NEWPORT Council could pay external contractors to draw up a new plan for regenerating the city centre.
The local authority is currently inviting tenders for the “development of a Placemaking Plan for Newport city centre” on public-sector procurement site Sell2Wales.
Its current placemaking strategy for central Newport expires in 2025.
But critics have questioned why the council’s own workforce isn’t preparing a replacement plan, as well as the cost of outsourcing the project.
The city council, however, pointed out that other local authorities in South Wales have worked with consultants to develop placemaking plans.
It said hiring external support was “standard practice”, and developing a new plan would help Newport access Welsh Government regeneration grants.
At a full council meeting on Tuesday November 28, Labour councillors backed a move to include the future of the historic Westgate Hotel in a new placemaking plan for the city centre.
Independent councillor Mark Howells, from the Lliswerry ward, told colleagues he would “welcome” a new plan, but expressed surprise council staff were not developing the document.
“We now have a city centre manager, who has been recruited to the post,” Cllr Howells said.
“I thought he was going to be writing the placemaking plan, but I see that’s currently on Sell2Wales looking for some consultants to do that work for us.
“I hope we instruct those consultants properly, to make sure this work is taken as a priority.”
Following the meeting, Michael Enea, a Conservative campaigner from St Julians, echoed those concerns.
He said: “I’ve been campaigning heavily for urgent improvements to Newport’s city centre over the last 12 months.
“A new placemaking plan was earmarked for publication in March 2024. It’s extremely worrying, at this late stage, that the council is only now appearing to invite external consultation firms in to submit tenders for the project.”
Mr Enea added: “Surely, the council’s own in-house regeneration department should be writing this plan and working on this as a matter of urgency.”
“How much will any external consultancy firm be paid? How much will this cost the taxpayer?”
Responding to Mr Enea and Cllr Howells’ comments, a spokesperson for Newport City Council told the Local Democracy Reporting Service it was “standard practice for councils to secure support from external consultants when developing placemaking plans”.
“Many councils in Wales which have developed placemaking plans have done so with external support,” they added.
The council spokesperson said the new plan would be a “holistic assessment” of the city centre, which “seeks to understand how spaces and buildings work together”.
“Consultants who specialise in placemaking are able to help guide and challenge council officers in the development of such plans, to ensure they are as robust as possible,” they added.
There would also be “extensive engagement” with residents and business owners in the city centre throughout the development of the new plan.
The council spokesperson said that “in creating the tender for external support, we have followed best practice guidance as set out by the Design Commission for Wales in its guide to developing placemaking plans for town centres”.
“Developing a placemaking plan is a prerequisite for any council to be able to bid for funding from Welsh Government’s Transforming Towns fund,” they added. “It is a vital piece of work which we are confident will bring many benefits to the city.”