Why at a time when town centres across the country are struggling to survive would anyone think that what we need in RCT is a new town centre? Traders are battling against business rates that are too high, increasing car parking charges, and the convenience and extra trading hours offered by out of town retail centres. So what does the Labour Council do? They allocate land in the local development plan for a new town centre.
The planning officer recommended approval of the plans despite the Council having commissioned a report by Nathaniel Lichfield and Partners which clearly states that the new town centre will take business away from existing retail areas such as Pontypridd, Talbot Green, Tonypandy and Porth. These are areas which are already experiencing a significant amount of hardship.
Despite objections from traders across the county and beyond, and very real concerns about the level of traffic in the area, they go ahead and grant planning permission for a substantial retail project along with restaurants, a cinema and housing. This will not be a town centre in any sense of the word. It will be a walled out of town shopping area with added housing. It will take trade away from existing towns - as is recognised by the report the Council itself commissioned.
The building of a new town centre, as it has been constantly referred to, would seem to be in direct contradiction to the Council's own stated intent to protect and regenerate town centres. Millions of pounds have been spent on regeneration in towns across RCT, yet fancy pavements and a new streetscape are nothing if there are insufficient shops to bring in people and drive the local economy.
Then their pals down in Cardiff Bay take a quick look and decide not to bother calling it in, to let the Council go ahead and do what they want. This despite the fact that it would appear to be in contravention of any number of their own policies. For example:
Planning Policy Wales. Edition 5 November 2012. Chapter 10, Planning for retailing & Town Centres.
10.1.1 The Welsh Government's objectives for retailing and town centres are to:
for retailing, leisure and other complimentary functions.
Enhance the vitality, attractiveness and viability of town, district, local and village centres.
10.2.1 Local panning authorities should….set out a framework for the future of town, district, local and village centres in their area which promotes a successful retailing sector supporting existing communities and centres.
10.2.2 New regional shopping centres, with more than 50,000 square metres of gross floorspace, can have a substantial impact over a wide area and severely harm the nearest major centres. Although there may be circumstances in which a new regional shopping centre could fulfil an important retail need, full account needs to be taken of all likely impacts and it is unlikely that opportunities exist for such a centre in Wales at present.
As usual it seems that the Labour party say one thing but do something totally different. Rules and guidelines - even their own - just don't matter.
Cllr Mike Powell