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National park backtracks on locals-only property plan.

A NATIONAL PARK authority has backtracked over a controversial homes for locals policy.

Following a High Court ruling against it in July, the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park authority will not implement the proposed policy before it becomes law.

At a special meeting in Haverfordwest yesterday members supported a recommendation by their officers that action should rarely be taken against small-scale developments.

The decision means that the majority of new housing or conversions along Pembrokeshire's narrow coastal strip, which has seen huge price rises in recent years, will now be able to be sold on the open market.

In addition, property owners already hit by the policy will be able to reapply for planning permission, while those who have signed agreements agreeing to sell to local people only can have them dissolved.

However, the national park still intends to proceed with its controversial policy barring incomers from new developments in the long term.

Campaigning widow Lynn Delabertouche from Tenby, whose case was at the centre of this summer's High Court action, welcomed the decision yesterday.

'It's good news. I'm pleased that I took a stand,' she said after the meeting.

'I was fighting for what I believed was right. There's a lot of people I know who have been turned down by this.'

Tenby planning consultant Mike Thorne, who has a number of clients caught up in the controversial policy, said the park had made a sensible decision although he still had reservations about the policy as a whole.

'I was relieved to hear that this is not the only policy that the park is trying,' he said.

'Affordable housing for local people is a serious problem and they are making a worthy attempt to do something about it, but it needs some attention from government as well as at local level.'

The controversial homes for locals policy was introduced by the national park in January 2002 as a way of creating a pool of affordable housing for local people in the limited development land available within Pembrokeshire's narrow coastal strip.

With below-average wage rates, many local people have been priced out of the market because of the rise in property prices fuelled by those seeking second and retirement homes.

The section 47 policy restricted the sale of new housing and conversions to local people, or those who could show need, and was adopted as part of the county-wide draft Joint Unitary Development Plan. It did not affect existing housing stock.

Although due to replace the existing JUDP only after consultation and a public hearing - which will take place in January - the park put the policy into immediate effect in a bid to prevent a rush for building plots.

It was backed by many community groups who said something had to be done to meet housing needs, but opposed by developers and property owners who could not sell new homes or conversions on the open market.

Estate agents, too, opposed the plan saying it was stifling development and pushing up the prices of existing stock.

The row came to a head this summer when the park embarked on a High Court action challenging a National Assembly inspector, who had upheld an appeal by Mrs Delabertouche against the policy.

The 56-year-old Tenby resident had converted her home into flats after the death of her husband and wanted to sell two of them on the open market.

In court, officers for the park, which tried to restrict her to sell to local people only, argued that Mrs Delabertouche's plans would undermine its proposed policy.

However, Judge Chris Pitchford rejected the argument of 'prematurity' and ruled that the authority was acting unreasonably.

The chairman of the national park, Steve Watkins, said yesterday's move had been almost inevitable af3 3ter the High Court judgment. He said, 'Personally I'm very supportive of the policy. It's a problem which has to be addressed and we've been attempting to address it, outside this one - particular issue for the last two years. It's unfortunate in one sense that this has come to the forefront of the public.'

Simon Brooks, of Welsh community organisation Cymuned, said the national park had acted with integrity in trying to do something about the housing needs of local people and should be congratulated for its efforts.

'There has to be a political solution to enable local people to get access to the housing market,' he said.
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Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Oct 9, 2003
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