Support for Town Centres

1. Questions to the Cabinet Secretary for Housing, Local Government and Planning – in the Senedd at on 12 June 2024.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Joyce Watson Joyce Watson Labour

(Translated)

1. What is the Welsh Government doing to support town centres in Mid and West Wales? OQ61236

Photo of Julie James Julie James Labour 1:30, 12 June 2024

Thank you for the question, Joyce. The focus of our Transforming Towns programme is the regeneration of our town centres, making them better places in which to live and work. Since 2020, we have awarded more than £49 million of grant and loan funding to town-centre regeneration projects across Mid and West Wales.

Photo of Joyce Watson Joyce Watson Labour

I thank you for that answer. I was particularly pleased to see the Transforming Towns grant being used to renovate two important historic market halls in my constituency of Mid and West Wales. Work with funds from this Welsh Government grant and European capital funding, and capital investment from Ceredigion County Council in the case of Cardigan market hall, have recently enabled the completion of restoration work in both Cardigan market hall and the Hen Farchnad, or the old market hall, in Llandeilo. Both these historic buildings were hugely important buildings in those particular town centres, and it's just fantastic to see them brought back into a good state of repair so that they can be utilised by businesses and communities alike. So, Cabinet Secretary, do you agree that the Transforming Towns grant demonstrates the Welsh Government's commitment to helping small businesses to thrive in our towns, but also to provide vital funds to regenerate those town centres?

Photo of Julie James Julie James Labour 1:31, 12 June 2024

Yes, thank you, Joyce, I very much agree with that. I've recently had the benefit of visiting both of those projects and they were absolutely great. The Llandeilo one is open. It's transformed what was the historic fire and rescue service, fire engine place—I don't know what you call that—garage—

Photo of Julie James Julie James Labour

Depot—thank you; very good. And it's really clever the way they've done it and the whole development is absolutely buzzing. I don't know if you've been, but I had an extremely pleasant coffee in the coffee shop there while we talked it through with some of the people who'd just visited. And they were saying how much the footfall for that is pouring into the town centre as well and really helping to bring the footfall up more generally. And the businesses were great there. And while we were there, there was a community event going on as well, which was great.

And then I was able to go and see the one in Cardigan. They were just on the cusp of opening, so I'm really hoping to go back this summer and see it open. And they were saying that they have a long list of people who are waiting to come back into Cardigan market who were there before, but who were looking forward to the refurbishment. They also have a long list of people looking to get in for the first time, and they've also been able to bring into active use some other disused and derelict shops in Cardigan, and so there's a bridal shop that's come there that is very up-market indeed. And they've all started as start-ups in the market.

And I thought the most impressive thing was the fact that they were using it as incubator space, so you could try out whether your project or idea worked, and if it did work, then you could move on into the town centre and take up a bigger space and leave the incubator space behind. It just had an absolute buzz. The one in Cardigan has the most beautiful stone arches as you go through—it's absolutely the most beautiful building. I don't know if the Llywydd knows it, but I was really impressed by the beauty of the building. And what was also nice is that it formed an accessible route—because it's quite steep, isn't it, Cardigan—so, you could park at the back there and you could go through, up disabled access and toilets and everything, into the town centre through the building, making a really lovely through-route past all of the new shops and buildings. So, it's very, very impressive. And it's a really good example of partnership working. So, the Welsh Government has worked really hard with both local authorities to have the match funding in place and to work with them to get the expertise to match up and so on, and in both places we also had community volunteers. I've forgotten the chap's name in Cardigan—he was so enthusiastic; he told me about the history of the building and everything. And it just shows how beloved these buildings are in their towns and the really galvanising effect it can have to renew them.

Photo of Samuel Kurtz Samuel Kurtz Conservative 1:34, 12 June 2024

Thank you, Cabinet Secretary, for you answer to my colleague. Now, Pembroke in my constituency is one of the finest examples of a medieval town—a fantastic castle, which is the birth place of Henry Tudor. And it's got the South Quay development happening there, which has had Welsh Government funding. And while the community are really excited to see once derelict buildings coming back to life—and I've raised this before in the Chamber—there is a little bit of concern as to what the end product of the South Quay development will become. I know that the town council have put forward a bit of a business case, which was shot down, and so there's a little bit of a frustration in the community as to what the South Quay development will become. So, when funding projects, can I ask what caveats does the Welsh Government have on that? What community engagement do they do to ensure that a project brought forward does have community buy-in and that the end product, a development such as the South Quay, is something that's needed within the locality, to revitalise our town centres?

