Written, filmed and edited by Leighton Cox
Ceredigion County Council cabinet members were left in no doubt yesterday that public support for the original Aberystwyth Masterplan should not be misconstrued as support for the revised plans announced in February. In his report to the Council*, Allan Lewis, Deputy Chief Executive, said:
“It should be made clear that the support expressed for the original draft Development Brief proposals, centered [sic] on the former Royal Mail site only, should not be taken as support for the current revised and significantly enlarged proposals.”
The report includes comments from several significant stakeholders. Regeneration partnership, Menter, are in favour of what they describe as ‘strategic regeneration’ but warn
“… developers seeking to ride roughshod over local businesses is not the way forward towards engendering a cohesive and welcomed centre of town development.”
Comments from Aberystwyth Town Council reiterated the statement they released earlier this year:
“…We are profoundly unhappy about the latest proposals which entail the demolition of so many small shops and we cannot give our support to such a scheme, no matter what the supposed economic benefits. We believe the economic benefits of maintaining the character of the town are very substantial also. We call upon the County Council to develop a scheme which maintains the majority of these small shops and to abandon preparations for Compulsory Purchase Orders.”
The ongoing ‘blight’ of the threat of compulsory purchase continues to affect homes and businesses in the affected areas of Great Darkgate Street, Chalybeate Street and Queen Street. The empty Woolworths store remains unlet and its owner has allegedly stated that the County Council ‘don’t know what they’re doing.’ Empty business properties are still liable for business rates, so the expenses being incurred by the owners who can not find tenants must surely be substantial – a situation, ironically, that the private developer who owns the Sorting Office site must be contemplating facing too.
At least one family have watched the sale of their property fall through, and are now faced with the real prospect that until the threat is lifted their property will be unsaleable. Properties adjoining and adjacent to the buildings under threat are also seeing their values fall as prospective buyers consider the prospect of living next to a demolition site.
Regeneration and redevelopment has plenty of fans but comments on Facebook groups – both supporting and opposing the revised plans – observe that some shops in the town look shabby and ill-kempt. High street chain stores with absentee landlords are inevitably the biggest culprits but the blight posed by the threat of CPOs is now likely to dissuade local business owners from investing further in the upkeep of their properties. One says, “Why should I spend a couple of thousand pounds painting my property when this time next year it might have been demolished?”
Despite this damning evidence, at yesterday’s meeting, Eurfyl Evans – Cabinet Member for Economic Development, denied the existence of any blight whatsoever. When asked for reassurance that CPOs would not be used, Council leader, Keith Evans, replied, “I can’t give a guarantee that CPOs won’t be used in the future.”
Apparently work on new plans that will take into consideration the concerns raised by stakeholders are well under way and can be anticipated -according to Council Economic Development Officers – in “weeks rather than months.” Hopefully the people of Aberystwyth – especially those currently affected by the threats posed by February’s ‘plans’ – won’t have too long to wait before their questions about the future of the town centre are answered…* [Available for download here – click ‘Swyddfa Bost/ Post Office’]
In the Report of the Assistant Chief Executive on Aberystwyth town centre development opportunity (click on “Swyddfa Bost/ Post Office”), letters from the chain stores’ headquarters have been included in an appendix of correspondence supporting the main report.
Clarks state “Please can you register our opposition to the proposed development. We would not wish our shop to be acquired by Compulsory Purchase in order to facilitate the redevelopment proposal.”
Dolland & Aitchison echoed these concerns, saying, “We object to this proposal on the basis that we are happy with our representation in the town and would not wish to suffer the inevitable inconvenience and disruption that would result from the redevlopment of this area.”
The Clinton Card Group expressed strong opposition:
“The block within which we are a tenant is an integral part of Aberystwyth town centre and provides a significant variety of retailers that is becoming ever more rare in town centres. There is no need to introduce a single department store that will effectively destroy the mix of retailers in the high street and this can only be to the detriment of both the existing traders and shoppers in the town. It is with this in mind that I urge that this decision is reconsidered.”
