STRUGGLING CITY CENTRE NEEDS HELP
Jan 13 - Newport Matters said 2019 promises to be an exciting year. But the truth is the city centre is struggling. There are positive developments, the Mercure Hotel on Commercial Street, the redevelopment of the indoor market and Market Arcade, the impact of ICC Wales and Easy Hotel's investment in the former TJ's building. But the overall economy of the city centre is not helped by the lack of office workers, students and day visitors. In September we set out some ideas for improving the city centre. They still stand.
We need to make it a more welcoming place, eliminating anti-social behaviour and street begging. We also need to make it a more economic and productive place. We need to capitalise on its assets, rich social history, Victorian buildings, 2.7 million people using the station every year, the proximity of leisure facilities (all requiring further investment).
Short-term public sector decision making also needs to be more considered. Some good ideas have come forward but it will not be helped by a further hike in City Council parking charges or cuts to bus services.
M4 RELIEF ROAD - RESPONSE TO FUTURE GENERATION COMMISSIONER
Sep 15 - See the report on our news page. The Future Generation Commissioner, Sophie Howe, chose not to make her report to the public inquiry into the options available that concluded in March. She suggests that the £1.4bn may be better placed in public transport as part of improvements to cycling, walking etc. However, to date the public transport proposals presented by Welsh Government offer little for Newport other than a return of the Ebbw Vale service to the City and slightly longer, quicker buses. The Black Route is the only route that will address cross border transport business needs, improve Newport's transport network and assist Wales and the West Of England to prosper as an economic region. We have waited too long for infrastructure projects that deliver in Newport and in South Wales.
CITY CENTRE ON A KNIFE-EDGE
Sep 14 - The news that Gourmet Burger Kitchen are closing their Friars Walk store is yet more evidence of the fragile nature of Newport city centre's economy. The evidence is that businesses are suffering and business margins are diminishing, Newport city centre is still a very difficult place to do business.
Some ideas. The City Council needs to look at the following -
M4 RELIEF ROAD - IS NEWPORT BEING SIDE-LINED AGAIN?
May 3 - Is Newport's future economic prosperity in danger of being sidelined again. Until now it has appeared that the relief road, black route has the full favour of Welsh Government ministers including the First Minister. But now we have the little matter of a Welsh Labour leadership election.
The inquiry into plans to build a 14 mile (23km) M4 relief road south of Newport ended on March 28 after a final submission from Welsh ministers. The Welsh Government's QC, Morag Ellis said traffic congestion was a "pressing problem demanding a solution". The inspector's report is expected to be published by the end of 2018. However, this may all be immaterial.
A cheaper alternative to the M4 relief road "would be
attractive", leadership candidate Mark Drakeford has said. In an interview with
BBC Wales, Drakeford suggested he could support an alternative to the Welsh
Government's preferred black-route scheme.
At First Minister's Questions, Carwyn Jones was asked if the black route would remain a priority after he stands down. Mr Jones said: "I don't think I've expressed a strong preference for either route - nor can I because I will be the decision taker who takes the final decision. But there's no doubt there's a problem. We can all see what the issue is in the tunnels at Brynglas and that problem is not easy to resolve.
The first minister has previously attacked the blue route, saying it goes past the homes of thousands of people!! "Any party that supported the blue route can kiss goodbye to winning elections in Newport for a generation, in my view," he said in a BBC interview in 2016.
Be prepared as candidates seek votes for the relief road to be watered down or dropped altogether as Labour turns again. Rather like investment in public transport in the Newport area, this much needed investment in our infrastructure may take another generation before someone in public office sees sense and is prepared to make a decision.
PACE OF CHANGE TOO SLOW
Mar 25 - Although there have been important changes in terms of city centre investment in recent years it is noticeable that we seem to be sliding back to a pre-Friars Walk position. Newport Retail Park is continuing to expand adding a new discount store and a drive thru Burger King with an updated Cineworld. Newport residents are still going to Cwmbran in significant numbers. Although Friars Walk is not developing as hoped the city centre is busier and plans for a new hotel and office facilities at Chartist Tower will provide a much needed boost but with most of the high street element of the centre full of chuggers and people asking for spare change is not a pleasant environment. Anyone walking from the railway station will not find it an edifying experience. Empty shops, arcades, darkness and chewing gum covered streets greet the visitor to Newport.
Perhaps the time has come for radical action? Do we need to start bringing down some of the older buildings to create space for offices and living accommodation and provide modern units for retailers. A number of years ago the current Boots was the centre piece for a City Spires shopping scheme. Bringing this building down and relocating the existing store (to Friars Walk?) could create an opportunity for a new mixed development including living or office space surrounded by brand new retail units.
DOES BUS COMPANY CHECK BUSINESS INTELLIGENCE?
Mar 23 - We wrote "AN 8B BUS SERVICE? - Dedicated services to support workers and the transfer of hotel guests to / from Newport city centre should also be encouraged. How about supplementing the existing 74 bus service serving the Celtic Manor and Coldra Court with a new hourly bus service (the 8B) between Friars Walk, the railway station and the hotels near the Coldra? This will provide an alternative transfer for hotel guests to / from the city and an additional service for the many city residents employed by the hotel." Every day there is a steady stream of black clothed hotel workers walking up from Royal Oak to the Celtic Manor and in the reverse direction. Does Newport Bus carry out regular passenger surveys and if not why not?
RAPID ACTION NEEDED ON CITY CENTRE
Feb 18 - The news that hotels may be coming to the city centre is welcome and the potential for new projects such as a heritage centre at the Westgate and a knowledge quarter at the Uni building but these things cannot come soon enough for a still ailing retail sector in the city centre. Much of the front of Kingsway, Parts of Friars Walk and swathes of Commercial Street lie empty. There is au undoubted national retail slump but there is an urgent need to reconfigure the heart of Newport and to make it more welcoming. More needs to be done to attract those who live and work in the city centre to spend their money there.
|TOO MUCH MINDLESS CRIME AND
VIOLENCE BLIGHTING NEWPORT
Jan 21 - The seemingly endless litany of anti-social behaviour in our city has reached a new height recently following the damage to two police vehicles on the Bettws estate. This is the second instance in a month. As the Twitter message to Bettws residents stated it is time to take sides and to identify those who think it is acceptable to damage emergency vehicles.
Such incidents reduce the availability of vehicles able to deal with instances of crime and to support the residents of Bettws. The same mindset thinks it is acceptable to throw missiles at buses with passengers in Ringland or target taxis, set fire to communal refuse bins, routinely damage bus stops and park facilities provided for the benefit of others.
There is no excuse for this behaviour. It is not a cry for help or a statement of frustration as it is affecting the poor and vulnerable who live within Newport's many and diverse communities. It should not be tolerated. Parents and neighbours should do what they can to report it or provide intelligence to police and to take the right side. But we also need more visible policing to clamp down on the nuisance in our City (and many others).
CITY CENTRE MASTERPLAN VIEW
Jan 21 - The new City Centre Masterplan presents a welcome opportunity to review improvements in the area in the last five years. However, there must be some acknowledgement within the document that there is a significant amount to do despite the potential of the City.
The document makes no mention of the Hospital district of Newport. It seems that this does not form a part of the vision for Newport's future. The Royal Gwent will still be a local general hospital and the area around it will see some significant changes over the next few years with the development of the Whiteheads site. Why are we not looking at how Newport can contribute to the new Specialist Hospital in Llanfrechfa by providing training facilities for nurses for example?
The Northern Gateway encompasses an area adjacent to Newport railway station. This must ensure that the City Centre is accessible from the new Mill Street building and the dreaded subway is removed.
There is plenty of vision and hope and optimism around and possible catalysts for change (the removal of the Bridge tolls) but investment is still not on a scale to transform the City Centre or deliver the facilities that will drive up revenue and income for businesses.
NEW DEVELOPMENTS KEY TO CITY’S FUTURE
Dec 31 - The development of key sites in the next twelve months is absolutely central to the future of Newport and the delivery of a city we can be proud of. The lack of esteem in the city is still there and too many people still do not regard it as a shopping or leisure destination. The hard work still needs to be done to deliver a vibrant and welcoming centre that will deliver jobs and revenue and create new opportunities.
The whole area around the railway station is under developed at a time when Network Rail are delivering electrification and faster journey times to London. It is pleasing that the City Council and Garrison Bailey are developing the former Sorting Office site in Mill Street but this cannot go ahead without a new cross way or footbridge through to the city centre. It will be a travesty if hotel residents have to take the current subway to get to the city centre, they will not use it. Furthermore the railway station area, the station car park etc. is ripe for a coordinated development to fully utilise the site and its accessibility to railway services across the country. GWR will deliver services to London in less than 90 minutes, a 15 minute advantage over Cardiff. Newport station already hosts 2,614,150 passengers every year, comfortably the third largest Welsh station ahead of Swansea and just behind Cardiff Queen Street. 557,000 passengers interchange from other lines to catch main line services to London and other destinations.
Hotels are needed to support the Convention Centre, places of interest are needed to create additional revenue / tourism opportunities, more students are needed to create a youthful vibe and sustain the independent retail sector. We have said all of these things before. But there must be ambition from the Council in order to support projects in the city and Newport must be made attractive to new business. With our city and population fast expanding there is no reason why the City cannot have some facilities of its own rather than expecting residents to always travel to Bristol or Cardiff e.g. a major entertainment venue or an ice rink. 2018 promises to be an interesting year for all those of us who wants to see Newport grow and prosper.
WILL THE EDUCATION QUARTER EVER HAPPEN?
Nov 26 - There is lots to do in Newport and we are used to raised expectations and failed promises. Ideas to revitalise our city that have foundered once they have come up against the cruel gaze of financial support and backing.
Is the Education Quarter another such idea? Ever since the idea was raised a year ago and agreements signed between Newport City Council, Coleg Gwent and asset strippers, University of South Wales nothing has been said or done. USW committed in their responses to the sale of the Caerleon site that they would invest every penny into the new venture but who will hold them to account? The Welsh Government! (smiling emoji). On this basis it is a great idea and should ensure that we have several hundred additional students in our city, possibly thousands, to boost the struggling city centre economy.
When it was announced over a year ago it was stated that the new build could facilitate a relocation of Coleg Gwent’s Nash Road Campus, with a potential for shared development in learning and social space. The argus reported "Funding for the project is likely to involve a combination of USW money raised from the controversial sale of the former Caerleon Campus, Coleg Gwent investment, commercial finance and public funds."
The University promised "We’re committed long-term to stabilising and then building the university’s presence in the city centre. Our focus and investment has already started to turn the tide and we’re determined to build on the Friars Walk effect for the long-term future of the city."
Are they hollow words? Will it ever happen? If anything has happened why has the public not been informed? Or is this another example of raised expectations without the substance to support the idea.
SMART CITIES - BRISTOL IS A LEADER, CARDIFF A FOLLOWER AND NEWPORT NOWHERE TO BE SEEN
Nov 11 - A recent study of Smart Cities in the UK once again underlined the point, Bristol is now a leading city that Newport needs to make more connections with. Increasingly commuters are travelling from our area to Bristol and the ending of the tolls will open up new markets but much more work needs to be done to innovate and create and link with the Bristol area. Bristol is now Britain's leading Smart City, London second with Birmingham and Manchester in the contenders (second level) group, Sheffield in the challengers (third level) group and Cardiff in the followers (fourth level) group. Unsurprisingly Newport (and Swansea) do not figure at all. The paucity of vision and lack of investment in our city means it will take a long time to even get a mention and nothing seems to happen in Newport without a nod towards Welsh Government almost like a centralised Socialist planning model. But if we were a Smarter City it would help get us noticed..
A smart city is a place where the
traditional networks and services are made more efficient with the use of
digital and telecommunication technologies, for the benefit of its
inhabitants and businesses. With this vision in mind, the European Union is
investing in ICT research and innovation and developing policies to improve
the quality of life of citizens and make cities more sustainable in view of
Europe's 20-20-20 targets. The smart city concept goes beyond the use of ICT
for better resource use and less emissions. It means smarter urban transport
networks, upgraded water supply and waste disposal facilities, and more
efficient ways to light and heat buildings.
And it also encompasses a more interactive and responsive city administration, safer and secure public spaces.
FOUNTAINS, FOOTBRIDGES AND SUBWAYS
Oct 22 - It may not be planes and boats and trains but what do they all have in common? They are all the responsibility of Newport City Council and have either fallen into a state of disrepair or will eventually get there due to a lack of maintenance or preparedness to upgrade them. The water in the Friars Walk fountains symbolise the current state of regeneration in Newport, severely stagnant. The £5 million footbridge across is still grand but getting more and more dirty. The subway under our city railway station is a shocking indictment of public administration in the city.
CITY MUST GRASP NEW OPPORTUNITIES BEING PRESENTED TO IT
Oct 8 - The news that the 2018 Wales Marathon will be held in Newport is great for the City. The intention must be to make the event an annual showcase of the City, its landmarks, history and regeneration. A major annual event for Newport will provide a focus in terms of developing the infrastructure to support a huge influx of visitors to our city centre and the surrounding areas. Events at the new Convention Centre should provide a similar impact but this one is in our city centre. The numbers of runners and supporters will be in the tens of thousands far outweighing the impact of a rugby or football match.
Accommodation, services, facilities in our city centre are all in short supply to sustain such an event. The Food Festival illustrated that in the right circumstances thousands of people will come back to our City but it also highlighted how under used some facilities and how limited certain aspects of the city centre are.
This has been a good week for Newport, the Marathon, new investment in the city's railway infrastructure in Llanwern, a successful Food Festival, new lettings in Friars Walk and Commercial Street but there is a huge amount to do to present a vibrant and attractive city to the outside world on April 29 2018.
BIZARRE MOTION AT CITY COUNCIL MEETING
September 29 - There was a bizarre motion
at the Council meeting this week
To consider the following motion for which the necessary notice has been provided.
“That, having regard to the significant long term economic and environmental benefits of a modern transport infrastructure for the whole of the South Wales region, this Council:
1. Calls on the UK Transport Minister to immediately reverse the decision not to proceed with full electrification of the South West Wales line between Cardiff and Swansea, while exploring the feasibility of the extension of electrification west of Swansea.
2. Calls upon the Welsh Government to seek an urgent meeting with the UK Government to pursue additional capital funding to complete the electrification to Swansea and beyond.
3. Calls on the UK Government to extend the proposed petrol and diesel car ban to trains.”
This motion is to be proposed by Councillor Debbie Wilcox and seconded by Councillor Mark Whitcutt.
Bizarre. The line is known as the South Wales main line but nevertheless why is valuable time being wasted on this issue which after all has little or nothing to do with the Council. How about calling on the Welsh Government and Network Rail to restore rail services between Ebbw Vale and Newport?
CITY NEEDS MORE HOTELS AND SERVICES TO MEET CONVENTION CENTRE DEMAND
September 10 - The Wales International Convention Centre opens in July 2019. It will provide facilities for over 5,000 attendees on any given day with 2,000 car parking spaces on site. The Centre will host huge showpiece events and potentially part political conferences. On its own the Celtic Manor cannot satisfy all the demand it will create. It is crucial that Newport and its city centre capitalises on the huge opportunity it presents. At the moment there is a significant dislocation between the hotel and the city even though many of its workers reside in the locality.
