Council Responds to Criticism

To further develop the story in the last two blogs and to be fair to Ceredigion Council (and as a scoop for this blog), see below two letters released by the Council today. The first letter has been sent to County Councillors, the second to the Cambrian News.

Dear Councillor, Re: Cambrian News Article

I read with disappointment, but no surprise, the headlines in the Cambrian News “15 shops at risk in Debenhams deal”.

Can I reassure you that the information provided to you at our meeting on 14th January 2009 is correct. There is no deal with Debenhams and it is not the intention of the County Council to take responsibility to promote the redevelopment and to buy the shops and premises as intimated in the newspaper. This is a private sector initiative which may, at some future date if negotiation fail to secure the site require the support of the County Council in using its Compulsory Purchase Powers (CPO), but only as a means of last resort.

I intend to arrange a meeting with Aberystwyth Town Council and with the local traders who may possibly be affected by the scheme, and explain this situation and the position of the County Council.

Please find attached a letter of response from Councillor Eurfyl Evans, to the Editor of the Cambrian News.

Kind regards

Prif Weithredwr Cynorthwyol
Adran y Prif Weithredwr Neuadd Cyngor Ceredigion, Penmorfa, Aberaeron,Ceredigion, Cymru SA46 0PA

Assistant Chief Executive
Chief Executive DepartmentNeuadd Cyngor Ceredigion, Penmorfa, Aberaeron,Ceredigion, Wales SA46 0PA

Beverly Davies
Editor, Cambrian News
7 Aberystwyth Science Park
Ceredigion, SY23 3AH
25th February 2009

Dear Madam

I refer to the article and headlines concerning the redevelopment of Aberystwyth’s Town Centre in the Cambrian News edition of 25 February 2009.

It is regrettable, in the extreme, that despite having received a full copy of the relevant Cabinet Report in advance of the meeting of Ceredigion's Cabinet on Tuesday 24 February 2009, your publication has apparently failed both to understand and, subsequently, accurately report its contents.

Your paper’s headline statement suggested a “deal” having been done. The report clearly stated “Debenhams’ has confirmed an interest in this opportunity, but the configuration and size of the existing post office site cannot accommodate their requirements. To meet their requirements it will be necessary for the developer to acquire adjoining properties to assemble a larger site.” There was – and remains – no suggestion of Ceredigion County Council having made any deal whatsoever, either with Debenhams or any other department store. Ceredigion County Council is not the developer, the report clearly explained: "The local developer site owner has recently entered into a joint venture partnership with a national developer that is well connected with national retail companies and experienced in this form of development."

Your paper’s article proceeded to allege “The Council wants to buy shops …..”. Actually, the report clearly stated: “It is recommended that Cabinet recommends to Council the use of CPO powers to achieve the aforementioned proposals should private treaty negotiations prove unsuccessful.” That is precisely what the Cabinet decided to do.

Ceredigion County Council remains concerned that everyone is kept informed of the situation and, having reported the outline proposals to Ceredigion’s Cabinet, Ceredigion’s Corporate Strategies and Regeneration Unit is now proceeding to arrange meetings with Aberystwyth Town Council and with local traders who may possibly be affected by the development scheme, to accurately report the decision of Ceredigion’s Cabinet.

Yours sincerely

Cllr Eurfyl Evans
Cabinet Member, Economic Development and Tourism


Council Cabinet Backs Town Centre Re-development as Trader Opposition Emerges

Following the story below, Ceredigion Council's Cabinet has now voted to support the re-development plans for lower Great Darkgate Street. Because Compulsory Purchase Orders are involved, legally, the final decision will have to be agreed by the Full Council who are next scheduled to meet on 30th April.

However controversy has now emerged as a wide range of local independent traders are quoted in this week's local paper as opposing the scheme. A recent confidential briefing of all County Councillors in North Ceredigion was told that only one trader opposed the scheme, the implication being that all traders had been consulted. Councillors at the briefing were then asked if they were prepared to support the scheme going forward to the Cabinet. On the information given, councillors (but not this one) overwhelmingly backed the scheme. With opposition now emerging, questions are being raised about the information given to councillors at the briefing and whether they would have been so overwhelmingly in favour had they known the extent of the opposition from traders.