When the plans were first revealed in The Cambrian News in February, it was suggested that a multi-screen cinema might also form part of the retail development. With three cinemas already existing in the town, it’s understandable that the managers of these local facilities would want to add their own voices to the opposition.
Michael Davies, owner of the Commodore Cinema in Bath Street, has expressed his surprise and dismay regarding the news, saying he was “astounded that anyone would think that a multi-screen cinema could be viable in a town the size of Aberystwyth.”
Alan Hewson, Director of Aberystwyth Arts Centre, shared these concerns.
“Any plans for a multi-screen cinema […] would have an adverse and dramatic effect on the running of our own cinema as part of the Arts Centre whilst also impacting on our committment to provide specialist programming.”
The report – which also draws councillors’ attention to the 2100 signature-strong petition presented to Eurfyl Evans and mentions the Cadw Calon Aberystwyth Facebook group – will be presented to the Council Cabinet at their monthly meeting on June 2nd at Penmorfa, Aberaeron. Representatives from Cadw Calon Aberystwyth will be attending to discover first-hand how local democracy deals with the development plans and, most crucially, whether the blight of Compulsory Purchase Orders will finally be formally lifted.
Support for local businesses has today come from unlikely quarters – The Sun, in partnership with Barclay’s Bank, has launched a new campaign, BRITAIN’S BEST LOCAL BUSINESSES. Calling local businesses, ‘the backbone of Britain,’ they’ve launched a competition to find Britain’s Best Local Business – with a £20,000 prize. Despite the recession , one small business starts up every minute of every working day, and the Federation of Small Businesses say that small businesses have increased from four million in 2003 to 4.7m today.
As we all know, small businesses are vital to every community; they employ six out of ten people in the private sector workforce, contribute more than 50% of the UK turnover and are more likley to employ local people.
In addition, every five pounds spent in the local community is actually worth £25.oo as that money circulates five times around local businesses, and the environmental benefits include reduced transport costs and a smaller carbon footprint.
By visiting The Sun’s website, not only can everyone nominate their favourite local business but there’s a brilliant opportunity to pledge your support by using the site’s Pledgeometer – an exciting interactive visual map of Britain that vividly shows the number of pledges made in support of every town.
Cadw Calon Aberystwyth believe that small local businesses can happily co-exist with and compliment major retailers, providing a rich variety of choices for the modern consumer, so support Cadw Calon and MAKE YOUR PLEDGE!
Members of Cadw Calon Aberystwyth celebrated last night as they heard the excellent news that Compulsory Purchase Orders will not be on the agenda at next week’s County Council meeting on April30th.
Ceredigion County Council, who had been due to receive a report on the development proposal at the meeting, confirmed that both they, and the Welsh Assembly Government had requested that the private sector developer, newly-formed company Cityheart Wales, should reassess all their options and
“bring forward a proposed development scheme that will recognise as much as possible the concerns expressed.”
The document continues:
“… the private sector developer has been invited to undertake public consultation on any proposals before the County Council can consider the value of a development scheme and any actions for Ceredigion to pursue.
The CPO issue is placed aside pending the outcome of considerations by the private developer.”
It seems that the power of grassroots pressure groups like Cadw Calon Aberystwyth should not be under-estimated, and that well-planned campaigning combined with political lobbying are tactics that not only raise public awareness of the machinations of local governemnt but also effect real and tangible change.
Cadw Calon Aberystwyth – who now have full cross-party support – will continue to campaign for sympathetic, sustainable and workable solutions to the question of how Aberystwyth town centre will be developed; as an organisation we continue to support the Aberystwyth Masterplan and believe that regeneration is necessary for the town to flourish and prosper, and will be continuing to lobby for a speedy resolution to the current situation and confirmation from the County Council that the current threat of CPOs will be totally abandoned, freeing property owners and occupiers from the blight that currently lingers, rendering properties (some of them potentially profitable business premises) in Great Darkgate Street, Chalybeate Street and Queen Street unattractive to potential buyers or tenants.