Photo of Julie James Julie James Labour 1:35, 12 June 2024

So, these are very much partnerships between the local authority and the Welsh Government, and it's the local authority that brings forward the ideas. So, we provide the placemaking grants. We provide them both regionally and to individual councils. For the regional ones, which are smaller grants, we have a lead authority, but each authority has a say in what the regional spend looks like. One of the things that we've been trying to do—I'm not trying to make a political point here, actually—is we've been trying to make sure that the shared prosperity levelling-up funds jigsaw in, if you like, to that, so that we can have complementary investment. So, we've got quite good arrangements in place to make sure that they do jigsaw in, rather than stand alone. And so, the local authority puts forward the business case, and the Welsh Government completely relies on the local authority to do that. I don't have the details of that one, so I don't know what it's got in mind for it, and I haven't visited that one—it's probably the only one that I haven't visited, so I do plan to. So, the local authority will have done the business case, if you like, for it, and it will have come partly to the Welsh Government and partly to the regional forum to have a discussion about it. And as part of the business case, they will have consulted. I'm afraid I don't know the details of that specific one, but it's very much a process, a kind of team process, to bring them forward.

Obviously, the idea is that, sometimes, a quite big amount of money—it can be millions—and, sometimes, a relatively small amount of money, can bring regeneration and life, really, back to a derelict part of a town. And we're particularly interested in doing heritage projects, because they tend not to be affordable if they're commercially developed, because the land values are too small. And so, the placemaking grant in particular is looking at making affordable projects that bring heritage buildings back to life, where, otherwise, they wouldn't be commercially viable.

Photo of Cefin Campbell Cefin Campbell Plaid Cymru 1:37, 12 June 2024

(Translated)

I'd like to thank Joyce Watson for the question. As we all know, our rural towns, towns across Wales, have suffered a great deal as a result of Brexit—

Photo of Elin Jones Elin Jones Plaid Cymru

(Translated)

If we can just pause for a second, to ensure that the interpretation is working.

Photo of Julie James Julie James Labour

Sorry, I was on the wrong channel.

Photo of Elin Jones Elin Jones Plaid Cymru

(Translated)

Okay. If you could start again, Cefin Campbell.

Photo of Cefin Campbell Cefin Campbell Plaid Cymru

(Translated)

Okay. As we all know, our market towns across the whole of Wales have suffered a great deal as a result of Brexit, COVID, and the cost-of-living crisis recently. Now, one model that's being implemented is one by Carmarthenshire County Council, which is a scheme called Deg Tref, Ten Towns, focusing on 10 market towns, including, as Joyce Watson mentioned, Llandeilo, and places like Llanybydder, Newcastle Emlyn, St Clears, and so on. And Transforming Towns funds have been used to good end, such as the old market in Llandeilo, as we've heard. But it's also gone beyond that by providing funding to small businesses to improve their provision and also to transform buildings, to make these towns more attractive to tourists and visitors. So, could I ask if you are aware of the Carmarthenshire County Council Ten Towns programme, and do you think that this model of targeting towns is something that could be emulated by other local authorities across Wales?

Photo of Julie James Julie James Labour 1:39, 12 June 2024

Thank you, Cefin. Sorry for not having that sorted out fast enough and making you repeat yourself. I am aware of it, yes. It very much follows the pattern of 'Future Wales: The National Plan 2040', the spatial plan for Wales, where we've been very keen to make sure that every town in Wales does not think it can do everything, and that we can target specific things at specific towns. So, we have a 'town centre first' policy, which means that we're trying to stop out-of-town spread, but it doesn't mean that every single regional town in Wales is going to be able to have the same offering. And actually, we know that the Ten Towns kind of strategy, where what you're doing is looking to see that you've got a hole in a particular area, and you can have specialisms, if you like, or particular offerings, in particular towns, really works. I don't think any of us like identikit towns, where you turn up and the high street looks exactly the same in every one. That doesn't really work, and it's a model that's really fading now as retail trends change. What really does work is the kinds of towns that you do get in—. I'm very fond of Carmarthen itself, actually, and the way that it's clustered around the market there, and the centre is lovely. But it's because it's unique, isn't it? You go there because it's a unique experience, and you get a completely different set of shops there than if you go to Cardigan, for example. It feels different. It's a nice experience, so it very much does work, and I very much commend the council on its strategy. It is one that we have been pushing through 'Future Wales' as well, and I think it's one where people can take a real pride in the individuality of their particular village or town or city, whichever it may be.