HMO applications continue to come in, as landlords take advantage of the lack of a policy stating what the limit should be. As we know, a draft went to Planning Committee last July but was rejected due to a campaign by some residents for a threshold of 15% (of houses within the given radius being HMOs), above which applications would be refused. Uplands Labour councillors warned that 15% is unenforceable because planning law requires an authority, when setting a threshold, to consider the character of the area at the time, not as it used to be or as we would like it to be. The concentration of HMOs in parts of Uplands is far above 15%, partly as a result of inaction by the previous non-Labour Council (2004 to 2012). Some residents appeared to believe they could have 15% if they wanted it and only council planning officers or Labour councillors who “didn’t agree” were preventing this. In fact, measuring the existing concentration of HMOs in a given area is a matter of maths, not opinion.
The SPG drafted last year would have stopped most HMO applications in Uplands being approved and would have been a defence against appeals. It did not include a provision against ‘sandwiching’, which we both favoured; we issued a written submission to the Planning Committee explaining the benefits this would bring. But the committee did indicate their approval of this element: the draft SPG, if passed, could have been amended to include it, and it could have been amended this year in the light of the LDP when that was adopted. Meanwhile it would have offered important protection against the tide of HMOs. It was untrue that the SPG was ‘once in a lifetime policy’, just as it was untrue that it was a ‘law’ which could ban HMOs and untrue that residents could choose the threshold. Uplands is paying the price for the 15% campaign’s “victory” last year.
HMO applications in Westbury Street and Gwydr Crescent (the latter called in by Uplands Labour councillors) were approved at May’s planning meeting. There are applications in for Hawthorne Avenue, King Edward Road, St Alban’s Road and Westbury street (again). The application relating to the Bryn Road vicarage has been called in and we have submitted a petition. The lack of an SPG is cited as a reason for appeals being allowed and this is cited by officers as their rationale for recommending approval.
However, planning officers and inspectors also cite a presumption that a HMO for, say, 6, is essentially the same as a family home for 6. In planning meetings and consultations we have repeatedly pointed out that this is not the case and that an HMO is of a fundamentally different character. Planning Law is about land use and not about community cohesion or social sustainability. Having said that, Planning Policy Wales is currently being revised in light of the Well-Being of Future Generations Act, to ensure that future planning policies consider the impacts of proposed developments on the 7 well-being goals for Wales, including “A Wales of Cohesive Communities”. It will be interesting to see whether this results in “land use” being ultimately seen as more of a social concern, than a purely physical one. Members with an interest in Planning are encouraged to please go online and contribute to this consultation.
We will continue to press for a viable, legally robust SPG to protect Uplands and Brynmill from HMO over-density, in the knowledge that the leadership of this administration has always been committed to bringing this policy in and protecting Uplands going forward.
There is a further application to convert Twizzle Lodge into 8 units of student accommodation (not a HMO). This follows the previous application, for 13 units, which was withdrawn. Petitions by objectors, supported by Uplands Labour councillors, are circulating. The problem with this proposal here is parking and traffic issues.
With high levels of car ownership and (mainly) terraced houses with no garages, parking continues to be a vexed issue in Uplands and Brynmill, exacerbated by the large number of students who bring cars, but (often) leave them parked for long periods.
Uplands Labour councillors are committed to working with the university, specifically the Director of Student Services, Kevin Childs and the Sustainable Transport Officer Jayne Cornelius to achieve a collaborative and intelligent solution to the problem, nudging students away from bringing cars (as opposed to bringing them and not using them) and favouring buses, cycling or walking. We need to go from ‘I brought my car but found I didn’t need it’ to, ‘I don’t need my car so I won’t bring it’. We are also pressing the university to provide increased parking for staff, and financial incentive to use it, instead of parking in Brynmill.
However, some residents believe the problem is students and the answer is that they should not have permits. The justification for making students the scapegoats for the problems caused by excessive car ownership throughout the UK is that students do not pay council tax. Our views:
- There should be no discrimination against a section of society in the provision of council services. Some students need cars.
- There must be no ‘divide and rule’ in Uplands, we are all one community
- If students do not get parking permits, what other services should be denied them?
- What about other people who don’t pay council tax? Are they denied council services?