Listed below are the hotels in the immediate vicinity of the Centre. There are not enough rooms to cater for a major event in the Newport area in addition to the regular demand for hotel places. The Council needs to come up with a strategy to develop at least two or possibly three sites for hotel accommodation (approx. 100 beds apiece) preferably in the city centre over the next two years, one at 4 star and one at a 3 star rating. This will prevent the loss of hotel bed space to neighbouring Cardiff to support events at the WICC. Schemes to develop smaller / boutique accommodation should also be positively encouraged. Bring back Rothbury House!
AN 8B BUS SERVICE?
Dedicated services to support workers and the transfer of hotel guests to / from Newport city centre should also be encouraged. How about supplementing the existing 74 bus service serving the Celtic Manor and Coldra Court with a new hourly bus service (the 8B) between Friars Walk, the railway station and the hotels near the Coldra? This will provide an alternative transfer for hotel guests to / from the city and an additional service for the many city residents employed by the hotel.
A PROPER RAILWAY QUARTER DEVELOPMENT
August 28 - The electrification of the GWR main line will cut journey times between Newport and London by fifteen minutes. Therefore, it will be possible to travel between the two cities in under 95 minutes and the trains will run every half an hour from 2019 onwards. In addition to the advantages of being closer to London better access is available to the rest of the rail and road network from Newport as opposed to Cardiff. We have Wales' third busiest rail station. Cardiff Central Square development is in part a response to this important advance in connectivity. So where is the Newport High Street rail development that could see the area to the north of the station transformed in the same way as Central Square? Are discussions taking place with Network Rail. After all they own most of the site. A new quarter could include significant commercial and business development / grade A office stock with immediate access to rail services, hotel accommodation, a new entertainment venue, a multi-storey parking and bike facility for travellers. Improved access in and out of the station could include the much needed new footbridge between Mill Street and Queensway. Newport could also market itself as an alternative option to Cardiff for match days and events at the Millennium Stadium. In addition, this whole approach could bring huge benefits to the Station Quarter on the other side of Queensway and the High Street end of town. It is a shame then that the Welsh Government has encouraged HMRC and others to take up the higher rents in Cardiff city centre. Newport needs to think for itself, attract a significant private sector development to create and sustain jobs its own jobs but it must start thinking about radical redevelopment around the station site in the next couple of years.
"COUNCILS ARE NOT ABOUT RUNNING SHOPPING CENTRES"
28 August - The Leader of the City Council Debbie Wilcox said by way of comment on the Friar's Walk sale / rent subsidy issue that 'Councils are not about running shopping centres, they are about providing education and running social services.' In fairness, she was making a point about the need to focus Council business and move on from this issue. But any cursory glance around the environs of Friar's Walk indicates that the Council is not supporting the upkeep of the shopping centre as well as it should. The fountain at its entrance has not been in use for weeks and there must be provision made by the Council to re-paint and maintain the Usk Footbridge on a regular basis.
NEWPORT - EBBW VALE RAIL LINK - A PROMISE THAT WILL NEVER BE DELIVERED UPON?
31 July - The dualling of the Ebbw Valley line is complete to allow additional services to be decided from the autumn onwards but will the new timetable see trains returning to Newport? I think the deafening silence from Welsh Government means that a decade of prevarication and mis-information will continue with the City being overlooked once again. Some of the headlines since 2010 below illustrate the raised hopes and dashed expectations.
29 July 2017 - AM's call over 'missing'
Newport to Ebbw Vale rail link
15 February 2017 - 'Frustration' over Newport Ebbw Vale rail link
16 November 2016 - Calls for Newport to Ebbw Vale to be Metro priority
28 November 2015 - Rail link is a must
5 March 2015 - Rail line between Newport and Ebbw Vale could in operation by 2017 or 2018, AM reveals
12 February 2015 - Ebbw rail link a step closer, AM says
12 December 2014 - New rail station in Newport opens (but it bypasses Newport)
13 December 2011 - Fears for Ebbw Vale to Newport connection
5 November 2011 - Bus rail link between Newport and Ebbw Vale returns
20 July 2010 - Ebbw Vale to Newport rail decision 'in 2011'
SEVERNSIDE IS THE FUTURE
July 23 - The Severn Bridge toll announcement crystallises the moment. Despite all the talk of progress in Wales there is little evidence of an improvement in education, skills levels and economic opportunities attributable to the policies of Welsh Government. In fact there is evidence that south east Wales has drifted backwards as Cardiff has soaked up so much public investment. Cardiff, Newport and the south Wales authorities are too small to realise the benefits of economic devolution alone, city deal or not. Instead of fighting over who has the better airport look at ways of bringing that infrastructure together. They must reach out to Bristol and its neighbouring authorities in order to cement some of the existing links regarding employment, planning and transport. A metro system may massage Cardiff's ego and that of WG politicians and civil servants but the economic engine could be given real power by examining joining up infrastructure with Bristol and the West. The electrification of the GWR will further assist the cause of integration. By turns this would undoubtedly enhance Newport's offer and contribution but it would mean a much more pragmatic approach to politics and economic management from the Welsh Government. A mayor of Severnside would be a genuinely powerful figure.
A city region encompassing Cardiff, Bristol, Bath, Newport and possibly Gloucester would be a powerful one, more productive than any other region outside of London and with a population similar to the whole of Wales. The national border should be irrelevant Copenhagen in Denmark and Malmo in Sweden co-operate fully to bring about economic benefits divided by the Oresund Bridge..
As Welsh business blogger Dylan Jones-Evans said previously "Whilst this focus on bigger city regions in England could be seen as a threat, it could also be the catalyst to get Cardiff, Swansea, Newport and Bristol to work closely together and to ensure there is greater collaboration and co-operation across their respective city-regions so that politicians in London see the case for further funding within such a Severnside Economic region."
£30 MILLION OFFICE DEVELOPMENT DEAD IN THE WATER?
July 14 - THE Newport based
National Software Academy is expanding and relocating from Devon Place it is
claimed. Run by Cardiff University it aims to develop the next generation of
digital experts. It is to expand into offices at Newport City Council’s
Information Station in preparation for the 2018/19 academic year. The move is to
accommodate the growing numbers of students wanting to study for a degree at the
academy, which offers programmes which are heavily linked to industry.
COMMENT - Not the good news it seems. Presumably most of the students are Cardiff based and will be able to get in and out of the Information Station without ever venturing into the city centre. On 28/4/16 the Argus reported "Newport's National Software Academy could be moving into new office accommodation at the landmark Station Quarter development in Newport city centre, according to details of a planning application. " The application envisaged GBP30 million commercial development at the Station Quarter in Newport.
Scaborough Group, the developers stated "The proposals for the second phase of the redevelopment of the Cambrian Centre site, bordered by Queensway and Cambrian Road, include a further 45,000 sq ft of office development. The building will be named ‘Interface’ and will sit across 5 levels with complementary leisure and ground floor retail facing the new plaza." On the Council's planning portal since this was approved in July 2016 there has been no activity. Another office development and promised education based use dead in the water at the same time as millions of pounds are being funnelled into the station district in Cardiff.
BIG CITY CENTRE REFRESH STILL NEEDED
Jun 24 - The news that Talisker Corporation has done the deal to take over Friar's Walk is positive for the long term future of the development. However, despite being an undoubted success, it is clear that retailers are still reluctant to join the improvement in city centre trade and footfall it has created. The only retailers to join the development in the last twelve months are Mission Burrito and Tog 24. In the same period it has lost Frankie and Benny's and Occasions. Rumours abounded regarding TK Maxx in March/April and there are still no signs of retailers such as Zara, Mango, Apple and Lush that would all give the city centre a competitive advantage over neighbours such as Cwmbran and Newport Retail Park. If anything Kingsway has been the success story of the last twelve months with Principality Building Society and Moneyline set to join its burgeoning line up.
Commercial Street continues to drift. The Westgate Hotel area used to be uptown now it is very much downtown with no prospect of improvement. The empty BHS store has become a shanty town with homeless people in its entrance ways. At the other end the news is more positive with a new square planned for the rear of Kingsway, car parking improvements at Park Square and residential developments. With the Premier Inn and Olympia House developments going ahead it seems there will be some footfall created by visitors and new residents.
However, the city centre has still got a major problem. The USW campus seems to have few students and whereas in Cardiff there is a huge demand for student housing in Newport there is a barely any. So the promised student economic boost has come to nought. The relocation of the main Coleg Gwent campus to the Riverfront cannot come soon enough.
Additionally, there are too few major businesses located where they can create a business demand for retail and other services. The Cyber Academy multi storey development proposed near Admiral House seems to be some distance away despite the fact that such developments in other cities are going ahead swiftly. There is hardly any good grade A office accommodation for new businesses to locate to. Out of sight too and with the approval of Welsh Government some civil service jobs are being moved away from places like Newport to Cardiff. How about Welsh Government decentralising one of their agencies or departments to Newport to a new development with lower rents and greater accessibility than Cardiff? Some hope.
As we have said before ICC Wales presents a huge opportunity for Newport. But there are hardly any hotels in the city centre that could support the expected demand it will create. The old Sainsbury's site has been a disappointment with the owners yet the demolition the buildings and clear it. The railway area of Newport also presents a huge business development opportunity that could include hotels with customers accessing the new electrified high speed rail to London. In fact, Wales' third busiest railway station and its potential seems to be wholly ignored, we cannot even deliver the footbridge to link Mill Street with the city centre.
There is still much to be done to save and improve Newport city centre.
WRU TAKEOVER - TOO SHORT ON DETAIL, DO THEY THINK WE ARE STUPID?
Mar 31 - The much vaunted and spun WRU takeover proposal of Rodney Parade seems to be unravelling before our eyes. They assumed Newport RFC shareholders would roll over and accept a £3.75 million offer to buy the ground when the asset is worth £6.4 million according to the latest company accounts. In addition, they have offered no guarantee of tenure for the current owners of the ground, Newport RFC. In addition, they have not spoken to current tenants, Newport County, who have a lease agreement at the ground until 2023! To add to the incompetence, the CEO of Newport RFC, Stuart Davies, has admitted there is no business plan going forward for Newport RFC! In such circumstances, whatever the blindness of your faith in the WRU, no self respecting shareholder in Newport RFC can support these half baked proposals.
A CITY IGNORED? A CHECKLIST FOR LABOUR IN NEWPORT'S UPCOMING COUNCIL ELECTIONS
Feb 26 - Just a brief checklist when you are considering what has been achieved in Newport by the Council and Welsh Government in the last four years as we come up to local authority elections
|The promise||The reality|
|Delivery of a railway service between Ebbw Vale and Newport||Still no prospect of this being delivered despite new rail stations in Newport (Pye Corner and Rogerstone) bypassing the City. There have been many promises since 2008 but they have yet to be enacted.|
|Delivery of the M4 relief road||Still no prospect of this being built or delivered. We now have an enquiry to examine the various options.|
|A commitment not to close University Campuses||Not delivered - not only has Newport lost its University but it has lost the Caerleon Campus building. This is part of an outline development with no commitment to recycle the funds back into Newport. The commitment of University of South Wales to Newport is highly questionable with courses being moved out of the city including film and the arts and relocated in ...Cardiff of course.|
|Delivery of a new shopping centre||Delivered, Friars Walk was built and then opened in November 2015, although it has not been bought from the developer. Welsh Government funding for the development was very limited, £4 million for a bus station, the whole concept cost the Council £90 million in a public works loan. Despite Friars other areas of the city centre are struggling immensely with many empty shop units.|
|New office developments including a
railway quarter as part of wider Newport regeneration
|Not delivered - despite £15 million in Vibrant and Viable Places funding from Welsh Government which has enhanced the city centre environment, there is still no development of key, empty landmark buildings, no new office developments particularly in the railway station / high street area. Contrast this with the huge amounts of public money currently being poured into the centres of Cardiff and Swansea.|
|A better health service||The NHS in Wales is the poorest performing in the UK and services locally are no different despite Wales being the birthplace of the idea of a publically funded health service|
|Improved hospital and health facilities in Newport||Not delivered. It has taken years to make a funding commitment on a new Specialist and Critical Care Centre and guess what, it is Llanfrechfa rather than Newport. GP facilities are no better. A promised Newport East health hub based in Ringland has never been delivered and despite being proposed six years ago will now be discussed by the Health Board in May!|
|Better public transport||Bus services in Newport have made a mockery of the city's once proud municipal service. The bus company has sought to make the best of difficult circumstances but ultimately cuts in Welsh Government subsidy have caused service reductions|
|A better education service||Although Newport as an education service is one of the better services, standards have slipped, significantly in places, and Wales as a whole has the poorest public education of the UK nations.|
What's to come? A City Deal that will deliver better rail services for Cardiff and its valley service. A concentration of civil service jobs that will result in job losses in Newport. Ever more focus on the Welsh language and the creation of Wales' own political and cultural elite in Cardiff. Newport urgently needs its own political focus and identity rather than being submerged into the Cardiff-focussed view of the world of Welsh Labour and Cardiff Bay.
MATCH DAY IN NEWPORT
Feb 11 - Match day in Cardiff is raucous with tightly packed streets as you try to get to and from the game and the railway station can be a poorly organised nightmare as you wait in the queue for the train. Could Newport put together a marketing strategy to avoid the chaos of the streets of Cardiff and to enjoy the pre-match atmosphere of our city centre before you get your train to the game? Hotels and pubs seem to have focussed on those not going to the game and staying in Newport when the real gains are elsewhere. If punters could be advised on the best trains to catch and the way out of Cardiff better organised it might be possible for the city centre to pocket a fraction of the money that currently goes into Cardiff.
SUNDAYS IN THE CITY CENTRE
Feb 5 - As we said in October Friars Walk has been an undoubted success. It has brought shoppers and revellers in to quality outlets in the city centre. There are still some poor features including chuggers in the main mall but on the whole it has worked, all they need now is to fill the remaining shops in the main mall, a Zara and TK Maxx would be great, a HMV good, and create an independent quarter along Dock Street. Sunday shopping in the city centre is still not a huge attraction for Newportonians. Saturday is their day. However, in many malls and leisure quarters throughout the UK Sunday is increasingly the day. It would be well worth Friars Walk trying an aggressive strategy to bring in more Sunday custom, more events and particularly slightly cheaper parking. Special markets are good but parking could be the key. For example, how about first two hours free, and up to four hours for a £1 on a Sunday to encourage use of not only retail but leisure facilities? Newport city centre has still not beaten off competition from retail parks such as Cwmbran and Spytty but it has so much more to often than those locations. (this is a revamp of the Oct 15 comment)
CITY FACES UNCERTAIN 2017
Dec 26 - Newport faces an uncertain 2017. Most regeneration schemes have ground to a halt with ever more public money pouring into the centre of Cardiff. Options to develop a knowledge quarter, the old Sainsbury's site and new office block are no nearer fruition. The so called South Wales Metro seems to be all about delivering light rail to the centre of Cardiff than meeting the demands of commuters struggling to work from the valleys or along the M4 corridor, indeed bus services in Newport are subject to, it seems, twice yearly cutbacks. Friars Walk has brought a much needed boost to the city centre and to the nearby Kingsway Centre but there is no joined up strategy for Commercial Street and High Street, the city needs a little less retail, more workers in town, more students and more facilities for visitors to stay. The empty buildings, the Westgate, TJs, the Tax Office and the general poor state of the gateway into the city from the east between Maindee and Clarence Place leaves much to be desired, the street scene needs urgent attention. Despite and aside from the success of Friars Walk individual businesses are flourishing, Tiny Rebel, Parc Pantry and Mojo are all Newport centred businesses that have invested in the heart of the city. But just a small part of the public investment In Cardiff would provide significant benefits to Newport city centre.
