Written, filmed and edited by Leighton Cox
Tag Archives: wales
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.
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.