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					Merthyr Tydfil County Borough Council
    Housing Strategy 2007-2012




     “Quest for Quality Homes”
2. INTRODUCTION

Situated on the border of the Brecon Beacons, the County Borough Of
Merthyr Tydfil extends 14 miles through the Taff Valley, taking in the Taff
Bargoed Valley at Bedlinog, from the Brecon Beacons National Park in the
north to Trelewis in the South. The town‟s heritage and history are closely
linked to the iron industry. Covering 55 square miles, Merthyr Tydfil is the
smallest Unitary Authority in Wales.

The County Borough is bordered to the north by Powys County Council, to the
south and west by Rhondda Cynon Taff County Borough Council and to the
east by Caerphilly County Borough Council. The main population centre is
concentrated in Merthyr Tydfil itself but the area also contains a number of
villages including Troedyrhiw, Aberfan, Bedlinog and Treharris.

While much of the urban areas and the surrounding villages have been built
on the flood plain of the River Taff, many homes were constructed on the
slopes of the River valley. The built fabric of Merthyr Tydfil has been created
over many years and past industrial activity, particularly the nineteenth
century iron industry, has left the County Borough with a rich heritage ranging
from imposing bridges and viaducts to more humble workers‟ cottages. The
County Borough has 3 Conservation Areas and over 200 Listed Buildings and
Ancient Monuments.

The area has experienced considerable structural and economic change over
the last twenty years. Manufacturing and public administration account for
almost two-thirds of employment and both are focused upon a small number
of employers. A number of large companies have moved into the Cyfarthfa
Retail Park during the last 2 years including Next, Outfit, TK Max, Debenhams
Debut and Matalon. These stores have given the area a much needed
economic boost. JJB Sports has also moved to the park and in addition to the
retail outlet, a gym has also been opened which is very well supported. The
Authority is also looking to develop Trago Mills another retail park, which will
also provide a vital boost to the economy.

Merthyr – it’s Council
The County Borough Council was established by the Local Government
(Wales) Act 1994, and came into existence on 1st April 1996. The Council is
the smallest Unitary Authority in Wales and is responsible for all local
government services in the area including economic development, planning,
social services, education, highways, housing, the collection of council tax, the
payment of housing benefit, leisure, tourism and environmental services. The
Council is the largest employer in the area, employing 3,200 members of staff.

The Council has 33 councillors representing 11 electoral wards. The Labour
Party are the largest single political group within the Council with 17
councillors, the Independent Group is next largest with 6 councillors and
People Before Politics have 4 councillors. The Labour Group has control of
the Cabinet which is the executive decision making body of the council. The
Council has 6 Scrutiny Committees which are responsible for challenging the


Quest for Quality Homes 2007 - 2012    1
       Council‟s decisions as well as assisting in the policy making process. The
       remit of each scrutiny committee matches the portfolio of the Cabinet
       Member.

       The Cabinet Member whose portfolio includes housing is Councillor Bill Smith,
       Cabinet Member for Safer and Regenerated Communities.

       Services within the Council are currently organised around a management
       team of a Chief Executive and 5 Directors.

                                           Chief
                                           Executive




Director Integrated                                Director Integrated Adult
Children‟s                                         Services
Services
                       Director Customer                                       Director Customer
                       Community                                               Corporate Services
                       Services



                                   Director Corporate
                                   Centre




       Quest for Quality Homes 2007 - 2012         2
Merthyr – it’s Housing
Of all the countries within the United Kingdom, Wales has the poorest quality
housing stock, which is generally older and in poorer condition than housing in
England, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

In 2001 there were 23,145 homes in Merthyr. Compared with the rest of
Wales, Merthyr has 6% fewer households living in owner occupied
accommodation and 27% more of its population living in social housing. Table
1 below shows the proportion of homes in each tenure group in 2001
compared against the overall figures for Wales.



Table 1. Housing Tenure in Merthyr. Source ONS Census 2001
1997 Welsh House Condition Owner           Social   Privately
Survey Findings                 occupie Housing Rented
                                d
Proportion of households in     67.11%     22.85%   10.05%
each tenure type in Merthyr
Proportion of households in     71.32%     17.9%    10.77%
each tenure type in Wales

The housing stock of the area reflects the past patterns of development in the
locality. The area‟s rapid development as a metal working and mining town in
the nineteenth century and it‟s subsequent decline in the 20 th Century means
that it has a significantly older housing stock than elsewhere in Wales. Table 2
below shows the age of Merthyr‟s housing stock across all tenures in
comparison to the Welsh average.

Table 2. Age of Housing Stock in Merthyr Tydfil. Source 1997 Welsh House
Condition Survey WAG
1997 Welsh House Condition Pre 1919 1919-144 1945 –                Post
Survey Findings                                          1964      1964
Age of Housing in Merthyr        45.4%      10.3%        15.8%     27.8%
Age of Housing in Wales          32%        13.9%        20.5%     33%

The Council‟s 1998 Private Sector House Condition Survey further illustrates
the age of the housing stock of the area with 41% of private sector homes
being built before 1900.

In Wales the house type that has the highest rate of unfitness is terraced
housing, mainly because much of it was built before 1919. Table 3 below
shows the types of accommodation in Merthyr and the proportion of the
housing stock that they represent, compared with the Welsh average. Merthyr
has significantly more terraced housing than the Welsh average, and
substantially less of other types of housing.


Table 3 Types of Accommodation. Welsh House Condition Survey WAG


Quest for Quality Homes 2007 - 2012    3
1997 Welsh House Condition Terraced          Semi -      Detached      Flats
Survey Findings                              detache
                                             d
Types of Housing in Merthyr      59%         27%         7.7%          4.7%
Types of Housing in Wales        34%         33.4%       22.8%         8.7%

The area has a significantly greater rate of unfitness within its terraced
housing stock than the Welsh average. At the time of the 1997 Welsh House
Condition survey, Merthyr had the highest rate of unfitness in this type of
accommodation than any other local authority in Wales. Table 4 below shows
the rate of unfitness by accommodation type in Merthyr and Wales.



Table 4. Types of Accommodation and Unfitness Welsh House Condition
Survey WAG
1997 Welsh House Condition Terraced Semi -          Detache Flats
Survey Findings                           detache d
                                          d
Unfitness rate by type of     16.9%       7.7%      0.8%      6.2%
housing in Merthyr
Unfitness rate by type of     11.4%       6.8%      6.1%      9.5%
housing in Wales

The rate of unfitness amongst owner occupiers in Merthyr was almost twice
the national average, and whilst the rate of unfitness in the social housing
sector and the privately rented sector were greater than the Welsh average,
the gap between the national average and Merthyr was not as pronounced. It
is therefore no surprise to find that at the time of the 1997 Welsh House
Condition Survey, Merthyr had the highest rate of unfitness of any Local
Authority in Wales, with 12.5% of the housing stock unfit compared with the
Welsh average of 8.5%. Table 5 below shows the level of unfitness by tenure.

Table 5 Unfitness by Tenure in Merthyr Tydfil Welsh House Condition Survey
WAG
1997 Welsh House Condition Owner             Social    Privately Overall
Survey Findings                 occupie Housing Rented             Unfitnes
                                d                                  s Rate
Unfitness rate by tenure in     13%          10.6%     20.4%       12.5%
Merthyr
Unfitness rate by tenure in     7.6%         8.2%      18.4%       8.5%
Wales

The average cost of repair for unfit homes in Merthyr, as calculated in the
Welsh Housing Stock Condition Survey 1998, was found to be £1015. This is
greater than the all Wales average repair cost of £953, and is related to the
fact that unfit homes in Merthyr tend to be older than elsewhere in Wales.
The public sector stock condition survey carried out in 2002/2003 identified
that the level of unfitness in social housing had been reduced to 5.1% that is
significantly below the current national average of 7%.


Quest for Quality Homes 2007 - 2012    4
Given the well documented link between poor health and poor housing, the
performance in terms of indicators of poor health is likely to be partly
determined by the poor quality of the housing stock in the area.

The Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMO) survey published by the Council in
March 2003, identified that there were approximately 140 HMO‟s in Merthyr,
constituting 22% of the private rented housing stock in the County Borough.
The 2003 survey found that:

      63% were 3 storeys or over
      4% had major failings with regard to facilities
      63% had inadequate means of escape
      18% failed to comply with the furniture fire safety regulations
      25% needed action in relation to management issues
      11% were unfit and a further 12% were in disrepair

The survey also found that 21% of occupants of HMO‟s in Merthyr could be
described as vulnerable, and that a further 10% of occupants were migrant
workers from Portugal.

House prices in Merthyr Tydfil have increased substantially since 2004, and
the average house price at December 2006 stood at £100,184.

Table 6 shows average house prices in Merthyr, Wales and England and
Wales at two dates, October to December 2003 and the same period in 2006.

Table 6. House Prices in Merthyr Tydfil compared with Wales, and England
and Wales. Source Land Registry Website Reports
Land Registry         Merthyr              Wales          England and
House Price Data                                          Wales
Terraced 2003         £42,267              £76,017        £123,231
Terraced 2006         £77,379              £114,095       £163,749
Semi Detached         £59,806              £98,861        £147,196
2003
Semi Detached         £104,335             £144,211       £187,717
2006
Detached 2003         £118,704             £170,837       £248,943
Detached 2006         £183,159             £233,830       £313,144
All 2003              £59,623              £111,272       £163,584
All 2006              £100,184             £157,004       £207,573


Council Tax records in 2006 showed that 1,222 or 5% of the housing stock in
Merthyr were empty. This figure is greater than the all Wales average of
4.01%. An analysis of empty homes undertaken in 2000 showed that the rate
of empty homes in the Merthyr Vale and Dowlais wards, at 11.4% and 11.1%,
were significantly greater than the average for the County Borough as a
whole. Anecdotal information would suggest that the proportion of empty



Quest for Quality Homes 2007 - 2012     5
homes in both areas has reduced significantly, since the declaration of
renewal area status in each ward.

Conclusion
Merthyr Tydfil is an area that has undergone substantial change during the
latter half of the twentieth century. These changes intensified during the last
two decades of the century.

Whilst the area still scores highly on deprivation indices with poor health,
housing, educational attainment and economic inactivity higher than the
Welsh and the UK average, the Cyfarthfa Retails Park seems to be having a
positive effect on the economy, and although there is no evidence to suggest
that the population is increasing as yet, there is evidence to suggest that the
decline is becoming less. The 2005 Mid-Year estimate shows that as many
people moved out of the County Borough to the rest of the UK as moved into
it. Therefore the reason for the lower population decline is a net population
loss to countries outside the UK.

Merthyr does have some significant advantages in comparison with other
areas in Wales and the UK. The area is 20 minutes drive from Cardiff and the
M4 corridor, is well placed in terms of transportation links to the rest of Wales,
the UK and Europe. It also possesses a high quality natural environment and
is on the doorstep of one of the most beautiful areas in the UK. In Merthyr,
there is a rich cultural heritage, the population has a strong affinity with the
area and there exists extended family ties that have all but disappeared
elsewhere.

Whilst the County Borough Council is the smallest Unitary Authority in Wales
and has to tackle some of the most deep seated problems of social exclusion
of any area in Wales, its size is also one of it‟s main advantages. The size and
capacity of the Council means that to make progress towards the
achievement of the vision we must work collaboratively with key partners and
across traditional boundaries, rather than act alone. This Housing Strategy will
provide evidence of the Council‟s commitment to corporate and partnership
working.

This strategy will seek to make a considerable contribution to the corporate
vision for the area. The vision agreed for Merthyr Tydfil in 2003 stated that:

      By 2010 Merthyr Tydfil will be a safe, healthy and exciting place to live
       and visit.
      Our ambition is to be a sustainable, confident County Borough, which
       recognises and promotes equality of opportunity and where people
       want to achieve in all aspects of their life, through work, leisure and
       learning.

      Our vision is to be recognised as a vibrant, thriving regional centre for
       the Valleys.




Quest for Quality Homes 2007 - 2012     6
The four key aims of the Council are:

      Economic Regeneration
       Raising prosperity – creating a modern competitive economy able to
       deliver sustainable growth

      Lifelong Learning
       Improving skills and attainment across all levels and abilities, all
       communities and stages of life

      Housing
       Fostering a thriving, balanced community by making provision for a
       wide range of housing development set within an attractive, clean, safe
       environment, supported by a high quality transport system.

      Leisure
       Developing a wide range of flagship, sporting and cultural facilities that
       reflect the diverse needs and expectations of our community.

CONSULTATION

In the formulation of this strategy we have undertaken wide-ranging
consultation techniques and the following methods were used: -

   1. Discussions at Strategic Housing Partnership Executive Group
      (SHPEG).
   2. Sub group meetings of the SHPEG.
   3. Synopsis of the process of development at the Multi-Agency Diversity
      Forum and Homelessness Forum meetings.
   4. Meetings with all Community First Co-ordinators.
   5. A consultation day was held to formulate the strategy and provide
      feedback on the initial findings of the LHMA with a range of partners
      and stakeholders and Members. Questionnaires and post cards were
      provided at this event for comments and ideas.
   6. Three separate meetings on sustainable development were held.
   7. After each chapter was written, it was sent to the appropriate personnel
      for comment prior to consultation on the draft strategy.
   8. The draft strategy was sent to all Members and a range of
      organisations as recommended in the guidance from WAG.
   9. Two separate full-day events were held to formulate the Operational
      Plan.

RESEARCH

The following research has been undertaken to inform this Strategy: -

      Private Sector Stock Condition Survey 2004
      Cross Boundary Housing Market Analysis through South East Wales
       Regional Housing Forum 2004
      Public Sector Stock Condition Survey 2006


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      Desk-top Housing Needs Survey 2007 (updating survey of 2004)
      Local Housing Market Assessment 2007


VISION

“By 2020, everyone should be able to access good quality affordable homes,
which are located in a safe confident community.”

AIMS AND OBJECTIVES

The following strategic aims and objectives for the housing strategy were
determined in consultation with a wide range of partners at two operational
planning days held in May 2007.

There are seven key aims of the strategy, which are set out below:

1. The provision of affordable housing
(1a) To increase the supply of affordable housing in accordance with need
(1b) Develop Homebuy scheme that is not fully reliant on grant funding

2.To develop Safer Communities
(2a) Create Safer More Confident Communities
(2b) Create Sustainable Communities
(2c) Implement Secure by Design principles

3. To provide an element of Choice
(3a) Increase the choice of housing available within the County Borough
(3b) Implement Older Persons Accommodation Strategy
(3c) Provision of Intermediate Housing products
(3d) Allow choice to homeseekers where they live

4. Regenerate communities in Merthyr Tydfil
(4a) Support local communities in regeneration of Merthyr Tydfil
(4b) Improve standards in private sector housing
(4c) Sustainable development
(4d) Achieve Welsh Housing Quality Standard

5. Target help to Vulnerable Groups
(5a) Develop robust strategy for temporary accommodation
(5b) Engage and consult with disadvantaged BME communities
(5c) Ensure complaints of harassment from Council tenants are dealt with
effectively
(5d) Identify accommodation needs of gypsies and traveller community
(5e) Reconfigure the sheltered warden services throughout the County
Borough
(5f) Focus on the housing needs of older people to include greater choice and
consistency amongst housing providers
(5g) Assist with the safe discharge of patients from hospital
(5h) Establish need for purpose built homes for purchase on open market


Quest for Quality Homes 2007 - 2012   8
(5i) Ensure appropriate planning for care leavers

6. To adopt a Prevention agenda
(6a) Address homelessness through effective prevention techniques and
housing options advice
(6b) Prevent anti-social behaviour from occurring
(6c) Reduce fuel poverty in Merthyr Tydfil
(6d) Promote financial inclusion strategy

7. To enable Healthy Living for all
(7a) Improve the health, social care and well being of Merthyr Tydfil
(7b) Improve energy efficiency in private sector housing

STRATEGIC ENVIRONMENTAL ASSESSMENT (SEA)

We have taken the view that a separate Strategic Environmental Assessment
is not necessary for this strategy, as it will not in isolation lead to the
construction of new housing units. The LDP, of which Housing professionals
have been partners, will influence this agenda, with the potential for significant
environmental effects, which are discussed in more detail in Chapter 5.

3. THE MAIN PRINCIPLES

The National Housing Strategy, „Better Homes for People in Wales‟ states that
“the diversity of housing supply in most parts of Wales means that people
here generally have more choice over housing to meet their requirements
than elsewhere in the UK. We want to further promote this diversity by giving
people better access and more choice over affordable housing that meets
their needs.” It further states that “we want a social housing sector that has an
equitable rent structure that reflects the overriding principle that tenants
should pay comparable rents for comparable homes and services, thus
providing increased opportunity for tenants in selecting where they want to
live.” (P13)

This Local Housing Strategy intends to deal with increased issues of
affordability through low cost home ownership, negotiated Section 106
agreements, the Social Housing Grant Programme and rent convergence, to
ensure that the rents charged reflect the size of the property, the standard of
accommodation and the location on offer. In the private sector, we intend to
negotiate Section 106 agreements on developments over 30 dwellings to
ensure that a minimum of 20% of all new homes developed will be affordable.
Social Housing Grant will be used for regeneration projects and DIY
Homebuy. The Common Housing Register will ensure that home-seekers
preferences will be taken into consideration when vacant homes become
available.

Since the introduction of the Priority Needs Order 2001, the level of
homelessness within the County Borough has increased by 149%. One of the
main causes of homelessness in Merthyr Tydfil is domestic abuse and the



Quest for Quality Homes 2007 - 2012     9
Merthyr Tydfil Domestic Abuse Strategy has set four strategic priorities, which
include:

      Increasing Women and Children/Young People‟s Safety
      Holding Abusers Accountable
      Prevention of Abuse
      Supporting Women and Children/Young People

The Supporting People Operational Plan has identified those priority schemes
that will assist vulnerable individuals, and these are included in Chapter 11.
Potential schemes are identified through a review of the SPANNAs,
(previously INAM), and agreed by the Merthyr Tydfil Homelessness Forum. A
new action plan has been developed for the Homelessness Strategy, which
identifies a number of priorities for the next five years. This plan is included in
Appendix 1.

The main theme throughout the National Homelessness Strategy is
Prevention, and as evidenced in Chapter 11 we have worked hard to reduce
the number of people who are homeless within the County Borough.
Our Housing Options service has been reviewed, and in addition to good
quality, consistent advice being provided by all agencies in the County
Borough, a Housing Options Manual and Homelessness Service Directory
have both been produced to accompany a series of individual service leaflets.

A Stock Options Appraisal completed in 2006 identified that the Council is
unable to meet specific elements of the Welsh Housing Quality Standard by
2012, and following a decision made by full Council on 24th July 2006, a
tenant ballot will take place in 2007. In October 2006, Tact @ Dome were
appointed as the Independent Tenant Advisors (ITA), in December 2006, the
Bridge Group were appointed as the Communications Consultants and in
March 2007 Trowers and Hamlyn were appointed Legal Advisors.

“ Social care, housing and health services for older people in Merthyr are
currently provided along traditional lines… However, the Borough‟s strategic
outcomes propose changes to service delivery to reflect both the
Government‟s modernisation agenda and the wishes of older people
themselves.” (Draft report „Homes, Services and the Quality of Life for Older
People in Merthyr Tydfil‟ August 2005)

This Strategy document titled „Homes for Life‟, determined that the following
four options need to be considered within the County Borough: -

      The provision of extra care housing.
      A range of community based services targeted at maintaining older
       people within their own homes.
      Specialist services targeted on particular types of provision, e.g.
       dementia, strokes, falls.
      Use of Assistive Technology to support community living.




Quest for Quality Homes 2007 - 2012     10
Equality is an important part of our strategy and the Multi Agency Diversity
Forum (M.A.D.F) has responsibility to ensure that the BME action plan is
implemented. A Minority Ethnic Support Worker has been employed by the
Council to engage with the BME community and to ensure that diversity
issues are incorporated within this strategy. A Welcome Pack developed by
the MADF was launched by the Mayor in October 2006, and the Migrant
Workers Group have also developed a pack.

In order to get a greater understanding of how markets operate not just within
this Borough but also across the South East Wales area, the South East
Wales Regional Housing Forum was set up in 2003. This Forum
commissioned research into cross boundary regional housing markets. Work
is also currently underway on the development of an interactive model, which
forms Stage 2 of this research. The cross boundary research undertaken by
the „Regeneration Institute, Cardiff University‟ identified that all local
authorities had a gross affordable housing need, although this was heavily
concentrated in Cardiff (40%), Rhondda Cynon Taff (12%) and Newport (9%).
At the time Blaenau Gwent and Merthyr Tydfil were stated as having the
lowest needs requirement. Since this report was completed, the local housing
market in Merthyr Tydfil has changed considerably, and the requirement for
affordable homes has slightly decreased to 73, evidenced by our LHMA,
which is discussed in chapter 5. The explanation for this decrease is that the
previous analysis undertaken in 2004 had included a backlog requirement for
affordable homes.

A second set of calculations from the report, which again was by type of
housing market area and local authority, showed the net annual need over a
five- year period. These figures suggested an annual affordable housing need
within the South East Wales region of just over 3,500 homes per annum, over
a five year period (with almost half of this need being in Cardiff). These
results have lead to what is now being referred to as Project 18,000, and
resulted in the current discussions on the appointment of regional enablers.

As part of the South East Wales Spatial Plan, housing hybrid option and
spatial sub-sets have been produced which identify five key issues for housing
in South East Wales. These include: -

      Affordability and supply including rural affordable homes
      Housing quality and achieving the Welsh Housing Quality Standard
      Homelessness
      Regeneration sites and empty homes
      Condition of private rented sector including energy efficiency

The hybrid option will support and focus on regeneration strategies such as
the Heads of the Valleys, Newport City Centre and Llanwern, parts of
Swansea and other estate/renewal area regeneration initiatives across South
East Wales.

The Vision of the Community Strategy is “By 2020, to create a Community in
which all people of all ages can enjoy living and working safely and healthily,


Quest for Quality Homes 2007 - 2012    11
and pursue opportunities to develop themselves and their families in a clean
and attractive environment.

The Community Strategy contains seven themes. The Local Housing
Strategy links with:

      Theme 2, „Safe and Sound‟,
      Theme 3, „21st Century Services and Facilities For All‟,
      Theme 4 „A Clean, Green Place To Be Proud Of‟, and
      Theme 5, „Health Check‟.

Since early 2006, the role of the Partnership Board has been reviewed to
champion and lead on the Community Strategy. In September 2006, a
Community Strategy Partnership Working Group was established to deliver
the determined outcomes.
The Housing Division is the main lead on theme three, which is „21 st Century
Services and Facilities For All.‟

In March 2007, the Partnership Board submitted an „Expression of Interest‟ to
become a development project area for the new Local Service Boards
proposed in Making the Connections – Local Service Boards in Wales‟
(January 2007). This prospectus is a response to „Beyond Boundaries,
Citizen-Centred Local Services for Wales‟, by Sir Jeremy Beecham. The
primary focus of this report was to look at the management of services within
Wales. Beecham thought that there was scope for greater partnership working
between Councils, Local Health Boards, Police, Fire, Pensions Service and
Job Centre, and saw the development of effective public-private partnerships
as a means of increasing managerial capacity and service improvement.

A number of partnerships exist within the County Borough, and one of the
tasks of the Working Group is to „track‟ those partnerships, which will be fed
back to the current Partnership Board to rationalise.

The Strategic Housing Partnership Executive Group (SHPEG) was formed in
2004 in response to previous Welsh Assembly Government guidance on the
preparation of Local Housing Strategies. This partnership co-ordinated by the
Housing Services Division meets on a quarterly basis to review the outcomes
of the Operational Plan of the Local Housing Strategy. Members of the group
include:
     Cabinet Member for Housing
     Planning
     Estates
     Registered Social Landlords
     Care and Repair
     Integrated Adult Services
     Communities First
     Regeneration/Economic Development
     Public Health
     Private Sector Renewal


Quest for Quality Homes 2007 - 2012    12
A series of sub groups of the SHPEG were set up to progress the
development of the current LHS.

