Wednesday, 13 December 2017

How can we improve town centres?

Column in Llanelli Star on 1 December 2017

What can we do to breathe new life into Llanelli town centre? I know what a lot of people will answer - bring in free parking. And whilst this may be the answer that first springs to mind, I don’t think it’s the whole solution.

Our town centre has had problems ever since the focus shifted from the high street to out-of-town retail locations - where the biggest brands unite around a sprawling car park. Yet, even though large regeneration projects outside London still go hand-in-hand with car parking, research shows that large numbers of shoppers arrive by public transport. Bus services are particularly important.

Town centres are more likely to thrive if they’re easy to get to using any mode of transport, so it makes sense that offering a reliable and affordable public transport system is worth the investment.

And it’s worth noting that ‘free’ car parking isn’t actually ever free. Someone will always have to pay. In Carmarthenshire alone the cost of providing free car parking would amount to £5 million a year. What if we used that money somewhere, or somehow, else?

I‘d argue that a decent public transport system - like the one Mark Barry has set out for the Swansea Bay Metro - would be a good place to start. And it is this that I want to focus on when I hold my business summit at Llanelly House in a couple of weeks’ time. Done right, the Swansea Bay Metro has the potential open up job opportunities, bring in new customers, connect the urban and rural areas of our community and to attract new businesses and investment.

I don’t believe there is ever so a thing as an economic silver bullet - that one, transformative project that will instantly change all our fortunes. But if we want to encourage people to visit Llanelli regularly and spend money in our shops, we need to do everything we can to make that easier for them. This includes having a well-designed and affordable public transport system that gives people the freedom and ability to travel. And offers us all the option of leaving the car at home.

NOTES:  The Business Summit to discuss the Swansea Bay Metro will take place at 2.30pm on Friday 15th December at Llanelly House.

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