Monday 28 April 2014

Planning: Special Offer

Last week's Tivyside Advertiser carries a rather misleading report (not available online) on a supermarket planning application in Newcastle Emlyn. In fairness the council's own report on the plan is less than clear about what is being proposed.

For those who do not know the town, Newcastle Emlyn has a population of about 1,500 (including Adpar across the river in Ceredigion). It is well served by its retailers, including a supermarket (CK's), a Co-op, a Spar, a butcher, a baker, a delicatessen and a great little shop specialising in mainly locally produced foods.

In recent years the town has also developed into something of a centre for the antiques trade, and jostling alongside all of this is an electrical goods specialist, several gift shops, cafes, two women's fashion shops, banks, a newsagent and several hairdressers. There is also a popular weekly fruit and veg market.

The town has weathered the recession well, and there are currently only a couple of empty premises. Local retailers will tell you that things have been very tough, but they have survived. Together they employ a couple of hundred people, and the bulk of the money generated stays in the town and the surrounding area because unusually nearly all of the shops are locally owned.

Carmarthenshire County Council's contribution to the town's economic welfare has been to steadily ramp up car parking charges (one hour will now cost you 70p), close the public toilets in the main car park and approve planning applications for two new supermarkets, including one which would have as much floorspace as all the other shops combined.

The two supermarket planning applications went in in rapid succession a few years back, and both were approved in 2011.

The first was for a Lidl store opposite the existing CK's supermarket. The consensus locally was that it would be largely a positive development, complementing existing businesses and offering more choice at competitive prices. Very few objections were received by the planning department, and most of those that were came from representatives of the rival proposed development up the road.

Lidl and the site owners were made to jump through a series of hoops by planning officers, who insisted on exhaustive traffic monitoring on the road outside.

The plan was eventually passed, and Lidl pulled out because it was not happy with some of the conditions imposed. Time passed until Aldi recently announced its intention of taking on the site, subject to some modifications of the planning consent.

The second much larger store is earmarked for a site currently occupied by a car showroom (Cawdor Cars) and one of the county council's car parks. It is not known which of the supermarket groups would operate it.

This was the subject of a fierce battle, and hundreds of objections were lodged. It was also strongly opposed by the Town Council. Despite being very close to a busy road junction, the planners were satisfied with a very perfunctory traffic assessment which contained several serious flaws.

Eventually the second application was also passed, albeit by the narrowest of margins, in September 2011.

Nothing has happened on either of the sites since, and it became apparent last year that although the Cawdor application had been passed, the site owner had failed to enter into a Section 106 agreement which was a condition of planning.

Without a S106, the site does not have formal planning consent, and subsequent enquiries with the Welsh Government showed that while this is within the law, it is extremely unusual for a planning authority to allow a S106 to go unsigned for so long. Applicants are normally given two or three months to sign, and if they don't, planning lapses.

The problem the developer faces is that the S106 agreement provides for a walkway from the site of the proposed supermarket through to the main street, but he does not own the land in question and has apparently not been able to come to an agreement with the owners.

To try to overcome this obstacle the developer has tried to have the strip of land declared a public right of way. This can be a very long-winded process and could take many years, particularly if anyone lodges an objection.

The latest ruse is to try to bypass the S106 log jam with a unilateral offer to pay in £10,000 to the council in return for removal of the S106 requirement, although this is not exactly made clear in the planning officer's report which was due to go before councillors last week.

At the last minute it was agreed that a decision to rubberstamp the application and pave the way for final consent on the cheap would be deferred while planning officers give the matter further consideration.

Whatever happens it seems highly unlikely that the improvement works to the walkway will be carried out any time soon, and for those familiar with the site it is obvious that £10,000 is nowhere near enough to pay for the work. The mystery also remains over whether any supermarket group is actually interested in taking on the site.

The rush to push the plan through looks like an abuse of the planning process to the detriment of the town.

Completely irrelevant to this saga is the fact that the council would apparently quite like to flog off the public car park which the developer argued in 2011 was in imminent danger of sliding down into the river. It is therefore good to report that the car park is still there and open for business.


