The Welsh Government's plan to regenerate Aberystwyth

A few months ago I was standing chatting on Aberystwyth Prom when we noticed some important-looking men in suits gazing around. We thought we’d be cheeky and went over to ask who they were.

It turned out that it was Huw Lewis, the Welsh Housing, Regeneration & Heritage Minister with his entourage. They were on a visit to discuss what to do with £10.3 million the Welsh Government was thinking about giving to Aberystwyth as one of seven ‘Regeneration Areas’ in Wales. These were set up in 2010 under the then Plaid/Labour administration. The aim of them is to help create attractive and thriving towns, to tackle economic inactivity and to improve accessibility.

After we’d introduced ourselves, Huw Lewis said, “OK then, if we’re thinking about allocating money here, give us your pitch for Aberystwyth”. I had about two seconds to think of a response and came up with this argument: “With the low population density in the middle of the country, Wales is always in danger of being dragged apart and becoming effectively two nations – North Wales and South Wales. In terms of nation-building, what we need is a really vibrant, healthy town in the middle to pull the two together. That’s where Aberystwyth comes in”. They looked surprised and said, “Hey, that’s actually a really good pitch!”. It certainly wouldn’t have cut much ice if I’d tried to tell a housing minister from Merthyr how impoverished we are.

Anyway, a few months on and the Welsh Government has put together a kind of interim report on what’s been a happening with the £10.3 million so far and what’s going to happen next (I’m sure they’d thought of it all before they bumped into me). The full document can be seen here.

The schemes (with Welsh government contribution in brackets) include:
•   University to National Library link road to allow expansion of the bus service and improved cycle links (£192,000)
•   Multi-use games area (‘Adizone’) at Min y Ddol in Penparcau (£250,000)
•   Major improvements to Aberystwyth Bus station and Alexandra Road to make them more pedestrian-friendly and link more easily to the town centre (£1 million)
•   Town improvement grant - to improve the appearance of shops in the town centre (£600,000)

Other ideas planned are:
•    Revamp of the Prom (consultation covered in a previous post)
•   Revamp of Town Clock square (at the junction of Bridge St, Great Darkgate St, Pier St – public consultation to come)
•   Revamp of the train station entrance (priced at £3 million so must be big)
•   A new youth facility – no details yet

I like all the schemes mentioned, although I’m sure I’ll want to quibble about some of the details. However, although it might sound churlish to say this, it’s notable that the Regeneration Area Board, (the body set up to devise the programme) contains no-one with a democratic mandate to represent the people of Aberystwyth. The nearest thing - and he has only very recently been invited - is Chris Mackenzie-Grieve, the Chair of the Chamber of Commerce, who genuinely represents small shop keepers in the town and should have been on the Board from the start.

Although most members of the Board are perfectly decent people with a contribution to make (like the Chief Exec of Tai Ceredigion and University and National Library reps), the only person elected by the actual people of Ceredigion is Council Leader Keith Evans who was elected to represent the people of....Llandysul. I think that’s a pretty serious omission and very difficult to understand. If they didn’t trust Aberystwyth councillors they could at least have asked the Assembly Member.

Still, maybe we shouldn’t look a gift horse in the mouth. With the current economic climate set to continue for years, once this money’s gone it’s likely to be some time before we get any more. Keeping Aberystwyth vibrant will then be up to us.