FIVE years ago today, Newport's flagship Friars Walk shopping centre opened.

On November 12 2015, thousands of shoppers flocked to the city centre's newest attraction to help celebrate the grand opening.

Friars Walk was a greatly anticipated addition to Newport; the £100 million development took more than three years and had been predicted to create 1,200 jobs.

South Wales Argus:

The demolition of the Capitol car park in January 2014, to make way for the Friars Walk development. Picture: Julian Davies

The shopping centre opening meant city shoppers had 35 new shops, 11 restaurants, and an eight-screen cinema to enjoy.

It was hoped that the grand opening would mark a new era for Newport - Newport City Council's leader at the time, Bob Bright, described Friars Walk as "spectacular" and Wales' then First Minister Carwyn Jones, said it was "a great addition to Newport".

The day marked the long awaited opening of a Debenhams store in Newport, and Welsh fashion designer, Julien MacDonald was also present, on a day which included an array of live performances and entertainment.

South Wales Argus:

Julien MacDonald cuts the ribbon for Debenhams in 2015.

As the Friars Walk celebrates its fifth birthday - coinciding with the turning on of Newport's Christmas lights - there are mixed opinions on its impact on Newport.

Friars Walk centre manager Simon Pullen said: “Five years ago Friars Walk changed the face of shopping in Newport; and the centre has played an important part in the overall regeneration of Newport city centre.

“Five years on, and who would have known that we’d all be facing such a major challenge in the world - but throughout the last few months, our team and our tenants have all pulled together to continue to deliver a safe, enjoyable shopping experience in Newport.

“I’d like to take this opportunity to say a big thank you to our 'essential' stores - M&S Food and Holland & Barrett - who continued to trade through the pandemic; their staff have been absolutely fantastic, and we really value the support that they have offered the local community.

“We also value working closely with other local stakeholders like Newport Now BID, Riverside and Kingsway, in helping to drive Newport forwards.

"Over the past few years we have all worked together to help deliver exciting events within the city, such as the Urban Beach, the Newport Marathon and the Newport Food Festival, and we look forward to picking this up again as soon as we are able to do so.

“Our final thanks have to go to those people who have continued to support the centre over the past five years - our loyal, local shoppers - who we appreciate more than ever.”

South Wales Argus:

Newport's temporary urban beach, organised by Newport Now BID, outside Friars Walk. Picture: Newport Now

Newport Now Business Improvement District (BID), which represents more than 600 businesses in the city centre, has also praised Friars Walk.

BID manager Kevin Ward, said: "Happy birthday to Friars Walk. The BID's role is to represent all of its members, from the smallest independent to the largest national chain store.

"Friars Walk remains an important part of the city centre's retail, hospitality and leisure sector. Like everywhere else in the UK, the Covid pandemic is having an effect on Newport and on Friars Walk.

"But we are sure that will change as we move into the new year, particularly if mass vaccinations are rolled out, as seems likely.

"As a BID, our view is that Friars Walk has been the catalyst for other developments in the city centre and will continue to be so.

"It is sometimes easy to forget how long Newport waited for some of the stores in Friars Walk, or for the type of venues in the food quarter.

"A thriving 21st Century city centre needs a good mix of independent businesses, national chains, restaurants, cafes, pubs and bars, good quality housing, and modern office accommodation. Friars Walk plays an important role in that mix and long may it continue."

South Wales Argus:

Friars Walk also gets involved with Newport's annual Food Festival. Picture: Chris Tinsley

Conservative councillor Matthew Evans, Mayor of Newport in 2014/15, expressed mixed opinions on Friars Walk.

“Even in the current covid climate Friars Walk is an important asset the city - the restaurants and shops are essential to get people to visit the city centre," he said.

“The opening of Friars Walk five years ago brought people into Newport, including people who'd not visited in years.

"But Friars Walk was supposed to be the start of regenerating Newport, not the end."

Mr Evans also mentioned that unused space in the centre was originally allocated for independent businesses, but this has not happened - and he thinks it should be a priority.

South Wales Argus:

Commonwealth Games baton celebrations (2017) in Friars Walk. Picture: Chris Tinsley

Newport City council leader councillor Jane Mudd, said: “For many years, Friars Walk was a much wanted development for Newport residents. The city centre had been in decline, due to the global recession, and it needed major new investment to give it any hope of a future.

“When Friars Walk opened its doors in November 2015, it was just one part of the council’s vision for the city centre and undoubtedly acted as a catalyst for further regeneration.

“Millions of pounds have already been injected into the city centre through schemes to create housing, offices and other uses, sometimes bringing neglected and vacant properties and spaces back into use.

“We believe Newport is well placed to take advantage of investment opportunities, and the 2018 city centre masterplan supports the careful coordination of developments to ensure the best possible benefit to the city.

“We have been clear for some time that our aim is to create a mixed-use 24/7 city centre. Like Newport, towns and cities across the UK will be looking at their current offer and plans for the future, and our aim is to lead the way in creating a city fit for the future.”

South Wales Argus:

Friars Walk in Newport city centre. Picture: Ian Agland

Public opinion of Friars Walk varies, as the following comments in response to a post on the South Wales Argus Facebook page indicate. Some have suggested it is a 'white elephant' and others have suggested that the money should have been used to invest in existing shops.

Jeanette Wilkins said: "I never shop there - it's too expensive. I'd rather shop in Cwmbran; parking' is free and there's more choices.

"Newport has changed, shops are closed, it's like a ghost town."

Others are more pleased with Friars Walk; Norman Donald said: "Lovely place; it makes Newport look like a city."

And some are 'on the fence', such as Carol Collins, who said “Friars Walk was a great addition to Newport, but more needs to be done.

“They should’ve embraced the development of Newport by offering help/money to existing traders in High Street and Commercial Street.

“People who may want to visit from further afield [in normal circumstances], may want more than what Friars Walk has to offer, so may go places like Cardiff where there's more options."