13 Feb 2012
The economic downturn facing many Welsh town centres through the closure of shops and retail outlets could be reversed if there was more co-operation between landlords, community groups and the private sector.
Business development company Menter a Busnes, which has been involved in the regeneration of Holyhead town centre where more shops have re-opened than closed in the past 12 months, believes more towns could buck the downturn if communities and the private sector worked more closely together.
âTown centres are the life blood of every community. But more importantly, they are also the centre for employment and economic activity,â said Alun Jones, Chief Executive of Menter a Busnes.
âOur work in Holyhead with the Plas Cybi Partnership, Anglesey Council and individual businesses has demonstrated how a situation can be turned around. Weâve seen seven new businesses start or expand into retail shops in Holyhead in the past year compared to many towns seeing more shops close than open.â
Menter a Busnes, which has offices in Holyhead, Bangor, Aberystwyth and Cardiff, provides professional support and consultancy to encourage business growth, as well as developing and implementing programmes for entrepreneurship, skills and innovation in the private and public sectors.
Holyhead was once named the UKâs town with the highest proportion of empty shops. Today its fortunes have changed. By working with landlords and local people through the Plas Cybi Partnership, Menter a Busnes has supported the regeneration by reducing the number of empty shops.
The âempty shops initiativeâ saw negotiations take place with landlords and agents of empty properties who then offered reduced rents. The units were then given a modest refurbishment and local tenants were found.
Over the past year the number of vacant shops has been reduced from 37 to 30 and work is continuing to fill the remaining units.
âItâs fair to say Holyhead has bucked the current trend nationally and is reversing its fortunes. But that can only be done with everyone working together,â added Alun Jones. âThe success in Holyhead could be mirrored throughout Wales through innovative collaborations between landlords, community groups and the public and private sector.â
In December, high street guru Mary Portas published her report for the UK government looking into what could be done to reverse town centre fortunes.
In it she said more national chains should be forced to consider town centre locations before going âout of townâ, but, more importantly, she said town centres needed to be managed as a âprivate business.â
âAnd thatâs whatâs happened in Holyhead. Itâs a mix of community, public and private sector managing aspirations by bringing everyone together for the benefit of the town as a whole,â said Alun Jones.
âTake this model to other Welsh towns and communities throughout Wales could soon be regenerating themselves, creating and safeguarding jobs in the process.â
While town centres are competing with online sales, Menter a Busnes believes the uniqueness and personal approach of a retailer in the high street has its benefits to the customer.
Helen Evans of Eden Emporium which took over one of the vacant retail units said: âWe wouldnât have had an opportunity to start our business without such a project and that is mirrored by many of the other new retailers.
âThe partnership and managed approach has generated new opportunities and, more importantly, injected life-blood back into Holyheadâs town centre and the wider community.â