PLANS to help breathe new life into two town centres in Carmarthenshire – one with an under-threat Debenhams store – have taken a step forward.
New local development orders proposed for Carmarthen and Ammanford have been approved by county councillors, subject to a six-week public consultation. If the three-year orders come into force, businesses will be able to make some changes without planning permission to help stay open and increase footfall.
Council chiefs view these orders as a way of addressing town centre vacancies, especially with so much retail and hospitality hammered by the coronavirus pandemic. The orders grant conditional planning consent for specific changes to commercial premises including, in some cases, creating upper floor flats. The orders do not grant approval for external work, apply to listed buildings, or remove requirements for things like licensing.
Council leader Emlyn Dole said, the idea was to streamline but not remove the planning process.
Cllr Alun Lenny, who represents Carmarthen Town South, said he hoped the development orders would help reinvigorate town centres and instigate a return to the time when people lived above shops.
Cllr Lenny who’s wife’s family had a sweet shop in Queen Street and lived above it for 50 years, said:
“We face a very challenging period in our town centres.”
Carmarthen Town North councillor Ken Lloyd said the retail situation was getting “desperate” and that the potential closure of the Debenhams anchor store in St Catherine’s Walk was “quite devastating”.
Unless a buyer can be found it seems very likely that all the company’s 124 UK stores will close.
Cllr Alan Speake, who represents Carmarthen Town West, said the Carmarthen’s Debenhams store had performed “outstandingly”.
He said: “If that goes down the chute, it will be a huge blow for Carmarthen and the county of Carmarthenshire.”
Cllr Glynog Davies, supported the proposed development order for Ammanford – his nearest town.
“Our town centres need new life,” he said.
A report before the council’s executive board in early November said retail vacancy rates in Ammanford had increased from 13.2% before the coronavirus crisis to 15.7%. Retail vacancy rates in Carmarthen had risen from 11% to 15.4% in the same period.
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.”
Llanelli and Newport have development orders in place.
Speaking after the meeting, Cllr Peter Hughes Griffiths, executive board member for culture, sport and tourism, who represents Carmarthen Town North, said: “During, and following, the effects of this terrible pandemic on our shops and businesses we must investigate all possible avenues to help Carmarthen returns to its glory as a bustling market town.”