The Housing Division sits on a number of other partnerships including:

      Community Strategy Working Group
      South East Wales Regional Housing Forum
      South East Wales Regional Homelessness Forum
      Homelessness Strategy Network
      Housing Strategy Officer‟s Network
      Merthyr Tydfil Homelessness Forum
      Multi Agency Diversity Forum
      Older Persons Steering Group
      Corporate Communications Working Group
      Corporate Health Standard
      Domestic Abuse Forum
      Supporting People Planning Group
      Accommodation Group (with CHMT,MTHA, GOFAL, AND
       SUPPORTING PEOPLE)
      MARAC
      MAPPA
      Care Leavers
      Young People‟s Partnership

Interface With Key Related Strategies And Plans

The LHS has developed strategic links with the following strategies:

      Community Strategy
      Health Social Care & Well-being Strategy
      LDP
      Children and Young People‟s framework.




Quest for Quality Homes 2007 - 2012   13
4. THE LOCAL HOUSING SYSTEM

The Emergence of Housing Market Studies
During the late 1990‟s the flaws of relying exclusively upon housing needs
studies to provide evidence of trends within the wider housing market was
identified. This understanding developed at a time when an appreciation of
the strategic housing function was beginning to emerge. Government and
practitioners acknowledged that the strategic housing role required a broader
knowledge of the housing system rather than just an appreciation of the need
for affordable housing.
A wider analysis of the housing market is important for a number of reasons.
First, over 70% of the housing market in Wales and 77% in Merthyr Tydfil
comprises private sector housing. Second, housing tenures and locational
preferences do not operate independently. Increases in house prices result in
increased demand for social rented and private rented housing, as
households at the lower end of the income scale are priced out of the owner-
occupied market. Increasing house prices have often resulted in increased
Right to Buy and Right to Acquire sales in the social housing sector as tenants
seek to take advantage of house price increases, reducing the supply of social
housing. Shortages of properties in one area will result in households seeking
accommodation in other areas and on occasion in other tenures. An
economic downturn in one sector of the economy leading to job losses will
lead to increased demand for social housing, reduced demand for owner-
occupied housing and possibly reduced house prices. Measures introduced
to boost investment in one tenure type, will inevitably have an impact upon
other tenures.

Given the extent of interplay between the sectors of the housing market, it is
crucial that we develop an understanding of the operation of the local housing
market and this underpins the medium and long term planning of the Council
and our partners.

Local Housing Market Assessment (LHMA) – main findings

The local housing market
The local housing market contains three housing market types: the north of
the M4 corridor, the Heads of the Valleys and the Mid Valleys. These housing
market types reflect the regional influence on the local housing market.

The housing market in Merthyr Tydfil is characterised by a high rate of social
rented housing and a predominance of pre-1919 terraced housing, which
have high rates of unfitness.

The Council has declared Neighbourhood Renewal Areas in the two localities
with the poorest housing and environmental conditions, namely Dowlais and
Merthyr Vale and Aberfan.




Quest for Quality Homes 2007 - 2012   14
There are relatively few HMO‟s in Merthyr Tydfil and the number of empty
properties in the area is reducing, although a substantial number of empty
properties are long term vacant.

House prices in Merthyr Tydfil are lower than the UK and Wales average.
House price growth in the area tends to lag behind that experienced in the UK
and Wales markets. Between 1999 and 2006 house prices increased in the
Merthyr Tydfil area as follows:

   ‑   Detached houses             161%
   ‑   Semi detached houses        81%
   ‑   Terraced houses             174%

The neighbourhoods that have experienced the highest rate of house price
growth are contained within the Mid Valleys housing market type.

Estate agents report that the market is healthy for terraced properties, with
properties achieving asking prices but that second hand executive style
homes are taking significantly longer to sell and in many cases not achieving
their asking prices.

Evidence would suggest that house price growth, particularly at the bottom
end of the market is linked to speculative investment. Estate agents suggest
that between 20-30% of purchases are being made by speculative investors
and there is a higher than usual rate of cash purchases in the locality. It was
reported that the speculative investment trend is coming to an end, evidenced
by poor sales at recent auctions.

The impact of speculative investment has seen a growth in the private rented
sector in the area, reducing the number of properties available to first time
buyers and also an increase of the price of entry-level properties to
approximately £80,000. These two factors have created an affordability
problem in the local market, restricting access to the owner occupied sector
for many emerging and newly formed households.

Lettings agents report strong demand for private rented property, from
potential first time buyers who are unable to access the owner occupied
sector and from increasing numbers of migrant workers.

Another impact of house price growth is the influence it has on the social
housing cycle. As house prices have increased in Merthyr Tydfil demand for
social rented housing has increased, as fewer people are able to access the
owner occupied sector (evidenced in Appendix 2, Table 29). This is reflected
by the growth in homelessness presentations to the Council (refer to Appendix
2, Table 30) and by growth in the level of demand for social rented housing
reflected in the waiting lists of the social landlords who own stock in the area.
At the same time as demand for social housing increased the number of
lettings in the social rented sector has reduced, as households who may have
moved out to purchase homes in the owner occupied sector are no longer



Quest for Quality Homes 2007 - 2012    15
able to do so. All social landlords reported that only property where there
were particular design issues were now difficult to let.

As a Council, we also experience difficulties in performing our duties to
accommodate young single homeless people in suitable accommodation, a
difficulty that will intensify when the Welsh Assembly Government‟s
regulations controlling the use of Bed and Breakfast accommodation are fully
implemented.

The future housing market
The draft Local Development Plan (LDP) for Merthyr Tydfil sets out its
preferred development strategy for the area over the period 2006 – 2021. The
enhanced growth strategy would see the area gain in the region of 1700
households. This policy projection runs counter to the trend based projections
which would see the loss of a further 3,000 households. The enhanced
growth strategy is based on stemming the trend of out-migration from Merthyr
Tydfil and attracting in-migrants to live in the area.

The basis for the enhanced growth strategy is the planned implementation of
the “Heads of the Valleys Strategy” which identifies Merthyr Tydfil as one of
the two significant settlements in the area. The implementation of „Heads We
Win‟ will bring increased investment in the built environment, improvements to
the transport network and the promotion of business and innovation. These
are likely to lead to further improvement in the local economy.

The area is currently seeing increased levels of investment in retail, leisure
and housing development and recent data suggests that the proportion of
households in reasonably well paid employment in Merthyr Tydfil has
increased. In addition the rate of average income growth in the area is
greater than that recently experienced in the UK and Wales.

The majority of new housing that will be developed in Merthyr Tydfil in the
future is likely to be housing for outright sale, but data would suggest a
growing need for intermediate housing market products, such as Homebuy, to
cater for those emerging households on lower incomes who are unable to
access the owner occupied sector –which we estimate to be in the region of
49% based on house price data and incomes.

The transfer of property at the bottom end of the market from the owner
occupied sector to the private rented sector, is an issue of increasing concern
to the Local Authority. Most of the investment is provided by small investors
who own between 1 and 5 properties and who have limited knowledge of
housing law and management. In addition they are potentially affected by
increases in interest rates, which may reduce their willingness to invest
resources in property.

Housing Need
The estimation of housing need used in the Local Housing Market
Assessment is derived from a version of the „Bramley‟ model, which is widely
used and respected. This model which is based on economic affordability,


Quest for Quality Homes 2007 - 2012    16
focuses on affordability and the price entry point into the housing market for
new households.

The model assumes an entry level price of £80,000 and an evidence based
judgement that purchasers will place a 17% deposit on property purchased
and obtain mortgages of 3.5 times the gross household income.

The model suggests that if growth takes place at the level set out in the
enhanced growth strategy, within the total housing requirement of 3,800 new
units, provision needs to be made for 24% affordable housing.

The model estimates that up to 50% of new affordable housing should be in
the form of Intermediate housing market products such as Homebuy.

The full study can be viewed in Appendix 2.

The Housing Market in Merthyr Tydfil

The following section will focus on the impact of regional housing market
change on the housing market in Merthyr Tydfil. It will look at regional house
price change and then house price change in each of the 12 housing sub
market areas, using data drawn from the website of the Land Registry and
Real Demand to track house prices.

The regional housing market and housing market types in Merthyr Tydfil

The Wales Spatial Plan identifies Merthyr Tydfil as part of the South East
Wales Capital Network. The influence of the region within the local housing
market has two key dimensions.

The first key influence is that of the Cardiff housing market. The regional
housing market relates very closely to the economic infrastructure of the
area with Cardiff acting as the regional powerhouse of growth and
development. This regional centre of growth radiates up the Taff Valley
through Rhondda Cynon Taff to the southern tip of Merthyr Tydfil, as
households extend commuting patterns in search of affordable housing.

The second key regional influence, which whilst more recent and not as
strongly felt as the influence of the Cardiff housing market, is the influence
of the “Heads of the Valley” on the housing market across the region and
within Merthyr Tydfil. It is apparent that the A465 acts as a regional growth
area, in terms of industry and commuting patterns. This economic growth is
starting to be felt in the housing market in the Heads of the Valleys
authorities and particularly within Merthyr Tydfil, which is a regional centre
within the area. With the establishment of the Heads of the Valley strategy
“Heads We Win” and the planned investment in Merthyr Tydfil and
surrounding areas, it is likely that the influence of the Heads of the Valleys on
the housing market in Merthyr Tydfil is likely to increase.

The South East Wales regional housing market study identified a


Quest for Quality Homes 2007 - 2012    17
number of housing market types in the South East Wales region. These are:

                          the Heads of the Valley
                          Mid Valleys
                          North of the M4 corridor
                          Three urban based types centering on Cardiff, Newport and Bridgend
                           rural Monmouthshire

These housing market types were developed drawing on the various sources
of data including incomes, house prices, demographic information local
knowledge and physical geography.

Within Merthyr Tydfil 3 housing market types were identified and include:

                          the Heads of the Valley market,
                          the Mid Valleys market and
                          the North of M4 market.

Regional Housing Market Trends
Merthyr Tydfil has traditionally been considered to be part of the “Heads of the
Valley” regional housing market, which in the past has been characterised as
one of low demand, with relatively low house prices and substantial numbers
of empty properties.

Data available on the Land Registry website provides information on house
price change on a national basis, and figure 1 shows the mean average house
price in South East Wales by Region at March 2007.

                                                   Regional Average House Prices - March 2006


                               Monmouth                                                                             £201,767


                        Vale of Glamorgan                                                                £176,789


                                   Cardiff                                                              £172,759


                                 Newport                                                     £144,689
  Local Authority




                                Bridgend                                               £133,890


                                 Torfaen                                        £120,312


                               Caerphilly                                      £118,954


                    Rhondda Cynnon Taff                              £94,986


                            Merthyr Tydfil                           £92,595


                         Blaeneau Gwent                         £81,266


                                             £0   £50,000          £100,000                £150,000            £200,000        £250,000
                                                                               Value


Figure 1



Quest for Quality Homes 2007 - 2012                                 18
When comparing movement in house prices across the region two facts stand
out. First house price movement in Merthyr Tydfil is still more volatile than
elsewhere in Wales with a 55% increase in average house prices over the last
two years.

Table 7 provides house price change in Merthyr Tydfil by property type. It is
interesting to note the differential house price change in Merthyr Tydfil
between property types. Between 1996 and 2006 the average price of a
detached home increased by 177%. Over the same period the price of
terraced houses increased by 164% and the price of semi-detached houses
increased by 120%. It is also interesting to note that the volume of total sales
has only marginally increased over the same period.

Table 7 Mean average house prices in Merthyr Tydfil by property type 1996 -
2006 Source Land Registry

Year   Detached          Semi-Detached      Terraced         Flats             Overall
       Sales Av Price    Sales  Av Price    Sales Av         Sales   Av        Sales Av Price
                                                   Price             Price
1996    28    £62,651     41     £46,695     126   £28,040               0     195    £36932
1997    34    £79,217     52     £42,724     124   £28,829               0     210    £40427
1998    14    £71,199     39     £42,433     115   £29,075               0     168    £35686
1999    31    £81,892     34     £46,545     113   £27,854               0     178    £40835
2000    39    £77,285     34     £45,419     103   £30,817   3       £21,500   179    £43558
2001    36    £86,652     39     £44,443     103   £29,265               0     178    £44196
2002    56    £102,080    56     £53,473     176   £35,365               0     288    £51858
2003    53    £118,704    61     £59,806     174   £42,267   4       £29,000   292    £59623
2004    29    £121,701    46     £78,636     163   £43,260                     203    £59,655
2005    30    £164,950    28     £90,494     108   £60,463   3       £47,400   169    £83,754
2006    25    £174,047    51     £102,917    138   £74,026                     214    £92,595

Both our Planning and Estates colleagues confirm the buoyancy in the local
housing market. Sites that we have disposed of during the last 12 months
have always yielded more than best consideration. Demand for self build
plots is greater than available plots. In most cases single self-build plots have
been used to develop executive style detached homes.

In addition there has been a major interest in larger sites by volume house
builders, as land values increase throughout the SE Wales regional housing
market.

Housing Sub Market Areas

The market analysis revealed that the Heads of the Valley and the Mid Valleys
housing market type areas are fairly similar, particularly in terms of the
characteristics of the resident population, and they both vary significantly from
the North of the M4 housing market type area.

Within the Mid Valleys housing market, three sub markets were identified,
which were:

   1. Troedyrhiw


Quest for Quality Homes 2007 - 2012    19
   2. Merthyr Vale
   3. Bedlinog and Trelewis

Compared with other housing market types, these contain:

       a greater percentage of terraced homes
       a higher proportion of households headed by pensioners
       higher rates of long term limiting illness
       a smaller proportion of households in occupation groups 1 and 2
       a greater proportion of households in routine occupations
       smaller crude mean annual income
       lower average house prices

Within the Heads of the Valley market area within Merthyr Tydfil, a number of
sub markets were identified, and include:

   1.   Dowlais and Pant
   2.   Cefn Coed
   3.   Gurnos
   4.   Penydarren
   5.   Swansea Road
   6.   Cyfarthfa
   7.   Town

These housing market areas contain:

       a greater percentage of households in the social housing sector
       a smaller proportion living in the owner occupied sector
       a greater percentage of household heads who have never worked
       a greater proportion of people aged 65 years or more
       a higher average price for terraced homes
       a greater proportion of semi detached homes

Within the North of the M4 housing market type, only one sub market was
identified, which was Treharris.

Treharris contains:

       a more useful population
       fewer lone parent households and more families headed by couples
       more people in the 30-44 and 45-59 age groups
       a greater proportion of households in occupation groups 1 and 2
       a smaller proportion of household heads who have never worked
       a smaller proportion of household heads in routine occupations
       a greater crude mean average income
       a greater proportion of detached homes
       higher mean average house prices




Quest for Quality Homes 2007 - 2012   20
Change in the Regional Housing Market
The six key themes to emerge are as follows:

       1.   Change in the Regional Housing Market
       2.   Change in the local housing market
       3.   Improving the standard of private sector housing in Merthyr Tydfil
       4.   The development of new housing in Merthyr Tydfil
       5.   The future role of public sector sheltered housing
       6.   Monitoring change in the housing market

The growth of Cardiff as the regional centre within South Wales and the
expansion of the M4 corridor along the regional road network have created
significant change in the regional housing market in the South Wales Valleys.

Until relatively recently the Valleys were considered to be areas of low
demand for housing, characterised by high levels of empty properties and low
values. Work undertaken recently by the Bevan Foundation1 has
demonstrated that the economic growth in the Cardiff Bay and M4 corridor
have spilled out from this area of the wider region and moved northwards.
Therefore, one of the effects of the movement northwards of the M4 corridor,
has been the consequent shrinking of low demand areas in the Heads of the
Valley region.

The growth of the economy in Cardiff and along the M4 corridor is likely to
continue for the foreseeable future. This is likely to increase demand over the
medium term for housing in Merthyr Tydfil, from households who choose not
to live or can‟t afford to live in the greater Cardiff area. To such households
Merthyr Tydfil offers housing at affordable prices in a high quality
environment.

Change in the Local Housing Market
The local housing market has been significantly affected by trends in the
regional economy and regional housing market but also by demographic
trends in particular pockets of housing.

The impact of regional housing market change has seen a transformation in
areas previously considered to be areas of low demand, with substantial price
increases. The area as a whole can no longer be characterised as one where
low demand is prevalent. Average house prices in Merthyr Tydfil increased by
55% between 1996 and 2006.




1
 Home is where the heart is? Low demand housing in the South Wales Valleys. Bevan
Foundation. Tredegar. 2003


Quest for Quality Homes 2007 - 2012       21
                                              Average House Prices in Merthyr - 1996 to 2006


           £100,000

                                                                                                                                 £92,595
            £90,000

                                                                                                                       £83,754
            £80,000


            £70,000


            £60,000                                                                                          £59,655
  Period




            £50,000                                                                                £50,705

                                                                  £43,558      £42,444
            £40,000                 £40,427             £40,835                          £39,767
                          £36,932             £35,686

            £30,000


            £20,000


            £10,000


                £0
                      Yr 1996   Yr 1997   Yr 1998   Yr 1999   Yr 2000   Yr 2001      Yr 2002   Yr 2003   Yr 2004   Yr 2005   Yr 2006
                                                                            Value




Between 1996 and 2006, property price increases in Merthyr Tydfil varied
from one housing sub market area to another and these increases have had a
marked impact on the housing market. The growth in property prices is likely
to have increased demand for social and privately rented housing from
households on the margins of owner occupation. This may well have fed
through into increasing numbers of homelessness presentations from
households who are now priced out of the open market. Developing housing
associations have responded to the increase in demand for social housing by
marginal homeowners by developing a greater proportion of homes for
Homebuy.

The Buy to Let market has also had a significant impact on the structure of the
housing market in some of the areas of poorest quality, least popular housing.
In areas such as Dowlais, Troedyrhiw and Merthyr Vale the supply of
relatively cheap housing and the availability of Buy to Let financial packages
has seen significant speculative investment, which has changed the balance
of the housing market increasing the proportion of private rented homes in
these areas. The increased demand for private rented housing offers the
opportunity for further investment, and opportunities for housing associations
to remodel their stock to meet demand for market renting.

The growth of the private rented sector also offers challenges for the Council
in relation to its housing enforcement function. The private rented sector has
grown through the purchase of relatively cheap homes at the bottom of the
housing market, which means that the Council needs to be increasingly
vigilant in respect of conditions in the private rented sector in these areas, as
it is unlikely that many of the investor landlords would seek to spend a
significant amount of resources on repairs and maintenance to the homes


Quest for Quality Homes 2007 - 2012                               22
they own. The growth of the Buy to Let investment in Merthyr Tydfil is also
likely to have increased property prices in areas where large proportions of
such purchases have taken place, pricing potential homeowners at the bottom
end of the market out of the owner occupied sector, increasing demand for
rented housing either in the social or private rented sectors. A further area of
concern for the Council could be the possible impact of changing investment
trends. Should Buy to Let become less attractive to investors, or returns on
investments be potentially greater in other sectors of the market, there is the
potential for owners to attempt to realise their investment by selling property,
creating an oversupply of low quality cheap housing at the bottom end of the
market, creating the difficulties previously experienced in areas such as
Dowlais, Merthyr Vale and Aberfan.

Local housing market change has not only been caused by regional housing
market change but also by demographic change. In areas such as Merthyr
Vale and Aberfan, Troedyrhiw, Town and Dowlais the change in the local
housing market can also be attributed to demographic change. In each of
these areas the sales of homes have increased significantly and this is likely
to be a result of household dissolution amongst older households living in
older poorer quality homes. In other sub housing market areas, such as parts
of Town, the central village cores of Treharris, Bedlinog and Cefn Coed
contain substantial proportions of older households, living in terraced homes.
These areas although generally of a higher value than areas such as Merthyr
Vale and Aberfan, Dowlais and Troedyrhiw, offer the potential for significant
housing market change as a result of household dissolution over the medium
and longer term.

Raising the quality of private sector housing in Merthyr Tydfil
At the heart of the difficulties within the housing market in Merthyr Tydfil is an
oversupply of poor quality terraced housing. Whilst this provides a pool of
affordable housing for low-income households, the stock of housing provides
poor quality homes in often correspondingly poor environment. One of our
responsibilities as a strategic housing authority is to ensure that all homes in
Merthyr Tydfil achieve the Welsh Housing Quality Standard. This is difficult to
achieve in the private sector where the Council has little control over the
actions of homeowners and landlords. This can be seen in the fact that 92%
of homes in Merthyr Tydfil do not currently achieve the standard, and is
possibly a reflection of the fact that the standard has been set so high.

However, the areas of the local housing market that have undergone
significant change in the recent past Merthyr Vale, Troedyrhiw, and Dowlais
are areas with older terraced homes with high rates of unfitness. Whilst it
could be argued that these homes provide affordable housing opportunities for
local people they also offer poor quality homes that do not meet modern day
requirements or expectations. If the Council is to drive up the standard of
private sector homes in these areas it will need to consider the large scale
redevelopment of pockets of homes in these areas and the replacement with
a broader mix of house types and tenures. The successful delivery of large-
scale demolition and redevelopment programmes requires funds from Central
Government and the creation of additional capacity within the local authority.


Quest for Quality Homes 2007 - 2012     23
Neither of these two prerequisites exist and we will need to lobby the Welsh
Assembly Government for resources similar to those provided to the Housing
Market Renewal Area Pathfinders in England, to fund wide scale acquisition
and clearance programmes.

The development of new housing in Merthyr Tydfil
The housing market is buoyant at the moment with increased demand for land
for residential development. This is demonstrated by the sale of council
owned land and competition from volume house-builders for development
sites in parts of Merthyr Tydfil.

Most of the recent development in Merthyr Tydfil has been in the form of
detached homes, aimed partially at the indigenous populations requirements
but also partly at the commuter market in the greater Cardiff area. The Local
Development Plan has now identified an adequate supply of land to meet the
housing requirements generated by the two sources of demand described
above.
The findings of the LHMA would suggest that we also need to act to ensure
that the types of homes developed in Merthyr Tydfil reflect the needs of the
local population, ensuring that a broader mix of homes to meet the
requirements of all of the population are developed. This means the
construction of mixed tenure developments through the use of Section 106
agreements and the construction of a broader mix of owner occupied homes
to meet demand from households who cannot afford executive style detached
homes. The construction of a broader range of housing may contribute
substantially to reducing the out migration of households from Merthyr Tydfil,
further increasing demand for new housing in the locality.

Homes for Life
Options for older persons accommodation will be expanded through the
Homes for Life Strategy developed by Integrated Adult Services. A menu of
alternative solutions including adaptations, telecare, sheltered accommodation
and Extra Care housing schemes will all be identified for development over
the next 18-months.

A review of the existing sheltered housing schemes in the County Borough
has commenced through the Supporting People agenda although occupation
levels are high.

Monitoring change in the housing market
This analysis has demonstrated that change in the housing market in Merthyr
Tydfil is a function of regional, economic and housing market changes, local
demographic and house condition factors and national financial policy.

Assessing the Accommodation Needs of Gypsies and Travellers

A specific Gypsy and Traveller needs survey devised in accordance with the
LHMA guidance is due to be undertaken commencing in August 2007. This
survey will be done by external consultants through face-to-face interviews
with a sample of Gypsies/Travellers residing at the Glynmill site.


Quest for Quality Homes 2007 - 2012   24
Assessing black, minority ethnic housing requirements

The Council, working in partnership with the four Housing Associations who
operate in the locality, commissioned research into the housing needs of
Black Minority Ethnic (BME) people in Merthyr Tydfil in 2003. This research
led to the development of our BME Housing Strategy and Action plan in 2004.
The development of the latter involved research into the housing
circumstances and aspirations of BME people living in Merthyr Tydfil, through
a combination of survey work and engagement in focus groups. Some of the
key results of this survey are discussed in Chapter 11. In order to achieve
some of the objectives identified in the BME action plan, the local authority is
developing a database which records individuals from a BME community that
have accessed our services, so that we can establish their current satisfaction
and future needs. This will be in addition to focus groups, which have been
set up through the Minority Ethnic Support Worker.

