MONMOUTH Assembly Member Nick Ramsay says that strong ministerial leadership and a revised planning policy are essential if Wales’ flagging high streets are to be revived.
Opening a debate on a report on town centre regeneration at the Welsh Assembly on Wednesday, Nick, who is Chair of the Enterprise and Business Committee, said: “In recent years the traditional high street has declined and in some areas disappeared altogether, changing the shape and structure of our communities beyond all recognition.
“One of the report’s recommendations I would like to highlight is that the Welsh Government should ensure that Planning Policy Wales fully protects town centres from the potential impacts of out of town retail developments and should improve the implementation of national and local planning policy.
“I am pleased that the Minister has accepted a recommendation that the Welsh Government should commission research on the effects that out of town supermarkets can have on the quality of town centres, and that local retail impact assessments should be obligatory for all supermarket proposals.”
Nick said he was also pleased that the Minister had accepted recommendations that the Welsh Government’s independent panel on business rates should consider changes in legislation and in the application of discretionary powers in order to improve the mix and quality of the retail offer in town centres, and that examples of good practice in stimulating town centres should be promoted to councils throughout Wales.
Town centres needed to be championed at a local level across the country through better public and private sector partnerships, he said.
“The Government needs to set the right framework, while local partnerships need to deliver on the ground. Above all, a collaboration between the public, private and voluntary sectors is required, together with a commitment from all of us as consumers to support our local high streets.
“It was Napoleon who labelled Britain a Nation of Shopkeepers, intending it as a slight against the national character. I would argue it should be seen as a compliment. Traditionally Wales, like the rest of the UK, has seen communities develop around town and village centres, with shops and businesses run by local people forming the focal point of these communities.
“Vital, vibrant town centres are at the heart of sustainable communities, and they are the core to a healthy and prosperous Welsh economy,” he said.