Friday, 17 February 2012

Over to you

Some people may be aware of some of the regeneration plans that are proposed, or taking place, in Aberystwyth. According to one of their leaflets, Aberystwyth is one of seven areas which has been identified by the Welsh Government as a key regeneration area and £10.3 MILLION has been awarded to Aberystwyth "to help rejuvenate the town." You can find out more here.

Some of these schemes have already started, including a sports and game zone in Penparcau, an unnecessary road from the National Library of Wales onto the Aberystwyth University campus (couldn't the buses just use Penglais Hill like other vehicles?), the Halfords cycling event which took place in town in summer 2011 (and will take place again in 2012, hopefully in less windy conditions for the cyclists!), a photography festival, and the 'transport gateway', which is the main subject of this blog post. These things are all happening, or have happened, so there doesn't appear to be much chance to have your say on them.

They also appear to be planning the seafront and promenade changes, changes to the town clock square, new entrance to the train station (cost estimated to be £3 million), and proposals to turn the current/old town library building into a youth facility. As far as we're aware, the only proposal that's had any public consultation is the promenade. So, who is making these proposals to spend this public money? The Aberystwyth Regeneration Area Partnership Board is made up of 12 people. One person pointed out that they are all men. None of the 12 represent the residents, or Aberystwyth town council. The minutes of their meetings are available here and you can see the list of the board members and all the plans, leaflets etc from the Aberystwyth page.

We have had our own rants recently about Ceredigion County Council's lack of consultation and their desire to encourage extra supermarkets into the area. We get a lot of emails from people and these kind of topics have come up a fair bit recently. As such we are going to hand part of this post over to some of the comments we have received. Many people feel that their voice is being ignored: at least this way you can have your say. Keep them coming in, we'll add any others to the end. We don't have answers to some of the questions, best to contact the council. Over to you!

[Note - since we drafted this we received an update on the tree replacements from Alun Williams - see the comment here. The comments below were sent to us before that, so some may be partially appeased now?]

Transport Gateway (Aberystwyth bus station, and buses/transport in general)
"Why can't they make the make sure there's evening buses which leave after the trains arrive instead of changing the roads around?"
"I'd rather have more buses and trains than a tarted up bus shelter and turning area for the buses."
"They also seem to have a half hearted thought that buses and 'sustainable transport' are great - which they are at a time when the bus services are deteriorating rapidly and fast becoming too expensive to use. My car is dead and yesterday it cost my family just under £17 to access aber for the day by bus. Tickets as of 6 feb are also no longer transferable between Arriva and richards bros so that to access a full range of bus services at the widest spread of times possible would mean spending £32 a week on two weekly bus tickets; and even then the range of services is much reduced from what it has been previously."
"Ceredigion - people come here for greenery, a natural place, Cardigan Bay. You don't want their first views as they get off the bus to be a dead concrete environment. That area they lopped off the end of Plas Crug a few years ago for the useless roundabout was another nice area lost too."
"Are there any improvements for people with bikes who want to use the trains and buses?"
"I'm for better access for buses and trains, but don't know why they always have to grub up the few plants that attract bees and birds. Especially the end of Plasgrug Avenue. They'd only just planted that after they dug up the original end with loss of trees and plants."
"Will there be better waiting areas for people for when it's wet and cold? Or toilets? The County Council, in their wisdom, shut the toilets in Plascrug years ago. The train station ones are usually closed and it is quite a trek to the others - no good if you are a stranger to the town and don't know your way around."
"I am appalled at how Aberystwyth town now looks (near the park). All the flowers and bushes have gone, we should be keeping ALL green areas AND making new ones, not destroying what we already have. I have been informed that the scheme costs 2.5 million which in my opinion would be much better spent on employing more people to pick up litter to keep the streets and surrounding areas tidy."

 What Aberystwyth bus station used to look like before the County Council 
dug up all the bushes (looking East) - nice and green!

"When I saw what they had done at Aberystwyth bus stops it was a shock, all the bushes gone. It breaks my heart. I get the bus from there almost every day - no-one consulted me. What advantage does getting rid of the bushes bring? How is it an improvement? I think it constitutes vandalism on the County Council's part. I want to have bushes, trees and flowers to brighten my morning, proper ones planted in the earth, not a few pots. All my journeys will now start and end with more drabness than they used to have. It's bad enough having grey-sky weather, and having to get up early. There were always birds in those bushes, it was nice to see them, the kind of thing that adds to your day."

What it looks like now (looking North 1)

What it looks like now (looking North 2)

"I went to that second public meeting you mentioned [here - Ed]. It seemed like even the councillors couldn't agree on what had happened when, who had been consulted when and so on, leaving the audience as confused as councillors. It's not just councillors though - bear in mind that the council is full of other, non-elected staff, off doing work, making proposals, avoiding consulting with the public. Who decided to redesign the bus area? The fact that it isn't clear who makes these decisions is part of the problem."

Coverage from the Cambrian News,
Thursday 9th February 2012, page 1

 Coverage from the Cambrian News,
Thursday 9th February 2012, page 3

"I read the bit of information on CCC's website about the plans for Aber bus depot . The scheme costs millions of pounds and is supposed to improve the area. Someone told me £500,000 of that comes from a regeneration pot of money. These are huge figures we are talking about, significant parts of our taxes. Yet looking at these plans was rather depressing due to the pointless nature of them. It is good that some trees will be added but they mention 'tree pits' i.e. just a tree growing out of a gap in the concrete with no other greenery around it? No bushes or cover for birds when they are on the ground. If it is anything like the Council have done elsewhere in Aberystwyth, they'll even cover up the bits of soil with rubber, as if they can't stand to have anything natural-looking. Don't get me wrong, a tree is a hundred times better than just concrete. But still, the changes seem ornamental rather than natural. I'd like bushes around the trees, ground cover, have some plants and flowers amongst that, for the benefit to wildlife and to truly green the place. If there had been an equivalent sized area of bushes, flowers and trees planted (in soil, in the earth, not in 'planters') then I wouldn't have minded, but as things stand it is a missed opportunity. Even the 'new road' just seems like a stupid idea - an extra road for pedestrians to cross, slowing down the walk through to the centre of town."

