Back, for the moment, to more local issues.
The impending arrival of the large Sainsburys supermarket in Llandeilo's very own new 'out-of -town' retail centre has, of course, polarised local opinion. As a small market town, traders can see their livelihoods going down the drain, local produce will fail to find a market and many feel the traditional character of this small Welsh town will be lost. There are those of course who will welcome the convenience, cheaper food and greater choice, and tempting nationally advertised offers on petrol will draw us away from the three local garages and their shops and services. Sainsburys, as with all other major retailers know, that if they build it, 'they will come'; from far and wide, not just Llandeilo but right along the line of the A40, half way to Carmarthen, Ammanford and north to Llandovery - tourists will also by-pass narrow streets and parking charges for the easy option of the 'out of town' site. When the new school is built in Ffairfach how many of the Llandovery parents will decide to drop the kids off themselves and call into Sainsburys? Further adding to the demise of Llandovery (but who knows perhaps close neighbour Prince Charles has a Pantecelyn Waitrose up the royal sleeve?!).
Maybe 'competition' is not a 'material' planning consideration but good practice should indicate that for such a major development directly affecting the economy and well-being of the area it must be considered. But as with the closure of Pantecelyn Secondary School in Llandovery the County Council have no qualms in bulldozing through schemes regardless of public opinion or any detrimental effect on the local area. Retail Studies, often carried out by the very consultants who also represent the supermarkets, are taken as gospel by the planners. Sainsburys will be no different, some of you may remember the contortions the Council went to to aid the Tesco Extra application in Carmarthen a few years ago and more recently, St Catherine's Walk. Perhaps now would be a good time to remind ourselves why the same proposed site in Llandeilo was considered so completely unsuitable by another consultancy company for the siting of the new superschool only last year;
1) Green field site2) Poor connectivity
3) Cost of bridge over A40
4) Increase in bus and private vehicle travel
5) High noise level from A40
6) Puts infrastructure constraints on the site
7) Detrimental impact on visual amenity
8) Significant adverse ecological impacts
9) High visibility from road
10) Lack of pedestrian links to the site
These of course are planning considerations. (oddly, the Sainsbury's site was one of the two preferred, including another nearer Llandovery, after the lengthy and expensive report - both of which were swiftly abandoned and Council's preferred site at Ffairfach was chosen - must have been good news for the Sainsbury's scouts). The consultation period runs for a few more weeks, and, if you feel strongly enough, whether objecting to, or of course, supporting the proposal, I suggest you put pen to paper.
A few jobs will be created which may soak up a few of the many that will be lost as local retailers struggle to survive but the other problem is that the vast majority of the money spent in the area will go straight out of Carmarthenshire and straight over the Severn Bridge. This won't just apply to Llandeilo, it is already happening in Carmarthen, Llanelli and Ammanford. It's a subtle change in the economy but one that deprives the county of local entrepreneurs and local business innovation and turns us all into an army of low paid shelf stackers. If major retailers wish to set up shop in these small towns the 'community benefits' from their soaring profits should not only include the usual zebra crossing or a set of swings but perhaps they should also consider a scheme of investment in local trade to try to offset the economic damage it's presence will inevitably cause.
On the subject of consultations (are these purposely timed for late July early August when most peoples' thoughts are on holidays and lazy summer barbeques rather than focussed on drafting detailed responses to jargon filled consultation documents?), a few words about Carmarthenshire Council's Local Development Plan which is winding it's tortuous way through the system. The last date to comment on the 'Draft Deposit Plan' is the 19th August 2011. One of the predictions I find questionable concerns population growth. In 2010, Meryl Gravell, the leader of the Council stated that between 2001 and 2009 the population of the county rose by 7925. The Draft Plan, in amongst very confusing and almost indecipherable sets of figures, bar charts and even colourful Venn diagrams predicts that roughly 16,000 new homes will be required by 2021. That equates to a possible 30,000 people - seems rather ambitious to me. The figures are generated, somehow, by the Welsh Assembly and various commissioned reports as recommendations to Local Authorities. Carmarthenshire Council went to the trouble of spending £13,000 on it's own report by external consultants, Edge Analytical, who recommended caution over the assumed population explosion and stated, in 'bold';
"Ultimately, the membership rates and other demographic assumptions need to be properly aligned with evidence from the 2011 Census"
So, this key recommendation has been quietly ignored as the Draft Plan does not include the evidence from the Census, as it's not yet available. A waste of £13,000 then.
I also note that this Plan as opposed to the previous UDP, has no policy on 'dwellings in open countryside' or (Rural Enterprise Dwellings as they are now known), something you would think was a fairly important issue in this very rural county - there is merely a pointer to 'Planning Policy Wales Edition 4' and Technical Advice Note 6 (revised), not exactly easy to locate to those uninitiated with the the hidden depths of planning policy.
Still, as we know with this planning department there are rules and then there are rules.
(I have written many previous posts about the closure of Pantecelyn, and a few on LDP and the proposed Sainsburys, all of which can be found by searching this blog. Have a look at the always excellent Y Cneifiwr blog too where the LDP has been given a good airing)