THE story of Parc Howard and the battle to save it from the impending doom of commercialisation as some see it is one, which should go down in the annals of the park’s history. It began with revelations that secret meetings had been held with commercial developers and that they had been led to the Town Council with a view to gaining a long lease on the mansion house. They were it is fair to say sent away with a flea in their ear by the then serving town clerk.
Fast forward to a change in administration and the park was at the centre of controversy again when work on a giant space-net began without planning permission angering local people and property owners near the site. That plan was abandoned and it is not known how much money was spent during the debacle.
A number of meetings were held in the town to discuss plans for the park and to raise concerns over the lack of consultation with the people of Llanelli but more specifically the elected representatives and the organisations already charged with looking after the park. During these meetings representatives clearly stated that they had not been consulted but rather told what would be done. All stated that they wanted the plans to be withdrawn until such time as proper meaningful consultation had taken place and the full scale of the plans for the park were known, i.e. open and transparent.
Some campaigners have claimed that Llanelli is being ‘misled’ regarding the planning application for a two tier car park at Parc Howard. In an eight page document sent to the Welsh Assembly Government asking for the plans to be ‘called in’ the campaigners highlight what they claim are at best ‘dubious’ reasons for the council applying for the car park and at worse ‘complete disregard’ for the council’s own Local Development Plan (LDP) and National Planning Policy.
The campaigners suggest that the whole notion of the car park is purely to satisfy the needs of a yet to be established ‘commercial venture’ at the park. As it stands any potential commercial business moving in to Parc Howard will do so safe in the knowledge that the County council has gifted them a car park costing the tax payer £100,000. A number of councillors have aired their concerns claiming that that as things stand, the County council is placing the interests of a commercial venture as yet not ensconced in the park before the interests of the people of Llanelli.
As well as objections over lack of detail, lack of information, lack of consultation, worries regarding health and safety, noise and air pollution, historic mining areas, the visual impact and impact on local residents there has been a damning indictment of the County council’s whole handling of the planning application process from councillors and the general public.
Those pesky interfering Llanelli councillors refused to go away and have begun asking further questions regarding Parc Howard and the ‘masterplan’. At a meeting of the full council on Wednesday (Jul 19) Cllr Rob James asked: “Could I ask the Executive Board Member for Culture Sport and Tourism to state the reasons why Carmarthenshire County Council have taken the decision to advertise for expression of interest for a property transaction rather than a competitive open tendering process for the bottom floor of Parc Howard?”
Cllr Peter Hughes Griffiths responded by saying: “We as a council have to accept that change is inevitable and we have to change to go with the times. The days when the council had plenty of money to run museums and so on, those days have gone and people understand that.
“As a first step quite naturally we then enquired to see who might be interested in helping us. Expression of interest that is all it was. To see if anyone had any ideas we may not have thought of to compliment the existing provision. We wondered whether there might be local businesses who might like to cooperate with us.
“The second question was whether anyone had expressed an interest and that the answer to that is yes.”
Cllr Hughes Griffiths appealed for support and cooperation to ensure the success of Parc Howard.
Cllr James thanked Cllr Hughes Griffiths but said that that was not his question. He said: “Residents and park users are in the dark about how much detail there is in the proposal. Can you at least state what length of lease you prefer as an executive board member or as an executive board as a whole.”
Cllr Hughes Griffiths said: “We haven’t reached that stage yet and when we will of course we will consider. It depends of course on the type of interests that are shown and what aspects of interests are shown. There might be more than one that are helping us. When we reach that stage and nobody will do that until you reach that particular stage you leave it until that.”
