Guidance set to be adopted for town centre conservation area – ‘council and private sector need to play their part’
A plan that aims to help preserve the town’s history and safeguard the “special character and appearance” of the conservation area is set to be adopted next week.
In early February we detailed the draft ‘Conservation Area Character Assessment and Management Plan’, which outlines guidance on how future development and works in the town’s conservation area can take place.
The document also provides a “framework for decision-makers to ensure that through these works, the special character and appearance of the Conservation Area is preserved and enhanced.”
Wrexham Town Centre Conservation Area was first designated in March 1974 and subsequently extended in August 1975, June 1985 and most recently in April 2007.
After a public consultation and request for comment from the planning committee amongst other stakeholders, next week the document will go before executive board members for a rubber stamp and formal adoption.
This stage also gives an insight to the consultation feedback, including 52 comments from private individuals, voluntary groups and Welsh Government departments.
Feedback from the Heritage Lottery suggested that the plan includes a section on enforcement powers under conservation area controls.
The proposal was one of the few actual changes to the draft document made the final edit, with the following now included:
“Enforcement Powers: Wrexham County Borough Council has an adopted enforcement policy in order to deal with breaches of planning regulations quickly and effectively.
Where a breach of Planning Control has been identified, the Local Planning Authority will, in the first instance, seek to remedy the breach through negotiation with the parties involved.
Where negotiations prove unsuccessful, various powers are available to the Local Planning Authority in dealing with unauthorised works within the Conservation Area, including:
Temporary Stop Notices
Enforcement Warning Notice
Planning Enforcement Notices
Listed Building Enforcement Notices
Section 215 Notices”
In February’s draft we quoted the report as saying: “The former Burtons at the junction of Hope Street and High Street is particularly detrimental in key views to and from the Church”.
The document added that: “The current condition with boarded up windows is visually poor and interim measures could be taken to improve this situation.”
Although we had not seen the changes and final document we were aware the report was coming up before the executive board and had read the draft, and was struck by the overall theme of improving the appearance of the town centre.
At this week’s council media brief we noted the campaign by then Member of Parliament candidate now Executive Board member Andrew Atkinson’s campaign in 2015 to encourage Wrexham Council to use their powers under Section 215 of the Town and Country Planning Act to hold landlords to account and get improvements done.
The photo-op at the time included two other now-executive board members, councillors Phil Wynn and Bill Baldwin.
With Section 215 notices now included after the Heritage Lottery feedback, looking at the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 Section 215 “Best Practice Guidance” UK Government document it reads: “One benefit of the successful use of s215 notices is the ‘ripple’ effect it generates, especially in residential areas.
“LPAs (local planning authorities) have reported that often once a notice has been issued and work begun, work on neighbouring properties has also commenced, resulting in improved standards and conditions over a wide area” even adding “the mere ‘threat’ of a s215 notice elicits a similar response”.
In a detailed explainer it states: “If an LPA combats them with comprehensive remedial action, people will feel better about the area, whether they are residents, businesses or tourists.
“There is an important economic issue in favour of comprehensive s215 action: if a town is presentable, people will want to visit or live there, and businesses will want to locate there.”
Such action appears legally straightforward (“Very few s215 notices are actually appealed and of those that are only a small proportion are upheld”) and costs could be recovered either directly, or via “registering a charge on the property with the Land Registry, thus assuring full cost recovery plus base-rate interest.”
We took our opportunity at the monthly Media Brief to ask Wrexham Council Chief Executive Ian Bancroft and Council Leader Mark Pritchard about the progress of using such notice.
Chief Executive Ian Bancroft told us: “It is something we are still considering, it needs careful handling if we are to look at a scheme like that. It is something we are considering and we will be coming back on it at some stage.”
We also highlighted the regular congregation of bins near to a vista of Grade 1 listed wonder of Wales St Giles’ Parish Church as pictured at the top of this article, which is also across the road from a recent sizeable investment into Wrexham town centre by the team behind the Fat Boar, and asked if Wrexham Council could do more to improve the ‘situation’ in the conservation area.
Mr Bancroft added: “One of the points about bringing the Town Centre Conservation Plan is to say ‘what are the things we can do to make sure the town centre is kept in line with the conservation plan as it needs to be?’ That is one of the points of bringing the plan forward.”
“What within our current remit and powers can we work with other stakeholders to make sure the town centre is as attractive as possible, in line with the principles we should have in a conservation area.
“It also brings us on to the recent debate on the town centre and it’s masterplanning, and there is a feeling that over the next twelve months we should be revisiting the masterplan.”
Cllr Pritchard added: “We have to play our own part, but also the private sector does too.”
We enquired if there were any significant changes planned for the revisited masterplan, which itself is a relatively recent large piece of work. Cllr Pritchard replied that he did not expect any major changes but would see what would come forward in the future, with Mr Bancroft adding that the basis would not be changing but the document needed to be ‘kept up to date’ and needed a ‘refresh’.
In the Conservation Area Character Assessment and Management Plan report before councillors on Tuesday some other feedback summaries are noted, with Mr Geoff Foy stating “poor quality and inappropriate signage remains an issue. There are particularly bad examples on Charles Street.”
Cadw welcomed the report but said: “One of the issues flagged up is that the story of the town needs to be better told and interpreted, and that more research is needed. We would be very supportive of that, particularly if it could involve local participation.”
Mr Paul Whitham from St Giles Parish Church commented on the “current state of the lighting in Church Street together with the lighting for the footpaths around the outside of the churchyard – along College Street, Temple Row and along the path overlooking Yorke Street” adding: “There is no doubt that the current lighting in the areas mentioned above is inadequate for current standards, and expectations as well.
“Indeed, along College Street and Temple Row etc, described in the report as ‘secluded and intimate’, they can be positively threatening and intimidating.
“If there is planned to be an increase in footfall in these areas, then there is no doubt that the lighting must be improved with more lamps on buildings and/or additional lamp columns, as deemed appropriate.”
Various other general unattributed public comments are noted which are out of scope of the document, however show people took part with a general view of the town itself:
– Eagles Meadow shopping centre is the worst example of development within Wrexham followed by the exterior of Ty Pawb.
– Although outside the Conservation Area, feel strongly about the preservation of the Grove Park Girls Grammar School
– Reduce the amount of charity shops, betting shops, tattoo parlours
– The town planners have ruined the face of old Wrexham with their lack of foresight and imagination.
– Wrexham is now in 2 parts, the old and the new Eagles Meadow. This has caused its demise… and taken away the essence of Wrexham.
– The plan is divorced from everything that is being said about a lack of money for basic services
– WCBC should consider reducing business tax to assist with the regeneration of the town centre.
– Many wonderful old buildings have been destroyed leaving Wrexham non-entity of the town.
One ruby in the off topic comment dust noted that the report is “…a major project to restore Wrexham to its former glory”.
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