Councillor and organiser of New Years Day Swim denied second-homes vote due to perceived ‘bias’
Bruce Sinclair Local Democracy Reporter
A Pembrokeshire councillor and organiser of an annual New Years Day Swim has been denied a vote on a possible rise in second homes council tax in the county.
Ahead of a debate, Saundersfoot county councillor Chris Williams submitted a request for dispensation to speak and vote on any discussions on a tourism levy or the second homes council tax premium to the December 11 meeting of the council’s standards committee.
He made the request as he works part-time as a caretaker for second homes, managing up to 40 of such properties, as well as non-second homes.
Pembrokeshire is currently operating a 100 per cent council tax premium for second homes.
Last week, the council’s Cabinet backed a proposed 200 per cent premium for second homes, along with changes to the premium on empty properties, both of which will be decided by at a full council meeting on December 14.
Members of the committee heard there were somewhere in the region of 390-420 second homes properties in the seaside village, Cllr Williams’ work applying to some 10 per cent of them.
In his application, Cllr Williams – chairman of the annual New Year swim event – said: “I was born and brought up in the village and fully understand the impact of tourism in Saundersfoot. I believe that I will give an honest and balanced assessment if I am allowed to speak on the matter.
“As an organiser of three major charity events (New Year’s Day Swim, SaundersFest and the Tenfoot Swim) I fully understand that many of my constituents either work or run businesses in the tourist industry and I feel that I should be allowed to express their views in the debate.”
At the committee meeting, Cllr Williams presented his case, saying he had a balanced view, and had been inundated with calls from both second home-owners and local residents.
“We need jobs, we need people to be coming into our restaurants and holiday parks; I organise numerous events throughout the year, like the New Year swim that bring thousands in. We’re trying to get people into Pembrokeshire 12 months of the year.”
Committee member Nick Watt felt Cllr Williams had a clear case for speaking on the subject, but felt he had not demonstrated a case for being allowed to vote, citing his “clear connections” to the tourism industry.
Those concerns were shared by Cllr Guy Woodham, who raised concerns about Cllr Williams’ maintenance work on second homes, and by community councillor – and committee member – David Edwards said Cllr Williams maintenance works could lead to a public perception his voting on the subject could be biased towards second home-owners.
Committee members unanimously agreed to allow Cllr Williams dispensation to speak – but not to vote – on the second homes council tax premium.
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