Wales' flagging High Streets 'need national strategy'

Many of Wales' High Streets are flagging and need strong leadership from the Welsh government and revised planning policy, a report says.

A clearer national strategy is needed to regenerate towns like Caerphilly, Welshpool and Denbigh, says the assembly's enterprise committee.

Challenges include competition from out-of-town developments, rising business rates and parking charges.

Ministers said they backed regeneration and would consider the findings.

The Federation of Small Businesses said concerted action was needed.

The report from the assembly's cross-party enterprise and business committee wants co-ordination of policy, planning as well as financial considerations to promote town centres.

The 21 recommendations include:

  • Protection from out-of-town developments.
  • Assistance for new businesses to set up.
  • The Welsh government's independent panel on business rates should consider changes in legislation and in the application of discretionary powers.

Committee chair Nick Ramsey AM said: "Our inquiry showed that throughout Wales there are examples of weak and vulnerable High Streets, blighted by empty premises and poor shopping environments.

"Key to tackling these issues is strong, effective leadership at ministerial level, which must then be complemented locally in towns and communities across Wales.

"We want Welsh towns to have comprehensive plans, developed by local stakeholders, which contain actions for addressing the issues affecting town centres."

The FSB, which has 10,000 members in Wales, gave evidence to the inquiry.

Welsh policy unit chair Janet Jones said: "Today's report offers a welcome, well-evidenced insight into the challenges facing high streets across Wales.

"Whilst it is positive to see such consensus from a range of perspectives, we now want concerted action from the Welsh Government.

"These recommendations must be acted upon to secure positive trading conditions for retailers in town centres across Wales."

Caerphilly retailer Eddie Talbot, who runs Jet Models and Hobbies, summed up trading conditions in his town with one word: "Dire."

He continued: "The bottom end of town is suffering slightly with the development there, but the top end of the town is suffering terribly.

"There are a number of issues that need to be addressed like business rates and a level playing field with out-of-town retailers.

"They aggressively target the smaller traders. Combined with the recession, it's difficult."

Mr Talbot said a recent Welsh government-sponsored holiday from business rates had helped but that retailers would be back to square one when it ended, and added not all retailers had been eligible for it.

He believed recent roadworks which ran from the summer to Christmas had compounded the problem, taking trade away from the centre.

"I know one retailer who's been here for 40 years who's looking at selling up. I don't know anybody who's doing really well."

Mr Talbot would like to see town centre parking made free or subsidised, saying at present out-of-town retailers had an advantage in that customers could park there for free.

"We have got a car park in the town centre which is a park-and-ride for Cardiff, yet the town centre car park is half a mile away."

A Welsh government spokesperson said it saw town centres as the heart of sustainable local communities - providing places to shop, do business and socialise.

"Our commitment to regenerating town centres is reflected in a range of programmes from the historic and built environment, housing, business support, transport and tourism," said the spokesperson.

"Although there are similar issues affecting all towns, we believe that each town has unique issues that require individual solutions, delivered by local people who know and understand their communities.

"We have supported town centre regeneration schemes across Wales. We will consider the findings of the report and respond in due course."

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