In recent months I have been asked by local businesses and people interested in their local town centre as to what support is out there for Welsh town centres from Welsh Government and how can I find out more?
The main place to start is Welsh Government’s website under its Housing and Regeneration page: http://gov.wales/topics/housing-and-regeneration/regeneration/?lang=en. Otherwise contact your economic development or regeneration team at your local Council who should be in some way engaged in Welsh Government town centre support programmes.
Vibrant and Viable Places
The main programme for town centre regeneration activity in Wales has been the Vibrant and Viable Place programme which has provided different forms of support since 2014. Welsh Government defines regeneration as “an integrated set of activities that seek to reverse economic, social, environmental and physical decline to achieve lasting improvement, in areas where market forces will not do this alone without some support from government”. The key principles that the programme will operate are Partnership, Strategy and Sustainability.
The key priorities for regeneration investment:
A more targeted approach to successful place making resulting in more intensive investment in fewer places to maximise impact.
Three key urgent priorities for targeted investment:
Town centres serving 21st Century towns
Coastal communities and
Communities First clusters
Recognition of the importance of local delivery and accountability through local partnership bidding into Welsh Government for town centres, coastal communities and Communities First clusters using the five case business model and assessed against clear criteria.
To download a copy of the Vibrant and Viable Places framework, click here: http://gov.wales/docs/desh/publications/130311vibrantandviableplacesen.pdf
The main activities of the programme and investment to date includes:
Vibrant and Viable Places Regeneration Scheme - £100m
Tackling Poverty Fund - £7m
Town Centre Partnerships Fund - £1m
Business Improvement District Feasibility Support - £203,000
Town Centre Loans Fund - £5m
Watch this space to find out if there is another round of Vibrant and Viable Places once the Welsh Government elections have taken place.
Vibrant and Viable Places Regeneration Scheme
Eleven local authority areas have benefitted from over £100m of support from this programme with the current programme due to finish in 2017.
In looking at two of the eleven areas that delivering projects, Bridgend County Borough Council have received to target regeneration projects in Bridgend town centre. The main project is The Rhiw Gateway which is a former car park with the main proposals developed in a housing association. The Rhiw Gateway scheme has four elements:
Delivery of affordable town centre homes and increasing access to jobs locally and further afield in Cardiff and Swansea
Improvement of temporary and permanent parking to help the town centre to compete with out-of-town retail parks
Improvements to the traditional indoor market, which will help support local jobs and small businesses
A new community/arts space.
Conwy County Borough Council’s main activities have been centred on:
Housing Renewal North Colwyn Bay. A scheme to target investment in the North Colwyn Bay housing renewal area to improve the outside appearance and energy efficiency performance of homes, which includes a landlord’s loan scheme and setting up a social lettings project.
Space for Living. A partnership with local Registered Social Landlords, the scheme is tackling empty and underused properties in and around the North Colwyn Housing Renewal Area and the town centre. A number of empty properties are being redeveloped to provide much needed good quality, affordable accommodation with a mixture of intermediate and social rents.
Colwyn Bay Waterfront. To fund phase two of the Colwyn Waterfront Strategy, which aims to attract holidaymakers back to the town. The project will build on work undertaken in phase one, continuing improvements to the promenade and costal defence works.
Townscape Heritage Initiative. A property grant scheme to improve the appearance of the town centre. As well as physical improvements to the town centre, the investment will help to develop specialist construction skills. It will also lead to community engagement through the new heritage trails and events.
Community Grant Scheme. The Vibrant and Viable Places investment is being used to create a small capital grant fund for community groups within the Colwyn Bay area. The scheme is building on the success of the former Regeneration Area Community Cohesion Fund.
Tackling Poverty Fund
The Vibrant and Viable places funding is providing £7m for projects that help to create jobs, tackle poverty, increase housing supply and improve community facilities. The funding is being shared between Newport, Neath Port Talbot, Blaenau Gwent, Rhondda Cynon Taff, Vale of Glamorgan and Wrexham councils to fund key regeneration projects. These include:
£500,000 to help purchase a piece of land in the heart of Pontypridd Town Centre to be developed into shops and new homes
£168,000 to create free WIFI hotspots and install 24 CCTV cameras in key areas across Wrexham town centre
£500,000 towards the major redevelopment of Burrows Yard, a 4-acre piece of land just outside Port Talbot town centre
£200,000 for Blaenau Gwent Council to establish a recyclable loan scheme to encourage owners to improve empty and substandard properties in Tredegar. The council will also receive £50,000 to extend a fuel poverty project which will install new boilers and improve the fuel efficiency of properties in Tredegar
Town Centre Partnership Funds
This fund is seen to be supporting partnership led activities that support physical led regeneration and help to diversify and innovate approaches to regeneration. Twenty partnerships have been supported to date at a total cost of £845,157 with 50% of the total cost met locally. The main aims of the fund are to:
increase public, private and community investment
reduce the impact of empty properties
support businesses and services to establish, grow and prosper
support diversification by promoting alternative uses (such as residential and leisure)
support innovative approaches to regeneration.
