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Second homes debate debacle

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County Council HQ: F ew councillors attend key debate

County Council HQ: Few councillors attend key debate

CHAOS is, perhaps, too strong a word to use about the debate on levying a Council Tax premium on Ceredigion’s second homes and a premium on long-term empty homes. There was, however, plenty of confusion and not a little farce as the debate took place in a more than half empty Chamber. Under new powers granted by the Welsh Government, authorities are able to levy a Premium without the negative financial implications inherent in the current powers. Specifically, the majority of the additional income arising from premiums being charged will be retained by the local authority with no negative effect on RSG.

First of all came the question of what the Cabinet had recommended. There had been questions raised about whether the vote on the recommendation made by Cabinet had been properly reached, with several Cabinet members having potential conflicts of interest. Deputy Leader Ray Quant MBE attempted manfully to explain the position. There was an issue with who could and couldn’t vote at Cabinet, Cllr Quant confirmed. However, members were zipping in and out of the meeting to establish whether or not they could vote, or speak, or do neither. There was a risk that the Cabinet would not have sufficient members present to reach a valid decision.

Rest assured, Cllr Quant told the few present, the Cabinet’s recommendation was made because one had to be made, not because of any enthusiasm for it one way or the other: it was all done in a rush. What Councillor Quant could not explain was why members had left it so ridiculously late to obtain clarity one way or the other. The legislation permitting councils to raise premiums on second homes and empty properties is not a new one; the Council was bound to vote on it before the end of the financial year; but on the underlying issue of why applications to the relevant committee had been left so late.

Cllr Quant was noticeably silent; neither did Cllr Quant explain why Cabinet did not adjourn for an hour and come back to the issue of the second and empty homes premium after the scrutiny meeting had made matters clear for those Cabinet members seeking a dispensation. Whatever the position, at the outset of the debate, there were sixteen voting members left in the Chamber, along with a number of those who could speak but not vote. Some of those who had been cleared to speak and vote left the Chamber before the debate even began. Perhaps after talking about the issue of BTB for the better part of an hour and half, their vocal cords had worn out together with their patience.

It took an intervention from the Monitoring Officer to establish that the few remaining members left in the Chamber represented sufficient numbers to permit a legal vote to be taken. The debate can best be described as peevish, with Chair Cllr Gill Hopley doing her level best to ensure both that councillors spoke in turn without interruption and that squabbling between councillors was kept to the minimum. At one point she suggested that sniping had reached a point that two councillors should leave the Chamber and carry on their argument elsewhere.

Not quite the same as offering them ‘outside’, but about as edifying. Rather more pertinent were Cllr Hopley’s observations about the precipitous decline in the permanent population of New Quay from around 1,000 to 700 in very few years. The Council Chair painted a worrying picture of the town as virtually empty in the winter months and suggesting it was in danger of becoming like a town in a western with tumble weed blowing along its streets. Several of those taking part in the debate were fearful of those who owned holiday homes setting themselves up as a business to avoid paying the Council anything and taking the benefit of business rates paid direct (at the moment) to Cardiff Bay; others were concerned about other methods of avoidance and skulduggery by those pesky holiday home owners with their undoubted contribution to the local authority.

In fact, it appeared that a significant number of those present favoured doing little or nothing to let go of nurse and finding something worse. Cllr Gethin James injected a muchneeded note of realism into the debate when he suggested that his fellow councillors should look at the number of empty homes in towns and villages across Ceredigion and the desperate need for that accommodation to be available to young, local families. The issue, Cllr James suggested was not only an economic one in terms of the effect on impoverished and impecunious holiday and second home owners, nor was it an issue affecting solely concerned with the Council’s revenue.

The issue, he implied, need to be seen in a broader social context. Cllr Elizabeth Evans proposed a reasoned amendment to the Cabinet recommendation for a 50% premium on second homes with a zero premium on long-term empty homes, suggesting that 25% on both would be the right level to start off, with the option of reviewing the effects of that after one year. She further suggested that the money raised from the charge on second homes only be returned to town and community councils to enable them to improve facilities locally, both for locals and for visitors.

That point was countered with an observation regarding empty houses owned by farmers and a request for clarification of what the words ‘longterm’ actually meant in the context of the policy. Fortunately, the answer to that question was found in the background papers delivered to members ahead of the meeting: the Welsh Government guidance defines a long-term empty property as ‘a dwelling which is both unoccupied and substantially unfurnished for a continuous period of at least one year’. After much heat but little light, the debate moved to its close. Councillor Elizabeth Evans’s suggestion that the premium levied on both second and empty homes at 25% was approved without much demur.

Cllr Evans’s motion that the revenue raised from second homes be apportioned to the localities in which it was raised – something of potential significant benefit to tourism areas such as, for example, Aberaeron – was altogether closer. Eight backed the motion, after a recount seven opposed it, with a solitary abstention. And, despite the pleas of the Chair to deal with item nine on the agenda while council was still quorate, members exited the Chamber.

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Wizardry night a success at Aberystwyth Library

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The fourth Harry Potter Book Night was held at Aberystwyth Library on Friday, 07 February.

