Newport’s changing identity: The city that always seems to take one step forward and two steps back | #cybersecurity | #conferences

On a sunny morning in March 2022, a crowd gathered on Newport’s high street to watch the unveiling of the city’s historic indoor market after a multi-million pound redevelopment.

With council representatives, grinning politicians and inquisitive locals milling about underneath the Grade-II market’s gleaming facade – unmistakably fresh but still uniquely recognisable – council leader Jane Mudd championed the “amazing” redevelopment of the market after years of declining footfall and departing traders.

“This is a fantastic day for Newport,” she told onlookers, praising the “creativity” of the developers and adding: “This market is for everyone.”

Read more: The ultimate guide to Newport Market: Everything you can eat and buy as traders welcome first customers

It’s hard to argue with the music, balloons and fanfare; with more than 30 traders including some major names and plenty of old favourites, Newport Market’s offering of food, drink and shopping is genuinely transformative for the city and could attract thousands of people, helping to reverse years of declining footfall. Developers Loft Co expect an annual footfall of more than 1.5 million.

But we’ve been here before. With the opening of Friars Walk shopping centre in November 2015, we were promised a new beginning for Wales’ third city, with the state-of-the-art £100m complex heralded as a fresh start and the catalyst for a transformation that would one day see Newport rival the success of its close neighbours Cardiff and Bristol.

While some of that has materialised – there are major housing developments, office renovations and investments in education and leisure in the works – many have argued that Newport has failed to capitalise on the early promise of Friars Walk, which itself has had its issues. You can read more about that here.

Hundreds gathered to watch Newport Market reopen last month

Council leader Jane Mudd called it a “fantastic day for Newport”

There are other problems too. Many years after the steelworks which once provided thousands of well-paid jobs in Newport collapsed, parts of Bettws and Pillgwenlly remain among the most deprived in Wales and have felt the full impact of the coronavirus pandemic since March 2020. Homelessness and addiction remain rife, and poverty is high amid rocketing costs of living.

Retail’s decline has been accelerated by the onset of the pandemic, which has brought untold devastation to UK high streets, and the bustling office trade has also been hampered by the move towards hybrid working. Major players like Debenhams, Cineworld and Topshop have departed. Admiral, once the shining beacon of hope and the city’s leading employer, announced last November that it would close its Newport office for good, with all workers set to vacate the building by next year.

Nearly a decade on, Newport sits once again at the edge of a new dawn. With the new market still in its infancy, a brand new luxury hotel set to open in the coming weeks and developments continuing apace after the pandemic, it has left many wondering what will define Newport’s identity in the coming years.

Newport has seen a great deal of development in recent years

Sitting just outside the city centre, the £83 million ICC Wales convention centre opened back in September 2019 as a joint venture with the Celtic Manor. The 5,000 capacity venue held its first event that month, with 1,800 delegates attending the three-day UK Space Conference.

However, hopes that Newport’s economy would be kickstarted by major events bringing thousands to the city were dashed just a few months later. The coronavirus pandemic put a rapid stop to most activity, and now, two years later, Wales’ newest convention centre is still waiting to gather momentum.

Danielle Bounds, sales director at ICC Wales, said the timing of the pandemic was a blow for the centre.

“We had a really full calendar of events but timing was really not on our side,” she said. “The venue was closed for longer than when it was open. It’s been a real challenge because we were really gathering momentum. Having that business in the books and filling those shops and bars was what we wanted to do.”

During the pandemic the conference centre targeted the filming market, which was still permitted under Covid rules. They were forced to try and reschedule events, but Danielle admitted they lost out on business to England, where some companies opted to hold events instead as restrictions had eased before those in Wales.

“We lost some business to England which was a real disappointment for us because we just wanted to get started and have a full calendar, which we have not been able to do even though we have been open for three years,” she said, adding that they “worked hard” to save what events they could and managed to hold onto around 70% of their bookings. Some were cancelled, while others are now booked in all the way up to 2025.

While she said things had much improved this year, there remained concern about how the pandemic might impact business again. “It’s really important that we have that full calendar. From a business point of view there is uncertainty that we might go into further lockdowns.”

The ICCWales opened in 2019 but just months later the pandemic struck

She said the need for a major conference centre in south Wales remained, even after the devastation of the pandemic.

“Business events are worth £31 billion to the UK economy but, prior to building the new convention centre, Wales benefited from only a 1.6% share of the market. Recent events had outgrown the Celtic Manor and there were conferences that could not come to Wales because places didn’t have the capacity.”