Anonymous said...

I went to NCE three weeks ago and could hardly believe I was in Wales. I didn't hear a Welsh accent, let alone the Welsh language. What has happened?

Anonymous said...

## Same here i was told the English snapped up all the houses following a tweet, that an European Language Directive might prevent them getting the 2 for 1 offer (only offered in England ) ##

m1books said...

Anon 09.19 Oh dear me! You obviously did not visit on a Tuesday or a Thursday (Mart Days) or go into any of the banks, or the Art Shop, Iago gift shop, EdedaJ, the Library, the Farmers Cooperative Store etc etc. We are a happily bilingual town with a thriving streamed welsh/english primary school and a bilingual secondary school. Do come and visit again - try the Food Festival in June or the Tivyside Show later in the year and listen!

Anonymous said...

It's not quite right to say that if a S106 agreement isn't signed within a few months, the permission lapses. There never was a permission - only a resolution to approve, subject to the agreement being entered into. It's not uncommmon for such agreements to take some time to complete. The more time that passes, the less reliance that can be placed on the resolution, as circumstances may change in the meantime, and a new report will have to go back to the Committee. Most authorities place some sort of time limit on the signing of agreements, as no-one wants an undetermined planning application on their books, and many are eventually refused for want of a required agreement. How long the Council is prepared to wait will often depend on how much they want the development to proceed.

Cneifiwr said...

Thank you for clarifying this Anon @14.08. What seems to be the case here is that planning officers were prepared to waive the S106 agreement for a token payment. If the S106 agreement could not be implemented, I cannot understand the logic of accepting a payment to be used to carry out the same work.

Redhead said...

S106 agreements are not worth the paper they are written on. They start off as a sop to the community to encourage them to kerp quiet thinking they are getting something. Once approved the developer quicklybasks for (and most often gets) cancellation (called a discharge). If S106s are not fulfilled a council then has to take the developer to court. The council is allowed to use cost or "disproportionate" expense as a reason not to prosecute.

After (I think) 5 years if a S106 clause is not fulfilled it lapses and can never be revived.

A scenario that could have been written with CCC in mind!

The new Community Infrastructure Levy (a fixed cost of so much per sq m of development on an area by area category by category basis) is harder to avoid BUT it can be spent in any part of the whole district, not necessarily in the area of the development (as S106 must be). So in the case of CCC their levy income might, for example, all be spent on a 3 lane highway to Parc y Scarlet!

Cneifiwr said...

As you probably know, Redhead, CCC has already been there and got the medal. The S106 monies for Stradey Park were spent on the other side of town at Parc y Scarlets.

Anonymous said...

Anon 1: Whenever I visit the town I hear very few Welsh accents and barely any Welsh being spoken. Statistics tell us that there are plenty of Welsh speakers there, but the character of the High Street is by now particularly anglicised.

Anonymous said...

Not sure you can do that .... not that it would worry CCC. In my own area, money has to be spent within 600m of the development and they employ an officer just to draw 600m circles which then show you have nowhere to go .....

Anonymous said...

One of the objections to the original supermarket planning application was the increased flow of traffic along the main street (Sycamore Street) and down Bridge Street to the Narrow Teifi Bridge. Traffic jams are already a feature at peak times or when any vehicle is legally or illegally parked.

Apparently a plan is afoot to make Sycamore street a one way traffic light controlled system adjacent to the post office, which currently has a dangerously narrow pavement which must be widened before someone falls under a lorry (buses are too infrequent). Personally I would be favour knocking the front of the Post Office down to gain space, but that's more to do with my indignation at being asked "what's in this parcel" every time I visit, than architectural or vehicular considerations.*

In effect the traffic lights plan would create permanent formal jams of queing traffic, with static cars pumping out fumes into the shops.

The viability of the original supermarket plan was based on dubious traffic surveys at best, but If this barmy road "improvement" goes ahead, the surveys will no longer describe any reality and will need to be re-done. They would be the final nail in the coffin of "Kev's Folly".


* My more considered solution is to build a bypass on the Cardigan (west) of the town.