Whilst our Operational Plan will identify the main areas for action over the
period of this strategy, at the end of each chapter, we have stated some of our
future challenges and the proposed action that will be taken.

Future Challenges

Some of the main findings from the LHMA highlight the need to consider the
following: -

      There are a number of long-term empty properties in the private rented
       sector, which need to be tackled.
      There is a lack of single person accommodation, particularly temporary
       accommodation that can be used for homeless individuals.
      There is an affordability problem within Merthyr Tydfil and access to
       housing is restricted.
      Half of the new affordable housing developed should be through
       intermediate products such as Homebuy.
      The highest rate of house price growth has been in the Mid Valleys
       area.

Proposed Action

      Consider the use of Compulsory Purchase and Empty Homes
       Management Orders and consider the use of commutable sums to get
       long-term empty properties back into use.
      Develop a supported housing scheme for 16-25 year olds.
      Develop Supplementary Planning Guidance for affordable housing.
      Ensure that an appropriate mix of housing is developed
      Ensure that an adequate supply of affordable housing is developed.
      Look at the development of model S106 agreements.




Quest for Quality Homes 2007 - 2012    25
5. LAND USE PLANNING FRAMEWORK
Adopted Development Plan policies

The current housing policies are contained within the Local Plan, which was
adopted in 1996. The main purpose of the Local Plan in a housing context is
to ensure that an adequate supply of land is available to meet anticipated
demand. The plan must also ensure that the supply is allocated in the most
appropriate locations having regard to community needs, environmental
impact and the overall Local Plan strategy.

Our current Policy H1 states that land will be allocated for 1800 dwellings at
the locations indicated on the Local Plan proposals.

Policy H2 deals with unallocated/windfall sites within the settlement boundary
and states:

Development proposals for housing within settlement boundaries on land not
identified under Policy H1 will be permitted subject to consideration against
the following criteria:-

   1. The proposal does not have an unacceptable impact on the character
      and amenity of immediate neighbourhood.
   2. The siting of the development is acceptable in relation to the design,
      scale, materials and setting of the proposal.
   3. The proposal does not have an unacceptable impact on the character,
      amenity and landscape quality of the area, including the need to retain
      features of water, wildlife, nature conservation interests and historical
      interests identified during the assessment and design of the scheme.
   4. The proposal does not have an unacceptable impact on the rights of
      way network and other forms of public access to the countryside.
   5. The proposal does not conflict with transportation considerations
      including car parking, traffic generation, access and accessibility to
      public transport.
   6. The proposal has regard to the provisions of Policy NH7 regarding the
      water environment.

Currently, sites outside of settlement boundaries are dealt with by Policy H3.
Under this policy, development proposals for housing whether temporary or
permanent in the countryside outside settlement boundaries as identified on
the proposals map will not be permitted unless it can be shown that:-

   1. The development is considered necessary to provide for essential and
      particular identifiable needs of agricultural and forestry workers.
   2. The merits of the development must clearly outweigh the value of
      protecting the countryside from new developments.
   3. The siting of the development is acceptable in relation to the design,
      scale, materials and setting of the proposal.
   4. The proposal does not have an unacceptable impact on the character,
      amenity and landscape quality of the area, including the need to retain


Quest for Quality Homes 2007 - 2012    26
      features of water, wildlife, nature conservation interests and historical
      interests identified during the assessment and design of the scheme,
   5. The proposal does not have an unacceptable impact on the rights of
      way network and other forms of public access to the countryside.
   6. The proposal does not conflict with transportation considerations
      including car parking, traffic generation, access and accessibility to
      public transport.
   7. The proposal has regard to the provisions of Policy NH7 regarding the
      water environment.

Policy H4 which covers the issue of affordable housing states that:

Where there is demonstrable need for affordable housing, the local planning
authority will seek to negotiate an appropriate element of affordable housing in
new schemes of substantial size, taking into account site suitability and
conditions.

Residential care and nursing homes are dealt with by Policy H5.
Development proposals for special needs such as community care provision,
institutional, residential and nursing homes will be permitted subject to
consideration against the following criteria:-

   1. The proposal is located within identified settlement boundaries.
   2. The proposal does not have an unacceptable impact on the character
      and amenity of immediate neighbourhood.
   3. The siting of the development is acceptable in relation to the design,
      scale, materials and setting of the proposal.
   4. The proposal does not have an unacceptable impact on the character,
      amenity, and landscape quality of the area, including the need to retain
      features of water, wildlife, nature conservation interests and historical
      interests identified during the assessment and design of the scheme.
   5. The proposal does not have an unacceptable impact on the rights of
      way network and other forms of public access to the countryside.
   6. The proposal does not conflict with transportation considerations
      including car parking, traffic generation, access and accessibility to
      public transport.
   7. The proposal has regard to the provision of Policy NH7 regarding the
      water environment.

Proposals for new Gypsy sites are covered by Policy H6. This policy states
that development proposals for new Gypsy sites will be permitted subject to
consideration against the following criteria:-

   1. The proposal does not have an unacceptable impact on the character
      and amenity of immediate neighbourhood.
   2. The siting of the development is acceptable in relation to the design,
      scale, materials and setting of the proposal.
   3. The proposal does not have an unacceptable impact on the character,
      amenity, and landscape quality of the area, including the need to retain



Quest for Quality Homes 2007 - 2012   27
      features of water, wildlife, nature conservation interests and historical
      interests identified during the assessment and design of the scheme.
   4. The proposal does not have an unacceptable impact on the rights of
      way network and other forms of public access to the countryside.
   5. The proposal does not conflict with transportation considerations
      including car parking, traffic generation, access and accessibility to
      public transport.
   6. The proposal has regard to the provision of Policy NH7 regarding the
      water environment.

Policy H7 deals with change of use and sub-division of properties for
residential use. Development proposals for the conversion of properties into
units for two or more households and the change of use of suitable buildings
to residential use within settlement boundaries will be permitted subject to
consideration against the following criteria:-

   1. The proposal does not have an unacceptable impact on the character
      and amenity of immediate neighbourhood.
   2. The siting of the development is acceptable in relation to the design,
      scale, materials and setting of the proposal.
   3. The proposal does not conflict with transportation considerations
      including car parking, traffic generation, access and accessibility to
      public transport.
   4. The proposal must include details of privacy and access arrangements
      for the individual residential units.

Planning applications for residential use are assessed against these Local
Plan policies. They will remain as the means of assessment until the new
Local Development Plan replaces our existing Local Plan, and this is due to
go on deposit in Autumn 2007.

Emerging development plan policies

In order to comply with EU Directive 2001/42/EC and the Environmental
Assessment of Plans and Programmes (Wales) Regulations 2004, the Unitary
Development Plan was abandoned in favour of a Local Development Plan, on
which background work commenced in 2005. All new Local Development
Plans are subject to Sustainability Appraisal (SA) and Strategic Environment
Assessment (SEA).

There are five stages to the SA process, the first of which is setting the
context and objectives, establishing the baseline and deciding on the scope.
As part of the scoping process, a SA scoping workshop was held in February
2006, which was attended not only by external agencies, but also by a
number of departments within the Local Authority including the Housing
Division. Consultation on the scope took place for a five week period between
April and June 2006. A number of key issues emerged from the scoping
workshop, one of which was housing, and the issues related to the supply of
new, affordable and good quality housing, energy efficient housing,
sustainable communities, meeting housing needs, to include specialist


Quest for Quality Homes 2007 - 2012    28
provision and addressing the shortfall in the Social Housing Grant
Programme. Some other key issues included the environment, land use and
cultural heritage. The proposed SA framework covers 15 different objectives
for sustainability together with decision-aiding questions, which were designed
to assist in the appraisal. The SA methodology involved considering the
content of the LDP against each SA objective, with assessments about
whether the content of the LDP would assist or conflict with each of the SA
objectives being made.
The Planning Act (2004) requires Local Planning Authorities to produce
Annual Monitoring Reports which document progress with the implementation
of the LDP.

The LDP SA/SEA Scoping Report has set out potential targets and indicators,
and the potential housing target aims to “reduce discrepancies between
housing requirement, especially for affordable and special needs housing, and
stock.” Potential indicators to measure this target include the following:-

      Annual provision of affordable or special needs housing
      Average house price compared with average earnings
      Proportion of households unable to purchase a property
      Population structure
      Proportion of housing that meets WHQS
      Percentage of empty homes in the County Borough
      Number of unfit dwellings per 1,000 dwellings

In order to meet the vision of the Council which states that “by 2010, Merthyr
Tydfil will be a safe, healthy and exciting place to live and visit”, three
suggestions were put forward in the draft LDP Options Report.

The first option is a non-intervention strategy.
This accepts that we will continue to experience a declining population
throughout the plan period (2006 – 2021) and will seek to manage this as
effectively as possible.

Option two is a moderate growth strategy.
The LDP will aim to facilitate a reduction in the current levels of out migration
so that population levels stabilise by 2016 and a five year period of moderate
growth is achieved thereafter.

The third option is the enhanced growth strategy.
The LDP will aim to facilitate a reduction in levels of out migration so that the
population levels stabilise by 2011 and a ten year period of enhanced growth
is achieved thereafter.

The sustainability appraisal of the spatial strategy options revealed that the
first option (non-intervention strategy) would result in a declining population
that could threaten economic growth and social well-being.
Both growth strategies were identified as having the potential to progress the
environmental SA objectives, but the enhanced growth strategy was deemed
the greatest potential to become the most socially and economically


Quest for Quality Homes 2007 - 2012     29
sustainable option in favour of one advocating moderate growth, due to twice
as many new jobs being expected, which addresses the social and economic
SA objectives. Although the moderate growth strategy was shown to have a
lesser environmental impact initially, particularly on biodiversity and
landscape, the enhanced growth strategy will deliver better preconditions to
progress environmental SA in the medium to long term.

Under the enhanced growth strategy, there will be greater provision of land for
housing, employment, retail and leisure uses than in the other two options.
Therefore, to meet the vision of the Council, the LDP Steering Group
concluded that this was the option, which the Local Authority would need to
take, and this has now been agreed by full Council. The Council has set itself
a challenging target to stem the out-migration of population by 2021, which
equates to in migration of 3,800 over the next fifteen years. The LDP will
allocate land for the provision of 3800 new dwellings in order to accommodate
the housing requirements of the population. The LDP Preferred Strategy
states “ The LDP will aim to facilitate a reduction in current levels of out
migration from the County Borough so that population levels stabilise by 2011
and a 10-year period of enhanced growth is achieved thereafter.” Appendix
5c and 6 of the LDP Preferred Strategy identify full details of the Enhanced
Growth Strategy option.

The Council is committed to working with developers to ensure that the
housing requirements of the population of the County Borough are met and
that the housing market will become more diverse and offer greater choice to
people who choose to live in the locality.

In accordance with the Housing Ministerial Interim Planning Policy Statement
01/2006, the majority of housing land allocations of the LDP will be made on
previously developed sites that are otherwise known as “brownfield sites”. It
is worth noting that the extent of contamination and/or unfavourable ground
conditions on some sites means that developers do not generally consider
such sites favourably. The most recent Joint Housing Land Availability Study
which is done on an annual basis in conjunction with the Welsh Assembly
Government demonstrates that the current land supply for Merthyr Tydfil
based on the residual method stands at 2.4 years, which increases to 4.4
years when compared with the annual average building rate for the last 14
years.

Over the course of the last two years, discussions with leading estate agents
in the County Borough have demonstrated that the housing market in Merthyr
Tydfil has become even more buoyant, and has witnessed a 175% increase in
house prices, larger than any other Council in Wales.

A Development Potential: Comparative Matrix has identified a range of
strategic sites within the County Borough: (See Appendix 3).




Quest for Quality Homes 2007 - 2012   30
Supplementary Planning Guidance

This will not be prepared until the LDP has reached deposit stage, however,
Planning Guidance notes have been developed. We have an excellent
working relationship with our Planning Policy colleagues who recognise the
importance of providing a wide range of affordable housing types for the
population as identified in the LDP.

The Heads of the Valley (HOV) are also commissioning SPG that can be used
across the HOV regions.

Relationship between Local Housing Strategies and Local Development
Plan

The recent Local Housing Market Assessment has identified a requirement for
24% of the total housing requirement to be affordable, which based on the
enhanced growth strategy will require 67 units per annum. The desk-top
housing needs survey by ORS has identified a requirement for intermediate
housing with a need for 7.5% to be one-bedroom homes, 26% two-bedroom
homes, 16.9% three-bedroom homes and 49.4% four-bedroom homes. The
information from our Local Housing Market Assessment has informed the
Local Housing Strategy, and was part of the Local Development Plan process
before it reached deposit stage. TAN 2 targets (these need to be specified
now before re-submission to WAG).

Future Challenges

      Monitoring the delivery of the TAN 2 targets.
      Ensuring a 5-year supply of land for new development.

Proposed Action

      Consider sale of land to RSLs for less than best consideration.
      Develop action plan for strategic housing sites.




Quest for Quality Homes 2007 - 2012   31
6. AFFORDABLE HOUSING

Social Housing Sector

Working with the housing association sector

The Local Authority has an excellent working relationship with Merthyr Tydfil
Housing Association, which is the largest Housing Association working in the
area. Good relationships also exist with Hafod and Wales and West, who are
also zoned to develop properties within the area.

Throughout Wales the condition of housing association homes is generally
better than the homes in Council ownership; their stock is generally modern
with better resourced repair, maintenance and improvement. However,
housing associations also face difficulties in achieving the WHQS.
Summarised below are some of the difficulties faced by the three main
associations zoned for development.

Merthyr Tydfil Housing Association
This is the largest RSL operating in the County Borough with a stock of 936,
the majority of which is situated in high-density areas consisting mainly of pre-
1919 and pre-1850 structures, generally terraced homes.

A large proportion of MTHA's older housing stock will not meet the
Development Quality Requirements (DQRs) for Existing and Rehabilitated
Dwellings issued by the Welsh Assembly Government (these are a higher
standard than the WHQS). The reasons why the homes fail to achieve these
standards is primarily due to the space available within these dwellings. The
Association has developed its own minimum standards for rehabilitated
properties. The Association‟s approach seeks to balance the quality of a
dwelling as measured against these standards, its ability to meet housing
need, and its economic viability in deciding how MTHA sets individual
outcomes for each property.

A key measure is the economic viability of each property. The Association has
developed a financial appraisal model that assesses this viability based on
future maintenance estimates. This, together with other measurements
against MTHA standards and housing need will enable MTHA to assess and
categorise each property for future action. The assessment of properties will
result in each one being placed in one of three categories. This category will
dictate the future planned maintenance to be undertaken to the property and
its future outcome. These are:

Category A - Minimal repairs until next void, then disposal.
Category B - Target economic life and restricted planned maintenance
programme set. To be re-assessed at end of economic life, or whenever
maintenance works totalling > £2,500 in one year arise.
Category C - Full component replacement.



Quest for Quality Homes 2007 - 2012    32
The Association will only undertake re-improvements to Welsh Assembly
Government DQRs within a Renewal or Regeneration Strategy agreed with
the Council and the Welsh Assembly Government where specific funding
arrangements are an integral part of that strategy. In certain instances, for
example Taff and Crescent Street, Merthyr Vale, the Association in
partnership with the Council will consider a scheme to redevelop homes as
part of a wider regeneration scheme, as a means of achieving the WHQS.

Hafod Housing Association
This RSL has 146 properties in Merthyr Tydfil. The profile of the Association‟s
portfolio in the County Borough is as follows:-

• an estate of 86 properties in Fir Tree Drive constructed in the late 1970s,
comprises 32 houses and 54 two bedroom flats
• a sheltered housing complex of 20 flats at Craig y Hendre in Bedlinog built in
1990
• 18 new-build properties at Barracks Row, Dowlais which were completed in
2000
• 22 existing dwellings that are located throughout Merthyr Tydfil (mainly
Gurnos, Penydarren, Pant). The age of these properties varies but all were
refurbished when they were purchased between 1996 and 1997.

The Association is committed to achieving the Welsh Housing Quality
Standard by 2012. This is being approached from two perspectives:

1. It has a well-defined stock condition programme. The details of this
programme are being reviewed so that any specific works undertaken will
achieve the relevant standard. In practice this has meant enhancing the
specifications for items of work such as boiler replacement, electrical rewiring
and kitchen and bathroom upgrades

2. The Association intend to commission additional surveys to identify further
works that will be necessary at an estate level, including security fencing and
profiling the energy efficiency of their stock.

Their tenants will be kept informed throughout this process. The Association
has recently conducted a major Tenant Satisfaction Survey that includes
amongst other things, tenant views on priorities for investment. The results of
the survey will feed into the Association‟s overall strategy for meeting WHQS.

Wales and West Housing Association
This RSL is one of the largest in Wales and has just under 400 units of
accommodation in Merthyr Tydfil, with a mix of general and sheltered-needs
schemes. A profile of the stock is shown below:
• a scheme of 204 x 2-bed flats and 3-bed houses at Twyncarmel. The estate
was constructed in the late 1970s/early 1980s using traditional means of
construction
• Mount View, Merthyr Vale has been extensively refurbished since 2001/02
comprising 35 units: a mix of 1- and 2-bed flats and 3- and 4- bed houses and


Quest for Quality Homes 2007 - 2012    33
one large community building. Originally traditionally constructed in the mid-
1970s the regeneration scheme included all new elements such as heating,
windows, doors, and the conversion of flats to houses
• a scheme of 6 units at Plas Derwen, Troedyrhiw consisting of 2 x two bed
flats, 2 x three-bed houses and 2 x three-bed purpose built bungalows. It was
constructed in 1992.
• the Association owns and manages five sheltered schemes in Merthyr. All
were traditionally constructed between 1980 and 1984.
Conversion work is currently being undertaken at a number of these schemes,
turning a number of self-contained bedsits into one and two-bedroomed flats.
The schemes are shown below:

      Bodalaw, Dowlais
      Ty Brynseion, Dowlais
      Ty Gwaunfarren, Gurnos
      Ty Bryngoleu, Aberfan
      Ty Pontrhun, Troedyrhiw

The Association is currently developing a planned maintenance programme in
order to ensure that its stock achieves the WHQS, but does not envisage any
major difficulty in reaching the standard.

Meeting WHQS

Over the last twenty years MTCBC has made major investment in planned
programmes to ensure our stock is of a high standard. The results of the
public sector stock condition survey undertaken during 2006, identified that
£31.6 million was required to meet WHQS by 2012, which compared to other
Local Authorities on a per property basis is relatively low.

The latest re-evaluation of the stock condition survey identified a capital
funding requirement of £68m if the Standard is to be met by the target date.

The Options Appraisal financial modelling identified that insufficient resources
would be available to fund the programmes required to achieve the Welsh
Housing Quality Standard by 2012, with a current shortfall of £28m. In
addition, the Major Repairs Allowance for 2007/08 has been decreased by
£100K. As the actual allocation from the Welsh Assembly remained constant
over the three year period for 2005/06 to 2007/07, which in real terms is a
decrease in the total funding available, stock transfer is the only option
available to the Council.

Social and Economic development opportunities

There are obvious links between economic development and meeting the
WHQS with significant opportunities for construction based training. At the
HOV forum, there have been discussions around the provision of a Regional
Centre for Excellence. Collaborative procurement will undoubtedly deliver
efficiency savings that can be re-invested in the improvement of the housing
stock.


Quest for Quality Homes 2007 - 2012    34
£1.5M ERF funding was awarded for the re-generation of the Gurnos
shopping center, and the use of specific capital grant for the Riverside and
Heartland projects within two declared renewal areas will be used to re-
generate both of the sites, which are key projects to providing sustainable
communities.

Affordable Housing

With the dramatic escalation of prices in the local housing market during the
last few years, affordable housing is now a key strategic priority.

For the period January to March 2006 the average price of a property in
Merthyr Tydfil was £92,595, although prices varied from neighbourhood to
neighbourhood and from property type to property type. Average prices for
specific property types during this period were as follows:

      terraced house - £74,026
      semi detached house - £102,917
      detached house - £174,047

First time buyers with an average local income of £15,000 would need to
borrow at a ratio of 6:1 to purchase an average priced property.

This has created a need for affordable housing, which is now a major issue in
the area. Part of the answer is the provision of a range of mixed
developments including low cost home ownership, shared equity schemes,
the use of Homebuy and additional rented accommodation for those who are
unable to purchase

The following is an example of sales of a similar property in a post code over
the last 5 years:

   •   CF47 8 - £90,500 (terrace) 2006
   •   Same quarter 2004 - £69,000
   •   Same quarter 2001 - £43,100
   •   Average income >£25k
   •   Most commonly occurring income range £15-20k
   •   Significant affordability gap
   •   Income to house price ratio >4.1

We have worked in close partnership with our colleagues in Planning and
Estates to take advantage of Section 106 of the Town and Country Planning
Act 1990 that sets out the mechanism for achieving affordable housing
through the planning system. With land allocation and some elements of
funding tightly linked through planning obligations we have been able to use
this policy to effectively increase the provision of affordable housing and to
meet wider objectives of creating mixed communities.




Quest for Quality Homes 2007 - 2012    35
The following are just some examples of the way in which we have intervened
recently in the local housing market.

Planning gain through Section 106 agreements for affordable housing
    Secured a 5 figure commutable sum for a site on Old Winchfawr Road,
      Heolgerrig
    Secured a 6 figure sum from NHS, owners of Maerdy Hospital site to
      be used to subsidise another affordable scheme off-site

   Negotiated Affordable Housing Schemes
    Provision of subsidised low cost home ownership on Phase 3 of the
     Dowlais Flats site
    Affordable housing to be included in Riverside Project subject to
     outcome of Planning Inquiry
    Affordable housing to be included in Heartland Project – regeneration
     of Dowlais Foundry Site subject to outline planning application
    Negotiated 20% affordable housing on Queens Exchange site in
     Thomastown
    15% affordable housing on a Wimpey owned site in Swansea Road

The Social Housing Grant programme, for which over £5m will be allocated to
Merthyr Tydfil over the next 2 years will also be invested in a range of
affordable housing schemes on a number of key strategic sites that have been
identified.

As stated in Chapters 4 and 5, the latest LHMA has identified a need for 24%
affordable housing, and the above schemes have been developed to meet
that projected affordable housing need.

Following a review of our current needs based housing allocation policy and to
provide home-seekers with an element of increased choice in accordance with
Government guidance, in September 2006 we introduced a Choice Based
Letting scheme. This has allowed home-seekers to determine where they
wish to live, although this has not increased the current number of social
housing properties that are available for home-seekers to rent. In partnership
with the local Registered Social Landlords we are working towards introducing
a Common Housing Register in 2007.

Intermediate Sector

The Local Housing Market Analysis has determined that up to 50% of new
affordable housing should be in the form of intermediate housing market
products such as Homebuy.

„Project 18,000‟ which was identified through the housing market model
developed through collaboration via the South East Wales Regional Housing
Forum, has led to proposals to appoint two Regional Housing Enablers,
funded by WAG and match funded by South East Wales Local Authorities.
The proposals for these posts are that they should aim to assist local



Quest for Quality Homes 2007 - 2012   36
authorities to achieve affordable housing targets locally, sub-regionally and
regionally over a two- year period.
The Heads of the Valley also has an obvious role to play in stimulating
housing markets across the region.

In terms of the development of affordable homes through the RSL sector, we
will plan to make use of „the matrix‟ approach adopted by Cardiff City Council
to determine which developer we will utilize for particular schemes within the
County Borough. Monitoring and reviewing arrangements will be undertaken
through the Strategic Housing Partnership Executive Group.

Future Challenges

      The Council has to meet the Welsh Housing Quality Standard by 2012,
       and the ballot to consider stock transfer will take place in November
       2007.
      In tandem with stock transfer, the Local Authority must ensure that the
       retained strategic housing function is adequately resourced.
      The Council will need to work with a Regional Housing Enabler, who
       will help to increase affordable housing in line with the targets set by
       the Authority.
      The Local Authority will need to consider the development of a
       Homebuy scheme without the possible future use of Social Housing
       Grant.