Another bone of contention is the recent six-week public consultation about developing the former Royal Mail sorting office. Although, according to Council Officers, the plans received overwhelming support from the public, the consultation only finished as recently as December 15th and yet made no reference to the greatly expanded scheme now envisaged.


Council Considers Compulsory Purchase Orders for Massive New Shopping Development

Ceredigion Council's Cabinet is being asked to agree to possible Compulsory Purchase Orders on shops in Great Darkgate and Chalybeate Streets as part of a massive new shopping development that would transform the main Aberystwyth shopping area.

The information has been confidential until now but has been put into the public domain by featuring on the Council Cabinet's agenda for Tuesday.

The former Royal Mail sorting office, behind the current Post Office, has recently been bought by a local developer with a view to Debenham's coming to the site. However Debenham's now say they would need a site significantly larger than the sorting office. The proposal is that if all shops surrounding the sorting office were also bought the combined site could accommodate a three-floor department store, three medium-sized shops alongside plus a multi-screen cinema.

A retail needs study carried out as part of the Aberystwyth Masterplan has suggested that a development such as this could bring an extra £4.8 million a year into the town. If coupled with the proposed extra layers on the Mill Street car park this could increase to £11 million p.a. A recent public consultation on plans for these sites apparently showed strong support from the public. However the latest expanded plans for the sorting office site area go much further than the consultation.

The proposal would need National Assembly funding in order to come to fruition and the Assembly would first need assurance that the Council are prepared to back the scheme to the extent of bringing compulsory purchase orders to bear on any shops not wanting to sell before providing this funding. The Cabinet is therefore being asked to provide backing for this. It is believed that displaced shops could re-locate to current empty properties within the town, although it has to be said that most of these are in a much less advantageous position.

The scheme would involve the demolition and re-building of a huge block of buildings from the current old Woolworth's site back to Queen Street going all the way down to Chalybeate Street. The only section of building left standing under the proposals would be the current Post Office facade which is subject to a Conservation Order.


Buarth Pavement Work Underway

Work is well underway on the re-surfacing of the pavements in upper Buarth Road following a controversy lasting many months.

Ceredigion Council’s original position was that the pavement had been assessed as presenting a ‘trip hazard’ that needed remedying. The Council has a method of assessing re-surfacing priorities using a ‘matrix’ which takes into account numbers of people using a street (‘footfall’) coupled with pavement condition to arrive at a priority list. Upper Buarth Road apparently came quite high up this list (despite no residents complaining about them, in contrast to other places). The Council Cabinet had already taken a decision to abandon paving stone across the County as a cost-saving measure other than for high-usage town centre areas. In line with this they were planning to tarmac the whole of upper Buarth Road at a cost of £22,000. Apparently laying paving slabs instead would have cost an extra £17,000. However it was not so much this that worried the Council but the precedent that would be set for other similarly attractive areas that could have theoretically cost the Council hundreds of thousands of pounds across the county. It’s true to say that, as publicity increased, a few people from other areas began to ask about their own streets.

Many Buarth Road residents are very conscious that their street is a highly attractive example of urban architecture dating back over 100 years and expressed great concern that tarmac would be entirely out of keeping with this. After the issue was raised with me I managed to get the work halted pending a re-appraisal. Various Council officers (planning officers, highways engineers etc) then walked the street and gave their view from their various perspectives. A seven-page paper was then put together listing five different options with benefits and disadvantages listed against each.

When it became clear that the residents' preference of full re-paving was not going to get the approval of the Cabinet Member for Highways, who the final decision rested with, I proposed that, since no-one had actually complained about the pavements, the Council should simply leave them as they were with the exception of the most uneven slabs. This would have involved spending £6,000 patching up the pavement, a saving of £16,000. I felt that this could both provide a cost saving for the Council and be acceptable to residents. However the Highways Department felt this was too risky and could entail increased costs in the future.

