To start with the big, bad news, there has recently been the entirely expected announcement that the Westminster government will not support the proposed Swansea Bay tidal lagoon on grounds that the strike price represented poor ‘value for money’; even though – after investment from Welsh Government – it would have required less cash from Westminster than they have agreed for the nuclear power station, Hinckley Point C. The lagoon proposes cutting edge technology and sustainable, long-term, predictable, renewable energy production. The scheme would have helped fight climate change, created quality jobs, given Wales a lead in developing this technology and used our geography and natural resources to our advantage. Other governments would have jumped at the chance.
The Westminster government – a visionless bunch concentrating overwhelmingly on their own survival in the unfolding shambles of Brexit negotiations – rejected the lagoon for ideological rather than economic reasons. The Tories are hand in glove with the nuclear and fossil fuel sectors; they have already spent too much money featherbedding the DUP who prop them up in Parliament; Heathrow airport expansion was seen as more important (though more destructive!) and, ultimately, Wales is peripheral to their concerns.
This decision, representing contempt for Wales, comes on top of the cancellation of rail electrification (which was combined neatly with the Crossrail scheme in London) the dumping of radioactive mud from Hinckley point off the Welsh coast and the naming of the Severn Bridge without any consultation and in the face of considerable public opposition.
The council is looking at alternative plans so that the scheme can eventually be realised without Westminster support.
Council-owned Energy Company
In the face of fuel poverty, fuel insecurity and the unhealthy grip of a small number of large firms over the energy market, Swansea Council is considering the creation of an arms-length socially responsible energy company, owned by the authority. If feedback from the public is positive a business case will be prepared later this year. https://www.swansea.gov.uk/energysurvey
We appreciate that this has dominated our reports in recent months. However, the HMO issue tends to be a surrogate for a wider argument: the balanced, sustainable community we want in Uplands, the rights accorded to (and obligations owed by) members of that community and how the local authority can act in a holistic way in dealing with the challenges posed by HMO density. For recent background and planning basics please see the document Mary shared on the branch Facebook group. In short, any HMO planning policy must be informed by the Local Development Plan which is undergoing examination prior to adoption. The actual HMO threshold in a given area must now be determined by and included in the LDP. (Contrary to misinformation peddled on social media, the Welsh government has written to every Welsh local authority requiring that HMO concentration thresholds are set in the LDP; this is not to do with any failing by the Council.) It must relate to the existing character of the area, otherwise that part of the LDP would be regarded by the Welsh government as ‘unsound’.
The proposed “management area” (covering parts of Uplands and Castle wards) is already an Additional Licensing Area, requiring properties to have a license which they wouldn’t need elsewhere. Countywide, a HMO license is needed for houses with 3 or more storeys and 5 or more unrelated people. Here, all HMOs of any size must be licensed. Obviously, this results in us having vastly more licensed HMOs than the rest of Swansea. Nobody talked about “concentrating the pain” in Uplands when Additional Licensing came in, and it is highly manipulative and disingenuous to do so now that it results in different HMO concentrations, necessitating different planning thresholds.
The council proposes a threshold of 25% in the suggested management area. We believe the 15% threshold advocated by some last year, and current calls for a single countywide threshold, are not about dealing with HMO density realistically but about political positioning.
On June 25th, at Brynmill Community Centre there was a presentation by the Leader, with cabinet members Clive Lloyd, Andrea Lewis and David Hopkins in attendance, setting out the background to the current HMO situation, what the authority can do, what it intends to do, in the context of its policy commitments, and what it cannot do. Rob debunked a number of myths and misconceptions. The general atmosphere was reasonably positive. Thanks to the party members who attended. It is important to make it clear that when our opponents claim to speak for ‘residents’ on this and other issues they do not speak for all residents; Uplands is a varied and diverse community in which all views deserve respect.
Rob’s presentation has been dismissed online as “one man’s informal opinion”, lacking authority compared to the formal submission which others are preparing to present to planning inspectors examining the LDP. In fact, Rob was presenting the official Council position which is being formally proposed to the inspectors – representations may only be made by people who oppose that official position.
The LDP hearing, at which planning inspectors will examine the draft LDP and receive such submissions, was due on July 4th but due to one of the inspectors being ill, it will now be September.
Cycling & Active Travel
Cllr Nick Davies is sustainable travel champion. We are working on proposals for a cycle lane linking Uplands with the City centre, integrating with the proposed cycle route on Orchard street and Kingsway. This would ideally be on Walter Road/Mansel Street, two-way with some loss of parking and a buffer separating the cycle lane from remaining parking bays, to prevent ‘dooring’ (car doors being opened and hitting passing cyclists). We believed this would be a relatively straightforward scheme, involving only ‘signs and lines’, but sadly the road may not be wide enough. The scheme is important: it has the support of Castle councilors; it accords with our manifesto commitments and Welsh government active travel policy; it will take cyclists off the pavement and make cycling safer. There may be opposition to a loss of parking and concern about the impact on businesses. Parking and traffic surveys are now underway. Wheelrights, the cycling advocacy group, is planning a meeting in the ward, probably on July 25th, the promote the scheme.