Proposed Action

      Create robust strategic housing team
      Achieve WHQS
      Identify future funding requirements
      Utilise commutable sums for the development of Homebuy schemes




Quest for Quality Homes 2007 - 2012    37
7. THE PRIVATE SECTOR

Partnership with the Private Sector

1. Housing Renewal Policy

This was developed following the introduction of the Regulatory Reform Order
in 2002, creating increased flexibility to provide housing assistance suitable to
the needs of local people. A steering group was formed and an extensive
period of consultation with key stakeholders followed before the Housing
Renewal Policy was produced. The Policy was updated in May 2005,
September 2006 and more recently February 2007 to incorporate changes in
primary legislation and relevant guidance.

The following key private sector stakeholders were consulted during the
process of developing the Housing Renewal Policy:
    Private sector landlords
    Local Estate Agents
    Local small scale builders
    Medium to large scale building contractors

The views of these key stakeholders were considered to be a vital ingredient
in the formation of the Housing Renewal Policy as many of them would be
defined as either the „end user‟ or „facilitator‟ in implementing the policy.

2. Energy Efficiency Works

A number of private sector contractors have worked in partnership with the
local authority over the past few years to improve the thermal efficiency of
private housing within the County Borough.

Within the two declared Renewal Areas, funding provided by the Welsh
Assembly Government has been used to facilitate energy efficiency
improvements in hundreds of terraced dwellings within the two wards.

Domestic & General Insulation Ltd was chosen as the appointed contractor to
carry out the Home Energy Efficiency Scheme (HEES). The energy
improvement works were funded by private energy companies and the Welsh
Assembly Government.

Two thousand free, low energy lightbulbs, donated by Powergen, are to be
distributed to residents on low income throughout 2007/2008.

3. Private Sector Landlord Forum

A Forum for landlords is facilitated on a bi-annual basis at the Civic Centre.
Invitations are issued to all known private sector landlords within the County
Borough. The Forum is well attended and provides the local authority with a
vehicle for disseminating important information regarding legislative changes,


Quest for Quality Homes 2007 - 2012    38
fire safety, plus landlord & tenant law. The Forum is a key component in our
move towards encouraging increased self- regulation in the private rented
sector as opposed to enforcement action.

The Landlord‟s Forum has discussed the implications of the Tenancy Deposit
Scheme. Landlords who attend were informed of their legal obligations, which
were introduced on 6th April 2007

4. Landlord Accreditation Scheme

Launched in April 2004, the Borough wide scheme is free to join and aims to
provide recognition and a range of exclusive benefits to conscientious
landlords who provide safe, comfortable and well managed properties for rent.

In 2005 the scheme was made mandatory for landlords who wish to
participate in group repair schemes or receive an empty homes grant.

The Landlord Accreditation Scheme has increased the level of self- regulation
as well as helping to improve standards within the private rented sector, which
is traditionally of lower quality and houses the most vulnerable individuals.

5. Group Repair Schemes

Although the Council uses competitive tendering principles for group repair
schemes, contractors are still considered to be vital partners in the extensive
physical regeneration work undertaken within the two Renewal Areas.
Building formal relationships with contractors has allowed the Council to
monitor the quality of workmanship more closely and to influence the
contractor‟s programme of work, improving the service provided to home-
owners.

Residents participating in group repair schemes are also considered as
partners in the regeneration of their area. A test of resources of all
participants determines their financial contribution towards the cost of the
works. This private finance, levered into each project is essential to ensure
future schemes are financially viable.

Housing Renewal Policy (Private Sector)

This has evolved significantly since its inception in 2004 to take into account a
raft of recent legislative changes. The current version was last updated in
June 2007.

The policy describes how, in partnership with a range of organisations, the
County Borough Council seeks to assist vulnerable homeowners improve
local housing conditions. The policy was developed through extensive
consultation with all key stakeholders, and written within the context of
national and local priorities.




Quest for Quality Homes 2007 - 2012    39
New legislative powers, a local stock condition survey and consultation with
stakeholders have helped form the policy objectives and priorities.
Below is a brief overview of the financial assistance available:

Home Improvement Grant

Maximum grant available is £25,000 to assist homeowners with whole scale
improvements to their property. The purpose of the grant is to remove
„significant hazards‟ (Category 1) from a dwelling.

Home Repair Assistance Grant

Maximum grant available is £3,000 for persons aged 60-74yrs; increasing to
£5,000 for persons aged 75yrs and over. The grant aims to repair the basic
fabric of the house ensuring it remains weatherproof. Installation of PVCu
windows or replacement of a kitchen roof, are some examples of works
undertaken.

Disabled Facilities Grant

A maximum grant of up to £30,000 is available to fund works of alteration,
improvement and/or adaptation of a property to meet the needs of it‟s disabled
occupants. This is the only mandatory grant remaining within the Housing
Renewal policy.

Disabled Persons Relocation Grant

A maximum grant of up to £20,000 is available to allow a disabled person to
move into a more suitable property, where it is not feasible to adapt their
current residence. A recommendation from a Community Occupational
Therapist is required before this type of grant may be considered.

Relocation Assistance

A maximum grant of up to £25,000 is available to assist people, displaced by
a Council led project, to relocate to an alternative suitable property (preferably
in the same locality).

Group Repair Assistance

A 75-100% grant is offered to owners of properties within a designated group
repair scheme. The scheme aims to improve or renew the external fabric of
entire blocks of dwellings. This type of grant assistance is currently only
available in Renewal Areas, and in streets identified for group repair schemes.
A weighting exercise is undertaken to determine the priority of schemes
identified.
A minimum of 60% of residents offered the scheme must participate in order
for the group repair scheme to proceed.




Quest for Quality Homes 2007 - 2012     40
Landlords are not subject to a „means test‟ and must pay a 25% contribution
towards the total cost for their property. All landlords within the scheme must
participate in the Landlord Accreditation Scheme.

Home Front Scheme

An 85-100% grant is offered to owners of properties within a designated
Home Front Scheme. The purpose of the scheme is to improve the front
façade of dwellings. The scheme aims to improve the visual appearance and
repair of a street without carrying out major works.

Landlords are not subject to a „means test‟ and must pay a 15% contribution
towards the total cost for their property. All landlords within the scheme must
participate in the Landlord Accreditation Scheme.

Empty Homes Grant

A maximum grant of £10,000 is available for owners of long term, vacant
properties in poor condition to assist them renovate their property and make it
available for letting. This type of grant is currently only available in Renewal
Areas subject to available funding. Accreditation is mandatory.

Energy Efficiency Grants

The County Borough Council does not directly fund energy efficiency grants
but works with various energy suppliers and external agencies to promote and
offer grants under the HEES or Healthy Homes Scheme.

Home Maintenance Advice Service

Offered in partnership with Merthyr Tydfil Care & Repair Agency, this provides
free and impartial advice to homeowners on house maintenance and repair.

Handy Person Service

Offered in partnership with Merthyr Tydfil Care & Repair Agency, this provides
a responsive small home repairs service at a fixed cost to homeowners.




Quest for Quality Homes 2007 - 2012    41
Summary of Grant Funding (2002-2007)

Grant Type         2002/3  2003/4          2004/5   2005/6 2006/7 Total
Home               £1.034M £938k           £286k    £36k   £0     £2.294M
Renovation
HRA                £334k      £324k        £46k     £0      £0      £704k
DFG                £154k      £339k        £81k     £22k    £0      £596k
Empty Homes        £75k       £0           £10k     £0      £45k    £130k
Grant
Home               £241k      £40k         £10k     £0      £0      £291k
Renovation
(Dowlais & M
Vale)
Improvement        £0         £14k         £247k    £84k    £90k    £435k
Grant
(RRO)*
HRA (RRO)*         £0      £5k     £441k   £196k            £56k    £698k
DFG (RRO)*         £0      £13k    £313k   £285k            £306k   £917k
Total              £1.838M £1.673M £1.434M £623k            £497k   £6.065M

* denotes grants introduced by the Regulatory Reform Order which became
effective in 2003 and supersede the other grants types, approved under the
old regime.

Please Note: The above grant figures relate to grants provided by the Grants
Department and are exclusive of grant assistance provided by the Housing
Renewal Team.

Area Renewal & Regeneration

There are currently two declared Renewal Areas in Merthyr Tydfil. Aberfan &
Merthyr Vale Renewal Area was declared in May 2001 while Dowlais Renewal
Area was declared in October 2003.

Prior to their declaration an extensive Neighbourhood Renewal Assessment
was undertaken in each area by consultants appointed by the Council.

The NRA studies for both areas highlighted the following major issues:
    Poor building condition
    High unemployment
    An ageing population
    Poor facilities for young people
    Vacant commercial properties
    Degraded townscape
    Low economic activity
    High proportion of vacant residential properties
    Run down appearance of area and environmental issues such as
      traffic congestion




Quest for Quality Homes 2007 - 2012   42
Having identified these specific issues as being evident in both Aberfan &
Merthyr Vale and Dowlais the Council formed a dedicated Renewal Team with
guidelines to tackle the issues over the 10 year life of each Renewal Area.

To ensure resources are strategically targeted and to maximise the impact of
works undertaken, an annual strategy is produced for each Renewal Area.
These document the progress made in the previous financial year plus
projects identified for the current year. Due to the annual funding cycle, it is
very difficult to plan long term projects; however, the Housing Renewal Team
has completed and is committed to, a number of large scale projects which
span two or more funding cycles.

Below is a brief summary of works undertaken to address our housing
renewal priorities.

Homes

Group Repair Schemes (GRS) and various types of grant assistance are
strategically aimed at properties which contain significant hazards (as
described in the Housing Act 2004), reducing levels of unfitness and
„unhealthy housing‟ in the ward. Schemes such as GRS and Empty Homes
Grants (EHGs) require financial contributions from the property owner,
increasing private investment in the area and encouraging home owners to
maintain their properties.

The large number of long term vacant properties is being significantly reduced
via the provision of EHGs and through other methods of intervention. A very
encouraging statistic is that in the years 2005/6 and 2006/07 91 properties
which were previously „unfit‟ were made „fit for human habitation‟ through
group repair works and 37 long term vacant properties have been returned to
occupation.

Open Spaces

 The Renewal Areas have and will continue to receive major facelifts through
the various environmental, highways and traffic calming projects. The
provision of a major car park (50+ spaces) at Victoria Street, Dowlais has
reduced traffic congestion and has encouraged more people to shop locally.
A disabled car park constructed at Ynysowen Community Centre has also
achieved similar outcomes.

Community Safety

Traffic calming measures and the provision of off-street parking have
improved pedestrian and road user safety. The improved security at public
car parks is also helping to reduce the levels of car crime within the wards.
The free home security measures and intercom system for the elderly has
significantly reduced the fear of crime, as well as securing properties from
potential burglary and bogus callers. Empty Homes Grants are also helping to



Quest for Quality Homes 2007 - 2012    43
        reduce the incidence of anti-social behaviour associated with long term vacant
        properties e.g. arson, graffiti and statutory nuisance.

        Employment

         Local businesses and contractors are employed to carry out works to
        properties including GRS and grants, in addition to landscaping and parking
        projects. The majority of materials are also sourced locally. This contributes
        to sustainable development policies.

        People, Communities & Health

        Numerous home energy efficiency schemes have improved the comfort and
        health of residents in their own homes. Improved recreational facilities
        including paths, walkways and landscapes give the public increased
        opportunity to live active lives. Funding has been provided to local community
        groups who engage with local children devising and implementing
        landscaping projects.

        Partnerships

        We work closely with a host of partners including the public, Ward Members,
        Communities First and numerous other key stakeholders who are regularly
        consulted and invited to work in partnership. Housing Renewal Officers
        attend local resident‟s groups to explain the Renewal Programme for a
        particular area and the Ward in general. Forming strong bonds with the
        community has assisted the process of delivering projects, which are a priority
        to the community.

        Total Funding to Date within Renewal Areas

Funding Source         2000/1   2001/2   2002/3    2003/4     2004/5       2005/6       2006/7
Welsh Assembly         £1.2M    £0       £1.6M     £1.955M    £2.2M        £2.1M        £1.84M
Government (SCG)
Other LA Resources                                 £638,516   £555,352     £870,000     £1.35M
Other funding                                      £610,000   £1,146,511   £1,883,248   £1,410,000
(Communities First,
Health etc…)
Private Sector                                     £101,105   £139,000     £1,438,000   £600,000
Investment
(Inc. residents
contributions)
        Resources to Support Housing Renewal & DFGs




        Quest for Quality Homes 2007 - 2012       44
Local Priorities

As identified in Chapter 4, the Community plan 2004-2020 has seven strategic
themes which include:

   1.   People, power and community empowerment
   2.   Safe and sound
   3.   21st Century services and facilities for all
   4.   A clean, green place to be proud of
   5.   Health check
   6.   A thriving economy
   7.   Forward through learning

Within theme 3 the improvement of private sector housing is regarded as a
key action and our Private Sector Improvement Programme contributes to the
majority of the other strategic priorities.

Local Housing Strategy

From the objectives outlined in Chapter 2 those most relevant to Private
Sector Housing include:

              To develop Safer Communities
              Regenerate communities in Merthyr Tydfil
              Target help to vulnerable groups
              To enable healthy living for all

The actions outlined in our Private Sector Renewal Policy, contributes to all of
these aims with significant contributions directed towards improving and
repairing resident‟s homes.

General Capital Funding committed to Private Sector Renewal

GCF for Disabled Facilities Grants: £500,000 (2007/8)

MRA= £70,000 for adaptations in Council ownership

SHG for Rapid Response and Small works of Adaptation in public sector
stock: £50,000 (2006/7).

Significant amounts of funding have been dedicated to revenue costs
associated with Private Sector Renewal.




Quest for Quality Homes 2007 - 2012    45
Housing Health and Safety Rating System

Background

Part 1 of the Housing Act 2004, introduced the new Housing Health and
Safety Rating System (HHSRS), together with the provisions of the Housing
Health and Safety Rating System (Wales) Regulations 2006, which both came
into force on 30th June 2006.

The Housing Health and Safety Rating System (HHSRS) is Central
Government‟s new approach to the evaluation of the potential risks to health
and safety from any deficiencies identified in dwellings. It replaces the former
inspection method contained in the Housing Act 1985 called the Fitness
Standard, which required the assessor to merely determine whether a
dwelling was „fit for human habitation‟ or not.

Reviewing Local Housing Conditions

Section 3 of the Housing Act 2004 requires the local housing authority to keep
the housing conditions in their area under review with a view of determining
what action to take under their duties and powers to deal with hazards
identified under HHSRS or provide financial assistance for home repair and
improvement. The purpose of the review(s) is to ensure that the local
authority maintains a current awareness of the state of the housing stock in its
area, so that it can take well- informed judgements on the action it needs to
take.

Housing Renewal Staff are regularly invited to resident‟s homes to deal with a
housing related query within the two Renewal Areas, which puts them in an
ideal position to assess the overall condition of local private housing stock.

Public Health Environmental Health Officers respond to service
requests/complaints on a daily basis and they can also provide valuable
information about the condition of private housing stock in all Wards.

Assess Whether Category 1 or 2 Hazards Exist

Housing Renewal Officers will use the HHSRS in order to carry out their
duties under Section 4 of the Housing Act 2004, which requires assessment of
whether significant Category 1 Hazards or less significant Category 2 Hazards
are present within a dwelling. This will in turn inform the decision of whether
grant assistance is available for the owner of a particular dwelling.

Public Health Staff will use the HHSRS to replace the traditional Fitness
Assessment when responding to all housing related enquiries.




Quest for Quality Homes 2007 - 2012    46
Enforcement of Housing Conditions Policy

The Public Health Division are delegated the responsibility of private sector
housing condition enforcement. A new Enforcement Policy has been
produced, which clearly defines the powers available to officers under the
Housing Act 2004 and stipulates the circumstances in which a particular
course of action will be considered appropriate. The Enforcement Policy is
fully compatible with the Enforcement Concordat (which has been adopted by
the Council) and the Public Health Division‟s overarching Enforcement Policy.

Financial Assistance

The Regulatory Reform (Housing Assistance) (England and Wales) Order
2002 introduced a general power for local authorities to provide financial
assistance. The Order provides a great deal of flexibility in devising an
appropriate strategy to deal with poor conditions in the private sector. In
exercising such powers the local authority must have regards to their
enforcement duties under Part 1 of the Housing Act 2004 (i.e. HHSRS) in
conjunction with the renewal guidance issued in the Welsh Assembly
Government Circular 20/02.

Based on the changes introduced by the Housing Act 2004, further revision of
the Housing Renewal Policy is required. It is likely that Improvement Grants
will be available to eligible persons (subject to funding), to eliminate Category
1 hazards from a property (where Improvement Grants were previously
provided to make a property „fit for human habitation‟).

Authorisation and Training

The powers contained in the Housing Act 2004 are invested in the local
housing authority, which must ensure that powers are delegated, in writing, to
the „proper officer‟ (Local Government Act 1972).

All relevant officers involved in HHSRS inspections must be properly
authorised to do so in writing. At present all relevant Public Health
Environmental Health Officers have already been trained and authorised to
conduct HHSRS assessments and use appropriate enforcement methods,
and all have been officially certified as competent users of the system.

All relevant officers within the Housing Renewal Team have undergone
comprehensive HHSRS assessment training, two of which have been officially
certified as competent users of the system. All Team members are committed
to a continuous professional development programme. Authorisation for the
use of HHSRS by members of the Housing Renewal Team for dwelling
assessment purposes has been approved by full Council. This is primarily to
assess grants but also to determine the general condition of the housing
stock, but does not include enforcement action, which is done solely by the
Public Health department.




Quest for Quality Homes 2007 - 2012    47
HMO Licensing

The Housing Act 2004 radically overhauls the way the local housing authority
regulates standards in the private rented sector. It introduced compulsory
licensing for HMOs of three or more stories, with five or more occupiers.

The Council aims to maximise the availability of private rented
accommodation and ensure that it is of a standard required to protect the
health and safety of tenants. The availability of HMO lettings is an important
factor in sustaining affordable housing within the County Borough. The
Council views the new legislation as an opportunity to improve property
standards provided by private landlords as part of its aim to facilitate the
provision of good quality housing for all residents.

There are approximately 150 HMOs in the County Borough, which are
inspected and assessed by Public Health Environmental Health Officers in
line with requirements laid out in the Housing Act 2004.
To ensure the Council deals with license applications and any enforcement
action associated with HMOs in a fair, equitable and transparent manner, the
Public Health Division have produced a Private Rented Housing Policy for
HMO Licensing and Regulation.

Selective Licensing

The County Borough Council does not have in place and is not developing a
Selective Licensing Policy at the present time. The Public Health Division
have considered this as an option for dealing with private rented
accommodation but have concluded that the County Borough will be best
served using alternative options.

Empty Properties

Increased powers to deal with empty properties provided by the Housing Act
2004 has prompted a further review of our Empty Homes Strategy.

A Working Group was established with representatives from relevant internal
partners. The Group devised a clear, coherent and workable strategy to
tackle the numerous long- term vacant properties within the County Borough.

The merits of using Empty Dwelling Management Orders (EDMOs), Enforced
Sale and Compulsory Purchase powers were all considered by the Group. An
„Empty Homes Toolkit‟ has been produced, which will allow officers to make
full use of the informal and formal enforcement options available.

The Housing Renewal Team has administered Empty Homes Grants within
the two Renewal Areas since 2004. The grants are available to owners of
long term vacant properties to assist with refurbishment and make it available
for letting. This type of grant has proved very successful with 14 grants being
completed to date.



Quest for Quality Homes 2007 - 2012   48
Information on empty homes has been incorporated into the Public Health
existing MVM database, in order to build-up a comprehensive source of data
to enable officers to tackle long term vacant properties within the County
Borough.

Merthyr Care & Repair

Management

On 1st April 2005, Merthyr Care and Repair became an independent Industrial
& Provident Society with Charitable Status (IPS). Between 1993 and 2005,
Merthyr Care & Repair had been under the management of Wales & West
Housing Association.

The Agency‟s former Advisory Committee has now been replaced by a Board
of Management, which working together with the Agency Director, has taken
over the full management of the Agency.

The Board of Management is made up of key funding partners and
representatives of other statutory and Voluntary Organisations. The current
membership is specified below:

     A Retired Tax Officer
     Wales & West Housing Association Representative
     Agency Director
     Care & Repair Cymru, Regional Officer
     Safer Merthyr Tydfil, Voluntary Sector
     Local Authority Councillors (x3)
     Director of Customer Community Services
     Senior Manager, Adults, Health and Social Care
     Age Concern Merthyr, Voluntary Sector Representative

Strategic Business Planning

The Committee‟s position as a working sub-group of the Agency‟s Board of
Management was confirmed at a Board meeting in April 2005. The
membership of the Planning Committee is outlined below:

 Integrated Adult Services (previously Social Services) Merthyr Tydfil
County Borough Council
 Customer Community Services (previously Housing and Technical
Services Dept), Merthyr Tydfil County Borough Council
 Merthyr Tydfil Local Health Board
 Merthyr Care & Repair
 Care & Repair Cymru

The Committee has clear terms of reference, revised annually, which provides
members with guidelines, respective responsibilities and detailed objectives.




Quest for Quality Homes 2007 - 2012   49
The Committee was an integral part of the development and production of the
Business Plan, and through the Planning Process, has examined the gaps in
service provision identified by the County Mapping Exercise.

Appropriate future action is contained in an Agency Action Plan, which was
compiled during the first Forward Planning Sessions, held in September 2006.

The Strategic Business Planning Committee has also examined the Agency‟s
Strategic Aims and Objectives and ensured their relevance to both national
and local housing, health and social care strategies.

Other Key Partners

     Welsh Assembly Government

Merthyr Care & Repair works closely with the Welsh Assembly Government to
provide a service of consistent quality that meets national strategic objectives
and operates within the principles of the Wales Programme for Improvement

     Merthyr Tydfil County Borough Council

In partnership with Merthyr Tydfil Housing Association we were responsible
for setting up Merthyr Care & Repair in 1988. The Agency has worked closely
with both Customer Community Services (Housing), and Integrated Adults
Services (formerly Social Services) ever since.
The Agency currently operates the extremely successful Safety at Home
Initiative in partnership with Integrated Adult Services. Agency staff also
provide assistance to applicants for Disabled Facilities Grants, working closely
with Community Occupational Therapists and the Grants Section.

The Housing Renewal Team currently fund a part time Care & Repair
Caseworker to assist participants in Group Repair Schemes operating within
Renewal Areas. The caseworker completes all the necessary application
forms. In addition, the Housing Renewal Team has also provided funding for
the Handy Person Service and Home Maintenance Advice Services offered by
Care and Repair.

The County Borough Council also provides Merthyr Care & Repair with
complimentary office accommodation.

     Merthyr Tydfil Local Health Board

A close working relationship exists which has proved invaluable in the
development of the Rapid Response Adaptations Programme (RRAP) funded
by the Welsh Assembly Government.




     National Public Health Service


Quest for Quality Homes 2007 - 2012    50
Organise campaigns in partnership with the Agency such as „Keep Well this
Winter‟ in addition to numerous one day events such as „Keep your Jacket On‟
which promoted Flu jabs, energy efficiency advice etc…

       Older Person’s Steering Group

Merthyr Care & Repair is represented on the above which was established to
take forward the Older Person‟ Strategy. The Group informs the Health,
Social Care & Well Being Strategy.

       Health and Social Care Forum

The Director‟s position as Chair of the local Voluntary Sector Health & Social
Care Forum, organised by Voluntary Action Merthyr Tydfil‟s Health & Social
Care Facilitator has led to closer and increased partnership working
opportunities throughout the Agency‟s field of operations.

       Other Voluntary Organisations

The Agency is a member of Voluntary Action Merthyr Tydfil (VAMT) and
works closely with other Voluntary groups in the area who also offer services
to the client group of people with disabilities and older people.

Links to Local and National Strategies

(a) Private Sector Housing:

At the time of the 1997 Welsh House Condition Survey, the County Borough
had a higher rate of unfitness in our terraced housing than any other Welsh
Local Authority. The rate of unfitness amongst owner-occupiers was almost
twice the national average.

