Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Aberystwyth posed to become another identikit chain-store town

CIN had posted about the opportunity to object to the ruinous Mill Street developments. Here's a guest post we were asked to put up.

It was with disappointment, but not surprise, that I heard that the Tesco planning permission had been approved.

According to the BBC news story, "After the decision, council leader Ellen ap Gwynn said: 'Now that the statutory process has been completed, work on the Mill Street development can begin in earnest.'" I remember going to the packed Morlan Centre debate about this proposal and I can recall hearing various Plaid Cymru councillors speak against this proposal. What’s changed? They’re now in power.

But I don’t want to turn this into a political point, because I think whoever was in power would have voted this through – it’s their ‘big idea’ so they’re bound to support it. The plans were approved by Ceredigion's development control (aka planning) committee on 13th November 2013 by 19 votes to one. The only person sensible and brave enough to object was Mark Strong, saying he didn’t want to face independent shopkeepers struggling and telling him he’d “made a mistake” in three years’ time (reference). Well done Mark! (The list of who is on the committee can be found here, and if you don’t know who all those surnames are, their full  names and council elected areas are here - everyone except for Mark voted for the development).

But what’s the relevance of the Tesco/Marks & Spencer development, with 500+ parking spaces to the CIN blog? Well, if the shops are to be successful there’ll be increased traffic and thus air pollution and environmental damage from increased petrol use; potential loss of biodiversity through loss of trees, a waste of resources through knocking down 12 houses plus 3 large buildings, then building a massive 3-storey building; and flooding risk.

There’s also the social and community aspect – loss of people’s homes including through the divisive CPOs (compulsory purchase orders), and potential negative effect on the many independent shops in Aberystwyth who sell things that Tesco and Marks & Spencer will sell.

Apparently there were 71 objections to the project. I wondered how much attention was given to the objections. Was there proper consideration of their points or does the Council just ignore them and do what it wants? For each of those 71 objectors, who took time and effort to make their points known, I bet there were probably at least another 10, or 50, who objected but didn’t feel able to go through the convoluted process.

The document says "All the issues raised by the objectors have been fully assessed and taken into account by the LPA in the determination of this planning application."

If you’re interested, the papers from the Development Control Committee can be found on the Council's website here.

Part C – Main reports – is the document with the Mill Street application in. There are 40+ pages of consideration of various matters. Some of the points I thought might interest your readers are:
  • Transport - No provision for additional cycle paths or cycle access mentioned, yet I thought the new Active Travel Bill Wales from the Welsh Government makes it a duty on councils to include more active forms of transportation into their planning? Sustrans submitted an objection “as the development will generate 20% more car based trips within a town centre environment and takes little account of non-motorised user design in the provision of suitable facilities for pedestrians and cyclists.” An excellent point. Yet later in the report it says: The TA [traffic assessment] concludes that the proposed development will not have any significant traffic impact in Aberystwyth.” Really? Surely if the development is to be as brilliant as they all say it will be, drawing people from all over to come to Aber for the wonderful new shopping facilities, then those people have to travel here somehow, and as something like only 2% of all journeys in the UK are made by bike, and an equally small % by bus (if we have any buses left in the country by 2016), then most of those new shoppers will be in cars… and those cars will be polluting the environment and not encouraging people to be active in their travel. But hey ho, the council thinks there’ll be no traffic impact.
  • Biodiversity - The scheme as currently designed would replace 29 trees and other plants with benches. “A landscaping scheme is proposed replacing trees and vegetation which are scheduled to be removed with key areas of landscaping and open space (including seating and benches).” However, if you read on in the document, the good work of GAG (Greening Aberystwyth Group) and Natural Resources Wales and the Coed Aber Project for the treelined avenue into town, and strong representation from Aber Town Council had managed turn around a loss of 29 trees to something more positive and the developer will plant up to 64 trees and shrubs, which is excellent news. And the species will be a better choice. “Negotiations have been undertaken in order to reach agreement over an acceptable level of replanting within the scheme. The plans now include additional tree planting (total of 64 no. proposed trees within the site, including espalier) including a revised approach to species which is as a direct result of discussions with the Council’s ecologist." This is really good news, well done those involved.
  • Energy – Aber Town Council also made the good point about expecting solar PV units to be installed on the buldings, and also a request for electrical charging points for vehicles. I bet neither of those will be implemented.
  • Environmental Impact Assessment – there either wasn’t one, or there isn’t going to be one. Why not? “As part of the proposal the LPA advised that the development did not require the undertaking and the submission of an Environmental Statement in accordance with the provisions of the Town and Country Planning (Environmental Impact Assessment) (England and Wales) Regulations 1999.” Nope, I don’t know what that means either. But, someone has decided that building a 3-storey multi-part building, with 8 residential flats, and 550+ parking spaces, requiring the demolition of 12 houses and at least 3 other buildings and 29 trees, doesn’t have any impact on the environment.
The report goes on into detailed consideration of impact issues such as retail, housing, traffic, flooding, biodiversity, design, landscape, environmental health, heritage, employment etc. If you’re going to read it I suggest having some calming activity lined up for when you’ve finished.

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