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Mr. Lembit Öpik (Montgomeryshire): Does the hon. Lady agree that the Assembly should not rely on those organisations to do its work? They are not a cheap alternative, and the Assembly cannot use them to escape its social responsibilities. Sometimes I feel that that is what the Government do.

Ms Morgan: There is no question of the organisations being used to do work that should be done by the Government, the Assembly or local authorities. The point of establishing strong links with the voluntary organisations is to take advantage of their knowledge and expertise. They are eager for that to happen, and their knowledge will enrich the Assembly's programmes and policies. As a result, we will have a rich and inclusive Assembly.

When we have this debate this time next year, the Assembly will be up and running, and I hope that it will have started to deal with all the matters that have been raised today. I believe that the Assembly represents a tremendous step forward, and I look forward to hearing, this time next year, about some of the things that are happening there.

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Mr. Martin Caton (Gower): I want to concentrate on a particular matter that has arisen in my constituency, although it may have ramifications beyond the borders of Gower.

Earlier this week, Barclays bank got some positive publicity for funding research by the Groundwork Trust into the relationship between communities and their environment. That research was all good green stuff, and scored lots of brownie points for the bank's environmental credentials. However, a very different picture has emerged of the bank's attitude to a community determined to live in harmony with its natural environment, rather than to impose itself upon that environment.

About 10 days ago, a representative of the High Court's sheriff office visited the community, a settlement called Holtsfield, and told the residents that he wanted to check six of the wood-built chalets, in preparation for evictions any time in the next few months. The sheriff office was acting on warrants taken out by a property development company called Elitestone, which is bankrolled by the bank that likes to appear to care about communities and the environment.

This story is not even the traditional tale of capitalism putting profits before people. It started out as that, but there is no way that the 14-acre site can give Elitestone enough of a return to enable it to repay the £750,000 that it owes Barclays. As far as I can see, the evictions of six families will be driven by the malice and vindictiveness of the director of Elitestone. Barclays knows that--I have told the bank so myself--but it refuses to pull the rug from under him.

I should explain briefly the recent history of Holtsfield. It is a unique part of the heritage of Gower, a group of 27 chalets at the upper end of the Caswell valley on the edge of Bishop's Wood nature reserve. The chalets are situated in woodland around a central field. They are highly individual and picturesque, and they complement wonderfully their beautiful natural setting. One has a turf roof, and its electricity is supplied by a wind generator.

Originally built between the wars for holiday purposes, the chalets became homes for blitz refugees during the second world war. In subsequent years, they were increasingly occupied permanently. In 1990, in recognition of the quality of the settlement and its historic importance, Swansea city council designated it a conservation area. At present, 60 people live there, 24 of them children. Some of the adults have lived there for more than 40 years, and they include pensioners, the warden of the nature reserve, an architect, a merchant navy sailor, a nurse, a teacher, the manager of a care home, a photographer, a wood turner, an artist, a sculptor, a potter and a geologist.

Almost all the children have spent their whole lives there. They attend the local school, and the teachers say that they make a special and valuable contribution. This is no transient, hippy community, as the property company has tried to paint it. It is a group of people who have found a way of living that impacts as little as possible on an environment that they treasure and that they are determined to sustain.

Holtsfield is a real community. People there do not lock their doors when they go out--indeed, some of the chalets have no lock. People there look after one another. The community is not isolated from the wider community, and it makes a valuable contribution to the village in which

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it is set--Murton, which adjoins Bishopston. That contribution has been repaid by the support that the community has received from the residents of those and other surrounding villages since Holtsfield came under threat.

The threat began nearly 10 years ago when the freehold ownership of the field changed hands. Until then, the chalet dwellers owned their chalets, but were granted individual licences by the freeholders. In September 1989, the freehold was bought by Elitestone Ltd. with money borrowed from Barclays. Within months, the director of Elitestone had made clear his intentions to force the residents out of their homes, and to build a housing estate on the site.

For almost 10 years, some of the people of Holtsfield have lived under threat of losing their homes and the special way of life that they love. It was Elitestone's applications to build, first, 39 houses, and then 15, that led to Swansea--I was a member of the council at the time--designating Holtsfield a conservation area, thus refusing to allow any major new development.