The 2004 Merthyr Tydfil House Condition Survey, which represented the
second comprehensive assessment of private sector housing conditions in the
County Borough, supported these findings. In addition it found that: -

       Over 55% of the private sector housing stock was constructed prior to
        1919, with 32% constructed before the turn of the century.
       The highest levels of unfitness are found where heads of household
        are elderly.

Merthyr Care & Repair has a vital role to play in an area with such high levels
of unfit housing inhabited by disproportionately high numbers of older or
disabled people.

The Agency‟s ability to assist the most vulnerable homeowners who would not
otherwise proceed with work has proved invaluable in our efforts to improve
the Private Sector Housing Stock.



Quest for Quality Homes 2007 - 2012      51
The following documents have been produced in recent years to comply with
statutory requirements:

       Community Plan 2004-2020
       ‘Quest for Quality Homes’ Local Housing Strategy 2004/2009
       Housing Renewal Policy (Updated February 2007)
       Corporate Vision for Merthyr Tydfil

All of the above have been considered by the Agency in the delivery of its
services.

(b) Health:

The following local and national policy documents have also been considered:

       Census of Population 2001 detailed in Health Statistics Wales 2003
       Mapping Social Exclusion Wales 1997
       Bro-Taf Health Authority Merthyr Tydfil Health Profile (1999)
       National Service Framework for Older People in Wales,
       Health, Social Care & Well Being Strategy

Merthyr Care & Repair works closely with all strategic partners to safeguard
the continuation of appropriate services.

(c) Social Care:

The following key documents have been considered to achieve common
social care goals:

       Social Care Plan 2002/05.
       Older Persons Strategy.
       Health, Social Care and Well Being Strategy.
       Community Strategy.
       Strategy for Older People in Wales.
       The National Housing Strategy for Wales – Better Homes for People in
        Wales.
       The National Service Framework for Older People.
       The Social Justice and Regeneration Committee’s Report on Housing
        for Older People.
       Design for Life.
       Fulfilled Lives, Supportive Communities.

Types of Services Provided by Merthyr Care & Repair

Assistance available includes:

Advice: On housing options, the need for repairs, practical solutions, costs
and sources of finance



Quest for Quality Homes 2007 - 2012   52
Financial Assistance: Welfare benefit advice, assistance with grant
applications loans, with „top up funding including charitable sources.

Administration: Practical help with form filling, obtaining builder‟s estimates
and co-ordination of work.

Monitoring Support: Practical assistance to arrange alternative
accommodation, removals, redecoration and any home care services.

Service Inventory

Services provided by the Agency:

      Rapid Response Adaptations
      Safety at Home Initiative
      Care and Safety First Initiative

Services offered by the Agency in partnership with the County Borough
Council:

      Renewal with Care
      Home Maintenance Advice Service
      Handy Person Service
      Healthy Homes Advisor

Core funding provided to Merthyr Care & Repair by Merthyr Tydfil C.B.C.

Total Annual Funding: £144,000 (2006/7).

Mobile Homes

Merthyr Tydfil has three licensed sites for mobile homes of varying types.

Glynmill Gypsy Traveller Site

This site is Local Authority owned, and is licensed for permanent residence.
The site, which was built in 1979, has 12 pitches for permanent residents, with
no transit pitches. There are estimated to be 45 residents at this site.

Woodlands Caravan Park

This is a privately owned site licensed for permanent residence. Permanent
pitches are available to those who are 50 years old plus, with no children
allowed. There are currently 8 occupied pitches with 14 residents on site. A
further 10 – 15 pitches are either under construction or are on sale.




Quest for Quality Homes 2007 - 2012       53
Grawen Caravan Park

This site, which is located on the edge of the Brecon Beacons National Park,
is privately owned having no permanent residents. It is licensed for holiday
lets only and is a small commercial operation attached to a working farm.
Activity is mainly seasonal, namely between May and September, and the site
can cater for up to 20 motor homes or caravans and 30 tents.

New Mobile Homes regulations will be introduced in Autumn 2007 and the
new legislative provisions include:
The Mobile Homes (Written Statement) (Amendment0 (Wales) Regulations
2007;
The Mobile Homes (Amendment of Schedule 1 of the Mobile Homes Act 1983
(Wales) Order 2007; and
The Caravan Sites Act 1968 (Amendment) (Wales) Order 2007.

The regulations will introduce important safeguards for Mobile Home owners
in Wales.

Loans and Equity Release

We have a commitment to develop alternative financial services/packages to
assist homeowners fund home improvements. With grant budgets reducing in
many local authorities, loans and equity release schemes are considered as
important alternative means to access the funding necessary to repair and
improve the private sector housing stock within the County Borough and
throughout Wales.

The outcome of the Welsh Assembly Government funded research
projects/pilots into loan schemes within Wales is eagerly awaited to inform our
policy framework.
We have approached the Heads of the Valleys Team seeking financial
assistance to set up a regional loans policy supported by all local authorities in
the Heads of the Valleys Region. The significant start up and administrative
costs of running a loans or equity release scheme would allow cross-boundary
collaboration to comply with the Beecham Report.

Disabled Facilities Grants (DFGs)

Following publication of the „Review of Housing Adaptations and DFGs‟ in
March 2005, a radical overhaul of DFG policies and procedures was
undertaken.

Below is a brief summary of the service improvements we have made in
response to the 37 recommendations contained in the Welsh Assembly
Government Review.

      Councillors are informed of the current DFG needs within the County
       Borough prior to any financial budgets being set with regard to General
       Capital Funding (GCF) for each financial year


Quest for Quality Homes 2007 - 2012    54
      An amount of £70,000 from the Major Repairs Allowance (MRA) has
       been committed to DFGs for council tenants. This figure is reviewed
       annually.
      Performance management has been introduced to monitor activity
       against statutory performance indicators.
      An efficient referral system has been introduced between Community
       Occupational Therapists, Grants Officers, Care & Repair, Handy
       Person Service and the Direct Labour Organisation to ensure small
       works of adaptation and DFGs are processed promptly.
      An adapted housing register has been developed.
      Disabled Persons Relocation Grants are offered in appropriate cases
       where a property is unsuitable to be adapted for a disabled person‟s
       needs. A grant of up to £20,000 may be awarded to allow the disabled
       person (and their family) to relocate to a more suitable, adapted
       property.
      The average number of calendar days taken to deliver a Disabled
       Facilities Grant was 598 Days in 2005/6.
      The much improved DFG performance indicator for 2006/2007 is 434
       days.
      A new fast track stair lift project is being piloted at the moment for
       terminally ill patients.

Rapid Response Adaptations Programme

This fast-track service aims to assist safe discharge from hospital and prevent
re-admission by improving the home environment of vulnerable, elderly and/or
disabled people.

The Programme was launched in early 2003 and implemented by Merthyr
Care & Repair. RRAP met the gap in service provision identified during a
mapping process in 2002. RRAP is directly funded by the Welsh Assembly
Government with £50,000 provided for 2006/7 and £61,000 for 2007/08.
The Agency was successful in accessing local „Wanless‟ funding of £6,000 to
extend RRAP to social housing 2006/07, in response to a gap in service
provision identified by hospital Occupational Therapists. A request has
recently been submitted to the Local Health Board for continuation of this
funding source.

Care & Repair receive direct WAG funding towards it‟s running costs which
supports a Technical Officer who carries out feasibility assessments, following
a referral from a Community Occupational Therapist, for large and small
works of adaptation in private and public sector housing. These works are
funded through the current housing budget.




Quest for Quality Homes 2007 - 2012   55
Future Challenges

      Increasing the budget allocated for DFGs
      Move away from a culture of grants to a loans policy
      Regenerating communities
      Reducing number of empty properties in private sector

Proposed Action

      Developing a loans policy
      Undertake a Neighbourhood Renewal Assessment in Bedlinog ward
      Link Housing Health and Safety Rating System to implementation of
       Housing Renewal Policy




Quest for Quality Homes 2007 - 2012   56
8. SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT
Two workshops held in September and November 2006 helped us to
formulate a radical new policy for sustainable development. The first
corporate multi-disciplinary workshop on sustainable development was
facilitated by Powell Dobson and WHO Collaborating Centre for Healthy Cities
and Urban Policy. A list of participants is included in Appendix 4. A second
workshop involved senior officers and a range of partners who completed a
gap analysis against the 2004 Local Housing Strategy using a technique
known as the Spectrum Approach. In addition, we also identified three specific
areas within the County Borough for specific comparison.

   1. Merthyr Vale, a declared renewal area where a major regeneration
      scheme has been developed.
   2. Penydarren where there has been limited intervention in the housing
      market.
   3. Gurnos, which still has high levels of social deprivation, where there
      has been intervention in the market in terms of mixed tenure
      community and selected demolition of some social housing flats, also
      where a number of environmental schemes have taken place.

This Spectrum Approach was not about weighting economic viability against
social justice or environmental sustainability, but identified an acceptable
bottom line in relation to each criteria (Refer to Appendix 5). From this
workshop, it was identified that we had suddenly been subject to unfamiliar
pressure in the housing market, which is partially the result of changes in the
regional and local housing markets, partially government and spatial planning
induced, in particular the Heads of the Valleys strategy. So alongside the
older estates and neighbourhoods requiring different investment, developers
are applying new pressure for fast tracking development in the private sector.
The Assembly guidance for the preparation of the Local Housing Strategy now
has a far wider framework involving the future of communities,
neighbourhoods and places.

The future strategic role of the housing function must ensure that
neighbourhoods and estates become truly sustainable communities, if future
investment is to prove effective.

Against this backdrop stands the overarching requirement to ensure that
current and future housing is affordable. Unless the range of provision offers
affordable housing options within the different sectors, then local residents will
not be able to access the opportunities currently available.

The appraisal method used casts a wide net into many areas of policy and
practise within the Council and for our partner agencies. The range of
considerations that emerged from these sessions touched on spheres of
activity which are not altogether under the direct control of Housing, with
implications for planning, procurement, community safety, access to services,
open space, health, transport and infrastructure. Early scoping cited the
investment opportunity emerging from the cross-boundary Heads of the


Quest for Quality Homes 2007 - 2012     57
Valleys initiative. In „Heads We Win‟, the strategic objectives of housing,
construction, employment and the environment are all pinpointed as areas for
„joined-up‟ strategic thinking -sustainability is the key overarching theme. One
key aim of the Housing Forum of the Heads of the Valleys team is to drive
greater investment by the private sector. The report produced by Powell
Dobson and WHO Collaborating Centre for Healthy Cities and Urban Policy
has recommended the development of a „Community Futures‟ Unit whose role
would be to develop and improve corporate relationships both within and
outside the Council, ensuring the best fit with other partners‟ priorities. A
further recommendation of the report specifies that a priority should be to
develop non-statutory Supplementary Planning Guidance, to include design
codes which ensure that new build housing maximises sustainability and
community gain in the widest sense. The report recommends that this is
developed in partnership with other Heads of the Valleys authorities so that
future investment in housing arrives on an even playing field across the sub-
region. A critical issue within Merthyr Tydfil is the mechanisms available to
ensure a future supply of affordable homes. This requires a spread of actions
and development of policy areas across all sectors. For example, in the social
sector, we need to maximise investment in the housing stock, which will lower
lifetime costs per dwelling in the future. The strategic authority will need to
ensure that short-term investment decisions in maintenance and repair (or
post transfer body‟s stock) do not compromise the ability of tenants to afford
heating and lighting costs in the longer term. We may need to find extra SHG
to invest in the current stock to ensure high quality carbon reduction
investment.

The private sector will need to contribute to future affordability by accepting
the requirement for increasing numbers and percentages of social housing in
new development via Supplementary Planning Guidance and S106
agreements. In the older private sector stock we must continue to encourage
repair and improvement investment, including insulation and energy savings
by owners and landlords.

This spectrum method will be used as a tool, to check how developments and
investments are performing with respect to future sustainability.

So what is a sustainable community?
It is one where people want to live, where quality of life can be sustained into
the future. In the context of housing, true sustainability incorporates
neighbourhoods and communities and their futures; it incorporates lifestyles
and health; it includes education and citizen engagement; it has concern with
community safety, with local economies and supply chains, as well as aspects
of aesthetics and visual acceptability; it is concerned with regeneration in its
widest sense.

To be effective, we will need to change our internal practices and procedures,
and integrate the principles of sustainable development into all our working
methods.




Quest for Quality Homes 2007 - 2012    58
21 sustainability criteria were used within the Spectrum Approach to evaluate
our current housing policies, which can be grouped into 4 broad categories: -

1. Housing
     Homes for All
     Affordability
     Quality of Homes
     Quality of Public Space
     Accessibility

2. Community
     Strategic Working
     Regeneration
     Well Being Support
     Diet and Food Access
     Stakeholder Involvement

3. Economics
     Local Wealth Creation
     Local Economic Capacity
     Construction Technology
     Land

4. Environment
     Water Resources
     Carbon Emissions (Buildings and Transport)
     Bio-Diversity

This spectrum of sustainability determined that our current Housing Policy
addresses the first two components, and is seeking to influence the third.
However, it transpired that as an Authority, we were deficient in our
consideration of the wider strategic goals of environment, particularly water
resources, emissions and bio-diversity. We will therefore need to consider
how housing policy (public and private) is resourced and linked to other
corporate policies in the future. Irrespective of whether the vote for stock
transfer is positive, the Council has an obligation to determine how housing
meets the needs of the community in the short, medium and long term. A copy
of the Spectrum Analysis is shown in Appendix 6, and a full copy of the report
is available on request.

The overall conclusion of the report was that a new approach to the housing
agenda should be strengthened by having closer connections to the planning
framework and the community strategy process. It was recommended that
the post of „Community Futures‟ be established to bring a strategic
perspective to sustainable policy development not just in housing but across
all corporate areas of the Council. Given Housing‟s central role in
regeneration, it is appropriate that this role becomes part of the strategic
housing responsibility, pre or post stock transfer.



Quest for Quality Homes 2007 - 2012   59
In „Building a future for Wales‟ - A strategy for sustainable housing - a
sustainable home has been defined as one which ….”will be designed to have
a minimum impact on the global, local and indoor environment in terms of
carbon emissions, material and water use, and waste minimisation during its
construction, operation and eventual disposal”. This report has identified that
while it is relatively easy to build in measures to address energy use in new
build, the older stock is much more difficult to deal with, especially as over
30% of dwelling stock in Wales (50% in Merthyr) was built before 1919. To
help tackle sustainability issues, the report suggests that we use wood and
paper from sustainably managed forests, as well as sourcing locally to
minimise transport energy. As our chapter on energy efficiency will show, we
have dramatically increased the SAP rating within the local authority stock, but
attempting to reduce carbon emissions and increase energy efficiency in the
private sector is a particularly difficult task, and although one which we are
trying to tackle, has not been seen as a Council priority in the past.
Unfortunately, our policy agreement target of 12% for energy use and CO2
emissions, will not be achieved, and we are only likely to reach approximately
7% for 2007.

As part of all new developments within the County Borough, the Local
Authority has specified eco-excellence, with sustainable design and
construction expected as a minimum. Joint procurement will lead to reduced
costs, as partnerships will be able to bulk purchase.

The SEA undertaken as part of the Local Development Plan process will
ensure that all new housing developments will be strategically located in
relation to access to sustainable transport systems and other services.

Future Challenges

      Ensuring that our neighbourhoods and estates become truly
       sustainable communities
      Ensuring that new build housing maximises sustainability issues
      Finding extra SHG to invest in the current stock to ensure high quality
       carbon reduction investment.
      Development of a community futures post
      Examination of the wider strategic goals of environment, particularly
       water resources, emissions and bio-diversity

Proposed Action
    Closer working links with Communities First Areas
    Identification of resources for the creation of the community futures
     post




Quest for Quality Homes 2007 - 2012   60
9. ENERGY EFFICIENCY

The Council and our partners are committed to reducing fuel poverty in
Merthyr Tydfil and meeting the targets under the Home Energy Conservation
Act (HECA). There are a number of initiatives in place to meet those
objectives identified within the Act.

To meet targets set by HECA and our Welsh Assembly Policy Agreement, the
Council has set up a number of partnerships to access funding for energy
efficient measures. These partners include Enact Energy Management Ltd,
Eaga Partnership Ltd, Swalec, British Gas and South East Wales Energy
Agency.

A partnership between the Council and Enact was developed in 2005 to help
meet the energy efficiency targets set by the Government. The Home Energy
Action Taskforce (HEAT) project has enabled local authorities to benefit from
a one stop insulation grant project managed by Enact free of charge. Enact
proactively encourage householders to request insulation works, which
provides the householder with a more energy efficient and warmer property.

The HEAT project was originally targeted at the fuel rich (those who can afford
to have the work carried out), while the householders who receive income
related or disability benefit (fuel poor) were referred to HEES. In 2005/2006
as a result of the HEAT project,157 insulation grants were issued in the
private sector, which accounted for 107 properties. The average cost to the
householder was £158, with average grant amounting to £272. No referrals
were made to HEES but 37 people over the age of 60 were helped under this
scheme. This project has a lifetime savings on CO2 emissions of almost
38640 tonnes.

The Eaga Partnership manages the Home Energy Efficiency Scheme (HEES)
on behalf of the Welsh Assembly Government, which funds the programme. It
provides grants of up to £3,600 for eligible householders in Wales. The
scheme offers improvements to make homes in Merthyr Tydfil warmer, safer
and more energy efficient.

During the financial year 2005/2006, under HEES, work was completed on
299 properties within the County Borough. The funding provided 102 people
with loft insulation, 48 people received cavity wall insulation and 47
replacement boilers were installed. HEES also provided households in
Merthyr Tydfil with hot water tank jackets, draught proofing, heating repairs
and central heating conversions. Other measures included 105 smoke alarms
being fitted and 63 properties receiving security measures. Of the 299
properties, 207 were owner occupiers with only 8 rented from the Local
Authority. Over 30% of the properties targeted were built before 1900, and
over 61% of households were in receipt of Disability Living Allowance and
Attendance Allowance.

Through the utilities Energy Efficiency Commitment (EEC), the council has
secured funding for energy efficient measures installed into its own housing


Quest for Quality Homes 2007 - 2012   61
stock over the past several years. Swalec have provided over £85,000 to
install loft and cavity wall insulation. This has helped the council to complete
its insulation programme on all lofts and provide properties with cavity walls.
The Council has also received over £46,000 from British Gas which has
provided funding for solid wall insulation, replacement boilers, TVR and fuel
switching in 66 of our properties from coal to gas.

In addition to the above schemes, South East Wales Energy Agency
(SEWEA) has secured funding from the Energy Saving Trust Innovation
Programme, energy suppliers and a Service Level Agreement with the local
authority in order to run the Healthy Homes Project. The project team have
provided short one-hour training sessions for key workers, attended events to
raise awareness of the scheme, provided general advice and utilise a simple
referral system to get people the help that they need. This scheme is mainly
aimed at owner occupiers in receipt of qualifying benefits, and entitles them to
have insulation or heating works carried out free of charge. All residents in
the County Borough are eligible to be referred and will be put in touch with the
relevant organisation to deal with their need.

To raise awareness of energy efficiency, particularly the above projects, a
number of presentations have taken place throughout the County Borough,
with advice being provided on the availability of grants to improve energy
efficiency, reduce energy consumption and save consumers money.

HEES, British Gas and Swalec have also been distributing free Compact
Fluorescent Lamps (CFL) throughout the County Borough. In 2006, more
than 10,000 CFL had been distributed to house holds, 70% of which were in
receipt of benefits.

The Council along with support from SEWEA, completed an Affordable
Warmth Action Plan in April 2007. The action plans purpose is to target
vulnerable households to lift them out of fuel poverty and allow them to keep
their homes warm and free of damp. The aim is to improve health, alleviate
pressure on the NHS, improve quality of life and reduce debt as well as
improving the quality of the housing stock throughout the County Borough.

We have dramatically increased the SAP rating within our own housing stock
since 2003. We have improved the SAP rating from 53.5 to 67. Attempting to
reduce carbon emissions and increase energy efficiency in the private sector
is a particularly difficult task, but one which we are trying to tackle. The
average SAP rating for the private stock in 1998 was 39 but by 2004 we had
improved that figure to 51. As of 2004 the average SAP in England and
Wales was 51.

Our policy agreement shows that as of April 2006 we have reduced CO2
emissions by 5.86% and energy consumption has been reduced by 6.33%
since 1997. Our current HECA figure is 6.33% but the Council aims to meet
the national average in energy and CO2 reductions of 8.59% by 2008.




Quest for Quality Homes 2007 - 2012    62
On average we are reducing energy consumption by 5,790,817kWh each year
and reducing CO2 emissions by 1,396 tonne a year. Through the Affordable
Warmth Action Plan and new Healthy Homes Scheme as well as our other
projects the Council believes it can improve on these reductions in the future.

Future Challenges

      Reducing carbon emissions and increasing energy efficiency in the
       private sector.
      Improving the health of residents in the County Borough.
      Improving the SAP rating in the private sector

Proposed Action

      Monitor our Affordable Warmth Action Plan.




Quest for Quality Homes 2007 - 2012   63
10. VULNERABLE GROUPS

Homelessness
The revised National Homelessness Strategy for Wales 2005 states that
homelessness can only be tackled by a partnership approach at local and
national level (p1). The revised Assembly guidance to Local Authorities in
Wales for preparing the local housing strategy is consistent with this message
and advises that preventing and tackling homelessness requires local
authorities to take a corporate joined-up approach.

The Homelessness Act 2002 placed a duty on all local authorities to
undertake a review of homelessness and to produce a five-year strategy
based on the results by September 2003. Although the National Strategy
advises that the Assembly expect local authorities to carry out a full review
and publish a revised homelessness strategy by September 2008, under plan
rationalisation, the Homelessness Strategy is required to be mainstreamed
into our revised local housing strategy.

In September 2006, we commissioned an independent consultant to review
our homelessness and allocations service, and a number of recommendations
were made as a result of this review which are detailed in Appendix 7. These
recommendations have been used to prepare a revised homelessness
strategy action plan, to improve and plan for future services.

The Assembly‟s proposals for plan rationalisation mean that Welsh local
authorities will no longer be required to produce a homelessness strategy
beyond 2007. Initially the homelessness strategic priorities will be
incorporated into this Local Housing Strategy, but after 2008, these must then
be incorporated into the Community Strategy and other high level plans as
appropriate.

Housing Allocations

A Choice Based Lettings scheme was introduced in September 2006, (more
details of which are provided in Chapter 13 on Housing Management) with a
commitment to review the scheme after six-months. Early indications show
that the scheme has been well received by homeseekers who have found the
process to be fair and easy to understand.
The Homeless Persons (Priority Need) Wales Order 2001 required local
authorities to provide accommodation for a wider range of vulnerable client
groups which has placed pressure on a reducing supply of suitable permanent
accommodation. This has created a mismatch between the demand for social
housing from groups of increasingly vulnerable single people and the supply.

The National Homelessness Strategy for Wales 2005 states that “ A new
approach is required by local authorities in tackling the increasing pressures
of homelessness in Wales…Services should be focussed toward preventing
homelessness first, and then dealing with statutory homeless cases only when
there is no alternative.” To help Authorities implement this agenda, the


Quest for Quality Homes 2007 - 2012   64
Assembly announced a further increase in funding for the period 2005-2008,
and Councils were invited in June 2005 to bid for additional resources to help
reduce the use of bed and breakfast accommodation and prevent
homelessness. We were allocated £25,000 over a two year period between
2005 and 2007. We have consistently recorded high levels of homelessness
for the size of our Authority, measured by the number of households for whom
we accept a legal duty, per thousand population. In 2004, we accepted a
homelessness duty to 264 cases, which at 11.4 per thousand households,
was the fourth highest acceptance rate in Wales. Homelessness fell by 47%
in 2005, and was the highest decrease in Wales, which brought the
acceptance figure to 6.0 per thousand, 0.9 below the Welsh average. Initial
figures for the five months of 2006/2007 indicated that we would accept a
homelessness duty to just fewer than 100 cases. The first set of Assembly
published performance indicators reveal that we are in the top quartile for
Wales for nine out of ten indicators. However, most of these indicators relate
to temporary accommodation where we have traditionally recorded low
useage levels. In the past, there has been a sufficient number of social
housing units available to allow the Council to take a more „generous view‟ of
its homelessness duties. Over the last two years this position has changed
dramatically with high house prices, rising private sector rents and falling
levels of social housing vacancies. The set of indicators as a whole do not
measure performance in preventing homelessness. Our Homelessness
Prevention Officer post is proving to be highly effective, and underlines the
importance of fully introducing the prevention and options approach
throughout the service. However, the work has been mainly targeted at
private rented sector tenants facing eviction, plus a limited amount of debt
related work. Of the sample 103 cases dealt with by the Homelessness
Prevention Officer, only 7 have gone on to be accepted as homeless, with 56
cases having their homelessness prevented or case closed, with 47 cases still
active. This Officer is developing links with the private rented sector, and
maintains a database of all referrals.