The problem for Newport is that we have a new political and media elite that wants to suck everything into creating a European capital in Cardiff. This self aggrandisement means that they have they the temerity to call for more politicians and more powers to go to an organisation, the Welsh Assembly, that has less of a mandate than Brexit and was resoundingly rejected by Newportonians in 1999. It could be time for the silent majority to express its opinion on this little enterprise?
KNOWLEDGE QUARTER MUST NOT DIMINISH UNIVERSITY
Nov 11 - We have long called for the repositioning of Newport's Coleg Gwent Further Education Campus in the city centre adjacent to the USW University Campus to allow for some sharing of facilities and to encourage students at Coleg Gwent to make the step on to University. However, USW must not be allowed to get away with watering-down the existing Uni facility in Newport. They intend to sell off one of Newport's crown jewels, the Caerleon Campus, and therefore must be prepared to make a multi-million pound investment in a new building of their own in the city centre. They have closed countless courses, removed Newport's prized Film School and as per usual sent it all off to Cardiff. Therefore, any so called Knowledge Quarter should include new premises and investments from USW and the retention and improvement of existing facilities, the Council should not allow USW to continue to asset strip Newport's education facilities or continue to move specialised courses elsewhere!
BRIDGE STEALTH TAX SHOULD BE REMOVED
Oct 30 - Never mind metros, relief roads and all the rest the most effective boost for Welsh industry and Newport would be the removal of the Severn Bridge toll charge / tax. If this was removed or reduced to a nominal amount for all vehicles (£1) the impact on logistics and manufacturing would be an immediate and significant reduction in business overheads putting them on an even footing with businesses over the border. When the bridge comes back into public ownership in a couple of years the Welsh Government must commit to remove this stealth tax on Welsh business.
TIME TO BAN FIREWORKS?
Oct 30 - This particular season is without question one of the worst we have to endure. Fireworks thrown at ambulance crews, at Pill residents, let off in busy shopping streets and just to add to the general sense of lawlessness roads blocked by mask wearing cyclists. All for what? If you asked those concerned they would not have sufficient brain cells to know why. Most would not know about All Hallows Eve or Guy Fawkes. Their indulgence in lawlessness is year round but given access to fireworks by idiot parents or via the internet they seem to act without any understanding of the consequence of serious burns, injuries,or fire damage to property. It is about time the public sale of fireworks in this country was banned altogether and that our police, fire and crime investigation services were supported by communities in Newport and elsewhere.
SPECIAL SUNDAYS? FRIARS WALK NEEDS AGGRESSIVE STRATEGY
Oct 15 - Friars Walk has been an undoubted success. It has brought shoppers and revellers in to quality outlets in the city centre. There are still some poor features including chuggers in the main mall but on the whole it has worked, all they need now is to fill the remaining shops in the main mall, a Zara would be great, a HMV good, and create an independent quarter along Dock Street. Sunday shopping in the city centre is still not a huge attraction for Newportonians. Saturday is the day. However, in many malls and leisure quarters Sunday is increasingly the day. It would be well worth Friars Walk trying an aggressive strategy to bring in more Sunday custom, more events and particularly slightly cheaper parking. For example, how about first hour free, and up to four hours for a £1 on a Sunday to encourage use of not only retail but leisure facilities? Newport city centre has still not beaten off competition from retail parks such as Cwmbran and Spytty but it has so much more to often than those locations. This could be a way of gaining an advantage over them.
WHAT IS VISION FOR NEWPORT?
Sep 18 - Gateway City? Home of the Mole Wrench? The New Seattle? Newport has had many epithets or bynames over the years, some chosen by others are not so sympathetic but it is clear that although the hand of regeneration has brought the City some positive outcomes recently that there is huge amount of work to do. Like so many other parts of Wales Newport has areas that urgently need improvement. It seems to be some way back in the queue as the Welsh Government looks at ever more ways of spending money in Cardiff. Despite its position as Wales' third city it is overlooked by other public organisations including the University of South Wales, the BBC and the NHS. Politically it has been run by Labour, with brief intermissions, for a generation. But it spoke decisively in June when voters turned out in large numbers across the City to reject the European Union. It has suffered the shock of steel job losses and has tried to turn towards a newer future mostly supported by public sector and service employment. It has lost its first class rugby team but has regained a Football League team. Perhaps now the time has come to set out a vision for the City that meets the expectation of its people and fits into the economic and social plan for the regional area, south east Wales and the south west of England. Politicians in Newport need to be clear when speaking to their Cardiff based masters that the voters of Newport can no longer be taken for granted and ultimately in the same way that EU political institutions were rejected that their voters may turn to alternatives. In addition, they need to be united in persuading the Welsh Government that metropolitan elites and centralisation of political power in Cardiff will ultimately be its undoing. It is already evident from the First Minister eulogising about trams on the streets of Cardiff that Newport will be an outpost rather than an integral part of the South Wales Metro. Ultimately then it is our politicians who rather than thinking of the Party need to look at what is in the best interests of our city and set out a vision for achieving. The same sort of creativity that found a way of building Friars Walk now needs to be directed towards other key areas of Newport.
Sep 4 - In her comments on Newport's GCSE results the Council leader Debbie Wilcox stated that Newport is a 'thriving city'. The dictionary definition of thriving is 'prosperous and growing; flourishing'. Although there have been some improvements it is certainly stretching it a bit to categorise Newport as a thriving city. In the field of education, for example, most Newportonians having left to study at university do not come back. The opportunities for the type of work or quality of life they are seeking cannot be realised by the economy in Newport or its regional area. The regeneration of the city seems to be at a comparative standstill with some small and innovative schemes under way but no progress on some of the major developments that could assist the city to grow and flourish in order to compete with Cardiff and Bristol, with their enterprise zones and high levels of public investment.
The signs of prosperity are not evident in the street scene either, where crime and anti-social behaviour is still too prevalent, or in the state of roads and some buildings. Part of this is due to pressure on public services and funding and the lack of visible policing. However, take a walk through important gateway thoroughfares such as Maindee or Clarence Place with boarded up shops, scaffolding, buddleia growing out of empty properties and vandalised bus stops.......you will see signs of resilient businesses trying to survive but little evidence of a thriving city. Such statements may be seen as complacent and are not borne out by the evidence.
CITY CENTRE DEVELOPMENT IS URGENT AND NECESSARY
Aug 21 - City centre development in Newport is still both urgent and necessary. Complacency is the worst thing that could creep into the Newport mentality now as it struggles to get back on its feet. Friars Walk has improved the shopping environment significantly but a short walk away Commercial Street and High Street are struggling to find new occupiers. Admiral has brought in new workers but there are still far too few workers on our city streets. Students and sports fans will add to the mix shortly but there is a desperate need to bring in more people with more income to contrast with prevailing numbers of chuggers, pushchairs and street people. Let us be honest the streets are still way too chav. More offices, digital spaces and hotels and more commuters will improve the street scene. Too many landmark buildings are still empty and while there is evidence of some really creative thinking in the new square and housing now proposed on lower Commercial Street there is not enough energy or finance being put into developing Newport after the progress made last year.
Some ideas - bringing Coleg Gwent in to the city centre cannot happen soon enough, a new public service hub adjacent to the railway station for the Office for National Statistics and other civil service departments in the city centre, work with Queensberry to bring in new retailers (Zara, HMV, Smiggle, an M&S cafe) to improve the Friars Walk offer, develop a digital service hub for businesses at the Westgate Hotel, work with the owner of the former BHS to bring in a major new retailer such as IKEA or House of Fraser or relocate Primark, start planning now for Newport's own railway station development including events / conference centre and space for the previously proposed hospitality school. How about the development of a new hotel in the city centre, 'little Celtic Manor' as part of this complex? CPO powers used to take over the disastrous and dangerous ownership of the former TJ's music venue. A five year freeze on city centre parking rates to give confidence to retailers.
FOOTBRIDGE PLAN MUST FORM PART OF RAIL DEVELOPMENTS
July 10 - The changes to rail infrastructure locally to ensure trains get to London more quickly are needed and should lead the way to a more efficient transport system. They may be necessary but have created significant inconvenience to residents. A massive crane stands beside Bridge Street ready to lift the new bridge there but the link to the Civic Centre will be closed until early 2017. However, of interest to city residents should also be the new footbridge that was planned near the city rail station. The old GWR version is now disused and has not been used since the station was moved in 2010. A new footbridge was promised and the City Council did say that they would use the opportunity to lift the new bridge into place to connect areas such as Devon Place and Mill Street to the city centre more safely. The current access way is the disgusting and dangerous tunnel opened for the Queen's Silver Jubilee. Plans to sort this out have been raised and dropped over and again since 2008. In that time the tunnel has been a source of crime including two sex attacks in 2011. It has to be sorted out now.
CAR PARKING CHARGES PART 2
July 10 - On December 19 we commented about the City Council's 'consultation' on its budget with particular reference to car parking charges. As we pointed out the city centre strategy is not aggressive enough and there seems to be a complacent attitude when considering the impact on businesses and consumers. The charges were increased despite opposition and the wider impact is now being felt in district areas such as Maindee where charges particular for short stay parking have increased well beyond the 100 per cent we quoted. Perhaps this could be considered again as the car park is needed to avoid the carnage caused by double parking and parking on yellow lines and zig zags on Chepstow Road.
CRIME QUARTER AREA NEEDS URGENT REVAMP
July 3 - Any future redevelopment of the Old Green / Clarence Place area must involve the disappearance of most of the the tunnels and walkways connecting this area to the main city centre. (The same goes for the connection between Mill Street and the city centre but there is no sign of piss-poor Network Rail putting a footbridge across there as promised, this is Newport after all not Cardiff!) Clearly lit walkways without underpasses must feature in these areas in order to protect the public from crime and street vagrants, unfortunately there has been yet another set of incidents recently. The TJs building with its scaffolding and the nearby temporary accommodation do nothing assist the need to reclaim the streets for people who want to enjoy living there day or night. The Council should look at schemes to enhance safety and make Newport more attractive to walk around without the fear of crime or harassment.
SOMEONE PLEASE BURST CARDIFF BAY BUBBLE
June 15 - In a Guardian piece on the EU referendum (June 7) Aditya Chakrobotty wrote about the Welsh Government "a government with as much autonomy as a teenager in a loftroom, its presence has turned Cardiff Bay into a government enclave, complete with jobs and infrastructure and expense-account restaurants. Wales has its own equivalent to the Westminster bubble...... a Cardiff Bay bubble. " Wales has its own version of trickle down economics and, like the wider theory, it is not working for Wales or for Newport. The Financial Services 'Enterprise Zone' and the huge public investment deals to bring organisations like the BBC into the centre of Cardff have dealt a hammer blow to areas outside of Cardiff denied access to such support. With a political consensus behind the constant redevelopment of Cardiff where does that leave Newport's elegant Victorian streets? Still with boarded up shops and people struggling on the living wage, tax credits and other benefits.
In Cardiff there are at least four major Grade A office development projects under way likely to release substantial space for incoming occupiers, supported no doubt by Welsh Government. In addition, Cardiff University is undergoing further expansion of its premises. A major civil service regional centre is likely to come to Cardiff rather than Newport or Swansea and will probably siphon more public sector jobs away into our capital city. In Newport there are two speculative ventures, one at the top of Cambrian Road and the other near to Newport Castle. There is little evidence of activity.
Newport politicians have to take the bull by the horns here. The city needs fair play and to raise its focus. It has a lot to offer but is being over-run by investment in our capital city, most of it out of public funds.
SOUTH WALES METRO - WHO SPEAKS FOR NEWPORT ON CARDIFF VANITY PROJECT
May 15 - The following is part of an article by Mark Barry in the Western mail regarding the South Wales Metro when commenting on the wider economic benefits of the scheme "In reality, the majority of high value jobs the region needs (and is still lacking) will be in Cardiff. At the same time places like Pontypridd, Newport, Merthyr and Bridgend could and should attract and support complementary activities and play a more prominent role in the regional economy. " So Newport, Wales' third city is ranked alongside much smaller entities as an afterthought in the creation of a Cardiff transport hub. In fact any sensible review of this scheme shows that it is all about bringing light rail to the streets of Cardiff and particularly the stretch of line from the Bay to Bute Street. All part of the desperate desire to create a truly European capital city. Newport (and no doubt the other places mentioned) will have no such prominence. The lines on the map look like train services but they are mostly enhanced bus routes, so called rapid transit. With the Welsh Government on the point of shelving the M4 relief road black route the idea of rapid transit bus services in Newport will be a joke.
What we said in February still stands..." The economic argument for a better transport system in Newport - £46,400 per worker is the total value of goods and services created by the 30,000 additional workers who travel into Newport from outside every day, despite the lower level of wages when compared to most nearby cities. Production of real goods, manufacturing, accounts for 11.7% of Newport's productivity, well ahead of Cardiff on 4.4%. Like Cardiff, a third of its employees are in the public sector, including the NHS, City Council, ONS and the Patent Office. 75 per cent travel to work by car in Newport (63 per cent in Cardiff, 64 per cent in Bristol) and only 1.5 per cent cycle but the Welsh Government bypassed the city when it sent to Ebbw Valley railway line directly to Cardiff. The city has out-stripped Cardiff for several years now in terms of new house building. In Glan Llyn it has one of the largest urban regeneration projects in Europe, let alone the UK, but there is still no sign of the promised railway station there. The Celtic Manor will be investing in the largest convention centre in the south west of the UK but the transport solution offered by the South Wales Metro is likely to be based on double length buses running along the current M4 or the SDR!" Who is putting the argument for Newport's interests in the discussions regarding the Metro when academics have such a limited view of our city? It need not be a vanity project but increasingly people are getting carried away as per usual centralising its benefits to one place.
CLARENCE PLACE DERELICTION PART 94
May 15 - We have updated our article here
ALTERNATIVE PARKING SHOULD BE BETTER PUBLICISED
Apr 30 - Queensberry should do a little more to promote parking alternatives to the 350 space Friars Walk car park in Newport. How about reminding shoppers that there is a 1100 space car park available two minutes away at Kingsway. Hopefully this will avoid the weekend jams that feature outside the shopping centre every Saturday and bank holiday. It also looks like there is unofficial free parking available all around Newport Centre too which is not being regulated!
THE SHOCKING STATE OF CLARENCE PLACE
Apr 10 - see our recent feature here. The gateway area in to the city centre from Maindee High Street to Clarence Place is nothing short of a disgrace but no one seems to want to take it on.
TIME TO REDUCE NUMBER OF SHOPS?
Mar 25 - Newport urgently needs to look at how to prospect further specific commercial and residential development in the city centre. The positive effect from Friars Walk has left in its trail significant issues for other parts of the city centre.
In an age of online and local convenience shopping the city has too many shops/ retail units. The Commercial Street area from the old New Look store to the Westgate Hotel should be enough to accommodate the shops the city requires in addition to Friars Walk, Kingsway and the Austin Friars area. The High Street and Cambrian Road area should be the focus of a mix of residential, entertainment and hotel developments around the City's historic market and railway station. New office developments are urgently needed. Lower Commercial Street and Clarence Place should also be the focus of residential development rather than retail. Instead of just converting above street level it is now time to look at the street level too. The dilapidated state of these areas show how far the City still has to go to improve.
