Poor transport links and availability of car parking is affecting footfall in town centres, to the detriment of local businesses, a Senedd Committee has heard.
During an inquiry looking at how Town Centre Regeneration is working across Wales, the Senedd’s Public Accounts and Public Administration Committee heard that the lack of simple and integrated transport systems are preventing people from visiting town centres more often, preferring to use out-of-town locations instead.
It also heard how the current non-domestic rates regime disincentivises investment in towns, preventing the redevelopment of empty properties and puts additional pressures on small businesses already struggling with rising energy costs.
The Committee’s report published today, Thursday 25 January 2024,includes 8 recommendations to Welsh Government, calling on it to do more to accelerate the pace of regeneration and better support local stakeholders to make big decisions that are right for their areas.
Chair of the Senedd Public Accounts and Public Administration Committee, Mark Isherwood MS, says:
“Welsh Government needs to drive and deliver a new vision for our high streets. That means delivering a transport system that is simple and easy to use; a more sensible taxation system for businesses; financial incentives to encourage new businesses; and a new approach to tackling empty properties that blight our town centres.
“Like other nations, Wales’ towns have been changed immeasurably by the pandemic and the increased prevalence of online shopping. It is clear that the high street’s traditional role as the hub of retail is no longer sustainable and during our inquiry we heard about several innovative projects, at a local level, that are giving town centres a new purpose.
“But these innovations will only be successful if all stakeholders are empowered to make big decisions that are right for their area, with reassurance at a national level that adequate resources and expertise will be made available at all levels. Welsh Government need to provide the national solutions to the local issues and support our communities to achieve the regeneration our town centres so badly need.”
Local projects revitalise town centres
During the inquiry, the Committee visited Mold, Wrexham, Morriston and Carmarthen to meet with local representatives and learn about the innovative ways they are trying to bring about change to their high streets.
“We were encouraged and impressed by our visits to Mold, Wrexham, Morriston and Carmarthen. It was a pleasure to hear about the positive work being done, but sobering to hear about the challenges that each location was also facing. Our report today highlights these barriers,” added Mark Isherwood MS.
Among the projects the Committee visited was Mold’s historic Bailey Hill, redeveloped as a community asset for local people. On a walk through Wrexham city centre the Committee heard about exciting developments for the National Football Museum for Wales, and the Gateway to Wrexham project, which proposes to connect the city centre with the University, football stadium and train station.
In Carmarthen they learnt how the former Debenham’s store is to become a new leisure hub, with health, wellbeing, learning and cultural services all under one roof. After a walk along Morriston’s evolving high street, they visited the Morriston Tabernacle Church and the Sacred Heart Centre, both of which are being used as a community resource for local groups.
The Committee’s report contains eight recommendations for Welsh Government on how it can better deliver town centres regeneration across Wales. The Welsh Government will now respond to the Committee’s report, and it will be debated by the whole Senedd in due course.