Times of trouble
Since early 1990, the Holtsfield residents have come under great pressure. The majority of them used to own the chalets they live in, but not the land on which their homes stand. Until 1989, they were granted individual ‘licences’ by the then freehold owners, with whom they enjoyed a cordial relationship.
The residents made a number of attempts to purchase the Field, but, due to a number of problems (one of them being that the owners only wanted to sell the Field in its entirety, rather than individual plots to individual families), these attempts were unsuccessful.
In September 1989, the freehold was bought by a Swansea development company, Elitestone Ltd.
On Good Friday, April 12, 1990, the company offered a new 6month licence to the residents,but increased the charge more than TENfold from 85 to 1,000 per household. Further, they gave a deadline to the end of that month, leaving very little time for the residents to make arrangements or to obtain legal advice over the Easter holidays.
The residents were unwilling and unable to pay that sum and tried to negotiate a more reasonable and secure arrangement. The company’s offer was quickly withdrawn and its solicitorcumdirector, Mr. Timothy Jones, in a number of letters to the residents and their solicitor, made clear Elitestone’s express intention to:
- Force the residents to leave and surrender their homes and
- Build a housing estate on the site.
In June 1990, Elitestone applied for planning permission for 39 houses to be built on Holtsfield. An alternative application was put in simultaneously, applying for planning permission for 15 houses. In July 1990, the Holtsfielders handed in a 7,500signature petition to the former Swansea City Council, supporting the Conservation Area designation, supporting the resident families and requesting that no commercial development should be allowed on Holtsfield.
The City Council refused both planning applications on the grounds that either would result in the wholesale destruction of the Conservation Area and because both application were contrary to the West Glamorgan Structure Plan as well as the Swansea Cityapproved Local Plan.
But this was only the beginning of an ongoing campaign by Elitestone Ltd. against the residents of Holtsfield.
Since then, Elitestone Ltd. has made various continuing attempts to bring its plans to fruition. In essence, it has followed two major, parallel directions:
- To squash the Conservation Area designation and have the planning refusal reversed and
- To intimidate and threaten the Holtsfield community in subtle and not so subtle ways, eventually taking the residents to court on a trespass charge.
First, the company appealed to the Welsh Office against Swansea City Council’s decision to refuse planning permission.
However, in September 1991, the Welsh Office dismissed the appeal, stating that Holtsfield in its “distinctly Arcadian setting . . . forms an integral part of the countryside in contrast to the suburban character indicated on the illustrative drawing of the proposed development” and that “the appeal scheme would be detrimental to the character and appearance of the area” and “contrary to the objectives of both national and local planning policies for safeguarding the countryside from inappropriate development”.
In May 1992, the High Court dismissed an application by Elitestone for a judicial review of Swansea City Council decision to make Holtsfield a Conservation Area in the first place. The Council’s decision was confirmed as was the decision by the Welsh Office.
In May 1993, the Court of Appeal in London dismissed an appeal by Elitestone against the ruling and upheld the Conservation Order.
The second direction pursued by Elitestone is more directly aimed against the Holtsfield residents themselves. One of the main blows so far which Elitestone has managed to deliver to the residents, was a Department of Environmental Health survey of the Holtsfield chalets in the summer of 1991.
The survey found all the chalets ‘unfit’. What was not mentioned, was the fact that the ‘unfitness’ in most cases was simply due to the chalets being below standard with regard to adequate water supply and sewage disposal facilities, as only one lowpressure mains water pipe serves the whole Field and most chalets still use chemiloos and cesspits (quite common, of course, in many parts of rural Wales).
The residents have made a number of attempts to remedy this situation, but, by and large, they have been ignored by the Council which is clearly awaiting the outcome of the legal wrangle between the residents and Elitestone. It must be admitted that some of the chalets have by now truly suffered a ‘planning blight’, due to a few residents not spending the necessary time and money on their maintenance in a situation of everincreasing insecurity.
However, as indicated by the Council itself, there is no doubt that the majority of chalets can easily be brought within the requirements of the Department of Environmental Health regulations as part of a ‘Neighbourhood Renewal Assessment’, once the conflict with Elitestone has been resolved.