There may be 37 vacant shops in Aberystwyth at present but that doesn’t seem to be deterring potential investors. Despite the credit crunch at least six major new developments are currently under active consideration around the town:
* A five-storey extension at Bronglais Hospital
* A new medical centre on the west side of Penglais Hill
* A new Park & Ride near the top of Penglais
* A major re-development at the bottom of Great Darkgate Street around the sorting office
* A five-storey car park on the Mill Street site
* A major expansion of the Llety Parc hotel
I've left out some others that are only in their early stages yet. Add these to the new Council and Assembly offices and, if all these come to fruition, in a few years time Aberystwyth could look very different.
Why is this, when we are hearing about economic gloom everywhere else? Part of the answer lies in the last of the developments mentioned - the Assembly building. Looking around Wales, most towns the size of Aberystwyth have, in turn, received substantial development funding from the National Assembly in the last decade. Aberystwyth has been an exception to this. The Assembly's 'Wales Spatial Plan', a study aiming to develop a coherent strategy for the development of Wales as a nation, identifies Aberystwyth as 'a town of national significance' by virtue of its position exactly halfway down the coast in the relatively under-developed middle of the country.
I'm told by local economists that the decision to decentralise the Assembly's agriculture department from Cardiff to Aberystwyth was the first part of a process that will increasingly see government money being used to develop services or to augment private capital investment here. The Assembly-funded Aberystwyth Masterplan is the hoped-for framework for this.
As someone who regularly supports residents in opposing unwanted developments, I know how much people value the green areas around the town and I won't hesitate to speak out against proposals that don't look likely to contribute to our social or environmental well-being. But the broad aim of creating a more unified, decentralised Wales by developing a town large enough to pull north and south together is an exciting one if done in the right way. How, rather than if, it happens will be all-important.