Anyone who has read this week’s Cambrian News will be aware that Cityheart Wales, the company behind the new extended retail plans are claiming that there was never a plan to acquire and demolish homes and businesses in either Chalybeate Street or Great Darkgate Street. Anyone who has read the Report of the Assistant Chief Executive on Aberystwyth Town Centre Development Opportunity, the document which kick-started the recent controversy will be aware that these claims are blatantly untrue.
The report (which is available for download here – scroll down and click ‘Aberystwyth Town Centre’) makes the developers intentions brutally clear:
[I]t will be necessary for the developer to acquire adjoining properties to assemble a larger site. The larger site is identified within the red line on the attached plan and the properties to be acquired are coloured light brown. (Page 2)
The plan referred to is reproduced here.
As the report states, the larger site comprises all the buildings shown in brown – a vast amount of property earmarked for acquisition and clearly not just the ‘one or two properties’ the developer claims might need to be demolished. The developer goes on to state that Ceredigion County Council were never asked to put Compuslory Purchase Orders on ‘all those shops.’ This statement is also at odds with the above report, which concludes:
It is recommended that Cabinet recommends to Council the use of CPO powers to achieve the aforementioned proposals should private treaty negotiations prove unsuccessful.
The developer goes on to say there is ‘no plan’ , when there clearly is a plan, a plan which was presented to the County Council in February, and a plan which was clearly calling upon the County Council to consider the use of Compulsory Purchase Orders to acquire the properties shaded light brown in the plan above – namely businesses and homes in Great Darkgate Street, Queen Street and Chalybeate Street.
So the developer has been asked to come up with new plans, and conduct a public consultation exercise. Whether or not they are qualified to do this is another question entirely, and one that continues to be debated. But let’s not forget that massive public consultation has taken place, namely the consultation that informed the Aberystwyth MasterPlan. The Landscape Institute, which commended the original MasterPlan, described the consultation as follows:
Meetings, workshops and public exhibitions were held to ensure the local community and stakeholders were fully engaged in the process and that proposals reflected their desires and aspirations for the town.
The result of all this intensive – and no doubt costly – research was the Aberystwyth MasterPlan (not to be confused with the new, revised and unconsulted plans) – a creative, sustainable and highly workable scheme for the long-term regeneration of the town, and one which the local traders potentially affected by the new plans actively support. The MasterPlan advocated the use of the Post Office site as a department store, using the space behind and thus retaining the existing shops and houses. Fraser Ozment, one of LDA’s award-winning town planners who has been working alongside Cerdedigion County Council since the MasterPlan was in its conceptual stage, this week confirmed that the site could easily accommodate a department store totalling over 35,000 square feet over three or four storeys.
As we can see, viable options exist; in fact, viable solutions – in the form of the MasterPlan – to the question of how the town centre is redeveloped have already attracted public support from traders and residents alike. And on a last note, it’s important to remember that the new revised plans and the threat of CPOs are already blighting the lives of not just traders but also town centre residents. As one resident states,
People seem to be forgetting the people that live in the flats and houses on Queen Street that will have to be evicted to make way for new development. I fully support the original plan, but not the new additions. To some people it may be drab and dreary but to me Queen Street is my home.
The leading front page story in this week’s Cambrian News confirms the results of last week’s successful protest at the council’s closed briefing, with the county council’s economic development officer, Eurfyl Evans, calling on the developers, CityHeart, to rethink the plans in the light of public opposition, and carry out full public consultation regarding their new proposals.
In an interview with ITV last week, before the council meeting, Mark McNamee of CityHeart acknowledged that Compulsory Purchase Orders are ‘a very emotive subject,’ adding that the Aberystwyth development was the fourth occasion in his professional career that he had been involved in what he described as ‘a compulsory purchase exercise.’ McNamee went on to say that as developers they had ‘not only a legal, but a moral obligation.’