This is where the 'new road' referred to above will go, according to CCC plans.
Why spend money on making this a road? Who knows?

"The loss of the bush areas is a real shame. I find it hard to believe that so much money is being spent on something that seems to offer no advantages."
"I don't remember seeing a planning notice for any of this work - at what point were the people of the town consulted? At what point could they lodge objections? Probably it is like the Local and Unitary Development Plans, no matter how much you object the Council goes ahead and allows developments to take place anyway, even before the plans are ever finished."
"Was this proposal voted for by the Council? If so, which councillors voted FOR the new layout, and which against? Local democracy only works if you can find out which councillors act according to your views. If it was not voted for by councillors then which staff and departments made this decision, and who was the person who gave the ultimate go-ahead for the work?"

The area at the end of Plas Crug, referred to below.

"Good luck getting an answer out of Ceredigion County Council. I never have. They seem to ignore emails most of the time. Especially the Highways, Properties and Works dept. Just to let you know, the flowers and green area by the roundabout at the end of Plas Crug has been dug up too. I asked what was going on as a matter of urgency - guess what, no reply even a week later."

From CIN's point of view it looks like things could have gone much better if the Council had:
  • consulted with the town and the bus stop users first to find out what they wanted, and to discuss plans with them;
  • made sure they were really spending money on projects with tangible benefits, not just changing the angle at which buses can park;
  • had clear communication that what was lost in terms of bushes and trees would be compensated for and expanded;
  • actually make sure that the final square footage of greenery was greater than existed before, and an improvement. This could have been done by making sure each of the new trees had an area of a few feet around them for bushes and other plants beneficial to wildlife.
If that had been the case then they wouldn't have created such ill-feeling and anger, we suspect.

Planning and over-development, supermarkets etc.
"I was at that meeting in Morlan, about Mill Street stuff and supermarkets. [Here - Ed]. Councillors didn't organise that meeting (or the previous one, I don't think any elected officials went to either). One councillor stood up and said he didn't see the supermarkets as a bigger threat than other shops, and shop keepers should diversify to survive. Turns out he owns a shop selling 'ornaments', tourist-type stuff, which isn't in competition with supermarkets. If he was a baker, or greengrocer, or any other shop that supermarkets undercut - it would be a different story then. As Mill Street/Day Care Centre controversy shows, trust in councils is at an all-time low."
"Does anyone know what is going on in the upper parts of penglais woods (the non nature reserve part?)??! Aside from utter distruction and road building - why, who, how???!!! It's horrible. Someone said planning called it a 'forestry track', bloody mess, and it doesn't exactly lead to the pine trees at the back, so are they going to forest away all those lovely big oaks? grrrr"
"Fundamental question: what can you do if you don't agree with the council? When you see they have allowed someone to build on the greenfield site you often walk past? Well, you can't. If you didn't see the little yellow notice (which isn't always there anyway) then tough. You can't have a say. You can't register a view that you are sick of over-development. I walk my dog in Penglais woods and see a huge mess of construction going on, like they're building a road. The council ignore you, you have to put up with it. Who are they meant to serve? Us, or the people wanting to build everywhere?"
"They're making a mess in Penglais Woods. Probably linked to the horrible new Padarn surgery and Aber University childcare centre - for parking - mostly fields but it the hedgerows and trees in these around the edges. there was also some talk of a park and ride for univ and bronglais staff at the top somewhere. It's horrendous."
"I wish when new things were built the council would make sure that there had to be some trees, bushes or flowers added. I noticed that they allowed some more flats to go up at the end of Llanbadarn Road near the Cwps, on the site of the historic Urdd headquarters. It's all just tarmac, the council could have refused planning permission unless there was some replanting. There was plenty of room for it. All these missed opportunities!"
"I don't trust the council.When they were doing the recent extension to Plascrug Community Primary School parts of Plascrug were blocked off, and other grass parts were covered over. I asked Ceredigion County Council about this and they assured me that 'everythign would be restored to how it was'. That was BS. Ive attached some pics that show where they added 'temporary' new paths and also widened others. They've just left it as it is, not restored it to how it was. It won't be much of a park if they keep replacing the grass with concrete."

One of the photos we were sent - three new
large paths cutting across the grass

The other photo - shows where the path has been 
extended into the grassy areas (on both sides)

"I've been trying to get local trees protected for years. The county council don't even reply any more, and never did protect those trees. Yet see how easy it was for certain well-known land owners to get planning permission to build in woods near my family? The priorities are all wrong."
Many letters in last week's Cambrian News (see below) show the strength of feeling against over-development and further supermarkets.

Cambrian News letters' page,
Thursday 9th February 2012, page23

Cambrian News letters' page, Thursday 9th February 2012, page23

While we are on the topic of supermarkets, one reader sent this clipping to us, 
showing what happens when too many supermarkets are allowed in an area.

We based this post on comments sent in to us. However it is always nice to counteract negativity where possible. Therefore praise where it is due - the following piece was sent in to us, showing that Aberystwyth Town Councillors did the right thing in rejecting planning applications that would increase over-development in the town. Full praise should go to Mark Strong, Aled Davies, Chris Simpson, and Sue Jones-Davies for listening to people and defending that which is good in their area. We'll definitely try and put some good news into our next blog post - if you have any, send it in!

Cambrian News, Thursday 9th February 2012, page3

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