There was a capacity audience at Penarth Pier Pavilion last night for a public meeting organised by Penarth Civic Society on “The Future of Penarth” – at which it emerged that the town council’s Momentum Group is considering the feasibililty of pedestrianising the Town Centre .
Chairing the meeting was the well-known local architect Chris Loyn who is President of the Penarth Civic Society. He introduced two sets of panelists, including the Society’s two Vice Presidents – Stephen Doughty, Labour MP for Cardiff South and Penarth, and Cllr Anthony Ernest (Conservative, Plymouth Ward).
Also on the panel were former Labour MP and now Labour Police and Crime Commissioner Alun Michael ; Cllr Tracey Alexander (Labour Cornerswell) ; Cllr Mike Cuddy (Labour St Augustines) who is Leader of Penarth Town Council; Gary Soltys who is chairman of the Penarth Tourist and Visitor Association and is leading Penarth Town Council’s so-called “Momentum Group” which is developing ideas for the improvement of the town and three members of Penarth Youth Action – the representative body of young people’s organisations in the town which – although unelected – sits on Penarth Town Council.
Each panelist was invited to give a five-minute presentation and then answer questions from the audience to be followed by an open question and answer session at the end of the meeting.
PENARTH YOUTH ACTION
The first speakers introduced themselves as “Victor” and “Alex” from Penarth Youth Action. They said they wanted to give a “young persons’ vision of Penarth” and went on to make the case – heavily laced with local authority jargon – for better youth facilities in the town.
They told the audience there should be a “a variety of vibrant well-maintained facilities to promote health and well-being” and that there should be a “range of youth clubs that cater for different interests to help develop the skills, confidence and talents of young people “. They wanted Penarth Library to be maintained “to high standards” and “to develop opportunities” for what they called “intergenerational activities”.
The PYA representatives said tourism in Penarth should be promoted locally with an “on-line club”, digital information points and clear signage around the town and that the beach and natural environment should be maintained. They said “ We wish to encourage the development of so-called vibrant businesses so they can drive and produce sustainable employment for people of working age”
PENARTH TOWN PLAN
Next, Cllr Mike Cuddy (Labour St Augustines) Leader of Penarth Town Council spoke on the Penarth Town Plan.
He said that the Town Council had developed a vision for Penarth of a “thriving seaside town” but he said “the thing about visions is that you have to operationalise them” and establish whether that vision was shared, was achievable and would be “sustainable” – that favourite local-authority adjective again .
Cllr Cuddy reminded the audience that the Town Council was a legal entity with powers including “the powers of well-being which are very very wide and permissive” and also financial powers to raise a local precept as part of Council Tax. Cllr Cuddy called the Penarth precept [which was increased by a record 4.51% this year] as “quite small” – a Band D property paying “only £100 a year”.
Cllr Cuddy said the utilisation of town council facilities had been a major issue and the council had introduced National Theatre screenings, weddings and other things – adding to the traditional Christmas and summer festivals ; one such innovation was Penarth Picnic which was due to take place at the weekend.
He noted that Penarth’s Business Improvement District ballot had not been successful – [PDN Note: the idea was comprehensively rejected by the town’s businesses by 86 votes to 48] but nevertheless the council was continuing to think of alternatives to that.
The Penarth Town Place Plan, he said, had been devised as a framework . It was essentially a “business prospectus” not a “land-use plan”. Borrowing a phrase from the disgraced Labour Welsh Secretary Ron Davies, Cllr Cuddy said the Town Plan was “a process not an event” and had been produced through a process of “community engagement” – (meetings at the Paget Rooms). The plan could be accessed on the Penarth Town Council website.
Cllr Cuddy explained that the council had also set up an “Interim Momentum Group” to provide “a basis for action”. The council, he said, had “limited finance but great powers”. He said the Momentum Group should be “community-led” but with a “decision-making capability”. He showed the audience a graphic diagram illustrating the complex interactions of the inputs and outputs of the various entities in the Town Place Plan and gave an exposition of how it is expected to function.
