Tag Archives: public consultation

Denials and misinformation

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.

Post Office Site Plans (Click for enlargement)

Post Office Site Plans (Click for enlargement)

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.

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Market research mysteries…

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.

Terrace Road

Terrace Road

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.

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