Saturday, 17 November 2012

Horrible Histories

Rumblings of discontent over Carmarthenshire County Council's latest flagship development, the East Gate centre in Llanelli, continue to grow.

Just like the large new housing development proposed for Stradey Park, East Gate has been built on land at risk from flooding. The owner of a small business on the edge of the flood plain was told by an officer from the Environment Agency not long ago that if his shop flooded, the hotel which forms part of East Gate would be under 10 feet of water.

Perhaps the Odeon cinema may have to hand out snorkels and flippers along with 3D glasses next time we get heavy rain.

The latest snag in the master plan is the sudden realisation by the council that East Gate does not have enough car parking spaces. A minor oversight, no doubt, but one which you might have thought would have been spotted at the planning stage.

The new car park has spaces for 254 cars or thereabouts, which should be easily enough to cope with demand from the cinema (426 seats), but may well struggle to cope with demand from visitors going to the new theatre nearby (550 seats).

The council is desperately keen to attract major events to the new theatre, and one of the first will be the Horrible Histories tour in February.

So serious are concerns that visitors to East Gate will struggle to find anywhere to park that the Chief Executive attended a meeting in person with various interested parties to present proposals for opening up access to the multi-storey car park which sits on top of the town's market hall. The market is locked up and shuttered at 6 p.m., and anyone wishing to use the multi-story faces a fairly unpleasant trek through parts of the run-down town centre and its slightly scary flora and fauna.

If you very unlucky, you may even run into Labour councillor Keri Thomas on the look out for Polish alcoholics.

Apparently, the meeting did not go at all well, with one "stakeholder" having travelled a very long distance merely for the pleasure of shouting "f*** off" at our cherished council boss before storming out.

The multi-story car park the council is now so keen to press into use is about half-way between the new Odeon cinema and theatre, and the neglected and now closed art deco Theatre Elli. Lack of parking was one of the reasons the council gave for the decision to build a new theatre and cinema instead of renovating the existing building.

Theatre Elli is something of a thorn in the council's side ever since the busy bodies at Cadw decided to give it listed status a couple of years ago. Unfortunately the listing scuppered the council's plans to have the building demolished and the site sold off for development.

The council's solution to this headache seems to be a policy of active neglect. Nothing has been spent on maintenance, while millions have been lavished on the unimaginative new concrete and glass structures not far away in East Gate. When a tile fell off Elli's facade last year, the council erected scaffolding to "evaluate" the situation. More than a year later, the evaluation is still underway, and Theatre Elli has been made to look even more like an unattractive dump.

Before the scaffolding

Whether locals will be able to afford to go the new theatre in East Gate is another matter. Indications are that prices will be significantly higher than they were at Theatre Elli, to which the council will no doubt respond that its aim was to bring in big spending visitors from "away" rather than cater for Polish winos and the other rabble which infests the town (pace Keri Thomas and Meryl Gravell).

The naming of the new theatre also had the locals muttering angrily into their beer (or possibly Vodka Redbull).

In a mistaken exercise in popular democracy, the county council invited votes on suggested names. The runaway winner was "The Stepney Centre", with twice as many votes as "Y Ffwrnes".

Needless to say, the council announced that "Y Ffwrnes" had won. When challenged with the figures, the council replied that it was not a vote, merely a "consultation". And we all know about Carmarthenshire consultations, don't we boys and girls?

Apart from the theatre, cinema and the offices which we, the taxpayers, will now be renting while the council shuts down office buildings we do own, the rest of the East Gate centre will be given over to restaurants, cafes and retail outlets. Just like the St Catherine's centre in Carmarthen, all the signs are that only "prestigious" national chains need apply (including some of those multinationals which have found ways of not paying tax in the UK).

Whatever footfall there is in East Gate will stay in East Gate, and with any luck the town centre will soon be devoid of any vestiges of life whatsoever.


Anonymous said...

The new hotel will also benefit from the car park being short stay only. The 54 bedroom hotel will be the only hotel in the area which does not have a car park. No problem as the visitors can use the multistorey. However, most of the exits lead directly into the Elli Precinct and the market, both closed at 6.00pm. Other exits via stairs and lifts end up in back alleys you would not wish to pull a suitcase through. All very well having the 2 years free rent for the hotel but who will come back after the first time?

Anonymous said...

It's worth bearing in mind that Carmarthenshire CC is a listing body (in more ways than one) itself, and has the power to over-ride CADW. It did this when incorporating Zion chapel, Llanelli (listed Grade 2) into the new theatre 'complex'.