The Planning Expert Looks At: Chepstow
Gateway to The Wye Valley & Monmouthshire
It is no surprise that no lesser oracle than the Sunday Times has said the lovely little Welsh Town of Chepstow is one of the best places to live in Britain.
I have always loved Chepstow and the Monmouthshire countryside which surrounds it, and have been going there for over 40 years.
During my recent visit there was a bustling farmers market going on which made a pleasant interlude before lunch.
I often have coffee or eat in The Limetree because it allows dogs and serves excellent food. I prefer where possible to support local businesses wherever I am rather than use the large chains. Many small entrepreneurs, including farmers and those working in equestrian and other rural enterprises, often work 80 hour-plus weeks with no minimum wage, no holiday pay and no pension so they deserve the support of the community they serve, and of course visitors like me.
Whether I am in Bristol, London, Manchester or Leeds I try to shop with independents.
Sadly though, for all its obvious attractions the town itself has some of the worst air quality to be found anywhere. Many locals tell me that at peak times the air in this bustling market town rivals many industrial cities. Having almost ‘tasted’ the air outside the various coffee shops in the high street especially during rush hour I wouldn’t argue.
Following the Severn Bridge tolls being removed in December 2018, Chepstow, like many other villages and towns, such as Caldicot and the important Welsh City of Newport have become investment hotspots with huge growth in housing and job provision happening across the region.
With hundreds of new homes planned in and around Lydney, which is further along the English side of the Severn estuary on the A48 in Gloucestershire this unprecedented growth is sure to cause further traffic blight in the town, unless something is done about it soon.
In my opinion it should be the function of central government to fund a Chepstow bypass and support Monmouthshire County Council in its efforts to manage accelerating growth.
This lovely little town situated right on the English/Welsh border is a very historic place, with Chepstow Castle, which boasts the oldest castle doors in Europe (seen at the top of this page) being the oldest surviving post-Roman stone fortification in Britain.
The Castle which began construction in 1067 is a great tourist attraction. Last year it attracted over 28,000 visitors. Many of whom must have spent thousands of tourist pounds in the local shops and restaurants.
I love the freedom my car gives me but fully understand the need for more public transport initiatives which crucially play a big part in overall transport provision. However we live in a modern democracy which must cater for all personal freedoms. Driving ones own mode of transport is one of those freedoms which needs to be protected, at least to a point.
Trains and buses are all very well but many people living in rural communities rely heavily on their car to get to work and enjoy life. Not everyone wants to ride a bike from Abergavenny to Cardiff to work, and not everyone wants to use a train or bus either! It is up to government to provide a solution, where within reason, we can choose. That is surely the essence of democracy.
Managing transport is about finding solutions which works for most people, most of the time.
A lot of the congestion within towns and cities is caused by poorly thought through national transport policy, rather than local opinion.
Focusing on public transport initiatives rather than finding a way to solve private transport issues is a bit short sighted in my view. We need a well thought out integrated policy at national and local level to be truly effective at managing both congestion and pollution.
As we move into the era of the electric car/vehicle and away from dirty internal combustion engines the issue of air quality will appear slightly less urgent. Focus will then move more obviously to parking and movement matters.
Park & Ride, cheaper train and bus fares, dedicated (safer) bike lanes and better designed road layouts and effective parking solutions are all part of a sustainable future for transport. I would like to see free bus and train travel for anyone earning the minimum wage, pensioners, and the unemployed. This would see many poorer people receive a welcome pay rise and allow them to travel more frequently whether to and from work in search of the same or just on a day out.
I support the proposal for a new Chepstow bypass and importantly both expansion and improvement to the towns railway links, including a more direct route into the major city of Bristol just over the English border.
Both initiatives are required urgently if the integrity of this traditional market town is to be preserved.
In my opinion it is the job of governments in Westminster and Cardiff to financially support Monmouthshire County Council in its positive attempts to create solutions and make the county an even more attractive place to live and work.
Stephen Fear April 2019
The Planning Expert is published monthly & is written alternately by Stephen & Leon Fear.