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Audit Wales recently produced the report Regenerating Town Centres in Wales, which has been name checked by Deputy Minister for Climate Change Lee Waters MS as he announced the launch of a taskforce to create an ‘alliance for change’ across Wales’ town centres. We’ve reviewed how the recommendations of the report intersect with those of our Recovery Manifesto for City Centres and High Streets and examine what the future might hold for Cardiff city centre and Welsh high streets as a whole if this report was to shape future policy.
We said: conduct a large scale review of business rates
They say: we recommend that the Welsh Government review Non-domestic Rates to ensure that the system better reflects town-centre conditions
It’s positive that Audit Wales have recognised the flaws in the rates system but this is a tax that has been tinkered with at the edges for too long. We continue to ask Welsh Government to fundamentally review business rates in the same way they plan to review their domestic cousin, council tax, to redress the inequitable tax burden shouldered by businesses in the heart of our communities.
We said: Allow city centre partnerships to participate more fully in the development of cities through increased powers coupled with stronger regulation
They say: [BIDs] enable local communities to be more involved in the local planning decision-making process
Audit Wales strongly recognise the key role that communities play in regeneration and at several points throughout their report point to poor levels of engagement, consultation and co-production and suggest that BIDs (like FOR Cardiff) can be a vehicle for that in the future. We agree that there is a space for BIDs in this conversation but currently the only communities they are developed to represent are business ones, a new approach to place management in Wales could include re-shaping the scope of BIDs to provide stronger community elements.
We said: Supercharge the Town Centre First approach and bring public services into vacant central properties
They say: the Welsh Government has priorities regeneration of town centres in the recover from the pandemic, but needs to ensure the town-centre-first approach is central to its wider policy agenda.
Much like FOR Cardiff Audit Wales support the principle of the town centre first approach for new service developments from the Welsh Government but share our concerns that the policy does not seem to have gotten a firm enough foothold just yet. The North Wales media have recently reported on plans to move Bangor College outside of the city centre and how this could impact the wider vibrancy of the area (https://www.northwaleschronicle.co.uk/news/19563088.college-campus-relocation-hit-bangor-city-centre-footfall/) it seems this policy hasn’t quite taken hold if it can’t prevent relocation out of centres let alone drive it inwards.
We said: Empower communities to take charge of neglected or mismanaged spaces and prevent the destruction of historic and socially relevant structures
They say: The more successful spaces have a mixture of redevelopment, new development, start-ups, independent businesses and arts/heritage projects, all managed by the local community’
Interestingly the report doesn’t touch at all on the Community Right to Buy and Community Right to Bid powers that our neighbours in England and Scotland are afforded. Instead the report focuses on the acquisition of property by local authorities, stating that they do not make the full use of the powers available. Whilst we agree with this position we still endorse the furthering of direct community powers alongside local authorities. The report specifically references the Midsteeple Quarter in Dumfries as a successful regeneration project – this is a community led initiative which has made use of Scotland’s Community Right to Buy powers.
There’s plenty in our manifesto that isn’t covered within this report, and plenty in this report which isn’t covered in our manifesto. Recognising that this report is being engaged with at a ministerial level there are several additional elements that we would like to highlight:
High streets were under-going a period of significant change before the pandemic hit and that change has only been accelerated by current events. We welcome any and all research into improving the situation on high streets across Wales and we hope to continue to be a part of the work to deliver the future of the high street.