The Council has had nearly £2 million from Welsh government’s Local transport Fund and local Transport Network Fund. Some will be used to expand the Fabian Way Park & Ride, some will improve traffic flow in strategic bus corridors, principally Llanygyfelach Road and Gower Road, to improve bus punctuality and confidence in bus travel. Similar work is also needed at a number of traffic junctions.
£365k is allocated to active travel schemes (cycling and walking) – very welcome, as the Welsh government has previously failed to match the laudable ambition of the Active Travel Act with sufficient funding to Councils – and the cycle network is set to be improved and expanded in Clyne Common, Pontardulais and Kingsbridge.
The Santander bike hire scheme, supported by the Council and the University, launches this week. Already common throughout the world, this system encourage people to cycle, persuading people that it is easy and safe. There are docking stations at the two University campuses, the Fabian Way park and ride, Waterfront Museum and the Civic Centre. Ideally, the scheme should expand to include docks at Mumbles, Uplands and the railway station.
Conservation area: S215 Notices
We are working with concerned residents to ensure that when there are dilapidated houses in the expanded Fynone Conservation area, the owners, who are often absent, are contacted and, if appropriate, offered assistance in dealing with the problem or, served a Notice by the Authority (s215 Town and Country Planning Act) ordering them to do necessary remedial work.
As staunch socialists and defenders of public services we are always concerned when it is suggested to move things out of Council ownership or control. The model being proposed for Leisure Services management would see the Council retain a lot of control, but less direct ownership. Issues to do with economies of scale, specialism etc mean that a not-for-profit company whose staff teams, back office functions, contracting processes and other gubbins can run a large number of leisure centres far more efficiently than a council can run a few. The model is working well in other parts of Wales and after extensive presentations and discussions the local Labour Group is reassured that this will protect and enhance workers’ rights (for example, unionizing the currently unrepresented LC workforce), safeguard pensions, allow for investment in local leisure facilities which is badly needed and protect customers from cost increases. This is not the same as selling off our leisure services to the private sector. The contract will ensure we remain a partner with a significant voice in decisions.
Additional enforcement has been requested of the 1 hour parkig bays around Gwydr Square, as their sensible use helps increase footfall to local businesses who have complained about the situation. At the same time we are in discussion with Cllr Mark Thomas about the often unhelpful attitude of enforcement officers who seem to be trying to catch people out for “easy wins” rather than to tackle ongoing problems that the city needs help with.
Biodiversity has passed from Mary’s portfolio to Mark Thomas’s, bringing it together with Highways and other environmental aspects, although Mary retains focus on the WBFG At which asks us to create a more Resilient Wales (meaning more resilient ecosystems). Both are meeting with community members and the Woodland Trust soon to discuss urban planting challenges and possibilities. Mary met recently with concerned residents on Glanbrydan Avenue whose petition won a pause in tree felling while evidence was gathered … and found to be incorrect, thus saving the tree. They would like to see trees replanted in the ward and refute the advice of officers that we have inadequate soil depth, so Woodland Trust advice will be very welcome here. Swansea Council is being gifted a number of flowering cherry trees by Japan, and suggestions about where they could be planted are welcome.
Poverty Reduction and Communities work
Mary now has Cabinet responsibility for Poverty Reduction in the Better Communities portfolio which she shares with June Burtonshaw. Priorities are being agreed with officers and the leader; these are likely to include the Pension Credit campaign promised during our election campaign, a Poverty Truth Challenge where people on low incomes and decision makers come together as equals to discuss concerns, councillors and community members being more engaged in countering negative messages in the media about minority groups, and a focus on work to support young people to have safe, equal, healthy relationships as part of our strategy for preventing domestic abuse and violence against women.
Mary retains the joint role of WLGA Spokesperson on Welfare Reform, Anti-Poverty and Equalities, and is planning an event in September to bring all poverty reduction lead councillors together from across Wales to share learning and ideas. There are some areas of good practice but the overwhelming message is that Universal Credit is not working – as reported by the National Audit Office recently: https://www.nao.org.uk/report/rolling-out-universal-credit/
Appeal success rates for ESA across Wales remain at nearly 100%, testifying to the number of wrong DWP decisions and the amount of public money wasted as a result. This and other messages from the event will be consolidated. The disproportionately harsh effects of Welfare Reform predicted in Wales are now being felt and the Tory government must be held to account.
The much-used and valuable community resource on Bryn Road is in need of repairs which we can fund from our Community budget. The Scouts have struggled to find recommended Uplands contractors – if you know any, please let us know.