The earthworks, which appeared at Parc Howard late last year have been described as ‘unauthorised’ and a ‘mistake’ during a planning meeting today, Tuesday (Jul 11). The planning committee also heard that in general there had been a lack of consultation and questions over health and safety at the park following decisions by a person or persons unknown to plough ahead with plans for play equipment without having dotted the I’s.
Committee members were meeting to decide whether or not to approve plans for the giant space net, which measures 5.5 metres high to be built alongside the Gorsedd stones. The previous ‘debacle’ as one councillor described it was only halted when a resident returned home early from holidays to catch the council’s contractors happily taking the earth from under their noses in a scene reminiscent of Fantastic Mr Fox. It didn’t help that there was allegedly a mine shaft under the site of the proposed space net.
Local resident Cathryn Vaz was first to address the committee. She said: “This play equipment is aimed at people like me and my son. It is out of keeping in scale and appearance in an open and green space to enjoy quiet relaxing time.
Mrs Vaz spoke about the The WAG guidance on matters like this. And said that technical advice states that children and young people access play areas for casual use. She said that the net would not present play opportunities for older children and that there were no facilities for disabled children and no provision within the space net.
She said: “The style and location does not address this at all. It is adequate for 5 to 8-year-olds but there is nothing for older children other than a run down tennis court. I don’t consider it good use of public funds. I am very concerned about spending a lot of money in times of austerity on something like a zip wire, a white elephant which will be decommissioned. There has been no consultation with local residents or people who use the park. I have a seven-year-old and I have spoken to him and his friends. He has said he would find it boring. He would prefer sports related activity. Investment in the park is welcome with more detailed consultation.”
Catrina Walden addressed the committee and said: “I want to thank the committee for allowing us ladies from Llanelli to address you. I ask you to defer the application to allow consultation in the community. We are not ungrateful to have £60,000 spent in park but we want it spent wisely. It is not just about the principle of consultation.
Ms Walden said that she believed that the council’s reputation was already suffering following the failure of the zip wire and the ugly mess after the digging of the park for the space net. She said: “The first we knew about what was going on was from the driver of bulldozer.
“People using the park wonder who made the decisions and who is accountable for the waste. Care and consultation are essential here. There has been no consultation about the space-net. A Range of groups including PHA and Friends of the Museum have not been consulted. A public meeting was held in Llanelli. Fred Hughes, Jane Rosser and Jan Williams took the Head of Property (Jonathan Fearn) to task when it was suggested that they had been consulted. They have been at presentations but had no opportunity to express their views. The committee should be aware of that.
“My objections centre around consultation and health and safety. There is little support for space-net. She concluded by saying that the money could be spent on other things including a tennis court.”
Speaking on behalf of the council Paul Murray told the committee that the space-net complies with standards. He said: “It has passed rigorous testing. Mr Murray said he could not comment on consultation. He said: “I have met with one resident with Mr Fearn who objected to the location on the Eastern side. The council acknowledges it did a mistake with the initial siting. The difficulty we have is the sloping nature of the site. We tried to give a structure interesting for users for the park catering for the back end of the park for older children. This is aimed at 10 and 11-year-olds and above. He said that parental supervision needed to be looked at but that the space-nets were becoming very popular around the place. He said: “There is one in Hendy and North Dock. He reassure the committee that should the application be successful an annual inspection which covers the insurance would take place.
He said: “We tried our best with the designs, we had to try and blend in as closely as possible with the site. One had an enclosed structure. Anti social behaviour has been raised on the paper work. We work closely with the police with any antisocial behaviour in any park. As far as impact is concerned the colour is not as it is on the drawing. We are trying to mimic trees and blend in with the backdrop of the park.”
Stalwort of Carmarthenshire County Council, Llanelli Town Council and former JP Jan Williams spoke about her concerns over what had been done to the park already. She said: “I am here today pleased and proud to be representing Llanelli Town Council. Did you enjoy your visit to our beautiful park or at least it was beautiful until something was done to it.
Cllr Williams said that at the 6th June Town Council planning meeting the committee had looked at the application and that they had discussed it extensively. She said: “Anything relating to a tennis court and car park has been delayed. We looked at it and have been asked to discuss it in isolation. There needs to be cohesion and a proper plan. It was unanimously rejected by every member of the planning committee and later the full council.
