In its recent review of the The Future of Towns in Wales report, the project advisory panel were encouraged by some of the tangible actions outlined and how these might apply to Carmarthenshire.
The 2018 report by consultants The Means, who specialise in place management solutions, looks at what role towns fulfil in Wales today, and what policies are needed to respond to the ‘megatrend’ challenges of an ageing population, exodus of young working-age people, and the threat of online shopping.
Towns need to capitalise on their unique characteristics, including their strong sense of place, community and local heritage, as well as embracing the challenges, including pooling resources to respond collectively to the digital world.
Traditionally, the economy for older people has tended to focus on provision of care services, but the report advocates fresh thinking from businesses and retailers with a focus on healthy and active older people, many of whom have good disposable incomes.
There are opportunities for towns to attract younger people, who may be persuaded to leave the city for a better quality of life, clean air, and greater affordability. The high street itself could facilitate remote working by providing hot-desking space and connectivity.
Whilst some retail offerings might be in terminal decline on the high street, the report found that some outlets – where a physical presence is essential – remained strong with potential for growth. The increasing trend for eating out could play to the strengths of the town restaurateur who can source food and drink locally, to meet consumer demand for sustainability, for example. Towns should also focus on providing entertainment and leisure facilities to capitalise on the change in people’s spending habits from material goods to experiences.
A single, strong offering, can attract people into the town and provide the impetus for further growth on the high street, instilling confidence in others to build complementary businesses. Coaltown Espresso Bar, located in Ammanford’s historic Victorian arcade, is cited as an example of a ‘single destination’ shop which has had a ripple effect across the town.
One of the biggest weaknesses identified by the report authors was the lack of joined-up thinking and a coordinated response to the challenges. A more integrated approach is being provided in Carmarthenshire, however, with the Council’s Ten Rural Towns initiative. The Welsh Government’s £90 million Transforming Towns Project, announced recently, will also help.
The report finds much to be hopeful about, but concludes that for towns to be reinvigorated, co-operation at every level, is the key. Businesses need to come together to continuously improve and adapt, and this can only be done within the framework of strong co-operation, co-ordination, and joined up thinking.
To view the full feasibility assessment and accompanying reports see below: