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Application for a food store, car parking and fuel filling station at Robertstown Industrial Estate, Aberdare

The Minister for Natural Resources has accepted the Inspector’s recommendation that planning permission be granted subject to conditions for the proposed development.

Date of decision:

26 March 2015

Statement of information:

Background to the application1. The Welsh Ministers have the power under section 77(1) of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 (“the 1990 Act”) to give directions requiring applications for planning permission, or applications for approval of any local planning authority required under a development order, to be referred to them instead of being dealt with by local planning authorities.

2. The application was called in, under section 77 of the 1990 Act, on 20 February 2014 for decision by the Welsh Ministers.  

3. The application is made by Aberdare Developments Limited and AACG Limited (“the Applicants”) to Rhondda Cynon Taf County Borough Council (CBC) (“the Council”).  The application (application ref: 12/0637/13 dated 11 June 2012) seeks outline planning permission. On 12 November 2013 a “holding direction” was issued by the Welsh Ministers under Article 18 of the above Order which restricts the granting of planning permission by the Council.

4. In the letter of 20 February 2014, ‘calling-in’ the application under section 77 of the 1990 Act, the reason given for making the direction was that the application raises planning issues which appear to conflict with national planning policies relating to development and flooding and that it raises issues of more than local importance.

5. On the information available at the time of making the direction, the following were the matters on which the Welsh Ministers particularly wished to be informed for the purpose of their consideration of the application:

• The relevant national policies relating to retail development as set out in Planning Policy Wales and, in particular, in respect of development and flood risk.• The development plan for the local planning authority’s area.

6. The application was the subject of a hearing held by an independent Planning Inspector and a site visit was made on 19 November 2014.  The Inspector submitted his report of the hearing to the Welsh Ministers on 7 January 2015.

The Proposal

7. The application seeks outline planning permission for the development of a 5419m2 gross floorspace/3422m2 net sales area A1 retail food store, associated car parking (some 325 spaces) and fuel filling station with details of appearance, layout, scale and landscaping all reserved for later consideration. Access is for consideration at this time. Although an outline application, the illustrative drawings submitted in support of the proposal show the store building to be elevated on stilts, with about half of the parking accommodated underneath the store. The existing A1 retail furniture outlet (2695m2 gross floorspace) would be demolished to make way for the new store.

8. Whilst the overall application site area totals 4.36ha in area, the proposed foodstore, filling station and vehicular areas would occupy a development plateau of about 1.58ha, approximately 36% of the total site area. The remainder is shown on the illustrative drawings as riverside park public open space. The land comprising the development plateau would be raised, thus lifting it clear of the extreme flood level; ground levels within the proposed open space area closer to the river would be reduced by an equivalent amount, so that there would be no net loss of flood storage and so that flood flow volumes into and out of the site would not alter. A new floodwater conveyance ditch with a 150mm diameter outfall into the River Cynon would provide drainage on the east side of the development plateau into the river.

9. Access to the proposed development from the main highway network would primarily be from the south, from the A4059 via the Ynys and Abernant roundabouts. The site access arrangements, which are submitted for approval at this stage, would comprise a new roundabout on Wellington Street at the southern end of the development plateau, giving access to the store car park and the filling station, and a separate service access at the northern end of the site.The Site10. The site comprises a broadly level area of 4.36ha situated to the east of Aberdare town centre, between Wellington Street and the River Cynon. It forms part of an area known as Robertstown Industrial Estate, which now comprises largely vacant brownfield land. The southern part of the application site is occupied by a combination of areas of hardstanding, rubble and scrubland. It has been vacant for some years since fire destroyed a furniture factory on the site. The northern portion accommodates a furniture retail outlet and was granted a Certificate of Lawfulness in respect of use as Class A1 retail with associated storage area and car park in March 2012. The site is bounded on its east and south sides by the river channel.

11. To the west of the site, across Wellington Street, lies a strip of vacant brownfield land; beyond this are the mineral goods line serving the Tower Colliery mine, the A4059 by-passing Aberdare town centre and a Tesco foodstore located to the north of the town centre. To the south lies largely vacant brownfield land, Aberdare rail station and the main highway and pedestrian links to Aberdare town centre and the wider road network.

12. To the north of the site is a former playing field and the residential area of Robertstown; to the east across the river lie areas of open space and the site of Aberdare Hospital, now allocated to provide 500-600 dwellings in the Rhondda Cynon Taf County Borough Council (CBC) Local Development Plan (LDP).

Policy

13. The application site is shown as being entirely within flood zone C2 of the Technical Advice Note (TAN) 15: Development and Flood Risk Development Advice Map (DAM) for the application site.  Zone C2 is an area of the floodplain without significant flood defence infrastructure  

14. The Rhondda Cynon Taf CBC LDP is the statutory development plan for the area.  The LDP’s aims for the central and northern valleys of the plan area are to halt the process of decline by stimulating growth in the housing and employment markets; remove dereliction; and support services in important urban centres. Amongst other things, the LDP objectives are to promote integrated communities and reinforce the roles of the Principal Towns, including through providing a diverse range of job opportunities in locations that assist this; and to reduce the need to travel by car within Rhondda Cynon Taf by promoting residential and commercial development in the Principal Towns where there is a choice of sustainable modes of transport.

