JULIE JAMES MS, Minister for Climate Change in the Welsh Government, visited Neath on Tuesday, May 2, 2023, to see how regeneration can help support town centres to thrive.
The visit came as the Welsh Government published a Town Centres Position Statement, setting out the key challenges facing town centres across Wales and a series of actions aimed at addressing them.
The Minister visited the new leisure centre in Neath which opened earlier this year. The site includes a library and retail space as well as a swimming pool, gym and health suite. The development is an example of the ‘Town Centre First’ policy in action, with library and leisure facilities moving from the periphery of town to a more central position, helping attract people to the town centre.
The cost of the council’s project was around £16m, with a £6.5m contribution from the Welsh Government’s Transforming Towns regeneration programme.
The leisure centre is in close proximity to a housing development at Lon Shufflebotham and refurbished office accommodation at Wind Street, which have also both been supported by the Welsh Government. Taken together, these projects are bringing new homes, businesses and services into the town to increase vibrancy and footfall, helping drive the reinvention of town centres.
The Leisure Centre has 2,300 members to date, 1,300 more than the previous centre and the library – up to March 30 this year – had attracted 25,000 visitors since its opening earlier this year.
Julie James said: “We want towns across Wales to be the beating heart of Welsh communities, where people can access services, shops, communal and cultural space.
“Regenerating our town centres is complex and will only happen if we have a joint understanding of the issues they face. These include the increase in out-of-town development reliant on private car transport, the growth in online shopping, and the withdrawal of essential services.
“Our Transforming Towns programme is designed to help reverse this decline, with £100m over the next three years to reinvent towns across Wales. Today’s statement will contribute to these efforts and we will continue to work with local authorities and town centre stakeholders to regenerate and transform towns across Wales.”
The Leader of Neath Port Talbot Council, Cllr Steve Hunt, said: “We are glad the minister has recognised and come to see in person the leisure centre and library complex which is aimed at changing the dynamic of the town centre, boosting footfall and creating more of a family atmosphere in the centre of Neath.”
The position statement follows discussion between government and key town centre stakeholders, as well as the publication of the Foundational Economy Research ‘Small Towns, Big Issues’ report and the Audit Wales ‘Regenerating Town Centres in Wales’ report.
Professor Karel Williams – Manchester Business School and author of the Small Towns, Big Issues report – said: “Our initial report outlined the issues facing town centres in Wales and set down the challenge for meaningful action to be taken.
“The Welsh Government’s Town Centres Position Statement takes this on board and shows what can be achieved through collaborative working and thinking.”
The actions outlined in the position statement cover a range of areas including public service locations, transport and car use, public sector investment, planning policy, town centre living and green infrastructure. It stresses that the collaborative approach to developing the position statement will need to be continued when taking forward its actions.