After dark, it was a time for fans to celebrate the iconic series of books with events all around the World.

Ceredigion Library Service held the event at Aberystwyth Town Library, which was decorated with all things Harry Potter.

Emyr Lloyd and Delyth Huws, both Assistant Librarians organised the night. They were very pleased with the success and turnout. Emyr Lloyd said, “We enjoy putting on the Harry Potter Book night. The fourth one was no different with 86 children attending the free event and very positive feedback. We hope events such as these spark a joy of reading in the young and old.”

Three Owls from New Quay Birds of Prey came by and Luke the close-up magician entertained the audience. The children were also entertained with a reading from one of the books and also a crafts and activities area.

Follow the events of the Ceredigion Library Service on Facebook @llyfrgellceredigionlibrary. The next event will be a sale of stock on 22 February between 10am and 4pm at the Bandstand in Aberystwyth.

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Cymraeg

Noson hudolus yn Llyfrgell Aberystwyth

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Cynhaliwyd Noson Llyfrau Harry Potter yn Llyfrgell Aberystwyth ddydd Gwener, 07 Chwefror. Hon oedd y bedwaredd noson o’r fath.

Ar ôl iddi nosi, roedd hi’n amser i edmygwyr y llyfrau ddathlu’r gyfres eiconig gyda digwyddiadau ledled y byd.

Cynhaliodd Gwasanaeth Llyfrgell Ceredigion y digwyddiad yn Llyfrgell Tref Aberystwyth, ac addurnwyd y llyfrgell gyda phob math o bethau sy’n gysylltiedig â Harry Potter.

Trefnwyd y noson gan Emyr Lloyd a Delyth Huws, Llyfrgellwyr Cynorthwyol. Roeddent yn falch iawn â llwyddiant y noson a’r nifer oedd yn bresennol yn y digwyddiad. Dywedodd Emyr Lloyd, “Rydym yn mwynhau cynnal nosweithiau Llyfrau Harry Potter. Nid oedd y bedwaredd noson o’r fath yn eithriad; mynychodd 86 o blant y digwyddiad am ddim, a derbyniwyd adborth cadarnhaol iawn. Rydym yn gobeithio y bydd digwyddiadau fel y rhain yn swyno’r hen a’r ifanc i fwynhau darllen.”

Daeth tair tylluan o Adar Ysglyfaethus Cei Newydd i’r digwyddiad, a bu Luke yn diddanu’r gynulleidfa gyda’i hud a’i ledrith. Diddanwyd y plant hefyd gyda darlleniad o un o’r llyfrau ac ardal gweithgareddau a chrefftau.

Dilynwch ddigwyddiadau Gwasanaeth Llyfrgell Ceredigion ar Facebook @llyfrgellceredigionlibrary. Y digwyddiad nesaf yw arwerthiant stoc ar 22 Chwefror rhwng 10am a 4pm yn y Bandstand yn Aberystwyth.

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Warnings issued as Storm Ciara predicted to hit west Wales

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NATURAL RESOURCES WALES (NRW) is urging people living near the Welsh coast to be prepared for possible flooding this weekend as Storm Ciara reaches the UK.

Current forecasts indicate that strong winds could cause a tidal surge and large waves hitting the coast.

Combined with heavy rainfall which is likely to see rivers rise quickly, NRW expects to issue flood alerts and possibly warnings across the country from Saturday afternoon through to Monday.

With the worst of the conditions expected on Sunday, NRW advises people to keep a safe distance from coastal paths, promenades, piers, and from river banks.

Emergency response workers from NRW are already making preparations ahead of the storm, checking defences are in good working order and making sure any drainage grids and screens are clear, to reduce the risk to people and their homes.

Richard Preece, from Natural Resources Wales said: “Our teams are keeping a close eye on forecasts and predicted river and sea levels this weekend, and if necessary, will issue flood warnings to registered properties in those areas at risk.

“We have already been speaking with our partners from the emergency services and the local authorities so they can put their plans into action.

“We are also warning people to avoid visiting the sea front due to the risk of being swept away by large waves or hit by wave and wind-blown debris.

“Flood water can also be extremely dangerous, and people should not attempt to walk or drive through it unless instructed by the emergency services.”

Network Rail and Transport for Wales have issued joint information ahead of Storm Ciara, which is expected to bring strong winds and heavy rain to the Wales and Borders route this weekend.

The Met Office has issued a yellow wind warning for the whole of the UK and two yellow rain warnings on Sunday.

Transport for Wales Operations Director Martyn Brennan and Amanda Newton, Senior Incident Officer at Network Rail said: “With Storm Ciara set to bring gale force winds of up to 90mph on Sunday, Transport for Wales and Network Rail wish to urge all customers to check their journeys prior to travel.

“We’re expecting very stormy conditions, high tides and winds that have the potential to uproot trees and damage infrastructure.

“The safety of our customers and colleagues is our absolute priority and as such there are likely to be a number of speed restrictions in place around our network, while some other lines may be forced to close entirely. We are working closely together to minimise any disruption and will do all we can to keep our customers moving and informed.”

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