Fast food giant McDonald’s has been given the go-ahead for a 24-hour drive through restaurant on the outskirts of Abergavenny.
But controversy over the proposed development next to the A465 Heads of the Valleys road at Westgate, Llanfoist went down to the wire…
Two Llanfoist community councillors who had hoped to speak at Tuesday’s Monmouthshire County Council planning meeting, stressing strong local objections to the scheme, arrived at County Hall to be told their request had not been registered by the committee clerk before the Monday noon deadline.
Sarah Kirkpatrick and Lesley Palmer were furious when they were given the news just minutes before the meeting – arguing that their own clerk had assured them the request had been lodged in time.
“It makes a mockery of the democratic process,” said Sarah, who had helped draw up pages of objections to the application which had been submitted to the planners on behalf of Llanfoist Fawr community council.
She’d earlier told the Chronicle that approval for McDonald’s would be like ‘opening a Pandora’s box of nightmares’.
Lesley Palmer added, “What is the point in our level of government if we’re treated this way?
“When the flak is flying local people will blame us for not speaking up - but it seems we have no powers at all!
“We’re not going to take this lying down. We’re considering taking it up with MCC’s chief executive.”
County Cllr Frances Taylor said she felt it was wrong for people with strong feelings about a planning matter to be denied an opportunity to address the committee ‘on a technicality’ and argued that the decision should be deferred.
But when it came to the vote on the planning application she was outnumbered by 13 to 1.
Patrick Hannay, who heads the Abergavenny Campaign for Exemplary Development , had also requested an opportunity to speak at the meeting. He said he emailed his request on Thursday last week at 7.05am and sent two follow-up emails ahead of the deadline. But he was also told his request wasn’t registered.
“We’ve been working with the local community to make the information about the McDonald’s application ‘accessible’ – to explain exactly what was being proposed,” he said.
“When people fully understood the plans it sparked a huge debate and the community council put forward a very substantial submission opposing the development – one of the best I have ever seen.
“My group encourages local communities to exercise their democratic rights in situations like this. The ultimate irony is that the MCC has denied these people a final chance to have their say.”
County councillor Martin Hickman, as MCC representative for the Llanfoist ward, WAS allowed to speak and he took the opportunity to highlight the community councillors’ disappointment at the decision.
He told the committee he had been happy from the outset to support the majority view but had found the pro and anti lobbies evenly split.
He felt there should have been a 3D model of the scheme to help people visualise what was proposed. He also thought the design should be a bit more in keeping with the rural location - and he strongly objected to the proposed 8m totem pole.
He was also concerned at the prospect of people ‘ducking and diving’ across the dual carriageway to reach the restaurant.
But he thought the area needed the extra jobs – and that if a McDonald’s didn’t occupy the site another fast food outlet soon would.
Planning committee member and Mayor of Abergavenny Maureen Powell said that she could see no problem with the location given that the new McDonald’s would be in close proximity to a waste transfer station, electricity pylons, industrial units and a dual carriageway.
She also dismissed objections to 24-hour lighting at the drive through on the grounds that the nearby waste station also had round-the-clock lighting.
Torfaen County Borough Council had raised no objections to the location of the development either, because it fell outside the boundaries of the Blaenavon World Heritage Site.
But they had raised concerns about the proposed building materials and signage.
MCC planning officers said they had subsequently negotiated design improvements with the developers, who had agreed to use dark green and dark greys materials more in keeping with the surroundings.
Chris Woodhouse, who represents Abergavenny town council on planning issues, told the Chronicle he was personally in favour of the development, particularly because McDonald’s will create 65 full and part-time jobs.
“I think jobs like these can teach young people some important skills such as dealing with people and handling money,” he said.
“I led the campaign in 2001 against having a McDonald’s on the Hardwick roundabout, which we won on road safety issues and also because they hadn’t looked at alternative premises in the town centre.
“This time road safety issues have been addressed and a drive through in town wouldn’t be an option.
“Most young people I’ve spoken to are in favour. And the so-called Gateway to Wales already has a waste tip and electricity pylons.
“I’m involved with the Gateway Club for young people with learning difficulties. We always stop at a McDonald’s when we’re out for the day and they love it.”
But many local residents bitterly oppose the scheme.
Wally and Liz Sivewright told the Chronicle the development at Westgate was destroying the character of the village , with ‘too much being crammed into a small space’.
Wally questioned why McDonald’s wanted to build a drive through next to a rubbish tip – ‘ providing an access road for rats!’
“We’ve lived here for 30 years. We moved here because it was rural and quiet and there was a community feel. The new housing development has already doubled the number of people in Llanfoist and created a lot of extra traffic.
“They call it the Gateway to Wales – it’s becoming the Gateway to Hell!”
Another Llanfoist resident, Paul Rennie, says he has been ‘hugely saddened’ by the approach of the developers and the council.
“Llanfoist has more than doubled in size over the last ten years and being so close to Abergavenny had the potential to be a truly sustainable development. Instead it has become a dystopian example of everything that has gone wrong in other towns and our representatives have failed to learn from.
“There has been no public consultation from the developers on any large development in Llanfoist – which is disgusting.
“The quality of planning documents and lack of local understanding has been contemptuous.
“Roads triumph over walking and cycling and now the heart of our community is to be a fast food drive through!”
Llanfoist Fawr community council had objected to the scheme for many reasons, ranging from the increase in traffic, problems with litter and its proximity to the local primary school to the fact that the McDonald’s building would be a blot on the rural landscape.
Speaking to the Chronicle earlier this week Community Councillor Sarah Kirkpatrick said she didn’t believe the campaigns for and against were as evenly balanced as some believed.
She said there no precedent for a drive through anywhere in the area.
She argued that the Premier Inn and Brewers Fayre schemes (which have already been given the go ahead) were quite different from a 24-hour fast food outlet because they were ‘not an attraction for young people to meet and eat’.
“If Abergavenny has to have a McDonald’s it should be in town,” she said. “The infrastructure here isn’t sufficient for the extra traffic. “
She added, “We’re supposed to be encouraging a greener, healthier lifestyle. The whole proposal flies in the face of that.”
* The planning committee approved the development of the 100-seater restaurant and drive through along with 27 related signs. But members rejected applications for larger ‘Welcome’ and ‘Goodbye’ signs and an 8-metre high illuminated totem pole.