Cllr Cuddy said there were “immediate” and “long-term” priorities . He said the first three were “Better public areas , better transport choices, and raising the profile of Penarth”. Cllr Cuddy said that, in the present economic climate, many non-statutory services once provided by the Vale of Glamorgan Council might now be undertaken by Penarth Town Council.
PENARTH TOWN PLAN : QUESTIONS
In audience questions to Cllr Cuddy, Mr Jonathan Jones observed that in the Town Plan there appeared to be no Chamber of Trade or Chamber of Commerce.
Cllr Cuddy said that if a Business Improvement District (BiD) been voted for, then that organisation would have played a part in the Town Plan. The BiD Group would have had £80,000 a year to fund its operations. Penarth had once had a Chamber of Trade, he said, but it had “withered on the vine” . However there were still some local businesses which were interested in re-establishing such a organisation.
The raw issue of the continuing destruction of Penarth’s highway trees was raised next – even though an attempt was made to delay discussion on the matter until the end of the meeting .
A member of the audience – “Anne” – asked how much the Town Plan was committed to the preserving trees in Penarth and how much had been spent on chopping them down. She asked why the Town Council could not ensure there was some public consultation .
[ PDN Note: In fact the preservation of highway trees is not mentioned anywhere in the Penarth Town Plan. The only reference to trees is a reference buried in Chapter 6 which says ” There has also been some interest acknowledged through this plan in setting up a Tree Forum to preserve and enhance public trees as in many other UK cities. The Town Council are progressing a biodiversity project as part of the Strong Roots initiative”]
Cllr Cuddy said this matter would be covered later on in the proceedings but pointed out that the Town Council did not have direct responsibility for trees.
The chairman Chris Loyn said “Trees are a very very sensitive issue – we all love our trees”. He said the Penarth Civic Society was trying to work in partnership with the Vale of Glamorgan Council to ensure that “Penarth stays a green town”.
Another member of the audience reported having attended a public meeting [about the controversial plan for a skateboard park in Paget Terrace Park] – but never heard anything back. She said the meeting had got “quite heated” and all members of the audience had left their names and addresses but no one had ever heard anything back afterwards.
Cllr Cuddy said he had attended that meeting but it was not an issue Penarth Town Council could deal with. It was the Vale Council which had organised that meeting . The audience member said she would still have liked “some communication back” .
She said “So Penarth Council have no jurisdiction?” . Cllr Cuddy said at the moment that was the case. “We could do, and if the community were that interested we could certainly look at that again but it would cost money”. He explained that Penarth Council had a budget of £600,000 a year and ” a play-ground costs quite a lot of money. But if the community wished, the council could move into that sort of area via the Momentum Group”.
MOMENTUM GROUP :
Penarth Momentum Group chairman Gary Soltys said he wanted to talk about:-
- The “Public Realm” [the publicly-owned spaces of Penarth] ,
- “Visitors and Tourism” [ Mr Soltys is also chairman of the Penarth Tourist and Visitor Association] and
- “Business Improvement”.
Mr Soltys said the Public Realm of Penarth was “looking a little tired to say the least. Pavements need replacing and various bits of street furniture would benefit from renewal”.
The infamous Barclays Bank bench – was shown as an example – with its missing plank – but nevertheless he said, despite its condition and comparative lack of comfort it remained a very popular place to sit.
Mr Soltys revealed a new design of distinctive public bench to be called a “Penarth Seat “which would be unique to the town”.
He went on to say “If you arrive at Penarth how do you get to the pier. It’s not that obvious. If you’re lucky you may find this sign” – he said showing a photo of a rusty pole with a faded sign on it. “We have to do better than that“. he said.
Mr Soltys also criticised the parking signs which prevented parking for 6 hours a day in the middle of the town and said the provision for cyclists in the town was woefully inadequate . He showed by contrast the far more up-to date cycling and street facilities which had been provided in Barry.
He also proposed new designs for revised signposting – finished in black and gold.
He said these were initiatives which the Momentum Group planned to install on a trial basis later this year.
