Hedd Wyn was a Welsh poet, farmer and latterly soldier, killed at Ypres on the first day of the Battle of Passchendaele in 1917. He was posthumously awarded the Bardic Chair at the National Eisteddfod, the annual cultural festival of Wales. His family home, Yr Ysgwrn at Trawsfynydd, is now a museum to him and to peace. It was here that I met officers of Snowdonia National Park Authority and Owain Wyn, its Chairman and himself a Chartered Town Planner.
Poetry has a place in Snowdonia
Snowdonia hosts over five million visitors a year, which isn’t a problem, explains Owain; the difficulty is to spread them better “spatially and temporally”. Too many gather at too few locations. Snowdon itself suffers from visitor pressures – the facilities at its peak are designed to accommodate around 350,000 visitors a year but it currently receives over 600,000.
The opening of Yr Ysgwrn in 2017 is part of an effort to rebalance visitor numbers by offering different attractions and fits with the National Park purposes of maintaining and interpreting the landscape and cultural heritage.
On the way to Trawsfynydd, I was taken to Blaenau Ffestiniog, the town renowned for roofing the world and the end stop on the Welsh Highland Railway. Here, public realm enhancement has been carried out to draw people from the railway station into the town centre. The installations reflect the history of slate mining in and around the town, including a pavement feature containing the names of all Welsh slate mines.
Regenerating Caernarfon's waterfront
History plays heavily in planning work to regenerate Caernarfon’s waterfront areas. The former Victoria Dock is now a marina and mixed-use residential, business and arts and leisure complex.
The recently extended Galeri building provides meeting, arts and entertainment facilities and is the base for the Galeri Development Trust that has invested heavily in reinvigorating shopping streets in the town centre.
Public realm works on the waterfront Promenade and in the Maes, the central square, have helped to inspire confidence in the town, while Cadw, the Welsh Government’s heritage body, has invested in new entrance and visitor installations at the Castle.
Meanwhile, work is well underway on a mixed-use refurbishment and partial rebuilding of the ‘island’ complex on the historic Slate Quay, beside the Castle. There is much work yet to do but the planners’ vision is for the regeneration to progress step-by-step with a healthy blend of realism and optimism, bringing still more buildings and sites into good health for the century ahead.
History is equally an important ingredient in the redevelopment at Flint, a “planted town” introduced by Edward I in his campaign to bring Wales under English control in the late 13th century. The traces of the original town plan, with the castle at its apex, are still discoverable in three north to south streets of the planned settlement.
Flintshire County Council planners have worked hard to reintroduce the east to west cross movements of the historic plan within the outstanding Flint Walks residential scheme. High quality design permeates the family homes, apartments and elderly persons development, with a shared palette of materials bringing the refaced 1960s tower blocks into keeping with the new development. Attention to detail has been the hallmark of the scheme, with the architects, contractors and registered provider working closely with the planners. The result is a deservedly award-winning development.
Planning with managing visitor footfall in mind
“How are you with speed and heights?” I was asked some weeks ago as RTPI Cymru started planning my visit. Not realising that the two would be combined, I said “fine”. Which is why I found myself suspended on a zipwire high up a mountain on the edge of Snowdonia, about to be propelled at over a hundred miles an hour across a still-active slate quarry onto a seemingly tiny landing area, far below. As it turned out, this was an exhilarating but demonstrably safe experience: at least, I survived, as did the Chair of RTPI Cymru, Huw Evans.
There was, of course, a point to this: ZipWorld at Penrhyn Quarry, along with two other nearby sites operated by the company, are providing new visitor facilities as part of the counter-balance for the National Park. The three facilities draw some 400,000 visitors a year and provide some 150 full time and up to 300 further seasonal jobs – an important boost to the local economy.
Great planning is helping to sustain and regenerate the economy of North Wales and transform the historic towns. Hard work, determination and strong leadership all play an important part – as do poetry and motion.