Conservative AM, Nick Bourne, will be meeting members of Cadw Calon Aberystwyth this evening to discuss their concerns. In his column in today’s Cambrian News, Bourne confirms that the Welsh Assembly Government have yet to commit to supporting the revised plans. Leighton Andrews, Deputy Minister for Regeneration said,
‘Whilst discussions have been held, it is too early to determine other than in principle whether financial or other support from the Welsh Assembly Government would be appropriate.’
Nick Bourne will also be visiting traders on Aberystwyth’s Chalybeate Street, Great Darkgate Street and Owain Glyndwr Square on Thursday April 16th to listen to their reactions to the proposed revised plans.
Shortly after yesterday’s protest – which received lots of publicity – a source close to the county council told me that a prominent senior councillor from the south of the county has recently carried out a little market research of his own into the proposed new development plans. This unnamed councillor apparently spoke to many businesses in Terrace Road, and many members of the public. He claimed that he hadn’t found a single person who had any objections to the new, extended plans at all.
Well, he would say that, wouldn’t he? Apparently he feels that the only people who object to the plans are those people immediately affected by them. Obviously he wasn’t taking into account the 2100 people who signed the petition that was handed to Eurfyl Evans yesterday or the 1600 members of the Facebook group, not to mention the people who have written to the local press.
Naturally, without knowing the nature of the questions asked of people in this fact-finding exercise it’s difficult to take the results seriously. The prospect of redevelopment is an emotive issue, and posing pertinent questions will elicit strong responses: asking people if they feel Aberystwyth needs town centre regeneration will inevitably garner support that could be used – much as support for the original Masterplan was used – to suggest that there is widespread public support for the new plans. Asking people if they feel the use of heavy-handed legal threats is fair or appropriate is never going to achieve the same result.
Anyway, this topic arose a few hours before Ceredigion County Council (CCC) announced that they would be asking the ‘private sector developer’ to not only reassess the devlopment scheme in line with public concern but also for full public consultation to take place – an excellent result from the public briefing. Whether or not the county council had many other options is debatable. With the debacle surrounding the way in which they released the revised plans now being hailed as a ‘public relations disaster’, it’s unlikely.
How the developer chooses to conduct its research and consultation will be interesting. We can only hope they canvass public opinion using better methods than those used by the market research company that surveyed local people in February this year. Questionnaires were left with various town centre businesses and residents with no clear indication given who had commissioned the survey or for what purpose. Bizarrely, amidst questions about parking and local facilities, the question, ‘Would you be prepared to relocate your business?’ had been slipped in.
One of the people surveyed said,
‘There was a form several pages thick. I answered a few before I had to assist a customer.’
He was gone for just a few minutes.
‘When I got back to her […] I noticed she had filled in at least two pages of questions for me without even consulting me or going back to the ones I had missed… I could see she was in a hurry to finish.’
Let’s hope the developers try a little bit harder than either our unnamed councillor or this mystery market researcher when the public consultation finally starts.
Press release from Ceredigion County Council:
ABERYSTWYTH TOWN CENTRE DEVELOPMENT
This morning, 9 April 2009, the Ceredigion County Council Cabinet Member with responsibility for Regeneration, Tourism, Training and European Matters, Councillor Eurfyl Evans, welcomed Ceredigion County Councillors representing wards within Aberystwyth and surrounding areas to a briefing session where officers of Ceredigion County Council’s Regeneration Unit were able to brief Councillors of recent consultation meetings held with various interested parties in Aberystwyth in regard to matters involving proposals for redevelopment of the town centre.
Speaking after the session , Councillor Eurfyl Evans said: “This morning’s briefing session given to fellow County Councillors from north Ceredigion went very well. Being the responsible Cabinet Member, I am now going to ensure that the representations and comments received by Ceredigion County Council are to be placed with the private sector developer and with the relevant officers of the Welsh Assembly Government.
