Wales’ towns are to receive £90m of additional investment as part of a new Welsh Government approach to transforming town centres across the country, Deputy Minister for Housing and Local Government, Hannah Blythyn announced today.
The Transforming Towns package being announced includes measures to increase footfall by making sure the public sector locate services in town centre locations, tackle empty buildings and land to help bring them back into use, and greening our town centres.
Towns are vital to environmental, economic, social and cultural well-being in Wales –around 40% of our population live in small towns of less than 20,000 people but nearly everyone identifies emotionally with a town – or city – in some way.
Many towns are struggling in the wake of declining retail sales and the way we use town centres has changed.
To help breathe new life into town centres, the Welsh Government is today unveiling a new ‘Town Centre First’ approach, which means locating services and buildings in town centres wherever possible. As part of this approach, all Welsh Government departments will put the health and vibrancy of town centres as the starting point for their location decision-making processes.
Utilising this approach, the public sector is also being encouraged to support towns by locating offices, facilities and services within them in order to drive footfall and create or sustain vibrancy.
To support this new approach, the Welsh Government is announcing a £90m investment to transform Wales’ town centres. Investments include:
- £36m for town centre regeneration projects, extending our current capital programme for a further year and bringing in an anticipated total investment of almost £58m;
- £13.6m to tackle empty and dilapidated buildings and land. This will enable local authorities to take enforcement action to bring empty buildings and land back into use;
- £2m for coastal towns to support projects to an anticipated value of £3m which will contribute to town centre / high street regeneration;
- £10m of additional funding for the Town Centre Loans scheme, taking the total to £41.6m, to bring vacant and underutilised buildings back into use in our town centres;
- £5m funding for Green Infrastructure and Biodiversity within town centres. This will support greening projects which will deliver environmental benefits and make town centres more attractive places to visit.
The £90m Transforming Towns package builds on the £800m investment in our towns as a result of significant Welsh Government investment since 2014.
The Deputy Minister made the announcement at the Queen’s Market building in Rhyl, which has received £5m of Welsh Government funding. This forms part of a total investment of £16.5m in the town centre as a result of regeneration schemes.
Announcing the new approach during a visit to Rhyl, Deputy Minister for Housing and Local Government, Hannah Blythyn said:
“Towns are incredibly important to the people and places of Wales, and they are incredibly important to me personally. We have great towns in Wales – towns with inspiring histories and unique assets. But we want our towns to have great futures as well as great pasts, and we know that some of our towns are facing challenges.
“The retail sector has shrunk dramatically and this trend looks set to continue. This is why we need to refocus our efforts on town centres, transforming them to be to be fit for the 21st Century. The Transforming Towns package I am announcing today will help towns do just that – giving them a much needed boost.
“As part of this package, we’re taking action to bring empty and derelict properties in our town centres back into use and our Town Centre First Principle will help bring increased footfall and vibrancy.
“Taken together these measures will make a significant contribution to the health of our town centres. It signals that this Government is serious about transforming towns right across Wales.”
Councillor Rob Stewart (Swansea), WLGA Spokesperson for Regeneration said:
“Town centres play a vital role in Wales, and they have long been a hub of day-to-day life. However, it is no secret that they have faced huge difficulties in recent years in the wake of retail closures, online shopping, public sector cutbacks and continued lack of investment.
“I welcome the Town Centre First approach, which will ensure that their strategic importance is considered in any new planning and investment decisions. Local authorities recognise the value of town centres for whole communities, which is why many councils have decided to open new civic offices, public sector offices, one stop shops, or schools in their local town centres.”
“Although a town centre location will not be appropriate for all services and facilities, this approach will ensure that these locations are given primary consideration, and that any decisions for locating elsewhere should be backed by evidence.”
Commenting on the Welsh Government announcement of £90 million of measures for Wales’ towns, Ben Francis, FSB Wales Policy Chair, said:
“Welsh towns are at the heart of our civil, economic and cultural society. Towns are where we live, study, and work, where things are made, goods are sold and services are provided. They are a vital part of the conversation about how we deliver a strong Welsh economy.
“At FSB Wales we hear from businesses every day that are facing unprecedented challenges in our towns. From changing demographics, the disruptive impact of new technology, and issues such as online shopping and empty stores, from business rates to out-of-town shopping developments, there are a huge amount of issues for a small business to overcome.
“In today’s announcement, we are pleased to see that Welsh Government has taken several positive steps to address the concerns faced by these businesses, and that Welsh Government has listened so closely to FSB on this issue. The Town Centres First principle marks an important shift change in how Welsh Government and local authorities make decisions, and we look forward to seeing this implemented across the country.
“The increased investment in the Town Centre Loans Fund will help bring empty buildings back into use – and whilst this fund only applies to property – we are hopeful that it will continue to have a positive impact. We are also interested to see the announcement of funding for green infrastructure and biodiversity – the climate crisis is a problem for all of us to tackle and our towns should rightly be part of that conversation.
“We look forward to seeing how funding for digital communication will be used to help small businesses compete with online shopping and how the funding can be used to bring further technological advancements to the high street.
“Ultimately, no single approach or initiative will deliver sustainability for towns. Welsh towns are as vibrant and diverse as the people and the businesses that occupy them, and we firmly believe that the best way forward is for those communities to be empowered to develop new ideas as to what their town needs for the future, and to pitch into a Welsh Government Future of Towns Fund in order to deliver this. We are pleased that Welsh Government is clear that this is only the beginning of the conversation and we look forward to continuing to work with ministers to deliver a thriving future for our Welsh towns.”