Too Many Houses, Not Enough Jobs: Carmarthenshire’s Dubious Future
More than 13,300 more homes in Carmarthenshire? Another 31,000 or so people to add to the 180,700 already living in the county? Phalanxes of new homes, including 3,863 in Llanelli, 2,413 in Ammanford and 1,793 in Carmarthen, are listed in Appendix 3 of the county council’s Local Development Plan.
Developers have a preference for sticking to what they know, which is detached and semi-detached family homes in neat estates, with off-street parking and small gardens. The plots have to be small because of the planning regulation requiring a minimum density of 30 dwellings per hectare, just over 12 per acre.
Easily obtainable mortgages were largely responsible for the march of private housing estates over peri-urban areas of the UK. Those mortgages have vanished, and so we have to wonder if sufficient potential new residents will qualify for mortgages to buy Carmarthenshire’s additional homes.
The answer may well be ‘not as many as the developers need if they are to make money from the schemes’. Social housing is the obvious option, and would meet a need, but few of the occupants would be big spenders in the local economy, because most would be outside the workforce, or in low-wage jobs.
Jobs in Carmarthenshire are already sparse and the arrival of 31,000 more people in the county, in the 13,340 new homes that are proposed, would only help if they came with incomes large enough to create new jobs locally. Is that likely?
Labour data for the county reveals a darker side to work than is indicated by the relatively small numbers of people who are registered as looking for employment. Carmarthenshire had 180,700 inhabitants in 2010. Only 110,500 of these were aged 16 to 64, generally accepted as of ‘working age’.
With an unemployment rate of 3.2% in April 2012, 3,573 people, you might think ‘What’s the problem? There must be plenty of jobs’. The unemployment rate for Wales overall was higher at 4.2%, and for Great Britain it was 4.0%. On the surface, Carmarthenshire would appear to benefit from an economy in above-average health.
The problem lies in other welfare benefits, especially sickness and incapacity benefits, as our chart shows.
Source: Nomis official labour market statistics, June 2012
With 10.4% of the working-age population in receipt of incapacity benefits because they are deemed not well enough to work, Carmarthenshire exceeds the Wales average and is 60% worse than the Great Britain average. Another 8.2% of the working-age population receive other out-of-work benefits, so we are up to over 18.5%, two in every 11, who are on welfare benefits. We must add another 4.5% who have taken early retirement, 6.3% who do not work because they look after home and family, and 4.9% who are studying. We have reached 34.2% — more than one in every three people of working age – who do not have a job, either as an employee or as self-employed.
Carmarthenshire is a healthy place to live – fresh air, low pollution – and it can’t be the legacy of the coal mines causing all the ill health because for 30 years there has been very little mining locally, but there it is: according to the council’s own figures 28% of the 16 to 64 age band, working and non-working, are incapacitated in some way.
The 65.8% of Carmarthenshire’s 16-64s who are working total some 72,709 people, including 12,600 who are self-employed.  There are only about 58,700 jobs for employees. More than one in three of these jobs, 36%, are part-time. Over 35% of all jobs, full-time and part-time, are in the public sector in education, health and public administration, and are thus vulnerable to severe future cuts.
Source: Nomis official labour market statistics. The figures were compiled at different times between 2008 and 2012 and so are approximate.
This is the context into which up to 13,340 new homes would be built, adding perhaps over 31,000 people to the 180,700 already living in the county — a population increase of over 17%.
If the new residents are mainly pensioners, that would bring the need for more care, but the council plans massive cuts in services for the elderly. If they are of working age, where exactly would they work? In the county in April 2012 there was just one job vacancy for every 5.4 people receiving Job Seekers Allowance.
New housing developments on the scale proposed require long-term jobs — not just short-term construction jobs — to go with them, jobs to enlarge the local economy and not carousel jobs like those in retail. When a superstore opens, all sorts of claims are made for the numbers of extra jobs, but the drip, drip, drip of job losses as competing retailers downsize or close is rarely reported. In any area, there is a limited amount of money to spend in shops, and when a new store opens the contents of customers’ wallets do not expand to match.
The sorts of mixed developments for housing and work, just as our villages and towns used to be, are out of favour with planners, and have contributed to the fossilisation of villages, the closure of rural schools, shops and post offices, and the ageing profile of the population in rural areas. Young people move out, retired people move in.
One of the complaints about the plans for so much more housing, in estates large and small, is that the influx of people would dilute Welsh language and culture. How could this not happen, whether the newcomers are homebuyers or renters? I write in English, I know, but the concept of a bilingual community is too important to sweep aside. Given the dearth of good jobs, the newcomers would probably include large numbers of retirees and also, in privately rented or social housing, households displaced from expensive parts of England by the new caps on housing benefit.
Meanwhile, young people who want to set up home and work in their own communities, maybe to start a small business, have to battle against the planning system and their hopes are often dashed.
 Across the UK the average number of persons per home is 2.33.
 Appendix 4 of Carmarthenshire’s Local Development Plan allocates land for about 13,340 homes.
 Mid-year estimate, Office for National Statistics.
 See Carmarthenshire County Council’s Strategic Equality Plan 2012-16.
 Nomis figures for October 2010 to September 2011.
 The total from Nomis for employee jobs dates from 2008 and is probably higher than in 2012 because it predates public-sector job cuts.