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Dear Colleagues

Firstly may we wish you a Happy and Healthy New Year. The normal greeting would have added "prosperous" but we know that you are all aware that, even with a fair wind behind us, this year will only produce flat growth in most instances on the High Street. If we get the survival package in place in Aberdare and District this year it will be a major success.

We have objected on behalf of membership to plans for extensive additional retail development on the outskirts of Llantrisant on the basis that it is less than twenty miles from us as an existing Town, and will not be sustainable alongside existing retail High Streets in this financial climate. Our objection sits alongside a similar objection from Rhondda Cynon Taff Chambers of Trade & Commerce.

We attended the first Budget Setting Exercise with RCT on behalf of the membership prior to Christmas and will attend the second part of the exercise shortly. We asked for urgent consideration to be given to FREE CAR PARKING in the Town Centre, following the model of other Welsh Towns that see it as key to survival, and following the advice of the Mary Portas Report into High Streets. We are assured that details of the incoming revenue on car parking will be made available. Photographs kindly supplied by the Market management, of an almost empty car parking situation in Aberdare only days before Christmas spoke volumes. Copies were taken away by the Officers. We have made a plea for all promotional material for the town to be accurate, detailed and taken to the shops for distribution in good time before events. Also for a promotional situation to be established in the Town Centre for posters to trailer films being shown at The Coliseum where attendance could be vastly improved if people were informed. We recommended that the actual meetings to discuss the budget should be brought together. There is natural overlap between all the parties interested, in the way in which our money is spent and the current system seems unduly extended with separate meetings and Roadshows all of which cost money. We asked for charitable donations made through RCT to be scrutinised to ensure there was genuine benefit and distribution to favour activities for young people. We argued for litter collection to be simplified to get best use of time allotted. In some instances brooms could beat individual picking up of each and every cigarette end.

We have had a very productive meeting with Christine Chapman A.M. on the urgent matter of possible changes to Welsh Planning Policy that could bring a more level playing field between the High Streets and Malls / Superstores. We are due to meet John Griffiths A.M. Minister for Sustainability to discuss recommendations for alterations that could help to bring this about. There
is now Cross Party ambition to hard wire FAIRNESS into ongoing Government policy and we feel our suggestions could augment this approach and demonstrate that the political faction are actually
listening to the views of those at the sharp end. She stressed we should keep eyes on the Tourism ball.

The first Town Centre Forum Meeting of this year took place at St. Mair's and it was encouraging to see rather more traders in attendance than usual. We put that down to excellent newsletters from Aberdare Town Centre Regeneration / Construction Bulletin that have been distributed to traders by RCT. Many points regarding the practise of the workmen, timescale of the works, possible benefits were discussed and emma.davies@alungriffiths.co.uk can be contacted if any retailer or member has problems associated with the building work. She attended the meeting and is keen to ensure minimum disruption during works. Telephone her on 0844 56 111 94.

It is proposed and agreed that there should be an Action Plan for the Town and retailers anxious to ensure that we get first class promotion through joint working of the retail community and the Council are encouraged to let us know priorities and attend the Town Centre Forum Meetings to ensure that the wishes of the trading community are knitted into ongoing plans. There is a possibility of a website for the town to raise the profile of our independent traders and other members. We recommended that this be approached with enthusiasm but that caution over cost should be exercised on the basis that there is very little money to promote the town and we wish it to go as far as possible. There are plans to forge links with the new community hospital. Advertising may be appropriate etc. The Townscape Initiative includes discussion of public artwork to raise the cultural profile of the Town and we have attended meetings regarding the work being carried out in front of Aberdare Library, and there is still room for input into public artwork opposite St. Elvan's central to the Town.

Please remember that this organization is your own voice amplified through an organization that has represented membership for over one hundred years. For those without the time to make individual representation to the Local Authority and Wales Assembly Government we are your natural interface. Let us have your views.

6 Aug 2010

Wealth creation

SIR - Your article regarding the evident slump in industrial development in Wales is timely ("Warnings as extent of Wales' industrial slump is laid bare", July 30).
The service sector (particularly shopping malls and supermarkets) now far outweighs the "wealth-creating sector" in Wales and it is affecting the high streets in a dismal fashion.
The lack of work fuelled by despair and cheap booze in the supermarkets is a lethal combination and steps to address this imbalance need to be taken urgently.
Whereas developers will have cheered the news that planning policy is to be speeded up to allow for more building work to be undertaken, thus keeping some people in work, we should warn against this being extended to the retail sector where, undoubtedly, some tightening needs to take place.
We agree with the Federation for Small Business that this is an urgent job for the sustainability committee.
Hon Sec Wales Action for Sensible Planning, on behalf of Bourke Le Carpentier, president


22 Sept 2010

Act on planning now?

