NO HIGH street has been immune to the impact of austerity, rise in online shopping and increase in out-of-town retail parks.

But cities such as Bristol and Manchester have reinvented themselves by offering clean and vibrant spaces, encouraging local businesses and providing reasons to visit.

With Newport sandwiched between Bristol and Cardiff, the high-street decline has been particularly pronounced.

Indeed, a report from PwC found that between January 2019 and July 2019, Newport lost the second most shops in Wales – with ten closing and four opening.

Yet, as many Newport residents can attest to, the city has so much potential to become a thriving place to do business, shop and spend a day or evening.

And as part of the Argus’ Backing Newport campaign we asked you what you felt should happen to bring people back to our city centre.

Train link from The Valleys

One resident said there should be a “direct train from The Valleys”.

“It’s easier to go to Cardiff on train than to get to Newport.”

Another commented: “Good point.”

Transport for Wales have said that their plans to reintroduce the Ebbw Vale to Newport train link by 2021 is on track.

Read more about that here.

Solve the homeless problem

Figures from the Welsh Government show the number of people sleeping rough in Newport has nearly doubled in the last three years, from 22 in 2017 to 42 in 2019.

All 36 emergency beds available for the whole of Gwent are in Newport, meaning there is a shortage here, let alone for the whole region.

You can read more about that here.

And residents said that to encourage more people into the centre, there needs to be more spaces for the homeless to go so people don’t feel “intimidated”.

One person suggested building a “detox centre” for those suffering with drug addiction.

Another commented: “Help the homeless find homes so they're off the streets, put a stop to begging as it's so intimidating, especially by cash points.”

While someone else added there needs to be “decent hostels for homeless people”.

“That's the most compassionate way to get rid of the tents that others complain about: give people a better, safer alternative.”

South Wales Argus:

(Workers clean up a rough sleeping encampment on the A4042 slip road.)

Building more homes

Introducing more housing near the centre could encourage trade, some residents said.

One suggested moving “all the shops from Commercial Street into Kingsway and Friars” and redeveloping the vacant area and building “affordable housing and flats”.

Another said: “Weirdly, when people live in city centres, they need services that are on their doorsteps.

“Not cavernous supermarkets admittedly, but stores where they can get a pint of milk, a loaf of bread, a cafe where they can get a decent bacon sarnie.

“Not forgetting dentists, doctors’ surgeries, local pubs, gyms. You could end up with a thriving city centre simply by offering people nice places to live and waiting for everything else to grow around it.”

Cultural scene

One person said Newport’s culture and history needs to be promoted better.

They said: “Better marketing - we have a medieval ship which should be displayed in a centre celebrating our maritime history.

“We have a Transporter Bridge which is fantastic - unique in Wales - one of only 2 in the UK.”

Another said Newport museum should be “updated”.

“It’s the same as it has always been since I was a kid. Take a leaf out of Cardiff Museum’s book and actually put stuff on to get people in.”

And another added: “Museum is hugely underexploited, get in exhibitions and hold events.”

One person suggested funding “youth art, dance and music projects”.

“Newport was always a huge arts centre.”

South Wales Argus:

(The Art on the Hill event celebrates Newport's cultural scene.)

More diverse night life

Making Newport an attractive place to visit during the evening and into the night was also high on residents’ agenda.

One person wrote: “Get live gigs back into Newport Centre, The Riverfront, The Neon, etc.

“People will come earlier and spend money on food and drinks, they may even take in the shops first.

“I used to come back in the Eighties/Nineties. It used to have a gig or two a week, now we're lucky if it has one or two a year.

“There needs to be better public transport though, for example the last bus back to Chepstow is 8pm, cut from 10.15pm. People want to go out at night, have a drink and get home, how does anyone do that at 8pm?”

Independent businesses

Newport’s independent scene is showing signs of promise as a number of independent coffee shops and retailers add colour and character to the city.

  • Read about the coffee shops here.
  • And the retailers here.

One person wrote that we should be encouraging “more independent businesses.”

And another said: “More individual shops (especially local firms with unique ideas) and a few bakeries/cafés.

“There's not a single bakery with goods in the window, apart from Greggs. We used to have lots of them.”

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Free parking

A majority of the ideas sent to us touched upon the idea of free parking.

One person said there should be “free parking for at least three hours”.

While another suggested making the first hour free.

But this was countered by someone who wrote: “I don't think parking is an issue, it's already really cheap to park in Newport.

“We need more parking spaces if anything.”

Reduce business rates

Many suggested cutting business rates.

One said that “reduced business rates” would attract “independent traders”.

And another said: “Lower business rates and rent so businesses can actually stay open and trade.”

But what are business rates?

  • The rateable value of a property is an estimate of how much it could rent for per year on the open market at a given point in time. 
  • This is then multiplied by the ‘pence in the pound’ of the rateable value paid in business rates, known as the multiplier, to calculate the business rates liability for the property.  Any reliefs that the property is eligible for are then subtracted from the liability in the final business rates bill.
  • In Wales, business rates are collected by local authorities and paid into a national ‘pool’ administered by the Welsh Government.

More things to do

Residents also felt that there needed to be more of a reason to visit Newport.

One person said: “I think what people need is a reason to go into town.

“What here is (In Newport) is the same as what you can find everywhere, only Newport has an anti-social behaviour problem and big issues with homelessness, so they'd rather go somewhere else like Cwmbran or Cardiff.

“There should be more for people to do, like family activities that people could take their kids to, or maybe revamping the museum or having fairs and markets would give people a reason to be in the town centre that they can't easily get anywhere else.

“I think this would draw more shops and businesses to the centre, especially if there were better rates for them.”

Another suggested the building of an arena. They said: “We need an arena like The Motorpoint in Cardiff to get real entertainment here in the evenings.”

While another suggested making “public attractions free and giving people the option to make a donation”.

And someone suggested using empty shops as a space for “community events, pop-ups and galleries”.

South Wales Argus:

(Thousands attended this year's Christmas light switch on.)

More Backing Newport stories:

Bring in a private organisation to run the centre?

Cwmbran Centre – owned by Prudential plc - has become one of the most popular retail destinations in Wales, with an average of 15 million people visiting every year.

It’s the largest shopping centre outside of Cardiff, with around 170 shops.

And many in Newport want to see their centre privately managed, too.

One wrote: “Bring in a management company to manage the whole town centre.

“Like Cwmbran, don't see any homeless, drug takers around Cwmbran centre because it is managed by a private company and secured with visible security guards.”

Make people feel safer

Another idea that cropped up was people wanting to feel safe.

One person wrote: “People want to feel safe in town so you need more police and permanent CCTV around the clock.”

Another added: “Clamp down on anti-social behaviour to encourage more people, especially families and older people back to the centre.”