Some Suggestions for the Newport Task Force
Does a piece of music or song sometimes trigger in you a work related thought or concept?
Although stage musicals are not my normal genre of entertainment while listening to “If I were a rich man” the signature tune of Fiddler on the Roof I found myself thinking about the future of my home City of Newport, South Wales and the role of a recently appointed Task Force formed by Welsh Government to halt continued economic decline.
One of the song’s verses particularly resonated with me “They would ask me to advise them like Solomon the Wise” as I thought it could be an oblique term of reference for the Task Force!
Anyway that got me thinking a bit like Tevye the main character in Fiddler on the Roof as to what I would do if I was a member of the Newport City Centre Task Force so these are my ideas:
1. Commence a programme of open and transparent communication by:
- Launching a Task Force Web Site to invite and provide a platform for comments and ideas about the City Centre
- Publish the agreed Terms of Reference for the Task Force
- Confirm who is on Task Force and provide a short personal bio on the Members
- Provide contact points i.e. e mail / telephone / address for the Task Force
2. Obtain formal confirmation from Newport City Council / Queensberry Real Estate that the proposed 390,000 sq ft Friars Walk Shopping Centre is actually going to proceed. Failing this agree a date for a final decision as until Queensberry can provide a categorical decision about Friars Walk the future of the City Centre is effectively in limbo and a Plan B cannot be prepared.
3. Review current state of play re proposed Newport Business Improvement District (BID) to ensure that any emerging proposals are fully scoped and aligned.
4. Ask Newport City Council / Newport Unlimited to submit an application to WG for City Centre Regeneration Funding under the new Vibrant and Viable Places £30M Initiative. Once submitted lobby WG to approve so the Application can be progressed to the Stage 2 Detailed Planning Stage
5. Review current state of play vis-a-vis proposed South East Wales City Region to understand where discussions have reached with the 10 SE Wales LA’s and what is Newport’s position or stance?
6. Develop a new overarching Vision for the City.
Vision to be based on the principal that:
“Newport must aim to be a first rate version of itself, rather than a second rate version of somewhere else”
The Future Vision to be based on Reality and connect with the unique DNA of Newport. To do this a “Bottom Up rather than a Top down” approach should be adopted to scope out, develop and test the Vision.
7. Organise and Hold a series of Workshops with a selection of Key City Stakeholder Groups as follows:
- Business / Professional
- Retail / Independent Traders
- Housing Landlords, Developers and Agents
- Arts / Culture / Music / Media
- Public Sector including Police
- College / School Forums
8. Review and compare outputs from Workshops to identify synergies / common themes or a broad shared view on the preferred and most realistic way forward for the City – if necessary prioritise these into a number of top contenders possible examples are:
- Newport the Sporting City of Wales – Sports Led Regeneration building on the existing offers of Golf, Cycling, Football, Rugby, appealing / attracting the young and youthful
- Alternative Newport – Culture Led Regeneration- aiming to make Newport the coolest city in Wales – Music / Art / Vibrant Night Time Economy / Youth / Students etc
- Newport the Historic City of Wales – Tourism led Regeneration – Capitalising on Historic Assets – Caerleon, Chartists, Transporter Bridge, Ship, Tredegar House
- Digital Newport – The SME Capital of Wales –Business Led Regeneration – Building on successful Super Connected Digital City Bid, Alacrity Foundation, University Spin outs etc
9. Disseminate findings to the Stakeholder Groups and the wider City population by the web site, social media and selected print run inviting comment and providing the opportunity to vote on their preferred choice of Vision.
10. Test emerging Vision with outside investors by developing an external Peer Review Group
11. Develop a 5 / 10 Year Business Plan for Delivery for the final agreed Vision
12. Prepare a Revised City Centre Master-Plan to guide the delivery of the Vision – which if necessary could include a Plan B should Friars walk fails to materialise. Ideally the Master Plan should take the form of a Prospectus outlining Investment / Partnership Opportunities.
13. Form a new Body to manage and deliver the Vision possibly developed around the English Local Enterprise Partnership Model i.e. led by the private sector with strong public and third sector local support and representation.
14. Seek to utilise the skills and resources of the Cities two major social housing providers Newport City Homes and the Seren Group as a driver for new city centre housing and student accommodation.
As someone who has lived in the City of Newport for over 30 years and has substantial private sector led regeneration experience I am along with others keen to inject some fresh ideas and creativity into the rejuvenation of the City Centre.
To help the process in May a broad synopsis of the above suggestions was sent to the relevant Welsh Government Officer so that it could be shared and debated by the Task Force Members.
At the date of publishing this article I am awaiting a formal invitation to meet or discuss so I guess for the time being it’s back to the song!
“If I were a Task Force all day long I’d bidi-bidi-bum”
In my opinion the level of debate on this important subject needs to be raised and become more transparent and open rather than taking place behind what currently appear to be closed doors.
I would welcome your thoughts on what you would do if you were a member of the Newport City Centre Task Force and whether you agree with my suggested way forward?
Since publication of this article I have been invited to meet the Chair of the Newport Task Force. This meeting is scheduled to take place at the end of September.