FRIAR'S WALK: Newport looks for future of city shopping
DEBENHAMS says it is still interested in coming to Newport despite the scrapping of the Friars Walk shopping centre scheme.
As we exclusively revealed yesterday, city bosses have taken the decision to look for a new developer and re-market the site.
Council leader Matthew Evans said developer Modus Corovest (Newport) had come forward with revised proposals but was not prepared to accept a scaled-down centre.
Debenhams was due to be one of the key anchor stores in Friars Walk.
A spokesman told the Argus that Newport remained an attractive market for the company and it would look at any revised development plans with interest.
Ken Ellis, president of Newport Chamber of Trade, said members had already agreed to seek an urgent meeting with Cllr Evans "to ask what plan B was" just before the latest development was revealed.
He still hoped to meet the council leader to find out what was going to happen now.
The council's own statistics showed that Tuesday was the busiest day of the week in the city centre.
"I have been in retailing for 40 years and I have never known a day in the week to be busier than a Saturday," said Mr Ellis.
"It is no good just tarting up Newport, we need drastic action.
"The council has a responsibility and we will be seeking assurances from Cllr Evans about what the council plan is and what they are going to do to support traders."
He came up with two suggestions which could help the city centre - park and ride facilities and a low-rental scheme to encourage take-up of empty shops, perhaps for art galleries or craft businesses.
"Independent traders are the lifeblood of city centres, they give it character," said Mr Ellis. "They need to encourage people to come into Newport and make it a good shopping experience. We are never going to compete with Cardiff, so let's be different to Cardiff."
Chamber vice-president Laura Buchanan-Smith said she was absolutely devastated and described it as a "kick in the teeth for the city" but it was not the fault of the present council administration.
Family-owned shoe shop AG Meek was one of the business which had to re-locate to make way for Friars Walk.
Director David Meek said it was obvious to them for months that Modus Corovest (Newport) were not going to be able to fund the development.
"If the council have acknowledged this and are looking for a new developer this is the best decision that can be made in very difficult circumstances."
John Burrows, chief executive of Newport Unlimited, said the urban regeneration company had been assisting the council for a number of years to get the project on site.
"We did everything we could behind the scenes."
A first class job was done to get where it did but it was one of the first major shopping centre schemes to be affected by the credit crunch.
Shopping centres usually take about eight years to bring into being but the council would not be going back to square one. Much was achieved such as securing planning permission and land acquisition.
Mr Burrows felt that when the market improved a developer would come forward but it might not be this year.
"We will have to see how things go in 2010."
He said the council had no choice but to make the decision it did and had done everything it possibly could.
Different options were explored but it had arrived at this position because there was no other way.
'We have to look forward' - Paul Flynn
Newport West MP Paul Flynn said it was a great shame but added it was happening to similar schemes all over the country.
"It is a blow but we have had disappointments in the past and we just have to look forward. There are good signs that the world economy is picking up."
Mr Flynn said hopefully there would be time of greater prosperity in the future when a new scheme could be brought in.
Rosemary Butler, the Newport West AM, said it was very worrying and she was raising it as a matter of urgency with deputy minister for regeneration Leighton Andrews.
She added the redevelopment was crucial and a new partner needed to be found as quickly as possible.
"I urge the City Council to pull out all the stops and I want the Welsh Assembly Government, who also have a major stake in this project, to help them in every way possible."
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