Once again trees came up on the agenda. Mr Soltys said the Penarth Street tree canopy was “something which we all cherish ” and said “trees are so important – why are they not higher up the agenda?”.
He suggested that trees were something the Momentum Group should have as a priority. Penarth, he said, had some wonderful spaces – the Dolly Steps and the Dingle and the leafy footpaths and the public parks – the “gardens by the sea”. To capitalise on this, the Momentum Group was considering a “Horticulture Week” in Penarth and hoped that other events could he held throughout the year which would encourage people to come to Penarth.
(Later in the proceedings a Penarth Youth Action member “Grace” exhibited an animated silent cartoon movie on trees which she had made and which received warm applause) .
Gary Soltys also asked whether there were ways in which the entrance to Penarth via Windsor Road could be improved. Often such improvements, he said, didn’t take money – it was just a matter of “co-ordination and communication between key people” .
On the Business Improvement District idea – Mr Soltys said he still believed strongly that collaborative working was a way to sustain the future of the centre of Penarth – in particular the retail units.
One questioner noted that Penarth was a small town with a large proportion of small family-run businesses and asked how best the town could avoid the “threat” from supermarkets.
Gary Soltys said Penarth was relatively prosperous compared with many towns of similar size and there were few empty retail premises. There were – he conceded – charity shops but these were well-established .
Another questioner said that one important issue in Penarth was traffic – and yet this had not been mentioned . Traffic congested the streets, blocked buses – and bus stops had been “given over to parking”. Surely – he said – traffic must be addressed as a priority in improving Penarth – winning warm applause for his question.
Chairman Chris Loyn said this was a topic which would be dealt with later – but people needed to look in the mirror and change their habits.
PENARTH PROFILE : STEPHEN DOUGHTY
Stephen Doughty the Labour MP for Cardiff South Penarth said on this, his birthday, he had had a “particularly wonderful Penarth afternoon” and had taken his office staff out to lunch in Bar 44, had walked down through the park to the Pier Pavilion and thought “what a wonderful place” and how proud he was to be the town’s MP .
He explored how well – or otherwise – Penarth is known in the rest of the UK and concluded it has ” a relatively low profile “ Penarth had been listed in the Sunday Times as one of the top places to live in Wales . He said 10,000,000 UK people made overnight trips to Wales every year spending well over £100,000,000. International visitors to Wales however only amounted to 1,000,000 a year. He had tried out LastMinute.com but it had only produced one hotel in Penarth and no other accommodation and TripAdvisor had produced a similar result. On the “Air B&B“site – in which people advertise rooms rented out in their homes there were 100 places in Penarth.
He said the question for Penarth was how the town built its profile particularly in modern media.
PENARTH PROFILE : QUESTIONS TRANSPORT
A questioner who doesn’t drive, however, underscored one of the rather more fundamental problems – the lack of “internal transport” within Penarth. He had had to walk from the town centre to the Pier Pavilion as there was no evening bus service. Poor public transport to one of the “gems” of the town needed to be thought about he said.
Stephen Doughty said he had a similar experience and remarked that if, at Cardiff Central Station, someone asked him how he could get a bus to Penarth he would not have been able to tell him and would have to suggest a taxi – but his experience of taxis was that although drivers could get to the Penarth clock roundabout, they needed directions to any destination beyond that.
HEADLAND LINK: ALUN MICHAEL
Alun Michael, the former Labour MP for Cardiff South and Penarth, was one of the proponents of the original disastrous Penarth Headland Link scheme which collapsed in 2001 when runaway estimates reached a staggering and unaffordable total of £23,500,000 – without a single ounce of concrete being laid.
Mr Michael – now Labour Police and Crime Commissioner for South Wales – is also now involved in the revived Headland Link scheme announced last December which proposes the building of a 6-metre-wide tarmac-surfaced tidal causeway for use by pedestrians and cyclists around the Headland but set half-way down the shore so that those using it – including the disabled – won’t be hit by rock-falls from the cliff above.
