Carmarthenshire County Council's Ministry of Spin recently went to town publicising the results of an opinion survey which showed, among other things, that most people in Carmarthenshire feel that the council keeps them well informed, and this put the council at the top of the rankings among Welsh councils.
The PR release forgot to mention that only just over half of the people surveyed (52% to be precise) felt this way, and it completely forgot to mention that when it came to listening to what its people have to say, Carmarthenshire came bottom of the poll.
The positive results for keeping people informed probably had a lot to do with Carmarthenshire News, the increasingly bulky council newspaper which drops through everyone's letterboxes every other month. Sadly, most readers of this publication will be blissfully unaware of all the important council news which does not make it into the glossy pages of this propaganda sheet.
Without a doubt, one of the most important things happening in Carmarthenshire at the moment is the creation of a Local Development Plan which will have far-reaching consequences for just about everyone in the county.
The Council has just launched the latest round of statutory consultations on the plan, but you won't find a word about this in the latest edition of Carmarthenshire News, although it does devote a full page to children's puzzles and games.
Carmarthenshire is not alone in refining its LDP. The process is going on all across Wales, and the most frequently heard criticism of all of them is that they base their projections for housing, etc. on a sharp rise in the population in the period up to 2021.
The forecasts were drawn up long before the 2011 census which showed that population growth in many parts of Wales had stagnated. The census also showed that in many parts of Wales there are very large numbers of empty properties, including in Carmarthenshire.
Like other Welsh councils, Carmarthenshire has no doubt had a lot of feedback from local people criticising the population forecasts, and its response to the criticism has been to increase allocations for new houses under the plan by 7% to 16,240.
Students of Carmarthenshire consultations will not be surprised, and neither judging from the results of the opinion survey will the public at large.
The plan is paving the way for huge new housing developments across the county, and there is barely a village which will escape. In Newcastle Emlyn (population about 900), the plan makes an allocation of 89 new houses. That does not sound a lot until you realise that this would represent a population increase of about 20%.
The new draft LDP also has a lot to say about the Welsh language, and the council has produced a glossy new Supplementary Planning Guidance to deal with this. This blog will look at this piece of window dressing in more detail next week, but in essence what it does is to say that language impact assessments and 'linguistic statements' are a wonderful thing, although they will only be necessary for developments which are outside the allocations set out in the LDP.
In other words, the 16,240 new houses included in the plan will not have any impact, and anyone expecting the new policy to prevent a recurrence of what happened in Penybanc will be in for a shock. And even if a developer comes along and wants to double the number of houses allocated to a particular site, the council is likely to declare that the increase is "within the tolerance levels".
Business as usual, in other words.
Anyone wishing to write in and give their view has until 13 September to do so. The place to start is here.
I think what local authorities are forgetting is that all these homes have to actually get built within the timeframes they set down.
The materials and staff are easy enough. But if you look at Cardiff's proposals and targets in isolation, for example, they're looking at building homes at a rate the equivalent of half the total number of homes currently built in Wales in a whole year - something like 2,300 a year for 15 years.
It's taken developers the best part of two years to build around 200-300 of 1,500 homes on the outskirts of Bridgend to put things in perspective.
Talking of empty properties!
According to an organisation on the panel, they estimate "920,000 empty homes across the UK, 330,000 of which are long term empty."
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