Danielle said the potential benefits to Newport extended far beyond the events themselves.

“Most of the visitor spend comes not to the venue itself but to the surrounding area as large events for up to 5,000 delegates fill hotels and delegates make use of bars and restaurants, shops and visitor attractions, travel companies and taxi drivers,” she said, adding that business visitors typically spend three times more than leisure tourists.

“If you look at the city, for example, 5,000 delegates once or twice a week, they need that infrastructure – hotels, restaurants, and they will spend in shops.”

Despite the huge potential of the ICC Wales, Danielle said Newport would only see the benefits if its stock of bed space improved, something which will be helped by the 130-bed, 15-storey Mercure Hotel, which is set to open in the coming weeks after itself being severely delayed by the pandemic.

“The bed stock in Newport is not great but we’re working very hard with what we have. The new hotel is critical for us – we need more beds in the city. People who come will want to come out in the evenings, the market is very modern and quirky, but also traditional which the delegates want. We have had events that have taken seven or eight hundred beds in Cardiff or Bristol which from an environmental perspective – we would like those beds to be nearer Newport.”

On the doorstep of the convention centre is the Celtic Manor Resort, a mainstay in Newport which has hosted the 2010 Ryder Cup and the 2014 NATO summit. The Celtic Collection, which operates the resort, spoke last year about the “devastating impact” the pandemic had on the business, with events cancelled and hotels forced to reduce their capacities greatly.

Ian Edwards, Chief Executive at the Celtic Manor, said Newport was “hugely important” to the business and that attracting major events to the ICC Wales in the coming years would be key to the city’s success.

“We are aware that retail is not what it was but the good thing is the new market has opened, which helps,” he said. “We could not have had the Ryder Cup or NATO, which helped put Newport on the map, without the support of Newport.”

Ian said such events were a “catalyst” for the decision to build the ICC Wales. “We would not have done that lightly – £100 million pounds is a lot of money.” He said business across Newport “really suffered” during the lockdown but that ICC Wales was “working hard” to bring people in.

“It’s about how we can pass on our success to the local community – it’s not just about the Celtic Manor. Going into 2023, 2024 and 2025 we will see business coming back. What generally happens when a convention centre takes off is businesses grow around it – new businesses move into the area.

“When people attend conferences, it’s not just meeting and having a good time. Deals are done and bringing these to our city has an enormous impact to drive expertise and inward investment. We are a big part of Newport and Newport is a big part of us.”

Ian Edwards, chief executive at Celtic Manor

The importance of the Western Gateway partnership – the cross-border initiative aimed at promoting and maximising economic growth from Bristol to Swansea, which received an £800,000 cash injection last year – is something Ian said could also benefit Newport, pointing to the growth of major cities like Liverpool.

“Newport sits right in the middle of that and it can only benefit from it. The future is looking good but we have got lots of work to do,” he said. “As business leaders, we need to be big, bold and brave with our ambitions. Areas like Liverpool and Manchester have been where we are, and have transformed how their cities are viewed from the outside. People now want to go there and they are destinations. We have to make it easy for people to come – we need to make sure that the infrastructure supports that.”

Ceri Trela, General Manager at Mercure Newport, said the city previously had no four-star hotels which it felt left a gap in the market.

“We found that the south Wales market has a distinct lack of bedrooms available to support the region looking to attract large business bookings,” he said. “This is also true across the leisure and sporting sector. So by adding to the already established hotel offerings we strengthen the region as a destination and booking choice for the future.

“We believe that our development will have a huge beneficial impact on the local economy. We will be attracting new business plus new and increased footfall into the city centre, which will in turn benefit retail and other leisure businesses.

“City centres across the country have been affected by recent shopper behaviour and Newport is no different. Our investment in the city centre is geared to make it more attractive to people now based out of town and encourage them to move back in. Previously this hasn’t been possible due to the lack of quality office facilities.

“The hotel will have an incredible offering for businesses wanting high end and technical conference and meeting spaces, which again is something that has been lacking in recent years.”

Chartist Tower’s new Mercure Hotel, which will open in a few weeks

Ceri added that the hotel also aimed to support the night-time economy through its roof-top terrace, bar and restaurant. He said the ICC and other leisure and sporting events “will be key to the hotel” in the coming years, while it also hoped Newport would benefit from the recent popularity of staycations in the UK, with rising costs of living prompting people to holiday locally.

