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Cabinet denies existence of ‘CPO blight’

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’]

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“Chains Welcome if Small Shops Stay Too” – Cambrian News 19/03/09

Cambrian News; 19/03/09 page 5

“ABERYSTWYTH traders would welcome a major national retailer in the town, but not at the expense of local stores, the town’s Chamber of Commerce has warned.Members of the Chamber heard from council officers about the controversial plans for a major new shopping development which could see 15 current shop premises taken over.And chairman Cyril Baker said although the principle of a national retailer coming to town would be welcomed, there are concerns about what it would mean for local businesses who could be forced out of their shops on Great Darkgate Street and Chalybeate Street.

He said: “Following a show of hands at the end of the meeting, it’s fair to say that the business community welcomes a redevelopment of the town centre, including a major quality retail chain opening at Aberystwyth, but it was clear that this should not be at the cost of the individual shops that give the town its character.

The bulk of the people at the meeting were very much in favour of the original proposal. We weren’t against it being expanded as such, but on the principle that it is done with the co-operation of existing businesses.”Mr Baker said traders also supported the idea of development in the centre of town rather than allowing more stores in out-of-town locations.

He said: “if we are left with a choice whether it is out of the town centre or say by the football club, or at the centre of town it would be better to see the development in the town centre rather than on the fringes.“As far as the Chamber goes, as developments come with quality retailers in place that would be acceptable, but not at the expense of knocking everything down.”

Mr Baker said the meeting was vital to let businesspeople in the town give their opinion to the council. He said: “it was important. I think the council attended it as a fact-finding mission. I think they were hoping to get an impression of what businesses think and want.”

Meanwhile, a Facebook group set up to support the local businesses that could be forced out of their premises to make way for a national retailer has attracted over 1,500 members.

Emma Lloyd who started the group, said most people supported retail development, but didn’t want to see the current businesses affected. She said: “I started the Facebook group on a whim having witnessesd many of my friends and acquantances reading about the new, more expansive retail development plans in the Cambrian News a few weeks ago. Within three days we had over 700 members and the total now stands at over 1,500.

“Group membership encompasses a wide demographic, from local businesspeople to tourists and students to pensioners. Most members seem to accept that sensitive and sympathetic development is necessary in Aberystwyth, especially in the currently empty Woolworths and sorting office sites.

“However, there is unanimous distaste regarding the threat of Compulsory Purchase orders to remove existing businesses from their premises, a threat which the majority of members feel is unfair and heavy-handed. However, if the situation did reach that point, the council would be obliged to present a com-pelling case in the public interest before such powers could be exercised.”

Ms Lloyd said members were also surprised that the plans being put forward now were so radically different to the original development proposals that went out to consultation.She said: “Concerns have also been expressed that the Aberystwyth Retail Action Plan is vastly different to the retail development plans depicted in the Masterplan which received public consultation. Questions are being asked about how the county council is acting on this matter and whether or not the democratic process is as transparent as it could be, bearing in mind the lack of consultation sur-rounding the new plans.

“One of the main feelings being expressed is that Aberystwyth is a special and unique town and that unsympathetic, heavy-handed development has the potential to destroy the individuality and character of the town.

“Whilst the original Masterplan acknowledges Aberystwyth’s stunning environment, its history and its rich bilingual heritage, the new retail plans reduce Aberystwyth to nothing more than a shopping centre and its people to nothing but sources of revenue for the corporate retailers.”

Ceredigion Council said that positive feed-back was received at the meeting. The spokesperson said: “The response was positive and virtually unanimous in supporting the development, subject to retaining the buildings and the niche retail shops which want to remain in Chalybeate Street.”

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