Saturday 6 February 2016

Signs, windows, and red tape

A local trader in Carmarthen seems to have fallen foul of Carmarthenshire council red tape. As the Carmarthen Journal reports Ms Bethan Rees opened a fancy dress shop in Guildhall Square last August (pictured below), surely at the delight of the council as it shows resource, enterprise and, more to the point, fills an empty shop. She has now been told to remove the sign, which is bilingual, above the window and replace it with a much smaller one in the gap just above the door.

She says that she was initially told the sign would be fine, but now it's not, and contravenes planning rules. Should she apply to keep the large sign, she has already been told that permission would be refused. It might be in a conservation area but as Ms Rees points out, there are other premises with much larger signs surrounding her.

The sign is bright, vibrant and attractive to shoppers and surely boosts 'footfall' and the economic vibrancy of the use the council's own language.

Pic source; Carmarthen Journal

Take for example the council's own efforts to fill empty shops. Following what must have been an IT brainstorming session, a national tender went out last November for a company to supply 3D virtual reality graphics to display in the windows of a number of empty shops in Carmarthen town centre. Conservation area or no conservation area.

The objectives were to;
'Reduce the negative visual impact currently being created by the vacant properties.
'To make the units more attractive to potential tenants.
'Increase the vibrancy and economic impact in the proposed “Cultural Quarter” of Carmarthen by driving footfall and activity to the area.'

The tender which went out must have incurred considerable costs with research undertaken to identify the list of sites and properties, and the appropriate documentation gathered together.
A couple of weeks later the tender was cancelled, due to an error in the insurance documents.

Almost immediately another one went out. It was exactly the same apart from a couple of variations in the list of premises.

A few of weeks later that one was also cancelled. This time it was apparently because the council couldn't sign up enough premises and a couple of them had been let out. In other words, the plan fell apart.

Whatever the reasons, the council's attempt to create the 'Montmartre of Carmarthenshire' was an expensive waste of time and money, and Bethan Rees, with her colourful sign, achieved far more.

One person who doesn't seem to have a problem with planning red tape is council leader Emlyn Dole. You may recall the #barngate affair late last year when a retrospective application (in Mr Dole's wife's name) was approved by the committee against the officer's recommendation to refuse.

The committee had to come up with reasons why, despite it being contrary to planning policy, it was all ok. Their attempt at justification included a planning condition that wooden window frames had to be be used, this was to complement the old stone which was now required to be used to face the building;

"Condition 4. All fenestration shall be of timber construction in order to reflect the traditional historic character of the barns"

Early last month Plaid Council leader Emlyn Dole (or rather, his wife), put forward an application change the condition from wooden window frames to plastic, the justification being that there were plastic windows in the nearby farmhouse. Surprisingly, this was considered a 'minor' amendment, and approved by the planning officer within one week.

Cllr Dole is fortunate that he's not in a conservation area, nor that the 'traditional historic character' of the 400 year old barn has been taken quite so seriously. It's also fortunate that Cllr Dole, unlike Bethan Rees, is something of an expert in planning 'red tape'.


Anonymous said...

In the past there have been several instances of contraventions of planning rules re signage over shops - usually large chains who insist on having their logo regardless of whether it is suitable for the building or in a conservation area. They, however, manage to get away with it as a rule because the council is wary of taking on large enterprises.

So this is the usual council jobsworth targeting the small business/person because he or she can't afford to fight the decision. In other words, the council at its bullying best.

If my memory serves me right, an example of the council turning a blind eye is the "folly" built by Lidl in the left corner of the entrance to its car park which was not in the plans together with the fact that one of the planning conditions was that Lidl should plant trees (or perhaps bushes) along its boundary with the pavement. Not only is the folly still there, but there is no sign of any greenery.

One law for the powerful, another for the powerless. Lovely.

Teifion said...

How on earth can CCC pick on this poor woman when Carmarthen town is DOMINATED by TESCOs?

Anonymous said...

In the application, the applicant also states “The windows in the original barn were not timber.” - well, that’s odd, the windows are clearly wooden when you view the original barn on google street view.

Also, even if this was considered a 'minor' amendment, part 5.2 Code of Conduct for Councillors and Officers in Planning Matters states:

“The Head of Planning has delegated powers to deal with the determination of all planning (and other planning related) applications……
The exceptions being:-
• Applications submitted by serving Councillors or their immediate
family or employees of the Development Control Service or their
immediate families;”

Anonymous said...

Re. Anon@10:51

Even odder is the fact that, on the original planning application, the applicant clearly states that the existing windows are timber, see

Lesley said...

I thought the barn in question was pretty old - so if the windows weren't made of wood, what were they made of?