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Questions raised over Brynmefys plans

“Mynnwch eich bod yn cael gwasanaethau Cymraeg”: Meri Huws.

A WELSH ASSEMBLY member has slammed Carmarthenshire County Council over the derelict housing at Brynmefys, on the outskirts of Llanelli.Brynmefys

Suzy Davies was in the area campaigning with Conservative candidate Selaine Saxby when she decided to visit her grandparents’ former home on the estate.

However, she was unprepared for the large number of derelict properties that greeted her: “It is so sad to come back to somewhere that holds such fond memories to find that in a time where houses are so in demand these properties have been allowed to deteriorate in this manner,” Ms Davies said.

“The Welsh Labour Government in Cardiff has not met its own house-building target. But if this is the kind of support it gets from Carmarthenshire Council, it’s hardly surprising.”

Ms Saxby, who accompanied Ms Davies on the visit said: “It is particularly shocking that three families are still living on the road – what is being done to resolve this situation by Carmarthenshire Council – and how has it been able to continue for so long without action being taken by the current MP?”

We asked Labour’s Nia Griffith for her views on this: “I raised concerns about Brynmefys with Carmarthenshire County Council some time ago,” she said.

In a council meeting on April 15, Council Leader Kevin Madge claimed that the council had a ‘ten year housing plan’. However, with regard to Brynmefys, it is unclear whether this is a new policy, or a continuation of the ideas that have been kicking around for at least the past fifteen years.

The Herald has unearthed plans dating back to 2001 for what is described as ‘improved development of newly built houses at Brynmefys providing better mix of house type… We are looking to partner with a housing developer to provide houses for sale on the land freed up by the development. This should reduce the authorities’ scheme costs by providing an element of cross-subsidy for the land released to the developer’.

With match-funding, this would have been a £1.4m development. However, it appears that no developers were willing to step forward, and in spite of the project being classified as Category 1 – the highest priority – nothing happened except for the further deterioration of the existing properties.

Moving forward to 2005, Carmarthenshire County Council’s Empty Homes Policy attempted to tackle the problem.

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Under the section title ‘Selling land where there is no purpose holding on to it,’ the document advised: ‘Redevelopment of the Brynmefys estate, Llanelli by working with a developer to provide at least 80 affordable homes with different types of tenancy.’ This work was due to be completed by April 2007.

A planning application by Gwalia CYF to build 103 affordable dwellings on the site was withdrawn in 2010.

Further reference to the estate’s future was mentioned in a CHS business plan from December 2013, which proposed that ‘Brynmefys is opened up for an ‘ideas’ process. It is not felt that the location of Brynmefys is suited for the development of council housing only.

People First candidate Sian Caiach spoke to the Herald regarding the council’s plans. She told us that the estate had been allowed to become run-down, and had not been considered for modernisation or rebuilding, as many similarly dilapidated areas had.

“I suspect that the County Council would like to sell the land as a cleaned-up Brown-Fields site but I’m not sure how this could happen,” she said, citing a recent example in the area where a development failed to gain planning consent due to sewerage and drainage issues.

Ms Caiach also informed us that during a special meeting of Llanelli Rural Council held recently, a County Council representative tried to gain consent for the demolition of a community hall on the site, which had been mothballed since the planned sale of the land in the early 2000s.

“The idea was that a public building on the site would reduce the value of the land to developers,” she said, adding that the representative had told them that the hall ‘spoiled the view from the entrance of the estate’.

Llanelli Rural Council believed that they have a significant say in the future of the community hall, and had expressed an interest in taking it on for a ‘peppercorn’ rent. Due to the location of Brynmefys, and neighbouring villages, it could be argued that there is an existing need for a social nexus regardless of any further development in the area.

Regarding future plans for the site, Ms Caiach told us that the County Council had been ‘vague’ about whether the development would incorporate a mixture of private and social housing or not: “We didn’t get any details, just that they were thinking about selling the land to a developer. Personally, I think it would just be a housing development,” she added.

In terms of reasons why a buyer for the land could be difficult to find, she gave the same reason that the council had for trying to sell in the first place. “People aren’t keen on living up there – you need your own transport.”

We contacted Carmarthenshire County Council to ask what their plans for the site were, and to explain the delay in replacing housing stock in an area that two years ago had 6000 people on the waiting list for social housing.

Housing Services Manager Jonathan Morgan said: “For a variety of reasons, including the economic downturn, we were unable to deliver our previous plans for Brynmefys, however we are finalising draft development plans for the site, which we hope to progress very soon. A number of ecological issues, now resolved, also prevented our plans to demolish the site. We have worked closely with the small number of owner occupiers on the site to offer them options, and will continue to liaise closely with owners remaining at the site.”

In terms of providing affordable and social housing, Carmarthenshire County Council is ranked 21st out of 22 local authorities in Wales.