Civic Trust Society dismisses council’s latest Porthcawl regeneration plans

Wednesday, 9 January 2019

– Planning

by Contributed ItemContributed Item

The Porthcawl Civic Trust has rejected the regeneration plans put forward by Bridgend County Borough Council (BCBC) – insisting that housing should play no part in plans for the Hillsboro and Salt Lake car parks.

The organisation has sent a long letter (see below) to the BCBC cabinet member for regeneration, Cllr Charles Smith, saying what they would like to see on the site.

BCBC officers put their plan together after the council spent £3.5 million buying the leasehold of Salt Lake Car Park from the Evans families.

When BCBC bought the lease, in early 2017, council leader Cllr Huw David said that BCBC needed to get that £3.5 million back by making land available for development.

The Civic Trust, when asked by The GEM some months ago if it accepted this principle, said that the society did.

However, under the civic trust proposals, very little land is being treated as ‘available for development’ and the two areas designed by BCBC to kick start the process have been ruled out by the society.

Under BCBC’s plans, the two areas marked as phases 1 and 2 (see illustration) were intended for a Lidl or Aldi-sized food store (phase 1) and some housing (phase 2).

BCBC said that money raised by making the land available for the foodstore would be used to resurface and improve Hillsboro Place Car Park.

However, the civic trust wants the store – which they see as a ‘convenience store’ – to go at the other end of Hillsboro Car Park, near Dock Street. The trust wants it to be “architecturally interesting”, unlike the functional design favoured by most food stores.

BCBC envisaged the Dock Street site as a possible spot to persuade a ‘budget hotel’ to open up – although officers were cautious about when this might be possible. The trust, in contrast, wants the hotel to go on the phase 1 site.

The biggest element of BCBC’s plan, three or four storey apartments along the Eastern Promenade facing out to sea, is rejected out of hand by the trust.

If houses are to be built, says the trust, they should go, eventually, on Sandy Bay – although the trust says that this may take some time.

Cllr Charles Smith, the BCBC Cabinet Member for Education and Regeneration, gave a neutral response, saying: “It is our intention to engage with a wide representation of individuals and organisations to work towards a sustainable development which we can all feel proud of handing on to future generations.

“I would like to thank the society for their input which will be considered along with comments from others as part of the engagement process.”

The full text of the Porthcawl Civic Trust letter is as follows:

Following the meeting held at the Y Centre on November 19, it must now be clear that the residents of Porthcawl, while wanting to get on with the job, have no appetite for the regeneration proposals put forward by BCBC.

As a society, we had hoped that BCBC would come up with some new, exciting and imaginative plans for the regeneration of the town but, in essence, the proposals put forward by BCBC are, we understand, very similar to the plans previously put forward by the Evans’ families – plans which BCBC had previously found unacceptable.

We would, therefore, urge BCBC to go back to the drawing board and produce ideas that will be acceptable to residents, make the town somewhere that people really want to visit and generally promote Porthcawl as a premier seaside resort.

The society is putting forward some ideas for consideration.

As stated at the town meeting, while some of our members would welcome a second ‘convenience store’, others are concerned about the adverse effect this would have on the town’s current retail outlets.

Whether patronised by local residents or people living in the surrounding areas, we suspect that many, probably most, shoppers will simply drive to the new store, do their shopping and drive away again.

The town council and chamber of trade have already expressed concern about the drop in footfall in John Street and in order to increase any prospect of the town benefitting from the new store, it must be based as near to the town centre as possible.

Hence our suggestion that, if there is to be a new store, it should be based at the end of Dock Street.

There seems to be no adverse reaction to the existence of a new hotel in the town though Porthcawl really deserves something more than a budget hotel.

This can be placed at the northern end of Salt Lake and must be designed in such a way that it is a welcoming sight to people visiting the town.

First impressions are important and can make all the difference to the perceptions that people form.

As well as the need to ensure that any hotel is designed to add interest to the town’s build environment, so will be the need to ensure that the design of any convenience store is in line with the existing architectural character of the part of the town where it is likely to be built. 

Many supermarket firms seem to favour a basic, shed like design which has little architectural value and firm conditions should be set regarding the quality of the design.  

As was demonstrated at the town meeting, the main area of concern is the proposal to urbanise Salt Lake. The society recognises the need for housing but suggest that all BCBC’s efforts should be concentrated on the development of Sandy Bay for this purpose.

We understand that there may be some difficulties with access but, even if it results in delays to the other aspects of the town’s regeneration, we believe that those delays would be worthwhile.

The town has waited for over 40 years for regeneration to take place and it would be better to wait a little longer to get it right, rather than lose an asset as important to the town as Salt Lake. The town deserves more from what is a prime waterfront site.

We suggest that Salt Lake should be split into two parts with part being used for car parking and the major part being landscaped and used as an amenity area for all comers.

In the fullness of time, it may be possible to further develop the amenity area to make it a more attractive place for both residents and visitors to the town.

It may, for example, be possible to have a bandstand, fountains, works of public art, an area to hold open markets and even a boating lake as well as a ‘leisure’ building. The possibilities are endless and residents should be given the opportunity to put forward their own ideas. Meanwhile, just the process of grassing over the area would make it more aesthetically pleasing than what’s there now.

Make no mistake, with more housing comes the need for more services and improved transport and infrastructure. As we have said in the past, a light railway linking Porthcawl with Bridgend or Pyle would be the ideal solution and we suggest that increased efforts should be made to see whether this is a possibility rather than the lip service as is presently the case.

At present, Porthcawl is punching above its weight and it needs vision and drive if it is to attract new visitors and make the town prosper. A plan along the lines set out above would give everyone what they want and what the town needs.

The town would have its supermarket and hotel, the car parking problem would be largely overcome, residents would have their amenity area and BCBC would meet its housing requirements.

In addition, Porthcawl would become a more attractive place to visit and, as a result, the town’s businesses would benefit.

We would be happy to discuss these plans with you at any time.

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