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.
Aggressive man found naked and abusive
A NAKED man who urinated in a police cell required six police officers deal with his arrest.
Brian Warren Kerley, 24, of Clos Yr Helyg in Crymych, attended Aberystwyth Magistrates’ Court on Wednesday (Nov 15) to face four offences.
Kerley pleaded guilty to assaulting two constables in the execution of their duty, using threatening behaviour towards another with intent, and damaging police property by urinating in a cell and on its mattress.
Prosecutor Helen Tench said on October 31, police received a call regarding a disturbance in a public place in Cardigan. They arrived at the scene to find Kerley stripped of clothing and behaving in a threatening manner.
The defendant was escorted to the police vehicle, where he became increasingly aggressive towards a member of the public. He then wrapped his leg around one of the officers’ to trip him up. He spat on the other officer’s arm.
Ms Tench said the defendant continued spitting and became ‘extremely aggressive and violent’ when he banged his head inside the police vehicle.
A total of six police officers assisted with the arrest.
At custody, officers attempted to reason with Kerley whilst he continued his threatening behaviour, and was monitored in his cell every 30 minutes.
In the early hours of November 1, the defendant urinated in his cell three times. Two of these times, he urinated on the mattress.
In a statement, Kerley said he was sorry for committing the offences and did not remember the incident.
Defending, Katy Hanson said Kerley was filled with remorse and regret for his behaviour and accepted responsibility.
She added that it ‘clearly is not the way for someone to behave’ and the defendant ‘now realises the potential consequences of his actions’.
Ms Hanson concluded by saying Kerley admitted to having consumed three cans of lager on the night in question and has no recollection of the events.
Probation officer Julian Davies said the defendant was currently serving a 12-month community order imposed on September 20 for an offence of common assault.
For the offences, magistrates allowed the current community order to continue and added a six-week curfew.
Kerley was told to pay £50 compensation to both officers he assaulted, but no compensation for the offence of criminal damage.
He was also told to pay prosecution costs of £85 and a surcharge of £85.
Scrutiny committee votes to close Bodlondeb
AT A recorded vote this morning (Nov 20) Ceredigion’s Healthier Communities Scrutiny Committee voted to back the Cabinet’s decision to close Bodlondeb Residential Home by the end of March 2018.
In refusing to remit the decision to Full Council, the committee dashed the hopes of campaigners fighting to retain Bodlondeb until adequate replacement facilities are in place.
The vote was nine to seven with no abstentions.
There will be more on this breaking story later and in this week’s Ceredigion Herald.
AM calls for further protection of wild animals after Lynx deaths
MID AND WEST AM Simon Thomas has called for further protection from the Welsh Government following the death of two wild cats from a zoo in Borth, near Aberystwyth.
The AM quizzed the Cabinet Secretary for the Environment and Rural Affairs Lesley Griffiths in a topical question in the Senedd.
Shadow Cabinet Secretary for Energy, Climate Change and Rural Affairs for Plaid Cymru Simon Thomas said: “The deaths of the two Lynx wild cats have created a great deal of concern to many people in the area and, more broadly, to people who care for animals and their welfare at zoos.
“I asked whether the Welsh Government approved of the steps taken by Ceredigion County Council in this case and more broadly with the position of the zoo. It’s clear that there’s something amiss when a wild animal can escape and another dies because of its handling. I requested we look at national regulations that govern organisations such as this to ensure that people who run zoos do have the appropriate skills, but also that the equipment is suitable for the animals kept there.
The Cabinet Secretary Lesley Griffiths replied: “Ceredigion County Council is investigating the escape of the lynx and the death of a second lynx linked to the zoo to establish whether there have been any breaches of the operating licence. While inquiries are ongoing it would be inappropriate for me to comment further on this matter.”
She added: “Officials have been in frequent contact with Ceredigion County Council. The decision to dispatch the animal was taken by the county council along with Dyfed-Powys Police, officials from Welsh Government and also the chief veterinary officer. There are several issues that I think need to be looked into very carefully around the licence.”
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