As Cardiff creams off every potential commercial development Newport needs to re-double its efforts to encourage major companies to set up in the city centre. The Welsh Government is doing Newport no favours as it pushes its Cardiff only approach. Next April (2017) the city will reap a considerable harvest as business rates reduce as a result of re-evaluation. This will reduce rents for shops by 70 per cent. But there are simply not enough retailers out there who would be interested to fill the empty premises. The City needs to plan now to continue to progress.
CONFERENCE CENTRE OPPORTUNITY MUST BE GRASPED BY CITY
Mar 13 - Newport needs to grasp the once in a lifetime opportunity offered by the development of the Wales International Convention Centre. The Celtic Manor and the new acquired Coldra Court offer only 600 rooms but an event at the site (set to open in late 2018) could accommodate up to 4,000 delegates. There will be a demand for a whole range of accommodation and services. The city centre and Newport area need to look seriously at their hotel offer. At the moment much of the business will move to Cardiff but surely more convenient locations within fifteen minutes of the hotel offer a far better option. Although a 60 bed Premier Inn hotel will open in June, much more is needed. The development of the old Sainsbury's site involves a new hotel, as does Station Quarter 2, but what about potential development of Clarence House, Chartist Tower, the Newport station car park or even the former Westgate Hotel? Better transport links to the Celtic Manor and access-ways for pedestrians require improvement but the city needs a strategy to identify sites and invite development or mixed use developments including commercial space...and soon.
WHARF ROAD EPITOMISES POOR STATE OF CITY ROADS
Mar 12 - Wharf Road is an important connection between one of Newport's main arterial routes Chepstow Road and another, Corporation Road, linking through to George Street Bridge. However, the top surface has been completely removed by the ravages of winter and the heavy traffic on the road. The surface is slippery more in keeping with a skating rink rather than a road. The dangerous state could easily lead to accidents although there are warning signs for drivers. The City should remedy this as soon as possible. The gateways to the city are as important in creating an impression as the city centre itself. While they are it perhaps get the railings painted on the interior and exterior of the road too... perhaps it would be a good use for those with Community Service Orders to give something back to the City?
IS CITY A BIT-PART IN CARDIFF'S METRO?
Feb 27 - The Cardiff Capital Region City Deal is intended to unlock the funding for much needed transport improvements in the south east of Wales. It will provide the funding for the development of the system. However, there is a much wider picture.... connectivity to London and the more prosperous south east of England and to the south west region of England including commuting to the area's largest city, Bristol. Rail electrification of the GWR mainline, the new M4 relief road and a significant reduction in the tolls on the Severn Bridge will have a significant impact on the locality. Thankfully, the UK government has some influence over cross border transport and hopefully due to the Great Western Cities transport infrastructure will improve between Bristol and Newport too. The focus of the South Wales Metro seems a little more focussed on one place however - Cardiff. The city already has an inter-urban train network and this has been extended to include the western valley of Monmouthshire, bypassing Newport altogether. Now the new Metro seeks to introduce further Cardiff vanity projects. Light rail from Cardiff Bay into the city centre, a new metro station at Loudon Square. Never mind areas of Newport that could be linked to the rail network such as Maindee or Somerton or significant parts of Monmouthshire like the town of Monmouth with virtually no public transport network at all. Newport will be offered bus rapid transit from the main railway station to the Celtic Manor, services already well provided by Newport Bus. There is a hope of new stations eventually..at Caerleon, Llanwern and near Celtic Springs, but they are distant opportunities.
The most congested part of the local transport network is from Chepstow to Cardiff via Newport on the M4. The most congested roads are in Newport and Cardiff. So surely any solution would focus on this busy corridor first of all?
The Metro is important and is a great opportunity. But it could easily go the way of so much other public investment in south Wales at the moment. The Metro seems to be creating a capital culture for Cardiff with the buzz of street trams and commuter trains pulling in and out of an ever expanding Central Station. Yet Newport has a huge influx of workers into the city and its business every day. Its gross value added is not far behind our capital city but under the cover of inclusivity and the wider region there is only one city that is sure to benefit from the increasing centralisation of power, funding and wealth now under way and it is not Newport.
The economic argument for a better transport system in Newport - £46,400 per worker is the total value of goods and services created by the 30,000 additional workers who travel into Newport from outside every day, despite the lower level of wages when compared to most nearby cities. Production of real goods, manufacturing, accounts for 11.7% of Newport's productivity, well ahead of Cardiff on 4.4%. Like Cardiff, a third of its employees are in the public sector, including the NHS, City Council, ONS and the Patent Office. 75 per cent travel to work by car in Newport (63 per cent in Cardiff, 64 per cent in Bristol) and only 1.5 per cent cycle but the Welsh Government bypassed the city when it sent to Ebbw Valley railway line directly to Cardiff. The city has out-stripped Cardiff for several years now in terms of new house building. In Glan Llyn it has one of the largest urban regeneration projects in Europe, let alone the UK, but there is still no sign of the promised railway station there. The Celtic Manor will be investing in the largest convention centre in the south west of the UK but the transport solution offered by the South Wales Metro is likely to be based on double length buses running along the current M4 or the SDR!
GOOD NEWS BUT RESCUE WORK STILL NEEDED IN
Feb 13 - The news of development work in Clarence Place around Kwit Fit is welcome particularly with the advent of the new Neon venue later this month but that does not alter the parlous state of the area.
More must be done to tidy up the derelict shops (like the one next to the Clarence) and to move forward the rescue of the former TJs building. Good luck to Bluestone Properties who have a three storey apartment for sale between TJs and the former Art College.
WELSH SCHOOL - MOVE IT TO LLISWERRY
Feb 6 - We have mentioned this before but if its within the City Council's sphere of influence why not link the proposed Welsh medium school with another city comprehensive at Lliswerry to achieve the same benefits it was seeking to gain at Duffryn with respect to shared educational and leisure facilities. Move the Nash Campus in to the city centre bringing its students and lecturers into an area and culture where there are already several thousand students, near to public transport and amenities. The aim would be to develop Newport's Coleg Gwent institution into the premier further education establishment in the region and build links with the University of South Wales. All this needs is a bit of vision.
WHERE IS NEWPORT'S STATION DEVELOPMENT
Feb 6 - With Newport Unlimited no longer around is anyone able to come up with plans or ideas that will take the City forward? The area around Newport's main railway station is ripe for development and many projects have been mooted in the past without ever coming to fruition. As Cardiff develops its huge central station development encompassing the BBC Newport needs to think about its station gateway and the option of creating a significant commercial based enterprise on the site of the Network Rail car park. The lack of grade A office space and the potential to combine the new development with the city's railway station should surely be being considered by the City Council and Network rail as it seeks to move the city forward, despite all the good recent news, it has a long way to go.
FLY TIPPING - THE CURSE OF CLARENCE PLACE
Jan 24 - Clarence Place now benefits from a new Londis supermarket. It also includes luxury apartments in the old Technical College and important niche businesses in the Mojo bar and the soon to be opened NEON. However, just along the street from the brand new Londis and next to Lifestyle Express is a doorway crammed with rubbish including an old mattresses. This is typical of several premises including former businesses in the area. Aside from the seemingly permanent obstructions to pavements more needs to be done to improve this gateway to the city centre, to make it safe to live in and to do business.
An article about London but it could be Cardiff
Just substitute London for Cardiff and you will note the same policy is being followed here. (Simon Jenkins The Guardian Dec24) "This cannot be in the capital’s interest. Walk around parts of north Manchester, South Yorkshire or Teesside and you could still be in cold war eastern Europe. These places are economically destitute, dependent on taxes paid overwhelmingly in London and the south-east. By keeping them deprived, London keeps them parasitic and in its pay. Yet the capital never stops lobbying for more public money directed at its own interests.It must be time for the capital to lift its snout from the Treasury trough and allow room for those less fortunate than itself. It should accept that all public sector jobs not essential to London be moved out of town. It should plead for new transport investment to be between regional centres, not into London. It should argue that housebuying subsidies should end, and money be concentrated on the poor."
"London should accept a mass migration of state-funded higher education out of the metropolitan. The mayor of Middlesbrough once told me the best thing for his city was the arrival of a university. Dispersing hundreds of thousands of students out of the capital would energise provincial England, and free the capital’s rental market. London would not suffer."
While we are on the subject the First Minister of Wales's presence at the opening of Friars Walk should not go without reference. The Welsh Government's contribution to the promotion of Newport has been very limited. They have ignored claims for a restoration of the Ebbw Valley rail link and the setting up of an appropriate enterprise zone here. They have channelled huge amounts of investment and promotional activity into Cardiff. The decision to develop Friars Walk was a risky one but was taken by the City Council and as a body (across all the parties) they deserve credit for taking this decision which will ultimately improve the image of the city and lead to further investment.
Newport's BHS store on Commercial Street has been without an escalator for four weeks. The upper sales floor in the store has been significantly affected by it. Weird.
Dec 28 - One of the most difficult issues for Newport to overcome as it seeks to regenerate itself is, frankly, the innate snobbery of some of its residents. Give them a better city centre and they find something new to complain about. Bizarrely, there are some residents who previously criticised the city who have never been to Friars Walk, who prefer the cost of making an additional ten mile round trip just to access free parking, think it will not be looked after, that it has not got enough shops when it has only just openedetc etc. They prefer the ambience of a wind tunnel with no Debenhams, no character and no history. The evidence is that Newport is winning but the battle it has to convince its own residents of its rise is almost as problematic as its need to bring in new visitors from areas outside of the city.
AT LAST POLICE ACT ON FRIARS WALK SECURITY
Dec 23 - And not before time. Newport has a new shopping and leisure development but not enough visible security. People must feel safe when they are shopping, eating or using facilities such as car parks. Friars Walk need to invest in more security and the police need to work with them. The police, it seems, have woken up to the increase in anti-social behaviour in the city centre and are putting in a regular presence. That's good news but it should not come as a surprise to anyone that these people (the perpetrators) are part of the problem in Newport rather than the solution. The sooner they are dealt with the better and hopefully we can move the city forward, rather than give the impression that random acts of violence and destruction are acceptable and no one in authority cares.
Talking of which, the last month has seen a spate of neanderthal behaviour. Buses attacked and deliberate fires started in Ringland, tyres slashed in Somerton and St. Julian's. And now this. Not the best advertisement for our city. Most of all, parents of the aforementioned are nowhere to be seen. The authorities should be dealing with them as well.
100 PER CENT CAR PARKING PRICE HIKE MISGUIDED
Dec 19 - Buried away in Newport City Council's budget consultation report is a very familiar story. It's at page 264 out of 316 if you are interested. Within weeks of the opening of Friars Walk the Council is seeking to repeat past mistakes by reintroducing massive increases in car parking charges (up to 100 per cent). One of the key contributory factors to Newport's retail demise has been its inability to compete with centre's offering free parking provision such as Spytty and Cwmbran. The City Council report bizarrely compares the cost of parking in Newport Council car parks with similar facilities in much larger, established cities such as Bristol, Cardiff and Swansea. Having learnt nothing from the last twenty years and Newport's ever so fragile recovery they are in danger of turning people away. Empty shop rates are still amongst the highest In the UK and will remain there until Friars Walk brings in more shoppers. Bus users will not create the conditions for Newport's commercial sector, it will down to expenditure from those with private vehicles. With inadequate park and ride available the Council will be heavily reliant on facilities designed to support Friars Walk available at a lower cost. They are being reviewed too in May The only people applauding this proposal will be in Newport Retail Park and Cwmbran. The more sensible approach would be to hold at current levels for another year or increase marginally (e.g. 10 per cent). The changes will cost £15k to implement and achieve an additional Income of only £80k. At the same time as damaging Newport's recovery. Please reconsider.
LACK OF GRADE A OFFICE STOCK WILL HAMPER CITY RECOVERY
Dec 13 - Newport's recovery is beginning but it is fragile. Witness the concern of High Street traders following the withdrawal of bus services from the street following the opening of Friars Walk. The City Council should not wait for Welsh Government to dictate the next step in the city's development as if it is a suburb of Cardiff. Their brave decision to take out a public works loan to fund Friars Walk has been entirely justified. It is a pity people in Newport underestimate this step and what a rich irony it was to have the Welsh Government's First Minister at the opening ceremony when they have played such a small part in the development. The city centre and its immediate surrounds need more investment and development to maintain the momentum. There are still gaps on the riverfront and on Usk Way that are ripe for development or for temporary purposes they could facilitate Friars Walk. Commercial Street and High Street are vast shopping streets, with plenty of independent traders but quite a few empty units. The world of retail is changing quickly. More thought needs to be given to converting some of the retail areas, in addition to the space above, to other uses including hotel, leisure, working spaces for businesses and for educational purposes. The proposal to demolish part of Commercial Street to create a walk way through to Kingsway is a very sensible one. In particular, Newport needs more grade A office space. Most grade A lettings are in business parks on the fringe of the city where office workers have to drive to retail parks to access lunchtime and after work facilities. Alder King in the 2015 report on office space in Newport remarked there is a very shortage of available quality space. The proposed Scarborough development at Cambrian Road acknowledges the need for new office space but the prime spot remains the Newport railway station car park. This huge site could potentially combine a new office development and car parking for the station with convenient access to the city centre and to other transport services.
AGGRESSIVE SUNDAY PARKING STRATEGY NEEDED
Dec 6 - Newport cannot afford to miss a trick in encouraging shoppers in to the city to take advantage of Friars Walk and the restaurant offer associated with it. Parking costs have become a major focus. It seems to have been pitched at the right level apart from on a Sunday. Newport has struggled in past years to maintain a Sunday retail offer. The City needs to ensure Sunday is one of its busiest days. In town today there was plenty of space to park, if anything some retailers were quiet particularly away from Friars Walk. How about varying the cost of Sunday parking to make the city more competitive, bringing it in to line with the cost of evening parking (a flat rate of £1) or offering the first two hours free. At the moment fees are as per Monday to Saturday, as in St. David's Centre in Cardiff, it makes sense there perhaps but not in Newport where Sunday trading needs to build up and be sustained.
BUS STATION BLUES LETTING CITY DOWN
Dec 6 - The new Friars Walk bus station is complete and awaiting handover the developers. However, given that the main shopping centre opened on November 12, the failure to progress the main terminus smacks of poor planning. It was officially due to open on November 15. The City Council states it is still waiting for the official handover. The new site will include 15 bays. The saga smacks of the same poor planning applied to the adjoining Market Square bus station.
DOCK STREET SHOULD BE NEW RETAIL FOCUS
Dec 6 - Friars Walk has created in new business in the city centre but as the paving works have been completed and the barriers disappeared we have a new version of Upper Dock Street emerging between Commercial Street and the new mall. Businesses on Dock Street have been affected by the works there but with the opening of M&S on Wednesday and new stores including Specsavers and HMV soon to arrive, the street will soon begin to fill with pedestrians. There are four of five smaller units in Friars Walk itself some set to be part of a new street food quarter but the street could develop an interesting and independent character of its own and should be part of the new retail focus in Newport.
Dec 1 - Kids on bikes in the main thoroughfare and a fire alarm set off at Cineworld Friars is an indication that security has been truly scaled back at Friars Walk in the evenings. The fire alert cost Cineworld approx £2k in free tickets for customers. The bikes will put people off from shopping there at all. The Council and Friars Walk need to wake up to the fact that if new visitors are to be encouraged proper security is required.
