News in brief: Plaid leader welcomes ‘last resort’ fire-break lockdown

Adam Price. Picture by Plaid Cymru.

Plaid Cymru leader Adam Price has welcomed the announcement by the Welsh Government of a ‘firebreak’ lockdown from Friday to attempt to slow the spread of coronavirus across Wales, and called for the nation to come together to protect the NHS and save lives.

At a press briefing earlier today First Minister Mark Drakeford confirmed the lockdown will start at 6 pm on Friday and will last until Monday 9 November.

The key measures being introduced are:

  • People should stay at home (and work from home if possible) unless they’re a key worker, they can’t work from home or for outdoor exercise which starts and ends at home (it’s obvious that things like food shopping, medical appointments etc. are valid excuses to leave home).
  • All indoor and outdoor gatherings with people other than those who live in the same household are banned – including Halloween and Bonfire Night. There’s an exception for single-person households and single parents who will be able to form a “bubble” with one other household.

Closures & Restrictions

  • All non-essential retail, hospitality businesses, tourism businesses and close contact personal services (i.e. hairdressers) will need to close.
  • Libraries, leisure centres/gyms, community centres and tips/recycling centres will also need to close.
  • Places of worship can remain open for weddings and funerals; Remembrance Sunday services (on 8th November) can still go ahead.

Schools/Education & Childcare

  • Childcare facilities can remain open for the entire duration of the mini lockdown.
  • Primary schools and special schools will reopen after the half-term holiday (on November 2nd 2020) as normal.
  • Secondary school pupils in Years 7 & 8 will return to school after half-term too, but older secondary pupils will need to learn from home until 9th November but can go to school to sit exams (where applicable).
  • Universities (and, presumably, FE colleges) can continue to provide a mix of virtual and in-person learning, though students will have to remain in their university accommodation and can’t return home.

Business Support

  • All businesses covered by small business rate relief will automatically receive £1,000.
  • Small and medium-sized retailers and hospitality businesses which will need to close will receive a one-off payment of £5,000. Other grants will be available for small businesses which are struggling.
  • The third phase of the economic resilience fund – which has been increased by £20million – will open next week.
  • None of this affects business eligibility for UK Government support.

“A fire break is a last resort and should only be used in an emergency. We are now in an emergency,” Mr Price said.

“The time the fire break buys us must be used build up a resilient test trace and isolate system in Wales which means we can prevent being in the position we’re currently in where the case numbers have risen to the point where they can overwhelm an already exhausted NHS.

“We also need to ensure the safeguarding of workplaces, and that sufficient financial support is available for businesses and their employees who will be directly impacted by this fire break.

“It’s time for us as a nation to come together once again – as communities, as Government and as Opposition – working together to protect our NHS and save lives.

One more person has died with coronavirus in the last 24 hours and 626 people have tested positive for the virus according to the latest figures from Public Health Wales.

Cardiff recorded most new cases in Wales yesterday with 103 and has reported 978 cases over the last seven days.

Overall, the infection rate in the capital has climbed to 266.6 per 100.000 people and a positive test rate of 18.9% per 100,000 tests, both the highest in the country.

Swansea reported 59 new cases and there were 46 in Flintshire and Wrexham.

Photo by Ali Morshedlou on Unsplash

Changes to planning rules streamline compulsory purchase process

Changes to the planning policy to allow Welsh councils to compulsory purchase empty houses and vacant land have been announced by the Minister for Housing and Local Government.

Following a consultation, the new rules will strength powers allowing councils to compulsory purchase vacant land and redundant buildings in Wales in order to bring them back into use, when it is in the public interest to do so.

The Minister also launched a new consultation on further reforms to streamline and modernise compulsory purchase procedures to support recovery from the pandemic and bring forward land to increase the supply of affordable housing; a key priority for the Welsh Government.

The changes to streamline the compulsory purchase process support the recommendation from the Independent Review of Affordable Housing Supply and improve the Empty Dwelling Management Orders. This will ensure effective action in these key areas can continue. With an estimate of 30,000 empty homes in Wales, the vacant land can be regenerated to increase housing supply and bring empty commercial and other properties back into use, helping to create new job opportunities in local communities.

