A masterplan for Bridgend town centre

Bridgend is a growing town. The current developments at Parc Derwen are testament to that. However because it’s slap bang in between Cardiff and Swansea, it’s often struggled to keep up. The town centre has limited retail choice, while other towns in Wales, such as Carmarthen and Wrexham have managed to attract some of the bigger high-street names and anchor stores.

If Bridgend wants to keep up, it needs to keep growing sustainably to justify some of the investment we all want to see as well as to catch up economically with it’s benchmarks. That means seriously addressing the problems in the town centre itself and continuing some of the good work that has been done to date, such as the Georgian restoration projects around Dunraven Place.

Bridgend Council and Powell Dobson Urbanists have been working since 2009 on a masterplan for Bridgend town centre, largely supplementary guidance for the Local Development Plan that is still going through the various motions. Previous reports have found that the retail profile of the town centre is out of kilter with the socio-economic profile of the population of the town. The town itself and it’s catchment area are a wealthier/more secure than the retail offer in the town centre would suggest.

This week the council cabinet will meet to discuss the masterplan, which has been released on the Bridgend council website. It’s in two parts, a technical appendix (here) and the masterplan itself (here).

I’ve only flicked through it, but there are a couple of the key points:

  • An independent/niche retail environment should be maintained, but alongside new modern units to attract new stores. A strategy should be pursued to improve the indoor market. Smaller arcades like Lees Arcade should be enhanced as they are part of the “unique character” of the town centre.
  • A Bridgend Town Centre Parking Plan is needed to help meet the requirements of visitors and significantly improve visitor experience.
  • South Wales Police are reviewing their accommodation, so the Cheapside police station site could be vacated for retail use if it become available, possibly linking in to a redeveloped Brackla Street Centre. A pedestrian link should be provided through the Brackla Street car park to Nolton Street. Most of the focus on potential new retail units appears to be in the Brackla Street/Cheapside area.
  • A mixed-use development at the Telephone Exchange, either employment or residential. This has issues due to the amount of equipment there currently and that BT have no plans to relocate.
  • The existing Rhiw Car Park should be retained and upgraded with improved links to the town centre and Rhiw Centre. The car show room should be redeveloped for retail uses.
  • The stores in the Rhiw Centre are too small to attract major retailers, but any expansion (which has been proposed in the past) may be unviable in the current economic climate.
  • Elder Yard should be the focus of a family-oriented “evening economy”. It’s currently being redeveloped along similar lines.
  • A “food quarter” facing the river and enhanced riverside public realm on the Rhiw side of the river, including extending the riverside walk towards Newbridge Fields.
  • There are no plans to redevelop the Brewery Field and it will likely be retained for sport/leisure uses as part of a wider mixed-use development, even if it became available. Also a riverside enhancement opposite Quarella Road and an improved “gateway” to the town centre from the Tesco site.
  • A “landmark” development on the Embassy Cinema site that complements the town centre, such as a hotel, office, residential or leisure. It’s currently due for demolition for a temporary surface car park until it can be redeveloped. There is, I understand, a 3-5 year time limit for it to be redeveloped properly.
  • Cheapside, Court Road, Derwen Road and Merthyr Mawr Road (to Nolton Church) will all have public realm upgrades. Nolton Street will also, but will become one-way northbound from the Cowbridge Road junction. Funding for these schemes is already in place.

All in all it isn’t a bad set of ideas, albeit some of the suggestions are a little obvious like the Embassy site. How do the council and various other parties make sure this vision can be delivered? Especially with a depressed marketplace and the unlikelihood that anyone is going to want to take big risks on retail for a while yet, especially in a town the size of Bridgend.

I’m disappointed that it looks as though the Rhiw Centre isn’t going to be expanded/redeveloped by any significant degree. There have been similar developments in Carmarthen and Wrexham as noted earlier, so it seems that Bridgend has missed the boat in that regard. It does look as though Brackla Street/Cheapside is going to be the main focus, and if properly linked to Nolton Street would effectively be a Rhiw extension by default.

If the mooted Island Farm development does eventually come about, and the Ravens and Bridgend Town relocate there, then where will that leave the Brewery Field? I don’t think the masterplan effectively answers that, but I guess we need to know something concrete about Island Farm before the council and the other relevant parties look into it in more detail.