Scrapping business taxes on the high street and developing unique small shops would be a step towards saving and regenerating our town and city centres, according to one expert.

Llŷr ap Gareth is the Head of Policy for the Federation of Small Businesses in Wales, which has 10,000 members.

"One of the things Covid has done is to accelerate the trend of online shopping, so there are quite a few big companies leaving the high street. That process has happened over time but has become more serious since the pandemic,” Llŷr told our sister title, Corgi Cymru.

The National Wales: The centre of Newport. Photo: christinsleyphotography.co.ukThe centre of Newport. Photo: christinsleyphotography.co.uk

The Federation, Llŷr said, would like councils across Wales to look at the costs of high street businesses.

"Look at the business rates and how that increases the costs to small businesses. What’s also needed is to look at how you can create an experience unique to your high street. What works in each town, individually, instead of every high street looking the same.”

The Federation of Small Businesses in Wales has published a study called ‘A Vision for Welsh Towns’. The information comes from questionnaires completed by small businesses and shoppers alike.

"One of the things that people value most is independent shops. That shows - along with the experiences of going out to eat and so forth - that is a facet that needs to be looked at by the Welsh Government and councils. ”

The National Wales: The centre of HaverfordwestThe centre of Haverfordwest

Only 3% thought their town centre was thriving; "which is a problem," says Llŷr .

With out-of-town shopping developments continuing to grow, the Federation argues that there is a need to look at how to get people back into town centres.

"We need to plan for that in the long term and give people reasons to come to town centres. And maybe look at business rates or even to get rid of them in those areas where you're trying to attract business in.”

There are targeted places in the areas of economic development. But so far town centres haven't been part of that in Wales, Llŷr said.

The National Wales: The shop Select in the middle of Bangor closed its doors for the last time in April 2022. Photo: Google StreetviewThe shop Select in the middle of Bangor closed its doors for the last time in April 2022. Photo: Google Streetview

With the problem worse in some towns and cities than others, Llŷr says Bangor is "a microcosm" of what's going on across Wales as a whole.

"We know that Bangor has a lot of problems. People go shopping elsewhere compared with 20 years ago. And a lot of things have moved away from Bangor like the cinema, and then people are going to Llandudno. ”

And with so many large stores having moved to the outskirts of Bangor, there are not so many people going into its centre, he said.

"Many of the people who work in Bangor don't live there so that creates a vicious circle. So there's an element here where Bangor is sort of a microcosm of a lot of these issues. ”

But Llŷr hastens to say that Bangor has many benefits too.

"There’s a hospital and a university that employs people who have good incomes. There’s a bit of what we call an anchor where there should be enough people around to spend their money in Bangor. There are students too, so there are things you can harness to develop Bangor and draw people into the town centre.”

The National Wales: This shopping centre in Buckley, Flintshire will be auctioned off at the end of this month. Photo: AllsopThis shopping centre in Buckley, Flintshire will be auctioned off at the end of this month. Photo: Allsop

With Bangor boasting the longest high street in Britain, Llŷr said, "It looks worse when the shops close. So what I want to see is: what’s unique about the centre of Bangor, how to promote the centre and attract people who work locally to spend their money there and use the services. That's what needs to happen, whether in Bangor or anywhere else. ”

It is important that decisions on how to revitalise town centres are made locally, says Llŷr.

"We need a cross-sectoral strategy to try and get people into town centres rather than drive them out. For many years, economic policy throughout the UK has been to encourage out-of-town developments and parking.

“Essentially, people go shopping by car, but as people shop more online there is scope to look at what people want to do when they go into town centres. ”

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