Conwy Council is one of six pilot areas under Place Plans that are being trialled by Welsh Government with the Abergele town centre Place Plan in response to several strategic areas across the town centre that are linked to employment and housing needs. A town that is a few miles from the coast and the A55, Abergele faces a number of challenges in retaining activity and its sense of place, which other towns face as connectivity is improved along the North Wales coast. The Council therefore sought a town centre based Place Plan for a 15-year period with community consultation at the heart of the process.
Our work in Abergele was informed by the Abergele Placemaking Plan with initial evidence and wider consultation led by the Council. This work set out the context to the relationship of the town to strategic areas so that a holistic and integrated approach was adopted.
Chris Jones Regeneration, Macgregor Smith and People and Places had this foundation to start from in the summer of 2016 with a five-month process to understand the town centre, develop thinking and ideas and work to a suite of proposals that supported immediate issues as well as the larger, strategic interventions that could receive support through section 106 monies and other funding. Through a series of open, public events and use of digital forums, the study brought together the views and local knowledge of Conwy planners, the consultancy team and the local community. In designing a process that was accessible, this allowed all participants to understand how planning and making changes in a place like Abergele works.
A series of consultation events at the issues and ideas stages provided opportunities to participate through visual sketches, use of old postcards and use of large scale maps with key points of orientation for people to relate, and use of simple flags to identify assets and issues.
Specific project proposals included the reuse of a former cinema and the Old School, ways to manage traffic through the town centre, better links to local parks and river corridors, creation of higher quality public space and making the town more convenient to use. A suite of business development, destination management and marketing activities were proposed that help to reposition the town centre to existing and future residents. A bi-lingual Vision and Action Plan was developed in January 2017, with the conversation now moving from the why to how. This needs a different set of skills, with the role of the Town Council central to bringing together partners, aligning resources and making small steps in delivering the simpler ideas through to dealing with larger projects such as traffic, public space, keynote buildings and growing community services to meet future residents’ needs.