THERE has been a new twist in the controversial bid by Symonds Yat Leisure Park showman Henry Danter to open an adult gaming arcade in the heart of a Wye Valley town.
The Welsh Government planning inspector visited the site of the former DS Music shop at the Monnow Street/Agincourt Square pinch-point junction last month.
And in a surprise move, they have now asked Monmouthshire Council’s planning department for its views on whether a ‘biodiversity enhancement’ would be acceptable as a possible condition if the appeal is granted.
The plan was originally rejected by planners on the grounds that it “would have a harmful effect on the vitality, attractiveness and viability of the Central Shopping Area (CSA) and town centre”, which is part of a conservation zone.
‘Biodiversity enhancement’ encompasses measures to green the environment, such as planting trees, although it is not clear how this relates to the council’s sole reason for rejecting the plan, in terms of safeguarding the “vitality, attractiveness and viability” of the town centre.
The letter sent to the council by Planning and Environment Decisions Wales says: “The Inspector has asked me to seek your views on a condition he would be minded to impose should the appeal be allowed. “The suggested condition is: No development shall take place until a scheme for biodiversity enhancement has been submitted to and agreed in writing by the local planning authority. Development shall be carried out in accordance with the approved details.”
Whether it means the inspector is of a mind to allow the appeal remains to be seen.
But 78-year-old Mr Danter, 78, who lives in Symonds Yat West and also owns Barry Island Pleasure Park, says he wants a meeting with opponents of the scheme, which was opposed at the planning stage by local headmasters, a 400-strong petition and nearly 300 objections.
As well as the premises at 2-4 Monnow Street, which he says he has owned for nearly 40 years, the town’s historic square is overlooked by the 300-year-old Shire Hall and statues of Monmouth-born King Henry V and the local founder of Rolls Royce, Charles Stewart Rolls.
And despite new pavement-widening developments and other enhancements there, Mr Danter says the square is “appalling”, “going downhill fast”, and “needs life breathing into it”.
His premises, which currently displays window-sized adverts for Barry Island, has been vacant for some two years since the music shop moved out, and he claims all efforts to rent it have failed.
Mr Danter was granted a gaming licence for the property by the county council’s licensing department before planners turned the scheme down, and he says the town is “full of empty shops” and his arcade could help revitalise the centre.
Those opposing the plan include Haberdashers’ Monmouth Schools principal James Murphy-O’Connor and Monmouth Comprehensive School headteacher Hugo Hutchinson, who jointly said the arcade would pose a “major safeguarding threat” with a “negative impact” on pupils’ wellbeing.
But in his appeal, the showman says the rejection of the scheme is “not credible and biased”.
He claims the council was wrongly “swayed” by comments from people who simply don’t want an arcade in Monmouth, and is ready to speak “face to face” to put his case.
“Let’s talk, and let’s get around the table,” he said this week.
In its rejection, the council questioned how the arcade would attract “footfall”.
But in his appeal, Mr Danter “objects most strongly” to the claim, saying the two high street adult gaming centres he owns in Stourport-on-Severn town centre both had “comparable” footfall with any other shop there.
“It is not realistic to keep letting shops out as charity outlets… Surely some footfall is better than no footfall.”
A council spokesperson said this week: “The planning application for change of use to a gaming centre was refused by Monmouthshire Council on the basis the proposal would have a harmful effect on the vitality, attractiveness and viability of the central shopping area and town centre, this being a prominent corner building opposite the Shire Hall in the heart of Monmouth conservation area.
“The council now awaits the appeal decision with interest to see whether the appeal inspector agrees with the council’s view on this proposal.”