SIR - Your article on our towns and villages losing their identity, taken from research by National Economics Foundation, should be flagged up on posters the size of a house, outside the Senedd.
You mention that the problems of decreasing smaller shops in our High Streets, leading to a lack of cultural identity for so many towns, is leading to a clone town effect - you quite rightly say that this has been a problem a long time in the melting pot.
Wales Action for Sensible Planning, an outreach arm of Aberdare & District Chamber of Trade & Commerce, one of the oldest chambers within Wales, has been attempting for many years to spread the message that alterations to planning policy are the obvious answer.
The Federation of Small Businesses has also recognised the problem and is discussing ways forward, as is the policy department of the prestigious South Wales Chamber of Commerce (to whom we are affiliated), who, in difficult times are still improving their membership numbers annually.
It is worth noting that for every pound spent in the local high street with a local retailer almost 80% of that money stays and circulates locally, thus sustaining our market towns, whereas the bulk of profit from these huge concerns leaves the area, with money going offshore in cases like WalMart, etc.
Wales has separate planning policy to England and we do not have to wait for Westminster to flex their muscles before we take action to ensure that the march of giant retailers does not swamp our individuality and identity.
BOURKE LE CARPENTIER ?Wales Action for Sensible Planning


4 Oct 2010

Planners have lots to consider

YOUR reader Chhimed from Llanrumney makes some valid points in his letter about two separate planning applications in Cardiff, one for a Sainsbury's store and one for a school (Viewpoints, September 25).
As he seems to have detailed information regarding the petition sizes in both cases, one must assume he has put some effort into understanding these matters and we would not wish to interfere in a specific local planning matter without fuller information.
However, some general points could assist.
These applications would have to be measured against more than the weight of petitions.
We have planning policy in Wales which should govern aspects of each and every planning application, and some of the guidance which applies to the retail application would not be applicable to the school application.
There is guidance which tells planning officers and the council that, when considering a retail application which may be large enough to affect the vitality and viability of an existing conurbation of shops, they should first look to the survival of the existing shops and that "the cumulative effect" of such an application should be put into the balance.
In other words, they should have measured the effect on the spending power within that locality of other shops built over the past 10 years, know what current spending is likely to be, and judge the likelihood of shops shutting as a result.
Without seeing the detail of the Sainsbury's application we would genuinely hope that this application may have been deemed unsuitable on those grounds, since there is precious little extra spending money around and existing shops are shutting at an alarming rate.
Chhimed may be well assured that, if it is only on the traffic grounds that this has been turned down, it is likely that Sainsbury's will appeal (unfortunately an option not currently available to the existing retail fraternity who could lose their livelihood as a result).
If the plan is then passed, the public at large may be justified in feeling this is something of a charade to allow some politicians to be seen to be trying to protect existing interests with the full knowledge that public money will now be expended re-hearing the matter, and minor adjustments made to the traffic data to allow it to go ahead anyway. We shall see.
Bourke A Le Carpentier?Wales Action for Sensible Planning

BOURKE LE CARPENTIER Wales Action for Sensible Planning


16 Oct 2010

Plan threatens town's shops

THE Echo article about the application by Tesco to expand their existing store in Caerphilly states that much of the discussion revolves around the distance from the town centre of the store - quite rightly ("Tesco Extra will create ghost town, inquiry told", October 13).
We had a similar situation in Aberdare where Tesco claimed they were putting in an application for an "edge of town" store, when it was quite evident that one of the criteria for such a store - "that the parking attached would be as useful to the town centre as to the store" - was clearly not met.
Those who have visited Neath town centre will see instances where that is indeed the case, but in Aberdare our chamber of trade was adamant that this was, in fact, an out of town development.
Tesco ran roughshod over such a trivial delineation and was allowed to settle, leaving its "in town" premises empty for three years with a price on it so huge that they knew no-one would be interested.
Like the situation in Caerphilly, Tesco simply bided their time to ask for an extension (in our case almost doubling the size of the enterprise), which, in our opinion, is a classic case of "planning creep" where the developer has neatly avoided the application being of a size which requires a call into the Assembly for a second opinion and chosen to have exactly what they initially wanted by digesting their oversized meal at two separate sittings.
Your article quotes from the words of Christopher Young QC for Tesco in asking what is wrong with Tesco simply offering goods in competition with other stores in the town at lower prices. Tesco has neatly sidestepped the Monopolies Commission (which is specifically set up to ensure fair trading) by being allowed by successive Governments to split its superstores from its smaller "in town" enterprises, and neatly avoiding attaching the profits from Tesco Garages, which are located strategically on the same sites as the superstores (despite the fact that points gained by shopping in the store can be attached to benefits in lower petrol costs).
With the greatest respect to, and in answer to Christopher Young QC, at present, everything is wrong with the concept of this store being able to even contemplate a move which may well result in large swathes of empty shops in a town centre where the Government needs every penny it can lay its hands on.
The rates from these various other retailers is part of the essential bread and butter of the national economy. Tesco is simply asking for more and more and more jam when the others are being asked to exist on bread and water.
Bourke A Le Carpentier
President, Aberdare & District Chamber of Trade & Commerce