15. The LDP’s policies are divided into Core Strategy (CS), Area Wide (AW) and Northern and Southern Strategy Area (NSA/SSA) policies. Policy CS 1 ‘Development in the North’ seeks to build strong, sustainable communities.

16. Policy CS 3 identifies a number of strategic sites for development, identified in order to promote sustainable growth within Rhondda Cynon Taf. The application site forms part of a strategic site (Land at Robertstown/Abernant, Aberdare), proposed for 500-600 dwellings and 3.7ha of employment/leisure use.

17. Policy NSA 1 recognises the strategic importance of Aberdare in the northern strategy area and seeks to support the on-going process of socio-economic regeneration in the town.

18. Policy NSA 7 sets out in more detail the LDP’s aspirations for the Robertstown /Abernant strategic site, including an indicative concept plan. The policy’s supporting text indicates B1 light industrial and office development on vacant land fronting Wellington Street; the indicative concept plan indicates a potential mix of employment and commercial leisure use in this area.The supporting text notes that the exact area of development plateau and evacuation routes are to be determined at detailed design stage.

19. Other policies in the LDP also refer to issues of employment provision and retail provision. Policy CS 6 indicates that the Robertstown portion of NSA 7 is part of a total allocation for 47ha of new B1, B2 and B8 local employment development across Rhondda Cynon Taf. The policy recognises the need for a progressive approach to the development of land for economic purposes in order to address the serious socio-economic problems faced by the area.

20. Policy CS 7 identifies three objectives of the LDP core strategy as regards shopping provision issues:

• To reduce the leakage of retail expenditure from Rhondda Cynon Taf to the wider region;• To strengthen the role of retail centres in the Principal Towns and Key Settlements;• To provide retail development intended to meet local need in sustainable locations.

21. Policy NSA 18 defines Aberdare as the Principal Town Centre in the Northern Strategy Area, expected to perform a sub-regional shopping role principally serving the residents of the Cynon Valley.

22. The AW policies in the LDP are intended to ensure that the development proposals throughout the County Borough accord with the plan’s visual and spatial objectives. Policy AW 2 seeks to guide all new development to sustainable locations:

“In order to ensure that development proposals on non-allocated sites support the objectives of the plan, development proposals will only be supported in sustainable locations. Sustainable locations are defined as sites that:–1. Are within the defined settlement boundary or in the Northern Strategy Area, accord with Policy NSA 12;2. Would not unacceptably conflict with surrounding uses;  3. Have good accessibility by a range of sustainable transport options;4. Have good access to key services and facilities;5. Do not permit highly vulnerable development and Emergency Services within Zone C2 floodplain. Within Zone C development will be permitted where it can be justified that: -a) It is necessary to assist the regeneration of a Principal Town or Key Settlement including the key employment objectives, or where development involves a large brownfield site.b) [t]he potential consequences of a flooding event have been considered and found to be acceptable in accordance with national guidance and meet the definition of previously developed land.6. Support the roles and functions of the Principal Towns, Key Settlements and Small Settlements;7. Support the development of the 8 Strategic Sites;8. Are well related to existing water, sewerage, waste, electrical, gas and telecommunications infrastructure and improvements to such services will be provided where necessary.9. Where proposals relate to existing buildings in the countryside, accord with AW 9.”

23. Policy AW 10 states that development proposals will not be permitted where they would cause or result in a risk of unacceptable harm to health and / or local amenity because of a number of issues:

“Development proposals will not be permitted where they would cause or result in a risk of unacceptable harm to health and / or local amenity because of:-

1. Air pollution;2. Noise pollution;3. Light pollution;4. Contamination;5. Landfill gas;6. Land instability;7. Water pollution;8. Flooding;9. Or any other identified risk to the environment, local amenity and public health or safety unless it can be demonstrated that measures can be taken toovercome any significant adverse risk to public health, the environment and / or impact upon local amenity.”

24. Policy AW 11 sets out the LDP’s approach to the consideration of alternative uses for existing employment sites. It establishes a number of requirements subject to which development proposals for the alternative use of existing employment sites will be permitted. In essence, these are intended to allow the regeneration and re-use of less viable and under-performing employment sites, whilst ensuring that an adequate stock of good employment land is maintained. The policy specifically excludes a number of allocated sites within the Plan, including site NSA 7.

25. Other AW policies in the LDP seek to ensure that development proposals are satisfactory as regards matters of design and effect on amenity (AW 5, AW 6); protection and enhancement of the natural environment (AW 8).

Planning Inspector’s Recommendation

26. The Inspector recommended that outline planning permission be granted subject to planning conditions as he concluded the proposed development was largely compliant with the provisions of the LDP; the potential consequences of flooding of the access/egress route could be acceptably managed; and overall the proposed development was in accordance with the aim of the LDP to deliver economic and employment benefits to Aberdare.

Links: Rhondda Cynon Taf County Borough Council Local Development Plan Adopted2nd March 2011http://www.rctcbc.gov.uk/en/environmentplanningandwaste/planning/developmentplans/localdevelopmentplan2006-2021/localdevelopmentplan2006-2021.aspx (external site)