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Friday, September 08, 2006

Column, September 5, 2006

SOMETIMES writing this column you have to take the long view.
On a weekly basis I'll receive letters and e-mails telling me how fat-headedly wrong I am on this, that or the other issue.
And they may well be right. But now and again they aren't, but finding out who's right and who's wrong might take a little time. That's alright, I'm a patient man.
So, having been told how wrong I was to dare to criticise the burghers of Gwynedd when they allowed Asda/Walmart to build a new superstore in Pwllheli, I might be forgiven for saying 'I told you so' at the news of the latest development there.
The latest development there being, more development there, or rather different development from the one that was granted permission by Gwynedd councillors earlier this year.
They gave permission for the store on condition that only 10 per cent of its floorspace should be 'non-food retail' - ie clothing, electrical goods and so on.
Asda has now asked for that permission to be changed to allow 33 per cent non-food use.
Now, when I was fat-headed enough to query the wisdom of allowing a 15,000 sq ft superstore in a community like Pwllheli, I was was accused of 'sexing up' the story and that I should check my facts. I must admit I'm rather proud to be surely the only journalist in Britain who has managed to make a supermarket planning application sexy, but I digress.
Coun Michael Sol Owen wrote to me and set me straight. He said: "The choice was either throw out the revised application, thus facing the almost inevitable appeal, going in front of the Assembly Planning Inspector and against ASDA with the principle of a supermarket already accepted since 1999.Or pass the application with a number of strict conditions on the type of sale of goods etc.Should ASDA appeal against some of these conditions, we would have a much stronger case to put in front of the Inspector as the conditions would have the backing of the Local Authority and be based on local and national precedents."
He added: "I believe that we arrived at an acceptable compromise, considering the circumstances."
Hmmmm. Well, it seems it was an acceptable compromise to the councillors, but not, as we see, to Asda.
So this plan now goes before the burghers of Gwynedd once more, this time in its 33-per-cent non-food, local-trader-killing format.
Still, I've no doubt that the burghers of Gwynedd, will stand stoutly behind the ramparts of their planning conditions they laid down and rebuff this plan. After all, the council has a much stronger case at any appeal now doesn't it, as Coun Owen said. So that's alright then. I look forward to the council's strongly-worded rebuttal of this scheme. I won't be holding my breath though, just in case.
To be honest though, this was always on the cards wasn't it? Asda/Walmart has a business plan for its stores and those business plans are drawn up by bods in its head office, not councillors in North West Wales.
They know exactly how much they can make from floorspace devoted to non-food retail and exactly how far along the planning appeal process it is worth them going to get the space they want. And they also know the cost to the public pocket is going to be a big worry for any local authority minded not to let them have their way.
And why not? Why shouldn't Asda get their way and sell whatever they want in Pwllheli?
Well, it might be that despite their promise of new jobs, what supermarkets do is actually replace existing jobs with lower-skill, lower paid jobs.
It might also be that while local traders profits go back into the local economy, where they live, Asda/Walmart's profits go back to their shareholders in the USA - ie not Pwllheli.
Too late now to do anything about its arrival, it's already towering over the houses adjoining it. But at least the councillors of Gwynedd can make a stand over what is sold there. When they meet to discuss this plan I look forward to them doing just that.

GIVEN the foaming-at-the-mouth tone of last week's diatribe on the evil that is horse racing, it was perhaps inevitable that one or two people might just take issue.
And lo, a missive arrives like a cavalry charge from no less than Newmarket itself, home of the sport, as Julie Lingham informs me, when she writes:
"Dear Mr Banks,I have just returned to Newmarket (home of horse racing) after visiting my parents in Gronant, Flintshire, N Wales. Last Tuesday August 29th, I was absolutely horrified and disgusted when I read your article on Horse Racing in the Daily Post.I have made a very good and honest living working in the horse racing industry over the last 20 years. I ride out for the one of the top racing yards in Newmarket, I have worked in the stud office of one of the top owners and I have travelled world-wide and met some amazing people many of them famous and every one of them a pleasure to meet. I have also owned racehorses myself. You are totally wrong in all your comments and you have no idea what you are talking about.I am amazed this was allowed to be printed by an arrogant journalist as yourself. I would advise you to do your homework a little more thorough before putting pen to paper next time. I have placed your article on the notice board at work and I was not alone with my comments.Maybe you should look at what is happening in the world before writing ridiculous articles.Let's hope you do a little more research when you write about another equine sport.
Julie Lingham
Newmarket
Suffolk"

Bang go my chances of a tip for the 2.30 at Towcester then.

THE more people want Charlotte Church to fall flat on her face, the more I get to like her.
Especially in the face on English media coverage which cannot resist pointing out that she is Welsh, as if it is some sort of handicap inviting sympathy or derision.
I watched her show and I have to report that it was awful, but quite enjoyably awful. The sort of awful that the post-pub crowd it is aimed at will especially appreciate.
Now all she needs are some guests who are not blatantly plugging a book, film, CD or show, or who are not trying to revive a career so flagging that it should have been taken to a darkened room, given a bottle of whisky, a revolver and invited to do the decent thing a long time ago. And she shouldn't be so nice to them.
And I liked her foul-mouthed theme tune too.