Posted: Wed 5th Jul 2023

Former Co-operative department store restoration gets green light – but is not part of ‘Levelling Up’ /
This article is old - Published: Wednesday, Jul 5th, 2023

A PLAN to restore an 85-year-old department store building and convert it to a clothing factory doesn’t form part of a Gwent town’s Levelling-Up plan, a council has confirmed. ‌​‌​‌​​​‍‌​‌​​‌‌‌‍‌​‌‌​​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌‌​​

Torfaen Borough Council has approved plans to bring the Grade II-listed former Co-operative department store in the centre of Pontypool back into use – but has said an error in a report by its planning department had wrongly stated the scheme forms part of the town’s Levelling-Up plan. ‌​‌​‌​​​‍‌​‌​​‌‌‌‍‌​‌‌​​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌‌​​

The council has been awarded £7.6 million from the UK Government to restore the derelict nearby St James’ Church and transform the Hanbury Road public toilets into a restaurant, as well as revamp a multi-storey car park, as part of £9.3 million project to rejuvenate the historic town centre conservation area. ‌​‌​‌​​​‍‌​‌​​‌‌‌‍‌​‌‌​​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌‌​​

But the council has confirmed, though it had held talks over the possibility of including the building, which was purpose built in the art deco style for the Co-op when it opened in 1938, in the project, it was ruled out at an early stage. ‌​‌​‌​​​‍‌​‌​​‌‌‌‍‌​‌‌​​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌‌​​

However a report by the council’s planning department, which set out the planning issues related to the redevelopment and why the council was granting planning permission, and advising Welsh historic buildings body Cadw to approve listed building consent, wrongly stated it was part of the Levelling-Up project. ‌​‌​‌​​​‍‌​‌​​‌‌‌‍‌​‌‌​​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌‌​​

It also said there would be further public grant support for the redevelopment. ‌​‌​‌​​​‍‌​‌​​‌‌‌‍‌​‌‌​​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌‌​​

But the borough council has clarified that isn’t the case, though it said it will work with owner Waseem Mohammed to find a “beneficial use” for the building at 35 Commercial Street which is in the conservation area and is officially listed as “at risk” due to its poor condition.
As well as a clothing factory on its first and second floors it is intended to divide the ground floor into four retail units.
A council spokeswoman said: “Unfortunately, the references to public funding in both the listed building and planning application delegated reports was incorrect. Although 35 Commercial Street was considered as a potential Levelling-Up project at the outset, it was later discounted due to there being stronger advanced projects.
“The owner was made aware of the decision to not include 35 Commercial Street as a project within the Levelling-Up bid and since then he has been working with his agent to bring forward a scheme independently of public funding. The council will continue to work with the owner to realise beneficial occupation of the property, although, there is no public funding attributed at this time.”
The spokeswoman said the reference to public funding “carried no weight” in determining the applications but a note would be added to the reports, that are publicly available, to explain the errors.
The council also said the building is included in the Pontypool Placemaking Plan that sets out the strategic direction for investment within the town centre over the next 10 years. ‌​‌​‌​​​‍‌​‌​​‌‌‌‍‌​‌‌​​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌‌​​

By BBC LDRS ‌​‌​‌​​​‍‌​‌​​‌‌‌‍‌​‌‌​​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌‌​​

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