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The land and people the council forgot

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Open to the elements: a property left to rot by the Council. Enforcement action would be taken against a private property owner for allowing this - by the Council

Open to the elements: a property left to rot by the Council. Enforcement action would be taken against a
private property owner for allowing this – by the Council

A RUN down council estate in Furnace is to be offered up for sale lock stock and barrel to a commercial developer with a promise of 14 ‘affordable homes’ replacing the 46 which once occupied the site.

However, the council has been accused of abandoning the Brynmefys estate to disrepair and dereliction, affecting the lives of the small number of families who still live there. Council officers have turned a blind eye to illegal tipping on the site for years, while colonies of bats inhabit deserted homes. There is a problem with vermin and the overgrown and crumbling relics of the post war social housing boom are rotting away as the remaining residents watch.

Penyfai Lane is one of the most desirable roads to live on in Llanelli with its outstanding views of the Gower peninsula. A building plot there would set you back a small fortune.

A stone’s throw away from Penyfai Lane is a most desirable plot of land, which happens to be owned – at the moment – by Carmarthenshire County Council.

On a bright July morning I visited Brynmefys with Herald TV’s video crew.

It really looked and felt like the land and people that time and the council had forgot.

If it were not for one of the helpful residents who saw us wandering around the estate who informed us that we were actually on the Brynmefys estate we would have been lost, as no signage indicates the estate’s existence.

We would have asked the council for directions, but there was no telephone box on the estate

Brynmefys has been left to fall into rack and ruin to the point where it is now so overgrown that the remaining resident’s properties have to have a cordon sanitaire cut through weeds and trees which threaten to reach the crest of the chimney pots. Loose tiles threaten to fall onto any children unfortunate enough to be playing in the immaculately kept gardens of the remaining residents homes.

They don’t complain much. They have been living with this neglect for two decades or more. They have become used to clearing their own path up to a point where they literally hit a wall of weeds, which have had absolutely no attention from any of the county council’s departments.

They don’t complain about their requests to the county council to clear up the illegal tip on their estate, which go ignored.

They don’t complain about the way the county council ignores their requests to fix the roof of the local hall, which has now begun to resemble the abandoned homes.

They don’t complain about the huge expense the Council have gone to build a bat house on the estate to try and persuade the bats out of the abandoned homes so that they can get the go ahead to knock them down.

In fact, the residents have become somewhat expert at identifying the different species of bats in the homes.

One resident told me that there are around five colonies of bats and that the homes contain at least one of the rarest bats in the UK. So rare is the Greater Horseshoe bat, in fact, that the species has special protection under UK and EU law.

Many opportunities to maintain and upgrade the estate appear to have gonebegging. Documentationrelating to the estate indicates that grant funding was available to the residents of Brynmefys during the 1980’s when the estate was fully occupied.

Llanelli Borough Council should have offered owners of the homes on the Brynmefys estate 90% grants for three months from April 1984. The former authority did not. Instead, more limited grant support was only made available during the 1990’s.

These Council Tax-paying residents of Carmarthenshire are proud owners of their homes and freeholds.

They have raised their families there and continue to tend their homes and gardens like any homeowner would except that their neighbours are those we would frequently be told on some TV channel are neighbours from hell.

Unlike bats, the residents are not afforded the same protection under local authority powers to do something about homes, which fall into disrepair or are considered a danger or are abandoned.

The irony is that it is the enforcers themselves who are the culprits, the owners of these properties, which are in such an abominable state. Some have suggested that a major developer is interested in taking over the estate and ready to build affordable homes.

There is, however, an elephant in the room every time the developers meet with the landowners.

What to do about the remaining residents.

Looking through the online documents of the County Council it is evident that much time and effort has gone into finding a solution on how to, well to put it politely, ‘get rid of’ the remaining residents.

A modest plot in the Penyfai Lane area might cost you a small fortune but the residents of Brynmefys told The Herald that they have never been offered any more than a paltry amount for their homes from the Council and potential developers.

A report in the local press from 2007 – as usual – swallowed what the council had claimed hook, line, and sinker. At that time, then Head of Housing and Public Protection, Robin Staines, said: “We are fully committed to providing a solution to the Brynmefys estate that will try to help the residents still living there. We also want to ensure that we maximise the receipt from the sale as that this will make a significant contribution to additional affordable housing in the area.”

While the County Council seeks to profit, when residents seek compensation it is another story.

Residents are being penalised for happening to have bought their home on an estate owned by the council, which has systematically run it down to the point where everybody else left.

A vacant site, with infrastructure and services makes for an immensely desirable piece of development land for any property developers lucky enough to be chosen as the preferred contractors by Carmarthenshire County Council.

In the rush for easy cash, Brynmefys’ residents have been forgotten about, neglected and left to rot as much as the abandoned homes the Council own on the estate. They wonder what happened to the council’s duty of care towards them and their families.

In July 2015 Carmarthenshire County Council issued this press release: “A range of affordable homes will be built in Llanelli as part of a development opportunity at the former Brynmefys housing estate in Furnace.

“Carmarthenshire County Council is selling the land on the open market, creating a prime investment opportunity for a housing developer, with good transport links, sea views and a semi-rural location.”

