Warning that college campus relocation could hit city centre footfall and ‘undermine Bangor’s status’
Gareth Williams, local democracy reporter
Coleg Menai’s plan to ditch Bangor city centre for a business park on its outskirts could impact on its regeneration and lead to a further drop in footfall, Gwynedd Council has warned.
The further education provider has already submitted an appeal with the Planning Inspectorate amid frustration over a lack of decision by the local authority, as it bids to move from the ageing Ffordd Friddoedd site to Tŷ Menai on the Parc Menai business estate.
Despite being based at Ffriddoedd since the late 1950s, college bosses say that the urgent maintenance needed to bring the “outdated” facilities up to current standards would not be cost effective – estimated at £18m merely to remain weatherproof and operational.
But meeting on Monday, Gwynedd Council’s Planning Committee backed officers in formally objecting to the plans amid claims that Parc Menai is earmarked for employment and that the resulting void would impact on Bangor’s status as a regional employment centre.
The council report noted: “Bangor city is facing several challenges – and the condition and performance of the city centre undermines its function as a regional centre.
“Over the years, the city has seen a range of investments on the outskirts (e.g. Caernarfon Road), which have had a detrimental impact on the viability of the city centre. Part of the scheme to regenerate the city is to increase activities and use in the city centre.
“Coleg Menai is an important employer and service provider in the city. The existing site is within reach of the city centre with access to convenient links.
“Relocating the campus to the outskirts of the city would be likely to undermine the business and function of the city centre and would reduce the number of people visiting the centre.”
The Tŷ Menai building was built in 2004 at a cost of £17.8m by the former Welsh Development Agency (WDA) as part of its Technium programme, standing just a stone’s throw away from Coleg Menai’s Art and Design facility.
But the committee’s decision came despite claims from Coleg Menai that the only viable option for the college was a move, consolidating the Bangor campus with some existing courses already offered at Parc Menai.
The college wants to consolidate all teaching of creative and digital studies, with around 520 students expected to be enrolled at Tŷ Menai.
Dafydd Evans, for the applicants, claimed that Ty Menai had been “half empty since its opening.”
“The economy minister has agreed to the sale of the building and the education minister has agreed to provide a £12m grant for renovations.
“But the clock is ticking and we have to spend it by 2023, this application has been known by the planning department for three years so the issue must be settled with urgency.”
Adding there was sufficient room to further develop employment space at Coleg Menai, he added there were no suitable sites within the city centre for the group to utilise.
“Any policy must allow an exciting opportunity to move forward and legal advice states there is sufficient wiggle room in your policies,” he concluded.
“I’m sure the ratepayers of Gwynedd would not wish to see Ty Menai become another Parc Glynllifon.
“They would rather it be used for young people and a £30m campus for the price of £12m, I urge you to consider the potential and approve for the sake of future generations.”
These latest plans follow the relocation of several courses out of Bangor, including its engineering department to Llangefni.
Cllr Gareth Roberts backed Coleg Menai’s bid, claiming that the present location was “very cramped” and that residents were complaining of litter and parking issues associated with students.
“They need a bigger and better site to help them thrive, there’s nowhere else in Bangor for them,” he added.
But another of the city’s councillors, Huw Wyn Jones, was adamant that Parc Menai was not suitable for an expanded campus.
He said, “Parc Menai has always been a centre for employment, but as a former student of the technical college as it was, a lot of people walk in and use public transport.
“If we move it out to Parc Menai that will all disappear, you see people come in on the train or bus but the links to Parc Menai aren’t there with Parc Menai already due to serious traffic issues.
“I agree with officers that this is not the right site.”
The council’s views will now be formally submitted to Cardiff-appointed planning inspectors who will make a final decision over the coming months.