He said this was “a real opportunity to make Penarth the jewel in the crown for the Capital City , to give the Cardiff Bay Barrage the destination that it lacks and to close an embarrassing gap in the Coastal footpath “.
Mr Michael claimed that this would put Penarth “centre-stage rather than being a peripheral and slightly decayed seaside town”. He said it would be the “most productive 900 yards of tarmac or concrete that could be built in Wales”. He said it would look like the New Zealand coastal Path and that 800,000 people walked the Barrage every year.
Mr Michael was at pains to point out that this new version of the Headland Link was not what he called “the very ambitious design which was being talked about some years ago” but was “a very simple straightforward design and therefore affordable” . The scheme would , he said, “make Penarth the jewel in the crown for Cardiff – our Capital City – as well as creating connectivity through to the rest of Wales”.
HEADLAND LINK: QUESTIONS
In questions that followed Mr Michael was asked how the Headland Link would be funded and maintained.
Mr Michael said that up to now the organisation had concentrated on getting support from all the public bodies . He said ” we have ideas about how we will deal with the financing . When those plans are ready we will communicate to the people of Penarth” .
Another questioner said he felt “disappointed” that a concrete or tarmac road is going to be built around a natural part of Penarth – around the cliff to what was Dock Beach at one time. He thought this was a natural area which needed be conserved. “There are fossils there and all kinds of stuff on the beach”.” Although there would be a gap between the road and the cliff, that gap would not catch the stones coming down the cliff . he said “I’ve seen how they bounce and a number of people have been killed picnicking near the cliffs.” Countering Mr Michael’s suggestion that the new Headland Link would become a tourist magnet – he said “ I don’t see that the road will draw people from all over the world”.
The questioner said it was a Spaniard who had pointed out to him what a disaster tourism had been for Spain. He said in Wales too, tourism would create a “double economy” with the rich benefitting from increased house prices and the poor being disadvantaged.
Alun Michael later rebutted this and said there was no doubt about the fact that coastal footpaths and long distance footpaths are “incredibly powerful drivers to the economy” in both rural and seaside areas. He said the questioner was right to suggest that tourism had not been properly managed – it had to be planned for – but cited the success of Cardiff over 25 years in developing itself as a tourist destination. “The world does come to Cardiff now – the problem for us is that the world does not come on to Penarth” he said. This was how the Headland Link could “tie us in to being the jewel in the crown for our Capital City” and also get “a really important element into the economy of Penarth”. The causeway would also help prevent erosion at the base of the cliff.
He said “We have to have a vision – build it and they will come” and claimed there were what he called “no show-stoppers” at this stage of the planning.
PARKING ON THE SEA FRONT: Audience member Brian Fisher asked what were the future plans for additional parking on the sea front to encourage more visitors.
Mr Michael said that if the increased footfall of visitors didn’t arrive via an alternative to cars “then you are limited”. He noted that in the earlier public meeting on the Headland Link number of people had said there should an aspiration for additional parking . Mr Michael noted that there used to be what he called “the old monolithic [multi-storey car park] just alongside which quite rightly was knocked down”.
[PDN Note: The full story of the demolition of Penarth’s now much-missed Esplanade Car Park is on http://tinyurl.com/nqykvfz and ranks as one of the worst municipal decisions ever made in Penarth]
Mr Michael said the idea now was to have two levels of car park [near the start of the Headland Walkway] and the group believed it was possible for it to “wash its face” .
CONSERVATION : CLLR ANTHONY ERNEST
Cllr Anthony Ernest (Joint Vice President of Penarth Civic Society) said the Civic Society was started as a result of what was seen as unwanted changes to the general layout of Penarth and the properties in the town back in the 1960s and 70s. He said “it was a time when houses were being demolished – a time when we had some untidy parts of the town. It was a time when people didn’t care about houses with heritage” – and recalled that two fine houses opposite Penarth Council Offices had been”knocked down with a bulldozer one Sunday afternoon “.