Based on the acceptance level per thousand of the local population, for our
size we have consistently recorded high levels of homelessness. Changes in
the property market (see Chapter 7 on affordable housing) over the last four
years have increased the level of housing need within the County Borough,
and we are now experiencing problems with affordable housing which is
identified as a key priority within this strategy. The introduction of choice
based letting, has led to an increase in the number of home-seekers applying
for public sector rented accommodation. With the improved void turnaround
time of social housing and ever increasing prices in the owner occupied
sector, the supply of social housing will become increasingly oversubscribed,
which means that we have to consider other methods of helping those in need
to access accommodation.
The figures for 2004 indicate that of those households eligible for assistance,
unintentionally homeless and in priority need, by far the highest number were
households with dependent children. While still the highest category in 2005,
the numbers substantially reduced. In 2004, the next highest category was
those experiencing domestic violence or threat of domestic violence, followed
by former prisoners with no accommodation to return to, and then young


Quest for Quality Homes 2007 - 2012   65
persons at risk - 16/17 year olds. This pattern was more or less repeated in
2005, although the position of domestic violence and prisoners reversed, but
again the numbers had reduced. Further analysis of these tables revealed that
in Merthyr Tydfil, the predominant reason for losing the last settled home in
2004 was due to the loss of rented/ tied accommodation, which was repeated
in 2005, although once again this figure substantially reduced. Parents no
longer able/willing to accommodate, and in institution/care were the next
highest recordings of the main loss of the last settled home, although the
figures were reversed in 2005.

As the profile of homelessness reveals, the main causes of homelessness
within the County Borough include:
     the loss of rented accommodation/people giving up their job and losing
        tied accommodation,
     breakdown in relationship with partners,
     parents who are no longer able or willing to accommodate their children
        and;
     those who are either in an institution, or in care.

 The 2004 figures seem to reveal that rent arrears, violence or harassment,
mortgage arrears and other relatives/friends no longer able/willing to
accommodate, although evident, are less of a problem within the County
Borough.

In addition, at 31st March 2007 there were 1848 households registered for
accommodation, with 55 single people approaching the Division, that were not
deemed to be owed a housing duty under current homelessness legislation,
and who were therefore only offered advice and assistance.

The mediation service will considerably help two of these groups, specifically
where parents are no longer willing to accommodate. Protocols have been
developed with Social Services that will help the category of those leaving
care. A much better working relationship now exists with Prison Link, which
ensures that those discharged from prison are helped much quicker and
therefore receive a better service.

We currently experience very little problem with rough sleepers, with only one
individual recording sleeping rough during 2006/2007, confirmed by the
Rough Sleepers Count undertaken in March 2007 when only one person was
discovered sleeping rough on the night of the count.

Due to current budget restrictions, a range of pipeline initiatives identified in
the SPOP can only be implemented if savings are identified in other schemes.
The potential development of a Foyer to accommodate 10 single people within
the County Borough is also being considered.
Partnership planning in respect of homelessness is addressed at the
Homelessness Forum from which the proposed night shelter, shared house –
substance misuse and MAASH scheme emerged. The current Direct Access
Hostel was also a result of the work of this Forum, and at 31st December
2006, 411 presentations were made. This partnership meets on a quarterly


Quest for Quality Homes 2007 - 2012    66
basis and the recent homelessness review identified that our partners see the
Forum as a useful means of exchanging information and planning new
services. The review went on to identify that generally, partnership working
for housing and homelessness was reasonably good considering the
resources currently available. However there is room for considerable
improvement in terms of the corporate support for homelessness.

Prevention

Although there has been some initial success with homelessness prevention,
we recognise that there is still more work to be implemented. Many of the
problems are due to a lack of resources, with no Policy Agreement funding
allocated to help in the prevention of homelessness until 2007/2008. We
recognise that early intervention is essential. The Homelessness Prevention
Officer is only able to concentrate on a limited number of priority areas. The
work has been targeted mainly at private rented sector tenants facing the
threat of eviction and a limited amount of debt related work.

The Supporting People projects discussed in Chapter 11 have been reviewed
to maximise their contribution to homelessness.

During June 2007 each strategic planning lead for the specific „E‟ numbers
identified in the SPANNA presented their case for funding to the Supporting
People Planning Group.

In terms of addressing the future health needs of homeless people we plan to
provide advice and assistance for those individuals to access health care.

Following an examination of the National Homelessness Strategy, the
Children and Young People‟s Partnership decided that there were a number
of action points that they should consider including:

      Local Young Peoples Partnerships to audit the housing needs of young
       people and develop 2-year action plans with built-in outcome measures
       to address them.
      Local YPPs to work jointly with local authority housing services to
       identify and plan for the needs of homeless young people
      Local housing services and other organisations working with homeless
       children and young people establish guidelines for referring those at
       risk to Social Services.
      Local authorities ensure children in homeless families are linked to
       health and education services.
      Local authorities and their partners to facilitate access to mediation
       services, particularly for young people.
      Local authorities and criminal justice agencies to work in partnership
       with local planning arrangements to secure appropriate housing and
       support for ex-offenders, including adoption of protocols.
      Local authority SSDs and Housing Services to establish formal joint
       working arrangements for dealing with care leavers, young people,



Quest for Quality Homes 2007 - 2012   67
       people with mental health problems and learning disabilities, and other
       vulnerable groups when they are at risk of homelessness.

Plans for preventing and tackling homelessness

      Family Mediation Service implemented and required to visit all 16 – 25
       year olds
      All over 25s to be visited by existing Homelessness Prevention Officer
      Flexible Homelessness Prevention Fund of £10,000 identified for use
       by new Options service
      Develop hospital discharge protocol
      Develop protocol for joint working with health to ensure that contact is
       kept with homeless people
      Develop procedures for working with offender management to prevent
       homelessness
      Discuss how we can implement a Sanctuary type scheme with SMT
       after unsuccessful bid for S180 funding
      Cross boundary Section 180 funded rent deposit scheme to be
       implemented in August 2007
      Negotiate new SLAs with Gofal and CAB.
      Introduce Private Sector Leasing scheme - Develop 10-20 units of
       leased accommodation
      Extend work with Housing Benefit section to further reduce
       homelessness
      In terms of young people‟s housing

Targets
    Increase Discretionary Housing Payments to £8,500 (from £7,724
      2006/2007) by effective use of grant helping potentially homeless
      households to access the private rented sector before they become
      homeless.
    Prevent homelessness among 75% of households who considered
      themselves as homeless, who approached or are referred to the local
      authority and for whom housing advice casework intervention resolved
      their situation.
    Reduce number of evictions due to rent arrears and anti-social
      behaviour through joint working as soon as rent arrears /anti-social
      behaviour occurs.
    Reduce homelessness presentations by 10% by April 2008 (using
      2004/5 as baseline year).
    Reduce the average length of time spent in temporary accommodation
      by 20% by April 2008 by 2010 (using 2006/07 as baseline year)
    Reduce repeat homelessness by 20% by 2010 (using 2006/07 as
      baseline year)

In 2005/2006, we accepted a duty to re-house 208 homeless households.
The 2005 figures indicate that this represented 65.9%(137out of 208).
Only 1.44% (3 out of 208) were from a BME background.
29 people were housed in temporary accommodation during 2005/2006


Quest for Quality Homes 2007 - 2012    68
National Agenda

The following information covers the key areas for the National Homelessness
Strategy and outlines what has been done in order to comply.

Independent Housing Advice
This is available to those in most need through the payment of grant to both
Shelter Cymru and CAB, which allows them to continue to operate within the
County Borough. The Housing Division has service level agreements with
both these agencies. Between May and September 2006 14 referrals were
made to CAB, of which one failed to engage, two cases have been completed
and four are on-going cases. Between January 2007 and March 2007
nineteen referrals were made of which twelve failed to engage despite
appointment letters being sent, one case is on-going and one case has been
dealt with

Children and Young People
The Supported Living Officer is the Housing Division‟s representative on the
Children and Young People‟s Partnership. Using an under spend from
Cymorth, the Community Education Youth Service employed someone on a
six month contract to develop a Service Directory for Young People, which
includes some information on housing. In 2006, a Young Peoples Partnership
(YPP)/Housing Task and Finish Group was established in conjunction with the
YPP Annual Delivery Plan to map current housing related services for young
people aged between 16 and 25 years. The key tasks of this group were to:

      produce an action plan, which focuses on delivering the objectives of
       the National Priorities for the YPP as set out by WAG
      support joint working and information sharing between all agencies with
       an interest in Housing Services for Young People
      report back to the YPP as appropriate
      develop and update a Young Person‟s Service Directory
      recognise the importance that the views of young people area obtained
       through consultation where this is possible

Education

As part of the PSE process, the Supported Living Officer has attended all
comprehensive schools within the County Borough in addition to some youth
schemes, using Housemate to help youngsters understand the
housing/homelessness process. This process, which originally involved 16
year olds, is due to be repeated in summer 2007 with 15 year olds.




Quest for Quality Homes 2007 - 2012   69
Access to Housing

The Social Housing Grant Programme is an indication of the measures we are
taking to address the supply of affordable housing within the County Borough.

We have been involved in a number of Section 106 negotiations over the last
18 months, which aim to provide low cost home ownership on medium and
large-scale developments. We have also increased the amount of Homebuy in
partnership with Merthyr Tydfil Housing Association and Hafod Housing
Association.

Access

Tai Dewis, a Choice Based letting scheme was introduced in September
2006. The scheme is based on a series of bandings as explained in the
housing management section of this strategy. Homeless individuals are
placed in the Gold Band, which is the highest category of need outside an
emergency card. The system allows individuals much greater choice in where
they are housed, and Gold Band individuals are given a period of 13 weeks to
express an interest in a property by bidding either by telephone, text, voucher
or via the internet. After 13 weeks, if a homeless individual has not attempted
to bid, the homelessness officer will identify a property that suits their needs,
and they will be offered a tenancy, thereby discharging our homelessness
duty.

Exclusions

Under Tai Dewis, applicants who are guilty of serious anti-social behaviour
are regarded as ineligible for consideration. Individuals guilty of minor
misbehaviour, or former rent arrears qualify under the scheme but have their
priority downgraded or suspended until they modify their behaviour to an
acceptable level, or clear the debt owed.

Bed and Breakfast

We are currently on track to achieve our Policy Agreement targets on the
reduction of the use of bed and breakfast accommodation (the target for the
average length of time spent in temporary accommodation in 2006/07 is 42
nights), actual was 13 days, and we will ensure that all bed and breakfast
establishments are inspected prior to the April 2008 deadline on the
restrictions of use.

Private Rented Sector

As already mentioned, we are developing a private sector leasing scheme in
partnership with Merthyr Tydfil Housing Association, and Foundation Housing
has also approached us in regards to this matter. In addition to the
development of other proposed schemes, this will all help considerably with
increasing the supply of temporary accommodation available to homeless



Quest for Quality Homes 2007 - 2012    70
individuals, which will enable us to comply with the legislation on the use of
bed and breakfast establishments.

Move-on

Reasonable preference is provided to individuals as part of the Choice Based
Letting policy.

Partnership with Housing Associations

We have good working relationships with the Housing Associations operating
within the County Borough. The nomination agreement with Merthyr Tydfil
Housing Association allows us to access 75% of their vacancies, which helps
with our homelessness duties as they have the largest portfolio of stock within
the area. Hafod, Wales and West and Aelwyd Housing Associations either
have particular types of accommodation, or are located in specific areas of the
County Borough.

Rough Sleeping

There is no major problem with rough sleeping within the County Borough, a
fact that was reinforced by the Rough Sleepers Count completed in March
2007, when only one person was found to be rough sleeping on the night of
the count.

Learning and Employment

To help individuals sustain their tenancy, we have introduced an initiative
called Tenancy Maintenance Skills. This project seeks to equip young people
aged 16-25 with the knowledge and skills to live independently and to
successfully maintain a tenancy. It is hoped that this will be achieved by the
design of a framework to facilitate learning and we aim to target vulnerable
groups such as young homeless or those at risk of losing their
accommodation in the future.

Cross-sector working

We are members of the South East Wales Regional Homelessness Forum
and are partners to the Section 180 bid on Addressing the Housing Issues
Surrounding High Risk Offenders, which was submitted in March 2007. This
bid will endeavour to research the specific issues relating to the housing
needs of ex-offenders, ensuring community safety through cooperation and
information sharing between all relevant local authorities, statutory
organisations and MAPPA, potentially through the development of a regional
Protocol.

Former Prisoners and Prevention of Offending

From a national perspective, insufficient resources are allocated to properly
support this category of homeless individual.


Quest for Quality Homes 2007 - 2012    71
ADREF run a floating support scheme for prison leavers, and Prison Link
Cymru has proved to be an effective service within the County Borough,
allowing a joined- up service to be provided. Partners discuss who has
responsibility for what particular action in the MAPPA and MARAC meetings.


Social Services

We have developed detailed protocols for joint working with Integrated
Children‟s Services and Integrated Adult Services that involved extensive
consultation and training.

Health

Within the current framework, the Local Health Board are members of the
Supporting People Planning Group, but not the Homelessness Forum. The
Health Social Care and Well-Being Strategy will be reviewed in accordance
with current guidance that has recently been issued by WAG. As stated in the
introduction there is a close correlation between poor health and poor
housing, but for those who are homeless access to health care can be more
difficult. We will ensure that homeless individuals are given appropriate
advice and assistance in terms of access to health services.

Domestic Abuse

Domestic violence is one of the main causes of homelessness within the
County Borough. The Homelessness Officers are members of the Domestic
Abuse Forum, and we are partners to the Section 180 bid for the provision of
a Sanctuary scheme for women at risk of domestic abuse. We have a close
working relationship with both Women‟s Aid and the Domestic Abuse
Resource Team (DART). The women‟s hostel has 5 family rooms and is
usually run to full capacity, and more recently we have had many out of
Borough placements. There is currently a review under way to look at the
provision of an integrated service for domestic abuse, which will include an
assessment for the requirement to provide further hostels. It is also believed
that there is a requirement for 2 self-contained flats and a house, which could
be used as temporary move-on accommodation from the refuge. A draft
Strategy for Domestic Abuse is being produced that will cover the period 2008
– 2011.

Substance Misuse

As identified in the 2007/2008 Supporting People Operational Plan (SPOP),
the proportion of people reporting their need as substance misuse rose from
5.4% in 2004/2005 to 8.9%. This situation was particularly noticeable among
males of whom over 16% completing INAM recorded a substance misuse
issue.




Quest for Quality Homes 2007 - 2012   72
There are no Supported Housing options available at present. One GP is
providing specialist services, and prevention services are available for
children. Two Supported Housing Services specifically identified for this
group, a night shelter and shared house are currently at the planning stage,
but both schemes require revenue funding that is not fully identified. We are
seeking a new venue for the night shelter after considerable opposition to the
suggested site. The other priority of the Substance Misuse Commissioning
Group is home detoxification treatment rather than inpatient services.

„Access All Areas‟, is the commissioning strategy for substance misuse
services, which is led by the Substance Misuse Action Team (SMAT). One of
the major findings of this report was the requirement for a single unified
integrated service, which needs to be created.

The County Borough does have access to a service called the „Include
Project‟, which is an 18- week programme that is available to those up to the
age of 25 with capacity for up to 8 clients. Although anyone is able to refer to
the scheme, because it is based in Pontypridd and not Merthyr Tydfil, very few
individuals are prepared to travel there to seek help.

There has been no Substance Abuse Coordinator in post over the last two
years however, the Community Safety Partnership is currently reviewing this.

Hopefully, the review of the Community Drug and Alcohol Team will lead to
significant improvement in the treatment of substance abuse.

Care Leavers

The 2007/2008 SPOP identified that the number of assessments showing
young people registering this need trebled in 2005/2006. The explanation is
simply that the planning group discussions in 2005 ensured partners‟ revived
involvement in the INAM process. At a meeting of the Care Leavers Project
Group, the Director of Integrated Children‟s Services identified that there were
a number of new demands accompanying the implementation of the Children
Act 2004, of which a key requirement was the preparation of a Children and
Young Peoples Plan covering the age range 0 –25. The first draft of this plan
is required in 2007, ready for implementation in 2008. It has been established
that a cohort of young people aged 14 –17 will be leaving care over the
coming years, and that the needs of these young people need to be carefully
planned well in advance. In addition to the care leavers, there is a further
cohort of young people who are homeless or in danger of becoming
homeless, and these young people also need to be appropriately catered for.

At March 2005 the WHO12 statistics show that, 11 (young person at risk 16 or
17 years) individuals were found to be eligible for assistance, unintentionally
homeless and in priority need as opposed to 21 in 2004.




Quest for Quality Homes 2007 - 2012    73
Armed Service Veterans

This has not been a particular issue in the past, and there have been no
individuals found to be eligible for assistance, unintentionally homeless and in
priority need being homeless after leaving the armed forces for the last two
financial years.

The Council‟s Homelessness Contact is listed in the Veterans Agency
Directory.

Equality of Access

Black, and other Minority Ethnic Groups

Monitoring takes place through INAM forms. Recently there has been an
influx of Polish and Portuguese workers who have obtained employment in
the County Borough. Some migrants have been provided with
accommodation as part of the contractual terms of their employment contract.

In 2005/2006 out of 10 presentations only 3 individuals from a BME
background were deemed to be homeless and therefore housed.

Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual People

The Shelter and Stonewall Housing publication „Sexual exclusion issues and
best practice in lesbian, gay and bisexual housing and homelessness‟
recommended that monitoring of client sexuality is an important step in
challenging the following problems which the research findings exposed, and
included:

      being lesbian or gay can in itself cause some young people to become
       homeless
      even when not a direct cause of homelessness, a young person‟s
       sexuality can be one of the causal factors
      being lesbian or gay could add to the housing difficulties a young
       person experiences.
      young lesbians and gay men are completely invisible in most housing
       and homelessness services.

The report states that a system of monitoring will keep count of the occasions
when sexuality is relevant, and that asking about a client‟s sexuality will make
it more likely that the client will disclose information enabling the adviser to
have a greater understanding of the client‟s needs. No formal reporting takes
place at the moment, although further staff training has been identified for July
2007 on Equalities Impact Assessments which the report states is one way of
judging how current policies and practice affect particular equalities groups.




Quest for Quality Homes 2007 - 2012    74
People with disabilities

The SPOP identified that there was a small increase in the number of
individuals recording a physical disability issue in 2005/2006. Fifteen people
(88%) required ordinary individual accommodation, one required a shared
house and one was seeking to be grouped alongside people with similar
needs.

During the financial year 2003/2004, the homelessness statistics reveal that
there were 2 instances of households with disabilities that were found to be
eligible for assistance, unintentionally homeless and in priority need, which
was replicated in 2004/2005.

Older Homeless People

Homelessness statistics for 2003/2004 show that in the category of
households found to be eligible for assistance, unintentionally homeless and
in priority need, 17 were elderly, whereas in 2004/2005, this figure had
reduced to 3. The main reason for homelessness in older people has been
due to their home being repossessed either through mortgage or rental
arrears.

Corporate Implementation

The Homelessness Strategy, which was developed in 2003 involving key
stakeholder agencies and service users, has two main principles. The first is
that there should be no need for anyone to become or remain homeless
because of a lack of accessible, appropriate and co-ordinated services. The
second is that people who are homeless or in housing need should be
empowered to have greater control and choice over their own options.

The Homelessness Strategy focuses on four objectives which aim to reduce
the extent of homelessness locally by:

      co-ordinating and developing provision and support services with the
       emphasis on preventing homelessness from occurring
      ensuring that where homelessness is unavoidable, suitable emergency
       accommodation is provided and households are given support and
       opportunities to identify suitable future options
      ensuring that where homelessness occurs, long-term sustainable
       solutions are developed that contribute directly to the Council‟s strategy
       of promoting social inclusion and the development of sustainable
       communities
      giving more choice and control to those who are homeless or in
       housing need

The strategy is cross cutting and makes a series of recommendations that
seek to either reduce homeless presentations or improve the services
currently experienced by homeless people. The current action plan was
identified from the results of the latest review of our homelessness.


Quest for Quality Homes 2007 - 2012    75
Support and advice

We have developed a number of service user leaflets, a housing options
service directory and a housing options advice manual for staff and partners,
which aims to ensure consistency in the advice provided to our customers. All
of this involved extensive consultation with our partners for whom training was
provided. However, this work is only the starting point in our housing options
programme, and when the full restructure has taken place, there will be further
work undertaken which will aim to provide support and advice for those who
become or are likely to become homeless. We have already seen the benefit
from our homelessness prevention work, with a reduction in the number of
presentations that the Homelessness Officer has to deal with. Continued
improvement in terms of housing options advice will benefit this service even
further. The family mediation service will also help with the support and
advice that we are able to provide to those who are potentially homeless.


Black Minority Ethnic Groups
The Council, working in partnership with the four Housing Associations who
operate locally, commissioned research into the housing needs of Black
Minority Ethnic (BME) people in Merthyr Tydfil in 2003. This research led to
the development of our BME Housing Strategy and Action plan in 2004. The
development of the latter involved research into the housing circumstances
and aspirations of BME people living in Merthyr Tydfil, through a combination
of survey work and engagement in focus groups.

The aim of the strategy is to ensure that people from BME communities who
live in Merthyr Tydfil are able to access good quality housing and/or access
services that enable them to secure good quality housing.

Figures from the 2001 Census showed that there were just 564 people out of
a total population of 55,981 (1%) people in the County Borough from a black
or minority ethnic background. However, as our vision statement
demonstrates, we do not regard this relatively small number of the overall
population as a basis for having anything less than a full commitment to race
equality.

We adopted five strategic objectives in our BME Strategy which include:

   1. Ensuring that the Council‟s corporate policies and processes
      demonstrate a commitment to promoting race equality
   2. Ensuring that the services provided by the Council and local RSLs are
      accessible and offer choice to people from minority ethnic communities
   3. Ensuring that the services that the Council and local RSLs deliver and
      promote race equality and eliminate discrimination
   4. Ensuring that all partners in their role as employers actively promote
      race equality
   5. Have regard to the longer sustainability of the BME Strategy in Merthyr
      Tydfil County Borough.


Quest for Quality Homes 2007 - 2012   76
As part of the research, the consultants worked closely with VALREC and
individual members and organisations represented on the Multi Agency
Diversity Forum, in order to identify and establish contact with BME individuals
and groups. At that time, the three main groups that existed within the County
Borough were the Portuguese workers that were engaged to work at St
Merryn‟s Meat factory, Filipino nurses employed in the local hospital and
representatives from the Travellers and Gypsies communities. Although
strenuous efforts were made by VALREC on behalf of the consultants to
contact all three groups, ultimately, only the Portuguese workers were able to
be interviewed as part of a focus group meeting. One individual survey was
undertaken with a Filipino nurse, and a completed survey was received from a
BME Senior Nurse Manager.

