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Monmouth residents fight to preserve two historic landmarks.

Battle lines have been drawn up by residents desperate to save two historic landmarks from the march of planners' progress.

They believe the threat hanging over a tree and a castle reflect a risk to the future preservation of many of Monmouthshire's oldest buildings and areas of outstanding natural beauty.

It now has 31 conservation areas and more than 2,500 listed buildings, as well as dedicated sites of special scientific interest. But locals fear many of these sites are now in danger.

Two attacks have now been launched against two proposed plans.

The first is to fell a catalpa tree which has stood in Monmouth's town centre for more than 100 years.

The second is to build a pounds 3m cattle market next door to picturesque Raglan Castle.

Stephen Clarke is chairman of the Monmouth Action Group, which is fighting to save the tree. The archaeologist said the council's decision to fell the tree has caused outrage.

He said yesterday, 'It's a bad example of local democracy.

'The conservation areas in Monmouth are not safe.

'It's up to the local people to watch what's going on and to struggle against anything that you can see, but like with the tree, we're losing.

'You can talk to people on the council who say they disagree with what's going on, but they're not on the right committee to do anything about it.

'Democracy is very remote these days.

'Monmouth was once classified as one of Britain's top 10 historical towns in a survey done by British Archeology.

'We used to have one of the most beautiful urban parks in the country, Drybridge Park, where every tree that would grow in Britain used to be planted but they've nearly all been chopped down.

'The council can do what they like.

'They are the guardians of the conservation area and so they just give themselves permission. The locals can do very little about it.'

Ten miles away, a proposal to build a six hectare cattle market next to Grade One listed Raglan Castle, has also met public opposition.

The new cattle market is needed as the land on which the current one stands has been sold to a supermarket developer.

Dilwyn Watkins, chairman of Raglan Conservation Group, said the plans would destroy the village of Raglan as well as detract from the beauty of the castle.

He said, 'If the plans go ahead it will be the death of Raglan.'

But George Ashworth, head of planning at Monmouthshire County Council, said, 'Here in Monmouthshire we have a profusion of ancient monuments and listed buildings and in terms of history and natural interest, we are particularly blessed.

'It's difficult to accommodate more development, but on the other side of the coin because Monmouthshire has such a renowned environment and is very accessible then that brings with it tremendous pressures for growth.'

He said the council had decided to fell the tree for safety reasons.

He added that it was not the council but the auctioneers at the cattle market's current site which had put forward the proposals for the Raglan site.

But he said objections had been received from Cadw and also the Environment Agency which would have to be addressed.

He said, 'If we feel it is damaging to archeological sites of interest or will damage ancient monuments, that will have to be balanced against the arguments in favour of the site.

'Planning is about reconciling the differences.'

The castle battle in focus:Originally a Norman motte and bailey castle, Raglan Castle was rebuilt in the mid 15th century by Welsh knight, Sir William ap Thomas. Although it suffered during the Civil War, the structure still remains and it is a Grade One listed building.

But according to local action groups, the National Assembly's conservation arm Cadw and the Environment Agency, plans to build a cattle market under its ramparts will threaten its future.

The proposals are for a pounds 3m unit, six hectares in size and 40ft high.

As well as ruining the ancient monument's view, Cadw say the plans would affect the archeological remains of the Great Pool, a vast ornamental lake.

Locals have appealed to the castle's owner, the Duke of Beaufort, to intervene.

The tree battle in focus:The catalpa tree in St James' Square, Monmouth, is more than 100 years old and, according to Monmouth Action Group, is one of the best examples of the species in Britain.

But the county council says the tree is dangerous, especially because it is located close to a school, and has decided it should be destroyed, and replaced with a new tree of the same species. The council says the tree is suffering from structural weakness and is at risk of falling down.

Leading arborologist Roy Finch, who assessed the tree's condition, is opposed to its destruction, claiming it is an important part of the country's tree heritage.

A second assessment found the tree could be treated but it would likely die in the next few years.
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Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Nov 19, 2005
Words:836
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