Many traditional shop fronts in Penarth had been lost – although the frontage of one of the last remaining ones, Capus, had been saved. He said trees had been removed, excessive street furniture and clutter now disfigured the street scene. Conservation he said had to allow the new but it had to be sensitive, in keeping and “respecting what is around it”.
Penarth, Cllr Ernest said didn’t have a lot of history – 150-200 years if that, but it did have heritage. The Conservation Area he said, covered a lot of the area of old Penarth. An Article Four Direction affected a lot of houses within the Conservation Area . Photographs were taken of every one of the 400-plus Article Four houses in Penarth some years ago . Any proposed changes to any of these houses has to be discussed with the Vale of Glamorgan Council before any work was carried out – otherwise a householder might be faced with having to restore the building to its original appearance.
In the absence of council grants for maintenance of Conservation Area homes he thought householders going to have to continue to meet the cost of all the renovation works needed to maintain Penarth’s very important catalogue of period homes . It was important to visitors and owners alike. A lot of people come to look at the heritage properties and the street scene.
Cllr Ernest also highlighted the “County Treasures Surveys” founded in 1974 . About 180 buildings in Penarth were included – comprising structures which were not technically within the Conservation Area but were regarded as important. Many of these treasures listed in 1974 had now “gone” They had been part of Penarth he said.
On trees he said there was a lack of tree replacement fund – to replace trees which had been taken out because they were diseased or damaging their surroundings.
In concluding he also advised the audience to look out for yellow notices tied to local lamp posts; these are notifications of planning applications. He urged people to read them and help retain Penarth’s Conservation Area.
CONSERVATION AREA : QUESTIONS
One audience member asked Cllr Ernest whether property owners with homes in the Conservation Area were allowed to let their houses fall down . Cllr Ernest replied that the local authority [ i.e. the Vale of Glamorgan Council] has powers to take action against the owners of properties that fall into disrepair . He said “sometimes they are reluctant to do that and prefer to cajole and encourage property owners to take action” – but ultimately they could be taken to court and face quite substantial fines.
BUSES : One questioner pointed out that on a Sunday there were no buses running from the Esplanade to “the top of the hill” even though many of the people living on the sea front are pensioners . The 93, 94 and 95 buses ran from the Town Centre to Cardiff but none of them called at the Esplanade.
Another questioner said a 200 name petition had been sent in about the lack of buses serving the sea front – but nothing had changed. Although the 89 and 88B operated from the Esplanade no Cardiff buses ran from the sea-front .
Cllr Ernest said the 89 and 88 buses were subsidised. Hopwever it had now been agreed that the Cardiff Bus No 91 would operate at weekends from Esplanade to Cardiff and Cosmeston and Penarth Town Council had contributed £8,000 towards the cost of this service.
PEDESTRIANISATION OF PENARTH TOWN CENTRE:
Audience member Sally Hughes asked “Are there plans to pedestrianise Penarth town centre to make it more pedestrian-friendly for shoppers”.
Responding, Gary Soltys said the whole of the town centre area was identified as a “priority area” in the Penarth Town Place Plan. Mr Soltys said changing the respective priorities for pedestrians and traffic would take a lot of money so , he said, at this point in time there was no money or budget that he was aware of – “but as far as what the Momentum group was looking at – yes pedestrianisation is being seriously considered ”
Cllr Cuddy picked up the point and said the Penarth Town Place Plan included budgets for different levels of intervention. It [pedestrianisation] was something which the town council could fund by precept [ an addition to Council Tax] but it would have to be with the agreement of people in Penarth.
Cllr Anthony Ernest – as Joint Vice President of the Civic Society – however warned that “If you pedestrianise Windsor Road the buses will have to go some other way – probably via Plassey St and Albert Road and then how to we get them coming up Rectory Road and last the library? We don’t We would have to go up Hickman Road or some route like that.”
Cllr Ernest said that anything that was done in the centre of the town – which was primarily a shopping centre – would affect heavily populated residential areas around it. By pedestrianising the main shopping centre, he said , that traffic would be thrown back onto adjoining roads.