(Title Image: i Newspaper)
The Welsh Government has announced a funding package to deliver £90million worth of regeneration projects in smaller town centres. The £90million is made up of:
- £36million of capital grant funding for town centre regeneration projects, delivering projects worth £58million
- £20.6million to bring empty properties and land back into use, £10million of which will be loans.
- £2million specifically allocated for coastal towns, delivering projects worth £3million.
- £5million to fund green infrastructure in town centres.
40% of the Welsh population is said to live in towns with a population of 20,000 or less.
Deputy Minister for Local Government & Housing, Hannah Blythyn (Lab, Delyn), said tackling empty properties which blight town centres is a particularly high priority. The Welsh Government was also seeking to take a “Town Centre First” policy alongside local authorities, ensuring that town centre locations are selected first for new public sector-led developments.
A feasibility study is also being undertaken to create a fund to unlock strategic development sites which have stalled in town centres and are “likely to yield significant numbers of housing”.
Having called for a coastal town fund a few weeks ago, Shadow Communities Minister, Mark Isherwood AM (Con, North Wales), quipped that “imitation is the best form of flattery”. He warned that communities had to be at the heart of shaping policies that affect them and these new developments shouldn’t be imposed on communities.
Delyth Jewell AM (Plaid, South Wales East) noted with optimism the recent news that Treorchy (pictured) was named the best high street in the UK for 2019, with a “phenomenal” 96% business occupancy rate. Plaid Cymru supports the “Town Centre First” principle, but there had to be movement on policies to prevent buildings and land becoming derelict in the first place – particularly the business rates burden.
Rhun ap Iorwerth AM (Plaid, Ynys Môn) later added he was in favour of opening new public services, such as primary care centres, in town centres.
Alun Davies AM (Lab, Blaenau Gwent) was one of several AMs who stressed the importance of decent public transport – particularly bus services – connecting to town centres. While everything the Deputy Minister said was laudable, it means nothing if local authorities don’t have the resources to deliver it.
Former retailer, Caroline Jones AM (BXP, South Wales West), was in no doubt that empty properties deter shoppers and asked for clarification on the “firm action” the Deputy Minister said would be taken against owners of empty properties who refuse to co-operate?
Jack Sargeant AM (Lab, Alyn & Deeside) said a north Wales metro would play a part in improving infrastructure to encourage town centre visits by methods other than the car; he also stressed the importance of banks in town centres, suggesting a community bank would be “huge” for towns like Buckley.
John Griffiths AM (Lab, Newport East) mentioned difficulties in identifying ownership of shops which makes town centre regeneration efforts more difficult, while Vikki Howells AM (Lab, Cynon Valley) cited Transport for Wales’ office in Pontypridd as a positive example of the “Town Centre First” principle in action.