On Friday January 25th Mary and Nick attended an open meeting of the Friends of the Ganges group.
Ganges Field is a much loved area of open space situated in Townhill, used and overlooked by Uplands residents. It’s a valuable ‘green lung’ in an area lacking open space, bordered by an ecologically valuable hedgerow over 200 years old. It has been the subject of various planning applications over the years, for houses. The most recent, by Swansea Council, about three years ago, was called in’ by Nick and withdrawn after local opposition. The previous one, also by the Council, was rejected by the planning committee, with Nick opposing.
Understandably the Friends of the Ganges are wary of further attempts to build here and defensive of this cherished green space.
The meeting was called to discuss proposals by Steven Willshire, a Community worker, to establish a Community Land Trust by which the land there would be held in ownership by the community. The scheme would involve some 8-12 affordable eco-houses and there would be other schemes for the use of the surrounding space.
Mary set out the planning context: under the UDP (pending the approval of the next LDP) the land is designated as an open space which means development potential is limited, but does exist. The land is also on the Council’s disposal list, although it is not being marketed. Without a CLT or some similar scheme by which the land is held in perpetuity by the community, it is vulnerable to further planning applications, which may be by speculative developers.
However, in a lively and at times repetitive meeting, it was felt that:
- At its heart, these proposals were essentially a building project.
- The Group saw this as something being done to them, not with them. This increased their pre-existing sense of distrust and made serious dialogue difficult.
- There was no desire to proceed with this project, but some aspects of a CLT were felt to have merit (and we weren’t sure whether a CLT needed to have a housing element or not).
- Other community ownership or conservation schemes, such as a Fields in Trust, are also worth exploring.
LDP and HMOs
The authority’s new Local Development plan (LDP) should be approved in February’s Council meeting. 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. Included in the LDP, and of relevance to Uplands is the authority’s upper limit for HMOs. We will be able to take effective measures to limit HMO density for the first time, in the interests of community cohesion and balance.
Once the LDP is in place we will look at reviewing licensing of HMOs, asking what we could do to make the licensing system more effective if we had more resources and more powers from WG. Julie James now has WG responsibility for licensing, and has expressed support.
Ward Visit by the Leader
Mary and Nick recently showed the leader round the ward, showing him the rubbish-filled front gardens, fly-tipping and letting boards associated with high HMO density. We also visited a resident who has highlighted the issue of slamming fire doors, a feature of HMOs regardless of the conduct of those living there. (We could not take him to Ganges Fields or the Townhill Pobl site, as planned, because of severe weather.)
Nick attended a quarterly meeting of the Student Liaison Committee, a body in which the council, police, student bodies work to together on matters of common concern such as parking pressure and anti-social behavior. At the meeting the Students Union president produced printouts of screen shots from two facebook groups, Uplands and Brynmill HMO Action Group and Uplands Councillors, using the type of generalized and derogatory language which he likened to unlawful hate speech. The fact that a student representative with every interest in maintaining good relations with long-term residents saw fit to bring this up should be a cause for some reflection. However, the response from many of those who inhabit these pages was either ‘so what’ or ‘we don’t believe it’.
Many people in the community have commented on the presently toxic tone of the Uplands social media conversation, and expressed their support for Nick and Mary, for which we are grateful. We ask that if they feel able to, Labour members contribute, responding in a positive way, avoiding any temptation to fight fire with fire, showing the community of Uplands and Brynmill at its inclusive best. Remember: social media is not the same as real life!
The authority has leafleted the addresses immediately affected by the intended Walter Road-Mansel Street 2 way cycle route, stressing the benefits of active travel, reduced traffic congestion and taking cyclists off pavements. Such an information exercise is narrow in its scope and does not, as Wheelrights consultation has done, canvass the views of those resident who are cyclists, or would-be cyclists who would use such the route for commuting to work or shopping. The purpose is simply to give those most immediately affected some warning of the Traffic Regulation Order changes which will soon be advertised, inviting comment.
Work is now in progress on the routes after the authority’s successful (£2m) bid to the WG Active Travel Fund. These routes are principally in the north, from the border with Neath Port Talbot, Llansamlet and Birchgrove as far as Morriston Hospital, serving Ynystawe, Trallwn and the route from Upper Bank to the Range. There has also been work widening the Oystermouth Road route.
There’s another £20 million available for the whole of Wales in 2019-20 and Swansea is making an ambitious bid of £9.8m to fund two strategic and two local routes which would result in a doubling of the cycle provision in Swansea to 100 km.
Townhill Campus Site
Nick has continued to liaise with planning officer and Wheelrights to try to ensure a degree of permeability and access to this site, possibly via the ‘100 steps’ or a foot and cycle path from Cockett Park to Rosehill Quarry. Mary submitted an online comment during the consultation, that without southern access the development would end up being inhabited by people who either drive or face isolation.
Resolution on Extreme Poverty
At December’s council meeting Mary brought a Welfare Reform update report, confirming that the appalling drops in income predicted some 18 months ago are now in full swing, with working-age households losing huge amounts of income and increasing numbers of households falling more than £100 per month short of te poverty line. Food bank use has doubled in the last year. In January Mary followed this with a motion, seconded by June Burtonshaw, calling on the leader to write to the Prime Minister and urge her to take up the recommendations of the UN’s Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty, whose damning report last November implicated the failing benefits system and cruel impacts of welfare reform in falling living standards in the UK. More about this is on the Uplands Labour Party website. During the debate, the two Uplands Party councillors left without expressing any view and the Tory group repeated the failing mantra that work is the best route out of poverty (firmly rebuffed by various Labour colleagues) and abstained from the vote. Nevertheless, they did specifically mention two points in the motion that they agreed with and would be taking further action on themselves. On one of them they are missing the point, in a way which we shall discuss briefly at a branch meeting, but their interest in the issue is appreciated and at least they acknowledge that the welfare system has grave problems which are affecting local lives.
Resolution on Lucy’s Law
Following the above item at Council, a motion in support of a campaign to outlaw Third Party puppy sales in order to tackle inhumane puppy farming received unanimous support from all those present in the chamber. A Tory who had to leave early left a statement in support to be read out, demonstrating how easy it is to express a view even if a councillor is unable to stay for a vote.
Launch of Gweithio Abertawe
Various projects exist (funded through various UK/Welsh government/European grants) to help people who are unemployed, underemployed or seeking new employment, depending on their postcode or circumstances. The different avenues can be complex to understand and navigate, and relationships between working partners have not always provided a smooth journey for service users. Gweithio Abertawe/Swansea Working is a council-led partnership scheme which presents a single “front door” for anyone in Swansea looking for education, training or employment opportunities. Onward referrals and support are then provided depending on the person’s situation. Mary officially launched the service at an event at the YMCA in January, but ait ctually opened its doors for service some months ago and has taken over 1,000 referrals. Feedback from participants and partners has been very positive. More info available online.
As Uplands gradually comes on-stream with reusable pink bags for plastic waste, the Council moves to enforcing the rules about what can and cannot be recycled. Criticism has come from people thinking that soft/flimsy plastics (cling film, yoghurt pot lids, fruit & veg packaging etc) are being dropped as a cost-saving measure. In fact these have never been recycled, but disposed of by the companies processing our plastic waste, who now will not accept them. Similar criticisms are being made about wood recycling ceasing at Clyne; this is because WG now require councils to sort wood for recycling into different grades and types, and Llansamlet is the only site with the space to make this possible. Better communication is needed to explain these changes to the public: Mary is discussing with Cllr Mark Thomas.