Robin Staines

MORE than half of the 500 homes to be built by an arm’s-length Carmarthenshire Council company will be classed as affordable, its managing director has said.

Robin Staines, of Cartrefi Croeso, said this means they will either be social housing for rent, or low-cost ownership to help people get a foot on the property ladder.

The company wants to build on eight sites in the county, including Burry Port where details of a 32-home “garden village” development were unveiled last month.

All the 22 houses and 10 flats on land next to the Plas y Mor extra care facility, Glanmor Terrace, will be social housing for rent.

Mr Staines said the remainder of Cartrefi Croeso’s houses would be sold on the open market, but that it would aim to market them locally first before they were advertised on the internet.

“The majority of our homes will be affordable, to either rent or buy,” he said.

The precise split, though, would vary from site to site.

Mr Staines said it would be difficult to put conditions on open market properties giving local people first refusal, but that marketing them within a certain geographical area — to start with at least — would give Carmarthenshire residents an early sight of the schemes.

“It’s absolutely our aim to make houses for local people,” he said. “But at the end of the day the (open market) homes will have to be sold.”

Cartrefi Croeso is working on final designs for a housing scheme in Llansteffan, which already has planning permission, and has also earmarked land in Carmarthen, Ammanford and Llanelli for development.

But it won’t be taking forward a site in Cross Hands, as had been proposed previously.

Cartefi Croeso’s shareholder is the council, and its five-strong board of directors comprises two council officers, a councillor and two soon-to-be appointed external directors.

Only the two external directors will be remunerated for what Mr Staines reckoned would be around 10 days of work per year.

The council expects the company to make a surplus after three years and has channelled more than £1 million into start-up costs, including a £750,000 loan to fund detailed appraisals of the sites.

Asked what would happen to the surplus, Mr Staines said: “That would be dictated by the shareholder. The council could leave the money in the company for future growth, or take the money out as a dividend.

“Given the council’s commitment to more affordable housing, I think there is an expectation that the money will be left in the company.”

Mr Staines, who has been seconded to the managing director role for two years from his council post as head of homes and safer communities, said Cartefi Croeso wanted to use local suppliers, tradesman and apprentices.

A large proportion of the Burry Port scheme will be manufactured in Ammanford.

Asked why the council didn’t build the 500 houses itself, Mr Staines said arm’s-length companies could access grants and potentially enter partnerships which local authorities could not.

He added: “Arm’s-length companies can be more commercial and fleet of foot.”

The Burry Port scheme’s energy efficiency credentials has earned it funding from the Welsh Government’s Innovative Housing Programme grant, and Mr Staines said more money could be available for its projects via the £1.3 billion city deal for the Swansea Bay City Region.

Mr Staines said the council would gain income by selling land to Cartefi Croeso and also by lending money to the company.

He added: “I am really excited — I have seen how other housing companies in the UK work, and they can deliver real benefit.

“I think it’s right for Carmarthenshire.”

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