Bronglais Plans On Hold

The planning application by Bronglais Hospital for a five-storey extension is on hold because the Trunk Road Agency is unhappy with plans for a major new entrance on Penglais Hill. The application was discussed in this week’s meeting of the County Council’s Development Control Committee during which the Committee heard a letter from the Trunk Road Agency explaining their views.

The Agency say,
"On the basis of the submitted plans to date and in the interests of highway safety, I would advise your authority to refuse the proposed development for the following reasons....”. It then goes on to explain how the sub-standard access, the speed of traffic and the slowing and turning of this traffic would, “...lead to conditions prejudicial to public safety and the free-flow of traffic on the trunk road”.

The application is unable go ahead without the agreement of the Trunk Road Agency.

The Committee agreed to defer the application pending the resolution of the traffic issues, with power given to the planning officer to approve it, “....subject to the agreement of measures to manage traffic during both the construction and operational period of the development". At the moment this is looking a long way off.

Below is my speech during the debate.

"A couple of years ago several hundred people marched around Aberystwyth against plans to downgrade Bronglais Hospital and in support of it’s retention as a District General Hospital for mid-Wales. Thanks in no small part to the work of Elin Jones as Assembly Member the Hospital has now received over £33 million in order to allow it to retain that status.

This application has taken a very long time to reach this committee. I’m told the hospital loses £18,000 for every week of delay.

There is, therefore, considerable weight behind this application.

At the same time the hospital is on a constrained site right in the middle of a residential area of Aberystwyth. The hospital themselves acknowledge that it’s outgrown it’s site. They’ve explored options like moving out to Lovesgrove but that would take so long that the hospital would have been downgraded by the time they got there.

So, it’s left with this site with all it’s problems.

Whilst I understand that most councillors will be most concerned about the broader strategic issue of providing a quality general hospital for the area, my job, as Bronglais Ward councillor, whilst being mindful of the broader issues, is to make sure the interests of local residents are heard.

Firstly I’d like to thank the hospital for involving local residents in the evolvement of the plans. They’ve had, I think now, four meetings with both immediate residents and those slightly further afield in the past 18 months. These have resulted in some significant changes to the plans

For example, in the original drawings the new extension looked like a huge grey monolith right up against the pavement in Caradog Road.

It’s now been moved back 4 metres, which doesn’t sound a lot but it will make quite a difference to the light that the road receives and especially for those living opposite. I understand the top two floors have now been stepped back which further breaks up the mass of it. There have also been reassurances given about more appropriate colours.

Other issues that have been raised that the planning department might consider are the need to break up the look of the end wall from the Llanbadarn Road end and to generally devise architectural detail that would prevent what one objector has described as "a monolithic and ugly continuum from the old to the new building". There’s a need to make the roof look reasonable from the many houses that will look down on it from the hill above and the need for high quality soundproofing for the machinery on the upper floor. There’s a need to specifically address in the plans the concerns residents have about overlooking windows. And, if the time comes for the detailed application, there’s a need for a detailed landscaping plan.

I know there’s a tendency for people from outside the immediate area to think that the importance of the development justifies overriding local residents concerns but I think what benefits local residents will ultimately benefit the whole development, although it might cost a little more. Local residents are the ones doing the scrutiny on everyone’s behalf.

So there have been a lot of improvements made to the plans. On the other hand, much more worryingly, the car parking situation is quite dramatically altered compared to the original ideas mooted for the site. Originally there was talk of the extra layer on the hospital’s main car park allowing an extra 70 cars compared to the numbers parking there now. That was an attractive idea to residents who are used to hospital workers parking outside their houses all day every day. That figure came down to 50 and then 40 and now it’s down to just 10 extra places 137 compared to the current 127. Caradog Road, the residential street the hospital’s in, has been documented by the Council’s own Highways Dept as being one of the most difficult streets to park in in the whole town. The other residential streets close by aren’t much different. It was hoped that extra parking places at the hospital might help this. To lose them in the plans is a major setback for many people.

