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The demise of our town centres

Our town centres in RCT are slowly dying, with the finger of blame pointing in several directions depending upon who you are speaking to.

Pedestrianisation has come in for a great deal of criticism and been cited as one of the reasons for the demise of Tonypandy and Pontypridd. The Labour Council argue otherwise, yet their actions say differently - they recently lifted the restrictions in Pontypridd so that traffic is only limited until 3 o'clock, an hour earlier than previously. It seems they eventually realised that shops were suffering because people could not just park outside and pop in for one or two items or to pick up something too heavy to carry.

Car parking charges have been a bone of contention for a long time with RCT Welsh Lib Dems arguing against their imposition and increases. They may be low compared to Cardiff, for example, but the shopping experience there is vastly different. Last week the Council announced they were going to give a week's free car parking throughout RCT. This would encourage trade they said, which is in direct contradiction to their previous arguments that the charges were not having an adverse effect on business.

Whilst we all complain about the demise of the town centre most of us also shop at out of town centres. They are convenient, parking is free and alongside the shops and they are open longer hours.

M&S is the latest retailer to announce it is quitting Pontypridd, this on the heels of an announcement that it is to open a new branch at the out of town retail park in Merthyr. Locals are naturally upset at the loss of another big name store that has been part of the town for many years, even more so because there is no queue of people waiting to move in. The precinct site at the other end of town is an eyesore and numerous plans for redevelopment have fallen through.

It is easy to blame the Council, but how much can they do? They cannot force M&S to stay in Ponty any more than they could make the Co-op keep open their store on Tonypandy. These are business decisions made by private companies.

Yet a more innovative, forward thinking and open minded Council could make a difference.

Our high streets are not going to return to the way they were, things have moved on. However they could have a different role. We have a rich heritage that could be used to make much more of the tourism potential. Pontypridd has a beautiful park - even if the Council have taken away the ever popular paddling pool. It has the river which could have walkways along it.

Business rate reductions could be offered to encourage small businesses in. More restaurants and cafes would bring people in later in the day.

Welsh Liberal Democrat Councillor Mike Powell has long argued that the Council HQ should be located on the former precinct site in Pontypridd. It would be more accessible for residents from all parts of RCT and also bring trade to the town by locating a substantial number of employees there.

That idea of course may now be a moot point anyway if the Labour Minister for Public Services has his way and merges RCT with Bridgend and Merthyr. Our Council HQ may well be in one of those areas.