(The pictures illustrating this post are only intended to show what Llanbedr has to offer. Their use does not imply any point of view on the part of any individuals, and they were all taken from public places, so permission to use them was neither required nor sought. )
Llanbedr is a very attractive rural community in the Snowdonia National Park with a resident population of about 500. It has a great deal to offer both those who are lucky enough to live there and the huge number of people who visit this beautiful part of Snowdonia.
Unlike so many rural communities, the village still has a healthy economic life of its own: a general store, a delicatessen / tea room, a hairdressers, and cycle sales/repair / hire shop in the main street. A farm supplies centre caters for the needs of this predominantly agricultural area.
There are also two very popular pubs in the village at a time when pubs are under pressure and closing all over the country, and a restaurant. One of he pubs now hosts the village post office.
There is a well attended village school; a sure sign of a healthy community.
An attractive holiday lodge development occupies a tranquil rural setting on the edge of the village, and its many visitors contribute significantly to local businesses.
All of these businesses benefit to a greater or lesser extent from passing trade and tourism.
Visitors travelling on the main road through the village see attractive stone built houses and cottages, an ancient bridge over a picturesque river, a traditional village pub with a riverside garden, and a range of small businesses that they may find useful.
A mile west of the village is Llanbedr Airfield, a wartime military installation that later became a V Bomber dispersal base and a government research and development establishment specialising in unmanned aircraft. At one point prior to its closure in 2004, over 200 people were employed there. It has now been designated as an enterprise zone and has been short-listed as a possible site for the UK Spaceport.
Why are local politicians endangering the existing healthy rural economy in Llanbedr by supporting plans for a bypass rather than seeking to protect existing businesses in the village?
The community has resisted plans for a bypass ever since 1952. In 1992, when employment at the airfield generated vastly more traffic than it does now, or anyone can envisage it doing so in the future, plans for a bypass were abandoned in face of overwhelming local opposition.
A bypass will, by definition, greatly reduce passing trade thereby harming existing businesses, endangering jobs, and discouraging new ventures. The present uncertainly has already caused one businessman to suspend further investment. Visitors will be able to speed past Llanbedr without even seeing it, or realising that such an attractive place exists.
Occasionally there are hold-ups at the bridge in the centre of the village during peak summer holidays. These are evidence of the economic potential that through traffic provides and a small price to pay for a vital community. Indeed these minor conveniences give travellers a chance to see what the village has to offer.
Even figures used by Gwynedd Council, which is promoting the bypass scheme, show that economic activity and employment in Llanbedr is above average for the area.
As Gwynedd Council cannot fund a bypass, the scheme is being misleadingly promoted as a new access road to the airfield. This allows Welsh Government funding intended for enterprise zone development to be diverted to a quite different use.
If a improved accesses to the enterprise zone is needed, and present activity on the site does not suggest that this is the case, then it can be created south of the village at a fraction of the cost of building a bypass, but this option has not been seriously considered by Gwynedd Council or its consultants. Correspondence obtained under the Freedom of Information Act suggests that the intention was always to build a bypass using enterprise zone funds.
Gwynedd Council claim that the bypass can be built for £12m, but given the scale of the project, this sound like a wild underestimate. What minor problems there are with congestion, with lack of footways in the village, and with parking, could be solved for a fraction of the cost of a bypass. In spite of Gwynedd Council highlighting these problems as part of its case for building a bypass, it has not previously considered them to be serious enough to require action.
The politicians promoting this scheme claim that it will trigger economic development at what is a very remote enterprise zone set in a sparsely populated rural area where the main industries are tourism and farming, but this is pure speculation. What is certain is that a bypass will harm existing businesses and threaten existing jobs.
It is all too easy to assess the downside of the bypass scheme, but the upside is much harder to quantify.
Gwynedd Council and local politicians claim that a bypass is necessary for the development of the enterprise zone at the airfield, but bypassing Llanbedr village would only relieve one occasional congestion point among many on the seventy odd miles of mainly rural roads which separate the site from the national motorway network.
Instead of alerting the community about this major infrastructure project that would have a major impact on many local businesses and individuals, Llanbedr Community Council kept plans for the bypass secret until the plans were so far advanced as to be almost unstoppable. Only after a local businessman forced the council to allow the public to attend one of its meetings — when a packed village hall expressed overwhelming opposition to the scheme — was the matter brought out in the open.
Although Gwynedd Council had held three so called ‘Participation Events’ in the village between 5th June 2014 and 6th November 2014, the publicity for these was inadequate and made no mention of a bypass being planned. In every instance, the events were described as being about improving access to the Enterprise Zone, a matter that most residents would not expect to affect them as the airfield is some distance from the village.
There are stringent requirements for public consultation on any transport project funded or promoted by the Welsh Government. These requirements state in terms that public support is essential. Nevertheless, since its inception in its present form the plan to build a bypass has consistently been misrepresented by Gwynedd Council and Llanbedr Community Council by merely describing it as improved access to the airfield and this continues up to the time of writing.
Politicians claim that they are supporting the scheme ‘for the sake of the children’– to create jobs so that they will remain in the in the community. However their plans risk turning Llanbedr into an irrelevant dormitory village without delivering promised employment opportunities at the enterprise zone. Young people flee such places.
