Thursday, January 06, 2011

A Bridge closed too far.

Innocent little headline on BBC Online - Mid Wales. "Bridge damaged by cold weather". Anyone would be forgiven for thinking this is nothing more than a minor inconvenience. Well its a whole lot more than that. The headline should have been "Central Wales economy at risk". Or MP demands Assembly Government acts to save Central Wales from economic meltdown." Actually I haven't yet, but I will have written to Ieuan Wyn Jones by tomorrow night. For those who do not know why this matter is so significant - read on.

Four years ago Tesco sought permission to build a new supermarket on the A483 in Newtown. I, and some others were strongly opposed to this development, believing that it would lead to severe traffic problems. My attitude was not based on any anti-Tesco feeling, which is evidenced by my strong support for the Tesco development in Welshpool, which opens next month. To make matters worse (much worse) Tesco was required to replace a nearby busy roundabout with a ridiculous (my opinion) system of traffic lights - which has brought traffic chaos to Newtown. Sometimes the queues are miles long. Newtown has become a bottleneck which is strangling the life out of the town and westwards. Huge numbers of people, including me have found a way of avoided the lights by taking a back road to Newtown, the B4389 through Aberbechan. Suddenly this artery which has mitigated the problem for those in the know has been cut, by the closure of this bridge.

So what should happen? Hopefully the Council will ascertain whether the bridge can re-open with a weight limit. If this is not possible, perhaps it should consider whether a temporary pontoon bridge could be constructed. What cannot happen is that this road remains closed for the year that has been suggested. We are facing a real crisis here. The economy of Central Wales is under serious threat. In the longer run, the area needs a Newtown By-pass, and it needs a sense of urgency in the office of the Deputy First Minister at the National Assembly to deliver it. For months, my Assembly candidate colleague in Montgomeryshire, Russell George, has been developing a strong campaign in support of early construction of this by-pass. Never has a strong campaign been more needed.

Already I have settled on how I'm going to get around this problem myself. Tonight we dined at the Waggon and Horses in Newtown, an experience we recommend to all, and drove home to Berriew via Bettws. Took only 17 minutes. Sorry Bettws, but prepare yourself for heavy traffic.


Anonymous said...

Glyn - the Tesco development at Newtown was a sham at the time - the capital receipts to be received by the County Council was the sole reason for the decision. The planners were overruled by the Council's CEO Rear-Admiral Kerr (who believed that Tesco was a panacea to Powys' finacial problems and tried to entice them to all our towns)and put pressure on highway staff who lent over backwards to persuade the Highway Agency at the WAG to remove a Holding Direction to refuse planning permission on highway grounds.

Done well, supermarket-led development can provide the critical mass to make a place thrive. But planning policy encourages such development to occur in town centres - not on out of town sites. Well integrated schemes designed in response to the needs of the local community can inject much needed finance and vitality and reinforce the primary shopping centre. Powys has invested well in terms of town centre enhancements through their shop front and building enhancement schemes. But their misguided approach to Tesco developments has been appalling. You say that you fully support Welshpool Tesco's but time might shed a different light to Welshpool as Broad Street succumbs to the retail clout of Tesco bargains.

What Powys County Council has failed to do at both Welshpool and Newtown is to maximise associated development opportunities and community benefit that should have properly come our towns' way. The County Council has repeated the model favoured by any major retail operator such as Tesco i.e. typical out of town development, with monolithic rectangular buildings, large car parks and modern 24 hour delivery. Instead the Council should have formulated a clear vision with community involvement that planned for the long term rather than a fast buck. In Newtown a perfectly acceptable town centre site was dismissed in favour of the Smithfield site on the basis that it would have clogged town centre traffic!! But the opportunities for a sensitive development that best fitted in with the historic core was lost as was the opportunities for a mixed development.

Again the lack of a vision and masterplan typified a County Council planning authority in freefall. For many sites it is the supermarket that drives up land values and increases adjoining retail confidence - but in the absence of strategic vision from the County Council, the interests of Tesco won the day and drove the masterplan - to the costs of the community of Newtown who now endure the daily congestion. At Welshpool, Tesco did provide a solution for the Smithfield but its location on the peripheries of the town centre may result in the closure of Broad Street shops and certainly change the shopping axis of Welshpool away from the town centre tothe new Tescoville. Well done Powys County Council.

Anonymous said...

In the long term, Newtown needs an MP, AM and Cllrs that remember that there were bigger tailbacks with the roundabout in place at the said junction. stretching as far as Theatr Hafren to the quad trekking centre if memory recalls.
It also needs pointing out that there are far too many wingers that are too lazy to walk/cycle to work or to proud to take the bus which would in turn lessen the "traffic chaos" And this in turn would have HUGE benefits for Newtown as a whole.
A bypass will not cure your traffic problems, just see how quiet the roads are on the Welshpool, Kerry and Llanidloes sides of town are compared to the madness that is the bottle neck of Newtown.
Any massive grant aids available to re-design Newtown? or are you happy to see it rot into a hell hole?

Less talk, more action on this if you please Glyn or are you all mouth no trousers?

Anonymous said...

Not sure whether I agree that Tesco is good for either Newtown or Welshpool. At least the Welshpool scheme allowed the Smithfield to be relocated out of the town to a modern purpose-built premises. The old Montgomery District Council gave the former Smithfield site to the Smithfield operators for one penny and failed to insert a clawback clause in the sale resulting in the successor authority gaining nothing from the huge increase in land values from the Tesco development. Someone messed up big time at the expense of the Welshpool community!

As for Newtown, the former CEO for Powys - the old Admiral was adament that the site be sold to Tesco. Indeed this CEO tempted Tesco to all our towns in the naive belief that it would be good for the local economy. It is true that supermarket led development can bring much needed new life into market towns but only if they are integrated into our towns and not located out of centre and are backed up by a properly thought through Council vision that has community support. Powys CC has failed in both towns to ensure that the Tesco developments work with existing existing town centres rathar than against. In Newtown, the pull of a £6.5 million capital injection into the County Council's coffers was too much for the Council who granted planning permission for yet another out of town supermarket when there was a better site in the town centre that would have done much to strengthen Newtown shopping centre.

It is equally strange that on the one hand, the County Council has done a great deal to improve the appearance of town centre buildings through its facelift schemes but has probebaly sounded the death nail for both town centres as the axis for shoppers turn from the town centre to the two Tescovilles at Newtown and Welshpool.

It is a pity that both planning applications were granted without public and community involvement. Over the border one sees Tesco's being permitted within town centres but only where they are required to act as a catalyst for regeneration - Tesco is forced to work with Councils to secure mixed-use developments (paid for by Tesco) that would include affordable housing and various community schemes e.g. health centres, libraries, sports facilities etc. Our County Council failed miserably to negotiate any additional benefit. Looking at English authorities, the best schemes involving supermarket-led developments have been on the back of a clearly defined council vision and masterplan. Powys lurched towards consent without any real plan or idea of what type of development they (and importantly, the community) really wanted and needed. Tesco have got away with it cheaply I can assure you.

As for Newtown, your readers should know that the former CEO at Powys placed great pressure on the planners to approve the development and on its highway staff and that of the Highways Agency at Cardiff to support something that would inevitably cause chaos on local roads. This Chief Executive was far too close to Tesco and his leaving means that Machynlleth, Llanidloes and Llanfyllin have had a lucky escape indeed. The greatest losers however is our local communities who will only have the choice of Tesco in which to shop as shops at both Broad Streets shut.