The two semi-detached houses bring to mind a crooked smile.

On the left is a red-brick home kept with pride. Flower baskets hang over a freshly-painted green garden bench. A sculpted duck perches above pebbles in a front yard filled with lavender.

On the right is a house rendered in tired cement. Abandoned for decades, its doorway is boarded up and its windowsills decaying. It is in the slow process of being swallowed by a tree.

The lawn on the left could hardly look more immaculate next to the wasteland over the fence. But Leslie Southam, who lives in the red-brick house with his parents, describes his garden as "a little overgrown". It looks its best in the spring, he says.

The derelict house is one of 29 properties in a similar — or worse — state at Brynmefys, an estate a couple of miles from Llanelli town centre. They are carcasses of homes, their roofs wasting away. Creepers have choked one pair of semis almost completely, clambering through the jagged shards of a smashed window.

Leslie Southam in front of his home
Leslie Southam in front of his Brynmefys home
Brynmefys, a council estate built on the outskirts of Llanelli after the Second World War

Other windows are boarded or eerily ajar. Weeds try to burst through mesh fences. Some lanes are sealed off by security fencing, with rubbish dumped on the other side. A sign for the deserted "community hall" rusts and fades.

Built shortly after the Second World War, Brynmefys was once a bustling council estate, but now only three of its homes are occupied. A couple of cars parked on the road are a reminder of life.

When we knock on Leslie's door, he is warm and generous with his time. The softly spoken 53-year-old was born in Cardigan and moved to Brynmefys aged seven. He puts his barely perceptible Welsh accent down to his English parents.

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He tells us: "To be honest it's quite nice here. It's quiet. My mum's 80 and my dad's 79. They like it here. I am past caring. I don't think anything will ever be done.

"Carmarthenshire council have been doing the same thing over and over for years. They seem to get money for this and that, then it disappears. We've had lots of different schemes but nothing has ever been done. And it's ended up like this."

Besides the tranquility, there is another reason why Leslie is not bothered by his apocalyptic surroundings. As he soon explains, he believes the world will end in around seven years.

Leslie, who works as a hotel cleaner, remembers Brynmefys "absolutely full with cars and people and children" when he first arrived. Does he miss that? "No, not really."

Brynmefys, a 32-home council estate on the outskirts of Llanelli
Brynmefys, a council estate built on the outskirts of Llanelli after the Second World War
The Brynmefys estate

He says there were originally about 54 houses in the estate. Pointing to a fenced-off lane, he describes a row of houses which curved up a slope and have since been knocked down.

Brynmefys was not built to last, he says, but this did not stop his dad buying their house in 1986 under Right to Buy. "He was buying it for the plot rather than the house," Leslie explains. "It was either rent for the rest of your life or buy this. He got it for almost nothing. You wouldn't even buy a car for it."

Leslie recalls the exodus starting in the late '80s. He says residents moved out and the council did not replace them because it had a scheme for the site to be redeveloped. By the time funding fell through, many houses were derelict and unfit to be rented, he says.

Even the occupied houses were crumbling from water damage, Leslie adds — his family's included. But a European Union grant allowed their home to be bricked and laid with proper foundations in the '90s. Only one other household on the estate was able to get the grant, he says.

The three families still living on the estate have all been there since the '70s. Though the council owns the Brynmefys land, the occupied homes are privately owned.

Leslie Southam on Brynmefys estate
Leslie Southam on the Brynmefys estate
Conor Gogarty talking to Leslie Southam
WalesOnline reporter Conor Gogarty talks to Brynmefys resident Leslie Southam

The ghostly shells of Brynmefys are stark against Carmarthenshire's housing need. The county had 2,964 empty homes as of research from August — by far the highest figure in Wales. The council says 2,200 private homes in the county have been empty for more than six months.

And property prices are rising quicker in Carmarthenshire than anywhere else in Wales. In just one year up to March, the average price surged by almost 23 per cent to £183,129.

Councils often struggle to push through compulsory purchases of empty homes, but in the case of Brynmefys, the difficulty has been selling the estate.

