AROUND £250 million of investment is currently being spent in transforming Newport city centre – and the pace of change is speeding up, traders and business leaders were told last night.

The first steel frames for the buildings on the Friars Walk retail development are being erected, and work will begin soon on projects to renovate buildings above shop floor levels, for city centre housing.

Around 40 traders and business leaders attended the launch of the headquarters of the Business Improvement District (BID) project for Newport, a business-led and funded body that, if approved through a vote next autumn, would help drive further city centre improvements.

Martin Tresidder, development manager for Queensberry Real Estate, which is creating Friars Walk, told those present that marketing the project is not just about the shops, but about the city.

“We all know Newport has had some really hard times, but it is changing for the better and people are starting to believe it,” he said.

Friars Walk – for which the council has loaned Queensberry £90 million – has been a long time coming.

It is a previous victim of economic downturn which delayed the new retail development for several years, and scepticism has been high.

“Within the last two weeks, I have been asked “is it still happening?”,” said Mr Tresidder.

“We are clearing eight acres of real estate, working on groundworks, earthworks and foundations. Steel frames of buildings are beginning to go up. Soon most people will believe we are actually building the thing.

“We are pushing hard on a very big construction project.”

Julie Vellucci, city council head of regeneration and regulatory services, spoke about projects that have been completed, are ongoing, and that will begin soon.

Early this year, Newport received a £15 million grant from the Welsh Government through the Vibrant and Viable Places programme, designed to drive housing-led regeneration in towns and cities.

“That was the largest award in Wales, and is part of a £60 million programme which is also designed to attract significant private investment,” she said.

Such projects are helping to transform town and city centres across the UK.

The hub of the project is the reconnection of Commercial Street with the top of Pill, but projects soon to be started include the transformation of a long-vacant building on Cardiff Road into 15 flats, a residential development in the building around the Commercial Street entrance to the Park Square car park, and a major residential development on floors above the Principality Building Society at the bottom of High Street.

“A lot is happening or about to happen. There is £250 million being spent in the city centre, and that is only schemes that the council are delivering or have a link with,” she said.

Alan Edwards, chairman of the BID steering group, said those involved “hope a BID will help transform the city”.

“There is a new shopping centre coming, bringing more businesses, and hopefully they will get involved,” he said.

“We are looking for a successful vote in November (businesses can vote on a BID proposal or business plan for the area), so we can form a limited company.

“We want to make sure the city will move forward and modernise, and we want to be part of that process.”