Rural Wales

Apr 292014
 
Population density 2010

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Using the population density map to the right you’ll see that what I choose to call ‘rural Wales’ is those areas with fewer than one hundred persons per square kilometre, though I would make two adjustments. If the coastal strip – Rhyl, etc – is removed then the rest of Denbighshire qualifies as rural, and although Carmarthenshire falls into the <100 category it makes sense to link Llanelli – in the south east corner – with the Swansea Bay conurbation. This leaves us with some eighty per cent of Wales’ landmass, roughly a quarter of the population, no towns bigger than Bangor, Aberystwyth or Carmarthen, and of course, what remains of the Welsh language’s heartland, Y Fro Gymraeg.

There are three main players in rural Wales whose roles I want to examine in relation to the oft-bewailed ‘rural housing crisis’.

First, we have the local big-shots; landowners, businessmen and the like, for whom personal gain takes precedence over all other considerations. A good example would be Dai Lloyd Evans and his confreres who controlled Ceredigion council, buying up land before planning strategies were made public, and then selling it to developers or building on it themselves. Arguing that without these three- and four-bedroom houses local newly-weds would have nowhere to enjoy their connubial bliss . . . even though the youngsters for whom the gang feigned concern couldn’t afford these houses!

Also involved were estate agents and others looking for a profit. Such as local builders, most of whom were honest enough to admit that the houses they were building were, in the main, for English in-comers. But one builder, who received considerable coverage in the Wasting Mule, went over the top by arguing that if he wasn’t allowed to build houses for English colonists then there’d be no work for his Welsh-speaking workers; consequently, the language would die. An intriguing argument, asking us to believe that the Welsh language in Ceredigion depends for its survival on English colonisation!

Second, we have the equally unconvincing arguments forwarded by the Planning Inspectorate to justify yet more housing such as the Bodelwyddan New Town in Denbighshire. Namely, because Denbighshire has an ageing population – with the bulk of its elderly from England – a younger influx must be encouraged to balance things out. In other words, ‘You have a problem with English colonisation – so we advocate more of it’!

Elsewhere, the Planning Inspectorate promotes housebuilding as a self-justifying, stand-alone economic activity, rather than as something that would, in any normal society, be consequential upon economic prosperity and population growth. Explained as an ‘economic boost’ for rural Wales this is the policy I outlined in my post If You Build Them, They Will Come.

Finally, we are told that ‘Wales needs more houses’ to meet an indigenous demand, and to cater for ‘natural’ growth.

Third, we have social housing providers. Ostensibly meeting the needs of those who cannot afford to buy a home, yet we all know that far too many housing association properties are being allocated to ‘the vulnerable’ and ‘the needy’ from over the border; simpering euphemisms for substance abusers, ex-cons, paedophiles, problem families and the others who make up England’s white underclass.

Y Bwthyn, Llanrhaeadr ym Mochnant

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Another problem is that since social housing passed from councils to housing associations jobs have been lost in areas that can ill afford to lose any. In Gwynedd the council’s housing stock went to Cartrefi Cymunedol Gwynedd, which then gave the contract for maintaining its properties to an English company, Lovell, which in turn sub-contracted the work to other English companies. My disabled next-door-neighbour waited weeks for his bathroom to be tiled by a firm that either didn’t turn up at all or else turned up around 11am and was gone by 3pm – because they came from Wigan, 120 miles from Tywyn!

There are serious questions to be asked about why the ‘Welsh’ Government is funding – via the Social Housing Grant and other means – what are to all intents and purposes private companies. Private companies that are a) importing undesirables and b) losing Wales contracts and jobs. Organisations about which it is almost impossible to get information due to the fact they are exempt from Freedom of Information legislation, and are not registered with Companies House due to being Industrial and Provident Societies. Conversely, if they are not private companies, but are what they claim to be, which is ‘not-for-profit’ organisations in receipt of public funding, then why are they not subject to FoI requests? Are we not entitled to know how our money is being spent?

I propose returning to the intriguing matter – and anomalous status – of housing associations later, with a full post. (Any information received will be treated with the usual sagacious discretion. Send to: editor@jacothenorth.net.)

Social Housing Grant

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What we see in the three examples I have used above is how deliberate lies become the terms of debate, the very vocabluary, when dealing with rural housing in Wales. It’s like some parallel universe where black is white and right is wrong. That said, there is one unavoidable truth upon which everyone agrees . . . before corrupting that truth to serve the same selfish or anti-Welsh interests. As you will read below.

Rural Wales has an oversupply of housing . . . by which I mean, more housing than will be needed by the indigenous population for at least a generation.

The true problem is that the indigenous Welsh are excluded from much of this housing. Either because they are unable to afford the prices asked for open market housing or else because social housing providers too often find ‘clients’ over the border who take precedence over locals.

But then something very clever happens. The inability of Welsh people to buy private dwellings, or access social housing, is used as the excuse to build yet more housing – from which the unchanged system still excludes them!

To remedy this institutionalised con trick we need to a) provide meaningful financial aid for Welsh (especially first-time) buyers and b) move towards a split market, where a percentage of properties in all areas is reserved for local buyers; while in the social housing sector ensure that no one qualifies for social housing unless they have been resident in Wales for at least five years.