Council officers raise concerns over multi-million-pound ‘Levelling Up’ project
Twm Owen, local democracy reporter
A major redevelopment of a multi-storey car park as part of a multi-million-pound ‘Levelling Up’ project has drawn objections from officers of the council behind the plan.
Both the heritage and landscape officers of Torfaen Borough Council have raised concerns about the proposed “modern, bold design” of the revamped Glantorvaen Road car park in Pontypool – using stainless steel and mesh cladding – intended to create a “stand-out building that would be an attraction”.
The borough council’s own knowledge of the history of Pontypool has also been questioned by the officers, and the planning department, who have all pointed out the town is famous for coal, rather than steel as the council’s application claimed.
However despite the concerns of the council specialists, members of the planning committee are being advised to approve the council’s own planning application to redevelop the 1980s car park at a meeting on Thursday, April 20.
£9 million initiative
Torfaen Borough Council has been awarded £7.6 million from the UK Government’s ‘Levelling Up’ fund to create a restaurant at the Pontypool Park toilets in Hanbury Road, restore the derelict St James Church, and revamp the car park as part of a £9 million initiative to breath new life into the town centre.
The planning committee will meet in the Civic Centre, which is next to the car park, and the setting of which the heritage officer has said will be “harmed” by the proposed revamp.
The Civic Centre is grade II-listed due to the historic Town Hall building and the heritage officer has described the planned “saw tooth design” which includes solar panels on the roof of the car park and mesh cladding as at odds with the “sensitive location”.
The officer also highlighted that the council had claimed steel would reflect “the industrial heritage of the town” but pointed out: “Pontypool is historically linked to coal and iron production, rather than steel.”
Planning officer Mia McAndrew said that history is also reflected in Welsh heritage body Cadw’s guidance and noted: “The application site is still identified as a coalfield.”
The heritage officer said the revamped car park “would be bulky in design” and, due to its elevated position above the historic administrative core of the town, “would appear overly prominent from important views within the conservation area towards the car park from Glantorfaen Road and Hanbury Road.”
The car park’s current design is described as matching the Civic Centre as its arches reflect the windows of the Town Hall and the bricks are the same as those in the modern building.
The officer described the plans as a “generic car park design which could be found in any town centre in the UK” and warned: “The proposal would increase the height and bulk of the existing car park building and introduce a new material and colour into the area, making it more prominent and at odds with the listed building. The proposal would therefore be harmful to the setting of the listed building.”
The concerns were also shared by the landscape officer but Ms McAndrew, in her report, said they could be overcome through conditions on the material used to ensure they are “high quality” and “reference Pontypool’s industrial history and complement surrounding buildings”.
She has also advised the committee the “investment in Pontypool town centre would have significant benefits which must be afforded significant weight”.
The number of car parking spaces would slightly increase from 261 to 263 and they would be altered to accommodate more disabled, electric vehicle charging and motorcycle spaces, while two out of the six public toilets would be gender-neutral and accessible.
Though the planning department has acknowledged “a more sensitive design could have been developed” Ms McAndrew’s report is recommending approval on balance as “Levelling Up Fund grant has been awarded to the proposed scheme and it is an important opportunity for the vitality of the town centre.”
The committee will meet at 2pm on Thursday, April 20 and 12 conditions have been suggested to form part of the approval including that a parking management scheme is drawn up to address the loss of parking spaces during construction work.
Support our Nation today
For the price of a cup of coffee a month you can help us create an independent, not-for-profit, national news service for the people of Wales, by the people of Wales.