Monmouth and District Chamber of Trade and Commerce

Chamber welcomes offer of financial support for high street traders but finds MCC’s response to the Chamber’s letter re proposed changes to the parking regime very disappointing.

David Cummings, Chairman of Monmouth and District Chamber of Commerce responds as follows to MCC ‘s press statement of 15th February 2019, on the budget and parking regime changes.

We very much welcome the allocation of a targeted fund of £100k for high street traders for business rate support and a commitment to engage with the Welsh Government to create a new system of business rates that is fairer.

We are disappointed that in the list of infrastructure projects proposed, Abergavenny, Caldicot, Chepstow and Usk are mentioned, but not Monmouth. Why have we been forgotten?

We are aware that MCC last year received an estimated £100k less in car park revenue from Abergavenny than planned, mainly due to the free 2-hour facility offered by Morrisons supermarket. Why should those using pay and display car parks be made to soon pay 25% more for a two hour stay? This means it will soon be 7 times more expensive to park in Monmouth than Coleford for the same period of time.

All the Towns involved have written to the Council expressing huge concern as to how badly their high streets are going to be affected by these added charges.  These appeals appear to have been ignored.  As many of you are aware the Chamber has been running a Shop Local Campaign to highlight how much our retailers need to be supported.  The increase in charges is likely to add another nail in the coffin for struggling shops with decreasing footfall.

Has MCC exercised due diligence on the proposed changes to the parking regime? We are not aware that they have directly engaged with car park users for their views. If you make changes to a system without getting feedback from the users of that system, how can the feedback and consequently decisions made be considered valid?

Charging from one hour earlier to one hour later 6 days a week in car parks will disadvantage accommodation providers whose guests use the Glendower Street car park. In a town with 50% out migration to work a longer charging period to 6pm will deter impulse early evening shoppers from our high street and encourage them to use the free car parking in places like the Co-op site on Rockfield Road. Why should they pay in effect £1.50 just for an hour or less? Is it MCC’s intention to reduce the footfall on our high street?

Shortly a charge will be imposed for those parking by the Wye close to the Rowing Club. Despite emails from the Chamber, MCC so far will not offer any concession to rowers or canoeists and their trailers. It is 3 years since plans were approved for the Wyebridge Street car but still no sign of work being commenced. Businesses also face increased costs as they will at the end of the month have to pay for additional categories of commercial waste disposal. So at a time of great uncertainty , especially in retail with competition from on line and out of town, Brexit, the end in 2019/20 of transitional business rate relief and a lack of car parking spaces in Monmouth,  MCC decide to increase parking charges and so reduce the number of shoppers.

Suggested items to include in the Town Council Strategic Town Plan and LDP 2033

  • Change to non-retail or non-commercial development on the Dixton Road Tesco owned site.

  • Creation of a new dedicated National Express coach stop close to A40 for the eight coaches a day passing Monmouth

  • Improvements to public transport infrastructure with possible funding from Local Transport Fund.

  • Making Monmouth more pedestrian and cycle friendly

  • Discussion on protection of our Primary Shopping Frontages and how much and what change from A1 should be permitted.

  • Creation of more off-road parking

  • Long term development of 20-24 Monnow Street site that benefits the businesses of the town.

  • Candidate Sites for new housing development under LDP

  • Coach parking

  • Creation of one or more new visitor experiences

  • Hotel extension on Portal Road site

  • Future uses of county council owned buildings as they become redundant

  • Future use of 14-acre spa hotel development site on Hadnock Road

  • Satisfying established need for light industrial units between 2000sq ft and 15000 sq ft.

  • Raising awareness of the existence of Monmouth with MCC and WG

  • Acknowledgment that MCC does not have the funds to help the infrastructure of Monmouth, with the possible exception of more off road parking. This suggest that we may need to deal direct with WG on infrastructure issues

  • Future use of 3.5-acre site owned by South Wales Land Developments opposite Siltbuster on Wonastow Road.

  • How town plan will fit in with MCC 2030 LDP.

  • Ability of Town Council to influence inward investment and future commercial development in the town

Chamber’s response to MCC draft review of LDP relating to the remaining period of operation of current LDP of 2018/19 to 2020/21

Introduction

The Chamber’s approach to the LDP is that it welcomes any proposal that safeguards our retail sector and creates well paid jobs and new customers for our shops, restaurants and light industrial units.

In particular:

  • We oppose any out of town retail developments.

  • In Section 3.3.26 it mentions the Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) . During its consultation period we lobbied to have A3 restaurant /A5 takeaway use of out of town sites included in types of use subject to a charge. It appears that the County Council only wishes to include A1 retail as the type of use subject to a CIL charge. We feel in town restaurants need protection as well.