One of the things that’s contributed to this is the National Assembly’s decision to stop hospital’s charging for car parking space. This has meant that no income can be derived from car parking and certainly doesn’t make it easy for hospitals to invest in more.

Of course, it’s argued that this development doesn’t represent an expansion of the hospital but would just maintain its current service to a more modern standard. However it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that, if anything, this application would generate more traffic. This is a serious concern, not just for the immediate area but for the north and east side of Aberystwyth as a whole because even the current situation is far from acceptable for everyone concerned – patients, staff and local residents.

In one way the development would assist the traffic situation in the residential streets around Caradoc Road, if not the parking. The plan is for the hospital to turn it’s entrance around completely and for the main entrance, including the blue light entrance, to become Penglais Hill – the trunk road. This is clearly much more appropriate than ambulances having to negotiate the crowded Caradoc Road. The applicant’s agent says this will result in a vast improvement for residents in that road, although it’s not clear that it will help the parking situation. On the other hand, I have to say that it’s raising major concerns amongst Penglais Hill residents living across from the hospital because anyone living to the north of Aberystwyth knows that Penglais Hill comes to a standstill every morning between 8.30 and 9am and at many other times during the tourist season.

But in many ways the hospital’s hands are tied. They can’t raise money from car parking anymore They can’t control where people choose to park off their premises. They’re dependent on the Council to take their share of the responsibility.

The sentence I like in the officer's report is this,
“Parking generated from the hospital does have a significant impact within the area and, although there may not be an increase, it’s reasonable to consider measures that address these issues in the context of an application. It is important that both staff and visitor’s needs are met (I would add residents to this). These cannot be met on site, so it is reasonable to negotiate off-site provision for parking and transport by another means that would alleviate issues in the surrounding area.”

This refers to the idea of building a park and ride for the north of the town which hospital staff would be expected to use, reserving the hospital car park for patients. I understand the Council and University are in talks about this. I fully support the idea. It’s needed even without this application. However, I understand any plans for this are some way behind the hospital’s timescale for commencement of building which is a real concern. The problem is that, without the Council’s assistance in pursuing decriminalisation and residents parking, it’s hard for the hospital to make its’ workers use any new park & ride. The Council has to play its part also. Will this be the catalyst? By the same token, whilst it’s about it, I’d also like the planning department to consider requesting more parking capacity on the hospital site and see if making this a condition can help them to provide this.

This, of course, is an outline application. The further details that I’ve asked for can be worked on before the next phase. The recommendation is to defer with powers to approve pending the resolution of traffic issues. I think that’s a reasonable recommendation in all the circumstances at this stage. However it also says “subject to conditions and subject to the applicant entering into an agreement … with regard to transportation matters relating to (both) the construction and (the) operational period of the development.”.

I believe the hospital support the spirit of this. They’re fully aware of the traffic problems around the site. But their control over the situation is limited and everything they spend is scrutinised by Cardiff. In fact, if they are to tackle them, they need the Planning Department to impose conditions because planning conditions are the only way they can justify spending the money to their bosses. Naturally they don’t want conditions so harsh that they simply can’t meet them but, if this is approved, the success or otherwise of it, in terms of how it works on the ground, depends on the planning officers working with them to find workable solutions to the traffic issues.

It’s also important that provision for the construction phase is built in. With most developments it’s accepted that some short-lived chaos will take place but this development will take 18 months so serious provision will have to be made.

I don’t have a vote on this. But if the Committee votes with the recommendation I would urge the planning officers to pursue this second part of the recommendation very seriously and ensure that adequate provision is built into these plans to cope with the future traffic to and from this site.

At the same time I’d also urge the Council’s Highways department to recognise the importance of the development and the opportunity it represents to improve the transport infrastructure to the north of the town and give the traffic issues their fullest attention and assistance within the necessary timescale.

Lastly, there is no better time to transfer parking control from the police to the Council and I would, once again, urge the Council to pursue this."

Anyone wishing to see the planning officer’s 12-page report or the Trunk Road Agency's full letter can get in touch with me.