The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) has brought forward an initiative to drive a new approach to funding and thinking for Welsh towns, responding to current trends that are seeing increasing numbers of retailers departing from town centres. Across the UK over a 5-year period, more than 9,000 comparable businesses have closed, making up 5% of the stock. Assessing the risks and opportunities is key to ensuring the sustainable, long-term survival of High Streets and securing commitment and funding from the relevant partners and stakeholders to realise this agenda.
Over the course of summer 2018, The means worked in partnership with FSB to explore these issues across a number of town centres in Wales by undertaking over 80 interviews and a ‘deep dive’ assessment of four towns – Maesteg, Caernarfon, Haverfordwest and Aberystwyth where a series of focus gr oups and further interviews were conducted. Interviews with FSB members and businesses across the country further supplemented the research.
The findings from the results point to a number of broad megatrends that are influencing small towns today in Wales, but also across the UK. These were identified as social and demographic changes, increased urbanisation to cities and finally technological advances and changes in consumer patterns. It was identified through survey interviews that the key issues that are currently hindering the performance of town centres in Wales can be attributed to:
• Online retailers
• Empty shops
• Business rates and
• Out-of-town developments
Adaptability and resilience are key components in an approach to addressing the above threats and challenges to our towns. The final report as part of this research outlines a number of recommendations to help businesses but also councils and the Welsh Government to tackle these issues across a local, regional level and national level. Critically, the report also urges the Welsh Government to implement a Future of Welsh Towns Fund in addition to other measures that can alleviate pressure on retailers, such as offering business rates relief. Empowering communities to play a bigger role in shaping their town centres and rethinking the town centre offer beyond the commercial offer such as leisure, culture and social activities in addition to access to other services will also be key factors to drive sustainable, long-term renewal of the High Street.