Bridgend Town Centre

Gazette Column – March 7th 2013

What should we do with our town centres? We know that many shop units are empty and that many businesses are struggling.

Some of you will have read Suzy Davies’s article last week on this. It was a bit of a late night rant wasn’t it?

She seemed to think that the town’s problems were down to Labour running the council here. I know she doesn’t live in Bridgend but surely she knows that her own party ran the council between 2004 and 2008 and I don’t recall them doing anything for Bridgend. They certainly didn’t reverse pedestrianisation.

She also misses a fundamental point. Businesses are suffering because people aren’t spending money. People aren’t spending money because their incomes are squeezed. People’s incomes are squeezed because her own party has done nothing over the last three years to help the majority of hard-working people, preferring instead to give tax cuts to the better off and take money away from the worst off… That’s the reason why businesses are suffering.

There are some who will say that business need tax breaks, and indeed in Wales we have small business rate relief. There are some will say that shops need more government help, but they never say quite how. The reality is that shopping habits have changed and there is no going back to the way things were. For many businesses their customer base melted away and no amount of financial assistance could help them.

There are many of us who remember that if you wanted a book you went to WH Smith and hoped that it would be there. If it wasn’t, it took a week to arrive. Those days are gone. If you wanted to buy a record (as they were called then) you had to do the same thing. Now you can just download music

Does that mean town centres are finished? I don’t believe it does. Bridgend’s problem, like so many other towns, is that it lacks a big name department store. If you look at Carmarthen for example the arrival of Debenhams enhanced everyone’s business and the town is doing well.

It also has too many shop units that are too small to be viable in the conventional sense, although they can be when combined with good websites. There are shops units in the town that were empty on the boom years of the last decade because they’re the wrong size. There will need to be a greater mix of shops and offices (which Bridgend lacks) in the future as well as cafes and restaurants rather than just thinking of town as simply a shopping centre,

Ultimately it’s down to us though. If we don’t use shops we can’t expect them to survive. The challenge for us as a society is to think about the future of our town centres, not to look back.