Key findings from the individual consultation revealed that:

      Only 20% had lived in the County Borough for 5 years or more with
       10% having lived in the County Borough for over 10 years. 50% had
       only lived in the County Borough for a year or less.
      Participants lived in a range of housing, with 55% living in their own
       home, 15% renting from a private landlord and 15% living with
       relatives. Only 5% rented from the Council and 10% did not respond to
       this question.
      20% thought that their homes were unsuitable, and reasons for this
       varied from too small, poor condition and too expensive.
      40% lived in terraced houses, 20% lived in flats, 15% lived in
       bungalows, 10% lived in semi detached houses, 5% lived in a flat
       above a shop premises and 5% did not respond to the question.
      45% have 2 bedrooms, 35% have 3 bedrooms, 15% have I bedroom
       and 5% have 4 bedrooms.
      75% liked the area they lived in, for reasons ranging from being close
       to amenities, good public transport, good environment, quiet, friendly or
       good hospital.
      25% did not like the area, with negative reasons such as general dislike
       of the area, poor reputation, too noisy at night and vandalism.
      As stated above, only 20% lived in rented accommodation, and all were
       satisfied or content with the service provided by their landlord. None of
       the respondents thought that their ethnic background had affected the
       service they received.
      Only 1 person had ever considered applying for Council housing and
       were now a tenant. Several respondents had commented that they
       had never considered social housing and would rather buy.
      25% of participants stated that they intended moving at some time and
       all stated that they would move out of Merthyr Tydfil altogether.
       Discrimination was not a factor for these participants wanting to move a
       way. 35% said they did not wish to move home.
      90% do not use local community centres or centres for people from
       similar ethnic or religious backgrounds and only 10% felt that there was
       a need for such a centre.



Quest for Quality Homes 2007 - 2012    77
      35% thought that further language training would be beneficial to
       themselves or members of their family, with 60% very confident with
       spoken English but none confident with written English.
      65% of respondents used English in the home and in 30% of cases,
       this was the only language used.
      35% of respondents stated that they had witnessed racial harassment
       whilst living in the County Borough.
      Only 10% of respondents had contacted the Housing Division and all
       were satisfied with the service that they received, although they did
       highlight a difficulty identifying the specific person who could deal with
       their problem. Little or no contact was reported with other Council
       departments or local Councillors.
      Positive feedback was identified when dealing with local health
       services and the Police.

Key findings from the focus group meeting revealed the following information:

      Most participants had only lived in the area for between one and five
       months.
      All lived in either Dowlais, Penydarren or near the Town Centre.
      All had moved into the area for employment
      Five of the participants lived in terraced housing and two lived in flats.
      Six participants stated that the size of the accommodation was about
       right for their needs with only one stating overcrowding.
      Six participants stated that the condition of their property was good and
       one stated that their property was in poor condition.
      Positive aspects of their homes and local community tended to focus
       on there being good shops and the area being peaceful.
      Negative aspects included the poor state of repair, property being too
       small for needs of family, experience of racial abuse in the
       neighbourhood and the distance from shops. However, only one
       participant had experienced racial harassment, where there had been
       two incidents of racial abuse, one of which had been reported to the
       Police and had been dealt with very effectively
      Only one participant could speak and understand a basic level of
       English. The others had no knowledge of spoken or written English
       and all participants stated that this language barrier presented them
       with difficulties in their day-to-day life.
      All participants showed a keen interest in attending English language
       classes.
      All participants had used the local health service/doctors surgery and
       were very satisfied with the service provided
      Six of the participants were housed by the employment agency, who
       dealt with the recruitment of the Portuguese workers.
      All of the participants lived in the private rented sector and all were
       satisfied with their landlord.

As a result of the consultation, specific actions and targets were identified
which formed the Action Plan of the BME Strategy which we hoped would


Quest for Quality Homes 2007 - 2012     78
improve services and make them more responsive to the needs of the BME
community.

The BME Housing Strategy should be viewed as an on-going process, and so
although some areas of our action plan have been tackled, many will be part
of an on-going process that will evolve over time.

A review of our action plan was undertaken in conjunction with Tai Pawb in
2006 who we asked to assist with our annual review. This review was
undertaken by a series of meetings, one of which was to examine evidence to
support what had been achieved. We also liaised by e-mail, telephone and in
writing.

Based on these discussions, a new action plan has been developed, located
in Appendix 8 that identifies the outcomes of the review, which is based
around the action plan that was developed for the BME Housing Strategy in
2004. Tai Pawb have made a number of comments and recommendations
based on the evidence that we provided. It was agreed that a number of
actions were inappropriate, including setting targets, as it would be difficult to
establish meaningful outcomes without access to any previous and
comparative data.

Race Equality Plans/Schemes

In May 2005 MTCBC submitted its revised RES to the CRE. Since January
2006 the Council have worked in partnership with the CRE in developing its
Scheme to ensure that it is compliant. No Local Authority Scheme in Wales
has officially been deemed compliant by the CRE. In recent months the CRE
have developed a pro forma to develop RES‟. The Council is currently
working towards redeveloping it‟s Scheme to comply with the pro forma. This
is an on-going process and MTCBC will continue to work alongside the CRE
to ensure compliance.

Welsh Language Scheme

Iaith Pawb is the strategic framework, which the Assembly Government will be
implementing with local government, the Welsh Language Board and others.
It focuses on:

      encouraging individuals to learn and use the Welsh language
      extending access to Welsh medium education with initial emphasis on
       early years and post-16 sectors
      empowering individuals to make a genuine choice as to the language,
       or languages, through which they wish to live their lives

      an entitlement for all young people to a range of support services ih the
       language of their choice
      actively promotes the benefits of bilingualism




Quest for Quality Homes 2007 - 2012     79
We have a published Welsh Language Scheme within the Local Authority and
we ensure that this is adhered to by producing our information leaflets‟
bilingually.

Training for Councillors

Councillors, Directors, and Heads of Service have all received Equalities
training. Improvement Planning is looking to develop an e-learning tool to be
rolled out to all staff, including councillors to incorporate all existing and new
legislation. The e-learning tool will be used to increase all staff knowledge of
equalities, and will include assessment areas, and it is hoped that it will be
included in the PPdP process.

Programme of Awareness training

Improvement Planning are currently researching alternative ways to raise
awareness with regards to Equalities and are looking in to theatre
productions. Improvement Planning are looking to work in partnership with a
theatre company to produce a 50 minute performance, raising issues around
equalities as a whole, but also with the view to focus on some specific areas.
These performances will include a hot seating session.

Equalities Champion

In September 2003, Councillor Jeff Edwards was appointed as the Equalities
Champion for Merthyr Tydfil CBC. Although there is no set job description for
this post, it was agreed that Councillor Edwards would support and drive
forward the Equality agenda in his Councillor capacity. Since his
appointment, Councillor Edwards has been instrumental in driving forward the
equalities agenda at a political level.

Tackling Racial Harassment

Where any incidents of racial harassment occur, these would currently be
tackled by the Area Housing Officers under our Anti-Social Behaviour Policy.
We have received no complaints of racial harassment during the last 3
financial years. As can be seen from the action plan, we now intend to write a
separate Racial Harassment Policy for tenants to give more credence to our
stance on racial harassment and our commitment to ensuring that it is dealt
with as effectively as possible.

Gypsies and Travellers

The Pat Niner report identified that the term Gypsy -Traveller is diverse and
includes Welsh and English Gypsies, Scottish and Irish Travellers. The report
further states that most of the Local Authority sites, which from part of their
report are purely residential (intended for long-term occupation), although
some do have transit pitches.


Quest for Quality Homes 2007 - 2012     80
Our only site is located at Glynmil. Our Estates Department has advised that
40 of the residents are Welsh and 5 are English. Some of the original pitches
have been decommissioned since the Pat Niner report due to the inadequacy
of the amenity units, and the costs involved with repairing them. This has
meant that the site has now halved since 2006. Although this report
established that Welsh sites generally have larger pitches than our English
counterparts, the location of our sites were mainly next to commercial or
industrial land, and occupants were deemed more likely to suffer problems
from the environment.

Interviews undertaken for the report showed that extended families lived on
some pitches throughout Wales, and that there were differences in the ways
those amenities were used. The only extended family that existed in Merthyr
Tydfil lived at a private site on the Bogey Road, although even this is now
singularly occupied.

Glynmil was built in 1979, and is land locked between the north- and
southbound carriageways of the A4060. This site was previously managed by
the Gypsy Council, although when the contractual agreement ended, it was
returned to Local Authority management in March 2006. The Pat Niner Report
has identified that the amenity unit at the site requires refurbishment, and that
over the next five years, there is an estimated need to spend £182,780 to
keep the unit up to standard.

Since the site has come back into Local Authority management, in excess of
£50,000 has been spent on work to demolish five utility units, which had been
vandalised to such an extent that they were beyond repair and to supply new
metal doors to the seven remaining units. Unblocking sewers, dealing with
fly-tipping and general repairs have also been undertaken at the site, as well
as two bathrooms and toilets being recently refurbished.

The Estates Department have responsibility for the site and the Planning
Department have responsibility for allocating land for sites within the LDP
where there is a proven need. At the time of the Pat Niner survey, only one
residential pitch was vacant. Site provision at Merthyr Tydfil has not
previously been a major issue or policy priority, and indeed the Local Authority
had considered selling the Glynmil site.

This site, which has been judged to be suitable for disabled access and
movement, has residential pitches only, and the site residents are all on
license, with the average fee of £34.50 being charged. Out of the 12 pitches,
all except 3 of the families are in receipt of housing benefit. Electricity is paid
for through a card meter, but water charges are not currently collected. Fly-
tipping is an issue for residents, and weekly site visits are made to discuss
management issues. No separate formal complaints procedure is in place,
although residents do have the right to make a complaint under the corporate
complaints policy like all customers. Residents can and do make complaints
about repairs to our Officers.



Quest for Quality Homes 2007 - 2012     81
Welsh Councils now have access to a Gypsy Traveller Site Refurbishment
Grant, although the grant only covers 75% of the estimated refurbishment
costs with Local Authorities being required to meet the remaining 25% of the
costs from their own resources. This grant is for the refurbishment of existing
local authority Gypsy Traveller sites and is for a total of £1m per year over the
next 3 years. It is unlikely that the Council will be able to apply for this funding
during the current financial year as we are unable to match fund the required
shortfall.

Some of the views, which came out of the Pat Niner Report included:

      Lack of children‟s play space – most sites include large numbers of
       children
      Cost and supply of electricity – residents have no choice in selection of
       electricity supplier
      Varied sized pitches required to suit different families
      Pitch arrangement/privacy is an issue
      Amenity units valuable for storage. Some would like larger amenity
       units, women liked having the space to wash and dry clothes, and
       some said the would like to be able to cook there, and they would like
       better heating.
      On most sites there appears to be a supportive community. There was
       often a comment made that this would not happen in bricks and mortar
       housing.

Bi-annual Gypsy Traveller Caravan Count

There was some confusion with the 2007 study undertaken by our colleagues
in the Public Health Department, which was a visual count that only identified
occupied pitches, of which there were 12, and not caravans.

The Authority currently has 2 people on the waiting list for a pitch, but there is
no real demand at the moment.

Estates staff are of the opinion that there is no current need for transit
sites/pitches, and unauthorised encampments have not been an issue in the
County Borough.

Migrant Workers
Assessing and Meeting Need

The Local Market Analysis has determined that there is a need for X units to
accommodate this group. Many of the migrant workers within the County
Borough are here for employment purposes and are accommodated in
housing as part of their contract of employment. The largest employer of
migrant workers is the St Merryn‟s meat factory based at Dowlais. Recent
statistics from the Local Government Data Unit reveal that there are currently
450 migrant workers registered for work within the County Borough, of which
260 (57.78%) are Polish, the highest percentage within the County Borough.


Quest for Quality Homes 2007 - 2012     82
In August we wrote to a number of Heads of Service within the Council in
addition to the Police, the local University and the Local Health Board
requesting a meeting to discuss the future implications that a large influx of
migrant workers within the County Borough would have, particularly the effect
on local services such as housing, health, education and employment. We
believe that the introduction of the Welsh Housing Quality Standard could
result in a further influx of migrant workers who have skills in the building
industry who may seek work, as the rate of pay will probably be far higher
than in their own country. The meeting was very poorly attended, and such
limited attendance meant that very little could be agreed or planned without
the presence of other key partners.

A Migrant Workers Forum has been established within the County Borough
and is chaired by VALREC. This forum is a sub group of the Multi-Agency
Diversity Forum and was initially set up as a „task and finish‟ group to help
with concerns in relation to accommodation, which was supplied by an
employment agency linked with St Merryn Meat. This company no longer
manages the accommodation for the meat factory and there have been no
further complaints in relation to the accommodation supplied, although the
Minority Ethnic Support Worker who has recently been appointed will be
tasked to look at the needs of this group of individuals in terms of their
housing requirements, and the general needs of the BME population within
the County Borough.

South Wales Police run very successful reception evenings with the BME
Community and VALREC has also introduced a similar concept as part of
their work within the County Borough. The Multi Agency Diversity Forum
recently launched it‟s Welcome Pack for Migrant Workers within Merthyr Tydfil
and a Civic Reception was held by the Mayor at the Civic Centre in October
2006. The Welcome Pack has been translated into five separate languages
representing the largest communities within the County Borough. The pack
contains information on a number of key services including homelessness, job
centre plus, the South Wales Police, North Glamorgan NHS Trust, Merthyr
Tydfil libraries and emergency services.

For the last two years, a Global Village event has taken place, which has been
very well supported and included dance from various countries, traditional
food for sale, information on the work of the members of the Multi Agency
Diversity Forum has been displayed, alongside craft/jewellery stalls. The
intention is to continue with these activities in order to integrate BME groups
into the community.

Future Challenges

      Providing an integrated service, that helps to effectively tackle domestic
       violence
      Increasing the amount of prevention services available
      Reducing the use of B & B accommodation
      Focus on alternatives to social housing
      Development of a night shelter


Quest for Quality Homes 2007 - 2012    83
      Development of a shared house for substance misuse
      Development of a single unified service for substance misuse
      Engaging and consulting with the wider BME community
      Identifying the needs of the Gypsy and Traveller Community

Proposed Action

      Seek alternative funding for sanctuary type scheme
      Identify further resources in re-modelled strategic housing structure to
       include prevention services
      Provision of temporary accommodation through Supporting People
       programme
      Develop a range of intermediate housing products with RSLs to
       promote greater choice
      Maintain database to record satisfaction levels with current services
       provided for BME community
      Engage consultants to undertake Gypsy and Traveller needs survey
      Implement private sector leasing scheme




Quest for Quality Homes 2007 - 2012    84
11. SUPPORTING PEOPLE
The Supporting People Planning Group (SPPG) has the strategic
responsibility for the whole of the Supporting People programme within the
County Borough. However, the vision for planning supported housing and the
way that resources are distributed, relies on the respective service area
steering groups, (such as the Domestic Abuse Forum, the Older Persons
Steering Group and the Homelessness Forum). Their priorities need to be
submitted to the SPPG, who will determine the overall priority for inclusion in
the Supporting People Operational Plan (SPOP).
Information regarding need is gathered from the INAM data that all partners
are required to complete and submit to the Supporting People Team. This
data is analysed and shared with Steering Groups who should determine a
planning response to include both short and long-term projects. Essentially,
the Steering Groups will examine need, what schemes are already in place,
how those services can be used to best effect and also what needs to be
planned in the future. Proposals are then given a planning priority and passed
to the SPPG. To help ensure needs are registered and schemes are used to
best effect, the SPPG and Homelessness Forum are supporting the
development of a project that will manage the collection of needs data,
process applications for service and manage the supply of supported
accommodation services - Managing Adapted Accommodation and Supported
Housing (M. A.A.S.H).

The key themes for the 2007 – 2008 SPOP include the following:

   1. Continue to develop Needs Planning Partnership and monitor numbers
      of assessments received
   2. Work in partnership with Supporting People Information Network
      (SPIN) and local Planning Groups to agree a model to determine
      Strategic relevance
   3. Develop Service User and Stakeholder consultation Policy and
      Procedure
   4. Establish and implement methodology for Planning Groups to
      determine planning priorities
   5. Complete implementation of revised Supporting People Team Structure
      as agreed by supporting People Planning Group.

The INAM analysis for 2005-6, included in the SPOP, shows that 54
individuals (16.6%) had determined their lead need as being domestic abuse
(E1), and there was evidence that the proportion of males reporting had
increased over the previous year. The previous lack of move-on from the
women‟s Floating Support scheme had improved, with 6 women using the 3-
person scheme in the previous financial year. During 2005-6, the Women‟
Refuge received referrals from 133 women and 14 children. Of these


Quest for Quality Homes 2007 - 2012   85
referrals, 74 women and 80 children could not be accommodated due to lack
of space. Funding received by the refuge will be used to improve move-on
rates. The Supporting People Team has made recent contact with the
Domestic Abuse Forum, and consideration will be given to whether the 2
schemes currently in existence are adequate to meet the level of need
identified.

34 individuals (10.5%) identified mental health (E3) as their lead need.
Problems with access to appropriate mental health care at the general
purpose Direct Access Hostel has led to the development of a protocol to
resolve the issue. The predominant diagnosis in Merthyr Tydfil, which was
reported at a recent all-Wales event, is Schizophrenia and Mood Disorder with
associated substance abuse. A minority have complex or critical needs. One
focus has been on the need to develop a Forensic Strategy and Regional
Commissioning arrangements. A further 20 people who were not identified
through the Individual Needs Assessment Module (INAM) are currently in
special hospitals or Residential Care, and are mostly outside the Merthyr
Tydfil area. Again, vacancies have arisen in all 3 Shared Houses, 2 of which
have proved difficult to fill, and are currently under discussion with the Mental
Health Planning Group. It is hoped that the proposed M. A.A.S.H scheme will
help address this issue. The Rehabilitation Hostel also continues to be under-
occupied, but has not yet completed it‟s internal review. Modest turnover was
achieved in the 2 floating support schemes during 2005-06.

In the early part of 2006, a new joint Merthyr Tydfil and Rhondda Cynon Taff
Mental Health Accommodation Planning Group was established to serve as
the strategic administrator of local services across the health area. The focus
of this group is to establish a clearer understanding of the different roles of
Supporting People and Health Funded Rehabilitation or Care services, that
are required, as well as to look at cross – boundary issues from differing
geographical boundaries between Health Authorities and Local Authorities.

The Merthyr Tydfil Mental Health Accommodation Planning Group, which is
the local operational arm, continues to meet on a monthly basis. This group is
currently undertaking a review of the function of the 3 shared houses. After
this review is completed, the 2 Floating Support Schemes will also be
reviewed using the same criteria.

24 people are currently in institutional settings outside the Merthyr Tydfil area,
many being in secure hospitals with others in residential nursing placements.
It has been established that most of these individuals either want or need to
return to the area, but will require intensive support to enable them to do so.
A Local Health Board contract with a nursing home proprietor will expire within
the next 2 years, which if not renewed, will result in 9 people requiring
intensive support in this area. As a result of a lack of any suitable service,
there are proposals to develop a new Core and Cluster unit, for which a
detailed specification is being developed.

Of the 325 INAMs received, 217 individuals (66.8%) identified their lead need
as being homelessness, and this continues to be the most highly represented


Quest for Quality Homes 2007 - 2012    86
amongst all the people registering a Housing or Support need. Other needs
identified by this group reveal that almost 29% are in the Young/ leaving care
category, 27% are ex-offenders, 25% have mental health issues and 23%
suffer from domestic abuse.

In terms of cross-boundary working, the Supporting People Team Manager
attends a South Wales mini SPIN, as well as the South Wales Regional
Cross-Boundary Forum for Supporting People. This latter group includes
Probation Services and meets on a bi-monthly basis. The group‟s remit is to
look at cross-boundary planning issues in association with need and sharing
of resources. No projects have been developed or earmarked yet, but
discussions appear to be moving in the right direction.

The Council is committed to continue to work collaboratively with both the
agencies involved in the SPPG and other service providers, to maximise the
level of resources available to provide housing and support to vulnerable
people.

The Head of Housing at the Local Authority is a member of the SPP Core
Group and the Chief Executive of Merthyr Tydfil Housing Association (MTHA)
is a co-opted member. Table 9 details the new projects identified in the
Supporting People Operational Plan for development during the financial year
2007/2008.

Table 9 SPRG Funded Projects

Priority        Project   Provider    Landlord   Model    Client   Capacity   Revenue      Capital
                                                          Group                Needed    Required
                                                                                 £          £

1          Night          TBC        MTHA        DA      E4, E5    12         230,992   625,000
           Shelter                                                                      (SHG +
                                                                                        MTHA
                                                                                        Private
                                                                                        Finance
                                                                                        NB
                                                                                        Capital
                                                                                        already
                                                                                        identified

2          Shared         TBC        MTHA        SH      E4, E5    4          76,997    300,000
           House                                                                        (SHG +
                                                                                        MTHA
                                                                                        Private
                                                                                        finance)
                                                                                        NB
                                                                                        Capital
                                                                                        funding
                                                                                        already
                                                                                        granted
3          Young          TBC        TBC         SH      E8        20 pa      60,000    Nil
           People
           Supported
           Lodgings




Quest for Quality Homes 2007 - 2012         87
4           Young        TBC        Combined      SH       E8         10          37,274    Nil
            Persons
            Mediation
            Scheme

5 Joint     Private      TBC        Combined      FS       E9,E10     25 pa       50,000    Nil
            Sector                  Private
            Tenancy
            Support

5 Joint     Floating     TBC        Combined      FS       E4, E5     10          TBC       Nil
            Support –
            Substance
            Misuse

7           Direct       TBC        TBC           DA       E8         10          155,154   TBC
            Access
            16/17 year
            olds

8         Core and       TBC         TBC          SH       E3        10           TBC       TBC
          Cluster
9         Young          TBC         TBC          SH       E8        5            TBC       TBC
          Homeless
          Intensive
          Support
Note: (The Revenue funding itemised in the above table is already identified within the
Local Authority for the Night Shelter and Shared House)



The Supporting People Team Manager and Social Inclusion Team meet every
six weeks to discuss problems and share information to benefit the service
provided by the Local Authority.

Older Persons’ provision
As part of the Supporting People Programme, Interim Service Reviews were
undertaken during 2005, the purpose of which was to:

         gather basic information about the services being provided,

         form an overall picture of service delivery and inform decisions about
          the services required now and in the future.

         obtain an initial impression about how the service provider is meeting Service
          Quality Standards

         enable the Supporting People Core Group to ensure that services are
          continuing to meet identified need and provide value for money
         determine an appropriate distribution of Supporting People Grant

Planning Groups within Merthyr Tydfil Joint Planning Framework were then
asked to confirm the continued strategic relevance of each scheme. Part of
this review identified the need to reconfigure the sheltered warden service


Quest for Quality Homes 2007 - 2012       88
provided both by the local authority and the local housing associations.
Sheltered Housing Service providers agreed to seek accreditation status as
an outcome of the review.
The following are members of the Older Persons Steering Group - Age
Concern, Care and Repair Cymru, North Glamorgan NHS Trust, The Pension
Service, Voluntary Action Merthyr Tydfil, Safer Merthyr Tydfil, Community
Education, Local Health Board, Crossroads- Merthyr Tydfil, Voluntary Action
Merthyr Tydfil, the Health Alliance Coordinator, National Public Health
Service, Housing Division and most importantly the Forum Representatives.

In the Community Consultation Response to the „National Strategy for Older
People in Wales – Next stage of implementation‟, Housing was seen as a key
priority in maintaining the independence of older people who felt that
appropriate housing and the concept of a “Home for Life” was important to
them. They also thought that there needs to be a choice of housing, extra
care, sheltered accommodation and a consistency in service provision.
It was explained that the Older Persons Steering Group had commissioned
independent research into the needs of older people with a focus on
accommodation– this research has now informed the “Home for Life” strategy
which will take an holistic view of what makes a home for life, the
environment, essential services, transport etc. Attendees wanted to see
Housing for Older People high on the list of priorities over the next five years
with more choice available.

They were pleased to know that funding was available to deliver Telecare and
to support a joint equipment store. They acknowledged the excellent service
that Care and Repair provide locally and wanted to see more schemes being
delivered in this way. Our grant for the Strategy in Merthyr was used last year
to fund a gardening/decorating scheme, and this was very successful in
meeting the objectives but was limited to a small number of vulnerable
people. The demand for this service was great but there was a lack of
resources to meet this need.

