My name is Rhys, a first time dad blogging about my adventures and experiences of being a parent. [email protected]

New research reveals current state of Welsh towns and hopes for the future

Colwyn Bay High Street

FSB Wales has published new research this week on the future of Welsh towns. A Vision for Welsh Towns is a stocktake of the challenges that towns have faced in recent years, informed by FSB members and the public.

Previously, FSB research has found the biggest considerations for towns and the SMEs within them are external, such as social and demographic trends, urbanisation of cities and digital transformation that threatens to leave some behind. Our new findings suggest these challenges remain and have been exacerbated by the pandemic and supply chain issues.

Only 3% of the people surveyed for our report felt their high street was ‘thriving,’ while 46% felt unsatisfied with the actions of decision makers to improve their town centre.

The research also found that people overwhelmingly rank ‘thriving small independent shops’ as their highest priority for the future of their town centre. Successful and thriving town centres and high streets are beacons of character and creativity, of civic life and cohesion in a way that is unmatched by out-of-town developments.

Supporting Welsh Towns has long been an important aim of Welsh Government, from targeted regeneration investment programmes that dedicated £100m to the development of towns across Wales, to a ‘Towns First’ approach. There is a clear desire in both local and national government to support the development of our towns and local high streets.

FSB Wales Policy Chair Ben Francis said:

“Our town centres are the heart of our communities in Wales- spaces where people live, work, shop and enjoy.

“The pandemic has exacerbated many existing concerns about the future for SMEs in Wales, from concerns about the impact of out-of-town developments to the rise of online retail, disconnected from the people and places they serve.

“Our report includes a series of recommendations based on the experience of our members, which we hope will inform the thinking of decision makers on the future of towns. We are calling for a town centre approach to be fully embedded across Wales, with strategies underpinned by clear objectives and metrics around footfall and vacant premises to be regularly reviewed.

“While laudable and innovative effort is being made to repurpose vacant space within towns – including the gaps left by the withdrawal of well-known high street names – we also need to ensure that retail – particularly independent businesses – remain at the heart of a positive conversation of what we want our towns to be. Our research demonstrates the importance of this to the public.

“Both Welsh Government and local authorities must balance the desirable attributes of successful town centres and high streets with environmental goals and wider policy objectives. As we look to the recovery, the importance of place-making and the undeniable impact of successful and thriving local economies must be recognised by our decision makers.

“We believe that no matter where you live, there should be a plan to support thriving town centres and high streets that is clearly communicated to residents and small businesses. That local engagement and dialogue is essential if we are to regrow our town centres in a way which engenders pride and ownership from businesses and the public.

“Given the importance of towns and high streets to the economic health of our communities, this mission needs to be central to any plan for the Welsh economy and needs to draw in the efforts and resource of Welsh, local and UK governments and should be key to the approach by the four economic regions of Wales as well as the debate about Levelling Up. While there seems to be no lack of will among decision makers, success will only be delivered by a truly joined-up approach.”