Thursday 21 August 2014

Newcastle Emlyn Supermarket Sweep - an update

The saga of plans to turn Newcastle Emlyn (population around 1,500) into the supermarket capital of Wales has taken another turn.

Amended plans for an Aldi supermarket opposite the existing CK's supermarket were approved at a meeting of the county council's planning committee last week, along with revised plans for a much larger store on the Cawdor Cars site.

Apart from a handful of supporters of the rival Cawdor development, which we will come to in a minute, there was very little opposition to the Aldi scheme, and the general consensus seems to be that it will be good for the town. Not least, perhaps, because if you go to the nearest Aldi in Cardigan, you now usually have to queue to get in.

Far more controversial were the plans for a much larger supermarket on a site currently occupied by the Cawdor car showroom and a car park owned by the county council.

Observant readers may have clocked at this point that there is a huge and glaring conflict of interest built in to this planning application, with the council standing to be a major beneficiary in any deal which comes out of it.

Meanwhile, it is still not known who if anyone is interested in taking on this site which will be hugely expensive to develop.

The application was first approved by the Planning Committee way back in 2011 and has since sat languishing on the backburner because the owner of most of the site was unable to sign a Section 106 agreement that would have involved improving the route leading through into the main part of town.

The original application and the planning officers went to very considerable lengths to emphasise the importance of this link and the benefits it would bring. Reading the planning officers' earlier reports, it was one of the main selling points for the development.

The problem was that the owners of the land across which the access route was supposed to go had no wish to see it developed, and matters reached an impasse.

Now two remarkable things have happened.

First someone has turned up a covenant entered into by the former Carmarthen District Council when it bought the land on which the car park stands. Remarkable because the Cawdor dispute has been rumbling on for the best part of five years and the covenant had never previously come to light.

The upshot of this is that the County Council says it has the right to allow people using its car park to cross the disputed land into the main part of the town. That is not a public right of way, but the next best thing.

The council has its own Rights of Way Section which was tasked with finding out about whether or not there was an existing right of way, but for reasons which are not clear, the Planning Department decided it couldn't wait to find out what their researches threw up and brought determination of the application forward, noting that whatever the Rights of Way Section found would now be academic.

Secondly, the much vaunted access route from the Cawdor site through to the town - previously such an important feature of the development - is no longer in the plans. It is like the famous Norwegian Blue parrot - an ex-access route, defunct, obsolete and gone to planning heaven. It is not even nailed to its perch any more.

The owner of the Cawdor site has made a number of attempts to buy his way out of the Section 106 agreement in recent months, beginning with an opening offer of £10,000. That was subsequently upped to £15,000, and has now jumped to £38,000.

It is now also unclear what this money is for because the Section 106 agreement seems to have bitten the dust, and town will not see a penny of it, whatever happens.

The planning officer's report states that it is not the council's policy to ask for financial contributions from retail developments - a statement which must leave some other retail developers gasping in disbelief and wondering why they were obliged to enter into S106 agreements.

In fact the tone of the report which went before councillors is frankly amazing. In places it is almost chatty, and at one point it speculates on the motives of the owners of the piece of land where the new improved access route was supposed to go.

Not to put too fine a point on it, the report could not be more favourable to the would-be developer if he had written it himself.

Amid swirling rumours of funny handshakes and certain officers being "leaned on" to come up with the right answers, it is unlikely that we have heard the last of this saga yet.


m1books said...

Thank you Cneifiwr for an enlightening update on this controversial scheme. Yet another 'eccentric' planning application brought forward to the lazy, hazy days of August. The prices in other food retailers and the recent demise of the Spar store will benefit the Aldi development but as you note there will most likely be a few more twists and turns to the Cawdor site 'saga'. A new series in the Autumn no doubt...

Redhead said...

We had a similar situation where we live. The council owned a patch of land which meant if people could cross it to the supermarket the supermarket could say it was "in the town centre" and not outside it, because the alternative route was very, very much longer.

The supermarket paid our council a whacking £2 million for the right of way "in perpetuity".

We also had S106s but none of them ever came to anything at all - including affordable housing on the supermarket site which the (very, very, very big) supermarket said it couldn't afford to build so they were struck out.

Anonymous said...

What funny handshakes?

Anonymous said...

One of the contentious issues when the Cawdor supermarket planning application was first made was the ability of Sycamore Street/Bridge Street to cope with the increase in traffic from Ceredigion in the north to the new facilities. The stretch from the narrow bridge to Emlyn Square is already blighted by delivery lorries and illegal parking, sometimes bringing movement to a full stop.

As if designed to demonstrate the disjointed nature of local government (national is no better by the way), Carmarthenshire CC now intends to "calm" the traffic going along this very stretch of road using a speed bump and road narrowing (ie pavement widening) in several places. Calming I believe means slowing and slowing can lead to bottle necking. Whatever traffic problems are endured currently, they will be as nothing compare to what the Council are planning for us.

Will this aspect of the application be re-assessed in the light of these road plans? I'm sure it will be, just as I'm convinced that fishes live in trees and eat pencils....

Redhead said...

Reason given for a supermarket in notorious traffic blackspot near me by deceloper: it's sustainable because it can't make it any worse! Honestly.

Anonymous said...

"Reason given for a supermarket in notorious traffic blackspot near me by developer: it's sustainable because it can't make it any worse! Honestly."

Isn't that the same reasoning behind Bair and Bush's invasion of Iraq? Discuss....