Cllr John Jenkins then asked the leader of Carmarthenshire County Council Emlyn Dole a question regarding whether or not he would withdraw the planning application for the car park temporarily in order for proper consultation to take place. He said: “Given the obvious and overwhelming opposition from the public in Llanelli to this Authority’s plan to replace a well-used tennis court in Parc Howard with a car park which will be accessed by a blatantly unsuitable access point via Old Road; regardless and separate from the planning process, would the Leader of the Council acknowledge that this element of the Parc Howard Masterplan is deeply unpopular and would he care to demonstrate his reasonableness and willingness to listen and engage with the community in Llanelli by withdrawing Planning Application number S/35541 if only pending meaningful public consultation, separate from the planning process, on the provision of car parking within the Parc Howard Masterplan?”
The leader told Cllr Jenkins that he had consulted the organisations in Llanelli involved with Parc Howard including the Friends of the Museum, the Parc Howard Association and Llanelli Town Council and that they were supportive of plans for a car park on the site of the tennis court at the park.
Cllr Jenkins then asked a supplementary question. He asked the leader:Can you name just one organisation that has written in and said ‘we support the car park’?”
The chair had asked every speaker to ask and answer questions and not make sermons, however he allowed the leader to go off on a long winded reply which suggested that Llanelli Town Council had rejected the park and that he had had long conversations with organisations, six times over eighteen months in order to retain the park in public ownership.
He said that a plan was needed for all of the people of Llanelli to use the park not just the people who were near and could walk to it. He said. “When my children were small we were there every weekend but we had to find somewhere to park about half a mile away.
“That car park gives a viability to the possibility of some sort of income there that’s meaningful in the context of the finances needed to ensure that future.”
The leader went on to make comparatives to Picton Castle, which he said was very similar to Parc Howard and that it had a car park with 168 spaces suggesting that visitor numbers at the castle had increased as a result.
He said: “It is quite simple. When the Llanelli Town Council said no to the asset I said yes. He asked “What kind of people vote against a youth facility in a public park in their own ward and in their own town? That defies belief and I have to say it, Llanelli deserves better than that.”
Llanelli Online attempted to contact some of the organisations concerned who had previously voiced their concerns that they had not been properly consulted.
Llanelli Town Council responded with the following statement: “Llanelli Town Council’s Planning, Licensing and Consultation Committee held on 6th June opposed the car park planning application following a presentation to the full council meeting on 6th June by Jonathan Fearn.
“Following that meeting an officer meeting was held on 31st August where it was agreed that representatives of the Town Council would meet Cllr. Dole to discuss the county’s plans for the future of Parc Howard before reporting back to the rest of our members for consideration. Nothing has been discussed outside of those dates.
“The county council have met representatives of the various organisations involved at Parc Howard, including Town Council representatives, where issues like the car park were discussed, but whilst Cllr. Dole views this as consultation the others around the table don’t. The council have not considered anything discussed at those meetings.”
Cllr Rob James insists: “Having campaigned across Llanelli, I can honestly say there is no appetite for the proposed ‘space net’ and local residents would rather Council resources be utilised in other areas, including improving the condition of the tennis courts in Parc Howard.
“I hope the Council Leader realises that he does not have the support of the public for this development, pulls the planning application that is scheduled to be considered on Thursday and works with local residents, park users and partners to reach an agreement.”
Speaking to Llanelli Online on Tuesday (Sep 26) Cllr John Jenkins gave the following observations on the responses he got to his questions at full council. He said: “I have slight reservations about what the County Council describes as ‘consultation’ over Parc Howard especially the principle of a car park in Parc Howard and any suggested location.
“Informal chats with a few representatives of a few selected groups, none of whose individual representatives were in a position to officially respond on behalf of their organisations, is not consultation.
“I sincerely believe Emlyn Dole is well-intentioned with regard to Parc Howard and keeping it in public ownership. There is still time to consult, work with others on a more formal basis to find a way that takes the people of Llanelli forward together with the County Council in harmony to secure a consensus on a blueprint for Parc Howard.
“I do hope consensus can be found and a viable future for Parc Howard can be agreed upon that the people of Llanelli can support. The Parc lies deep in the hearts of the Llanelli people and everyone wants to see it prosper for many more generations to come.”