High streets need special care to thrive 22 Dec 2011
SIR - Your report on some of the main findings within the Mary Portas Report, which highlights the steep decline in high street shopping habits, quite properly concentrates on some very positive steps she has suggested.
Street markets and free parking are some of the most notable as well as realistic overhaul of the business rates scenario. All good so far!
Those traders caught up in the current downturn of financial stability, the supermarket and supermall development and the rise and rise of online shopping will welcome any measures of relief, but we should be careful of swallowing the prescribed medicine wholesale.
Mary Portas has stopped short of a moratorium on supermarket development (which could be the most sensible measure over an agreed time period to allow the town centres to regroup and thrive), going for the idea that any large development should be "signed off" by Government.
In Wales that would mean deferral to Wales Assembly Government because we have separate planning guidance. It has been our experience that even when councils have had the courage to turn down applications that decision has been overturned by WAG. No firewall there, then.
We note that Morrisons have said they are to build 25 new stores creating 7,000 new jobs. That is firstly presumptuous, since it is the planning departments and councillors who will decide how many of these will get permission; and it also sounds rather ambitious over jobs - does 280 per store sound feasible? in the current financial climate they can only detract from the spending ability within the high streets as no new money is coming into play.
Also the idea of street markets seems extremely appealing on the face of it, especially when those depicted are taking place in towns like Cirencester, Winchester, etc, with good tourism footfall, but continental marketers who came to Aberdare during the past few years made it clear they had no intention of returning as there was not sufficient money circulating, and ultimately ending up in their purse, to make it a worthwhile venture for them.
Also, from the point of view of stabilisation of financial gain to Government, which must feature in any solution, we must remember that market traders do not pay business rates. This is a suggestion which needs to be thoroughly explored on a town to town basis.
Valley towns are impoverished, with a very high rate of residents reliant on the state. Special care is needed to make sure these towns survive and thrive - no one expects a reversal of fortune overnight but if the suggestion of Mary Queen of Shops of "town teams" means something more robust than the current system to reflect the voices of the trading community we would welcome discussion on ways forward.
Wales Action for Sensible Planning


Letters to the Editor, Western Mail, Thursday 23rd Feb 2012
Town centre revival
SIR – At the risk of repeating ourselves may we point out that the statistics for High Street shopping in Wales where you quote The British Retail Consortium figures for Wales (Feb 20) includes the 8% rise in footfall in Cardiff where the new St David’s 2 was a major draw. This totally distorts the findings for Wales overall.
We think we should fall back on the recent statement by Sir Philip Green, who knows a thing or two about High Streets, that any idea that Christmas was a success story has to be balanced by the fact that 2010 was like shopping in the Arctic, and figures for sales were frighteningly low, and that this year, frantic retailers discounted to the bone. It may have kept the doors open a bit longer but that cannot go on as the normal format.
However, Stephen Robertson, director general of the British Retail Consortium, makes no claims for quick success or turnaround. In fact he says the condition of too many High Streets is bleak and that the 5.6% rise in business rates in April will be another major factor.
He asks for a reduction as do so many other organisations fearful for the continued cultural hub of town centres. The important statistic in your report is the vacancy rate that is still higher in Wales.
We feel that if some of the input into the town centre regeneration exercise recently undertaken cross party in Wales is taken seriously, this balance could be redressed exactly when it needs to be. Now!
President, Wales Action for Sensible Planning.

Letters to the Editor, Cynon Valley Leader, Thursday 23rd February 2012.

Leeching the life from town centres.

WE ARE sorry to hear Aberdare resident Richard Davies feels the protestations of Aberdare & District Chamber of Trade & Commerce have in some obscure way affected the success of the town by objecting to the massive proliferation of out-of-town supermarkets on our doorstep.

Firstly, we recognise that some people, particularly with cars, find it easier to shop at such places. However, there is a natural balance to be struck between an area's spending power and the amount of out-of-town shopping that money can sustain alongside an established town centre. A Government-sponsored report from Mary Portas revealed quite categorically that the towns in worst decline were those surrounded by massive out-of-town enterprises.