Activities that have been funded include the following:
Aberdare. An events strategy, a town centre mobile app and loyalty scheme and a vacant properties scheme to help bring empty properties back into use, including pop-up shops and window dressing.
Ammanford. A town branding and identity, lamp post banners to create attractive gateways, ‘Y Twrch Trwyth’ branded sustainable bags for life, an annual events strategy, a town specific website, new coordinated signage for wayfaring and town centre signage, digital media training for town retailers, mentoring schemes for independent retailers and a footfall counter for the town.
Carmarthen. Events and other promotional activity, signage improvements in the town centre, the development of a town specific website, the creation of a town specific brand based on Carmarthen being Wales’ oldest town, tourism champions training, footfall counters and an outdoor digital projector to display marketing and promotional images of the town.
Fishguard and Goodwick. Wi-fi and a Fishguard Bay app, four markets a year, building on the existing markets, developing a café culture through increasing the availability of arts and crafts and street food, a social enterprise for arts, crafts and culture based in the Market Hall, an annual programme of festivals and events, a link to connect Marine Walk and National Trail into the town, creating a culture where musicians will be able to perform in safe outdoor places, pop up shops and a Fishguard and Goodwick loyalty shopping scheme, amongst others.
Details on other TCP town and activities can be found at: http://gov.wales/topics/housing-and-regeneration/regeneration/vibrant-and-viable-places/town-centre-partnership-fund/?lang=en
Business Improvement Districts
Welsh Government have provided over £200k over funding to support the development of nine Business Improvement Districts in Wales. The funding has been used to appoint consultants to help local partnerships develop BID proposal. The consultants have been providing guidance, advice and support to the local partnerships to give each proposal the best possible chance for success. Welsh Government see BIDs as a way of bringing together businesses and other stakeholders in a defined geographical area, so they can develop projects and activities which will help boost the local economy.
In addition to Swansea, Merthyr Tydfil and Newport delivering BIDs, the following towns have recently voted in favour of a BID with their websites providing further information.
Find out more on BIDs here: http://gov.wales/docs/desh/publications/131216business-improvement-districts-handbook-en.pdf
Town Centre Loans Fund
Welsh Government allocated in 2014, £5m towards the Town Centre Loans Fund, with a pilot scheme provided for four local authorities with Ceredigion, Powys, Pembrokeshire and Monmouthshire each receiving a loan of £1.25m. The main purpose of the loan is to reduce the number of empty, underused sites and premises in town centres. The properties will be redeveloped as shops, homes and leisure facilities.
The Loan works on a recyclable loan basis which means that once the money is repaid, it is used again to fund new loans. Local authorities may re-invest the funding in other projects a number of times as long as those projects meet the aims and objectives of the Town Centre Loans Fund. The funding may be recycled over a 15-year period and the Welsh Government will require it returned in full after 15 years.
In February this year, Welsh Government announced a further £5m of loans to buy and renovate building eyesores in seven Welsh towns which include Tredegar, Rhymney, Llanelli, Rhyl, Caernarfon, Barry and Grangetown in Cardiff.
Who to Contact?
If you want to find out more on how you can get involved or find ways of applying for support in your town centre, you can contact Welsh Government through the following ways:
For local authority areas – Blaenau Gwent, Bridgend, Caerphilly, Cardiff, Carmarthenshire, Merthyr Tydfil, Monmouthshire, Neath Port Talbot, Newport, Rhondda Cynon Taff, Swansea, The Vale of Glamorgan and Torfaen
For local authority areas – Ceredigion, Conwy, Denbighshire, Flintshire, Gwynedd, Isle of Anglesey, Pembrokeshire, Powys, Wrexham
How Has Investment Benefitted Welsh Town Centres?
A targeted approach to Welsh town centres accompanied by a suite of support that tackles not just physical challenges but also partnership led solutions has been key to the delivery of the Vibrant and Viable Places programme. It will be interesting to see the results and legacy of investment to date and to what future support will look like. Some areas for review should include:
How much integration between various funds and schemes has taken place?
To what degree has local partnership working been improved through the use of Vibrant and Viable places funding?
Is the private sector becoming more engaged through local partnerships such as Business Improvement Districts?
Are there different lessons to be learnt from those town centres that have received lesser investment through Town Centre Partnership funding than those that have greater amounts through the larger physical regeneration schemes?
Has investment led to people learning from others in their community or across Wales? Do we have networked learning amongst Welsh town centres?
How sustainable are these activities? Does the public sector still need to play a role or is there a greater role for the community and private sector in going forward?
How is the investment responding to the national outcomes of Prosperous, Learning and Healthier communities in our town centres?