Scaling back of community hub project in Llanelli sparks row

A long-awaited community hub project in Llanelli looks set to be scaled back, prompting anger from some councillors.

Independent and Plaid members of Llanelli Rural Council claim the Labour-led council may be jeopardising plans for the hub, in Llwynhendy, by pledging £200,000 towards it after the previous administration agreed a figure of up to £600,000.

The aggrieved councillors claim in a letter that residents have been let down by Labour after seven years of consultation about the  project.

“Llwynhendy is one of the most deprived wards within Carmarthenshire, where two years ago the community suffered an outbreak of TB (tuberculosis),” it said.

Last January the rural council applied to Carmarthenshire Council for planning permission to renovate and extend Llwynhendy Library, Gwili Fields, into a hub and landscape the area around it, including a new play park.  Consent was granted in April.

The rural council was to gain control of the library from the county council and the £1.6 million project was to be delivered with a community group, Our Llwynhendy.

But rising interest rates and change in administration at the rural council following last May’s local Government elections led to a reappraisal of capital projects. The Llwynhendy hub project was re-costed at £2.8 million – a rise of £1.2 million.

The rural council’s recreation and welfare committee considered a report in closed session in December 2022, the minutes of which said a maximum of £400,000 could be borrowed to deliver capital projects across all wards, although repayments would be around £106,000 a year.

The minutes said: “Members were informed that since the May 2022 elections, one of the aims of the controlling group was to try and bring parity across all seven electoral wards by delivering schemes efficiently and economically in every ward without leaving a legacy of debt for the successor council to absorb in May 2027.

“To help achieve this, a different approach to raising sufficient capital funds would be needed because otherwise the restrictions of the council’s current funding mechanism would not deliver this aim within the required time-scale across all wards.”

The proposed contribution for the Llwynhendy hub was £200,000, with £300,000 pledged by Our Llwynhendy and a further £250,000 potentially available from the Welsh Government.

The minutes added: “This amount of funding would provide for a makeover of the existing building and perhaps a modest extension with internal reconfiguration of the existing space and current services, as well as basic landscaping and the provision of a large play area on the adjoining field.

“There was nothing to prevent the council from revisiting the project in future years based on a phased programme of work.”

The aggrieved councillors’ letter said: “Is this parity? When Llwynhendy is the only ward without a community hub for their residents.”

The letter said the councillors suggested postponing the council’s contribution until interest rates fell, while focusing on delivery of the outdoor elements. It also claimed that a request to Labour council leader Susan Lewis to explain the proposed new funding arrangements at a public meeting was declined.

The rural council has now accepted a recommendation to borrow £410,000 for capital projects, subject to ratification at a budget meeting this month. The aggrieved councillors claim that no consultations have taken place about some of these projects, whereas the Llwynhendy hub has involved consultation, countless meetings, and feasibility and surveyors’ reports.

The rural council still aims to take control of Llwynhendy Library, via an asset transfer, and is looking at how the interior could be reconfigured to create community space.

The Local Democracy Reporting Service contacted Cllr Lewis about the letter. She said the minutes of last December’s recreation and welfare committee meeting explained the situation and that she didn’t wish to comment.

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