Carmarthenshire County Council’s track record on delivering ‘affordable homes’ is questionable, at best. Large developments’ builders have managed to wriggle out of Section 106 agreements relating to so-called ‘affordable homes’, while very small developments have been held to them.

Developers at Brynmefys can choose from one of three options – to build 14 affordable homes on the site for low cost home ownership as part of their overall scheme; build 14 affordable homes on other Council-owned land elsewhere in Llanelli; or, provide the Council with the equivalent value of 14 affordable homes as an additional receipt, allowing the Council to build its own elsewhere.

The recognition that the Council has abandoned the idea of providing affordable homes of any description at Brynmefys and has tuned in to the potential for flogging a desirable site to a private developer is highlighted by a CHS business plan dating from December 2013.

In July, Cllr Linda Evans, Executive Board Member for Housing, said of the plans to pass the buck for Brynmefys: “This is a significant development opportunity which will provide a mix of new homes in Llanelli, MANY of which will be affordable homes. I have considered these proposals in fine detail, and have decided to offer potential developers three different options – all of which will have a positive outcome for local families taking their first step on the property ladder.”

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’.

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

The plan has evaporated, together with the promise of EIGHTY affordable homes.

Whether 14 affordable homes dotted around the Llanelli locality will ever see the light of day, and even whether 14 qualifies as ‘many’ compared to the promise in 2007 to provide 80, are both open questions.

The same press release claims: ‘The council has, for some time, been working with a small number of homeowners who own properties on the site.

‘Some have taken up the Council’s offer of alternative accommodation, but those remaining will be contacted by the chosen developer who will work with them before the scheme progresses’.

Home owners on the estate have been offered £30,000 to move by the council or 70% mortgages to relocate elsewhere. Quite why the council thinks those options are attractive to retired couples who successfully paid off their mortgages years ago is unclear.

The council’s Head of Housing and Public Protection, Robin Staines, said: “We are fully committed to providing a solution at Brynmefys that will try to help the residents still living there.”

Of course, the alternative is to continue to run down the estate and try and force the remaining residents out. In fact, it appears as though the solution the council proposes is one to a problem it has created itself.

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Health

Werndale Hospital recognised for outstanding patient care in national award

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STAFF at Werndale Hospital near Carmarthen have been recognised for the quality of their patient care. 

The prestigious ‘Private Hospital Group of the Year’ award is presented to an organisation that has shown excellence in its delivery of care, commitment to the community and innovation within healthcare.

Werndale Hospital was also recognised for their initiatives to support staff in their career progression and wellbeing.   

The latest statistics show, 98% of patients at Werndale Hospital were satisfied with their overall level of care, 98% of patients would recommend their care to family and friends, and 98% of patients rated the nursing staff as excellent or very good. 

In addition, independent analysis of Circle hospitals’ hip and knee procedure outcomes of health improvement shows that Circle scored 8.4 versus an independent sector average of 7.8 in the hip category, and a score of 15.4 versus an independent sector average of 13.9 in the knee category.   

The award presented to Circle Health Group, owners of Werndale Hospital, in London in June, also noted the extraordinary contribution the teams at the hospital had made to the community. 

In 2021 alone, Werndale Hospital partnered with Air Ambulance Wales and raised £1,205 to support the charity’s work in the community.  

In addition to the charitable work, Werndale Hospital was recognised for it’s commitment to support staff through a series of wellbeing initiatives and career development opportunities. The judges were particularly impressed with the launch of the ‘Be Heard’ survey at the hospital.   

The survey looks to empower staff to feedback on everything from the working environment at the hospital through to their own career ambitions. Building directly on the feedback from this survey, the ‘Grow Your Own’ campaign was launched which supported staff to work towards specific qualifications from nursing degrees with partnered universities through to bespoke management programmes and MBA qualifications.   

As a direct result of this support for staff at what is a challenging time for healthcare workers, Werndale Hospital and Circle Heath Group were recognised as being a Top 20 Best Large Company to work for.   

At the heart of Werndale Hospital’s approach to treating patients is a commitment to the community they serve.  

 Paolo Pieri, CEO of Circle Health Group, said:  “The award is a testament to what an amazing year 2021 was for Werndale Hospital with considerable investment into the facilities and services on offer to patients in west Wales. I couldn’t be prouder of what our staff and doctors have achieved.”  

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News

Aberglasney Gardens delighted to win 2022 Trip advisor Travellers’ Choice Award

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ABERGLASNEY Gardens is thrilled to have been recognised by Tripadvisor as a 2022 Travellers’ Choice Award winner for being in the top 10% of attractions worldwide.

The Award recognises businesses that consistently deliver great service with the Gardens being rated ‘Excellent’ by 342 visitors.

The award celebrates businesses that have received great traveller reviews from around the globe on Tripadvisor over the last 12 months. As challenging as the past year has been, Aberglasney stood out by consistently delivering positive experiences to visitors.

Aberglasney’s Director of Operations Jim Stribling said: “We are delighted to have once again won an award from Tripadvisor. It is fantastic recognition for the team’s hard work and dedication. To rank among the top ten percent of those listed on Trip Advisor as one of the best places to visit is outstanding.

