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Second home ruling sees Pembrokeshire council tax arrears rise to nearly £9m



PEMBROKESHIRE is facing nearly £9m in council tax arrears, in part due to an “unprecedented bloc” of some 90 homes unable to meet the 182-day holiday letting guidelines, leaving their owners liable for second homes premium rates.

Pembrokeshire had been operating a 100 per cent council tax premium for second homes, effectively a double rate.

However, in December councillors backed a 200 per cent council tax premium, effectively a treble rate, for second homes.

Properties used as holiday lets were exempt from the premium if they could be let over a number of days per year, which has risen to 182, up from a previous 70.

Since the premium rise, effective from the start of this financial year, second home-owners have been faced with hefty council tax bills, as much as £15,000 in some cases.

A call for information related to the premium was heard at the May 9 meeting of Pembrokeshire County Council.

Martletwy county councillor, and Conservative group leader of the council, Cllr Di Clements will ask: “Can the Cabinet member for Finance [Cllr Alec Cormack] please provide me with the number of properties that have applied for a council tax exemption since the delivery of this year’s council tax bill?

“This should be split out by properties that were charged a second homes premium and properties which were not charged a second homes premium.”

Cllr Cormack responded by saying there were seven classes of “exception rather than exemption” from the premium, with five static and two with changed figures.

Of those two changed, he said Class 1, properties currently for sale, had seen a rise from 34 on March 1, to 81 on May 1.

The second exception, Class 6, properties which had a planning condition restricting occupancy leading to an exception in the premium, had seen a rise from 402 to 417 during the same period.

He said figures were now being recorded monthly to provide feedback on the Welsh Government 182-day lettings rule.

A similar pair of questions were raised later by Cllr Clements.

“Can the Cabinet member for Finance provide me with the current number of properties in council tax arrears and the total figure of such arrears?

“What were the above figures a year ago, and what are the estimated figures a year from now?”

Cllr Cormack responded, saying the March 2023 figures were 9,458, with 9,860 as of March 31 of this year.

He said provisional council arrears were £8.819m for 2023-24, compared with £7.175m for 2022-’23.

“The past history is there’s been significant figures downwards; a significant element in the increase is due to the approximately 90 properties which the valuation officer agency moved from non-domestic rates to council tax, an unprecedented bloc, these people move into council tax by virtue of in the previous 12 months they haven’t done 182 days in the previous year; so the they immediately become in arrears for a whole year’s council tax and the council tax premium.”

Cllr Clements, in a supplementary question, said: “I’ve been contacted by people who have £7,000 to £15,000 council tax bills; that’s a huge amount of money for them to find, so how can you help these people? What have you put in place to help these people manage that debt? Many out there are panicking, quite reasonably.”

Cllr Cormack responded, saying anyone in such a situation should contact the revenues and benefits team, which was reaching payments plans for such circumstances.

“They are talking to people; they are reaching payment plans with individuals who have had a large bill appear.

“Talk to the team and they will see what they can do. I know the team is dealing with a much larger number of enquiries.”

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Pembrokeshire farm tent camping site plans backed



Plans to expand a tent site at a Pembrokeshire farm which has diversified into tourism since the 1980s have been backed by councillors.

In an application before Pembrokeshire County Council’s May meeting of its planning committee, Mr and Mrs James sought permission to expand a tent site at South Cockett Caravan and Tent Site, Broadway, Broadhaven.

The application included a number of enhancements which would improve its visual appearance.

The Council Landscape Officer has raised no objection, advising that the additional hedgebank is to be encouraged.

Speaking at the meeting, agent Andrew Vaughan-Harris said three generations of the James family had been farming some 140 acres, in a mix of sheep, beef and cattle, and now had 70 touring caravan pitches on-site after diversifying in the 1980s.

“It’s a good news story over the last 30 years, it’s now up to 50 per cent of their income,” he told planners, adding the applicants had invested £180,000 on-site in the last couple of years.

“They still want to have a site for tents, now we have the application in front of us for a further field,” he added.

He finished: “This is helping sustainable farming; it is creating jobs.”

Members of the committee unanimously backed a recommendation to approve the scheme.

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General Election: Pembrokeshire and Ceredigion hopefuls for new seats



WITH a July 4 date announced for the General Election, confirmed candidates for the two new seats in Pembrokeshire and Ceredigion will be gearing up their campaigns.

As part of constituency changes, Pembrokeshire’s current seats of Preseli Pembrokeshire and Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire have changed.

As part of the changes, parts of north Pembrokeshire – including St Davids – are joining the new Mid and South Pembrokeshire constituency, which will replace the Pembrokeshire parts of the current Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire.

The north of the county will be part of a new Ceredigion Preseli constituency joining parts of north Pembrokeshire – including Crymych and Maenclochog – with Ceredigion.

Current hopefuls for the Mid and South Pembrokeshire seat are Welsh Liberal Democrat Alistair Cameron, with Stephen Crabb for the Conservatives and Henry Tufnell for Labour.

