Refugee homes look like a prison, say locals

A new housing development in a seaside town has been compared to a prison by locals who say it has also been built too close to their homes.

A total of 90 temporary homes have been constructed on the site of a former school in Llantwit Major, Vale of Glamorgan.

The Vale council says it is for Ukrainian refugees and the site was allocated for housing in the local development plan (LDP), but residents with gardens backing on to it call it “overbearing”.

The council used permitted development rights in January 2023, meaning it did not have to seek further planning permission on the former Eagleswell Primary School site.

“It looks like I’m living next door to a storage container yard," said Steve McGranaghan, a retired RAF engineer.

"My biggest concern is they are too close to me. They should be 21 metres (69ft) away under planning guidelines and they're less than 10 metres (33ft) away.

“If they'd built 72 houses which is in the LDP, I'd have no issue.

"I’m not someone who says 'not in my back yard'.”

He claimed they would no longer be used for Ukrainian refugees.

“Nobody has been able to challenge this," he said. “I volunteered to host a Ukrainian family, so we didn't have an issue at first.

“Now our concern is this won't be for housing Ukrainians, and it'll become housing stock and won't be temporary.

“If there was a bad way to do something the Vale of Glamorgan council have chosen the worst possible way to do it."

The council's planning committee was expected to consider the application for the site next month, but it was delayed until July due to9 the general election.

Residents opposing the development set up an action group and raised more than £7,000 in days to secure legal support.

“It looks like a prison, and it feels like a prison,” said Dave Thomas, 61, from the action group.

Mr Thomas, who has lived on Pembroke Place, next to the site, for 29 years with his family, said: “How can planning make a fair decision now, it feels pre-determined as they've already spent £25m on this.

“They are not going to take them away after spending that much money on them.”

“We thought it was going to help people fleeing their country and would be temporary.”

“It looks like a prison, and it feels like a prison. And yet it was meant to be a welcoming place for refugees.”

“It's the least welcoming place.”

Resident, Dave Thomas, standing in his garden with new temporary homes built at the back of it
Dave Thomas says the development is "overbearing" with the homes looking into his garden [BBC]

The council said the units were temporary for five years and they could be easily removed and reused.

A council spokesperson said: “Development of the site commenced on 3 June 2023 and permitted development rights would be applicable for twelve months from this date. After this the development would be considered 'unauthorised."

It said it was "tandard procedure in these circumstances is to wait for the outcome of the planning application before deciding next steps".

The council said it was "only right that in circumstances such as this elected members have the benefit of a comprehensive and detailed report with references to all material considerations and the views and opinions of adjoining residents before reaching a decision.

“No families will move into the temporary homes until a decision has been made, and then only if planning approval is granted.”

What do Vale of Glamorgan election candidates say?

Conservative Alun Cairns said there had been "no consultation or engagement with the local community" and it was "a scandal they took the decision to develop this a week before Christmas in 2022 and told residents they’d use emergency powers to develop the site for Ukrainian refugees".

Labour's Kanishka Narayan said he had listened closely to residents' concerns on planning issues. He said he would be "a strong champion for our community and will put these concerns first when engaging with the council planning committee on the issue".

Plaid Cymru's Ian Johnson said he supported Wales being "a nation of sanctuary" and the application for the site would be decided by councillor after "a site visit and a full and frank debate as to whether the development is in line with planning regulations”.

Liberal Democrat Steven Rajam said new developments had to be considered due to their impact on the community. But he said "sadly it appears as though the Labour-dominated council have instead decided to go full steam ahead with reckless haste, leaving locals to pick up the pieces".

Reform's Toby Rhodes-Matthews, said he was" deeply disgusted with how the Eagleswell Site development has been handled", leading to "significant financial losses for local residents and has destroyed the harmony of what was once a happy and coherent neighbourhood".

Stuart Field, of Abolish the Welsh Assembly Party, said: "Nobody ever consults the people who have to live there it is just done behind closed doors. It’s about time the Welsh Senedd governed for the people of Wales rather than helping everybody else in the world."

The Greens were also asked to comment.