“We are grateful to all those who take the time to leave us a review after visiting. It is no cliché when I say all the team, be it in the gift shop, the gardeners, the tearooms and the administrative team, all take the reviews on board to help make a visit to Aberglasney the best possible experience for everyone.”

Tripadvisor, the world’s largest travel guidance platform, helps hundreds of millions of people each month become better travellers, from planning, to booking, to taking a trip. Travelers across the globe use the Tripadvisor site and app to discover where to stay, what to do and where to eat based on guidance from those who have been there before.

With more than 988 million reviews and opinions of nearly eight million businesses, travellers turn to Tripadvisor to find deals on accommodation, book experiences, reserve tables at restaurants and discover great places nearby.

As a travel guidance company available in 43 markets and 22 languages, Tripadvisor makes planning easy no matter the trip type.

“Congratulations to the 2022 Tripadvisor Travellers’ Choice Winners,” said Kanika Soni, Chief Commercial Officer at Tripadvisor. “The Travellers’ Choice Awards recognise the best in tourism and hospitality, according to those who matter most: your guests.

“Ranking among the Travellers’ Choice winners is always tough – but never more so than this year as we emerge from the pandemic. Whether it’s using new technology, implementing safety measures, or hiring outstanding staff, I’m impressed by the steps you’ve taken to meet travellers’ new demands. You’ve adapted brilliantly in the face of adversity.”

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Education

Council’s plan to expand bilingual education will be a gradual journey over 10 years

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Carmarthenshire County Council

CARMARTHENSHIRE County Council’s vision to increase bilingual education in Carmarthenshire will be a gradual journey over 10 years.

The Cabinet met yesterday (Monday, July 4) to discuss the Welsh in Education Strategic Plan (WESP), and emphasised that it was important to give all children and young people the opportunity to develop their Welsh language skills.

However, members stressed that families will still have a choice on the language in which their children will be taught over the next decade and after 2032.

The plan sets out how the council will develop Welsh language provision in schools based on the outcomes and targets set by the Welsh Government.

All councils across Wales have to submit 10-year Welsh language education plans to the Welsh Government in order to meet its target of one million Welsh speakers by 2050.

The outcomes include more nursery and reception children being taught through the medium of Welsh; more young people studying for qualifications in Welsh as a subject, and subjects through the medium of Welsh; increasing provision for learners with Additional Learning Needs; and increasing the number of teachers able to teach Welsh and through the medium of Welsh – with continuing support to develop staff through a comprehensive and flexible training programme.

The Cabinet said it was important for the council to provide more opportunities to be bilingual and referred to the various benefits it brings – from educational attainment to employability and health.

Cabinet Member for Education and Welsh Language, Cllr Glynog Davies said the aim was to meet and exceed the target set by Welsh Government on the percentage of Carmarthenshire pupils receiving their education through the medium of Welsh by 3032 (10-14%).

It included changing the language provision at 10 schools over the next 10 years creating an opportunity for a further 300 learners to be educated in Welsh.

He said: “We want to build on the progress made in early years education provision, and my ambition is clear – equal opportunities across the county.

“It is worth noting that we have the largest percentage 57.5 percent of nursery age children taught through the medium of Welsh. Immersion education is key to the strategy, and it is important that we continue to see an increase in the percentage of children transferring from the Meithrin groups to Welsh-medium education in the Foundation Phase.

“These early years are so important, the children are like sponges, absorbing information and absorbing a new language.

“We must then continue to see an increase in numbers in our reception classes, we say this even though we are the authority with the largest percentage (62.5 percent) of children receiving their education through the medium of Welsh.

“Children must continue to improve their Welsh when going from one school phase to another, and we need to make sure all children have the opportunity to pursue their secondary education through the medium of Welsh.

“At the same time, we need to give children and young people the confidence to use Welsh, in school and in the community. That’s what we want to see isn’t it, more and more using Welsh, hearing Welsh on the street. We need to develop and build on skills and confidence.”

Cabinet Member for Rural Affairs and Planning Policy, Cllr Ann Davies said: “I am extremely pleased to see this document and have a pleasure in supporting it. Working with young children, that is children under three-years-old, I can say that children pick up language very quickly, they absorb it, and the process is very different to learning a language. As they get older the process in the brain is completely different. I am pleased to see that there is an emphasis on early years, that is when we need to start.”

Cabinet Member for Resources, Cllr Alun Lenny said: “It is very important to state that there are many advantages to learning a language, obviously for careers, especially in health and social care where patients and clients must have a choice of language, it’s important particularly for older people, and young children, and people with dementia.

“The Chief Constable of Dyfed-Powys Police has stated he is keen for all his staff to speak a certain level of Welsh, so we have a duty here to support that.

“The advantages of being bilingual are multiple, socially and in the world of work, and this strategy is very much welcomed.”

The WESP has come back to the cabinet for discussion following feedback from the Welsh Government, mainly to include some additional data and detail. It will now be submitted to the Welsh Government for final approval. A public consultation was held last year.

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