1. The incident at Clarence Place makes you think, whatever the specific circumstances, the area needs cleaning up and making safe. It is a gateway to the city centre but the temporary accommodation, bed and breakfast establishments, the scaffolding, the run down buildings are not good...it needs a project to regenerate it all on its own. The buildings there are significant, the grandeur of Clarence Place itself, the Art Deco Odeon building but the pavements are clogged with scaffold pipes and the general air of the place is poor for someone running a niche business like Mojo or for a family leaving Rodney Parade to get a bus or a person living in an apartment at the Art College.
2. The surface of Wharf Road is already like a skating rink for drivers. The top surface of the tarmac has been worn away, if we have any significant ice this winter it will be extremely hazardous. The road from Ponthir to the roundabout at Caerleon is full of ever widening ruts. The town roads are minor but important arterial routes that need to be looked after.
3. Why not advertise an alternative route to Friars Walk from Chepstow Road before the lights in Maindee to encourage traffic to use George Street Bridge thereby relieving Town Bridge and push the car parking option of the Kingsway?
4. The sign for Tennyson Road in Beechwood has been broken for about five years. Would it not make sense to replace it?
5. The wood chip hoarding over the front of the former Co-op building has been there for two years now but no one seems to care about improving the way this looks. In fact all the improvements in Maindee seem to be from traders who have invested in the area. (Updated Dec 6 - this has been replaced by glossy new sign, well done, campaign over!)
LOOK AFTER FRIARS WALK!
Nov 14 - Chewing gum, kids playing in wood chip, foam coming out of the fountains in the Usk Plaza, feral teenagers climbing on cars in the car park...a few of the things mentioned about Friars Walk on social media. Let's have a zero tolerance policy towards anyone mistreating this facility. After all its cost us over £90 million plus in public money!
WG's COMPLETE FAILURE TO DELIVER PROPER RAIL SERVICES TO DEVELOP CITY
October 30 - The failure to deliver rail services that Newport desperately needs in order to develop is a lasting testament to Labour reign at the head of the Welsh Government. Despite possessing the third busiest railway station in the Principality Newport has been left with an inadequate main railway station and inadequate services within its conurbation area. The main railway services delivered on a UK basis to Birmingham, Bristol, Portsmouth, Manchester and London all serve the city's two million plus passengers. But the failure to develop improved local services underlines the Welsh Government's pre-occupation with developing Cardiff as a transport hub cheerfully ignoring the needs of Newport or of points north and east in this area.
The fastest growth during the first 10 years of Arriva Trains Wales (ATW) was on the Chepstow line, with 131% more passengers using the trains. However, ATW provides two fewer trains on that line per day than it did in 2003. The route parallels the M4 – including the section around the city Newport where the government is planning to build a £1bn new motorway. The Merthyr Tydfil line has 84% more daily trains than in 2003, but passenger numbers have increased by a relatively modest 39%. Fares on the Chepstow line are nearly double those on the Merthyr line.
Eight years on there is still no sign of services from Ebbw Vale to Newport. First we were told it was due to re-signalling to the west of Newport, then it was a feasibility study, now it is time to wait for the so-called south Wales metro. Meanwhile, customers, shoppers, workers, the night time economy, even from city districts such as Rogerstone and Pye Corner, are conveyed to Cardiff rather than Newport. The disregard for Newport is flagrant and obscene.
A station is promised at Llanwern to serve Glan Llyn, others possibly at Caerleon and to the west of Newport but they will not happen quickly if at all given the Welsh Government's failure to deliver for the city.
CLEAN UP GRAFFITI MENACE
October 25 - Throughout Newport there are instances of graffiti that rather than help to make a building or subway more appealing serve to make it worse. We are not talking about Banksy or his ilk here. Very little of it is being cleaned even when it is reported to the Council. This may be because the Council, rightly, has other more pressing matters. However, it is not helping the impression given to residents and to visitors to our city. Perhaps those with Community Service Orders could be gainfully employed painting and cleaning up some of these eyesores?
The subway across the Old Green is a case in point. The website Newport Revealed has put together some excellent footage (here) showing how the mosaic in this area has been spoilt by graffiti and paint. This walkway is used by hundreds if not thousands of sports spectators as it is the main access way from the railway station and market street bus station to Rodney Parade. With the excellent work going on in the city centre to improve and update the way it looks it will be a shame if a lack of care for areas such as this lets it all down.
METRO LINE NUMBER 1 - CARDIFF TO NEWPORT
October 18 - The chaos after major events in Cardiff underlines the need to get thousands away from our capital city promptly and without unnecessary queues. If anything the barricades and congestion management has made the departure from Cardiff worse. The impression is given that our capital city cannot handle the immediate rush after the game. Now more than ever thought needs to be given to this issue and the need to focus on strategic locations particularly Newport with parking and access to the motorway network. So line number 1 for any south Wales Metro must between the two major cities of south east Wales.
NEWPORT'S PARKING BLUES
October 3 - The sight of so many people carrying push chairs and young children walking down the stairs at the Kingsway Centre today should be cause for concern before the new Friars Walk shopping centre opens. The 1050 space car park does not have enough lifts to cater for demand. And demand has not been tested until recently. Ground level capacity will be available in the Debenhams car park but consideration needs to be given to disabled drivers and those with young children. The obvious answer is to re-designate some of the space on lower levels of the Kingsway car park for those who fall into these categories and reduced demans on the lifts.
In addition, despite assurances from the Council it remains to be seen whether there is sufficient affordable car parking for the new shopping centre. People will be turned away if it is not accessible. See the article below dated February 13 for more detail. Cribbs has 7000 spaces and Cwmbran 3000, Newport will have 1500 or so in the immediate vicinity of Friars Walk. There is still time to address this there are significant unused areas on Docks Way adjacent to the University that could be quickly turned over to car parking within walking distance of Friars Walk. Also, on a smaller scale, a currently fenced off area of car parking near Newport Centre which states it is for use of the customers of the Leisure Centre should be released for shoppers and disabled customers rather than become the preserve of staff.
CITY MUST SUPPORT TINY REBEL SEARCH
October 3 - One of Newport's most successful fledgling businesses, Tiny Rebel, is seeking to expand but struggling to find appropriate premises within the City. They say they are committed to Newport if the right site can be found. Lets hope that that the authorities do all they can to keep a company that has identified so strongly with the Port within our City's boundaries.
September 30 - The city centre is still blighted by some very unsightly, half started projects that appear to be going nowhere. The former TJs night club has been surrounded by scaffolding and boards for at least four years with no sign of redevelopment. The boards now surrounding this segment of building are haphazard and dangerous reducing the pavement space available. On the opposite side of the road scaffolding has been in place near Halfords for nearly as long erected over the pavement with no sign of work starting here either. In February 2014 the scaffolding had to be extended as bricks began falling from the roof of the former Pockets Snooker Club. The Council was left to pick up the tab. Both buildings are crumbling eyesores in key locations near the centre and Rodney Parade will damage Newport's attempts to improve its streetscape and need to be sorted out urgently.
COLEG GWENT CAMPUS - TIME TO MOVE INTO CITY
September 20 - The ignominy of cancelled courses and being forced to catch two buses to college faced a number of Coleg Gwent students to leave Newport and head for Cross Keys. The comparative backwater of Cross Keys seems to be the main venue of choice for A level students in the locality. The Newport campus at Nash is simply not in the right place to attract students or courses. Isn't it time that serious consideration was given to bringing the facility back into the city centre where public transport and accessibility is plentiful?
This would provide an opportunity to develop a much needed partnership with USW, bring more students into the city to utilise the many services available, take congestion away from a largely residential area and reduce the costs of the students' journey to college. Perhaps any new facility that's built for USW at the City Campus site could also provide additional facilities that could be used by students from Coleg Gwent by day and during the evening?
MORE STUDENTS, HOTELS AND OFFICES NEEDED
September 13 - There is a palpable sense of excitement as we move towards the opening of Friars Walk. Queensberry, Bowmer and Kirkland and company have done a wonderful job to date and the recent finer touches reflecting Newport's Chartist past are very welcome and stylish. Friars Walk will be a catalyst for new businesses and Commercial Street hopefully will see a range of spin off of independent, niche and designer outlet stores to add to the city's retail offer.
Much is being done to encourage people to live in Newport with attractive apartments and housing developments but if the city's regeneration is to truly work then the commercial sector needs to expand. Admiral, Seren and the City Council have done much to increase the numbers of workers in the city every day but more are needed. The station area, the existing car park in particular, provide an ideal space to develop much needed A1 office space. More reasonably paid workers and more students are needed too. USW has been tardy in announcing its further commitment to Newport following the announcement of the closure of Caerleon campus. Students need to have the opportunity to stay in Newport and add creativity and youth to the city's quality of life. More also needs to be done to provide city centre hotel accommodation for those who want to enjoy Newport or use the city as a base for major events in Cardiff. Some of the elegant and beautiful buildings on Commercial Street would be ideally suited to this if the investors can be found to develop them.
COMMUTER TOWN - WHY NOT?
Aug 30 - The news that Newport is number 8 in the Times' list of commuter towns should receive a positive reaction. The Times noted that Newport was highly accessible with low property prices. Newport's Great Western Main Line railway station is a marvellous asset offering journey opportunities to most of the UK and with electrification pending faster times to London. The motorway network is on our doorstep. We even have a well developed bus network. The countryside nearby offers variety and splendour. When you add in the vastly improved city amenities including retail, parks, cycle ways, leisure and sport Newport has an exceptional offer that it can put forward. It is not necessarily a principal business destination, that needs to be developed, but it can offer an attractive alternative to Cardiff and Bristol to young and aspiring people we just need to get the message out there.
MISERABLE MILE FROM MAINDEE TO CLARENCE PLACE
Aug 7 - The streetscape from Maindee High Street to Clarence Place begins and ends with empty shops and dirty pavements interspersed with crummy bed and breakfast establishments. It is awful. After the city centre has been upgraded someone needs to have a look at this. Just a few items to consider TJ's still stands empty with scaffolding over the pavement as it has done for six months (!). There has been no progress on the development near to Halfords Auto Centre together with its own longstanding scaffolding. Further along Clarence Place there is a derelict shop with pigeons flying around inside. In a parade of impressive Edwardian buildings the former Belmont Hotel is constantly surrounded by bags of refuse. The area under the railway bridge is dirty and unpleasant. In Maindee key stores stand empty and boarded up and the streetscape needs a lot of work to make it friendly to residents and pedestrians. A street audit by Maindee Unlmited identified a series of public realm issues that need to be addressed (see here). Its good news that there is now proposal to keep the library in community hands and there are many great businesses and organisations in the 'miserable mile' that need to be supported but much more needs to be done to improve the public realm and the streetscape of this to make it attractive to new businesses, residents and visitors to Newport.
ARGUS COULD MOVE BACK TO CITY
Aug 7 - It is sad to see the former offices of the South Wales Argus on High Street being turned into puny flats that will not satisfy the luxury apartment label so aptly applied to other new apartment developments in Newport. But, that aside, given that the Argus is no longer printed in Newport and its print buildings will now be a housing development why not move the newspaper and its journalists back in to our city centre where it belongs?
LIGHT SHOWS ARE FINE BUT WHAT ABOUT THE WESTGATE?
July 25 - The destruction of the Chartist Mural was a low point in the recent history of Newport. The manner of its passing was horrific and does not reflect well on decision makers. By way of reaction to the outrage caused and the profile given to the issue by the actor Michael Sheen the Council came up with the Chartist Commission. The Commission has taken an inordinate length of time to deliberate and report. Among its findings is that Newport should have a light and sound show telling the message of the Chartists and recording the night of their insurrection. It is also proposed there should be an annual festival. The rest we do not know as yet as the report is not publically available, the Commission has been conspicuous by its absence from the world wide web and social media.
The proposals sound alright to a point as at least they propose some regular commemoration of Chartism. However, a permanent reminder of the Chartist legacy (the mural) will be replaced by something less tangible. In addition, the building that the Chartist marched upon, the Westgate Hotel, remains derelict and empty. Could not part of it be used for something more lasting and memorable?
July 5 - See left, this is what you are greeted with when you approach Maindee from Albert Avenue. The former Co-operative Supermarket. It may be empty, to let but the way it has been boarded up is ugly and gives a dreadful appearance to this part of Newport. Surely something can be done to improve the appearance of this property until it is sold or let on the commercial market. It is not the only eyesore in Maindee and typifies the lack of care and attention taken by those who are managing empty shops or units. Other shops in Maindee including those adjacent to the main bus stop also fall into this category.
This sense of dereliction and lack of care and attention does not help other businesses in Maindee, many of them excellent, as they attempt to move on and develop. What was once a bustling district centre is being let down by a lack of care and attention from those responsible for the street scene including property managers and the Council.
CHARTIST COMMISSION - MORE INFORMATION REQUIRED
June 27 - The grandees of the Chartist Commission should let us know what's going on. A project manager was appointed some time ago but there is very little information in the public domain about its work or what is proposed to commemorate Chartism and to atone for the PR disaster caused by the tearing down of the Mural.
The blurb states "The Chartist Commission has arisen from a desire amongst the communities of Newport to see the Chartist Rising more fully acknowledged than might currently be the case. The city already has sculptures in Westgate Square, an annual schools march and various seminars and other events taking place. However, it believes that there is considerable scope to make more of what is probably the most significant event in the historical calendar in this part of Wales and a unique selling point for Newport. " The landmarks were as follows:
Why not have a web or Facebook site telling the people of Newport what is happening?
IF IT STAYS, VELOTHON ROUTE START AND END SHOULD CHANGE
June 16 - The organisers of the Wales Velothon have pronounced the event a massive success with 15,000 cyclists participating in a celebration of the sport through south Wales. The event passed off with a few tacks left on the road in some areas including Caerleon and a few road closure signs daubed with no by residents protesting at the total inconvenience of the event. Critics have been castigated as narrow minded and failing to see the wider pictures. Some MPs have raised issues including the impact on business and social events. Although the spectacle could be enjoyed throughout the route the main beneficiary of the event has been the Cardiff economy. In fact, the at all costs devise a start and end of the event in our capital city is like an analogy for the Welsh Government's wider economic planning. So perhaps if this procession of spokes and lycra is to stay some strategy for spreading the economic benefits to other localities including changing the start and/or end of the event must be considered. But then again, who is listening?
CITY NEEDS MORE OFFICE DEVELOPMENT TO SPUR RECOVERY
June 8 - Newport will be transformed over the next twelve months by its new shopping mall, other commercial and residential developments and the spirit of confidence this will bring. But there is still a glaring omission in the masterplan, all property agents note the lack of Grade A office space in the city centre. Something needs to be done to address this shortfall and soon. The railway station car park, for example, is a prime site with the opportunity to develop a landmark that also caters for those wishing to use the railway station. (Who knows perhaps we will get an attractive way to cross in to town via this route too as the replacement Footbridge seems to have died a death again?). If Newport is to be a truly vibrant and wealth creating centre more business developments for things like the tech sector and back office and transactional services are needed. The Editor of the SW Argus recently devoted a column to the virtues of Newport city centre living, perhaps he could encourage his own organisation to follow suit and take up space there?
A NEWPORT LIDO?
June 6 - In 1934 an area of land forming part of Bulmore Farm was purchased and an open-air swimming pool known as Bulmore Lido was built and opened in July of that year. Situated alongside the Usk the 8.5 acre complex comprising large adult pool and smaller children's pool with adjoining lawns, became Newport's favourite "out-of-town resort".
