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.