THE EDITOR’S CHAIR: Wake up, it’s time to restore Newport's pride
4:50pm Thursday 14th March 2013 in News
THE following is a letter I received this week from Jonathan Thomas, the new landlord of The Lamb pub in Bridge Street, Newport. It is an impassioned plea to the powers-that-be and the people of Newport to come to the rescue of the city centre. It is a must-read and, I hope, the starting-point for a sensible, intelligent debate about Newport’s future.
WHAT’S happened to Newport? I think of the great cities in the UK and we should be right up there at the top, we don’t need lots of huge department stores, a few would be nice. We need boutique shops, artisan places, great restaurants run by local people, craft shops, locally produced goods shops – all complementing the bigger boys – walk down the arcades in Cardiff and see these shops, they’re everywhere.
Over the past 50 years, and more, we have had great excitement and pride in the area with outstanding rugby and sports teams, new architecture, great shops, restaurants, pubs, new businesses and a sense of pride when you mentioned you were from Newport (I always had a sense of mischief when I mentioned I was from Newport – it’s called pride, and passion). I recently went to Cardiff for the day, and only ten years ago Newport and Cardiff stood side by side in sporting prowess, vibrant busy centres and pride – the difference now is immeasurable.
I walked through Newport this week and had pride in seeing hardworking individuals/families, such as the Turners in Newport market, Cliff at the Nuthouse, the Rabaiottis at the Potters, plus a lot more – mini institutions, with brilliant standards and first-class service being slowly crushed by a lack of thought, priority and decision- making.
The Ryder Cup, the third biggest sporting event in the world, has come and gone, and instead of thriving we are drowning.
A recession hasn’t helped, yet the same recession hasn’t affected Cardiff or Cwmbran – they are thriving. I like Cwmbran, yet when you have a city such as Newport with hundreds of years of history and legacy I still struggle to understand why Cwmbran has sprinted, with ease, past a city three times its size.
We are proud to have the biggest charity shop in the UK. How did that happen? I used to be proud to go to Contis, after a great meal at Vacara’s (still great food there) while shopping and meeting friends during the rest of the day and/or watching the Black and Ambers, or County in the afternoon.
The Newport coat of arms depicts the saying ‘By Land or Sea’ – it could read ‘By Poundland or free’, there are that many shops vacant. I write this as the new landlord of The Lamb, a great Newport pub, recently run by Trevor – 18 years in the pub and a great landlord – I have lived in Newport nearly all of my life, and have a great pride about the ‘town’ – and I have a huge dilemma.
Having been in the pub for three months we are about to embark on an investment in this wonderful building, set in this wonderful city, with all its heritage and history, yet, and it’s a huge yet, why would I spend thousands and thousands of pounds trying to develop something, raising the bar and trying to compete with Cardiff (and Cwmbran), creating jobs, and trying to make an honest living if nothing changes and we don’t do anything?
What’s happened to Newport? It’s lost its pride, and its soul.
We have the most resilient people in South Wales living here and we have a legacy of being one of the most famous industrial centres in the history of the world.
Now industry has gone, yet we still have the people and the infrastructure and we have a city centre most people would die for – it has history, great buildings, character, and it’s the gateway to Wales.
Why can’t we clean up the streets? Isn’t that easy? Take a section per day and start. Do something.
Why can’t we get parking in and around Newport market? There’s space there. Just do it.
Why can’t we encourage retailers to come back to town? Drop rates and work on an open book policy – if the business thrives they pay a percentage towards rates, yet they’re helped and funded with local authority help.
Why aren’t local authorities made more accountable – could we see their inputs and outputs in the Argus each quarter, aren’t they paid by us and accountable to us?
Why can’t we get more police on the streets? Make it safer, even through community policing.
How do we get the bigger retailers back in?
Free rates if they employ X amount of people, extortionate rates at retail parks?
Why can’t we fill the shops in Newport before investing any more money in building new shops – why would you let M&S leave town if it didn’t keep some presence in Newport?
Why can’t we convert some of the town into a great living quarter?
I know the retailers of Newport have great skill and pride in everything they do – they are very, very proud of what they have achieved – how can we support them and get this city back on its feet?
I believe Cwmbran is privately owned: if we all chip in a tenner each could we buy the city back and set up a business consortium to run it?
Back to my dilemma – to invest, or not to invest? That is the question.