News: Council Urges Looser Controls on Development in Rural Carmarthenshire
Plans to regenerate rural areas, including the construction of new council houses, were approved by Carmarthenshire County Council on September 11th.
The rural north of the county would have 28 new council homes in the first three years of the scheme, split between land at Alltwalis School and land opposite Llangadog School. These would be followed by 74 more in the second phase of the 10-year plan, which would build 900 new council homes throughout the county, at a cost of £150 million.
Rural and market town locations in the second phase include 27 homes at Pencrug, Llandeilo, including 14 to let at social rents, 12 in Llandovery (6 for social rent), 6 in Llansawel (4 for social rent), and 20 at Llandysul (8 for social rent). In addition, there would be nine new council houses in assisted living schemes.
In areas of high housing need, the council will continue to buy homes on the open market, councillors were informed. More than 200 new homes have been sourced in this way in the past three years.
The council has a subsidiary company, Cartrefi Croeso, to build homes for rent and for sale. Cartrefi Croeso can raise money from several sources including three from the Welsh Government – the Affordable Housing Grant, providing 58% of new-build costs; Innovative Housing Programme, for super energy-efficient, low carbon homes such as those from Pembrokeshire company Ty Solar destined for Burry Port; and Self-Build Wales, enabling local authorities to provide land for self-builders, who can apply to Welsh Government for two-year 75% interest-free loans.
The council housing plans reinforce new policies for rural regeneration, also approved by the county council on September 11th. The proposals are in the Report and Recommendations of the Carmarthenshire Rural Affairs Task Group, chaired by Cllr Cefin Campbell (Plaid Cymru, Llanfihangel Aberbythych). The report argues for more flexible planning regulations in rural areas and for small developments in villages to support the rural economy.
“There needs to be a move in local planning policy from larger housing developments in our main towns to an approach which enables a suitable mix and proportion of development in our rural towns and communities to address local housing demand and need,” the report advises. (p.15)
The Task Group urges the council to hold on to its 25 farms and land, including associated fishing rights, and to investigate the feasibility of backing the creation of new smallholdings, outside settlements, on the basis of local need and their potential positive contribution to the economic, social, cultural and environmental sustainability of the local community. (p.23)
There is already the Welsh Government policy for One Planet Development smallholdings, allowing new land-based enterprises in the countryside but subject to strict criteria for self-sufficiency and resource use. The Task Group’s recommendation for more smallholdings builds on this precedent.
Other plans include working with Coleg Sir Gâr on Prosiect Slyri, to dewater and purify slurry, a venture of national significance to cut slurry’s damaging impact on watercourse pollution, and to bring milk processing back to Carmarthenshire with a co-operatively owned factory which could “build on the already strong foundations for local cheese”. (p.35)
The Task Group also wants to change the rules determining whether a farming business can construct an additional dwelling on the land. This currently depends largely on whether the farm income will be large enough to support an additional household. The Task Group’s idea is to include income from off-farm as well as farming sources, on the grounds that farm incomes are likely to be under sustained pressure and members of farm households will increasingly have to work in other jobs. There is also a recommendation that an additional dwelling on a farm could be built “a reasonable distance outside of the working farmyard” for reasons of health and safety, biosecurity, and avoidance of zoonotic diseases.
A more flexible approach to development should be “based on local need and opportunities in rural areas so that people working within the agricultural sector and wider community are able to diversify and adjust as appropriate”, the report says. (p.21) The countryside is crucial to Welsh as a living language, and so protection for the language should be strengthened in planning law, the Task Group urges.
The county council will now be pressing for more flexibility in national policies and guidance, for multi-agency and multi-sector working, and for the definition of ‘deprivation’ to be amended to better reflect issues of rurality.
Almost 113,000 people live in Carmarthenshire’s rural areas, 61% of the county total, and half are Welsh speakers. Nearly one person in every four in the county, 23.3% in 2017, was aged 65+, and only 9.4% were aged 16 to 24.
The Task Group had 10 members drawn from across the council’s political groupings.