Regeneration winner sets example for raising residents' quality of life

A town centre project designed to boost investment in Merthyr Tydfil in south Wales evolved into an RTPI network award-winning venture, the council's regeneration manager Gavin Lewis tells Catherine Middleton.

The main aim of the Merthyr Tydfil town centre regeneration project is to kick-start private investment. A programme of public realm enhancements in the heart of the town is designed to ensure that it remains a regional shopping centre and can compete with the emerging out-of-town developments.

So proud of its success is Merthyr Tydfil County Borough Council physical regeneration manager Gavin Lewis that he nominated it for the RTPI Regeneration Network Award. He was rewarded when it took this year's award and was described as an "excellent project".

The award aims to acknowledge unique, innovative, informative and inspiring projects delivered by RTPI network members. A member of the network advisory group who voted for the project remarked: "The public realm improvements provide a real difference to the quality of life for residents of Merthyr Tydfil."

The regeneration scheme was funded through the EU Objective 1 programme, the Welsh Assembly Government department of enterprise and transport's Heads of the Valley programme, the council itself and the private sector.

Lewis's submission described how the approaches and gateways into the town centre were transformed with public artwork, dry stone walls, planting and lighting. A way-finding strategy was adopted with directional fingerposts, new street signage and interpretation panels, which feature a map of Merthyr Tydfil and historical information.

The project involved enhancements for two crucial streets, Lewis explains. In the High Street, granite paving was introduced along with granite benches, building-mounted street lighting, litter bins, landscaping and bollards.

In the Lower High Street, the Cafe Quarter has been partly pedestrianised with granite paving and a public square around the refurbished Lucy Thomas Fountain. It also features a bronze art band lit up in a rainbow of colours at night.

The River Taff corridor also received significant investment, with a derelict site transformed into a semi-natural park and new railings, paving, lighting, seating and a viewing platform.

Priority projects were identified in a strategic document entitled The Big Heart of Merthyr Tydfil, published by URBED in 2003. Design proposals were then consulted on to ensure that the needs of all town centre users were considered. It was imperative that communication was maintained and a website was set up to keep everyone updated. A monthly newsletter was issued during the peak of the work last year.

Fundamental to success, says Lewis, was the appointment of a town centre manager to ensure that public, business and partner organisations were involved from the start. He liaised with stakeholders about how they would be affected and took action to offset this through marketing campaigns, promotional events and halting work in the lead-up to Christmas.

This partnership working has led to the formation of consultation groups in town including the chamber of trade, which is working with the local authority on the planning and delivery of future projects.

Private sector investment was supported through a grant programme, initially backing 18 businesses. Following on from this, improvements have been made to the privately owned shopping centre, including painting, rebranding, improved signage and landscaping and further work is planned. Another outcome was the purchase of derelict historic buildings by local housing associations and developers, who aim to bring them back into community use.

This phase of physical regeneration may have been successfully completed, but Lewis's role is now to ensure that the communication and relationships that have been built are maintained as Merthyr Tydfil moves into the next phase of regeneration works.

Catherine Middleton is RTPI regeneration network manager. For more information on the regeneration scheme, please visit www.merthyr.gov.uk. The network is also holding an event in Merthyr Tydfil on 6 October to provide a chance to learn about the project from the people involved. To attend the meeting or join the network, please email regeneration@rtpi.org.uk or call 020 7515 1913.


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