Tackling the problem of empty properties and bringing them back into use has been a key area of work within the government’s £90m Transforming Towns programme. In March £15.2 million was allocated to tackle 66 of the worst empty properties across Wales and bring them back into use. Welsh Government is also providing an extensive programme of support which includes upskilling local authorities on how to use their powers to their full potential.

The Minister for Housing and Local Government, Julie James said: “In towns and villages across Wales, we see empty homes, former commercial properties and vacant land – which can often be a huge blight on local communities. Improving the delivery of homes in the right locations through the planning system is critical and we are determined to do everything we can to help build the homes people want, and help create jobs closer to people’s homes.”

Sophie Howe – The Future Generations Commissioner for Wales is photographed at the Hay Festival in Hay-on-Wye in Brecknockshire, South Wales.

Future Generations Commissioner calls for progressive policies from Welsh politicians

Wales’ Future Generations Commissioner, Sophie How, has called on political parties to act now on the urgent priorities of the nation’s young people ahead of next year’s Senedd elections.

Launching her Manifesto for the Future on Monday she said climate action, social justice and keeping people well should top their agendas and says the next Welsh Government should prioritise a green recovery and set out a plan for responding to future trends like increasing automation (or ‘the rise of robots’), our ageing population and climate change, in ways that reduce inequalities rather than perpetuating them.

She also advocates a shorter working week in the manifesto and asks for universal basic income to be piloted by the next Welsh Government.

“This generation is proving they are brave and willing to make their voices heard – whether that’s confronting white supremacy and racism through Black Lives Matter protests, or forcing governments to take climate change more seriously,” she said.

“The pandemic is causing our young people increasing disruption and uncertainty about the future and their lives have changed dramatically.

“This is a critical Senedd election and politicians in Wales need to be progressive.

“Policies have to show young people they’ll be supported to live fulfilling lives after COVID, and that society will learn from mistakes, plan better and do better.

“We owe them a response to the challenges of COVID-19 that has their best interests at heart – safeguarding their well-being and long-term futures.”

There are less than 200 days until people in Wales go to the polls in May’s Senedd election when 16 and 17-year-olds will be voting for the first time.

Construction site in east Cardiff. Photo Nation.Cymru

Welsh Conservatives back call for national housing survey

Mark Isherwood MS – the Shadow Minister for Local Government and Housing – has welcomed a proposal from the National Residential Landlords’ Association (NRLA) Wales for a housing survey in Wales.

NRLA launched its campaign for political parties to commit to expanding the evidence base for housing by introducing a Welsh Housing Survey (WHS).

The call comes as the Welsh Parliament is in the process of passing its fourth Bill affecting the private rented sector in six years without any comprehensive, government-commissioned data set for housing to support good policy making.

Mr Isherwood said: “NRLA argues that the long-running English Housing Survey (EHS), in place since 1967, is an aspirational model due to the volume of data it collects. Adopting a similar model for Wales would allow for greater comparability and accountability between the nations.”

“A Welsh Conservative Government would introduce a Welsh Housing Survey to provide more robust data for policy makers on housing demand and housing standards. It would also replace ‘no-fault evictions’ to provide greater security of tenure for tenants, whilst ensuring fairness for the rental sector.”

The NRLA call for a survey has been backed by other prominent housing bodies including the Chartered Institute for Housing, the Tenancy Deposit Scheme, the Royal Institute for Chartered Surveyors, Tai Pawb, and ARLA-Propertymark.

The campaign has also been backed by Homes for All Cymru, an alliance of housing and housing related organisations in Wales, which includes Crisis and Shelter Cymru among their members

Photo by Mabel Amber from Pixabay

Work commences on £30m A55 improvement scheme

Work on a major scheme to further protect the A55 against flooding and improve safety is under way.

The Abergwyngregyn to Tai’r Meibion scheme will improve safety along a 2.2km stretch of the carriageway by removing direct accesses off the A55 as well as removing eight gaps in the central reservation which currently allow slow moving agricultural vehicles to cross the A55.

An improved drainage system will protect the carriageway against flooding as part of the scheme that also includes four kilometres of active travel routes to encourage walking and cycling in the area.

Work is expected to be completed by the spring of 2022.

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