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.
Protesters outside Arad Goch
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.
On Thursday morning (April 9th), supporters of Cadw Calon Aberystwyth will be meeting to present councillors with a 1500- signature strong petition against the proposed extended and revised retail development.
County Councillors will be recieving a briefing from the Council’s Economic Development Dept in a closed session which the public and press are not permitted to attend.
However, members will be meeting at 9.30am outside Arad Goch, Bath Street (opposite Commodore Cinema – map) to lobby councillors on their way into the meeting. Everyone who supports the campaign is warmly invited to join the group. A film crew from ITV will also be in attendance.
Please join us, and tell your friends!
Location: Arad Goch, Bath Street, Aberystwyth
At last night’s meeting of Cadw Calon Aberystwyth, it was suggested that members of Ceredigion County Council (CCC) are allegedly ‘unnerved’ by the strong public reaction to the new development plans. Sources close to the Council told campaign members that ‘worried looks’ had been observed in Penmorfa, home to the county council in Aberaeron.
Once again the meeting was well-attended by local business people, campaigners and representatives from supportive local organisations. These included the Federation of Small Businesses – who are planning an impact study on the revised plans – and Caredig i Natur, who support green issues. The new poster campaign was launched (see right) and members took a break from the meeting to pose for press photos.
Lastly, it was agreed that Cadw Calon Aberystwyth would inform CCC that the group intended to legally challenge them over their proposal to use Compulsory Purchase Orders to facilitate the proposed new development plans.
This week, Cadw Calon Aberystwyth have recieved a reply from Nerys Evans, National Assembly Member for Mid and West Wales:
Thank you for your recent letter regarding the unexpected revision of the Aberystwyth Masterplan proposing the probable demolition of a large part of Chalybeate Street, Queen Street and Great Darkgate Street, Aberystwyth.
These large scale proposals certainly change the current original Masterplan proposal for the Post Office site and further public consultation is paramount.
We in Carmarthen are currently witnessing the development of the old mart site with the arrival of Debenhams as the anchor store. The old mart site was empty and is not at the heart of Carmarthen town. I am not persuaded that the architectural character of Aberystwyth should be sacrificed for the needs of Debenhams. I feel that this would
change the very reasons why Aberystwyth is such an important, iconic town.
I understand from Elin Jones AM that Councillors are suggesting that this project is being led by the Assembly Government and that the Council is almost powerless to resist. I also confirm that this is not the case.
The Assembly Government would not release major funding for projects unless they are advocated by the local county Council. I have witnessed the very same tactic by Councillors in Carmarthenshire recently who openly state that they are powerless to stop the closure of three secondary schools due to National Assembly guidelines.
As your Regional Assembly Member for Mid and West Wales, I feel that it would be of greater benefit for you to discuss these matters with your local Assembly Member in Aberystwyth, who would be best placed to take up your concerns with the Local Authority.
I will happily discuss these important issues with Elin Jones if these matters arise at the National Assembly for Wales.”
A double-page advertising spread paid for and celebrating local independent businesses has been published in this week’s Cambrian News. Over forty businesses participated, and demand for space was so great that several were disappointed. In addition to advertisements supporting Cadw Calon Aberystwyth the feature takes readers on a ‘virtual walk’ down Great Darkgate Street, along Chalybeate Street and up Queen Street, painting a vivid mental image of the extent of the new development plans.
(click for larger image)
(click for larger image)