“We are already seeing bookings for guests attending fixtures at Rodney Parade, the International Velodrome and Riverfront Theatre. It is our plan to help put Newport back on the map as a destination.

“Many guests will also plan a visit to nearby cities like Cardiff and Bristol and we will help them plan those excursions and experiences as part of our service. With the rise and popularity of the staycation in the UK there is a real hunger to explore new sights and cities which will attract more visitors to our area.”

The unprecedented rise in house prices has been felt across Wales, and Newport has been no different. According to the Wales House Price Index, Newport has seen an average rise of 9.9% year-on-year with the average house price now £246,792 – above the Wales average of around £233,000. Earlier this year we spoke to people who were struggling to buy a house in Newport, which you can read more on here.

Despite expectations that the market might return to normality after the pandemic, James Crook of Crook and Blight estate agents said prices were “still going up.”

“Demand has remained relatively high,” he said. “I think supply is quite low at the moment and that may be a reason. A lot of properties are going for above asking price. Even if people have the money they are losing out.

“It turns into a vicious cycle where people don’t see stuff that interests them going to the market so they don’t put theirs on the market either.”

James said Newport was “quite a good option” for people who are prepared to travel a little further for work.

“I think Newport has always been quite a commuter location for people from Cardiff, for as long as I remember. The tolls on the bridge [being scrapped] completely opened it up too.

“You might have 15 people through the door and three or four offers, and often it bids over. Before Covid, one per cent of the time we got over the asking price. Now it’s probably more than half. It’s gone from a complete rarity to very common.

“You probably do get first-time buyers coming over who can’t find any in Bristol. One thing we are seeing is a lot of young families coming over from Bristol. That’s probably the most we are seeing. We have noticed first time buyers having difficulty.

“In the past, first-time buyers could ring up and be on the ball, offer and get it. Now they phone up and are told to come next week with 15 other people. If you are not quick… there’s really no way of avoiding that scramble.”

The attractiveness of Newport has clearly been spotted by developers, with St Modwen continuing work on its massive Glan Llyn housing estate and community on the site of the old Llanwern steelworks, a £1bn project which will take around 20 years to complete.

The likes of Griffin Island, Albany Chambers, Olympia House and Charles Street Adult Education Centre have all been converted to housing right in the city centre, as well as Central View, the apartment complex which replaced the former Hornblower Pub on Commercial Road.

Speaking to WalesOnline, St Modwen’s regional managing director Jeremy Attwater and head of sales Karon O’Callaghan said Glan Llyn was seeing strong interest from first-time buyers, professionals and families looking for close links to the Welsh capital.

“Many homebuyers have opted to move to or stay in Newport as it offers a ‘best of both worlds’ living style. Our residents are able to enjoy the beautiful countryside and scenery within and around our development, whilst being able to head to Cardiff city centre in just 15 minutes by train, for a faster pace of life,” they said.

The Glan Llyn housing estate in Newport

In November last year insurance firm Admiral dealt a blow to Newport by announcing it would be leaving the city permanently. Saying this was based on a move towards “hybrid” home working after the pandemic, the company – which started in Newport and had been based at Admiral House since 2014 – will move all of its 900 staff out of the city by next year.

With such a major employer leaving, questions remain about how major office spaces like that of Admiral will be filled. Newport Council has said there is a “high level of interest” in the building, but it is unclear whether wider plans for a Station Quarter next door will ever be built. With home-working and flexibility now likely to be a permanent feature in business, it remains to be seen how attractive leasing huge spaces will be in the coming years.

Plans to redevelop the former Royal Mail sorting office on Mill Street into an office space called The Hub are ongoing, but it’s not clear how many of the units have been filled. We asked developers Garrison Barclay how many units had been taken, but they had not responded at time of publication. A number of office space listings for the building are currently being advertised on property sites.

The future of Admiral House in Newport is unclear after the company pulled out last year

The move towards flexibility has been picked up elsewhere in the city; the former Queen’s Hotel Wetherspoons pub on Bridge Street reopened last year as Q Newport, featuring co-working spaces, offices, a bar and hotel accommodation. Cardiff-based collaborative community business Tramshed Tech have announced they will be taking up 37 offices, a co-working space, six bookable meeting rooms and a bookable event space at the redeveloped market, signalling the rising call for on-demand work spaces.

Lucy Olivia Hopkins, communications manager at Tramshed Tech, said that although the shift towards flexible working was here to stay, fixed office space remained popular among businesses.

