges including supply chain disruption, inflation in material costs, labour shortages after Brexit, and rising interest rates.

Mr Waters accused the UK Government of causing an economic crisis that has made the challenge of building homes all the more difficult.

He stressed that social housing is the Welsh Government’s priority, highlighting the commitment to building 20,000 low-carbon homes in the sector by 2026.

“I believe the case for investing in social housing is as strong as it has ever been,” he said, adding that almost £1.2bn has been allocated to the social housing grant over four years.

He told the chamber £50m has been invested to bring up to 2,000 long-term empty properties back into use, building on the approach in Rhondda Cynon Taf.

The Tory motion was voted down before ministers’ “delete all” amendment was agreed.

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Leading hospitality company Loungers announced for Western Quayside development



PEMBROKESHIRE COUNTY COUNCIL and Loungers, one of the UK’s leading hospitality companies, are pleased to announce they have agreed headline terms for Loungers to become the first tenant of the fantastic Western Quayside development in Haverfordwest.

Loungers intend to occupy the ground floor of the building which is an important element of the Council’s long-term regeneration plan for the County Town. 

Loungers was founded in 2002 and is famous for its family-friendly, welcoming atmosphere, eccentric and spectacular interiors and great food and drink offers.

The company runs Lounge café bars across the UK – including the Cofio Lounge at the Guildhall, Carmarthen – combining elements of coffee shop culture, the British pub and dining. 

Cllr Paul Miller, Pembrokeshire County Council Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member for Place, the Region and Climate Change, said: “I’m really pleased to be in a position to announce the first tenancy for Western Quayside. Loungers shares our ambition and potential for the Western Quayside development in the centre of Haverfordwest.

“Western Quayside will play a key role in improving footfall and vibrancy in Haverfordwest and Loungers fits perfectly into that vision.

“An important part of Loungers’ ethos is the community element of its neighbourhood café bars and commitment to work with local groups, charities, organisations and businesses and we look forward to that continuing in Haverfordwest.

“As a Council we have been clear that we will not just sit back and let our town centres decline and this is an important step forward. 

“We look forward to announcing further tenants in due course and of course to opening Western Quayside later in 2024.”

Gemma Irwin, Community Manager at Loungers, says: “We’re so looking forward to opening our Lounge in Haverfordwest later this year.  We hope our family friendly environment and top-notch food and drink offering will prove popular with local residents. 

“We’re passionate about integrating genuinely into the communities we serve so we’re looking forward to meeting everyone and to playing our part at the heart of Haverfordwest’s food and drink scene.  

“Anyone looking for a space to host events or groups should pop in once we’re open, we’d love to hear from them and see what we can do to help.”

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Oil worker’s dream to be a homeowner shattered by gazumping Council



THOMAS SPIERS, a 55-year-old Operations Coordinator at Puma Oil Terminal and father of three, has been left without his dream home after Pembrokeshire County Council outbid him by £15,000. Mr. Spiers, a long-time resident of Milford Haven, had his heart set on a property at 63 Haven Drive, only to find his efforts thwarted by the council’s late intervention.

Mr. Spiers, who has been privately renting for a decade with aspirations of homeownership, stumbled upon what he believed was the perfect fixer-upper in January through RK. Lukas estate agents. Despite the property’s need for substantial work, he saw potential in the £100,000 ex-council house, which had been on the market for six months with two previous sales falling through. After viewing, Mr. Spiers promptly made an offer of £95,000, which was accepted by the seller.

The joy of this acceptance was short-lived. After proceeding with the necessary legal and financial preparations, including giving notice to his landlord and paying solicitor’s fees for property searches, Mr. Spiers was blindsided. Just days before the scheduled contract exchange, he was informed of a new £110,000 offer from Pembrokeshire County Council, effectively ending his purchase plans.

The council’s bid, coming after a property viewing in October 2023 and amidst a 16% hike in council tax rates, has raised questions about its timing and motives. Mr. Spiers, who found himself in a precarious position with his sons’ housing at stake, reached out to the council and local MP Stephen Crabb, he says only to be met with unfulfilled promises of callbacks and auto-replies.

The situation highlights the challenges faced by private individuals competing in an increasingly difficult housing market. Mr. Spiers voiced his frustrations over what he perceives as an injustice by the council, particularly in light of their late and significantly higher offer. Fortunately, his current landlord has allowed him to remain in his rental for now, stopping him from being made homeless, but leaving him out of pocket by approximately £1,000 in solicitor’s fees.

Stephen Crabb MP told The Herald: “Mr Spiers emailed me on Monday afternoon when I was speaking in the House of Commons chamber. He received the usual auto-reply message to show that his email had been received.

“The auto-reply makes clear that all emails from constituents who request my assistance with a casework problem will receive priority attention, which normally means within a few days. I receive around 200 emails each day and have to prioritise cases according to urgency.

“Whilst I am sorry to hear about the circumstances in which Mr Spiers’ house purchase fell through, there is actually nothing that a Member of Parliament could have done to prevent it.

“This is a private contractual matter and the questions that need to be asked are of Pembrokeshire County Council, and whether they have acted appropriately.

“It would be appropriate for Mr Spiers to contact his County Councillor who will be able to offer support with this.”

Pembrokeshire County Council have been asked to comment.

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New X-ray equipment plan at Tenby Cottage Hospital revealed



X-RAY services at Tenby Cottage Hospital are to receive a major boost thanks to an investment of £625,000 in brand new equipment which is being installed at the Hywel Dda Health Board-run site over the next few weeks.

The equipment, funded by Welsh Government, will allow the unit not only to provide the highest quality images but will also mean patients with reduced mobility or advanced clinical needs can be more easily accommodated.

However, in order to install the new equipment, x-ray services will be temporarily unavailable in Tenby Cottage Hospital until Friday, 19April 2024.

Over the next few weeks, imaging for GP patients will be provided on an appointment only basis at South Pembrokeshire Hospital in Pembroke Dock between 9-5pm.

Patients attending the Minor Injuries walk-in centre can still attend Tenby Cottage Hospital but may be sent to Withybush if an x-ray is required. Alternatively, patients can choose to attend Withybush Emergency Department directly.

John Evans, Pembrokeshire County Director for Hywel Dda said: “We are delighted that Tenby Cottage Hospital will be receiving brand new and up to date x-ray equipment thanks to this investment from Welsh Government.

“We apologise for any inconvenience caused over the short period of time while the equipment is being installed but look forward to providing an improved level of care for Tenby community patients into the future.”

Patients needing further help or information should contact the radiology departments at Withybush Hospital on 01437 773385 or South Pembrokeshire Hospital on 01437 774018.

The health board is reminding people not to attend busy A&E departments unless they have a critical, life-threatening emergency and asking people to choose their healthcare services very carefully, so that only people with urgent or emergency care needs are being seen in A&E. 

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