BUSINESSES in Carmarthen and Ammanford will be able to make some changes without planning planning permission to help stay open and increase footfall, if new proposals are adopted.
It follows the approval of “local development orders” for core commercial areas of the two towns by Carmarthenshire Council’s executive board.
These orders grant conditional planning consent for specific changes to commercial premises including, in some cases, creating upper floor flats.
The orders, however, do not grant approval for external work, apply to listed buildings, or remove requirements for things like licensing and environmental health.
Introducing the report, deputy leader Mair Stephens said the aim was to prevent shops being vacant for lengthy periods and encourage more footfall.
In Wales, Llanelli and Newport already have a local development order of their own.
“This can save the applicant time and money at a time when we are all eager to see investment in our town centres,” said Cllr Stephens.
The report said retail vacancy rates in Ammanford had increased from 13.2% before the coronavirus crisis to 15.7% now. Retail vacancy rates in Carmarthen had risen from 11% to 15.4% in the same period.
This was a clear indicator, said the report, of the impact of Covid-19.
It added that the new over-arching development plan for Carmarthenshire, which has not been adopted as yet, will need to be reviewed due to the pandemic’s effect on bricks and mortar retail.
The report said: “Indeed, as the challenges to respond to the impact of Covid-19 becomes clear and as town centres reshape themselves, this would suggest that traditional retailing uses will not be as prevalent and the demand for new retail space will lessen for the foreseeable future.
“Consequently, the role of primary retail areas will need to be reviewed in light of Covid-19, and this must be realistic recognising that retail occupiers will return in the way prior to the pandemic.”
Cllr Peter Hughes-Griffiths welcomed the proposals for Carmarthen and Ammanford, but suggested the whole of Lammas Street in Carmarthen should be included in its development order.
Cllr Glynog Davies echoed this sentiment for Ammanford, and also felt the bottom of Quay Street and more of Wind Street warranted consideration.
The development order proposals will now go out for consultation for at least six weeks, prior to adoption by full council. They would then be in force for three years.
“It is very important that local people can give their opinion and that we hear concerns from local people in listed buildings,” said Cllr Davies, whose ward is in the Amman Valley.
He said the local development order which came into force in Llanelli in February 2019 was benefiting the town.
“It is pleasing to see shops are opening in the town (Llanelli) and also flats above them,” he said.