“We have seen a desire for flexible working throughout our community for a long time,” she said. “Flexibility has been built into our business model since opening in Grangetown in Cardiff in 2016, because we understand that business owners spin many plates and flexibility and agility are key elements to success. In recent years, Covid-19 has accelerated the shift towards remote and flexible working, and we don’t foresee that reversing.

“As well as flexible workspaces though, fixed office space is still in high demand for us. Originally occupying 10,000 sq ft, we now run over 30,000 sq ft across Cardiff and our Grangetown location has had a waiting list for office space for over three years. We provide a range of options, whether you are looking for a one-off day pass, part-time or full-time coworking memberships, or a flexi or fixed office space. Once Tramshed Tech Newport is official open, we will launch our ‘Roaming Membership’ which will mean that members can roam between locations for ultimate convenience and flexibility.”

Newport market will soon be home to Tramshed Tech

Labour MS for Newport East John Griffiths said the post-Covid return to offices meant sites like the Royal Mail office and Admiral would be a part of Newport’s future alongside more flexible work spaces.

“The city’s economy is diversifying with strong growth in new high quality sectors such as cyber security, semi conductors and information technology. The city centre is reinventing itself with housing, leisure and services replacing surplus retail. The recently reopened market shows quality mixed use space, including offices, will generate high demand.

“More conventional office accommodation such as the old Royal Mail site and Admiral building are in prime city centre locations near the train station. As there is a progressive post-Covid return to the office, they will be highly attractive and marketable. But there will also be opportunities to establish hubs on the periphery of Newport where space is available to numerous organisations and individuals not now wanting their own permanent base.”

In the city centre, fresh in the minds of many is the controversial merger of the University of Glamorgan and the University of Wales in 2013, which saw the closure of Newport’s Caerleon campus three years later. The move saw many of the city’s celebrated arts and media courses moved to the Cardiff Atrium campus, and more than 200 homes are currently being developed on the old Caerleon campus.

At the time, bars and restaurants reported dwindling numbers, particularly during the week nights. On this front, there are plans for a new Coleg Gwent campus in the soon-to-be vacated Newport Centre, part of a £90m further education Newport Knowledge Quarter which the college says will bring more than 2,000 staff and students into the city.

Sam Dabb runs bar and music venue Le Pub, which has been a mainstay in the city for 30 years since opening back in 1992. Originally based on Caxton Place, she relocated to High Street in July 2017, where the venue has widened its audience and become a night-time staple for many in Newport.

“The city didn’t cope with losing its students – it absolutely destroyed every aspect of the city,” she said. “The income the generated wasn’t even the main loss. The thing we missed the most was the creativity and vibrancy.”

Sam Dabb from Le Pub

She said changing tastes in recent years meant that the venues which are still open have had to adapt.

“In the last ten years more people are expecting decent products in Newport – they don’t want a McDonalds and a pint of Carling anymore. Our range of premium spirits and ales now sees as many sales as the doubles bar and the cheap cans.”

Local artist and performer Pete Morgan, aka Bongo Peet, agreed Newport was still suffering without its student population. “We lost part of our identity and University of South Wales gained a brand new cohort of students to channel yet more money into Cardiff,” he said.

“Newport has the Celtic Manor Resort and ICC Wales – which are amazing assets for our city – but how long before Cardiff builds a bigger convention centre? I don’t think Newport has recovered yet.”

Like many cities, Newport has suffered with homelessness, addiction and poverty issues. Parts of Bettws and Pillgwenlly remain among the most deprived in Wales and have felt the full impact of the pandemic. In March 2021, 346 homeless households in Newport were in temporary accommodation, a rate of 52 per 10,000 households – the second highest in Wales after Cardiff and significantly higher than the Wales average (27.1 per 10,000).

However, there are some encouraging signs. Newport City Homes began a £10 million regeneration of the Pillgwenlly area five years ago, plans which include building 11 new homes, adapting existing buildings, improving properties through insulation and repairs and demolishing old underpasses which attract anti-social behaviour. In Ringland, demolition work has begun on a £24 million regeneration which includes proposals to build 170 homes and a new shopping centre to replace the old Ringland Circle. You can see what those plans look like here.

Old and new: The new Cot Farm estate in Ringland behind the derelict shopping centre and flat which are set to be demolished

There are other signs of life too. The market regeneration has injected new life into High Street, with traders and locals praising the investment in the street in recent years, which also includes a recently refurbished Market Arcade. You can read more about High Street’s changing fortunes here.