According to Haydn Davis in his history of Newport "Bulmore's popularity held in varying degrees for the next 55 years until its waning fortunes finally fell victim to the changing tastes of a much more affluent, adventurous and wide-ranging society. A few weeks after the opening of Bulmore Lido, another open air swimming pool made its debut, but although it too could he described as having similar rural aspect, it could almost he said to he within the town. Situated on the side of a wooded slope in the grounds of Alltyryn House, it was approached down a long winding path from the junction of Barrack Hill and Alltyryn View. The entrance gate was not far from the Barrack Hill omnibus terminus."
Both were bulldozed in the 1980's. But could Newport or indeed Caerleon look again at the possibility of developing a facility or small resort to attract city dwellers and others? The numbers of people interested in all types of swimming is on the increase and there has been a marked trend in London towards the redevelopment of 1930's attractions or the introduction of new privately run facilities. Bristol has a very attractive outdoor lido too in Clifton.
Brockwell Lido opened in July 1937. The lido closed in 1990 due to cost-saving measures by Lambeth Council. A Brockwell Lido Users group was established to lobby for re-opening.The lido management was put out for tender and two former council employees won the contract and reopened the lido in 1994. It has recently had a gym added to the building. In 2001, the Evian logo was painted on the pool floor in a sponsorship deal worth £110,000. In 2005, £500,000 was awarded from the Heritage Lottery Fund as part of the £2.5 million redevelopment. In 2012 the 'Brockwell Icicles' winter swimming group reformed and campaigned for all year round swimming... the current operator Fusion agreed and the Lido is now open 7 days a week all year for those who enjoy cold water swimmers. Lucy Blakstad's "The Lido" was filmed at Brockwell Lido in 1995 and is a wonderful guide to this retro attraction.
An open air bathing pond is now being built in the middle of Kings Cross and St Pancras to serve the demand for cold water swimming and bathing. It will open later in the summer. If we are looking at distinctive developments that have class and individuality but also will appeal to a broad group of people a lido or open air bathing facility developed in the right way would be a wonderful attraction to our city.
IF WE HAD A NEWPORT PARTY?
May 16 - If we had a Newport political party just defending the interests of our City as opposed to toeing the party line what might its manifesto commitments look like. Here are a few ideas -
USW MUST BACK NEWPORT
May 12 - Up to £15 million and 145 jobs will be lost to the local economy with the rundown and eventual closure of the Caerleon Campus. Yet with the closure of courses and the withdrawal of amenities at the site there is still no sign from University of South Wales of any plan to extend University provision in Newport. The loss of the Campus and its iconic building will be a terrible blow to education process but will USW. According to USW the distribution of student numbers was split in 2013/14 as follows - 4,247 Caerleon, 2,124 Newport, 2,911 Cardiff, 6,150 Glyntaff and 3,164 Treforest. The closure of Caerleon will see fine arts and photography courses closed or transferred, for good to Cardiff and therefore lead to increases in numbers of students in an already student-bloated city. The process is happening by stealth and there is, as yet, no provision being developed in Newport to replace the lost numbers or the professional capacity required to teach the students. Newport's aspirations as a developing city will be diminished if we are not a proper centre of education and commerce. The USW merger was not wanted by the people of Newport, now it is up to USW to show commitment to the City by return and to promote Newport's university provision and expand the city centre site.
TAXI DRIVERS - THE GATEWAY TO NEWPORT!
May 7 - One of the questionable joys of taking a taxi is hearing the driver espouse his opinions, invariably about his or her domain. Normally, it is not pleasant to hear, some of it is uncomfortable, some of it hopelessly nostalgic for a past in Newport long since gone. In addition, there is a lot of mis-information and cynicism about our city and the developments taking place there. This is unfortunate as there will be so many opportunities for increased business for taxi drivers and firms as footfall in the city increases. Perhaps the City Council ought to invest in some instruction and assistance for drivers so instead of spreading mis-information they are able to explain what is happening in the City?
MORE PREMIUM OFFICE SPACE NEEDED IN CITY TO AID EXPANSION
Apr 25 - The regeneration of Newport must be built on a city centre environment that supports employment as well as providing an attractive place to live and enjoy leisure. A number of surveyors and letting agents have expressed concern regarding the lack of adequate premium office accommodation in the city centre. The definition of Grade A office stock according to the Building Managers and Owners Association is "Most prestigious buildings competing for premier office users with rents above average for the area. Buildings have high quality standard finishes, state of the art systems, exceptional accessibility and a definite market presence."
Alder King in their 2014 report on commercial and retail development in the South West region stated "Similar to Cardiff, there is a real shortage of Grade A stock in the city centre. The number of residential conversions is expected to increase, reducing availability still further in 2014." Hadyn Thomas, Director of Hutchings and Thomas Chartered Surveyor said recently "Enquiries for industrial and office premises....are increasing...the quality of the stock is struggling to satisfy the demand." In particular, the office sector is seeing a big push to purchase modern freehold stock but the supply in Newport is 'almost zero'.
The conversion of office stock into residential accommodation is necessary in order to bring properties back in to use but the city needs to look at developing its commercial core. Recent acquisitions particularly prior to Christmas have severely limited the Grade A stock available at Gold Tops and Celtic Springs with blue chip companies among those expressing an interest in Newport.
There are three of four sites that could be developed to provide the new accommodation. Admiral House sits on one side of the railway station but there is a huge opportunity on the other side now to develop the railway station car park and its environs to provide the sort of accommodation being sought by the private sector. Along the riverfront there a couple of sites available for development too adjacent to the University and the renewal of landmark buildings could also provide an opportunity for new Grade A office space. Private companies are keen to move in to the new Newport, we should not turn them away.
IS REPLACEMENT OF CRIME RIDDEN SUBWAY ALL TALK?
Apr 3 - Campaigners have called for the closure of a disgusting Newport subway for several years but to date despite the state of this route in to the city centre and the crime hazard that it represents nothing seems to be happening. In 2010 when the new railway station was completed the original plans for a replacement footbridge in place of the subway were dropped. Shamefully on 20 November 2011 a double sex attack occurred in the badly lit and poorly maintained alleyway linking Devon Place and Cambrian Road. In May 2012 Wayne Jackson, of Commercial Road, Pill, was imprisoned indefinitely for public protection at Cardiff Crown Court on Wednesday, after admitting attacking two women in the subway underneath Newport Railway Station in the early hours of November 20 2011. In 2012 a planning application was received by the City Council on 30 May 2012 and approved on 13 July 2012 for a new footbridge across the site. They stated "The proposed bridge would provide an alternative route across the railway station to the existing subway. It is recognised that the subway provides a poor and potentially unsafe environment for users. As noted by Gwent Police the proposed bridge is considered to improve the overall safety in this location, as such there should be a decrease in crime and disorder as a result of the proposed decision." Since then basically nothing. Other than an announcement on 28 April 2014 from the Welsh Government that Newport will receive £4 million to build a new bus station and a new footbridge in place of the subway from 'Devon Place to the city centre'. We know all about the new bus station, it seems to be under way but there is no sign of the new footbridge, yet the impression of our city is tarnished by the presence of this appalling crime ridden subway and the inability of politicians to sort out its immediate replacement!
CARDIFF, CARDIFF AND MORE CARDIFF!
Mar 8 - Newport needs to be careful. Riding along in the coat-tails of Cardiff and the single minded focus of Welsh Government on promoting our capital city may lead to Newport, despite its size and importance, becoming largely invisible. Take the draft Wales Route study published this week. It is a weighty document looking at rail development over the next twenty five years published by Network Rail but heavily influenced by Welsh Government's transport policies. It suggests the following policy aims
The document contains commuting forecasts for Cardiff and Swansea but no commuting forecast for Newport. Newport is a more important rail destination than Swansea. 2.3 million commuters pass through Newport every year as opposed to 2.1 million in Wales' second city. There are a few scant references to Newport track layout and the service to Ebbw Vale but the study is almost entirely focussed on the development of Cardiff and to a lesser extent as if it has entirely swallowed the obsession with Welsh based city regions ignoring the huge outflow of commuters to the west of England everyday including Bristol and Swindon. As this is a draft perhaps Newport City Council could ask for more focus in the document on commuting forecasts for Newport, the development of rail services to serve the City (including new local stations and the Ebbw Vale line) and how precisely Network Rail is going to handle the extra capacity at Newport station?
IS DOWNMARKET ALWAYS THE RIGHT DIRECTION ?
Feb 22 - Heineken, the owners of the Cross Hands Hotel between Somerton and Beechwood, are to invest in brand new signage for the property. Hopefully, this will herald a new era for the Cross Hands, possibly a refurbishment, maybe its transformation in to the sort of location that will attract a new clientele?
A cursory glance at the resume provided by Star Pubs, the arm of the Heineken trade that advertises for managers and licensees, makes for slightly depressing reading. It states "The area is populated with low to middle income singles and families, and older couples close to retirement, creating demand for a good local pub. A connection to the community with support for local pub games and teams is therefore important to the success of the Cross Hands. The pub is split in to two distinct trading areas each with their own entrance and servery. The larger of the two areas has a lounge and substantial games section with a pool table and a darts throw, predominately used by the local pub teams. The second trading area is more focused around enjoying a quiet drink. With the current food provision accounting for only 1% of turnover, there is the opportunity to introduce a simple back bar food offering - Star Pubs & Bars' Bar Boosters initiative can provide support with this."
That's right, only 1 per cent of the turnover relates to food! No business in this area of trade can sustain itself without providing food. In addition, the 'Hotel' boasts 6 letting rooms that the report states may 'prove popular with contractors working in the area.' The pub also has a small car park to the rear of the property. There is also a two-bedroom private flat for the licensee. It adds "The ideal operator for the Cross Hands will have a good level of local knowledge and be able to work closely with the local community. Support for pub teams such as pool and darts is essential, along with the enthusiasm to extend this to other team sports like rugby and football. "
The Cross Hands is an impressive building with huge potential surrounded by middle income residential areas to its north in Beechwood and Lawrence Hill as well as Somerton estate. Developed appropriately a food offer could prove popular to walk in trade. In addition, bed and breakfast establishments in the area already receive trade from major sporting events as well as acting as overspill from the Celtic Manor. The possibility of developing a boutique or small hotel should not be overlooked particularly given the lack of hotel accommodation towards the centre of Newport and the new Wales Convention Centre. If they need a template for renewing the Cross Hands look at the Waterloo in Pill. The investment there in good food and smart accommodation has found a market.
|JOHN GRIFFITHS AND DISRESPECT TO
Feb 21 - John Griffiths AM , the mostly under-stated representative for Newport East has used Twitter twice to question whether multi-national, minimal tax paying Starbucks could be so disrespectful to Chartism in Newport. Its an easy target and is nothing to do with Starbucks or their attitude to Chartism. They are bags of rubbish to be collected by local authority domestic refuse collectors. Perhaps Mr Griffiths might like to address his question to the Council? I doubt whether the employees of Starbucks are aware of the small amount of outrage their actions are causing to our local AM and no doubt they would not wish to offend anyone.
He might also discuss with the Council some of other aspects of disrespect to the Chartists and their legacy, the tearing down of the Chartist mural without notice and to the horror of onlookers, the derelict Westgate Hotel and the, thankfully averted, potential closure of Newport's museum and art gallery suggested by his colleagues there.
PARKING AND TRAVEL PLAN FOR FRIARS WALK WILL NEED TO BE SPOT ON
Feb 13 - Newport's new shopping centre at Friar's Walk is the most exciting retail and leisure development in the city centre for a generation. It is expected to be a success but as a destination it will have to compete with many local rivals (Newport Retail Park, Cwmbran, Cardiff and Cribbs Causeway). Not only must be it be the main destination for most Newportonians it must offer an alternative right across the region to those who pick and choose where to shop. The travel and parking plan must therefore be spot on. If people travel to Friars Walk for the first time convenience and accessibility will be the key as well as cheap parking.
Newport Retail Park has over 2,300 free parking spaces, Cribbs Causeway has 7,000 and Cwmbran Shopping offers 3000 free parking spaces (although many are time limited). In terms of Friars Walk Kingsway offers 1,050 spaces, the new Friars Walk 350 and then the choice is more limited and more distant. The following car park provision is available within 10 minutes walk - NCP Queensway (395 spaces), Park Square (350 spaces), Faulkner Road (159 spaces), North Street, Baneswell (62 spaces), St Luke's - Bridges Street (44 spaces), Riverfront (35 spaces), Stow Hill (17 spaces). At the best estimate that it is slightly more than the Retail Park and less than Cwmbran. It looks from the figures as, if Friars Walk is to attract the more affluent shoppers who drive, Newport is one 500+ space car park short. Land is available for use on a temporary basis particularly near the University and no doubt the Civic Centre car park will have a permanent weekend park and ride but a more long term solution will be required.
Most of the car parks are relatively full now so the additional traffic created by the new development will tip them over the edge and could increase the cost of parking.
Many shoppers will arrive by bus. Services to Newport city centre have been drastically cut back but companies will presumably be geared up for the significant increase in demand likely to be created by the advent of Friars Walk in November. Service frequencies will need to be increased on the main arterial routes to meet demand not only during the day but in the evening too.
Feb 8 - Despite the multi-million pound developments in the city centre there are some truly shocking areas of neglect in and around Newport. If train travellers on their way to Rodney Parade have occasion to walk through the subways they will find graffiti and litter strewn across the impressive mosaics and walkways. In Somerton the site of the former King pub is a heap of stone and wood overgrown surrounded by fencing pulled down allowing access to this dangerous site by children. The old Co-op store in Maindee is empty, but is boarded up in the least aesthetic way possible. The approaches towards Sainsbury's and Heidenham Way along the A051 are covered in litter chucked out of car and lorry windows by people who have no fear of prosecution or care for our environment. The Belmont Hotel on Chepstow Road near the Dodger pub day after day has piles of rubbish outside of the premises with no effort made to clear it away.
WHICH WAY FOR DISTRICT CENTRES?
Jan 18 - District centres such as Maindee and Caerleon Road are continuing to struggle despite the huge investment going in the adjacent city centre. A small scale regeneration scheme is planned for Maindee but major units on Chepstow Road are still empty. Only one, the former Peacocks store has been sold for development (for £141,000). The empty Greggs store is subject to a new planning condition, and is likely to be a take away outlet. There are increasing numbers of good quality Turkish based outlets and that may niche based provision may be the future of the retailing there, encouraging locals to spend their money there. Locals in the area seem reluctant to spend on their doorstep rather than in retail parks or major centres. Caerleon Road, perhaps Newport's most vibrant district centre is facing similar pressures and is experiencing some closures. Both areas will be assisted by increased public transport provision to the city centre for Friars Walk as they are en route. But in the long term the face of these areas may be changing forever and some of the shops may be better placed in residential or community use.
|WELSH TRANSPORT PLAN - LIGHT ON
Jan 18 - The Welsh Government is consulting on its new Transport Plan. The consultation ends in March 2015.
The plan is light on detail, it focusses on quite a few road based measures and has little detail about rail development other than a commitment to develop ideas in key areas of congestion in the Capital City region. This includes in and around Newport on the M4.
It does include a commitment to complete the bus terminus work in Newport city centre which will be key to Friars Walk but it is light on other issues. It notes that new statons such as Llanwern and St Mellons may not be built in the immediate time frame but could take anything from five to thirty years!
