This continues to be a vexed topic for residents, councillors and officers. Following the planning committee’s voting down of the draft Supplementary Planning Guidance in July Uplands is effectively without any protection against increasing HMO density because any refusal of an application can, without an effective SPG in place, be successfully overturned at appeal to the Planning Inspectorate. Unfortunately many residents believed, or were led to believe that a cap on numbers was a matter of their personal choice rather than what was lawful.
The consultation period, required by law, for a further draft SPG has begun. There is a workshop session on October 17th. councillors who attend can bring along a community representative and we will of course be seeking to exercise this right. It is important that the process is seen to be inclusive and participatory and that the voices of all in Uplands, long-term residents and students, are heard.
In the meantime, Uplands Labour councillors have been pressing officers and cabinet members to adopt a more holistic approach to the problems arising out of HMOs. At the moment, residents see one problem and one council but because HMOs fall between licensing, planning, refuse collection (from the pavement) and refuse (left within the curtilage of the dwelling) and traffic enforcement, the perception is one of buck passing and of being passed from pillar to post.
We want more community involvement in managing this problem and Mary has met with residents to look at how they can help, such as reporting apparent breaches by landlords of the license conditions because tenants are either unaware of such breaches or reluctant to risk adverse consequences form landlords. It was agreed that the problem of food in black bags is the most significant issue. Ideas are being shared and discussed for how we can encourage all local residents to use their food waste bins and be more neighbourly; when neighbours know each other, they are naturally more thoughtful and considerate.
There’s an application to convert the currently disused Cricketers pub into a 45 bed student accommodation block. Uplands Labour councillors are opposing this. It’s the wrong development for the wrong premises in the wrong place. The application has been called in and a petition in support of the call in has been handed in. The pub is an iconic part of the Brynmill landscape. However, the application can only be opposed on purely planning grounds: disruption to the residential amenity resulting from traffic congestion, a shortage of parking spaces (an issue already causing friction between long term residents and students) and the increased amount of refuse being put out. It should be before the planning committee in either November or December.
As sustainable transport champion Nick, the Cabinet member and officers has met with First Cymru. Regular meetings are part of the Quality Bus Partnership concluded between the authority and First to work to gether and improve the network. The authority has bid for and received £1m form the Local Transport Network Fund which will be used to improve the interchange information at various points in the network and to improve the telematics, so that the traffic signals will be connected to central control at County Hall. This will hopefully prevent delays and backing up at junctions and therefore improve punctuality.
Nick has also been working with Wheelrights, the cycling
rights group and transport officers, auditing the cycle network throughout the County for potential improvements, and looking at improving the provision at and around the railway station and the High Street.
Mary and Nick both attended the finals day at Victoria Bowls Club . Victoria BC has had to merge with Saint Helen’s BC for them both to survive (the new entity is called Victoria St Helen’s BC. Bowls clubs have suffered greatly from cuts forced on the council by Tory austerity. Therefore we want to help them as much as we can. Nick has made a donation of £500 from his community budget to Victoria St Helen’s BC.
Nick also attended the opening of the new extension at the Lifepoint Centre where there is a food bank, night shelter and a place where special needs children can interact and give their parents and carers some respite. Also in attendance were Welsh government cabinet member Carl Sargent and anti Poverty council cabinet member Will Evans.
Welfare Reform and Living Wage
A report analyzing the impacts of Welfare Reform has been received, detailing the amount of lost income by ward. Upland’s losses are not inconsiderable but not as worrying as some others. Our neighbours, Castle Ward, are facing the most astonishing losses. This will have knock-on impacts for the local economy as people have less cash to spend locally. When incomes are squeezed we also see increasing mental health problems, domestic abuse, physical illness and suicides. These issues will affect the entire Swansea community, however “protected” any individual ward may appear to be. Mary attended Welsh Local Government Association Council this month and reminded Labour group colleagues to bear these impacts in mind when discussing the pain caused by austerity. Not only are our public service budgets being squeezed while demand inevitably increases, but money is also being sucked out of our residents’ pockets. The auditor general reported some time ago that Wales would be disproportionately affected by Welfare Reform. Mary is joint WLGA spokesperson on Anti-poverty, Welfare Reform and Equalities along with Cllr Susan Elsmore from Cardiff, and they are keen to press Welsh Government to be more vocal on this issue. Meetings are planned with Ken Skates, to discuss his enduring belief that “work is the best route out of poverty”, while Wales now has record levels of in-work poverty and the majority of people in income poverty are in working households, and Sophie Howe, the Future Generations Commissioner, to discuss how we can achieve the Well-Being goal of “A More Equal Wales” while poverty pay continues. Mary and Susan have agreed that the Living Wage is a priority for their work.
Biodiversity and Greening Swansea
Swansea’s Public Service Board (a partnership of pubic bodies and others) received a presentation this month from Natural Resources Wales about the importance of green environments for health and well-being of people as well as planet. The Council Leadership is very committed to increasing greenery in Swansea and plans for City Centre redevelopment will reflect this. Anybody with innovative ideas or interesting examples from other cities is welcome to contact us and share them. A significant challenge on the horizon is Ash Dieback, a disease which entered the UK a couple of years ago and has now taken hold of Swansea’s Ash trees. The disease has decimated Ash populations across the UK. Swansea is likely to see its landscape change drastically as a result of this, and consideration will need to be given to replenishing our tree stock. A report on the number and location of trees in Uplands which may be affected is being sought. Meanwhile, public concern about 2 magnolia trees on property due for redevelopment on Uplands Crescent have been allayed. The planning application does not request their removal and our Tree Officer has instructed the developers to submit a tree protection plan.
Refugees and Asylum Seekers
In their WLGA Spokesperson role, Mary and Susan presented a report on the Syrian Resettlement programme. Every single local authority in Wales has taken some Syrian refugees, which is something we should be very proud about. Where homes are being slow to allocate it is because of a lack of affordable housing close to necessary services with space, such as schools and, particularly, GPs and other health services. It is important to remember that where these services are stretched, it a) is due to bad policy and planning which should cope better with population increases (which refugees only contribute to in a miniscule way) and b) affects all our communities in Wales: these are areas of common concern for everyone. The Swansea Bay Asylum Seekers’ Support Group meets weekly on a Friday, late afternoon, in the St James’ church hall. The session is a drop-in for anyone wishing to be welcoming and friendly towards asylum seekers and there is no expectation of ongoing involvement. Uplands Labour members may wish to pay them a visit.