Neath development plans welcomed - but proposals to close court opposed
THERE are big changes on their way for Neath town centre.
Neath Port Talbot Council has submitted an application to its own planning department for a new multi-storey car park and retail development.
The plans also will see the town's Magistrates' Court and the Greyhound pub demolished.
Neath Chamber of Trade has welcomed the step forward and Neath MP Peter Hain said the plans are a "welcome boost to rejuvenate the town centre and business".
But there have been some reservations about the proposed loss of Neath Magistrates Court.
Last week HM Courts and Tribunals announced a consultation on the future of Neath Magistrates' Court, a day after the development plans were submitted.
A spokeswoman for HMCTS said that proposals suggested the Neath court should close, and that Neath and Port Talbot benches should merge with Swansea justices — with all work transferring to Swansea Magistrates' Court.
She added that the court is underused and requires an estimated £1.3 million investment for maintenance work.
But concerns have already been raised. Councillor John Warman said he is against it, and Mr Hain said he does not agree with the closure.
"It has been part of our community for generations and now local people will have to travel to have their case heard," he said.
"It's one blow after another and I will press as hard as I can to keep the Magistrates Court."
Neath town centre has already seen work start on phase one of the development as council owned houses were demolished at Water Street in March.
Council bosses now say if the planning application if approved, work on the next phases will start towards the end of January, in order to avoid disrupting Christmas and New Year trading.
Chamber president Andy Lodwig said he was pleased to hear the good news, but traders would be still be holding their breath until work starts.
"It has been a long-awaited project," he said.
"We just hope that the council get on with it. We have just been so frustrated waiting. For us seeing is believing."
Neath-based regional AM Bethan Jenkins said she welcomed the move forward but with "some reservations" — one of them being the delay of the development.
She added: "I'm very concerned that the Magistrates Court could be demolished.
"If they go, people will feel less of an attachment to the town and it will only increase the volume of people departing to Swansea to shop, leaving traders in Neath with even more of a mountain to climb.
"Many constituents have told me that there needs to be a lot more long term thinking about the town centre, and that needs to be done while retaining its character."
The HMCTS consultation will run until November 7.
The town centre plans can be viewed on the council's website or at The Quays, Brunel Way and at Neath Civic Centre.
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