That aside it contains some interesting detail, not least the information on the left showing Newport has higher commuter inflows than Swansea and is second in Wales overall! So given we have the busiest ail station outside the capital, the highest number of commuters other than Cardiff and the busiest stretch of motorway surely we should merit much more focus in terms of research and investment in our transport infrastructure.
|BOB BRIGHT - NEWPORT MATTERS
Jan 17 - Not sure about this. The Council leader gets an award and then it is given page 1 prominence in the Council's newspaper 'Newport Matters'. The award was surprising given recent history, perhaps it was merited because of Newport's year but should it have given such prominence and presented in this way?
Hmm! I am not sure if we were in England what Eric Pickles might have said.
METRO LINE NUMBER 1?
Dec 28 - It may be too obvious for Welsh Government and Capital City Region bureaucrats I am sure... but the most significant flows of transport and traffic in our area are between Cardiff, Newport and Bristol. In Wales, the two busiest stations are in Cardiff, the third is in Newport. Construction of the M4 relief road, at best, is unlikely to commence until 2020. The daily grind of congestion on the M4 at rush hour is not going to go away. Much of the traffic and passenger flow particularly as you move nearer to the border is to the east not the west with many Bristol commuters living in areas of Newport and Monmouthshire. As the quality of our city centres improve, they will attract increased numbers of residents, commuters and leisure visitors. Therefore, the pressure on the key links between our city centres will increase. At present train services between Newport and Cardiff are largely dependant on the timing and frequency of services to other destinations rather than because of regular timed services between the two destinations. In the West Midlands when they looked at light rail options as part of their strategic transport planning they looked at the most effective way of linking cities as part of a conurbation. This should be the starting point for any metro in this area. It should not be about developing toytown railways in our capital city but focus on enhancing the delivery of established commuter lines, including in Severnside and Bristol, and filling in stations at key locations to improve the economic impact.
MADE IN CARDIFF - THE SEQUEL
Dec 28 - In May we wrote "Shortly a new television channel Made In Cardiff will hit our screens. The benefits or otherwise of local television are up for debate but this channel will be made in Cardiff, promote Cardiff and aimed at Cardiff audiences but guess what? Yes, it will also include Newport. Made in Cardiff is part of Made TV group, which has been working on local TV plans for three years , and bid to run 11 of the 21 local TV channels proposed by media regulator Ofcom. Its partners include Cardiff Blues, Cardiff University, Glamorgan County Cricket Club, Golf Development Wales, JM Creative, Welsh language promotional group Menter Caerdydd, international television documentary production company TiFiNi, Wales News Ltd, Welsh Netball, Ary Ltd, Globosat and Multicultural and Ethnic Media Sales (MEMS). Its promotional blurb states "Made In Cardiff will concentrate on news and events in Cardiff, but said it will not neglect the surrounding areas, from Bridgend to the West and Newport to the East." Given the partners involved and the fact that the whole production will be based in Cardiff you can be sure it will almost entirely regard Newport as on the outside, looking in, just an area to promote Cardiff in to. Newport does not have a strategy to encourage the development of media interests in the City despite the presence of so much creative talent, including the University's film school. The BBC presence here closed with barely a whimper. The City's radio station exists in spite of everything rather than because of focus and support. This is another example of 'Cardiff.....also including Newport'. "
Have a look at this channel on 134 on Sky and you will see there is no programme content relating to Newport. Pure and simple. And in other news....
THE BBC AND NEWPORT
Dec 28 - The BBC has announced plans to move their headquarters from Llandaff to the site of Cardiff bus station. This will relocate over 1200 highly paid media workers to Cardiff city centre and further spike developments around the city's railway station. What then are the BBC's plans for Wales' third city? To date, none. Newport had, briefly, a community studio based in the Arcade but after two years this was closed in 2010. Since then the BBC has not indicated it will do anything to develop a media presence in the City. In Wolverhampton, a city with a much larger close neighbour with over a million residents, the BBC has developed a studio at the Newhampton Arts Centre there to ensure that there is distinctive output for that area. A similar development in Riverfront Theatre or at the City University Campus would assist....
WHERE ARE THE PLANS FOR THE CITY UNIVERSITY SITE AND WHAT ABOUT THE REGENERATION OF CAERLEON?
Dec 28 - While Cardiff is getting many of the prime developments from public sector corporations Newport has been left to deal with the fall out from the decision of the Cardiff-centred University of South Wales (USW) to shut the Caerleon Campus. This came after a promise by the Labour-run Welsh Government that Campus sites would be protected following the merger of Newport University into the wider entity. By comparison with its interests in Cardiff and Pontypridd USW has done little or nothing for Newport and, after this poorly handled decision, has a lot to prove in terms of its links with Newport. As it stands the simple fact is that Caerleon represents a huge piece of real estate that will be flogged off for development for a sum running in to tens of millions of pounds and their current intention is to invest only £8 million in a new riverside development in the vacant site adjacent to the existing campus. This is not enough and, if Labour in Newport has any influence over USW and Welsh Government, it must exact much greater concessions for the loss of one of Newport's great institutions.
The loss of the University site and associated student demand for housing and local services in Caerleon needs to be appropriately researched and costed. Anecdotally, it is clear that the licensed in Caerleon has taken a significant downturn. Some establishments have closed or part-closed and this may be due to the impact of falling student numbers. Although Caerleon is a comparatively prosperous area there will be an impact and city planners need to give proper thought to this. As has been suggested (by the Editor of the Argus) retaining part of the existing Campus leisure facilities for community use and relocating Caerleon Comprehensive to the new site would be a welcome start. In addition, Newport Council must use this as an opportunity to ensure that Welsh Government and Network Rail acquire the land for the development of a new railway station in the area to relieve constant issues with traffic congestion and encourage alternative forms of commuting.
FORGET CAPITAL CITY METRO, THE REGION IS NOT BIG ENOUGH ALONE
Dec 14 - The Chancellor's autumn statement and his recent announcements about super-regions in England have demonstrated his acute political acumen and the opportunity for England to turn devolution to its advantage. The statement include over a £1billion in economic benefits for Greater Manchester, road and rail improvements and a theatre and science institute. Ten councils have agreed to form a combined authority with a directly elected mayor. The super region comprises 2.7 million, not far off the population of the whole of Wales!
Cardiff, Newport and the south Wales authorities are too small to realise the benefits of economic devolution alone. They must reach out to Bristol and its neighbouring authorities in order to cement some of the existing links regarding employment, planning and transport. A little metro system may massage Cardiff's ego and that of WAG politicians and civil servants but the economic engine could be given real power by examining joining up infrastructure with Bristol. This would undoubtedly enhance Newport's offer and contribution but it would mean it much more pragmatic approach to politics and economic management from the Welsh Government. A mayor of Severnside would be a powerful figure.
George Osborne said in Bristol recently "I want to see local communities take more control over their resources and we can work with each area with what is suitable for each of them. We can work with whatever local communities want. But I don't want to impose anything – it's up to local people to decide what they want."
As Dylan Jones-Evans said recently "Whilst this focus on bigger city regions in England could be seen as a threat, it could also be the catalyst to get Cardiff, Swansea, Newport andBristol to work closely together and to ensure there is greater collaboration and co-operation across their respective city-regions so that politicians in London see the case for further funding within such a Severnside Economic region."
VERY SOUND SEVERNSIDE TALK
Nov 13 - There has been a lot of positive talk about a Severnside region recently following the meeting of Cardiff and Bristol leaders. If we are not careful having been swamped by the mega-city of London we will also be swamped by the new north west/greater Manchester power house being sponsored by the Chancellor. A Severnside region proves that there is more sophisticated approach to the modern economic challenge than pinning everything on Welsh self government and more to the geography of politics that bringing together parts of a country with few connections or common interests. A Severnside region would establish a wider more powerful economic region including Bristol and Cardiff joined by the GWR, M4, and Severn Bridges preferably without bridge tolls? Oresund anyone?
STANDALONE CALL - WILL CITY BE OUT OF STEP WITH REST OF WALES?
Oct 11 - Cardiff Council has agreed to discuss a merger with the Vale of Glamorgan potentially creating an authority of 478,000 population. Rhondda Cynon Taff and Merthyr seem likely follow suit with another 300,000 plus area. Torfaen and Blaenau Gwent too, circa 160,000. But Newport with a population slightly lower than the latter has said that it wants to standalone rejecting the idea of a merger with Monmouthshire and a potential population grouping of 250,000. That would put the city on a par with most medium sized authorities in England and bring together the two most anglicised areas of south Wales in a sensible coupling albeit with divergence between rural and city service provision. But instead of agreeing to explore the idea it has been rejected out of hand. Whereas others have seen the opportunities and agreed to look at the least Newport risks being out on a limb before the process of local authority mergers has even started.
SIGNS OF LIFE IN MAINDEE
Oct 11 - After small grant of £38k is heading to Maindee Unlimited from the Welsh Government to assist in the development of a regeneration programme for the area it seems the may be a glimmer of hope for this down trodden area of the Port. Maindee Unlimited is a community led organisation that has just obtained charitable status. Let's hope it work!! Its focus is broader than just the high street as it aims to support regeneration, organisations and even artists to prosper as follows
The promotion for the benefit of the public of urban or rural regeneration in areas of social and economic deprivation (and in particular in Newport East) by all or any of the following means:
(a) the relief of financial hardship:
(b) the relief of unemployment:
(c) the advancement of education, training or retraining, particularly among unemployed people, and providing unemployed people with work experience:
(d) the provision of financial assistance, technical assistance or business advice or consultancy in order to provide training and employment opportunities for unemployed people in cases of financial or other charitable need through help: (i) in setting up their own business, or (ii) to existing businesses:
(e) the creation of training and employment opportunities by the provision of workspace, buildings, and/or land for use on favourable terms:
(f) the maintenance, improvement or provision of public amenities:
(g) the preservation of buildings or sites of historic or architectural importance:
(h) the provision of recreational facilities for the public at large or those who by reason of their youth, age, infirmity or disablement, financial hardship or social and economic circumstances, have need of such facilities:
(i) the protection or conservation of the environment:
(j) the provision of public health facilities and childcare:
(k) the promotion of public safety and prevention of crime:
NEWPORT - FIRST FOR REGENERATION, LOL
Sep 27 - One of the Labour members in this week's horribly complacent debate on the proposed local government merger between Newport and Monmouthshire commented Newport was "first for regeneration in Wales if not the UK!" This bizarre statement will leave many City residents cold as they recall it has taken fifteen years to start the city centre development and the streetscape of Maindee and dereliction of Somerton are testimony to a total lack of planning or sympathetic regeneration. Yes, there are some significant projects that point to a better life for our citizens but let us not kid ourselves. Even after Friars Walk is built and running successfully there is a huge amount of work required to improve the life of Newportonians and their physical environment.
SHOCKING VANDALISM OF NEW PARK CANNOT GO UNCHALLENGED
This is what we wrote in November 2013
Since then this £600,000 development has been subjected to constant vandalism by the children of local residents and is now in places a dangerous tip. This behaviour started as soon as it was open. Parents are taking no responsibility for the actions of their children and no pride in their neighbourhood. These vandals have been engaged in this activity on a constant basis and have now dismantled railings adjacent to the water side. Its Neanderthal behaviour and cannot be explained away with mealy mouthed excuses about lack of play or activity areas. Hopefully some one including their parents and the authorities will sit up and take notice.
ARGUS EDITOR'S SUGGESTION COULD BRING HOPE TO CAERLEON SITE
Sep 21 - As predicted Caerleon Campus is going to be the victim of USW's asset stripping of the former University Of Newport's prime sites. There is no educational covenant on the site and it seems likely USW will sell it off for housing and spend a token of the sum on Newport's city centre campus. Meantime creative courses will be lost to Cardiff (where else?) and 140 jobs will be lost. This is Welsh Government policy and a consequence of it. Labour representatives are standing by and making no comment. Although Paul Flynn has chastised those who are making political capital out of it. With his head firmly above the parapet the editor of the South Wales Argus Kevin Ward has made a capital suggestion. He has called for Caerleon's Comprehensive School, successful but in dire need of investment to be re-located to part of the campus site. Its current location could be sold off as could part of the Uni site, new sports facilities could be safeguarded and the magnificent main building retained. It is visionary but would call on sophisticated political leadership to bring such a plan into being. There are only two problems with that - Cardiff based USW may already made up its mind about Caerleon and, of course, there is a lack of political leadership in our City able to take such an idea forward. Let's hope these suspicions are prove wrong.
DO SOMETHING ABOUT ABANDONED SUPERMARKET SITES!
Sep 14 - Two abandoned sites do nothing for the outsider's view of Newport. The former Sainsbury's supermarket near Newport Castle is surrounded by rusting fencing and buddleia with no prospect of the place being developed. It is simply an adventure site for bored local boys who do what they can to breach its defences. Surely with no sign of change here it is time this site was cleared and levelled until the right developer comes along?
The former Co-op supermarket has been boarded up in the most amateur fashion in Maindee. It looks appalling. No attempt has been made to put up a cover that is keeping with the streetscape. It is careless and ugly but typifies the general attitude towards this area. Until it is sold or developed surely something less temporary and appropriately painted can be put up to cover the front of this shop?
CENTRE OF THE WORLD FOR 36 HOURS
Sep 2 - The NATO summit will bring Newport in to the centre of the world for the first time in a generation. The City's hosting of the NATO summit will mean that 60+ world leaders including the President of the USA will be at the Celtic Manor, technically in Ringland or Christchurch! The landscape of the City has now been invaded by thousands of police and security forces with attendant machinery and transport. The Coldra roundabout is a fortress of security, every motorway bridge is guarded and the footpaths near the hotel closely scrutinised. The President is set to visit a local school and many schools and businesses from Newport and beyond will be a party to this historic event. To some the whole circus is an irritation that will hopefully go away soon but for many it is truly a momentous and exciting occasion for our City.
Inevitably, the deliberations of the Summit will focus on the many flashpoints in the world of 2014 - Ukraine, Syria and the Middle East. The protest on Thursday along Chepstow Road is sure to inspire passions against the event and challenge the notion that NATO has preserved the peace. Let us hope all who enter here respect the residents and property of our City as it enjoys its time in the limelight.
Aug 17 - Newport is doing its best to look prim and proper for the international circus that is the NATO summit. But I am sure Germans and Americans amongst others will be shocked at the cheery disregard of motorists and pedestrians for their environment. The SDR is resurfaced and all the grass verges are neatly cut back. However, the pavements are now being covered by paper, litter and anything and everything thrown out of car windows and dropped by pedestrians. Put the extra NATO security cameras to good use and deal with this menace - fine the flytippers and the litterers!
MAINDEE REVAMP URGENTLY NEEDED
Aug 16 - Anyone who has travelled the length of Chepstow Road from the Coldra to the city centre will be aware of travelling from one extreme to the other. The tree lined detached houses at the top of Chepstow Road, the impressive wide gateway in to Newport flanked by large hotels and overlooked by Christchurch. The impression is maintained by the long stretch of red brick 1930's mostly semi detached properties at Glanwern until you reach bustling Beechwood and Eveswell with their mixed housing and independent shops. It is when you pass through the traffic lights and enter Maindee high street that the blight starts. Three of four large empty shops, cars parked chaotically outside the fitness centre, pubs and kebab houses. Drinkers standing on the pavements outside pubs. It is only redeemed by the recent influx of Turkish run businesses and the finest of kebab houses, the Sen BBQ. Further along Chepstow Road, beyond the still dirty underpass of the railway bridge are large Edwardian houses destroyed by unsympathetic landlords many turned into low-grade hotels and bed and breakfasts.
