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Draft masterplan for Blackwood met with local doubts and criticism

An aerial view of Blackwood (Pic: CCBC)

THE DEPUTY leader of Caerphilly County Borough Council has urged positivity after the authority’s draft masterplan for Blackwood was met with some local doubts and criticism.

The masterplan lays out the council’s vision to “strengthen the economy and improve cultural, environmental and social conditions for residents and visitors alike”.

Proposals include a new town square or market, a food festival, and more bars and restaurants.

But the ambition of the masterplan – and the level of detail – have been criticised by Nigel Dix, one of Blackwood’s three independent county councillors.

Speaking to the Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS), he said Blackwood was “a major Valleys town that Labour-led Caerphilly [council] has neglected for years”, and accused the authority of leaving his ward “short-changed” when compared with investment projects in Caerphilly town.

Cllr Dix said the council’s masterplan was “void of any meaningful proposals” and a “mere wish list” of ideas “with no mention of funding”.

“The council needs to go back to the drawing board and come forward with meaningful proposals that clearly demonstrate how they are going to engage with business to realise their plan [and] who will pay for it, as the plan can only be delivered if there is financial support from the council and the Welsh Government,” he added.

Cllr Nigel Dix

Responding to Cllr Dix’s comments, a council spokesperson defended the masterplan, saying it “contains a range of exciting proposals aimed at boosting the future of Blackwood town centre and the wider area”.

“The masterplan will be subject to the usual decision-making process, which will involve widespread consultation to obtain feedback from all interested parties,” they added. “Similar masterplans covering other parts of the county borough are delivering significant benefits for our communities.”

Blackwood’s two other independent councillors have also had their say on the masterplan.

Kevin Etheridge also questioned the amount of detail on how the proposals would be funded, and said he feared more antisocial behaviour could arise if the night-time economy was expanded.

He also said he “cannot see” a railway station being built for the town, and said more town centre events were “essential”.

“Although I appreciate it is only a draft plan I look forward to full stakeholders’ engagement, as the views of the retailers and residents matter in regard to any development of our town,” Cllr Etheridge told the LDRS.

“It is essential to see the cost-benefit analysis, funding and timescale on these projects as the Blackwood residents are my priority,” he added.

Cllr Kevin Etheridge

Meanwhile, Cllr Andrew Farina-Childs said he “would welcome any sort of investment for Blackwood [but it] has got to be realistic”.

“A railway station would be fantastic for Blackwood, but when I’ve mentioned it previously [any proposals] were more like a light rail service or a tram service,” he said.

Cllr Farina-Childs said he was “all in favour” of investing in Blackwood’s heritage offer and town centre events.

“One thing really missing in Blackwood is a heritage centre… celebrating success,” he said. “On events, there used to be a very successful carnival. We should be looking to hold more events.

“Overall I think it is very positive we’re trying to bring more investment.”

Cllr Andrew Farina-Childs

Deputy council leader Jamie Pritchard, who is also the cabinet member for regeneration, welcomed the ward representatives’ feedback but expressed disappointment at Cllr Dix’s comments.

“Cllrs Etheridge and Farina-Childs regularly attend the stakeholder meetings we have held in Blackwood, and they have come back with a number of meaningful suggestions, which are welcome,” Cllr Pritchard told the LDRS. “The one thing the business community does not want to hear is councillors pitting community against community and engaging in utterly negative campaigning. 

“Cllr Dix mentions everything he’s against, but not a single idea about what he would like to see in Blackwood. I would be happy to work with Cllr Dix, as I have done with Cllrs Farina-Childs and Etheridge on issues related to Blackwood.

“Saying everything is terrible, with no positive ideas coming forward, will only hold town centres back.”

Cllr Jamie Pritchard