The decision of the ruling Conservative Party group on Monmouth County Council (MCC) to grant approval for a supermarket development on the current site of Abergavenny Livestock Market (Tuesday 15th June) is as bereft of common sense as it is pregnant with consequences. This decision will fundamentally change the local economy of the area and the character of this much commended market town.
The suggestion that the arrival of a new supermarket development would enhance the town and bring new customers to the smaller independent retailers and businesses in the town is fatuous in the extreme. Local businesses provided work for local trades people such as electricians, builders and plumbers – whereas national chains tend to employ people from outside of the area for renovation and repair work.
There other beneficial knock on effects with local employment in banking, accountancy, legal advice, insurance, etc – all of which underpin the viability of our small towns - as small businesses also trade with each other. Local businesses also tend to be far more flexible with employees when it comes to terms and conditions and hours worked, unlike the large national chains and supermarkets.
On a more mundane political level, the not so eloquent silence on Monmouth constituency's elected Conservative representatives (to Westminster and the National Assembly) on this issue is both interesting and a matter of public record. Even David Cameron (before the Westminster election) and subsequently the Conservative Liberal Democrat coalition Government has at least paid lip service to the economic and social importance of our town centres and the principles of economic sustainability.
MCC has struggled to balance the books for many years, it has suffered from a poor financial settlement, this is a situation that has clearly driven the Authority to dispose of its assets for financial gain. The harsh reality is that MCC is (as are many local authorities across Wales) far too small to be viable in terms of finances and delivery of services. Taking the long view, local residents are continuing to pay the price for the demise of Gwent.
Most people can see, with the exception of MCC and its planners; that the public, given a decent choice, are more than happy to buy local produce and to support local retailers - they don't particularly want to shop in chain dominated high streets. A successful dynamic and diverse economy has a place for the larger retailer and the supermarket chain, but, not at the expense of everything else and the destruction of our small town high streets.
Across Monmouthshire (and elsewhere in England and Wales) we have all seen ill-thought out unsympathetic redevelopments that have had a detrimental effect on the local economies in both Chepstow and Monmouth and elsewhere. The retention of the cattle market in Abergavenny presents a real opportunity to do something fundamentally different, something that should be able to address both environmental and economic concerns and contribute to the retention of the unique character of the market town that is Abergavenny.
The National Assembly Ministers, under Section 77 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 have the power to call in any applications for planning permission for their own determination, something that clearly needs to be done in this specific case. While there is a tendency to consider that development proposals are best dealt with by planning authorities that know their area, its needs and sensitivities, it is pretty obvious that with regard to MCC, and the redevelopment of Abergavenny and its cattle market this is clearly not the case, hence the need to call in this proposed development.
Planning applications can be called in when they raise issues of more than local importance, issues which are in conflict with national planning policies; could have wide effects beyond their immediate locality; may give rise to substantial controversy beyond the immediate locality and are likely significantly to affect sites of scientific, nature conservation or historic interest or areas of landscape importance which covers almost every aspect of the proposed redevelopment of Abergavenny cattle market.