Even recently there have been new faces on Commercial Street, so often maligned as nothing but a long string of empty shops. The Alexandra pub opened in October last year courtesy of Rhymney Brewery, while last month games shop and community space Geek Retreat opened nearby.

The new Alexandra pub on Commercial Street

Liam Powell, who runs Geek Retreat Newport, had not long opened up for the day when we spoke to him about becoming the latest addition to the games scene which includes Newport Gaming Company and Sin City.

“Things have been really good. Our evening events already have quite a big community [following]. The mornings and daytimes are more social and community-based and are still getting off the ground. We’ve got an over-60s club, arts and crafts club, a parent/guardian and toddler group, a chess club and home schooling group,” he said.

“We’ve got after-school events and have reached out to local schools, and have had really good feedback from them. We’re really keen to get the children into places like this.

“Each of us have a different audience and feel to the stores. We’re very community-based, we’ve kept our after-school clubs free. We’re catering to everyone, but can accommodate a lot younger players.”

Liam Powell of Geek Retreat Newport

Liam, from Aberbargoed, said Newport had potential it wasn’t reaching yet. “It’s sad to see quite a lot of poverty in the area. It’s undeniable, you can see it every day. That’s something we’re looking to help address – we have a charity event to raise money for Eden Gate [homeless service].

“It’s a shame to see things like the paving being replaced by tarmac, and the finer details being overlooked a little. But it’s a lot better – since the market’s opened, the difference especially in weekend footfall is huge.”

Liam said it was positive to see more independent shops opening and that he felt this would be “key” for the city.

“The high street needs to move away from retail and be somewhere you go for a day out. Things like the mini golf in Cardiff, escape rooms – Newport needs to give people a reason to come. You can’t get social interaction online.

“We recently had people come to our Dungeons & Dragons night on their own, never played before, sat down, and they left with three or four friends they didn’t have before and are coming back next week. That’s something you just can’t put a value on, especially after the pandemic and the total isolation people went through.

“Comments have been made about the market being a flash in the pan, going to be a high for three to six months and then fall off again. Hopefully that’s not the case, and they find a way of keeping it fresh. It’s just a matter of time and figuring it out.”

Liam added that Geek Retreat saw all generations come through the doors on any given day.

Geek Retreat Newport opened up a month ago

“We have the older generation coming in for a cup of tea, who have lived here all their lives. But we also get people coming in who do work in Bristol and are living in Newport because of the house prices. The police patrolling are are really making it a safe space for people, which is really important for Newport.

“I think they need to encourage more small businesses to come. We had a problem with listed building consent – it took us eight to ten weeks to get approval to put a sign on the front. It’s a shop, it needs a sign. There seems a lot of red tape for businesses coming into Newport.

“It’s frustrating to look across the road and see this massive SportsDirect sign. We’ve had an issue with the colour on the front, we have to reapply for planning because there’s concerns it detracts from the conservation area. I get it, but I think there needs to be some relaxation on those things. It will allow more businesses to open with less problems.

“Being completely honest, if it was solely retail I was doing, I’d have gone to a retail park.”

Sitting down on a quick break from work, Megan Tilley runs Snack Shack which opened earlier this week in the Westgate buildings on Commercial Street.

“Our shop in Cardiff is doing really well, people love our cakes. When we saw this was available to have a sit-down space, we couldn’t miss the opportunity. With the market being there, there’s going to be a bit more passing trade. We’re hoping that the town centre will become a lot busier in the next three years.”

Megan said she feels those using the city centre will be a mix of people coming in for the day and regular office workers.

“There are offices around here, all the lawyers and estate agents, as well as the shoppers. With Friars Walk, it didn’t go as amazing as planned, but I really hope they find something to replace Debenhams. It used to be so busy.

“I went into the market for the first time last week, and it’s very much for the younger generation. I think people try and make things more Instagrammable now.”

While she welcomed the market, Megan said she wondered if poverty in the city was the reason behind so many retail closures.

“I’ve questioned whether people have the money to spend, and that’s maybe why all the shops have gone. With the rise in living costs, people don’t have that disposable income to spend anymore.

“I’ve seen some new independent shops pop up, which they’re really trying to push. I think we need more things like that to pull people back in. Newport needs to have a big variety of new things happening.”

