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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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A level results still high in Ceredigion

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THE ‘A’ level examination results published today by the WJEC (15 August) show that high standards are being achieved in Ceredigion schools once again. 97.9% of entries for WJEC examinations were graded A* to E, with 27.9% of the entries achieving the top ’A’ grades.

Ceredigion pupils continue to outperform the Welsh average. More pupils in Ceredigion achieve the top ’A’ grades and A* to E grades. The below table shows a comparison with average Welsh figures. These don’t include Welsh Baccalaureate results and those from examination bodies other than WJEC.

Wales 2019             Ceredigion 2019

Grade A* – A           27.92%                    27.0%

Grade A* – B           56.0%                      n/a

Grade A* – C          77.5%                        n/a

Grade A* – E          97.9%                       97.6%

Councillor Catrin Miles is the Cabinet member responsible for Learning Services. She said, “I would like to extend my warmest congratulations once again to Ceredigion’s sixth form students for their successes in this year’s A Level and AS examinations.

These results are the culmination of a long journey through school life which has seen them nurture and develop the academic and interpersonal skills that will enable them to move confidently into higher education, training or employment in fields of their choice. I wish them good luck for the future and would like to sincerely thank all who have contributed to their school journey in any way.”

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MP Ben Lake calls for reform of police funding

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HAVING recently shadowed Dyfed Powys Police officers in Aberystwyth, the Ceredigion MP has again urged the UK Government to review the police funding formula for rural areas.

Mr Lake visited Aberystwyth police station as part of the #GiveADayToPolicing campaign, a scheme for Members of Parliament to better understand the challenges currently facing police forces across the UK.

During his visit Mr Lake had the opportunity to experience a variety of aspects of local policing – from spending time with the neighbourhood policing team, meeting officers from different departments, and discussing policing challenges with front-line police officers.

Mr Lake has challenged the UK Government on several occasions to reform the formula for police funding – highlighting the need for the funding formula to take into consideration the seasonal pressures on forces, particularly the significant increase to the population of coastal areas during the summer months.

Mr Lake said: “I am very grateful to the officers of Aberystwyth police station for their welcome, and for taking the time to speak with me. I now have a better understanding of the challenges our police officers face, as well as a deeper level of respect and admiration of their work and commitment to public safety.

“As I have previously stated, we cannot expect a one size fits all approach to work effectively across the whole of the UK, and as such, it is imperative that the criteria used to allocate the Home Office police grant are revised so that they reflect the increased demands and unique challenges facing rural forces in areas such as Ceredigion, especially during summer months.”

Mr Lake added: “It is widely acknowledged that Welsh police forces have suffered under the present funding formula, and so it is high time that the UK Government either amends the formula accordingly, or devolves the responsibility for policing to the Welsh Government so that they may do so themselves.”

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New waste trial launched in Aberystwyth

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A NEW trial has been launched in Aberystwyth as part of the Caru Aber campaign, to help keep the town centre clean on waste collection days.

Heavy duty sacks will be placed on Aberystwyth streets on Monday afternoons before the black bag collection on Tuesdays in the following streets; Portland Street, Portland Road, Queen Street, Corporation Street, Eastgate Street, New Street and Cambrian Place.

Black bags should be put in the sacks by 8am on Tuesday mornings for collection. The intention is that the sacks contain the waste until it is collected. The sacks will be retrieved after the waste has been collected to avoid clutter and obstruction on the streets.

Councillor Dafydd Edwards is the Cabinet member responsible for Highways and Environmental Services together with Housing. He said: “We see this trial as a practical and relatively cost effective way of responding to long standing issues relating to domestic waste presentation in Aberystwyth town centre. The sacks will also provide a visible reminder to residents in the town centre on what days to present their black bags.

“The trial forms part of the Caru Aber campaign, and the wider Caru Ceredigion campaign, where the council looks to work with local communities to address issues which are of concern or are important to them.

“This innovative approach is another example of positive proactive action the council is taking. We hope that the residents of the town centre will play their part by making good use of the sacks as this will be the critical factor in measuring the success of the scheme.”

Clean recycling and food waste should continue to be presented on a weekly basis in the containers that the council already provides through clear bags and food caddies.

Ensuring that the right waste is presented in the right way and on the right day will help to make sure that the town’s streets are kept clean and that the waste is contained, managed and treated in the most cost effective and environmentally friendly way as possible.

The sacks were first used in readiness for waste collections on Tuesday 6 August 2019. The initial feedback is positive as they have worked to contain the waste on the streets, which were noticeably cleaner.

This latest initiative is developing on feedback and experience from two other trials undertaken. The success of the trial will be monitored on an ongoing basis and reviewed to reflect the experience which will include looking at ways of engaging all residents.

For more information about the new scheme, please contact the Customer Services Contact Centre on 01545 570 881 or by e-mail on clic@ceredigion.gov.uk.

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