This bypass is a vanity project driven by politicians rather than public demand or evidence of need.
‘Parking is a problem in Llanbedr.’
Land is a available to create off street parking in the village but Gwynedd Council has preferred to ignore this. In any case, if a bypass is built, and passing traffic vanishes together with commercial activity in the village, who will have a parking problem?
‘The road through Llanbedr is dangerous.’
Gwynedd Council was unable to find any evidence of there being a road traffic accident in the village to support their case for a bypass. The Dolgellau bypass has become a notorious accident black spot requiring roundabouts to be built. Will the same happen at Llanbedr? Any perceived danger could be greatly reduced by providing a footbridge alongside the road bridge.
‘Traffic fumes in the village are a hazard.’
If this was true, then who would be left alive in Barmouth or Porthmadog.
‘A bypass will transform Llanbedr into the “gateway” to the Rhinogau.’
Llanbedr certainly is the gateway to the Rhinogau at the moment, but how can it continue to be if a bypass encourages tourist to speed blindly past the village?
‘Road signs on the bypass will solve the problem of lost passing trade.’
Does anyone know of an example of this working?
‘According to Gwynedd Council, fifty jobs and fifteen businesses are already “supported” at the Llanbedr enterprise zone and a bypass is essential for further development.’
Really? Local knowledge can only detect about seven permanent jobs there. When Gwynedd Council were asked to provide evidence to support the jobs claim they initially refused to do so, but when reminded of their obligations under freedom of information legislation disclosed a list of companies and employees obtained from the airfield operators.Twenty years ago QinetiQ were employing over 200 on the site, and the community still overwhelmingly rejected proposals for a bypass because of the adverse effects it would have on their village.
‘According to the enterprise zone operators — Snowdonia Aerospace LLP — they have already “invested” £2m at the site and further expenditure of £20m is planned.’
This may not be a myth but in view of their extraordinary claims about employment, how seriously should it be taken? And is this really investment by Snowdonia Aerospace LLP, or just government money being channelled through the operators?
‘Llanbedr is the ideal site for a UK Spaceport. …’
There seems to be a very real possibility that two major holiday tourist developments in the area would have to close to satisfy runway extension and safety problems if this project goes ahead. One of these provides over 20 permanent jobs and over 80 in season. The other is of a similar size, Would a spaceport, requiring highly specialised personnel, provide anything like the same local recruitment opportunities?
‘No bypass — no spaceport.’
Llanbedr is the most remote of the sites short-listed by the government for a spaceport, so the danger is that we get an unnecessary bypass without getting a spaceport. And do locals really support plans for a spaceport here? Nobody has asked them yet.
‘The “new road” is all about Llanbedr access improvements.’
You don’t improve access to a village by diverting traffic away from it, do you?
‘Anyone who is against the bypass is just anti development.’
One thing that the village seems to be united about is that appropriate development at the enterprise zone will enable the airfield to resume its beneficial contributions to the local economy. This is universally welcomed, but why is a bypass needed for this to happen now when activity at the airfield has been far, far greater in the past without one being necessary?
If it walks like a bypass, talks like a bypass, and looks like a bypass, it is bypass, not a new access road, with all the consequences that bypassing the village will bring.
Visual impact, wildlife, and noise
It is understood that the plan is to build the bypass across the River Artro flood plane on a high embankment and this may be topped by a stone wall. Sound from traffic on an embankments really carries and this will bring high speed traffic noise to Llanbedr for the first time.
A vast new cast concrete bridge spanning both the river and Mochras Road will be needed close to the riverside car park. This will inevitably be intrusive and ugly, but Natural Resources Wales is concerned that it may not be big enough. Because of increased flood risk to houses and businesses in the village if the bypass is built, they have suggested that a flyover, or even a viaduct may be needed,
Anyone who has seen Gwynedd Council’s video simulation of what the bypass will look like knows that it will bring a totally inappropriate touch of suburbia to the pleasant rural setting of Llanbedr. Not the kind of thing that visitors come to the Snowdonia National Park for, but exactly the kind of place they will want to hurry on past.
Although Gwynedd Council must have spent a fortune on ‘environmental’ reports on wildlife in order to assess the impact of a bypass on populations of bats, otters, badgers, and other wildlife, much less attention seems to have been accorded to its impact on the existing economy and the human population.
The holiday lodge development on the edge of the village will be tranquil no more. It will be within yards of a bypass.
A ‘bathouse’ which a local businessman was recently forced to build at a cost of £25k may now become redundant as the bypass will cut across the flight path of the bats that the bathouse was intended to save.
If the bypass is built, then the land between the village and new road is likely to be ‘in-filled’ with new housing developments. Some say that flood risk will prevent this, but with the shortage of housing and building land in the UK, such building on flood plains is taking place all over the country.
This in not the kind of transport infrastructure that can be hidden or ignored, so what are the real known benefits?
If you want a dead rural community full of holiday cottages and retirement homes, then support Gwynedd Council’s plans for the Llanbedr bypass.
© 2017 Protect Llanbedr. All rights reserved.