  • We would actively support any new hotels near to the town centre either 3 star plus rating or 5 star with spa (also Visit Wales objective). Monmouth currently has 150 beds when the Wetherlodge re-opens and Ross-on-Wye more than 300, meaning that it remains difficult for Monmouth to host large events,  or accommodate all guests at weddings.

  • We fully support efforts by the council to improve the tourism offering and the use of renewable energy. See 3.3.36 to 3.3.42

  • We are cautious in our approach to any expansion to our current town centre retail area whilst there remain 80 jobs unfilled in hospitality and leisure (source Indeed.co.uk and local knowledge)

  • We would actively support the creation of any skilled jobs with pay rates at least 150% above the minimum wage (it is an objective of the existing LDP to create higher paid skilled jobs), which would mean that younger people could afford local house prices (see 2.2.16) . Seemingly the only success with this objective in Monmouth by MCC during the period of the existing LDP, has been with the expansion of Siltbuster. We support the principles of the Cardiff Capital Region City deal as described in 2.2.12 and efforts to rectify the underemployment of economically active women mentioned in 2.2.15.

  • We concur with the need in 2.1.3 of the Draft Report to increase the number of affordable housing completions during the remaining period of the LDP. Affordable housing means that we can retain younger people in Monmouth and maintain or increase the supply of employees for local businesses. See also 3.1.1.

  • We seek the expansion of our Primary Shopping Frontages Area to cover the section of Monnow Street from St John’s Street to Agincourt Street, thus protecting our A1 retail offering. This is to correct an error in the existing LDP. See 3.3.22. We also need to consider how much change from A1 retail to A3 and A5 use is acceptable.

  • In 2.2.5 mentions is made of the requirements of the Historic Environment (Wales) Act of 2016. Our market town has many historic features which we, residents and visitors all wish to maintain. Our issue lies with empty listed commercial buildings in our Primary Shopping Frontages area. It is in no-one’s interest for these to be left empty and in a poor state of repair due to listed building issues. This detracts from the overall historic appearance of the town as well as detracting from the shoppers’ experience, so adversely affecting our retail sector. We seek a more pragmatic approach from the county council on changes to commercial buildings in our Primary Shopping Frontages areas to make them fit for contemporary retail use.

  • We believe that in in 3.3.22 we need to consider special factors affecting the viability of the retail sector in our market towns, such as the inevitable trend of the closure of banks and building societies and the future usage of these buildings as empty shops breed more empty shops.

  • 3.3.21 states that an updated Retail Expenditure Forecasts Study (March 2017) has been prepared to inform the LDP revision. The retail sector is in a constant state of change due to competition from internet shopping and out of town retail developments. Studies need to be done on a yearly basis and appropriate action taken, where possible, to rectify any undesirable trends.

  • We believe that not enough thought went in to decisions on siting new housing estates when the new Wonastow Road and Owen Glyndwr locations were chosen from the list of Candidate Sites. It is currently difficult, or even dangerous, especially for school children to walk into town from these sites. We welcome the allocation of section 106 money for the upgrading of the existing footpath and cycle routes to the new Kingswood Gate estate from Wonastow Road (Active Travel Route M8), but through careful costing by the Chamber have found £100k is insufficient to provide lighting and have sought extra funds though the Active Travel 2018/19 award. See 3.3.54

  • We would question the comment made in 3.3.51 as to the effectiveness of transport in our area of Monmouthshire. Public transport remains very poor, especially to locations outside the county. Despite efforts by the Chamber a decade ago there appears no current initiative by MCC to revisit the possibility of National Express using Monmouth as a stopping point for all 8 coaches passing on A40 each day.

  • We recommend that any new housing locations are sited where residents can travel on dedicated traffic free foot and cycle paths into the town thus reducing the demand for more car parking and contribute to their well-being. See 3.1.1

  • We question the reasoning behind creating satellite housing developments where a consequence is that residents who out migrate to work will be tempted to shop near work and not in our town.

  • We have concerns about Natural Resources Wales document TAN15 seemingly stopping all commercial development in the flood plain. We will be lobbying NRW when TAN15 comes up for consultation later in the year and will support any changes, which make it more like the more flexible English document PPG25. We hope that MCC will support us. The appropriate use of Natural Resources is mentioned in para 2.2.7

  • We do appreciate however, people’s concerns about residential development in the flood plain. Flooding of residential properties has a direct effect on people’s lives and livelihoods and formulating plans for Flood Evacuation schemes becomes more difficult.

We hope that Monmouth County Council will consider our recommendations above when making any changes to the Local Development Plan.

