A PLAN to help transform the fortunes of Newport city centre went out to public consultation yesterday (Tuesday), as council officers propose to waive the need for developers to pay to convert buildings into housing.

Draft guidance, published by Newport city council, admits that changing shopping habits caused the decline of the city centre, and schemes to convert existing buildings into flats and houses are being "mothballed" because they are not financially viable.

Under the proposals, companies who convert existing buildings into city centre accommodation would not need to pay what is known as "section 106 money", which usually goes towards improving parks or creating extra school places when a new development is created, if paperwork is signed before July 2016 and developments would have to be completed within three years.

Under the current policy, planning permission to create five or more residential units would warrant extra money being paid, and proposals for 25 or more units are required to include 30 per cent affordable units.

The proposal would allow up to 30 units to be created in any city centre building - on land to the west of Newport Bridge (known as Town Bridge), down to George Street Bridge in the south and across to Mariners Green in the west - without any contributions or affordable housing.

The Argus reported last month that the exemption would not apply to new builds.

Bringing commercial buildings into residential use is part of an overall £250 million regeneration plan for Newport city centre, including a £15 million grant from Welsh Government’s Vibrant and Viable Places scheme.

The much-heralded Friars Walk scheme is due to be completed by November 2015 and will bring major retailers back into the city centre.

The draft guidance says that if more people move to the city centre it will provide "natural surveillance" and cut crime, and prevent structural damage in buildings during winter if they are heated and lived in, "preserving our built heritage".

"Residential property investment by the private sector, alongside council initiatives, can help improve the level of economic activity, increase footfall and bring vibrancy to previously empty properties," says the report, which adds that although the council could lose money if the moratorium goes ahead, this would be outweighed by the benefits of regeneration.

Two years ago politicians in Cardiff Bay put £10 million into bringing empty properties back to use and has recently released an extra £10 million, and Newport city council has already identified key buildings which are being transformed by developers, says the guidance.

To have your say visit www.newport.gov.uk/haveyoursay, write to Planning Policy, Newport City Council, Civic Centre, Newport, NP20 4UR or email ldp.consultation@newport.gov.uk before 5pm on September 23.