Eventually the Cabinet Member approved what was described as a ‘compromise solution’. It was exaggerating somewhat to call this a compromise since it still involved tarmacking most of the pavement. However this did at least save the section of pavement between Edgehill and Banadl Roads as, during the re-assessment period, it was identified that this contained the only paving slabs which dated from the original formation of the street. As I write, these slabs have been pulled up as a preparation for re-laying. This is going to stop at the corner of Banadl Road as there are no plans to re-surface that road at all at present due to its relatively low usage. Having these slabs re-laid and kept is only a small success but nevertheless significantly better than the Council’s original intentions. Once the Council's final decision had become clear I asked the Council to at least put in extra disabled crossings as part of the work and they’ve now agreed to put five in the road.

Buarth residents have very strongly made the point that responsibility for maintaining the Conservation Area seems to rest almost entirely with residents rather than the Council. In the Highways Scrutiny Committee I’ve now asked for the Highways Dept to look at what exactly Conservation Area status means for the Council. In the present climate saving money is coming before just about everything and certainly above higher aesthetic and architectural values.


Carreg Wen Planning Application Refused

A double planning application for two houses to be built in the garden of a property in Llanbadarn Road has been refused by the County Council's Planning Department after a number of neighbours objected.

The application was turned down on several grounds, the main one being that it would have set a precedent which could have led to houses being built on neighbouring gardens, entirely altering the character of this attractive conservation area.

A previous application to build three houses in the same garden had also been refused.
It is still open to the developer to appeal against the decision to the National Assembly.

Cynllunio Diweddaraf / Planning Latest

Y diweddaraf ar geisiadau cynllunio yn ward Bronglais a'r cyffiniau

The latest on planning applications in Bronglais ward and around

Bwthyn Briallu, Coedlan Iorwerth Avenue A090103CA
Demolition of brick pillar to enable vehicular access (Conservation Area consent)

Crown Buildings, Plascrug A090069AV
Display of advertisement (fixed laminated canvas banner)

Ysbyty Bronglais / Bronglais Hospital A080176
Erection of 5 storey extension and 2 storey car park
Outline application (i.e. for the principle of the development)

Diweddaraf / Latest – Discussed at the Development Control Committee on 12th November. The application was DEFERRED, pending agreement with the Trunk Road Agency on road traffic safety on the Penglais Hill side and also subject to the agreement of measures to manage traffic during both the construction and operational period of the development - this will involve the construction of a Park & Ride near the top of Penglais Hill. Negotiations between the Hospital, the Trunk Road Agency and the University, who own the potential Park & Ride land, are still taking place.

Carregwen, Ffordd Llanbadarn Road
Codi ty datgysylltiedig / Erection of a detached dwelling
In the front garden of the above house, i.e. fronting onto Llanbadarn Road
Codi ty datgysylltiedig / Erection of a detached dwelling in the rear garden of the above house, i.e. fronting onto St David’s Road.

Mae dau gais adeliadu wedi eu cyflwyno ar gyfer Carregwen ar Ffordd Llanbadarn, rhwng Ffordd Caradog a Ffordd Ddewi. Y llynedd, gwrthodwyd cais i adeiladu tri tŷ yng ngardd y tŷ gan Bwyllgor Rheoli Datblygiad y Cyngor Sir. Nawr mae dau gais arwahan wedi eu cyflwyno ar gyfer dau dŷ yn yr un ardd.
The above two planning applications have been submitted for the garden of Carregwen in Llanbadarn Road, between Caradog Road and St David's Road. Last year an application to build three houses in the garden of the house was rejected by the County Council’s Development Control Committee. Now two separate applications have been submitted for two houses in the same garden.
Diweddaraf / Latest – REFUSED.

