The city of Newport is bracing itself for major changes over the coming years. The Business spoke to leading Newport architect Richard Andrews to find out how he would exploit the many and varied skills of his business to boost the fortunes of the city...

Who are you and what do you do?
Richard Andrews Architects is a design-led Royal Institute of British Architects chartered architectural practice providing services to both commercial and domestic clients. We work on a wide variety of schemes, including education, residential, extra care, office, leisure and retail. We deliver a full architectural service for efficient, creative and sustainable buildings. But no matter the project, the passion behind our practice remains the same, which is to improve someone’s quality of life. 
We’re based in Newport city centre, but regularly work throughout the UK. For example, we’ve currently secured a hotel restoration scheme in Fishguard and in Guildford, Surrey, we’re working on a multi-million pound events centre. Providing the project is feasible for us to work long distance, we regularly undertake in person site visits and we are available for commission. 

When did you set up your business?
With more than 21 years in the construction industry, I decided to set up Richard Andrews Architects in late 2012, so we have just hit our five-year business milestone. We are a small, yet strong team of eight. We have four architectural assistants, one architectural technician and two members of administration support. By bringing on board talented and knowledgeable individuals with differing speciality backgrounds, we have been able to offer a better and wider range of services to our clients. 

Why did you choose to locate in Newport?
Newport was an obvious choice when starting out. It has many positive benefits, such as easy transport links to the M4, excellent public transport facilities and lower business rates than neighbouring cities and towns. But to be honest I have always had a personal affection for the architectural heritage and charm that Newport possesses, including The Estates Office at Gold Tops, where we are currently based. 

How is the city as a business location?
Newport parking is a real bugbear but the potential in Newport is huge, with so many regeneration strategies going on there is plenty of business here. There is also exciting Bristol trade expanding further into Wales. When the bridge toll comes away it will increase the value of all properties in and around Gwent. There is lots of potential, therefore, for enlarging your house with equity, regenerating and revamping industrial areas and creating the potential for business hubs all over Newport.
In addition, the UK’s soon-to-be largest conference centre will be landing in Newport in 2019 at Celtic Manor Resort, which hopes to attract some 3,000 people a day. This has a huge bearing on Newport. It needs to be attractive for all and make the most of the business, retail and leisure it could receive.
The whole of Gwent stands to benefit from this exciting building. Infrastructure will have to be properly thought through and this could in time come in the form of the new M4 relief road to free up the current M4. Newport is still currently on Welsh prices which go a long way for someone moving from Bristol, for example. We believe this a massive pro. Having networked in the Bristol area I know that the market is there, it’s just a case of building trust in expertise with good people. Cons would be the difficult nature of the authorities to embrace new developers and seek better mediation between all parties. Something that we can help bridge – with the right consultation.

What do you think of Newport?
There is so much potential. We can see Newport as a place where business professionals choose to make their homes or bases here, rather than Cardiff or Bristol.

How can we boost the fortunes of the city?
I hope that Cabinet Secretary for Economy and Infrastructure, Ken Skates, goes through with his pledge to spend £1bn improving Welsh infrastructure. Introductions such as the metro system, the abolishment of tolls on the Severn Bridge and improvements to the Brynglas Tunnels, would have a profoundly positive impact on Newport businesses. 

As an architect, how would you improve the city to make it fit for the 21st century?
I would start by integrating the Friars Walk and John Frost Square areas with the rest of Newport. This could mean the introduction of Teflon plastic sheltered walkways like the current ones on Friars Walk. I’d change the slippery paving in Commercial Street to a more energetic colour which blends in with Friars Walk. I’d uplift and enhance current signage. I’d like to see the introduction of history boards for visitors to read and people to be proud of. This promotes a sense of place. Lastly, green landscaping can dramatically soften a landscape and Newport city centre is a bit hard and cold. You can cage around trees at low level and heighten walls to protect flowers, for example.

What kind of developments would you like to see to improve the city?
We need to enhance culture, arts and history more. This can come in the form of pumping a lot of money into a potential new visitor’s centre for Caerleon with a strategy to open the rail line there and show off the amazing Roman features far more. 
Did you know that the UK’s largest Roman villa has been found on the lower rampart of the amphitheatre? Also new boutique hotels in the city centre need to start rising up to support tourism and business trade. Open top bus tours are still commonly used in London, so why not start this in Newport? What do we have in Newport I hear people say. Lots is my response – we have Caerleon, the Transporter Bridge, Fourteen Locks, the Celtic Manor in all its splendour, the Riverfront Theatre where the Medieval ship was found, John Frost Square, the route of the Chartist March, The Wetlands and so much more. 

What things in particular would you like to see done in the city?
A softer approach with the introduction of sustainable green spaces. Better parking and the good refurbishment of current buildings. I strongly believe that the university should be reinstated in Caerleon, as its power to pull in students was massively attractive to all, but also maintaining the city centre campus.

What impact will the abolition of the tolls on the Severn Bridge have on the city?
The biggest impact will be the rise of value to most properties and the growth of new businesses infiltrating all areas of the city and surrounds. There will be a huge influx of people looking to buy here now because of the prices, but also for a better quality of life. Newport can flourish, but it must become flexible to all this change and work with those new home owners and businesses coming to the city. It must implement the culture, arts and historical element to help this along.

Are you in favour of the M4 relief road?
Yes. Something needs to give. It is a bottleneck and it is off-putting for anyone working west of the Brynglas Tunnels, let alone in Newport. 
The government acknowledges this and is working hard to alleviate this situation, but the M4 relief road could open out deeper parts of Wales for far more business. 
For Newport, the relief road can open out the city in many fantastic ways, from opening it up for shopping, increasing tourism to places like Caerleon and making it easier to get to the new conference centre. 

Newport’s tallest building, Chartist Tower, was recently sold to a Cardiff concern. How, as an architect, would you like to see it redeveloped and used in the future for the benefit of the city?
We hope as a company to get a chance to tender for this project as we know the city very well and have our own exciting ideas of what to do with it. 
There would be a great benefit for a mixed-use development there, which would encompass retail, hotel, leisure and residential. New cladding aspects can be applied and therefore a new energy provided for the heart of Newport.