People want concerns over Newport budget cuts heard
10:02am Monday 2nd September 2013 in News
THE news that Newport council is bracing itself for another several years of swingeing budget cuts – revealed exclusively in Saturday’s Argus – has not come as a surprise to traders and shoppers in the city.
Amid the general sense of resignation at the difficult financial climate, however, is a mixture of anger, hope and a willingness to contribute ideas.
But there is also scepticism about whether people’s views will be listened to.
Alan Edwards, president of Newport’s Chamber of Trade, said it will take a full part in debate about the city’s future, and realises there are hard decisions ahead.
“But it must be a proper debate and the council must listen to the concerns of retailers, residents, everyone,” said Mr Edwards, who is also a partner in Vacara’s Fish and Chip Shop in Llanarth Street.
Mr Edwards chairs the steering committee behind an attempt to create a Business Improvement District (BID)in Newport, and recently urged the Welsh Government to speed up the process.
A bid, through a small levy on member businesses’ rates, would be able to take limited action itself to improve the city centre.
Mr Edwards believes it would be an important voice in any debate about council services.
“There also needs to be a debate about the library building,” he said.
“It would certainly make the city centre look odd if in three years’ time we have the Friars Walk shopping development in the heart of the city, but next door to the Kingsway Centre, which we hope will be thriving as well, we have a large, empty public building.”
Mr Edwards said Friars Walk will help re-provide what the city centre has lost in recent years, as a number of major retailers have closed.
He also that believes Newport is big enough to support a vibrant city centre retail area and out-of-town shopping at Spytty Retail Park, “providing we get the shops we have been promised (in Friars Walk).”
He fears however, the impact of cuts on social and other services.
Council chief executive Will Godfrey, in his Prospectus For Change document outlining possible service changes, indicates that some of those that do not have to be provided by law might be pared down.
“The council needs to be open about what they have to do by law, and what they don’t and people should be told what those things are,” said Mr Edwards.
The empty library building would be created by the council’s plan to move the museum and library to the Newport Centre.
Another trader in the city, Paul Halliday, of Green Earth IT, which is a a computer repair business in the Newport Arcade, believes that is a backward step.
“That will hurt because things like that bring people into city centres,” he said.
“There’s a need for diversity in city centres. The Newport Centre isn’t far but is still outside the main city centre and putting the museum and library in there might mean other facilities have to be removed.
“The Manic Street Preachers are playing there soon. Is that sort of event still going to be possible?”
Mr Halliday said councils face difficult decisions over cuts, and is glad it is consulting people early.
“As long as it’s not purely a box-ticking exercise, that’s good, but the council’s current record on consultation isn’t the best, in my opinion,” he said.
Sue Williams, who manages the Elbow Room hair salon on Austin Friars, is not impressed with the council either.
“They’ve spent thousands of pounds in the city centre on seating that lights up underneath, but what we had was adequate,” she said.
“Do people want to sit down and have their backsides lit up, or do they want to be able to use a leisure centre?”
She said a government decision to defer a revaluation of business rates is hitting businesses hard, and the council could do more to help.
“We should be made more aware of what the council is going to spend its money on,” she said.
“They say they want to be open about this.
“I’ve been trading here for 34 years and this will be the first time they have ever been open.”
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