Megan Tilley runs Snack Shack which opened earlier this week on Commercial Street

Across the bridge on Clytha Park Road, a diverse range of quirky businesses offers further positive signs. There’s long-time favourites like the Rogue Fox Coffee House and toastie shop Holy Cheesus, the latter of which recently re-located to a bigger shop. In between there is independent micro pub The Cellar Door, while across the way is dedicated plant shop Nettle & Bark.

Will Green co-runs the Rogue Fox Coffee House and said the street had forged its own identity in recent years, with a loyal cache of returning customers and decent footfall from nearby housing estates and offices.

“It’s definitely a bit of a safe haven,” he said. “Most of the commuter trade funnels through here because of the bridge. You have the civic centre as well, there are lots of law firms, offices and surgeries. I think there are about 300 people in the workforce coming back to the civic centre after the pandemic. You have a residential base too with the housing estates nearby.”

Will said he felt the area had benefitted from a diverse range of businesses within metres of each other. “If we were a standalone business, I don’t think we would do as well. There’s more of a reason to come to Clytha Park Road – it’s easier to park than in the city centre, and people can walk there.

Will Green from Rogue Fox Coffee House

“It’s definitely changed. Commuter trade is great, but we have always tried to improve, by partnering with local suppliers and companies, and it’s beautiful to see new businesses like Bakehouse Cakes popping up nearby. There’s such a variety.”

Will also said the business had adapted to changes by responding to customers in the wake of Admiral’s departure.

“We are always looking to develop our menu and understand what people want. If they want breakfast on the weekends, or alcohol in the evenings, we can now offer that. I think that’s really important for a business to survive – to move with the times.”

The area around Clytha Park Road has become increasingly popular in recent years

Amongst shoppers and locals in town, there also seems to be a feeling of cautious optimism. Thomas Christian Dawes, 30, said he felt criticism of Newport was unwarranted.

Thomas Christian Dawes

“I think it’s still good,” he said. “I live in Duffryn and come in here at least once a month to pay my bills but I also come in to meet a friend. We go for coffee, go to the shops and things like that.

“People say there are no improvements but you don’t see those until they are happening. A few years ago before they built Friars Walk it was bad, but then they built it all back up again. I still think it’s good. I don’t think it’s dying.

“I haven’t even been to the new market yet, but there’s a lot here – shops, fruit and veg, a lot of things to do. We recently got Taco Bell – it would be nice to maybe have some more American shops like that.

“I do miss the leisure centre, that was the heart of Newport. I used to go there as a kid and it’s sad to see that go.”

Alisa Kearney, 17, works in the city centre and said she feels it has a lot to offer.

“I live about 30 minutes away. It’s a bit gross – I would like to see them clean it a bit more. It was great when Friars Walk opened but then they shut a lot of the shops down and it went back to how it was before a bit.

“But I do think Newport is alright. People say it’s bad but I don’t think so. Obviously it’s not like Cardiff but that’s a lot bigger. I use the city centre to go out with friends, go for a coffee and stuff and there is quite a lot there.”

Alisa Kearney works in the city centre and often goes in with friends

Others are less impressed with the direction the city has taken in recent years. Ron Jones, 82, is paying his first visit to town in months when we speak to him.

“It’s a council rubbish tip. The social clubs are all closed, and there used to be loads. The whole community has been killed. If you go to Cwmbran, it’s all undercover, and you can do your shop. I spoke to someone who went to the market and said it was very expensive. I don’t blame them for putting prices up but I won’t go in myself. You used to be able to get fish and chips and a gin and tonic for 6, 7 pound. Now it’s a tenner.

“I have to go to the bank but I’ve not been in since before Christmas. You used to be able to come into town, do whatever you want. You could leave your door open no problem. If you did anything wrong or caused trouble police would give you a clip around the ear. Then when you got home your parents would give you another clip around the ear. There’s no discipline.”

Like many cities, transport and congestion remain an issue. Several months ago issues were raised over bus services, with reports of a lack of timetables, infrequent services and drivers with little information. Many routes don’t offer services after 7pm, though the recent expansion of the timetable is a welcome improvement which sees more routes, notably on Sundays.

After plans for an M4 relief road to ease congestion around the Brynglas Tunnels were scrapped in 2019, around £4 million has been pledged to transform Newport’s public transport network, with the Burns Commission recommending six new train stations, better ticket systems and cycle and bus corridors in its 2020 report.