Elitestone sought to challenge that decision by appealing to the Welsh Office, but when conservation status was supported by the Welsh Office, the company challenged the decision further by seeking judicial review right up to the Court of Appeal in London. Elitestone lost every time. The Welsh Office got it exactly right when it dismissed the appeal, stating:

As well as trying to change the site's planning status, Elitestone was also acting directly against the residents. The company claimed that chalet dwellers had no legal rights, and that their right to occupy their homes was granted by the renewal of licences at the freehold owner's complete discretion. A series of letters followed, demanding that residents move and surrender their chalets to Elitestone. Other letters demanded large sums of money. Residents, through their excellent solicitor, held that they had tenants' rights, and that the licences were, in fact, tenancies.

In April 1991, the residents received the first summonses for possession of the land and, for the next four years, legal wrangling, court cases and appeals overshadowed the lives of all the families at Holtsfield, ending with the devastating and absurd decision of the Court of Appeal, in July 1995, that their homes were temporary mobile structures. Many of those temporary mobile structures had been there for more than 50 years, and some people had lived in them for 40 years.

As a last resort, the residents applied, in desperation, for leave to appeal to the House of Lords and, at the same time, tried to meet and negotiate with the director of Elitestone. However, he was having none of it and, instead, applied for possession warrants for four of the chalets. On 19 October 1995, the county court bailiff arrived to serve the notices. He was met by the residents and more than 300 local supporters who came to show their solidarity--I was there that day. The bailiff was not, however, prevented from serving the notices.

At 7.30 am on 22 November 1995, the sheriff, his men and a private security firm appointed by Elitestone arrived on Holtsfield and, with excessive aggression and damage to property, proceeded with the evictions. The residents

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attached themselves to their homes with chains--indeed the local vicar did the same thing to show his outrage--but they offered no other resistance. I arrived just after the evictions were completed, but saw the damage and, what was worse, the distress, especially that caused to the children. That 7.30 am raid took place despite the High Court sheriff's promise that there would be no evictions until after the children had gone to school at 9 am.

The six families, waiting now for their evictions, know only too well what they have to expect and they dread it. However, they are not prepared to walk away from their homes and their way of living. Thankfully, in January 1996, the residents were granted leave to appeal to the House of Lords and the county court recorder refused to hear any further applications for eviction until the House of Lords decision was known. For a time, there was some respite. To highlight their plight, some of the residents marched all the 250 miles to London to arrive on 20 March 1997--the date of the House of Lords hearing.

On 1 May, they received their judgment and it was good news: full Rent Acts protection to the test-case residents, and acceptance that their chalets were proper homes and proper fixtures. That ruling was extended to cover most of the other chalets by a subsequent court ruling. However, not all the residents were protected because some had not lived on Holtsfield long enough; about eight chalets were not protected and Elitestone is now gunning for six of them.

Why is that, and why does Barclays bank still back the company? Any hope of development has gone out of the window; it is prevented by the conservation area status and the security of tenure of the majority of the chalets. Have the residents behaved badly or unreasonably? Far from it, they have offered to pay Elitestone a reasonable rent and have tried to negotiate with the company through their solicitor. It is Elitestone that refuses to talk. I can identify only revenge and mean-mindedness as the reasons for the attempt to make those families homeless.

Barclays should have pulled the plug on Elitestone a long time ago, on the basis of the bank's own environmental and ethical policies; it should pull the plug now on the basis of sound financial management. There is no profit to be made at Holtsfield, only the potential for a lot of heartache. Barclays holds a legal charge against Holtsfield. If the bank stops propping up Elitestone, it will become the landlord of that community, with the chance to put its fine words about communities and the environment into practice. Failing that, we must consider a solution that includes compulsory purchase, and I know that the local authority and a housing association are exploring that possibility with the residents. I hope that the Welsh Office and, subsequently, the Welsh Assembly will be as helpful as possible in terms of finance for that approach if that should be the outcome. I hope that everyone will recognise that what we have in Holtsfield is special and sensitive; it must not be replaced with some off-the-shelf social housing alternative.

The Government need to consider the issue of speculative land purchase where people's homes are involved. The people of Holtsfield have had the sword of Damocles hanging over their heads for almost 10 years; that should not be happening to them and it should never be allowed to happen to anybody else.

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5.10 pm

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