Substantial demolition of the existing Electric Mountain Visitor Centre (bar the existing electrcity sub-station), change of use of the site to form a car park, replacement lighting, provision of electric vehicle charging points and associated landscaping.
LOCAL MEMBER: Councillor Kim Jones
DECISION: To defer until September 2022 to enable a further opportunity to discuss alternative uses for the building
Substantial demolition of the existing Electric Mountain Visitor Centre (bar the existing electricity sub-station), change of use of the site to form a car park, replacement lighting, provision of electric vehicle charging points and associated landscaping.
Attention was drawn to the late observations form noting that the Community Council confirmed that there had been lengthy consultation prior to the application's submission and the Community Council had no objection to the demolition of the building as the company do not offer another option, however, there was some discontent amongst members that a car park would then be created together with a small site for events
a) The Development Control Officer highlighted that this was a full application to demolish the structure of the Electric Mountain Visitor Centre (separate to the electricity sub-station) to provide a new car park, install lighting, charging points for vehicles and associated landscaping on a site that is located between the village and Llyn Padarn. The application was split into several different elements, which included:-
· Demolish 2,932m2 of the floor surface area of the existing building, apart from 22m2 of the surface area of the electricity sub-station.
· Provide a car park for the public that would add 110 additional parking spaces to the existing adjacent car park, including 5 disabled spaces.
· Provision of 12 rapid AC Charging points for vehicles together with one rapid DC charging point for vehicles.
· Access to the extended car park by using the existing access from the adjacent class I county road (A4086).
· Install nine 6m high columns to light the car park, of a design that would reduce any light pollution on the land surrounding the application site.
· Soft landscaping scheme to include planting trees, shrubs and meadow wildflowers.
It was suggested that the main consideration of this application, was whether the proposal would lead to the loss of a community resource. It was noted that Policy ISA 2 of the LDP states that the Council would resist the loss or change of use of an existing community facility by complying with a least one of the policy's criteria, in the case of a commercially operated facility (as in this case). There is evidence:
· That the current use has ceased to be financially viable - the applicant had stated that the visitor centre is under-used and is too large for the the facilities accommodated inside and the condition of the construction already creates an eyesore within the local area.
· It could not reasonably be expected to become financially viable - based on the information submitted by the applicant regarding the viability of the visitor centre, it cannot be reasonably expected that the use(s) made previously of the building would become financially viable in the near future or the long-term and it would not make economic sense to continue to use the building as a community resource and visitor centre.
· That no other suitable community use could be established - given the fact that the structure, in its curent condition,is unsustainable, as well as the size of the floor area/space within the structure itself, it is not believed that the building could be used for the benefit of the community in a way that is financially viable
· That there is evidence of genuine attempts to market the facility, which had been unsuccessful - the applicant does not intend to dispose of the site by selling it, but rather to safeguard it and develop it for a suitable use now and for the future. The applicant is of the opinion that the most suitable use for it in the short/medium term is as a car park, which in itself is an alternative community facility. Within this context, the proposal would involve the loss of one type of community resource to be replaced with another alternative community resource.
It was added that there was a possibility for the applicant to submit a notice to the Council, in accordance with Part 31 of the Town and Country Planning Order (Permitted General Development) to demolish the building. As the applicant had chosen to submit a planning application to change the use of the site, this meant that there would be better control over the proposal by the Council.
It was noted that other relevant considerations such as visual, residential, biodiversity and road safety matters were acceptable. It was not considered that the proposal was contrary to local or national policies and there was no material planning matter that outweighed policy considerations. As a result, it was considered that the proposal was acceptable subject to the inclusion of conditions.
b) Taking advantage of the right to speak, the applicant noted the following observations:
· The building had been built in the early 80's and was designed and proposed as a Sports Hall for the community. There was an objection to this from local residents and therefore a museum and tourist information centre were created.
· The building was not suitable as a Centre - high business rates and running costs
· As a result of the Foot and Mouth Disease in 2003, the business started to lose money and since then it had been difficult to recover losses
· Consideration was given to creating a new centre, however, the outbreak of the Covid pandemic in 2020 meant that no plan was drafted.
· By now the main valves in the quarry needed to be renewed and as a result it was not possible to conduct visits to the quarry and therefore there was no use for the Visitors' Centre.
· Rather than seeing the building deteriorating, it was proposed to demolish and create a car park in response to the demand for parking spaces in the village.
c) Taking advantage of the right to speak, the Local Member made the following points:
· That she objected the application
· The fact that the building was empty, along with the feeble attempt made to try and seek an alternative use for the building, was disappointing.
· Creating a car park was not a response to the local need - creating space for 110 cars would create a negative impression without any benefit or advantage to the community. It would also compete directly with a nearby car park that was a social enterprise
· Discussions were afoot and new ideas had been presented - more time was needed to discuss with an events company 'Always Aim High' and the Mountain Rescue Team
· The original building was a gift to the community. By now, it was the financial reasons of benefit to the company that were being submitted.
· It was not too late to save the building
· There was a request to defer the decision to hold further discussions.
d) It was proposed and seconded to defer the decision in accordance with the request of the Local Member
In response to the proposal, the Head of Legal Services noted that a reason for refusal was required based on planning matters and if it was to be deferred to re-commence discussions then a timetable had to be set. It was also added that a possible appeal by the applicant regarding the lack of a decision had to be considered and there was nothing to prevent the applicant from issuing a notice and to demolish the building.
dd) It was proposed and seconded to defer determination until September 2022 to allow a further opportunity for the community to discuss alternative uses for the building with the applicant.
e) During the ensuing discussion, the following observations were made by members:
· The reasons for the demolition of the building were weak - the building's condition was not poor.
· Initially the building was meant as a gift to the community - this had to be adhered to and enable it to be a community resource.
· No new parking was required - especially if there was a car park nearby run by the community.
· A number of ideas had been proposed by the community
· A request for First Hydro / Engie to take notice of the need for a community resource
· Should the application be refused bearing in mind that there was no need for a car park?
In response to a question regarding the need for planning permission to demolish the building, the Assistant Head noted that no permission was required for demolition, however, if the site was to be adapted into a car park then planning permission was required.
RESOLVED: To defer until September 2022 to enable a further opportunity to discuss alternative uses for the building