COMPULSORY purchase of property in the city centre, teenagers taught to programme drones and a water connection from Newport to Caerleon might be some of the ways ReNewport ideas are manifested in the coming months and years.
Simon Gibson OBE, head of the Welsh Government backed taskforce to regenerate Newport economically, addressed Newport Civic Society on Thursday evening.
Around 46 people turned out to hear an energetic speech in which Mr Gibson outlined the next steps for the task force since delivering its report in December.
He said positive change would be visible before the NATO summit at the Celtic Manor in September and stressed the event would bring benefits to the whole city with thousands of world leaders, journalists and protesters needing places to eat and sleep locally. Compared to the Ryder Cup, he said “too much of the effect went elsewhere. We want to make sure that the city centre benefits.”
Being the first Welsh stop on the rail line from Paddington the city is well placed for businesses and investment, he said.
He said Newport’s dilapidated city centre stemmed in part from a lack of coherent management, saying “Spytty is on fire because it is a managed entity”.
He suggested compulsory purchase measures could be employed in a similar manner to those used in Cardiff Bay to make the high street a more balanced and pleasant place to shop. Audience members welcomed a suggestion that the Westgate Hotel might one day become a five star hotel and Chartist museum as well as a hospitality school.
He spoke again about the prospect of a river connection from Newport to Caerleon. If the M4 relief road goes ahead, a weir across the Usk giving permanent high water might be a possibility, which could be more ecologically sustainable than a barrage.
The city could also build on its reputation as a technological hub. He said Newport is already at the centre of Europe’s “cyber-security triangle”, also comprising Bristol and Cheltenham.
A computer club for 12 to 16-year-olds is expected to be running shortly in which teenagers could, for example, learn how to programme ‘drones’ and wearable technology and learn to use 3D printers. He believes Newport could become the best place in the UK to get a software degree.
But Mr Gibson appeared to deflect a question about the current relationship between the taskforce and Newport City Council, stressing instead the importance of a good partnership. He said the council had now been asked to join the taskforce.
Mr Gibson said many grants become available from the EU and the Welsh Government among others, but that Newport had to have a more organised and optimistic approach to applying for funding.
Next week he will find out whether one grant application has been successful and it is also expecting a response from the Welsh Government shortly which should give an idea of the amount of funding available from that quarter.