Back in 2010 a housing association withdrew plans to build 103 affordable homes here. Six years later the council said it was in discussions with "a number of potential developers interested in Brynmefys". None bought it.

The Brynmefys estate

The derelict houses are home to bats — a protected species — posing an obstacle to development. The council reportedly spent £60,000 building a bat house, which Leslie says is empty. The scale of the bat issue is unclear, says the council, which expects an ecological report back in January.

Leslie says bats are not the only problem. "Two years ago Morganstone and Pobl wanted to develop 60 to 70 homes but what they found was the infrastructure with the sewage was not good enough and it would cost too much," he adds.

"Even for the original estate, the sewage wasn't fit for purpose. They would need to buy our houses to replace it because the sewage and the waterworks go underneath the gardens.

"Quite a few years ago my parents had the house valued by the council three times. They would have considered selling at the right price."

The council says it gave three options to each of the remaining households. The first was an offer for their house. The second was an offer for their house plus providing a council house. And the third was an offer for their house plus buying them a home of their choosing within a budget. The council, which has not disclosed the value of its offers, says all were rejected.

"Danger" sign in Brynmefys estate
"Danger" sign in Brynmefys

Behind one of the estate's fences is a flytipped mess including an electric fan and planks of wood. The fencing is dotted with the occasional "danger - keep out" warning. One of the signs is half-snapped.

Leslie says the fencing was only brought in a couple of years ago, after media coverage of Brynmefys' decline led to too much interest from youngsters.

He adds: "For some reason kids in their late teens were always turning up thinking there were ghosts here. They would come in their cars on weekends and try to get into the houses. Now a security guard waits here at night every weekend."

Leslie has never moved away from Brynmefys, other than some time living one street over in Maengwynne. He returned to his family home following his divorce about seven years ago.

It is when we ask Leslie about the future that the conversation takes an abrupt turn. He explains his belief that we are in "the last days" before Christ's return to Earth and the apocalypse.

"The way things are going, it's only going to be seven years at most," he says with certainty in his voice. He thinks coronavirus is part of a "Great Reset" heralding the end of life as we know it.

Brynmefys, Llanelli

For Leslie, Brynmefys' problems seem pale compared to the impending fate of the world. "If you accept Christ Jesus as your saviour, that is your only way out. I believe he will come again to take those people to heaven before the final apocalypse."

Leslie started following "alternative media" shortly after the 9/11 attacks. He shares with us the name of a controversial video platform which has been accused of spreading conspiracy theories.

Leslie says he is still recovering after a few weeks of being unwell with Covid. He has not had a jab because he sees vaccinations as part of a scheme for radical change by a global elite.

He does not know if he will be able to continue his job if he remains unvaccinated, but he seems calm about the future. And he is not tempted by a move from Brynmefys.

"It depends what you want in life," Leslie tells us. "To be honest there isn't much left in life I want. I am not into drinking, I don't smoke, I don't go out. As long as I can go and get food I am quite happy."

A few metres from Leslie's home is one of the other occupied houses. No one answers the door but the property seems looked after, with a well-kept front yard.

The Brynmefys estate

Elsewhere in the estate is a pair of semi-detached homes, one deserted and the other in use. Again, there is a jarring contrast.

On the left is a red-brick house with five colourful flowerpots in an evenly spaced row on a tidy lawn behind a neat hedge.

Next door, the garden is dense with weeds stretching several feet high. Creepers sprawl across the wall. Little of this house can be seen from the road.

A moustachioed man comes round from the back yard of the occupied home. He is less chatty than Leslie but offers a succinct view.

"They said they were going to put new homes up. Nothing's going to happen. I am quite happy here. Now, no offence to you but I've got things to do."

When we ask the council its plans for the site, the housing cabinet member Linda Davies Evans says: “A potential development partner confirmed they are no longer interested and we have not remarketed the site, which is of large ecological significance.

"We are awaiting the results of detailed ecological surveys which are due back in the new year. Once we have these results we will continue to work with the residents to develop a range of sustainable options going forward.”

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