Had Tesco stayed in our town centre, where they were a good anchor store, instead of leaving us in the lurch with a reputed covenant which disallowed foodstuffs to be sold in the then-empty premises, we would have been in a stronger position.

That premises, with a ridiculously high price tag, remained empty until virtually all food shopping had relocated out of town, where a few years later they were allowed to practically double the size of the enterprise, even though the approach road had been brought up to design capacity by the original development.

Now we have Asda, Lidl, Morrisons soon, and Home Bargains all outside the town. Exactly how much more does Mr Davies think appropriate in a deprived area?

Ask shops in Merthyr town centre whether they think Cyfarthfa Park helps or hinders. In their town centre they are lucky enough to have Tesco centrally, with the car-parking useful for other shopping. Contrast that with our fight to get RCT to realise that car-parking is key to our survival. We make no apologies for continuing the fight to protect our existing town and make it more accessible for shoppers. It has a cultural identity that no other town for miles can match and loyal customers come regularly from outside the area for our Aberdare market, certain shops, cafes and restaurants.

We are currently working with the events team in RCT to try to enliven and enrich that unique shopping experience during the coming months. Watch this space.

Bourke A. Le Carpentier
President, Aberdare & District Chamber of Trade & Commerce.

Western Mail letters: Thursday, 5 April 2012

Enterprise Zones a threat to high streets

SIR – May we link your article on enterprise zones (Business, April 3) to a recent report on planning reforms in England in your newspaper?

With the jobs shortages so critical and the economy of Wales – particularly in terms of manufacturing – in such a low state, we should all surely be glad to hear of the new Enterprise Zones. However, so much depends on how this is interpreted in each locality – if they end up as huge retail enclaves we shall have sold the idea far short and dealt a complete death blow to the high streets and town centres in Wales.

Your recent article which posed the question as to whether Wales would be left behind now that England has adopted “simplified planning guidance” which will be “sustainability led” is interesting for the same reason.

Surely we are short of jobs and, on the face of it, supermarkets and supermalls seem to be able to offer these but there is already a high percentage of empty premises in retail parks with talk of removing the original “conditions” imposed to protect neighbouring town centres in order to bring them back into use.

In our area large manufacturing zones quickly became a mixed bag and are now largely retail to the detriment of the high streets within the county.

If the “sustainability factor” is aimed at ensuring the town centres survive maybe we should look to a tightening of some of the planning policy; we should ensure that the clause which states that an authority looks first to the vitality and viability of existing town centres becomes central in order to make sense of the Town Centre Regeneration Report which, under “challenges” recognises that the worst-hit towns are those near large supermarkets or malls.


President Aberdare & District Chamber of Trade & Commerce

Letters. Cynon Valley Leader Thursday 26 April 2012

Car park charges ‘counterproductive’

WE consider that the illustrated letter showing an empty car park and commenting on parking charges (April 19), deserves a reasoned response.

S Phillips seems to be under the illusion that both RCT Council and Aberdare Chamber of Trade have turned away large retail concerns from the town centre.

We would stress that our chamber welcomes all large and small stores to the town in order to ensure the healthy balance of national names and brands alongside our rich mix of individual entrepreneurial stores, and we have a very good working relationship with the management structure of all the large stores in town.

We do not always agree with the council. In fact we strongly disagree with the charging policy in car parks, which has been shown to be counterproductive not only here and in other town centres in RCT, but also was flagged up as a major problem both in the detailed Mary Portas Report and the recent Town Centre Regeneration Report from Cardiff.

These charges are totally counterproductive, hence why supermarkets do not charge, and we have asked for the full figures of the income from this operation to be made available because it is our opinion that the strategy is unjustified. The delay in the reply at a time when votes are being sought, speaks volumes.

We have not found them to have a particularly sound knowledge of how a town centre functions, however, we find ourselves in the strange position of having to defend them in that, to our knowledge, they have never turned away any big store with an interest in coming to Aberdare. Your correspondent could write to them to verify.

The cost of shopping in town is largely imprinted by the national stores, who have goods priced centrally and are, thus, exactly the same in any town. We are indebted to the smaller individual traders who keep costs very realistic in order to ensure survival. They are adding a vibrancy to the town which is not reflected in their take-home pay but customers are having a mixed, exciting and friendly shopping experience when they visit Aberdare, with a chance to dine in a variety of eating establishments.

If the business rates were adjusted to reflect the fact that town centres are not now the most lucrative places to trade, prices could come down even further.

By next week we shall have done some comparison shopping to shed light on points made above.

Jim Bradley
Honorary President, Aberdare & District Chamber of Trade & Commerce





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