Council Budget: Consultation live now
This has improved somewhat from the analysis given at the November meeting, as a result of further funding to Welsh local councils from the Welsh government. The “worst case scenario” budget prepared by cabinet was therefore revised before being presented to the wider Labour group at an all-member meeting. This complete, the draft budget has been presented for public consultation, running until 5pm 1st Feb.
Budget discussions are where we really see the advantages of having Labour in power. Cuts proposed by senior officers are often rejected or amended by cabinet members keen to align budgetary decisions to our political views. Take, for example, a council service with a modest cost which those on low incomes don’t currently have to pay. An officer looking to make up a shortfall in funding for next year proposes ending this exemption. Cabinet asks for recalculated figures, with the exemption remaining in place for those on the lowest incomes, but with others paying a little more than they do now. That’s the difference a Labour cabinet makes. Similarly, “non-statutory” services – the massive range of things that go beyond the bare bones of what the council has a legal duty to provide – are being cut by many English councils stripping back to the bare bones. This Labour council is working hard to ensure that things like free Welfare Rights advice and appeal representation, open access play provision, museums and galleries, parks and gardens remain available to our citizens. Please remember this when you see the inevitable attacks about the condition of road surfaces, the lack of street cleansing, and so on. We are working harder than ever with a fraction of the money. We are now funded at roughly 2008 levels.
The draft budget is now a far more palatable set of measures than the one cabinet was, heavy-heartedly, considering in November, with some of the cuts proposed then now off the table. One cut remaining in place, which Nick and (especially) Mary are very concerned about, is funding to the third sector. Half of this pot is given in the form of 3 contracts for specific pieces of work. The rest is given out in an open grant which any local third sector organization can apply to. Applicants tend to be small organisations providing quite niche services to people in specific circumstances, such as refugees, asylum seekers, ethinic minorities, people with disabilities and other particular life challenges. The council has provided a third sector grant scheme of this kind for decades, recognizing the vital importance of the community sector in responding to “low-level needs” or supporting people to find solutions to their problems without ever needing statutory services (social services, hospital treatment, etc.). Strong communities, fundamentally, cost councils less, so funding organisations which strengthen communities is a good move for councils. But the stark truth of austerity is that councils can’t afford this investment: preventative work slips away as we struggle to meet urgent demands. Imagine having to sell your loft insulation to pay your gas bill. It is ridiculous but eventually you have no choice.
Of course in the 5th richest nation on the planet there is a choice; the Tories are choosing to do this to us, while our local opponents tell people that the work of local councillors has nothing to do with politics.
The Pobl/Townhill campus site:
There is a planning application by Pobl to build 150 houses on the old Townhill Campus site of the UWTSD. Nick and Mary met the applicants and Nick attended the public consultation in the Phoenix Centre.
Much about this application is positive. It is by a social landlord, not a private developer. The houses are mixed tenure, including social rented housing. The proposal retains and adapts the old C-shaped building and the proposed houses at the very top of the development will look onto Pantycelyn Road. There will be an area of managed woodland further down the hill.
We want this development to go ahead. Evidently there is a legal agreement that if if Pobl get planning permission they must buy the land and while planning permission is being sought USTWD cannot sell the land to anyone else. If the application is refused there is a risk that USWTD will sell to another developer who will propose a far less attractive and locally beneficial development.
However, there are two concerns:
1: to prevent the development being car dependent, or social tenants there being isolated, enhanced public transport links are needed on Townhill Road, where there is already congestion.
2: and this is what pre-occupies most people, is the question of access and ‘permeability’. The proposal provides no access at the bottom of the site to Uplands with its shops, services, schools, parks, pubs etc. A resident would have to take a long round-about journey along Townhill Road, presumably by car, or possibly via Pantycelyn Road to do this. This would create car-dependence, making the development unsustainable.
Pobl say the woodland beneath the housing is not a public park and that it will be up to the future residents, who may or may not be concerned about security and anti-social behavior, to decide on this issue.
We would like to see:
A cycle track and footpath, provided by a S106 agreement, linking Cockett to Rosehill Quarry (objections are that would have to be lit and be DDA compliant, contrary to the objective of a managed but natural woodland) and/or
Pedestrian access via Penlan Crescent, (the ‘100 steps’) being brought up to the required standard (to deal with any public liability issues).
Surrounding residents appear to have varying views on access and the above proposals. There is no one demand being made. Access via the Lons would be unpopular as it would aggravate an already serious parking problem there.
We will be pressing these points with the applicant and officers.
Development at 60 Bernard Street:
There is a planning application to convert the former Tofts glassworks on Bernard Street into a 17 unit student accommodation block (neither a HMO nor Purpose-Built Student Accommodation, for planning purposes). We believe that this is the wrong development in the wrong place and we are opposing it. There are serious issues with parking, traffic congestion, refuse and disruption to the residential amenity (it backs onto houses on Glanbyrdan Avenue). A petition is circulating (councillors have copies) and we intend to call it into the planning committee. The deadline for letters of objection is January 10th. The application went in shortly before Christmas and, by accident or design, gave objectors few working days to act.
Mansel Street-Walter Road Cycle route:
Nick and Mary had some discussion with officers about the type and degree of public involvement that would be most appropriate as we prepare to move forward with a narrower, slower road with 2-way dedicated cycle lanes. The legal requirement is simply to erect notices of the traffic regulation order changes. A full consultation (such as Wheelwights has done) canvassing the views of those resident who are cyclists, or would-be cyclists in Uplands, Sketty and beyond , who would use this important route for commuting or shopping) is not something the authority has the resources for. Actively inviting comment only from the residents and businesses directly affected (likely to lose parking provision) would probably not give a balanced view. The authority is now informing (not consulting) the affected addresses of the planned layout, with a flyer stressing the benefits of active travel, reduced traffic congestion and taking cyclists off pavements, and providing contact details for comments and questions.
LDP and HMOs:
The authority’s new Local Development plan (LDP) should be finalised very shortly. This will inform and give guidance to all planning decisions made by the authority and will hopefully be legally robust enough to stand up to appeals to the Welsh Planning Inspectorate by dissatisfied applicants. Decisions made in Swansea will hopefully stay in Swansea. Included in the LDP, and of relevance to Uplands is the authority’s upper limit for HMOs. Once the LDP has been ratified by the authority, having been approved by the Welsh Government we will be able to take effective measures to limit HMO density for the first time, in the interests of community cohesion and maintaining a balanced community.
However, Nick and Mary found it necessary to produce, with the help of the leader, the Chair of the Planning Committee and the responsible cabinet member, a press release to counter a thoroughly misleading letter distributed by an opposition party. A number of concerned resident contacted Nick and Mary after receiving the letter, whose misrepresentation of facts shows what we are up against locally. Instead of working to help local people understand this tricky subject, our opponents have continually done the exact opposite, misleading people about the point of the 25% policy, regardless of the cost to Uplands. 38 HMOs have been approved since July 2017 when we nearly had a 25% policy in place which would have prevented almost all of them. Even more HMO applications are coming forward in the next month, before the LDP will be in place to protect us.