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Plans to convert toilet block into restaurant as part of ‘Levelling Up’ project approved

The view of how the Hanbury Road toilets and extension would look from the Italian Gardens, Pontypool Park (pic: Percy Thomas Architects/Torfaen County Borough)

PONTYPOOL’S £9 million ‘Levelling Up’ project will take another step forward with plans to transform a toilet block into a restaurant set for approval. 

The intention is to turn the Hanbury Road public toilets, on the edge of Pontypool Park, into a new restaurant that will be an attraction and encourage the nearly 300,000 people who visit the park every year to venture into the nearby town centre. 

The Hanbury Road public toilets in Pontypool (pic: LDRS)

A curved dining room extension, at the back of the toilets stretching out above part of the Italian Gardens would also be created. It will be supported by three concrete columns and steel frame branches intended to look like a tree. There would be an outdoor eating area underneath it and a lift to the upper floor. 

As well as the new restaurant Torfaen Borough Council plans to restore the derelict St James’ Church, which is opposite the toilets, into a cultural hub including a pop-up cinema and food and exhibition spaces while a revamp of the nearby Glantorvaen multi-story, which also forms part of the plan, was approved last month. 

The council’s planning committee will meet this Thursday, May 25, to consider the application for partial change of use of the toilets including alterations and the replacement of steps leading down from Hanbury Road to the Italian Gardens and walls between the block and the Memorial Gates, which also require listed building consent. 

The application, which is recommended for approval, has been made by the borough council which is leading the £9.3 million project which has been awarded £7.6 million from the UK Government’s ‘Levelling Up’ fund, with the balance made up of council and private finance. 

A report to the committee states research for the council has indicated a restaurant, at the edge of the park, would help support the town centre.  It states: “There is a lack of cultural and evening attractions in Pontypool. Whilst there are vacant premises in the centre that could be suitable for café/restaurant use, the rationale for the proposed investment is its prime location to attract visitors from Pontypool Park into the town centre.  

“The park attracts approximately 290,000 visitors per year, which could translate to greater footfall in the town centre if a connection is created by the proposed café/restaurant. The scale of the proposed café/restaurant would not be significant enough to undermine the vitality and viability of the town centre, instead the proposed café would help improve this.” 

The report acknowledges the toilets are “a useful public facility” but says two accessible toilets will be retained, to serve the restaurant, though public access to them will be determined by the business. There will be six toilets in the revamped car park which is up a steep street from the flat level Hanbury Road. 

The Italian Gardens at Pontypool Park (pic: LDRS)

A heritage impact statement has recommended before any work takes place photographs of the toilet block are taken as they are “are a rapidly disappearing urban provision in Wales and possess historic value as artefacts of improved public sanitisation measures stretching back to the Victorian period.” It’s also recommended that photographs are taken of the Italian Gardens. 

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Two Cypress trees would be removed to accommodate the extension but its planned to plant two lime trees to the south and north of the building, in the Italian Gardens, and ten fruit trees in an orchard in Pontypool Park. 

The council’s ecology officer has raised concerns at the removal of ivy from the building but this is because the climbing plant makes monitoring tree health difficult and dense ivy in tree canopies can cause them to fall in high winds. 

The officer has also requested further information on the impact on local wildlife, including the nearby Afon Llwyd, and the planning department has said though it would “prefer” the information had already been provided it will instead make it a condition of the permission as “further delays could threaten the implementation of the proposed scheme”.