- If students cannot obtain parking permits it will not in itself prevent them from bringing cars, they will just struggle to find space outside residents bays, along with everyone else whose cars don’t fit in them;
- They are only entitled to two per household, just like any other household. They don’t make the situation any worse, and we get welcome respite during holiday times, unlike the rest of Swansea.
These views are interpreted in some quarters as the council ‘encouraging’ students to bring cars. Obviously we refute this notion. Permitting something is not the same as encouraging it;
However, there is a genuine lack of confidence among the public in the paperless permit system with people not knowing whether or not a car is lawfully parked. We would like to see a mechanism whereby people can easily see whether a car has a permit or not, perhaps a printed token of some sort, and we are discussing this with the relevant cabinet member.
The possibility of a Controllled Parking Zone has been raised by some residents. We have investigated this; there are advantages and disadvantages and a considerable cost. Discussions continue.
There has been controversy about the removal of some trees as part of the reconfiguring of the City Centre. 50 trees were scheduled for removal, to be replaced by 170: a net gain of 120. Some of those scheduled for removal were diseased, dying or damaging pavements and drains; inappropriate species in unsuitable locations. The council ecology officers have assessed the trees in question; none with nesting birds are being removed. Public outcry seems to centre on the lack of announcement/consultation. The felling of trees is a stage in the creation of the new Kingsway development, which received very positive feedback on consultation. More info is at www.swansea.gov.uk/thekingsway. Meanwhile, Mary has been progressing getting “Tree Loss” recognized as a Corporate Risk as reported in February. This has involved drafting a list of the negative impacts which losing trees could have on the environment, health and well-being and the economy. While the high-level commitment to Swansea’s greenery is not in question, having this risk recognised will ensure that measures are put in place to monitor the situation at the operational level better than has been the case in the past. This complements a Scrutiny Inquiry into the Council’s management of natural resources which is underway, chaired by Cllr Peter Jones, Sketty.
Residential care and Day Services
As reported verbally last month, consultation is now well underway on the amalgamation of day services for older people and the closure of a highly under-used residential care home. This is so that council resources can be focused on those with the greatest needs, requiring the most specialized care. Local Area Co-ordination is expanding, helping older and vulnerable people be better connected to communities, increasing resilience and reducing need for solutions provided by the council.
As reported verbally last month, consultation has now begun on the closure of two very under-populated village schools, at Felindre and Craig Cefn Parc. In both cases, school registrations have plummeted, with insufficient numbers of young children attending for the schools to be viable, and with a vastly higher cost-per-pupil which is considered very unfair to the rest of Swansea’s school population. A full appraisal has of course been carried out and there are realistic, favourable options for the pupils at these schools to receive good quality education elsewhere, nearby.
At our surgery recently concern was raised about “A Parent’s Guide to Elective Home Education” which has been sent out to home educating parents, of which we have quite a few in Uplands, along with a covering letter referring to a policy recently initiated by the council. Parents are keen to view the whole policy and to contribute to the guide with for example, up-to-date info in the ‘support’ section. Mary has requested a copy of the policy in order to assist residents with this. If any members know home educating parents with interests in this guide, please refer them to us.
As reported verbally last month, we are supporting some residents on Eaton Crescent with concerns about the condition of some of the houses there, which appear to have been neglected and possibly even abandoned. Section 215 notices can be served, if appropriate, to have these homes brought up to a standard expected of a conservation area. We obviously would not want to see such action taken on a householder without the capacity or the resources to take action, where a more supportive approach would be needed. We are meeting relevant officers this month to progress this.
Equality Rapid Review
Julie James, AM, as Leader of the House, is conducting a “Rapid Review” of gender equality in Wales, asking for ideas for actions that may be: short-term, with a quickly noticeable impact; medium term and longer term. Mary is participating in this as WLGA council spokesperson on equality and attended a very interesting workshop facilitated by Chwarae Teg. Anyone interested in further information or wishing to share ideas is welcome to get in touch with Mary.
Swansea Community Green Spaces project has been supporting a new Friends group up on the Pentyla Playing field, known as the Ganges field, where planting has recently taken place and Townhill Councillors are funding the installation of some gates to prevent scrambler bikes accessing the field, to which we will also contribute. The field is in Townhill but borders Uplands and many Uplands residents use and enjoy it. The group welcomes participation from new members and is hoping to hold a Big Lunch event; please find them on Facebook.