“Newport Transport does need an overhaul or for another operator to come into the city,” Sam Dabb said. “There aren’t enough evening buses and Sunday buses. I’m not sure of the reasoning behind this but it needs addressing. The city centre is dead on Sundays and cooperation between traders and Newport Transport could change that. Some 10% off deals and the ability to get to town to enjoy it, maybe something like that.”

High Street has seen a new lease of life since the market and Market Arcade were redeveloped

Liam Powell from Geek Retreat said: “I think if there were more things in town to do in the evenings, other than pubs, then the buses would naturally become more financially viable. More people would be staying after work, or going home later in the evenings.”

Speaking to locals, traders and those at the helm of major projects, it’s clear that Newport faces a number of unknowns in its recovery from high street woes and the pandemic. Hopes are being pinned on increasing footfall through events and conferences, with the hope that this will translate into support for the growing number of independent businesses and create more positivity around the city.

Much depends on the success of the redeveloped market, and improved connectivity between out-of-town areas and the city centre would ensure the sort of footfall that it needs to survive. With the pandemic over, both the ICC and the market will now have a chance to thrive uninterrupted, but only time will tell whether or not they bring the desired outcome.

Similarly, the need to replace Admiral and bring major employers into the city in a post-pandemic world where flexibility is more desired than ever will also partly determine Newport’s fate over the next few years.

“I don’t know that I’ve seen any kind of identifiable shift in the people coming into the city, but I know lots of people who grew up in Newport are leaving the city and moving to Caerphilly, Risca, Cwmbran, Newbridge and Cwmcarn,” Pete Morgan said. “I know that young professionals and graduates who are looking to move to new cities in search of jobs don’t consider Newport a viable option because all the exciting opportunities and attractive salaries are in Cardiff and Bristol. It’s not as if you can’t find work in Newport but the options are undeniably limited. Jobs in retail, service and hospitality don’t tend to pay very well.”

An impression of what the new leisure centre could look like

Newport Now BID manager Kevin Ward said the issues on the high street were “no different to any other city or town” but that the market, Mercure Hotel, new leisure centre and Coleg Gwent campus would all improve the city. He said more people were now living in the city centre, which would demand improvements to infrastructure and healthcare services in the years to come.

“Coleg Gwent will bring thousands of people in and that will bring a different kind of spending power. Clearly we’ve got issues with things like Debenhams and we have got to find solutions to that, and that might not be retail.

“Newport needs to be a ‘destination experience’ with a variety of things to do. There are more shows on at the Riverfront, new businesses have opened during the pandemic. It’s not a place people are turning away from.

“We have to start moving from the type of negativity of social media, which is only a small fraction of people in Newport. We have got a very bright future provided we start shouting about our city and stop comparing ourselves to Cardiff or Bristol – we will never be them, and why should we be?

“Admiral was a disappointing decision, but their lease doesn’t run out for another few years so there is no incentive to leave it empty. I think we will see something happening there in the coming months.”


“I think Newport’s future identity is the same as any other small city or large town – unknown,” Sam Dabb said. “We need to be able to move fast to meet changing needs. The market is fantastic and I think the fact the food traders in Friars Walk mostly survived shows that people really like eating it and it’s what they do want to spend their money on.

“There will always be people that care and want to see things grow because of their love for the city and the projects they work on. There has to be support from the council for those projects though or those people will move to places they are supported.”

Newport Labour leader Jane Mudd said the night-time economy in Newport was “recovering well” after the pandemic, with recent events like The Big Sesh and Record Store Day. “We understand that the past two years have not been easy for businesses, particularly the hospitality sector, and have worked hard across the council and in partnership with Newport Now (BID) to provide support,” she said. “The Labour led council has supported over 3,233 businesses during the pandemic, distributed over £7 million of funding and administered more than £66.5 million in business rates relief.

“Recovery from this economic shock will be challenging and that’s why we’ve increased funding for our City of Newport Business Support grant scheme. We’re supporting this with a unique Newport City Centre Local Rate Relief Scheme, complementary to the Welsh Government relief scheme, and in most cases, city centre, leisure, hospitality and retail businesses will only have 25% of the rates to pay in 2022-23.”

She added that the market had been “been revitalised by Loft-Co” and praised the city’s “unique history” and “resilient and strong people.”

“Our advantage is that we are able to adapt to the challenges of the future. We are well located and offer great opportunities for individuals, families and businesses. We’re already starting to see the benefits of this now and for future generations.”

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