Sometimes the Council invites guest speakers to give a little talk before the meeting gets down to business. Last night it was the Rural Housing Enabler. This is a chap who is funded by various bodies, including housing associations, but who is beholden to none of them; his function is to represent the community and their wishes. He can also communicate between ordinary people in the community and the policy makers who make the decisions that affect their lives. Also sitting in on the meeting was Rosemary Harris, the county council Cabinet member with responsibility for housing.
There is a Local Development Plan for this area, which is going forward to an enquiry on 15th January (I think this means the committee are going to look at it and agree on what it says). In Hay, under this plan, there will be no building of houses before 2016, partly due to objections by Welsh Water, because our current mains water systems are at capacity (I think). After that, there are plans for 13 houses to be build by the Fire Station, four of which will be "affordable" and six houses to the side of Cae Mawr, two of which will be "affordable". So that's six affordable houses, in an area where 40 families are in housing need. Apparently the average age of a first time house buyer has gone up to around 30+. Young people can't possibly afford to get on the housing ladder, and there is also a need for older people to have houses and flats available when they want to downsize from a family home. At the moment, there are no smaller properties available in this area at all, so anyone needing to find a smaller house would have to move out of the area altogether. That's particularly important to bear in mind with the soon-to-be-imposed "bedroom tax" coming up.
Where there are no suitable properties for local families, and the families have to move away, this has a knock on effect on the local shops, and schools and other services, so getting the housing policy right is really quite important.
Something that has worked well in Talgarth, and this chap was involved in that, was identifying empty properties and encouraging the owners to do them up and let them out. There are grants available, and several houses in Talgarth have come back into use, brightening up the place no end, and meaning that there are more people living there to use the shops and library and schools and so on.
Llanbedr was also mentioned, where the local community got involved in the design of the new development there.
Something that interested Fiona Howard very much was the news of the Sustainable Futures Commission, which is looking for somewhere for a pilot scheme of building timber framed houses. She would like to see the Town Council being responsible for providing some new council houses, rather than relying on a housing association to come in and do it. That's how the older houses on Gipsy Castle were built, after all. She was very keen that new affordable housing should be properties that people are proud to live in, rather than stuck in a corner as an afterthought as in some developments. A good example of the sort of thing she wants is the cottages by the canal basin and Theatr Brycheiniog, which are lovely, and affordable.
The recent house building in Hay didn't have the requirement for a proportion of the houses to be affordable - the planning permission was given before the new rules came in. The rules also lay down space requirements - the sizes of rooms and so on - which are 20% more generous than new private houses now (I remember several people going down to Mill Bank when they were first built to look round the show house, and commenting on how cramped they were and that there was no storage space worth speaking of).
Also present at the meeting was the new PCSO for Hay. Steve is still in training at the moment, in Brecon, but will be permanently in Hay by the end of February. He's able to work flexible shifts, so he's not around at the same times every day, but can vary it according to what needs to be done.
Meanwhile, the figures for reported crime in the Hay area are drastically down on the same time last year! In 2011, there were 50 crimes reported over November and December, and this year it was down to 24! In fact, in Hay itself, there were only 2 reported crimes in the whole of December! Meanwhile the drugs unit has been travelling Powys, based on intelligence work, which means they haven't been around Hay as often, and Operation Tornado has been a great success. This is a nationwide crackdown on scrap metal thefts.
So fairly soon there will be a public meeting so anyone interested can meet the new PCSO and ask any questions about policing and local crime, and the police will be holding regular surgeries in the library. They also want to publicise the 101 number, which is the non-emergency number to use instead of 999 - due to some clever technology, this puts you through to the nearest relevant police exchange for any enquiries or reporting of crimes.