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Council will use reserves for road

Carmarthenshire West Development.
Carmarthenshire West Development.
Carmarthenshire West Development.

C A R M A R T H E N S H I R E COUNTY COUNCIL’s executive board could spend at least £4.5m of its reserves on constructing a link road for a speculative property development. The controversial housing development, to be situated West of Carmarthen and south of Pentremeurig Road, is beset by a number of logistical and environmental problems. The use of council reserves for the scheme, so soon after the budget row, has significant political implications. The council appears to be helping out private business interests while slashing services for the elderly and families. The plans were forced through by the council in the teeth of opposition from Carmarthen’s own Town Council, Dŵr Cymru, and neighbouring property owners. The Welsh Government’s Traffic Division has also expressed concerns about the development. In addition, the impact on Welsh language and culture was glossed by the authority’s planning committee when it considered the application.

The executive board’s willingness to consider dipping into council reserves to bankroll a project undertaken by a private company is in stark contrast to the stance it has taken on using reserves to cushion the blow of savage cuts to council services. At last month’s budget meeting, the Labour/Independent governing group voted down proposals to shield the most vulnerable from the effects of service cuts by using the council’s reserves, which are in excess of £130m. In addition, the Labour group – which is in coalition with Independents on the council – shows very little sign of delivering the expansion in social housing it promised to deliver in 2012. The Herald understands that primary access to the new development would be provided by the West Carmarthen Link Road. The road, which will consist of a two lane single carriageway road, will cross and link both development parcels on its route between the A40 Travellers Rest Junction and Jobs Well Road and College Road.

The new link road is needed to alleviate the strain placed on the existing road infrastructure. The cost of building the link road was intended to be funded by a roof tax (£12,500 per house) as the development went along. One of the first phases of development recently came before the planning committee. However, a last minute intervention from Cardiff Bay which put the initial stage on hold. Both the council and the developer appear to have adopted the surprising position that building 250 houses without the link road in place would not add significantly to traffic flows around the problematic College Road and Jobswell Road junctions. That position is flatly contradicted by the content of the Council’s own report on the original application, which states: ’The Head of Transport has raised no objection to the application, subject to the imposition of suitable conditions. These include amongst others the requirement that no more than 100 dwellings are constructed on the site PRIOR to the completion of the link road’. The Welsh Government has now placed a condition that only 60 houses can be built before the link road is put in. In order to retrieve the situation, Carmarthenshire planners are faced with Hobson’s choice of recouping the money shelled out from reserves in order to facilitate the development company’s preferred plan of construction.

Quite where this would leave the planned recoupment of the expense of building the road via the ‘roof tax’ is unclear, not least as part of the conditions for the construction of the new development include onerous obligations in relation to funding drainage and water for the homes on the site and preserving Tawelan Brook – a conservation area. In relation to the former, with Dŵr Cymru stating its infrastructure would not support the increased sewage and drainage flow, it is certain that an English water company will step in to the breach. The company behind the development, Carmarthen Promotions Ltd, is listed as having five directors. All of its directors appear to be involved in a number of property companies with minimal assets or cash flow recorded at Companies House. Four of the five listed directors appear to be concerned in substantial farming limited liability partnerships. All seem to be based in East Anglia and all were appointed directors in September 2014. As the development is a private one, the open market will determine price. It is, therefore, uncertain what effective steps the Council could take to recover the money spent on the link road in the event that the development does not proceed on the planned scale, or if issues arise with the development’s commercial viability at a later stage.