Two very interesting news items were carried yesterday by Golwg, the Welsh language news service, reporting comments made by Alun Lenny, a councillor on Carmarthen Town Council. They deserve to be widely reported because they concern the future of our county and the "vision" which our county council has for us. The original articles can be found here and here.
Last week, Carmarthenshire County Council published what it calls its "deposit Local Development Plan", or LDP, which will replace the current Unitary Development Plan. The consultation period extends until 19 August. Responses will be evaluated by an "independent planning specialist", and the plan will come into effect in 2013 and run until 2021.
The county council has decided that we will need 11,200 new homes by 2016 despite the fact that
the population is not growing. It justifies this partly by pointing to an increase across the UK in the number of people living alone, but also predicts that the population of Carmarthenshire will grow by 11% over the next decade.There are, however, good reasons for believing that the vast new housing developments being proposed would instead attract a new influx of settlement from England.
Just to the west of Carmarthen, the council has earmarked 320 acres of farmland for a development of 1,200 houses, with the consultation period for this particular development due to end next week.
Llanelli, Cross Hands and Ammanford have also been allocated massive new housing developments, and even the smaller settlements across the county have swathes of land earmarked for housing. In Newcastle Emlyn (population roughly 900), a total of 89 new houses are planned, equivalent to a population increase of between 20% and 30%. It is the same story across the rest of the county.
Alun Lenny says that there are currently over 2,000 properties which have been empty for quite some time, and anyone who has travelled around the county will know that there are forests of For Sale and To Let signs wherever you go.
Cllr Lenny wonders whether our infrastructure (roads) and services (hospitals, social services and schools) are capable of handling such a large influx. In Carmarthen the Glangwili Hospital is already struggling to meet demand, and the plan does not tell us whether money will be forthcoming for massive expansion or a new hospital. With jobs like hens' teeth, it is also pertinent to ask where all these additional people would work.
Carmarthenshire has the largest population of Welsh speakers in all Wales, and approximately half of the population speak Welsh. As Alun Lenny points out, a large influx of non-Welsh speakers will forever change the identity of our biggest towns and deal a shattering blow to the language.
But even if you don't worry about the survival and well-being of the language, you should care about what the council has in store for us all. In the last few years it has wrecked the historic town centre of Carmarthen and succeeded in turning the oldest town in Wales into just another clone town. Now it wants to build huge, sprawling housing developments around all of the larger towns, dealing a huge blow to our quality of life.
Cllr Lenny goes on to hit the nail on the head by asking whether the real reason for all this development in Carmarthen is to justify the St Catherine's Walk shopping centre, one of the crown jewels of the county council under chief executive Mark James, who should list breeding white elephants as his hobby on Facebook.
Pointing out that the LDP consultation has been set to coincide with the summer holidays, Cllr Lenny says he believes the timing is a cynical and deliberate attempt by the county council to ensure that as few people as possible respond to the consultation.
He might have added that to make double sure, the LDP itself is buried deep on the council's flaky website under tons and tons of documentation, with the feedback form designed to put off anyone but the most determined of objectors. There is also a fair chance that the "independent planning specialist" who will assess responses to the consultation will turn out to be Nathaniel Lichfield Partnership who have a close and loving relationship with the county council's planners.
Carmarthenshire County Council does not have a good record on consultation. Actually, that is an understatement. The council has an appallingly bad record on consultation, as it regularly ignores any messages it does not like and ploughs ahead regardless. Only last week we saw the council approve plans to merge two secondary schools in Llandeilo and Llandovery despite 91% of respondents to the statutory consultation opposing the proposal.
Of course, if we don't bother the LDP will be forced on us anyway, so let's hope that as many people as possible go to the public meetings being organised around the county or take time to fill in the response form. I have no doubt that Cymdeithas yr Iaith will take up the challenge, but let's hope also that public bodies such as the Countryside Council for Wales, the political parties, the Environment Agency and others lead the way.