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Badger has a busman’s holiday

BADGER spent last week in Ceredigion.

It rained.

In between the rain, it drizzled.

In between the drizzle, it widdled it down.

It’s not for nothing that the Welsh word for July means ‘the end of summer’.

Badger did not expect autumn to start promptly on the first of the month, however.

The screams of the locals when the sun came out for a brief period on Thursday and their desperate hunts for virgins to pile into soggy wicker men atop various hillsides suggest ‘the old ways’ still prevail in our northern neighbour.

One of the old ways popular in rural Wales has now come back to bite those councils and councillors complaining about the impact of second homes on West Wales’s counties.

Travelling around Ceredigion, much the same as he has travelled across most of West Wales spreading love and tuberculosis in cattle as he went, Badger espied some exciting examples of planning practices.

Ceredigion’s Planning Committee has always had the reputation of being straight out of the Wild Wild West. No application is too loopy, no building scheme too hideous, no idiocy too great that the fine men (and almost exclusively men) on Ceredigion’s Planning Committee haven’t allowed it to go ahead.

Badger plucks one fine example of Ceredigion-think for the Pembrokeshire public’s bemusement and edification.

Not far from Aberystwyth is Cwm Rheidol. Set in a river valley, it is home to a small reservoir and hydroelectric plant and little else but isolated farms with many cattle and a few horses surrounded by deeply wooded valley walls.

Across a shelf cut into the valley’s southern side runs the Vale of Rheidol Railway that chuffs up to Devil’s Bridge and back between April and October. Heading north up the valley, the road heads into Wales’s Great Green Desert, emerging somewhere near Bwlch Nant Arian.

On a sunny day, it’s a little piece of heaven.

What, you might wonder, does this have to do with the Planning Committee?

Well, readers, as you head out of Capel Bangor and turn down the Rheidol Valley, you can’t help noticing a series of architectural boils festering on the landscape. They’re not only out of place in a sensitive rural landscape, but they’d also be out of place anywhere.

In a separate incident a few years back, an applicant stuck in a proposal for planning permission for a detached dwelling in open countryside outside the settlement boundary of the LDP. This was designed as the applicant’s home. It would not be an extension to an existing building or create any jobs as a rural enterprise.

Outside a settlement boundary. No existing building. No rural enterprise. In the open countryside.
Four big lemons in a row and the Planning Officers recommended refusal.

However, the Planning Committee approved the plans on the principle that an S4C broadcaster’s presence in the area would boost the Council’s Welsh Language policy and contribute to the Welsh Language’s promotion.

With champions like those, Wales’s Welsh-speaking rural communities need no more enemies.

No blame attaches to the applicant. As an example of one-eyed prejudice, and don’t get Badger even started on what happened to the Breckman family in Carmarthenshire, you’d go a long way to find a better way of shooting yourself in the foot.

But there’s more than that, readers.

As you drive through rural Wales and let’s start in Hundleton – as good a place as any – every spare space is rammed with cookie-cutter houses that are about as incongruous as a giant wart would be on Angelina Jolie’s nose.

Most – if not all – of those new homes are way out of the reach of local first-time buyers on median incomes.

Let’s head on, dear readers, beyond the architectural horrors inflicted on Broad Haven North, and up to St Davids, where vile, system built, new houses start at £300,000.

To whom are those properties being sold?

To Tina and Jordan, who have three part-time jobs working at local hotels and tourist attractions between them?

Or to Theo and Mags busily diversifying their property portfolio from their base in Bath?

Wind on up the A road heading east and north, and there’s Newport – a welcoming place, replete with signs reading ‘Middle classes only permitted beyond this point’ and ‘Poor people, know your place!’
Let’s head beyond Pembrokeshire and into Ceredigion.

Pleasant villages made up of traditional stone-built cottages jumbled in with the same hideous red brick monstrosities designed to uncomfortably house a family of four or provide a comfortable income stream for Theo and Mags, busily diversifying their property portfolio from their base in Bath.

The area around Bow Street, a small commuter village near Aberystwyth, is an interesting case in point.
Dismal social housing, old-fashioned council houses, and stout traditional stone buildings vie with nice bungalows and a series of appallingly out of place housing developments priced way out of locals’ means.

From the window of Badger’s holiday lodgings, he could see three buildings and one housing estate, the justification for which you’d hope was bribery and corruption.

The alternative is just too horrible to contemplate; planning officers and councillors thought the design and build of those excremental buildings was the right thing to do.

He could also see at least four holiday camps and knows of another dozen within four miles’ radius.
Look at Tenby, readers, and specifically the area around Penally – you’ll see much the same.

And here’s the thing: nobody held a gun to Planning Committees’ collective heads and forced them to allow those sorts of developments.

Don Vito ap Gruffydd didn’t have a horse’s head placed in the Head of Planning’s bed to chivvy him along.

Planning and Development Committees’ members are not idiots, although some behave idiotically.
They’ve seen enough artists’ impressions of developments and their physical reality after their construction to spot a pig in a poke – or should do by now.

Nobody forced Planning and Development Committee Members or Planning Officers to allow unaffordable housing and holiday camps to be built in rural and coastal Wales.

Those decisions were made voluntarily by members of the same councils and planning authorities that are now wringing their hands in dismay at the consequences of their own actions.

All this ‘Oh woe is me!’ stuff from councillors and Senedd Members who were formerly councillors about the plight of rural Wales and the number of second homes and holiday lets is so much rank hypocrisy of the worst sort.

And those councils wailing the loudest and hardest – Carmarthenshire, Ceredigion, Gwynedd – are under the control of Plaid Cymru or have had substantial Plaid Cymru presence for years.

And they’ve done nothing but make a bad situation even worse.

If you’re looking for Wales’s real housing scandal, start there.