PLANS for the redevelopment of Newport city centre should look at how city centres work in the 21st century – and that might mean fewer shops.
That’s according to the first minister, Carwyn Jones, who said any plan for the city needs to have a greater mix of businesses.
“We want Wales’ cities to prosper,” Mr Jones said.
The head of the Welsh Government spoke to the Argus yesterday ahead of the first Welsh bill to be passed under the National Assembly’s legislative powers gaining Royal Ascent and becoming a law.
Mr Jones said it had been difficult for Newport city centre in the last few years because the bottom fell out of property development.
He said: “I think any plan has to be based on what the city centre has to look like in the 21st century, that means having a greater mix of businesses, accepting there are some shop units that aren’t going to be shops in the future.
“They may turn into offices, cafés or restaurants.”
The first minister said there are many shop units that are too small to be able to prosper with them running as shops.
Mr Jones continued: “One of the things we want to look at here is to find a way of making it easier for local authorities to change the use of premises within a city centre to get a better mix of businesses in.”
Carwyn Jones, who became Welsh Labour leader in 2009 and formed a minority government following the 2011 Assembly elections, said that it was preferable for a business to be using a building rather than leave a building derelict.
“All you need is a couple of buildings boarded up and you get what they call the gap-tooth effect in America. People think that things are falling apart.”
He added that he knew there was a plan for the city centre and said Newport City Council had worked hard to improve the city.
“They have had bad luck in terms of what happened in 2008, 2009,” he said.
“We’ve seen what’s happened along the riverfront, which again helps to improve the city.
“The next change now is to make sure that the right mix of units is in place in the city centre to attract as wide a variety of businesses as possible.”
Rail link will take time – minister
THE money isn’t there to run the Ebbw Valley line to Newport and bringing the passenger link to the city is going to take some time, Mr Jones said.
The first minister said the usage of the Rogerstone railway station to Newport bus link is not high, although he admitted passengers having to change modes of transport can act as a disincentive.
“Times have changed financially in terms of the amount of money we get from the UK government. It does mean that we’re not able to take forward some plans we would have wanted to do in the same timescale,” he said.
Mr Jones said the line, in an ideal world, would have links both to Newport and Cardiff, but added a link to Cardiff was important so that when the Valleys lines are electrified they can become an integrated Metro system.
“That means we would be looking at more frequent trains,” he said. Mr Jones yesterday put the first Welsh seal on the letters patent signed by the Queen to signify the assent she has given to National Assembly for Wales (Official Languages) Bill, allowing it to become an Act.
The law was introduced as the National Assembly wanted to officially recognise both Welsh and English in its proceedings.