PLANS to build a £1.5 million Riverside Recreational Hub in Newtown have been approved by Powys County Council’s (PCC) planning committee.

On Thursday, October 24, the committee met to decide the controversial application which has raised strong feelings in the town on both sides of the argument.

The new building would open up new access to cycling and canoeing opportunities in Newtown as well home a new tourist information facility.

But the part which has raised all the issues, has been the proposed cafe.

Part of the original plans were for a 178 seater cafe, but applicants Open Newtown say that following consultation, these were changed to 25.

Andrew Finch, speaking against the application, said: he was representing 600 people who signed the petition and the 42 businesses who sent in letters of objection to PCC.

“We object due to the impact on the high street economy in Newtown,” said Mr Finch.

Open Newtown’s agent Barrie Davies said: “The overwhelming feedback from the community was positive, unfortunately in recent weeks there’s been a campaign of disinformation which has unfortunately led to the petition reference by Mr Finch.”

“The applicant is fully aware of the concerns expressed.”

Cllr Gwilym Williams, (Conservative – Trecoed and Disserth) asked whether there needed to be Retail Impact Assessment?

“There are a lot of people who are concerned, we don’t want to have lottery money destroying local business.

“Is there enough income in the town to spend locally, there is a big question mark there for me. We need to listen to local people.”

Planning officer Richard Evans replied that the proposed development was a smaller than one which needed an retail impact assessment under policy.

Cllr Williams understood the policy but believed that the assessment should have been done anyway to address the concerns of the residents.

Cllr Elwyn Vaughan, (Plaid Cymru – Glantwymyn) said: “Obviously there are strong feelings, but we as a planning committee have to decide the application on planning issues.

“We all know that the high streets are facing significant challenges and the question is how we can help to overcome these?”

Cllr Vaughan added that he had friends who told him that in terms of investing in the area, they spoke of Welshpool, Oswestry and Wrexham, but not of Newtown.

“That means there is a need to harness what Newtown has, the historical heritage, the river and access to the countryside,” said Cllr Vaughan who went on to propose the plans.

Cllr Roger Williams, (Liberal Democrat – Felinfach), asked what was being done in the area of cafe space that had been scaled back from 178 to 25 seats?

Cllr WIlliams “That could be of planning interest, whatever’s happening in the building the main concern locally is about the capacity of the cafe, food and drink area, if we could put a condition on it that would meet concerns?”

Planning offices said that it was possible to limit the floorspace to 137 square metres.

It was agreed to add the condition  to the planning application which was then voted through.