Traders meet on Newport's city centre future

The talk of "crisis" by traders comes only weeks after the city hosted the Ryder Cup

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Traders in Newport attended a meeting to raise concerns over the future of the city's economy.

It comes after two major high street chains announced they would pull out of the city centre in the next few months.

There are also worries over empty shops and the effect of cutting 250 jobs at the passport office.

The meeting takes place on the same day £7.6m of investment has been announced for the regeneration of Butetown in Cardiff.

Marks and Spencer and Next recently indicated they will be quitting their Newport city centre shops.

It follows the collapse of a deal for the new £200m Friars Walk shopping centre due to the recession. And the Passport Office in the city is to close, with the loss of up to 300 jobs.

'Desperate'

Laura Buchanan-Smith of Newport Chamber of Trade told BBC Wales: "It's more than difficult, it's actually desperate.

"This meeting is for traders to come and tell the council what they want and what they can foresee for the future.

"Hopefully we can get a brighter Newport in the city centre."

Traders want to ask the council for free parking in the centre and a reduction in their business rates to help them out of the current decline.

Also up for discussion will be the redevelopment of John Frost Square, following the recent decision not to grant Iceland Foods a judicial review into compulsory purchase order issues.

The meeting is being held at the King's Hotel on Thursday at 19.30 BST.

'Confident'

Newport Council recently launched its search for a replacement developer for the centre.

Council leader Matthew Evans, said: "We are confident that we will find a partner who will help us deliver a first class scheme that will revitalise the city centre.

"We expect to be able to draw up a short-list of potential developers early next year."

Paul Flynn, Labour MP for Newport West, said it was a "serious crisis" but there were good signs.

He said he and Mr Evans had been in talks with Marks and Spencer to try and change their mind.

He added: "Losing the development was atrociously bad luck but it was nobody's fault.

"There is a danger that by talking the city down we make things worse. We need to halt the spiral of decline and reverse it into a spiral of improvement."

An assembly government spokesperson said: "Despite the UK government's proposed closure of Newport passport office, the Welsh Assembly Government is committed to doing all it can to support the city.

"Newport benefits from EU funding through projects such as the JEREMIE Fund, Business Start Up and ProAct, which are helping business to grow and are helping people into work and training to secure a more prosperous future."

Meanwhile the Welsh Assembly Government has announced a £7.6m programme of economic and community investment for Butetown.

The scheme is backed by £6.2m from the assembly government, which includes £2m from the European Regional Development Fund and £4.6m from the Targeted Match Fund, and further funding from Cardiff Council.

Work will include a new community centre, youth centre, community training centre, grants to improve community premises and social enterprises, and environmental improvements.

Minister for Business and Budget Jane Hutt said: "I am pleased that our management of European Structural Funds is enabling us to move ahead with this project which will bring renewed pride and economic opportunities to those communities living in and around Butetown."

Cardiff Council Leader Rodney Berman added: "I'm delighted that our bid for funding, to regenerate what has traditionally been one of the most deprived parts of the city, has been given the go-ahead.

"This is a unique opportunity for the people of Butetown and paves the way for long-lasting and sustainable improvements in one of our most needy communities."

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