“This has come to us because of the debacle of the other site. The siting as you have admitted leaves a lot to be desired. Nonetheless you have ploughed forward. It is totally inappropriate, it is a carbuncle on the painting of the Madonna and child. There has been no coal mining risk assessment, we were told they didn’t need to do it. The whole area is a mining disaster.
“Air pollution has not been looked at. There has been no bat survey done. The wildlife of the park is very important to protect. You can’t take something in isolation. The people of Llanelli are not feeling that they have been consulted. Llanelli has five wards and I know for a fact that they have not been asked. We need to ask what it costs and we know that it costs more than we want to give. We are entering into discussions with officers. We want to look at the whole scenario. We want facts and figures. Our officers are talking to your officers. We would like to see you in good faith delay this as you have delayed the car parking so we can really consult with the people of Llanelli. We would like to think that we could work together in harmony and we need far more detail This is the jewel in the crown and the people of Llanelli feel it is their park.”
Local member for the Lliedi Ward, Cllr Rob James addressed the committee. He said: “I am asking you to reject improvement for play facilities. This is not the right way. I would like to register my objections. It relates to work partly undertaken. Thankfully a resident came home early from holidays or it would have been built on top of a mineshaft.
“Planning has now been submitted. Interested parties insist they have not been consulted. Those that have , Llanelli Town Council registered objections. CADW state the impact on an open area and adjacent stone circle. The proposal would replace the zip wire, which was decommissioned after an accident decommissioned on health and safety grounds. The pool is empty and unused on health and safety grounds. We should remember it is a public park and an historic site.
“Hundreds of residents called for a full public consultation. I ask that the planning committee defer until talks with partners on asset transfer.”
Councillor Kevin Madge said that he had read a lot about it (Parc Howard) in the media. He said: “It started without planning. What I am concerned about is the lack of consultation. There are no resources across Carmarthenshire but money to put into this park. Surely we should have consulted the community and come to an agreement where we have taken the public with us. It is a quiet part of that park. If a child falls off this and hurts themselves is anyone going to hear them. It is unusual to have this kind of development in front of us. I would move this is deferred until such time that consultation is done properly.”
Chairman Alun Lenny reminded the committee that there has been consultation with Llanelli Town Council and the local member. He asked Cllr Madge if he could elaborate on the consultation he wanted.
Cllr Madge replied: “Plans in public holding meetings with interested parties and all groups concerned with Parc Howard. If we do not do that we are going to have people howling in the future.”
Alun Lenny replied: “One would have expected the Llanelli Town Council to have held a public meeting.”
Burry Port councillor John James said: “It is out of keeping with Parc Howard. Putting play areas there in the right place. You wouldn’t put a swing or see-saw in Stonehenge. Why don’t we pay the same respect to our stones. We should look at asset transfer first. We have been told about the waste of money if we challenge the Genwen application.
Cllr Gareth Thomas who represents the Hendy ward said: “This is a play area for children. We need to get them to get out. This has been a very emotive thing within the County Council. We need to keep it open. In Hendy we grasped every fund and grant. Unless you provide these facilities you don’t get a second chance. These nets are very safe. We were climbing trees when we were children, things children don’t do anymore. Go and get grants for those. Why are we clobbering children I don’t know what we are doing here.”
Cllr Dot Jones said: “As apparent of two boys I know the short attention span. The children are our future. Have they been consulted? The children from my ward say they want a BMX park not a climbing frame.”
Cllr Ken Lloyd said it was his first visit to the park. He said: “We cant transpose what is in Hendy to Parc Howard. It is very dangerous to replicate what is in the park in Hendy to Parc Howard.
In a remarkable judgement on the people of Llanelli Cllr Ken Howells said: “I don’t know what it is about the people of Llanelli. Last year they had £150,000 grant for Parc Howard and they complained about it. What exactly do they want? Councillor Thomas has endorsed this climbing frame in Hendy and I cant understand why they are turning it down.”
Cllr Tyssul Evans also asked if there were not a responsibility on the Town Council to hold a public meeting if there had been disquiet amongst local people.
Cllr Kevin Madge made a proposal to defer the application on the grounds that other groups had not been consulted properly. He said it was only right that they were given the opportunity to make representations.
Alun Lenny reminded Cllr Madge that statutory consultation had been followed.
The legal representative Steven Murphy also confirmed that proper consultation was followed.
Cllr Madge then withdrew his proposal and proposed that the committee move to refuse the application based on the location being inappropriate.
The committee voted 10 to 7 in favour of the application and planning permission was granted.