Candidates confirmed to date in the neighbouring constituency of Ceredigion Preseli are Ben Lake for Plaid Cymru, Liberal Democrat Mark Williams, a former MP for Ceredigion, and Welsh Labour’s Jackie Jones, and  Conservative candidate Aled Thomas.

The constituancy changes follow a Westminster vote to cut the number of Welsh MPs from 40 to 32; each constituency  must contain between 69,724 and 77,062 voters, with the exception of Ynys Mon.

The new Ceredigion Preseli constituency has a road distance of nearly 75 miles from the extreme north to southwest of the new constituency.

The Boundary Commission for Wales made minor changes to previous proposals, removing St Davids, Solva and Letterston from the proposed Ceredigion Preseli constituency and including the Maenclochog ward instead.

Mid and south Pembrokeshire, under the changes, will have the largest number of electors of any of the constituencies in Wales, at 76,820.

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Sunak calls summer General Election – we vote on July 4



THE UK goes to the polls on Thursday, July 4.

The Prime Minister announced the general election date in a sodden Downing Street at 5pm on Wednesday, May 22.

As the rain fell and “Things Can Only Get Better” blared over a nearby sound system, Mr Sunak set out his party’s key attack lines.

The Prime Minister attacked Labour for lacking a plan and Sir Kier Starmer for lacking principles.
Mr Sunak urged citizens to stay the course and trust his government to deliver stability and improvements.

The Prime Minister offered nothing new or inspirational, missing the chance to set a positive mood for the General Election campaign.

If one could detect a theme in the PM’s delivery, it appeared to be: “Things are going pretty badly; don’t let Labour ruin it”.

The weather matched the mood of the PM’s speech: wet. When Mr Sunak finished his speech and walked back into Number Ten, he was drenched.

Talking heads, the usual suspects, and the commentariat are already in overdrive.
Look! See! Scandal! Shock!

While the UK parties get ready for battle across key marginal seats and try grabbing headlines and favourable coverage, it’ll be easy to forget the importance of local issues in a General Election campaign.
There are three seats in South West Wales, all redrawn or renamed.

The key battlegrounds for Herald readers are Carmarthenshire, Ceredigion and Preseli Pembrokeshire, and Mid & South Pembrokeshire.

At the last UK General Election in 2019, Pembrokeshire’s working-class voters abandoned Labour. Our County returned two Conservative MPs. In 2021, our County returned two Conservative MSs. At the Council elections a year later, the Conservative vote held up even as it went into shrank drastically elsewhere.

It would not be surprising if Labour’s performance in West Wales were worse than in the rest of the country.

As at previous elections, Labour candidates in West Wales must overcome the Welsh Government’s reeking and widespread unpopularity.

Twenty-five years of devolution has delivered nebulous benefits for the Welsh people.

A quarter of a century of “the Welsh difference” has made little or no difference to Wales’s people.

Banging on about crises in education, transport, public services, housing, and the NHS could be fruitful in England. It would be astonishing if it weren’t. However, Labour is hamstrung by being responsible for those policy areas and their appalling condition in Wales.

Labour in Wales can’t rely on claiming things are much worse over the Severn Bridge any more than the Welsh Conservatives can claim they’re much better.
Unable to campaign on its record in the Welsh Government, Labour will have to fight on a broader battleground:

  • The cost-of-living crisis.
  • The feeling that fourteen years of a Conservative government in Westminster have not improved Welsh voters’ lives.
  • Pressing the case that the time has come for change.

As for Wales’s other political parties, the Liberal Democrats are nowhere, the Greens will take any protest votes on the left from those who confuse activism and virtue-signalling with politics, and Reform will take any protest votes on the right from those who think “Two World Wars and One World Cup” is a programme for government.

Plaid Cymru faces different problems, not least because it comprises several factions that loathe each other more than they dislike other parties.

A good night for Plaid Cymru would be three seats won. A great night would be four seats won. There are, however, thirty-two Welsh constituencies. Do the maths.

Plaid Cymru—like the SNP or DUP—could have considerable leverage in a hung parliament or a parliament where the governing party has a small majority. The problem is Plaid chaining itself to the

Labour Government in Wales. “Vote Plaid, Get Labour” could switch off voters Plaid must win over, whether or not Leanne Wood wants them.

Plaid would be functionally irrelevant in a parliament with a large Labour majority. They would have no more say than an independent MP or the departing Green Party MP, Caroline Lucas.
In addition, fewer seats in Wales (down to 32 from 40) will almost certainly mean fewer Plaid MPs. The tiny seats in North West Wales that Plaid usually won are gone, merged with other constituencies. Ceredigion has merged with Preseli Pembrokeshire. Carmarthenshire’s new seat boundaries exclude some strong Plaid-voting areas, and the local party is divided.
Despite New Labour’s anthem, “Things Can Only Get Better,” being played over Rishi Sunak’s speech on Wednesday, Sir Kier Starmer has not tapped into the public mood like Tony Blair did.
So far, Labour’s messaging offers only vague hope of undefined improvements.
Anyone for “Stuck in the Middle with You”?
It might be enough.

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