“We need joined-up intervention to lift town centres, and an effort to tackle out-of-town development, if we are to succeed in turning things around”.
Those were the words of Deputy Minister for Climate Change, Lee Waters, on a visit to Bangor today as he revealed how the Welsh Government will respond to the publication of two major reports on town centre regeneration.
The Deputy Minister visited Bangor to meet with local leaders and heads of community organisations to discuss the findings of Professor Karel Williams’ report Small Towns, Big Issues and Regenerating Town Centres in Wales, prepared by Audit Wales.
‘Small Towns, Big Issues’ follows an in-depth study of three Welsh town and city centres – Bangor, Bridgend and Haverfordwest. It was led by Professor Karel Williams - a professor at Manchester Business School - who also attended Bangor with the Deputy Minister.
Both reports conclude that town and city centres are at the heart of Welsh life but addressing the challenges they face requires ‘imagination and ambitious leadership’, backed up by ‘co-ordinated, cross-government decision making’.
Specific recommendations for both Welsh Government and for local authorities include everything from access to public transport and effective promotion of town centres to the simplification of funding streams.
The Deputy Minister also stressed the need to focus on dealing with out of town developments.
Town and city centres are the places most of us can walk to, or get public transport from, and they provide common access points into many transport routes.
We want better jobs and services in town centres where people can access them without needing to get in their car.
Both reports make clear that we have all failed to control out of town development and we need to mobilise alliances for change in our town centres to turn things round.
Our Town Centre First principle, embedded in Wales’ national development plan Future Wales, means that town and city centre sites should be the first consideration for all decisions on the location of workplaces and services.
Speaking at a round table at Bangor’s Pontio Arts and Innovation Centre, the Deputy Minister outlined the immediate action the Welsh Government would take.
Today, I am pleased to confirm that our Ministerial Town Centre Action Group, which I will lead and will include our key stakeholders for town centre regeneration, will oversee the implementation of the recommendations made in both reports.
In addition to this, I am establishing three sub-groups, one of which will lead on finding ways to incentivise town centre development but also disincentivise out of town development.
A second group will look at how we can further streamline the funding offer under the Transforming Towns programme and simplify its processes.
The final group will look at planning and engaging with communities so that they have a say in what happens in their town.
With the oversight and challenge of my ministerial group, these groups will develop the solutions needed to secure the sustainability of our towns for future generations.
The Deputy Minister also confirmed the Welsh Government will make an additional £5m of loan funding available as part of Transforming Towns this financial year – £60 million in loan funding has already been provided to support town centre regeneration. He said:
This additional funding shows our commitment to revitalising our town centres and putting them at the heart of everything we do. I look forward to seeing how this money is invested into opportunities to improve our town centres.