'The only way to sort it out is to use a small thermonuclear device'
Aberavon in Port Talbot should be flattened and started again, a councillor has said, warning the area is becoming a ghetto and will only get sorted out by the use of “a small thermonuclear device”.
Dennis Keogh, who up until May held the role of Neath Port Talbot mayor for the local authority, made the comments during a planning meeting where fears were raised over an application for the change of use of a home in Olive Street to a five-bed house of multiple occupation (HMO).
HMOs have become controversial applications in many areas with reports of the changing character of neighbourhoods, often attributed to short-term tenancies and a rise in anti-social behaviour.
Cllr Keogh said he considered HMOs to be a cancer in Aberavon.
He said: “It’s turning into a ghetto. The only way to sort it out is to use a small thermonuclear device to flatten it and start it again.
“I’m Aberavon-born and I still have family living there – it was a beautiful place to live but I wouldn’t want to live there now.
“If you look at the Aberavon ward you have old Aberavon and you have Baglan Moors – you couldn’t get two more diverse places, all the trouble is in one place and none in the other.
“It all centres around rented accommodation – people don’t give a damn.”
In Tuesday’s (September 3) planning meeting, ward councillor Nigel Hunt urged councillors to turn down the application, saying Aberavon was like a “ticking time bomb”.
He called the planning proposals “preposterous” for such an area, saying anti-social behaviour was a massive issue in the community and raised fears of vulnerable people being exploited by drug gangs.
He said: “We are not talking about jacky doorknockers [when children knock at a door and run away before it is answered].”
“There are real concerns about the proliferation of new, unsavoury people that are residing in Aberavon and the surge in violence and disorder.
“Young children can already identify a junkie with hard drugs being an everyday sight for residents.
“An Aberavon man was recently charged with murder, a worker in a nearby shop in Bailey Street was seriously assaulted and a police helicopter has been called out several times including for an incident with a youngster running amok with an axe.
“Alarm bells are ringing on county lines – they are already in Neath, it’s established in Swansea and it’s a ticking time bomb for Aberavon which, with the bus station 200 metres away and HMOs, is fertile land for them.
“There’s been good work done recently to try and break some of the issues down in Aberavon but we are really fragile – I urge you to think of the people.
“This property was bought at a rock-bottom price and the plans involve putting in as many bedrooms as possible – it’s unethical and it’s wrong.”
Cllr Hunt also raised concerns about additional rubbish being left on the streets from prospective new tenants saying the roads were regularly full of litter with seagulls, foxes and rats ripping bags open and the narrow lanes making it difficult for the council’s bin lorries to get down.
He read out Welsh Government guidance which confirmed common problems where there were high concentrations of HMOs as being damaging to the social cohesion, increasing anti-social behaviour and crime, and reducing the quality of the local environment.
He said: “These are all profound existing problems in Aberavon that will be further exacerbated by another HMO.”
More than 45 people signed a petition objecting to the development with 24 letters also being sent in raising concerns.
One resident who previously lived next door to an HMO described the experience as “horrendous” while another regular spends his time picking up discarded needles in the streets of Aberavon,
Planning officers said while they had sympathy with local residents there were no legal grounds on which the application could be refused saying the local authority could only control the use of the land, not the type of occupiers.
They said the HMO would be the first one in Olive Street.
Cllr Scott Bamsey said there was an issue with unlicensed HMOs in the area, and Olive Street should not be looked at in isolation due to it being in a densely populated area.
He said he felt sorry for the good residents of Aberavon.
Planning committee vice-chairman Sean Pursey said HMOs were “absolutely necessary” for some people, helping get them off the streets and living independently.
He said: “If you’re under 35 and single, and want to claim housing benefit you will only get a shared accommodation rate – HMOs are needed across the country.”
During the meeting the lack of an HMO policy at the council – which would help prevent the spread of them – was also highlighted with officers saying it was being made a priority.
Cllr Alex Thomas said when a policy was introduced it needed to be flexible enough to deal with places like Aberavon with its existing problems rather than just being a blanket percentage threshold.
Head of planning Nicola Pearce said officers would put Aberavon on the agenda of the community safety partnership and see if a multi-agency group could look at how different different organisations like the council and police could work together to try and identify the root causes of problems and possible solutions.
The plans for the HMO in Olive Street were approved by seven to two.