PEOPLE who live and work in Bridgend have revealed the changes they would like to see to the town centre in the next decade.
Bridgend County Borough Council has outlined its ‘master plan’ to regenerate the town centre over the next 10 years. The council aims to create a new town square, relocate the police station into the town and move Bridgend College into the centre. It also wants to improve areas of open space and use derelict and empty for shops and housing.
Other changes include making new commercial and office space, a new railway station entrance, improving access to the town for vehicles, creating a cultural hub for indoor events and pedestrianisation.
The Local Democracy Service spoke to residents and people who work in the town about their thoughts on the plans.
Simone Real, who owns Clippaz barbershop on Market Street, said “most of the changes” proposed by the council “seem pretty positive”.
“I’m quite pleased with the plans, I think they are quite good. I think bringing the college in would be good for businesses and it could work out well for shops.
“Anything that can bring more people into Bridgend is going to be a positive thing. Slowly over the last 10 years, I’d say all the decent shops have gone. If they can fill the shops that are empty that would be really good.”
Miss Real, who has worked in the town centre for the last 22 years, said she would also like to see well-known brands on the high street and the cultural hub is “a really good idea”.
Local resident Linda Jenkins also said she would like to see more shops in the town centre. “The reason people shop out of town is that there’s nothing in town, it used to be that you went in nearly every shop in town.”
She said the council should “open more shops so people can come back into town and bring Bridgend back to life, instead of wasting more money on more things people don’t want, like the bridge by the council offices”.
She added that reducing business rates could make the town “ bustling like it once was”.
Kevin Williams, who has lived in Bridgend since the 1990s, said he likes the council’s proposal but many of the plans have existed in previous council plans and never come to fruition.
“Who wouldn’t like more of cafe culture and green space? It would certainly make it a bit more attractive to be there. I think the proposals are good it’s how they are going to implement them now when they have not managed to do it for all these years.”
Many residents said there are currently issues with antisocial behaviour in the town centre, which could be helped by relocating the police station. A report by council officers revealed 81% of people who responded to a survey on the proposed master plan thought the area suffered from anti-social behaviour.
Mr. Williams said having more people living in the town centre could mean “there will be more people there who care” and would report anti-social behaviour, which could help the problem. But he has concerns that more residents in town would worsen existing parking issues.
Miss Real said: “There are definitely issues that need to be addressed in the town centre with anti-social behaviour. I really don’t understand why Bridgend has gone like that.”
She said antisocial behaviour often stems from mental health and drug rehabilitation services in the town centre which would be better placed “on the outskirts” of Bridgend.
Bernard Tiltman, who lives locally, said: “Bringing some residential life into the town would restore it into a 24-hour community. In the past, the older shops, of which there are many in the town, would have had shop owners/managers living above the premises. This would help to solve some of the anti-social concerns and fears.”
He also said he supports the plan to move Bridgend College into the town centre but has doubts about whether the council will be able to deliver all of the proposed projects.
“The present police station site is underused, in very poor condition and needs to be demolished. Building the college there makes sense as it would utilise the public transport links. Unless Bridgend residents like to see their streets clogged with students’ cars, polluting the atmosphere.
“I do question some of the other suggestions and agree that some may be pie in the sky and just wheeled out every so often. The plan would require to be mostly privately funded so if the investors are not there it would never get off the ground.”
Some people said they did not agree with the council’s plan to create more residential accommodation in the town centre.
Lucianna Harrison, from Maesteg, said: “Given one of the major issues we have in Bridgend is shops closing or being left empty, meaning people have to go elsewhere for things, I fail to see how increased residential accommodation in the town centre can improve things.
“People may decide to live in the centre of town but there’ll be no draw for them to socialise or shop there when most of the shops people want are in the pines, Swansea or Cardiff.
“There needs to be a draw to increase footfall in the long term and to encourage people to spend money there, either in shops or in cafés.”
Sam Webb, who owns Blackout Barbers on Caroline Street, said: “A police station in the town is needed. It’s going to make people feel safer.” He also said there are currently “nowhere near as many shops” as there used to be and so he supports the council’s plans to turn old buildings into shops.
“Business rates are a pain. The town’s a bit dead right now but it was before the pandemic so it could do with being injected with some new life.”
A council spokesperson said:
“The last few decades have seen huge changes in retail and the ways in which people choose to shop, and this has inevitably altered how town centres are now used. We have to be realistic and accept that the days of bustling market towns where people bought fresh produce every day are no longer the norm.
“If you think of your own recent purchases, how many were bought online compared with a trip to a local shop? How many of those items could you have purchased within the town centre?
“The council has no control over business rates, and does not set rents or own any commercial premises, so we have no power to make the kind of changes that people most commonly call for.
“The only exception to this is at the Indoor Market, where we have established a new rents system along with a wide range of improvements to support traders, and at town centre car parks where we have been offering various incentives to encourage greater use.
“Instead, we seek to provide better shopping environments which support traders and encourage people to visit the town centre. The purpose of regeneration master plans is to provide us with a framework we can work within and aspire to in order to achieve this.
“This is why previous town centre developments, such as the bus station or the 242-space Rhiw multi-storey and Cwrt Yr Afon apartments, were possible. Our new plans are our most ambitious yet, and could dramatically change the face of Bridgend town centre. More visitors means more customers, so a large part of their focus is upon introducing far greater footfall than ever before.
“We want to create an all-new town square, transform derelict and empty buildings into new shops and housing to establish more people living at the heart of the town centre, and improve vehicular access.
“If we relocate the police station, we can vastly boost footfall by moving Bridgend College into the heart of the town while improving essential traffic and travel links to make it easier for people to access local shops and services.
“We want to construct an enhanced new approach to the railway station, introduce new landscaping, and develop parts of the town that have so far not been used to their full potential, such as improving links with the River Ogmore, and much, much more.
“The council has previously described the master plan as being a catalyst for future growth, and that is exactly what it is – a route map which provides the guidelines for how we can all work together to deliver improvements designed to benefit shoppers, traders, and visitors alike.”
The council’s master plan for the town centre was drawn up by BDP Consultants, Asbri Planning, Cooke and Arkwright, and Phil Jones Associates. Public consultation on the plans ended in March and it is due to be discussed by the council’s cabinet in due course.