On Monday, Newport City Council will find out which developers are interested in building and then operating the Friars Walk development. Irrespective of who we have spoken to, everyone recognises the importance of the Friars Walk scheme. Apart from bringing much needed new shops, a cinema and restaurants, it will also substantially rehabilitate some of the most barren aspects of Newport’s townscape. It’s not just new shops that Newport needs, but a City Centre which feels like a coherent place which is enjoyable to spend time in.
Any developer worth their salt will be taking a long term view of this project and I hope that whoever is selected will begin by looking at the mistakes from the past. Sadly, they won’t need to travel far. Like many places, Newport has its fair share of scars from a previous generation of redevelopment and infrastructure projects which will serve as a reminder of why it is so important to get Friars Walk right. However, these problems aren’t unique to Newport. Other cities have had a far worse situation to deal with and recovered comprehensively by healing similar types of scars that were caused by earlier inappropriate interventions.
The Bullring in Birmingham is a classic example. An organic network of historic streets was swept aside to make way for the brave new world of 1960’s ‘comprehensive redevelopment’. The warren of lanes and streets were seen back then as ‘anti-planning’ and unorganized. What replaced the bustling streets became a monotone of monolithic grey blocks, dark malls and soulless pedestrian walkways which blighted the centre of the City and just as importantly, its image, for a generation. In the 1990’s, Birmingham awoke to the problem and set about dismantling the failed vision by rebuilding the sense of place and reinstating some of the intimacy which had been previously discarded. The Bullring today is a thriving, forward looking expression of metropolitan values and high quality urban design. Just as importantly, it is commercially successful and has allowed the developers to make a handsome return on their investment. I hope that Newport can go through a similar metamorphosis as a result of Friars Walk.
Whilst the long process of getting the retail scheme on the ground continues, our team has been busy refreshing the regeneration masterplan for Newport and we are entering a critical phase of the process. Following on from initial consultation, we have made considerable progress towards refining the vision, clarifying the aims and objectives and devising a long list of potential projects. A batch of these came direct from local people direct from our facebook page (www.facebook.com/futureofnewport). Our next task is to whittle down the long list into a shorter, more refined one. The results of this work will be available to view at the end of January, when the draft proposals and ideas will be presented at a drop in exhibition in the City Centre.
Another satisfactory development this week has been the coverage that our work has received from a small, but significant, corner of Newport’s creative community (http://newportmusicscene.com/). I think that it’s critical that Newport’s future is built upon things which it already does well and music is one of these things. Developing a sense of dynamism and momentum requires a multitude of activities working in harmony to develop a buzz about the place.
With the right kind of help a healthier evening economy and music scene is something that we know can be achieved. Add to this, a rehabilitated City centre, a broader mix of shops and restaurants and finally, Newport can start to move out of the shadow of its neighbours and establish itself as a place with its own unique identity and positive future.