Something needs to be done about Maindee. It is a vibrant and culturally diverse area. There are very few areas like it in south Wales and it is important to the fabric of Newport. It cannot be left for a few years until the city centre is complete. The development there will certainly help it. The chaotic streetscape described earlier needs to be addressed, clear some of the clutter off the roads and pavements. It is a significant district centre with a large population, some of whom are from minority communities. Encourage them to use the services that are available there and to set up business in the locality. Look at turning some of the empty buildings in to residential accommodation. Maindee needs focus, it has been allowed to drift in to steep decline.
CITY NEEDS HOTEL AS WELL AS LIVING SPACE
Aug 10 - It is great to talk about Newport as a growing city with several exciting developments under way but we should not overlook the elements of a thriving city centre. Modern workspaces as well as shops and restaurants are needed. Quality living accommodation for workers and students is a must but we must not overlook hotel accommodation. The development of the King's Hotel in to residential accommodation and offices is welcome because it brings an old building back in to use but Newport will be losing a former hotel. Most of the good hotel accommodation in the City is around the Celtic Manor Resort. Newport needs more hotel accommodation in the centre to encourage people to stay in the city rather than drift away to Cardiff, for business trips, to shop, to go to events or to use it as an alternative base to our capital city.
The current provision in the city centre is extremely limited and poor in quality. A Premier Inn is in the pipeline as is a hotel as part of the Station Quarter development. There is an urgent need for hotel accommodation to be developed preferably with access to the railway station and other services. Newport's new city centre will need hotels if it is to build a sustainable future.
|USW - ASSET STRIPPERS?
If proof were needed of USW's credentials here is evidence. Conspicuous by their absence in sponsoring Newport's enterprises they are sponsoring Cardiff Arms Park along with BT. Odd. But confirmation that their interests are Cardiff centred as if our capital city has not got enough educational establishments or opportunities for sponsorship.
This is not the only organisation or business with a Newport interest that sponsors Cardiff sports teams. Take a bow, EADS and Severn Fuels!
CAERLEON - PRIME REAL ESTATE FOR USW ASSET STRIPPERS
July 15 - Newport University could become a thing of the past with USW's review of real estate. The initial scenario looks like it will involve the sell off of the Caerleon Campus, run down in a calculated fashion by USW, as prime real estate. The sop to Newport could be a minor expansion of the city campus but ultimately the axe will hang over that. USW is all about Cardiff and ultimately Newport's identity will suffer again as its prize assets are destroyed and Labour politicians watch on helplessly as if it is nothing to do with them.
GIVE CITY ICT ENTERPRISE ZONE NOW
Jun 9 - "If we take the Newport area, there's a cluster of ICT companies that are looking at cyber security for example. There's nothing like Digital 2014 being done anywhere else in the UK. We've got to build Newport so people in the ICT sector in Oxford, Reading, Manchester or wherever say 'we've got to come to Wales because they do things differently there.." so says Tom Kelly, a Welsh Government ICT advisor. We have long argued that the placing of enterprise zones in Wales will not have the desired impact or bring investment in to Wales. Our frontier is the border between Severnside and Bristol. Hopefully, Kelly's positive words mean action is imminent. This is essential in supporting the other development the city is putting through in retail and other sectors. We already know that Bristol and Cardiff are better placed to support business but ICT offers an opportunity to broaden the business base of Newport and areas such as Torfaen and Monmouthshire. There are a wide range of companies already in place. Newport must pose an attractive alternative for investment or offer services that will the range of business opportunities elsewhere.
SOUTH WALES METRO MY A*^"!
May 25 - Anyone travelling by train yesterday from the Heineken Cup match in Cardiff will testify to the truly appalling service offered to the thousands of travellers leaving the match. They were left to stand in the pouring rain for over an hour as the few staff available had little or no idea about the services being provided. People from the UK, France and beyond witnessed the disgraceful spectacle of a UK public service lacking in organisation at what is supposed to be the capital city of Wales.
Before anyone talks about improving valleys services or a Capital City Metro we need to improve connectivity between our cities In Wales particularly Newport. Politicians will not appreciate what I am staying because they do not stand in queues in the pouring rain!
Other footnotes - Newport needs to up its game. Present itself as an alternative to Cardiff on match day. Provide information to travellers at Newport station about car parking, where to eat and drink and accommodation. Dragon Taxis were excellent at Newport station in terms of ferrying people away but I feared for people looking for accommodation and ending up in the dregs of bed and breakfast and homeless accommodation near Clarence Place.
And another footnote - rail staff at Cardiff should not give the impression that rail services do not stop at Newport (e.g. London Paddington/Manchester services) just because of their piss poor organisation and inability to cope with major events.
Contrast Cardiff with Wembley. Is Cardiff fit to host major events given this approach to transportation. Probably not.
WHERE IS RAIL INVESTMENT?
May 3 - There is still no sign of the rail investment needed to assist Newport's development. No Ebbw Vale - Newport service in the planning, no Llanwern, Coedkernew or Caerleon station despite the track capacity and signalling now allowing for additional stops and services. All the investment seems to be being ploughed in to getting people to and from Cardiff. Stations in Newport are bypassing the city from Rogerstone (and Pye Corner) and no one in a position of responsibility utters a word. If Station Quarter and the regeneration of the city night time economy is to be effective we need better public transport including more rail services to more local destinations.
A WALK THROUGH ANIMAL EXCREMENT
Mar 29 - Parked the car in Maindee prior to the County's match with Portsmouth on Saturday. The ten minute walk to the ground was made slightly daunting by the dog pooh and pigeon excrement, the latter coating the walkway under Maindee railway bridge. There has been focus on dog fouling in residential areas of Newport what about Maindee? In addition, the bridge area of the district is disgusting, can more be done to deter pigeons and to clear the mess up?
FLY TIPPING AND LITTERING IS A DISGRACE
Mar 22 - As a regular on the A4042 it is disappointing to see how motorists regularly litter the road side with small or large pieces of rubbish with no regard for the environment or for the workers from Newport Council who have to pick it all up on a regular basis. This disgusting and care-free attitude to lobbing litter and larger items out of car windows is a British disgrace.
SEVERN REGION MEGA CITY?
Mar 22 - The ability of the Welsh Government to see beyond its own boundaries and to recognise it needs to work with the economic power of Bristol and the west country will be sorely tested over the coming years. At least the directly elected mayor of Bristol recognises the close ties between the south east of Wales and the west country. George Ferguson who was elected mayor of the English city in 2012, said there is potential for co-operation between Bristol and South-East Wales. He said“ I see no boundaries and that equally applies in Wales. While there is a physical divide with the Severn I think it’s really important that we work together as a Severn region.” He said the two regions share some common themes and said that by working together they can become more attractive.
He said the idea of city regions is being encouraged by government and by other cities like Manchester. He told Wales Online “There’s more thinking like that. We can all learn from each other. I think it’s really important that we are recognising the mutual benefit of us working together and more combined authorities is the way to go.” He is right. We should avoid being little boxes on a map when we can work effectively together, and national boundaries in a UK context should be largely ignored, if we are seeking to improve an entire economic region.
MADE IN NEWPORT?
Mar 13 - Shortly a new television channel Made In Cardiff will hit our screens. The benefits or otherwise of local television are up for debate but this channel will be made in Cardiff, promote Cardiff and aimed at Cardiff audiences but guess what? Yes, it will also include Newport.
Made in Cardiff is part of Made TV group, which has been working on local TV plans for three years , and bid to run 11 of the 21 local TV channels proposed by media regulator Ofcom. Its partners include Cardiff Blues, Cardiff University, Glamorgan County Cricket Club, Golf Development Wales, JM Creative, Welsh language promotional group Menter Caerdydd, international television documentary production company TiFiNi, Wales News Ltd, Welsh Netball, Ary Ltd, Globosat and Multicultural and Ethnic Media Sales (MEMS).
Its promotional blurb states "Made In Cardiff will concentrate on news and events in Cardiff, but said it will not neglect the surrounding areas, from Bridgend to the West and Newport to the East." Given the partners involved and the fact that the whole production will be based in Cardiff you can be sure it will almost entirely regard Newport as on the outside, looking in, just an area to promote Cardiff in to. Newport does not have a strategy to encourage the development of media interests in the City despite the presence of so much creative talent, including the University's film school. The BBC presence here closed with barely a whimper. The City's radio station exists in spite of everything rather than because of focus and support. This is another example of 'Cardiff.....also including Newport'.
KEEP SNOOKER TOURNAMENT IN NEWPORT
Feb 25 - Instead of the normal roll over and die attitude that has typified Newport for some time in deference to Cardiff and/ or the Welsh Government perhaps they should give consideration to a last ditch attempt to retain the Welsh Snooker Open in the city. It is one of the few truly national / international events held in the heart of the city centre bringing much needed revenue and profile to the badly damaged image of Newport. Why not look at how we can keep it here?
WHERE IS TRANSPORT SCHEME FOR NEWPORT?
Feb 24 - The aptly named Capital City Metro is a serious piece of work in terms of its plans for a transport network with Cardiff as its centre point. It was promoted by Cardiff City Council last week and looks like it will involve the development of trams or tram-trains in the city centre of Cardiff running out into the valleys. The Cardiff Valley lines have the worst customer satisfaction of any rail service in the UK so something needs to be done. But once again Newport is a bit-part player in this focus on regeneration. There is mention of Newport in the document with two additional railway stations to the east of the city but no focus on the city itself. Newport's only transport policy is the M4 relief road and that is all about easing congestion flows and as a positive by-product it allows people to get to and from Cardiff more quickly. The M4 relief road and the Metro have two things in common, they both include proposals for by passing Newport without any serious consideration for the infrastructure consequences for the city or its own regeneration prospects. Newport Bus ,for all its positives, is only a small part of the solution to getting people out of their cars and is not the way of getting people out of their ferrying thousands of people to and from the city. The report shows how Newport has little or no clout in Wales or in the Labour Party, the city is being constantly overlooked and there is a total lack of unique or dynamic thinking about its infrastructure. A couple of points on this
Any tram-train system developed in south east Wales must link Newport and Cardiff first before provide another way of conveying the valleys to Cardiff. (The West Midlands metro is between Birmingham and Wolverhampton and is an effective way of linking those two important cities just fifteen miles apart). Such a system would supplement the existing railway frequencies (providing better off peak services and providing regular and timed departures) stopping at key locations between the cities.
The City Council must campaign for the scrapping of the Severn Bridge tolls when the Bridge comes back into public ownership, this is the single biggest stealth tax affecting Welsh businesses with a particular impact on Newport and Monmouthshire
The City Council must ensure that new railway stations are built at Llanwern and Caerleon within the next five years to start developing a much needed local rail system.
The City Council should review urgently how it can maximise the benefits for the city centre of the 2.3 million passengers who use Newport railway station every year (the third busiest rail hub in Wales)
The City Council and its Presiding Officer/MPs/AMs should pull out all the stops ensure that the Labour Party adopts an official policy of supporting the return of Ebbw Vale railway services to Newport mandating the Welsh Government to carry
DECENTRALISATION HAS BEEN DISASTER FOR CITY
Feb 15 - Whether it is the closure of Queens School, or the Art College or the building of various retail , leisure and business parks the decentralisation of key infrastructure out of Newport city centre has been a disaster for the area. The notion that there would still be a reason to come in to the city in spite of this infrastructure has been ill-advised and wrong-headed. Newport councillors still have it in their heads unfortunately, recently a plan was entertained to relocate the museum and library in Tredegar House of all places, easily accessible and convenient for public transport it is not! They seem pre-occupied with the notion of the centre as a place for retail and night life when it is clearly much more than that.
Over 40,000 come to Newport from outside the city to work everyday but 30,000 do not come in to the city centre at all. The advent of the new Admiral building will begin to offset the trend. But at the moment they come to our business parks missing the city or using it as an interchange (in fact thousands of people use the city as a bus and more particularly a train interchange everyday).
Some of the brilliant deas in ReNewport have included the re-use of landmark buildings such as the Westgate as a IT hub for business and innovation or school of catering and hospitality. Too many landmark buildings stand empty either due to or indirectly because of decentralisation of our infrastructure.
There is hope but we need to bring students, educators and businesses back in to the city centre, creating more grade A office space, being more creative with the use of public and private transport and developing better housing to rent in the city centre. The significant sums available from the Vibrant and Viable Places Fund should be put to immediate and urgent use. We should also not be scared about clearing parts of the city particularly some of the more recent architecture to create a more open and attractive space for people who are interested in living, working or investing here.
REACTION TO MERGER LOGICAL?
Feb 15 - There is no logic to Bob Bright's statement that Newport has more in common with the valleys rather than Monmouthshire. Monmouthshire is heavily anglicised with a distinctive border mentality but so is Newport. Many of the towns and villages in the south of the county particularly along the M4 naturally graduate toward Newport. In the valleys there is a rivalry and antipathy towards Newport, it is likely that this would come to the surface in any decision making processes and political alliances. Maybe his fear is political, linking with a valleys authority guarantees a one-party state, joining with Monmouthshire will create a much more interesting political composition with the potential for Conservative administrations.
DIGITISE THE ARGUS / LOOK AFTER OUR MUSEUM & LIBRARY
Feb 3 - A brief trip to the central reference library to crawl through microfiche of the South Wales Argus. This is too important not to digitise. It is our best record of everything that has happened in this area for a 100+ years. Lets preserve it properly. And while we are at it, let us preserve the rest of our museum and library facilities in the centre of the City and not make the stupid error of taking key services out of the heart of our City particularly when they are accessible and widely used.
MAINDEE - SHOCKING DECLINE, REGENERATION OPPORTUNITY
Jan 10 - Any cursory glance at the state of Maindee High Street will reveal a truly shocking decline over the last five years. The closure of Peacocks, the Co-op and AF Thomas has resulted in a largely deserted and soulless streetscape only partly mitigated by SenBBQ, Wetherspoons, Cayzers and Boots. Even Greggs has closed. The only place that gives it vibrancy is the martial arts centre with a constant procession of people in and out, particularly during the evening. With several large stores empty the Council needs to look urgently at modernising Maindee to recapture the bustling, almost village community feel that it had only a few years ago. In fact it is so bad even the charity shops don't come there. Maindee is a strong identifiable area of our City with people from many backgrounds living within immediate walking distance. In particular encourage local residents to shop here and look at converting some of the shops to more of a residential use as there are some units that have been empty for several years. There needs to be an urgent strategy for Maindee, it is an important community and the high street is its show piece. If we are not careful it could end up in the same situation as Pill. With careful planning and focus now a more detailed regeneration strategy (and millions of pounds of taxpayers money) would not be necessary.
MOVE CAMPUS TO CITY CENTRE?
Jan 10 2014 - ReNewport was a great idea and we look forward to seeing more about it but reading the latest Local Development Plan it is clear there may be ideas afoot with the Coleg Gwent Campus at Nash. What an opportunity could be presented by re-locating this facility in the city centre and bringing in more students in to the economy rather than assisting the retail outlets of Spytty. It would be a more practical location for public transport purposes too and present the chance to use vacant sites offering the option to share some facilities with the University.
the views of V.Meldrew are not necessarily the views of thisisnotgwent.co.uk