Some perverse experiment

AT A time when the focus is on how to save our dying town centres, Pembrokeshire County Council seems to have taken the opposite view.

Much money has been wasted at tax payers’ expense by, among others, the Welsh government in arriving at the obvious conclusion that the principal causes are inadequate, expensive parking, high business rates and competition from supermarkets and other new retail sites.

Perhaps then it is some perverse experiment to take Narberth, one of the few remaining successful towns, much admired for its independent stores and lack of national chains, and introduce parking charges, sell off a vital piece of the only car park, triple the business rates for the entire town and bring in two supermarkets.

The council will argue, correctly, that they weren’t responsible for the rates increase, but they do receive a portion of those rates and yet chose to introduce parking charges on the very same day. They will also argue that they refused permission for the forthcoming supermarket and it is true that it was only allowed on a technicality.

However, the old primary school, the sale of which will include part of the town car park, is owned by the council.

Despite this, all of their preferred bidders are developers acting for supermarket chains, ignoring their own planning inspector’s conclusion that the supermarket opening soon on a different site will have “an adverse impact on the vitality of Narberth town centre”. What then of the impact of two supermarkets?

The worst aspect is the council’s dismissal of the primary school building as having “no special historical or architectural merit” and that “it is therefore envisaged that the school buildings may be entirely demolished to allow comprehensive redevelopment”.

It is in fact a fine Victorian stone building that is looking tired because the council, which owns it, has allowed that to happen. It could easily be refurbished and occupied by small stores run by local people, in keeping with the existing town.

If the philistines really equate the historical and architectural value of a Victorian school that has educated generations of Narberth children with that of a bland retail outlet, then they are not fit custodians of our heritage.

It could of course be that this underestimates the council – perhaps it is well aware that the replacement of a historic building with a supermarket shed would be the wrong direction for our town.

Could it simply be that, in its short-sighted desire to sell Narberth off to the highest bidder, they have discovered that the supermarket chains have the most cash?

SIMON PALMER The Forge Landshipping

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