Many thanks

R D Cummings
David Cummings FIAB.
Chairman@mdctc.co.uk
Monmouth and District Chamber of Trade and Commerce.
Singleton Court Business Park, Wonastow Road, Monmouth NP25 5JA

MCC relent on A Board charges, but not on other times on the public highway

On 10th January 2018 Cabinet decided that the principle of providing permits to individual businesses wishing to place items in the public highway should be retained.

This is good news for the businesses of Beaufort and Swan Court and the Oldway Centre. However, in relation to charges they decided that the one off charge for A boards be withdrawn and the charge for displays, tables, chairs, sales rails etc. be reduced by 50% in 18/19 and that a further report be brought to them in twelve months providing feedback on implementation, options for future charging etc.

This is a county wide policy so roll out will start again and given resources available it is likely to take some months to get the scheme underway.

Chamber tackles empty shop issue head on

8th January 2018

Beacon readers will have noticed that over the last 12 months our empty shop rate has increased. This is a matter of considerable concern to the Chamber and we have taken steps to identify the issues involved with each empty shop and, where possible, make it more lettable.

It would be easy to blame shop closures on poor trading conditions, business rates, internet competition and the uncertainty of Brexit. Although these factors are relevant, a number of other reasons are apparent as to why businesses have closed. There have been shops that closed due to the illness or retirement of the owner, moves to larger premises, large hikes in the service charge by landlords, landlords not carrying out necessary structural repairs and even one instance where the business closed because the owner was offered a dream job!

One of the most worrying trends is that most high street banks and building societies have indicated their desire in the short medium of long term to close branches in market towns. This has affected Nat West and the Yorkshire Building Society so far and is likely to affect other bank and building society branches. We cannot stop this trend, but we must anticipate it and look for a flexible approach from the planning authorities on change of use.

Once shops have closed, readers might ask, why does it take so long to re-let premises? Well, the majority of our empty shops at present are listed buildings. They may have features, which do not suit modern retail. There is some evidence also to suggest that as landlords do not pay business rates on empty listed properties that this creates a disincentive for them to actively market their property. The rent per square foot in Monmouth on shops varies hugely and some landlords seem to be holding out for what are now unrealistic amounts. There is also the instance where a change of use is sought by the prospective tenant the process takes a considerable time and then this is followed by a period of building work and shop fitting.

Is there any good news out there? This last week I have received information that suggests four of our empty shops are now re-let.

What more can the Chamber do? It is important that prospective tenants can easily find out information on empty shops. So, working with commercial estate agents we will be incorporating a feature on our new Chamber website to show details on all commercial properties available to rent in town. The Chamber is also taking steps to improve the appearance of shops with window displays and we hope to install some in the empty Clarks shop whilst building work for Specsavers is being conducted. This week we have also written to the landlord of the Bella Couture shop expressing our concerns about the state of the wooden canopy above the shop and copied this to MCC planning office. We are also working closely with MCC to try and secure some support for hard pressed retailers, particularly those not in our main shopping areas.

What can be done to bring more money in the town from shoppers and visitors? The Premier Inn has, as expected, brought a great deal of new business into town from the guests staying in their 60 bedrooms. Some businesses attribute 20% increases in turnover over the last year to its existence. Unfortunately, we have lost the spending of the guests who might have stayed in 24 rooms of the Wetherlodge. Mistakes were made in the renovation work and we believe that all the necessary permissions will be in place in the next two months. We will be writing to Wetherspoons to gain some commitment from them that work will be finished as quickly as possible and that the hotel can be open for Easter 2018.

What can you do to help your local shops? Whatever you want to buy try local first. January and February are quiet months in the retail trade and every £ spent not only helps towards the rent and rates, but also to pay staff wages and so support residents and their families.

David Cummings, Chairman Monmouth and District Chamebr of Trade and Commerce

New proposals for a retail development off Dixton roundabout

Artists impressions of the proposed new development have now been installed in the old Clarks shop at 25 Monnow Street and the “plans” can be seen on website www.nelsonplace.co.uk, where you are invited to make comment . There was also an article in the Monmouthshire Beacon of 9th August 2017.

David Cummings, Chairman of Monmouth and District Chamber of Trade and Commerce  advised Chamebr members that it would be inappropriate to make any official comment from the Chamber until he had their feedback.

He also informed members of the following:

  • Official plans will not be submitted to MCC planning office until the end of August .

  • The revised plans may have some slight alterations from the posters and nelson place website images

  • We do not yet know what Natural Resources Wales attitude will be to the revised drawings. They were very much against the original proposals on flooding grounds  .

  • The Chamber committee is meeting during the last week in August to discuss this and other matters.

  • It is probably not appropriate to make comments on these new plans on the original application number until the revised plans are uploaded by MCC.

  • There will be discussion on the new plans at the next Chamebr meeting on 18th September.