SAVE OUR CITY
Correspondent Jonathon Price highlighted that although the closure of the Passport Office is significant the long term impact of retail closures or relocations will have a devastating impact on our city. The focus on the Passport Office closure was detracting from Newport's lack of resilience and its failure to attract investment to its central area....
"I emailed you a few months ago about the state of Newport. I don't know who you are, or whether you have any influence, but I am emailing again because I think this is a real time of crisis.
I admire you site - and your views - a lot. But I think you have got things badly wrong lately. The closure of the Passport Office is a complete sideshow. The least important point I have to make is the one I want to mention first. It is that this is not a party political matter, or indeed much to do with "the cuts". It could easily have happened under a Labour government, and even if there had been no recession. Office closures, centralisations and re-organisations happen all the time - witness the ONS (from which Newport gained). To make this a "call to arms" is to miss the point entirely. A resilient city could withstand changes of this kind.
The truly disastrous news is the loss of M&S, and to a lesser, but still very major, extent, Next and Monsoon from Newport City Centre. This marks the demise of Newport as the second retail centre in SE Wales, and its replacement by Cwmbran. For Newportonians (as opposed to "men of Gwent", and the SW Argus) this is a complete disaster. Indeed, outside of bad things happening to my family, it is one of worst things I can imagine. Yet no-one seems to have responded with the urgency that the situation demands.
It appears to me that there is a strategic choice to be made, with two options, neither of which has any guarantee of success. But a failure to choose guarantees that Newport goes down the pan.
First, we could accept that the future lies at Spytty. We could invite the park's owners to move the park in the direction of Cribbs Causeway. This would involve encouraging M&S to occupy an even bigger store, encouraging a department store (Debenhams?) to locate there, and upgrading / extending the whole area, with more parking, covered walkways etc. Newport City Centre could then become a "heritage" area, with some shopping, but mostly flats, restaurants etc.
Second, and opposite, we could pull out all the stops to try to prevent/delay the expansion of the retail park. This might involve the kind of (eventually) futile legal action undertaken by Iceland in connection with the city centre redevelopment. It might slow down the expansion of Spytty by a year or two. At the same time, we could do everything possible to attract middle-class/affluent shoppers to the city centre. This would involve making car access as easy and cheap as in Cwmbran and Cribbs. So the council would commit to making all council-owned parking free as long as parking is free in Cwmbran. It would find a way to subsidise privately-owned parking (such as in the Kingsway Centre) so that at least the first two hours are free. It would bribe M&S to take the store in the new Cambrian Centre (or stay put until the replacement for Friars Walk is underway). Etc, Etc.
I realise all this may seem a bit bonkers. But for true Newportonians things are really desperate. And this has almost nothing to do with the Passport Office, the cuts, or the current government. In fact, I don't think it is a party political issue at all. In respect of party politics I suspect my own views are very close to your own. With the benefits of hindsight (which is of course the ultimate luxury) it is clear that the last administration in Newport got things badly wrong. But I can't see that has anything to do with the fact that it was a Labour administration.
How do we get people to focus on, and act on, the real issues with the sense of absolute urgency that the situation demands?"