THE NEWSDESK: We need to fill the child-shaped gap at the heart of Newport city centre
I'VE been wandering around Newport city centre a little more than usual - they occasionally let me out, you know - and it has me thinking.
There I was in driving rain one night on the way back from a night out, walking past the Westgate Hotel, looking at that wonderful building with its windows dark and empty. Vacant eyes.
In that moment of clarity it became so obvious to me that Newport city centre's woes, of which there are many, will only be solved if many more people live in High Street and Commercial Street. And the need is now pressing.
I recognise the argument there should be a Chartist presence at the Westgate and I agree with it. But I also believe it has to be a living building, not something to be covered with a dust sheet.
Buildings like this one, which is Grade II listed, line the streets of European cities, and there they are packed full of sought-after apartments. Many of the upper floors of the other buildings along these streets are also currently empty. And, of course, many of the shops below.
Oh how I wish we could all see the lights from flats in these buildings illuminating the streets at night with people going about their daily lives, spending their time and money in the city centre.
There are already some projects under way which are seeking to address this issue - including the conversion of the former KIng William pub on the corner of Commercial Street and The KIngsway into flats.
We reported on this last November - the building had been empty for many years but the work was being carried out thanks to a link-up between the building's owners and Newport City Council.
In November, Cllr John RIchards, cabinet member for regeneration and development told us: "Early next year, we will find out if our £13.3 million bid for the Welsh Government's Vibrant and Viable places funding has been successful. We are proposing a housing and heritage-led programme for the central area of the city."
News on that funding should, therefore, come soon.
The sooner the better for me.
Let's not forget that alongside the desperate need to regenerate Newport, there is a large shortage of homes. People need these places in which to live - some to buy, others to rent.
Let's also hope the Welsh Government realises just how bad the situation in the city centre is right now. Apart from local Assembly Members, I wonder how many of their members have walked down a deserted Newport High Street at 10pm. I wonder how many of them can read between the lines of an officers' report. to see how badly this city centre needs action.
But. there's another problem, and it is creating a chicken-and-egg situation for the city centre.
Right now at night, it's not an attractive place to be. There's no buzz. The sort of people who would like city centre living would certainly be looking for restaurants, cafes and bars, and a night-time economy which would not be based simply on getting tanked up.
So which comes first - the flats, or the sort of pleasant place in which people want to live and buy property?
I suspect work on both needs to be simultaneous. Or this situation will continue to fester.
Looking at our pictures of the hotel to illustrate this piece, I came across our pictures of the youngsters at last year's Chartist re-enactment in front of the Westgate Hotel, and another thought hit me.
There needs to be a far greater focus on families in the way we need to regenerate Newport. Many parents and their children never venture into the city centre at night.
Understandably, parents want to raise their children in places with gardens - they would not be the sort of residents to snap up city centre flats.
But they are still the lifeblood of the city.
They and their children are currently watching films and eating out in outlets on out-of-town shopping parks.
We have a child-shaped hole at the heart of our city.
To quote a little Arcade Fire: "I feel like I've been living in a city with no children in it."
What our city centre desperately needs is their civilising influence.
We need to bring children back to Newport city centre at night - and fast.
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