A blot on the landscape

by The Curious Scribbler,

I was astounded yesterday to see the new building on the Plas Morolwg site which overlooks the harbour at Aberystwyth.  Plonked like a giant brick on the skyline is a building of unsurpassed ordinariness.  A box designed  to contain seven residential flats rises four storeys high, a positive beacon to philistine development.  What were our Councillors and Planning Department thinking of?

The new Residential Block on Penyrangor

Penyrangor is a charming small road by which one approaches Tanybwlch beach and is flanked by squat bungalows and houses of early 20th century design.  Newer development behind this rank was somewhat controversial when the railway cutting was filled in and built over, but all  are two storey in height and designed with at least some respect for their position at the foot of beautiful Pendinas.  This monstrous cube is totally out of scale with its neighbourhood, perched on the top of rising ground above the road, and totally dominating the  other developments of flats around the harbour, let alone the regular housing.

The new block viewed from the harbour

Not long ago I looked at the Planning proposal to demolish and replace Bay View, one of the small houses on Penyrangor, a 1930s cottage which started its life as a tea house tucked into the small  quarry on the left as you approach the sea.  Reading the applicant’s proposal made one feel that landscape protection is alive and well. The report alluded to the Special Landscape Area in which it is set, and presented a sensitive design for a modern energy-efficient, two-storey building which respected the setting and would be tucked in such that the low pitched roof would not break the skyline above the sheltering rock face.

The site of Bay View, the old cottage now cleared away

No such considerations seem to have influenced the Wales and West Housing Association.  Indeed I’ve just been looking at their planning application and found two remarkably unhelpful projections of how the development will look.

The bird’s eye view hardly helps in predicting how we land-born humans will perceive the relative heights of the buildings around this development.

Meanwhile a Side Section elevation shows the ghosts of the adjoining houses looming tall behind the new block.  I have no idea where one would have to stand to see this perspective!  Indeed I suspect there is there is no such possibility.  My photo shows the same houses to be half the height of the block in the foreground.

The New Residential apartment block at Plas Morolwg, by Wales and West Housing Association

It seems a great pity that such misleading schematic drawings have, I presume, allowed the impact of this building to be overlooked until it is too late and the frame is up.  Its eventual appearance, it seems, will be  that of a block escaped from Penparcau, with similar glass fronted balconies, but some render and wood-effect cladding on the exterior.

The former Plas Morolwg was widely-known locally as ‘Colditz’ on account of its forbidding exterior, and its later claim to fame was as the setting for the lowest and most disagreeable characters in the TV show Hinterland.  The opportunity to replace it with something reflecting better on Aberystwyth has been avoided.

A view from the harbour.  Nothing else breaks the skyline as this does.

 

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6 thoughts on “A blot on the landscape

  1. This building is really a shame. It seems to give permission for other oblivious designers with two high buildings to follow. Unless the planning people have learned a lesson. Check out a British television program called Grand Designs season 15 episode seven for an interesting take on planning a home with awareness of all angles.

  2. The councillors in Aberystwyth should be absolutely ashamed of themselves. The development of the harbour going back years has surely been corrupt. And to now build this is an outrage – surely there should be some organised protest.

    My family lived at Plas Morolwg – the view was once stunning. Lost for words.

  3. One of the main planning loopholes here is that developers are allowed – or in fact required – to provide their own Landscape and Visual Impact Assessment (LVIA). In effect, this is like asking restaurants to provide their own health inspection (with the main difference that bad kitchens get shut down when they cause food poisoning whereas bad architecture like this carries on poisoning the whole district for generations to come). With such large sums of money (over 7 million pounds of grants for Plas Morolwg) there was a real incentive for the developers and consultants to come up with a favourable LVIA – as indeed they did.

    Lacking any qualified Landscape specialists, Ceredigion Planning Department was able to simply accept the developer’s LVIA for Plas Morolwg – and also overlook any detailed criticism of the report (see, for instance, the letter to the ‘Cambrian News’ on 24/4/18).

    Landscape, as this blog points out, is a precious thing and there are in fact safeguards to protect it in Ceredigion (LDP policies DM17, DM18 and DM19, if you want to know). The problem, however, is that policies tend not to work when they are entrusted to people with a declared interest and administered by people without special expertise. The failings in Plas Morolwg should be a warning to everyone but, ironically, in the wrong hands they could also set a precedent. If we don’t want to see more out of scale blocks in Aberystwyth – and there are other nearby sites at risk of ‘development’ – there needs to be much tighter control and recognition of the existing Landscape Policies. And if we are going to allow developers to continue doing their own LVIAs then surely they must be subject to expert supervision. The best thing that the Welsh Government could do here would be to entrust the task of evaluating LVIAs to the qualified, independent landscape specialists at Natural Resources Wales. The alternative, I’m afraid, will only be further instances of such architectural poisoning in Aberystwyth.

    • What a splendid analysis and how I agree with you! I’m so sorry I did not approve this comment as soon it was posted, I’m afraid I took a break last month and did not check for comments. I see the big crane is back at the Plas Morolwg site this morning, so I suppose an equally terrible block is shortly to appear.

      • Yes, the next stage of this development is exponentially worse. A sign on the security fence outside said “Considerate Builders” and, indeed, they do seem to look after each other – often arriving 2 and 3 in the same van and closely together, despite the pandemic restrictions. I thought it would be good to write “Shame about the Architects” on this sign, but it has recently been taken down.

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