They saw the Assembly‟s main priorities for the next five years phase of the
Strategy as being:

      A National Transport Strategy with sustainable actions to improve
       transport networks across Wales.
      Access for Older People – to make access issues key to all new
       community buildings and to ensure that access does not become a
       barrier for older people.
      Public Safety – a focus on improving the security of older people to
       become socially included.
      A focus on Housing needs of Older People to include greater choice
       and consistency amongst Housing Providers.
      Additional funding for Social and Regeneration to support Local
       Authorities to improve their Social Economies, promoting work and
       training opportunities for people who are 50+.
      Improved promotion of the National Strategy through mail shots and
       National advertising.


Quest for Quality Homes 2007 - 2012    89
Future Challenges

      Identification of services that meet the required needs vulnerable
       individuals.
      Focus on housing needs of older people.
      Improve the health, social care and well being of residents of the
       County Borough.
      Implement telecare strategy.
      Provide more services for those with mental health problems.

Proposed Action
    Implement „Homes for Life‟ strategy which focuses on a range of
     accommodation that is suitable for the needs of older people e.g.
     sheltered housing, extra care, assistive technology
    Develop core & cluster services for those experiencing mental health




Quest for Quality Homes 2007 - 2012   90
12. HOUSING MANAGEMENT
Maintenance

Significant improvements have been made over the last three years to move
the responsive maintenance service from lower to upper quartile in
performance terms. Our Planned maintenance programme is designed to
meet various elements of the Welsh Housing Quality Standard (WHQS), with
PVC-U windows, central heating, energy efficiency and hardwired smoke
alarms, all achieving the standard by the deadline of 2012. Over the last two
years £2.9M has been spent on planned maintenance work. Lack of
adequate resources will prevent the completion of the kitchen and bathroom
programme by the deadline date unless the ballot on stock transfer due to be
held in autumn 2007, is positive.

Improvements Action Plan: -

   1. Outsource the supply of building maintenance and associated
      materials. Potential savings of £100k per annum
   2. Continue to develop multi skilling policy for all trade areas, including
      labourers and apprentices leading to externally accredited recognised
      trade qualifications.
   3. Increase planned maintenance work to utilise resources gained from
      productivity improvements and the falling levels of responsive repairs
      e.g. external maintenance, bathrooms, kitchens, doors and windows
      and gas installations.
   4. Introduce vehicle tracking system to assist vehicle utilisation, lone
      worker protection and increase productivity
   5. Introduce hand held job control system using electronic data transfer to
      transmit job details to tradesmen.
   6. Develop key skills in certain trades e.g. CORGI registration in gas and
      NIC registration in electrical trades.
   7. Recruit full time Head of Service with budget responsibility for service
      delivery of planned and responsive maintenance repairs
   8. Improve integration of the service to facilitate delivery of WHQS and
      improve effectiveness and efficiency.
   9. Deliver and sustain upper quartile performance in all key indicators e.g.
      jobs on time, time to complete jobs, void relet times and gas servicing.

Strategic Approaches to Lettings

The way we allocate Council properties was reviewed during 2005/06. The
new policy was launched in September 2006. The review, which was
undertaken in consultation with a number of our key stakeholders,
recommended the introduction of a choice based lettings scheme – Tai Dewis.

One of the benefits of the choice based model is that homeseekers manage
their own application choosing the property where they want to live by
expressing an interest through the bidding process.


Quest for Quality Homes 2007 - 2012   91
Tai Dewis has already proved extremely popular and initial indications are that
there has been a considerable increase in customer satisfaction with the
allocations process. Turnaround times have also improved. Between April
2005 and March 2006, it took 106 days to re-let a property, but this figure had
decreased to 75 days between April 2006 and December 2007. This scheme
also supports the corporate vision of the Council, creating more sustainable
communities, because families remain longer in their homes when they have
expressed a positive wish to be housed in a specific property.

Although at present we have no formal under-occupation strategy, we do
encourage tenants who live in accommodation too large for their needs to
apply for a transfer, especially in the case when a single person succeeds to
the tenancy of a large family property, following the death of a secure tenant.
Move-on agreements have been developed in respect of the Direct Access
Hostel at Garth Villas.

During the review of the allocations scheme it became evident that the
different allocations systems operated by the housing providers in the County
Borough was confusing for customers who were provided with inconsistent or
inaccurate advice. To remedy this we are developing with our partners a
common allocation scheme. There are also plans to include the private
rented sector in this project in the future.

Nomination agreements with Merthyr Tydfil Housing Association, The Hafod
Housing Association and Wales & West Housing Association, have been
reviewed. A sample of which is included in Appendix 9.

Local lettings schemes have also been previously used to resolve issues of
long-term voids as a result of previous low demand. A pilot local lettings
scheme (Housematch) was used at Cherry Grove, Gurnos where vacant
homes were relet outside the normal allocation scheme. Cherry Grove at the
time was considered to be a difficult to let area, with problems of anti- social
behaviour, and criminal activity. The council undertook the following actions: -

      Carried out major repair and refurbishment work to the properties that
       were vandalised
      Provided a „show home‟ so that prospective tenants could see how
       their home could look
      Introduced a „Homezone‟ to the area
      Provided an intensive housing management presence
      Requested character references for those who expressed an interest in
       living in Cherry Grove
      Advised all applicants of the opportunity of being re-housed there.

Lettings were made to households who the council deemed to be suitable
tenants.

We also introduced a Lettings Plan with the choice based scheme that is
included in Appendix 10.


Quest for Quality Homes 2007 - 2012    92
Community Sustainability

There is a commitment to tackle anti-social behaviour and develop
sustainable communities. We have used a range of measures from
enforcement action such as ASBOs, injunctions and evictions, to distraction
techniques/ youth inclusion projects such as the Forsythia Close Youth Drop-
In Centre, which we part funded. The actual procedures we use are outlined
in the anti- social behaviour leaflet called „ASB, Helping to stamp it out‟ which
advises customers how to report anti-social behaviour. This leaflet is provided
in conjunction with our Red Card campaign and a Community Safety
Partnership publication. The Red Card scheme was developed to encourage
residents to report problems they were experiencing within their communities.
The introduction of this scheme, which includes a dedicated 24-hour hotline
number, has increased the number of reported incidents. We are reviewing
our procedures in accordance with the Governments Respect Agenda.
We are also committed to early prevention in respect of anti-social behaviour
and use probationary tenancies for all new tenants. Accompanied lettings are
undertaken to ensure that the tenant is provided with as much information as
possible in relation to their obligations as a tenant, and also as a member of
the community. Pre-tenancy agreements are also used in respect of any
tenant who has a history of previous anti-social behaviour.

Support for new tenants is also co-coordinated by a designated Supported
Living Officer, who will refer to other specialist tenancy support agencies as
and when appropriate.

As a key member of the Community Safety Partnership, we deal with
complaints in conjunction with our partners through a four- stage approach.
Partners submit anti-social behaviour referrals, confirming the details of
incidents. This results in a process consisting of, letters, visits, use of
acceptable behaviour contracts with the final stage being the referral to the
Anti-Social Behaviour Working Group who will consider whether the use of
measures such as ASBOs are appropriate. A copy of the Community Safety
Partnership anti-social behaviour protocol is attached in Appendix 11.

The following table identifies the action taken in relation to reported incidents
of ASB between 2004 and 2006.

       Table 10: Figures April 2004 to March 2007
              Injunctions                                     2
     Possession Orders – Secure                               4
   Possession Orders – Introductory                           4
     Suspended Orders – Secure                                3
Breach of Suspended Possession Orders                         2
  Possession Order following breach of                        1
           Suspended Order

  Possession Order withdrawn due to                           1
     tenants mental health issues



Quest for Quality Homes 2007 - 2012      93
Terminations as a result of enforcement                            9
   action but prior to court hearing

        Pre Tenancy Agreements                                    15

               ASBO`S                          1 obtained by Housing Division since 2004
                                               not including those obtained more recently
                                                   via Community Safety Partnership.
                ABC`s                                               0


We work in partnership with Victim Support who contact us on a regular basis
with problems victims face in relation to housing issues.

National Tenant Participation Strategy

In February 2006, the Tenant Participation Team had set up a working party
to develop the Tenant Participation Strategy with the Tenant Compact
Monitoring Panel (TCMP). However, the Welsh Tenants Federation
recommended delaying the process until the Assembly had published their
guidance on the National Resident Participation Strategy (NRPS) so that the
final working document incorporated all recommendations.

The new strategy, which has become the National Tenants Participation
Strategy (NTPS) was published in March 2007 with the guidance document
on Local Participation Strategies to be published in July 2007. The Welsh
Assembly Government will consider the possibility of providing funding to
develop the strategies and encourage joint working on Tenant Participation
between Landlords.

Merthyr Tydfil CBC is currently working with TACT@ Dome who have been
appointed as the Independent Tenants‟ Advisors during the stock transfer
process. The information gained from the series of information events and
theme groups (along with the information gained from the reconvened focus
groups) will be considered by the LPS working group, which we expect to be
established during August 2007.

Rents

We work in partnership with the Citizens Advice Bureau and Shelter Cymru,
who provide money advice. The Credit Union also helps our tenants to
sustain their tenancies. The prevention agenda introduced by the Audit
Commission in Closing the Gap has also been used to ensure that we provide
an effective service.

Tenant Satisfaction

In summer 2006, we conducted a tenant satisfaction survey. This survey used
the standardised STATUS questionnaire from the National Housing
Federation, which meant the results could be compared with the previous



Quest for Quality Homes 2007 - 2012       94
satisfaction survey from 2004, as well as being benchmarked against housing
providers across the country.

The questionnaire was sent by post to 1000 tenant, households, and then
followed up with 542 in-home interviews to make sure that people from all
areas of Merthyr Tydfil were fairly represented.

In total 769 tenants took part, which represents 18% of the total Council
properties. The following pages contain some of the main answers that these
tenants gave.

Overall satisfaction
Overall, 74% were satisfied with the service they receive, a total that was
slightly lower than in 2004 (78%).

Older tenants were particularly satisfied with the services they received (83%
of 65-79 year olds), however, tenants living in Gurnos were less satisfied than
average (56%).




The home
The vast majority of tenants were satisfied overall with their accommodation
(81%), although this was somewhat lower than in 2004 (86%).




Nevertheless, many individual components on people‟s homes, such as
kitchens, heating and fencing, received significantly higher ratings than in
2004.




Quest for Quality Homes 2007 - 2012    95
Customer service
There was a generally high level of satisfaction amongst tenants with the level
of customer service. In fact, all of the comparable customer service ratings
were significantly higher than they had been in 2004.




Repairs and maintenance
It was very positive to see that the level of satisfaction with the repairs and
maintenance service as a whole had improved considerably since 2004, from
56% to 70%.




Tenants who had recently received a repair were particularly positive about
the way the workers conducted themselves, and were also much more likely
to be positive about the time it took to start repair work (81% v 67% in 2004)
and being told when workers would call (86% v 74%).

Tenant participation & involvement
The survey results suggest that the Housing Division has improved the
standard of information provided to tenants. The range of information leaflets
was highly regarded (over 90% positive), and more tenants than in 2004 now
feel that they are kept well informed (75% v 67%).

In addition, almost three quarters believed that they were consulted about
changes that affected them, and those respondents who knew about the
Tenant Participation Compact were very satisfied with it (81%).



Quest for Quality Homes 2007 - 2012   96
The local neighbourhood
Tenants were generally very satisfied with the area in which they lived (89%),
a figure that was significantly higher than it had been in 2004 (86%). This
figure was high for tenants living in all parts of Merthyr Tydfil.




However, there remained a number of issues that many people thought were
a problem in their neighbourhood, with the top five being:
• Dogs
• Litter and rubbish in the street
• Drug dealing
• Vandalism
• Other crime

Anti-social behaviour
A fifth of respondents had experienced problems with anti-social behaviour
during the previous 12 months, a figure that remained the same as 2004. Just
under half (44%) had reported these problems to the Council.




Quest for Quality Homes 2007 - 2012   97
Since 2004 the Council had improved the help, advice and information they
gave when people reported anti-social behaviour (ratings up by around 10%),
but more could still be done as many tenants remained less positive.

Future Challenges

      Unless there is a positive ballot in November, there will be insufficient
       resources to meet WHQS.
      Sustaining upper quartile performance will be difficult with insufficient
       resources.
      The development of a common housing register will provide greater
       consistency with allocations in the County Borough.
      The development of a tenant participation strategy will help to improve
       engagement.
      Continuous improvement of services in order to increase the overall
       satisfaction levels with our service.

Proposed Action

      Further tenant consultation will take place to ensure that tenants have
       sufficient information on the stock transfer process.
      Ensure that the strategic housing function is adequately resourced.
       Develop common housing allocation policy.
      Arrange a series of focus group meetings to establish a working group
       to formulate the Tenant Participation Strategy




Quest for Quality Homes 2007 - 2012    98
13. COMMUNITY REGENERATION
As highlighted in the housing statistics for the County Borough, there is a
close correlation between poor housing and social exclusion. The majority of
private sector owners and tenants who occupy unfit homes have limited
incomes, and the majority of social housing tenants are in receipt of means-
tested benefits. Within Merthyr Tydfil, six full Electoral Wards (out of 11) and
5 Sub-Electoral Wards fall within the criteria for inclusion in the Communities
First Programme.
It is therefore essential that housing programmes link with the community
action plans being developed by the Communities First Partnerships
throughout the County Borough.

As part of our consultation process, a meeting with all Communities First Co-
ordinators took place on 4th September 2006 to discuss any new housing
projects that they would like to develop for their area.
We have worked closely with many of the Communities First partnership
boards. The Dowlais Community Development Forum like other Partnership
Boards within the County Borough has undertaken considerable consultation
within the community. Their main issues of concern included traffic related
problems such as congestion, parking and general road safety. Youth
annoyance, underage drinking and congregation in public space, as well as a
lack of social facilities were also areas of concern for the community. To deal
with these issues, the Forum agreed to focus on initiatives to reduce speeding
traffic, address parking problems and traffic congestion. The forum also
identified the need to devise a Youth Development Strategy and put in place a
Youth Forum to enable youngsters to be actively involved and influence
decisions that affect their way of life. They also put in place a series of annual
community events and continue to advertise and market all community events
taking place that are of interest to the community. The Forum continues to
work to reduce the fear of crime and incidents of anti-social behaviour.

As identified in Chapter 8 on the Private Sector, Dowlais was declared a
Housing Renewal Area in 2003. The Forum has given a commitment to
ensure that the community are fully informed about this programme, they also
ensure that the scheme meets the requirements of local people, which has so
far proved to be popular with the local community. The traffic calming
measures identified have now been completed using funding provided through
the Housing Renewal programme.

To continue its work, the Forum will look to undertake another community
consultation exercise in 3-5 years time based on the same criteria used in the
2004 Social Audit, with progress reports being sent to the Assembly on a bi-
annual basis.

We appreciate the importance of working in partnership with other agencies
and organisations, and a close relationship with external partners is a key
factor to the continued success of the Aberfan and Merthyr Vale Renewal
Area, which was declared in 2001.



Quest for Quality Homes 2007 - 2012    99
Some of our partners during the last 12 months have included:

      Merthyr Tydfil Care and Repair
      Safer Merthyr Tydfil
      Merthyr Tydfil Housing Association
      DIEN
      Welsh Assembly Government
      Communities First
      Numerous local contractors
      Aberfan and Merthyr Vale Partnership Board
      Merthyr Vale Liaison Committee

We are keen to further improve the working relationship between our various
partners to improve the quality of service provided to the residents of the
Aberfan/Merthyr Vale ward, as well as actively seeking new organisations and
external partners, so that we may share good practice and work effectively
toward a common goal.

Communities First staff have had significant involvement with many of the
schemes and projects undertaken within the area, and in addition to the
Partnership Board have often proposed schemes on behalf of the residents of
Aberfan/Merthyr Vale, which have been successfully implemented.

Communities First have been very pro active in the community, and have set
up local liaison groups and forums, which meet regularly throughout the year.
We attend some of these meetings at the request of the residents to discuss
ongoing projects and to receive feedback from the community regarding the
work undertaken in the area.

A wide variety of consultation methods have been used to engage with the
community which include:


      The publication of Newsletters.
      Exhibitions
      Public meetings
      Housing Surgeries
      Home Visits
      Satisfaction surveys
      Various forums
      Kompak Trailer – roadshows.

The Gurnos, Penydarren and Galon Uchaf Partnership Board have identified
5 priority strands for their areas, based on those put forward in the
Communities First programme by the Assembly Government. Some of the
issues raised in community consultations in 2002 included empty homes,
general housing conditions, lighting, nasty neighbours, crime, vandalism,
youths, anti-social behaviour, neglected gardens, double glazing, housing
improvements, fencing and repairs response times. To tackle these issues,


Quest for Quality Homes 2007 - 2012   100
the Housing Division has developed an Empty Homes Strategy which is
referred to in Chapter 8 on the Private Sector, as well as setting up an Empty
Homes Working Group to tackle empty homes and bring them back into use.
As part of the Heads of the Valley initiative, the Local Authority has also
submitted a sub-regional bid to tackle flagship buildings and Homes Above
Retails Premises (HARP) within the Town Centre.

As evidenced in Chapter 13 on Housing Management, the Area Housing
Officers undertake monthly estate inspections and investigate all reports of
anti-social behaviour. The bi-annual Tenant Satisfaction Survey carried out in
2006 identified that 70% of tenants are satisfied with the repair service
provided by the Council, which was only 56% in 2004. Again, recent
performance information released by the Local Government Data Unit reveals
our repair service is in the top quartile for Wales. This is a clear
demonstration that the original concerns of residents have been taken into
consideration in the delivery of our services. We will continue to work with the
community to ensure that their needs are addressed in the most effective way
possible.

Some of the joint initiatives that have been developed include:

      the Forsythia Youth Drop-in Service
      we support premises in the community for community use/benefit, such
       as the Information Shop, the 3Gs Staff Shop, Honeysuckle Close
       EQUAL and Family Centre
      Galon Uchaf Residents' Centre
      Johnny Owen Centre
      Community House in Crabapple Close.

We have also been partners in the bid to redevelop the Gurnos Shops. The
County Borough Council are also key partners in implementing the joint
school and community Sportslot project, which involves a number of sports
facilities on Housing land. The Neighbourhood Learning Centre also benefits
from reduced rental charges from the Housing Division, and Groundwork are
also developing a number of environmental/ recreational facilities.

Trefechan received Communities First Sub Ward status in 2002, which
enabled them to receive Communities First funding to establish a community
centre in accommodation leased from Housing Services from which the
Communities First Office is run.
The main concerns of the community include the remoteness from facilities
and the provision of activities especially for young people, the lack of provision
of a local shop, lack of opportunities for young people to enjoy leisure within
their own community, increasing levels of crime and disorder, the lack of
supervision of children and young people, substance misuse and the lack of
public transport in the evening.

A participatory appraisal undertaken in 2003 identified that the main priority of
residents of Trefechan was the environment. The proposed outcome of this
process was that they wanted to “Improve and protect the environment of


Quest for Quality Homes 2007 - 2012    101
Trefechan to benefit future generations and attract visitors and investment into
the area.” Their action plan has identified a number of tasks to address their
concerns and include an oriental garden at Trefechan nursery, work on the
OAP hall and on the embankment in addition to better signage and a
community shop. The first three actions have now been achieved, and
negotiations are in place with the Estates Department for a Community shop.
As part of their work programme, the Area Housing Officers are also required
to identify new environment schemes each financial year, which they believe
will help improve the surrounding environment in which our tenants are living.

The Partnership Board has addressed community safety issues by using
security coding, dog chips and the Police and Communities Together
(P.A.C.T) meetings, which have proved to be successful. As part of our anti-
social behaviour policy, the Area Housing Officers will deal with all complaints
that they receive in a fair and effective manner. This process is described in
more detail in Chapter 13 on Housing Management.

Communities First in Bedlinog and Trelewis support and communicate with
over 21 Community Groups within the Ward and are actively involved in local
projects, initiatives and programmes‟ to strengthen community ties and tackle
poverty and disadvantage.

Bedlinog and Trelewis Communities First Partnership Board initiated a joint
working practice with Treharris Communities First Partnership in 2005 to
develop a Taff Bargoed Valley Regeneration Partnership from which the Taff
Bargoed Regeneration Strategy was completed in 2006.

The Estates Department have signed up to the Strategy and Action Plan, in
which Taf Bargoed has been identified as a potential Housing Renewal Area,
although a Neighbourhood Renewal Assessment (NRA) will need to be
undertaken. Implementing another Renewal Area at this time would stretch
the capacity of the Council to deliver, and would mean that there were three
schemes running concurrently. This could impact on the progress of the
current schemes, as it is likely that the same grant allocation would be made
to the Council, but this would then need to be shared between three potential
wards. The Council has yet to determine whether Taf Bargoed will be
considered as the next Housing Renewal Area, should the NRA establish that
this is the most satisfactory course of action.

The Taf Bargoed Regeneration Strategy strongly reflects Communities First
Action Plans for Bedlinog and Treharris Wards with many shared issues.
While local residents consider this Valley to be a beautiful place in which to
live, they believe that the physical appearance of the streets and village town
centres need considerable investment. It has been established that 71% of
local businesses would be interested in receiving grants to improve shop
fronts.
Conservation areas at Bedlinog and Treharris town centre are also considered
a priority. Levels of vandalism are relatively low and there are also low crime
rates. Public transport is considered by residents to be totally inadequate, but
despite low car ownership rates more and more emphasis is being placed on


Quest for Quality Homes 2007 - 2012   102
car travel. The implications here are that there will be even greater traffic
congestion in addition to limited parking facilities throughout the villages,
which are of concern to the community.

Local residents would like to improve the area through: -
         Better parking facilities,
         Encouraging more residential developments,
         Improved street cleaning,
         Street lighting and maintenance,
         Better signage, and;
         more opportunities for regeneration of the communities.

Merthyr Tydfil CBC in partnership with Powell Dobson, Merthyr Tydfil Housing
Association, Communities First and the Gellideg Foundation Group have been
developing a regeneration plan for Gellideg Estate. Discussions have been
held with community representatives to establish local need and to provide
guidance to the consultants in producing plans for new social housing as well
as a community facility.

The proposal is to remove a range of 3-storey walk up flats within the Gellideg
Estate and construct new social housing to meet the needs of the community,
as well as regenerating the shopping area. In addition, there are plans to
construct a community facility to accommodate the existing services delivered
by the Gellideg Foundation Group, St Lukes Church and other agencies that
wish to provide locally based services. This facility will become a social
enterprise, which will be owned and managed by the Gellideg Foundation
Group. It is proposed that this facility will incorporate a social club, full day
care, youth club, construction workshop, catering workshop, beautician suite
hairdressing suite as well as possible office space for business incubation and
support.

This development will support a number of areas within this strategy and
include: -

      Training and Education
      Community Regeneration
      Social enterprise
      Crime and Community Safety
      Health and Well being
      Business support

Cabinet has approved the recycling of the capital receipt for the sale of the
land, which will accommodate the proposed development. The construction
of social housing has been included in the Social Housing Grant Programme.




Quest for Quality Homes 2007 - 2012    103
Future Challenges

      Balancing the process of ensuring that the community‟s views are
       incorporated into our policies while providing those services, which
       have a proven need.

Proposed Action

      Ensure that we continue to consult the community on any new projects,
       but explain why some projects need to take place.

14. CONCLUSION

From the research undertaken we can see that there are a number of goals
that we need to achieve over the next five years if we are to make a difference
to the people of Merthyr Tydfil.

Our analysis has shown that we have increasing problems with affordability
within the County Borough, and the provision of social housing alone to meet
these needs is no longer appropriate.

We will need to increase both the availability and access to affordable housing
through Social Housing Grant and effective use of commutable sums.
Effective partnerships will be essential if we are to ensure the delivery of new
affordable homes. Alternative measures to meet the increasing needs of the
population will be required, and reducing the number of long-term empty
properties in the County Borough to bring them back into use will be an
important strategic tool.




Quest for Quality Homes 2007 - 2012   104

				
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