Anger and shock combined with a flood of sympathy for Prince Charles wouldn’t be the reactions I’d normally expect on a brief visit to north Wales, but that’s exactly what I felt when I arrived in Caernarfon with my girlfriend Siân last week.
What prompted this was Watkin Jones’ latest architectural scandal, these blocks of expensive flats, which have been placed right on the seafront, on the edge of the Menai Strait.
They will be visible for miles around. They dwarf the castle and dominate the skyline from Ynys Môn. The castle was the site of Prince Charles’ investiture, so you might presume he will be seething. It’d be interesting to know.
The Victoria Dock’s site was sold to Watkin Jones for £1, presumably because there were decontamination costs. I’ve not been able to find any further reference to this beyond a comment from an irate councillor, so if you know any more, please do let me know.
These flats are hardly ‘Tai lleol i bobl lleol’, (local houses for local people) but presumably investments and holiday flats for the rich and tasteless.
Gwynedd Council has in my view a pretty dismal record in architecture and town planning. This isn’t aided by the culture around ‘declarations of interest’ whereby local councillors are kept away from participating in planning applications. While this might stop some whiffs of corruption, it also when applied too strictly can stop the people who have some idea of controversy from intervening, and places too much power in the hands of officers.
Officials – at least when I was living in Gwynedd – also gained from the lack of any serious opposition to the ruling Plaid Cymru council group. While I’ve nothing against Plaid Cymru, the indefinite office of any political party can only lead to close collusion between paid officials and the top level of the ruling group; and to complacency and arrogance from councillors wielding power.
As a result, it’s often only when things go seriously wrong that people start noticing. This time round, Gwynedd has allowed a project that will, I am sure, produce cringes and dismay from around the world.