Plot 6, Llys Ardwyn, Ffordd Ddewi / St David's Road (Hen Safle Penweddig / Old Penweddig site) A080513
Codi ty datgysylltiedig / Erection of a detached dwelling
Darn o dir ar ochr yr ysbyty o'r safle yw Plot 6 ac mae modd ei gyrraedd o'rtracc ger brig Cae'r Gog
Plot 6 is the piece of land on the hospital side of the site, accessible via the track at the top of Cae'r Gog.

Diweddaraf / Latest – No objection from Highways Dept. The application is being dealt with by outside consultants brought in to help clear the Council’s backlog of planning applications.

Other applications so far approved at Llys Ardwyn are:
Phase 1 - 9 flats
Phase 2 - 18 flats
Phase 3 (the old school 'C' Block) - 17 flats (inc. 3 affordable)
4 apartments in the 'Undercroft' (3 as affordable housing)
Houses on plots 1, 2, 3, 4 & 5

Llyfrgell Cenedlaethol Cymru / National Library of Wales A080401
Hewl un ffordd newyddyn cysylltu y Llyfrgell a Champws y Brifysgol
One-way link road between the National Library and the University Campus
Diweddaraf / Latest - No objection from Highways Dept. Awaiting decision.

Northgate House, Stryd y Dollborth / Northgate Street A070273
Gosod 2 uned tewychu wrth ymyl yr adeiladInstallation of 2 condensing units to side of building
Diweddaraf / Latest - Development Control Committee on 18th June decided that the application should be deferred to invite the applicant to relocate the condensing units or, failing the identification of an appropriate site, the carrying out of works to mitigate the sound from the units which is disturbing local residents. Officers were also told to consider imposing restrictions on the operating times of the units. A failure to agree to this will result in refusal of permission and enforcement action. Still no final resolution.

Gellir gweld y cynlluniau yn Swyddfa Cyngor y Dref yn Neuadd y Dref, Aberystwyth (Ffon 624761). Dylid danfon sylwadau at yr Adran Cynllunio, Neuadd Cyngor Ceredigion, Penmorfa, Aberaeron, Ceredigion, SA46 0PA.

Plans for all applications can be viewed in the Town Council Office in Aberystwyth Town Hall (Tel 624761). Comments can be sent to the Planning Department, Neuadd Cyngor Ceredigion, Penmorfa Aberaeron, Ceredigion, SA46 0PA


Aber Set to Grow Despite Recession

There may be 37 vacant shops in Aberystwyth at present but that doesn’t seem to be deterring potential investors. Despite the credit crunch at least six major new developments are currently under active consideration around the town:
* A five-storey extension at Bronglais Hospital
* A new medical centre on the west side of Penglais Hill
* A new Park & Ride near the top of Penglais
* A major re-development at the bottom of Great Darkgate Street around the sorting office
* A five-storey car park on the Mill Street site
* A major expansion of the Llety Parc hotel

I've left out some others that are only in their early stages yet. Add these to the new Council and Assembly offices and, if all these come to fruition, in a few years time Aberystwyth could look very different.

Why is this, when we are hearing about economic gloom everywhere else? Part of the answer lies in the last of the developments mentioned - the Assembly building. Looking around Wales, most towns the size of Aberystwyth have, in turn, received substantial development funding from the National Assembly in the last decade. Aberystwyth has been an exception to this. The Assembly's 'Wales Spatial Plan', a study aiming to develop a coherent strategy for the development of Wales as a nation, identifies Aberystwyth as 'a town of national significance' by virtue of its position exactly halfway down the coast in the relatively under-developed middle of the country.

I'm told by local economists that the decision to decentralise the Assembly's agriculture department from Cardiff to Aberystwyth was the first part of a process that will increasingly see government money being used to develop services or to augment private capital investment here. The Assembly-funded Aberystwyth Masterplan is the hoped-for framework for this.

As someone who regularly supports residents in opposing unwanted developments, I know how much people value the green areas around the town and I won't hesitate to speak out against proposals that don't look likely to contribute to our social or environmental well-being. But the broad aim of creating a more unified, decentralised Wales by developing a town large enough to pull north and south together is an exciting one if done in the right way. How, rather than if, it happens will be all-important.