Carl Sargeant, Minister for Local Government and Communities
Last October, I made a written statement to the Assembly which set out Monmouthshire County Council’s plans to redevelop the site of the livestock market in Abergavenny, and to construct a Morrisons supermarket on the site as well as a new library for the town. The Council’s planning committee granted permission for the redevelopment of the market last June; there are separate plans to construct a new market near Raglan.
My statement also described my role, which relates to the provisions of the Abergavenny Improvement Acts of 1854 to 1871. The Council considers that the 1854 Act requires the Council to hold a livestock market in the town on specified days, although interpreting 150-year-old law is far from straightforward.
I have a power in the Local Government (Wales) Act 1994 to repeal Acts like these where it appears to me that they are ‘spent, obsolete or unnecessary’. Monmouthshire County Council asked me to do just that. As I said in October, I wanted to hear the views of all interested parties, as well as users of the market, on whether I should do so.
The consultation period ended at the end of November, and we received a very high number of responses. Many of these opposed repeal of the Acts on the grounds that they did not believe the current market should close, or did not want the proposed development of the site to proceed. They saw retaining the Acts as a means of preventing those things from happening.
I have no doubt at all that these views are strongly and sincerely held. I would like to thank the many people involved for taking the time to contact me and my officials. But as I said in October, such faith in the Acts is misplaced. They do not require the market to exist on its current site, nor do they prohibit development of that site. Equally, if I were to repeal the Acts the market would not have to close. Furthermore, and as I also said in October, I cannot appear to endorse or overturn a decision which was properly made by the Council’s planning committee – however strongly others support or disagree with it.
I can have no view on this matter or on wider development issues in the town. Whether the market should close; whether there should be a Morrisons and a new library; and whether there should be a new market near Raglan are all local issues. They are certainly important and complex, but they should be decided by the Council in the normal course of business, as they are everywhere else in Wales and beyond. Those who oppose such plans should likewise seek to influence the Council. And it must be for the Council to justify the decisions that it makes, on this issue or any other. It should not be able to hide behind mid-Victorian statute or my role in possibly repealing it, and to its credit it has not sought to do so.
That is why I believe that the relevant provisions of the Abergavenny Improvement Acts should be repealed, and that Monmouthshire County Council should be fully and properly accountable for local development matters. I repeat that this is not about what happens to the market. It is a question of how decisions about the market and the town are made. I cannot see any good reason why Monmouthshire County Council should be treated any differently from other local authorities in this regard. They should be able to take local decisions about livestock markets or anything else, and should be held accountable for them. The Acts prevent this. They are an unjustifiable constraint on local democracy.
In particular, I believe the provisions dealing with livestock markets are unnecessary, because there are other more modern powers available to all local authorities governing livestock markets. They are also obsolete, because they impede the Council’s accountability and decision-making ability. I heard nothing from our consultation which would lead me to an alternative view.
However, I also received many representations from farmers across south-east Wales and indeed in border areas of England. Many of them expressed concern at the potential loss of a local facility for buying and selling livestock, as did the National Farmers Union, the Farmers Union of Wales and a local firm of livestock auctioneers. At the same time, many of these respondents, including the unions and the auctioneers, were happy to support repeal if there were no gap between the Abergavenny market closing and the new one opening; and some of them would actively welcome the replacement of the Abergavenny market with a more modern and accessible facility.
These are again matters for the Council, and the Leader has already given a firm public commitment to farmers that the market in Abergavenny will not close until the new market near Raglan opens. I understand that the Council hopes to conclude a clear memorandum of understanding with the farming unions which will further underline this commitment. I trust that the Council will deliver on these very clear commitments it has made to farmers, and that those will be sufficient to address farmers’ concerns.
I will therefore make an order repealing the Acts shortly; and that order will come into force one month after it is made. The enabling powers in the Local Government (Wales) Act 1994 provide that this order will be subject to the negative procedure in the Assembly.