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The 1988 Town Centre Study

The 1988 Austin Smith Lord Town Centre Study was the focus of the first proper meeting of the Civic Association.  PETER DANIELS considered the plan and its impact
Till the 1988 Austin Smith Lord development plan, no one had been thinking strategically about Ruthin and its direction & needs. Jointly sponsored by three stakeholders, the plan was designed to cement a new consensus regarding the town’s future. The partners were Clwyd County & Glyndŵr District Councils and the Welsh Development Agency (all of which, of course, are no longer with us). The main objectives of the study were to provide new facilities for commercial & social benefit; generate income; resolve traffic and parking issues; and to enhance the environment of the town. Plans such as these never totally come to complete fruition, not as originally intended. In a sense, they are a focus for discussion, a foundation or a set of principles. Some elements of the study were dropped, while others were modified. The 1988 plan did, however, set the seeds of change for the 1990s and even into the early 2000s. The report looked at seven principal sites within the town centre: the town hall & slaughterhouse; the county offices at that point occupied by Glyndŵr Council; the gasworks; the car park on the opposite side of the road to the Craft Centre; land at the junction of Park Road & Canol y Dre; and both the upper and lower agricultural markets. The main impetus was to move the agricultural markets from the town centre although, at the time, the site owners had not expressed a wish to go. This would nevertheless unlock development potential. The markets brought with them significant local traffic problems, including ever-longer stock wagons. Between 1983 and 1988, throughput at the market had increased by 60 per cent and it was anticipated to grow at a further five per cent per annum for the foreseeable future. Planners felt that the markets needed room to expand and the report favoured three potential sites, at Lôn Cae Bricks; the junction of Park Road/Canol y Dre; or the junction of Lôn Fawr & Mwrog St. Any such move released land at the lower market for redevelopment. In fact, it was envisaged that this retail development would not only fund the market’s move but it would result in ensuring the “long-term viability of the mart and of the town centre”. That redevelopment would retain two faces of the county offices (today’s County Hall frontage on Market Street & Wynnstay Road); demolish the rear buildings, outliers and “temporary” (actually by then semi-permanent) accommodation; and see new Glyndŵr offices at the Old Station Yard roundabout (now named the Briec roundabout), occupying the old gasworks site. Recognising that the town had no significant supermarket, the redeveloped lower mart site would have an anchor grocer and, interestingly, an arcade of additional shops with it. The report conceded that Ruthin’s catchment was insufficient to attract a “main retailer”, although in 2006 this was turned on its head when Tesco developed land off Lôn Parcŵr which in 1988 was earmarked for housing.
The market did move in 1992 (to Glasdir), when Argyll Stores (Properties) Ltd purchased the lower market for the construction of a Lo-Cost supermarket (the current Co-op). There were no associated smaller shop units built. Smith Austin Lord called for the development to have a “strong architectural identity”. Readers will have their own views as to whether the design with its unscreened delivery bay achieved this. The Association called it an “architectural and planning mess”. The 1988 study suggested that the old Market Hall, Town Hall & slaughterhouse site should be converted into craft workshops, thus re- enforcing the principle of Ruthin being a hub for crafts allied to the Craft Centre. This never came to pass. It was suggested that the upper agricultural market adjacent to Market Street car park should become a new health centre. This would replace outdated facilities. In reality, the Market Street/Mount Street general practice alone relocated to the gasworks site as Plas Meddyg. This location was initially designed for Glyndŵr’s offices and was never developed as intended. It was only from 2003 when the new Denbighshire rebuilt and remodelled its council offices. What impact did the eventual part-development have on Ruthin? From 1992, post-Lo-Cost, the town at last had a larger supermarket, even though it was not one in the premier league. Some town centre grocers and other convenience retailers closed but there is no doubt that the mart area was improved environmentally. The agricultural mart’s move from the town centre in 1992 allowed it to modernise and, in particular, expand into one of Wales’ major markets, something that was impossible in its previous substandard and split locations. One unintended consequence was a drop in town footfall, as farmers or their accompanying wives no longer took to town on Thursdays & Fridays. No longer was it so easy for visitors to watch the auctions. Ruthin gained a modern medical facility (subsequently extended), even though the Austin Smith Lord study envisaged this on Market Street. Instead, Glyndŵr extended Market Street car park in 1993. The remaining changes occurred after new Denbighshire considered its own development proposals for Ruthin, in the early 21st century.
1 Supermarket and two rows of shop units leading from Wynnstay Rd. 2 New Glyndŵr offices. 3 Remodelled Clwyd offices. 4 Proposed housing. 6/7 Craft market. 8 Proposed health centre. 9 Proposed craft workshops. 11 Proposed car park