I have asked my officers to invite the private sector developer to reassess all the options and to bring forward a development scheme recognising as much as possible the concerns which have been expressed. I am also going to ask for there to be public consultation on this scheme, to be undertaken by the private sector developer, before Ceredigion County Council can consider the value of any redevelopment scheme.
The Chief Executive’s Department, Ceredigion County Council,
Neuadd Cyngor Ceredigion, Penmorfa, Aberaeron,
Ceredigion, Wales. SA46 0PA
DATBLYGU CANOL TREF ABERYSTWYTH
Fore heddiw , 9 Ebrill 2009, croesawodd Aelod Cabinet Ceredigion a chanddo gyfrifoldeb dros Adfywio, Twristiaeth, Hyfforddiant a Materion Ewropeaidd, y Cynghorwr Eurfyl Evans, ei gyd-Gynghorwyr Sirol o dref Aberystwyth ac ardaloedd cyfagos yng ngogledd Ceredigion, i sesiwn a gynhaliwyd yn Aberystwyth i’w diweddaru ar ganlyniadau ymgynghori rh w ng y Cyngor Sir a nifer o gyrff perthnasol ynghylch cynnig i ailddatblygu canol tref Aberystwyth.
Yn siarad ar ôl y sesiwn, dywedodd y Cynghorwr Eurfyl Evans: “Aeth y sesiwn ar gyfer fy nghyd-Gynghorwyr o ogledd Ceredigion yn dda iawn y bore ‘ma. Gan mai fi yw’r Aelod Cabinet cyfrifol, ‘rwy nawr wedi penderfynu sicrhau bod fy swyddogion i’n pasio at y datblygwr sector breifat yr ymatebion a sylwadau a dderbyniwyd gan y Cyngor Sir ar y mater hwn gyda chopïau hefyd yn cael eu pasio at y swyddogion priodol ar ran Llywodraeth Cynulliad Cymru. ‘Rwy wedi gofyn i’m swyddogion i wahodd y datblygwr sector breifat i edrycha eto ar yr holl opsiynau ac i gyflwyno cynllun datblygu fydd yn cymryd i ystyriaeth cymaint ag sy’n bosibl o’r gofidion sydd wedi eu lleisio. ‘Rwy hefyd yn mynd i ofyn bod ymgynghori cyhoeddus gan y datblygwr sector breifat ar y cynllun hwn cyn medrith Cyngor Sir Ceredigion bwyso a mesur gwerth unrhyw gynllun datblygu.”
Adran y Prif Weithredwr, Cyngor Sir Ceredigion,
Neuadd Cyngor Ceredigion, Penmorfa, Aberaeron,
Ceredigion, Cymru. SA46 0PA
Over 70 people congregated in Bath Street this morning to protest about the as-yet unconsulted revised retail development plans. Councillors entering the closed briefing were met with chants of ‘Say NO to CPOs’ and ‘What do we want? CONSULTATION! When do we want it? NOW!’ Campaigners were armed with colourful placards in Welsh and English and large copies of the new Cadw Calon Aberystwyth posters.
The councillors entrance was further impeded by the automatic doors’ failure to open – effectively leaving them trapped amidst the protesters who regaled them with continued chants until the doors eventually opened.
A petition with over 2,100 signatures was handed to Eurfyl Evans of Ceredigion County Council. Councillors from North Ceredigion were meeting to be briefed about the new revised development plans; at the time of writing we have yet to hear what was discussed in the meeting which was closed to the public and the press on the grounds that it was ‘not a formal meeting’ and ‘no decisions were being made.’
The protest went peacefully, although one of the policeman present was overheard singing the chorus from the Kaiser Chiefs’ song, I Predict a Riot, to the great amusement of the young people present!
Once the meeting was under way the assembled crowd marched down Terrace Road and congregated for further press photos at the junction of Great Darkgate Street and Chalybeate Street.
The morning’s events were documented by two film crews, one from ITV, and the story will be covered tonight (Thurs April 9th) on Wales Tonight on ITV Wales at 6.00pm.