Whither Porthcawl?

Just before the local elections a few weeks ago, I mentioned that one area Bridgend Council have seriously underperformed is the regeneration of the seaside town of Porthcawl. I thought the topic was significant enough to look at in some more detail.

Background

Porthcawl is the third largest town in the county of Bridgend, with a population of around 16,000. It was once a coal-exporting port for the Bridgend Valleys, but is perhaps most famous for its seaside resort status – with Trecco Bay being a popular getaway for miner’s families, and most people in the local area will have visited the Coney Beach fun fair at some point in their youth.

In what will be a familiar story in seaside towns across Wales and the UK, over many years the “Costa del Orite Butt” had become fairly run down, unloved, and in dire need of a turnaround in fortunes to avoid becoming – to be frank – a South Walian Rhyl. Porthcawl does seem to have avoided this fate, thanks in part to an excellent local comprehensive school (one of the better ones in the county) and being able to attract wealthy retirees. However, that doesn’t make for a successful economy.

Porthcawl lost its rail link in the Beeching cuts – and is probably now competing with the likes of Mold, Caernarfon, Abertillery, Blackwood and Tredegar for the title of “largest town in Wales without a railway station“. The port was downgraded into a harbour/marina, and the town has had to compete with cheap foreign holidays for tourists. Porthcawl was also the only one of the “big three” settlements in the county (Bridgend, Maesteg, Porthcawl) to not have some sort of focused regneration initiative.

That changed back in 2007, when Bridgend Council launched a consultation on regeneration plans for the Porthcawl area. Dubbed the “Seven Bays Project“. It earmarked a significant chunk of Porthcawl’s seafront for a massive regeneration project, which is hoped will open up land for residential and leisure development, improve flood defences and give the economy of the town a much-needed boost by improving retail choice.

What’s planned?

The planning guidance was published in November 2007. This has been supplemented by the current Local Development Plan (which includes the regeneration sites). The regeneration areas are split into three areas.

1.The Western Development Area: This is the current Salt Lake car park, Porthcawl Harbour and the Dock Street car park. I’ve found this outline plan, but the final scheme could be a lot different.

Developments in this area include:

  • A new 32,000sqft (Tesco) supermarket
  • A new surface car park
  • An 80,000sqft expansion of Porthcawl’s retail core, with new public spaces
  • A possible cinema and budget hotel
  • A landmark “leisure box” building and refurbishment of the Jennings Building
  • 650 residential units, including a possible care home.
  • An upgrade to Porthcawl Harbour itself, including committed funding towards development of water sports facilities

2.The Central Development Area: This includes the Coney Beach funfair, Griffin Park and the Sandy Bay promenade.
Developments here include:

  • An upgrade to Sandy Bay promenade, with a new“gateway”
  • Taller buildings, presumably apartments with retail space below, along the promenade
  • An expansion of Griffin Park eastwards
  • Improved flood defences

3. The Eastern Development Area: This is basically the former Sandy Bay caravan park, a brownfield site that stretches from the Parkdean Trecco Bay caravan park to Porthcawl town itself.
The main focus in this area is residential, with an unspecified number of new homes, a new “foreshore park” at the eastern end of the Sandy Bay promenade and lifeguard station. It would be linked to the Portway by a new link road and redirected bus routes, but the new link road wouldn’t provide a through route to Newton or Trecco Bay, instead there’ll be a “bus gate“.

What’s gone wrong?

Well, it’s five years on, and not a lot has happened in that time, while other regeneration projects in the county have moved at a much quicker pace (I’m thinking of the current works in Bridgend town centre in particular).

I think it’s unfair to put all of the blame on this on the council, though. Residential development seems to be a key enabler for part of the regeneration, and market conditions haven’t been great for that.

These things do take some time, but if you look at comparable large-scale regeneration schemes – Bargoed’s “Big Idea” for example -they’ve been delivered quickly and rather efficiently, while having to counter the same economic problems – sometimes more pronounced – than Porthcawl.

Some people of Porthcawl have lost faith in the whole process.

The “Porthcawl First” group was formed in 2011. They believe that many of the regeneration proposals have been “imposed” on the town, with a lack of transparency. They also make a strong case for more local control, support for improved and higher quality tourist facilities and improved leisure facilities in the town.This could stem from the claim that around 30%, or more, of Bridgend’s Council Tax revenues comes from the Porthcawl area. Due to house prices in the area, this is perfectly believable, but I’m not sure if it’s ever been officially substantiated.

There have been consistent campaigns for a swimming pool in the town over several years, with no forthcoming results. The closest one is in Pyle – about 5 miles north of Porthcawl – with another one – aimed mainly at tourists – on the Trecco Bay camp. This “backlash”, which has been dubbed the “Porthcawl Spring”  could’ve played a part in Alana Davies – a prominent member of Bridgend’s cabinet -losing her seat to an Independent in May’s local elections, though Alana has subsequently become Porthcawl’s mayor.

The Outlook

Tesco are imminently” due to put in a full planning application for the Salt Lake car park site, as reported in the Glamorgan Gazettein the last few weeks.

However, I’m sure many people in the town are going to be worried that the other leisure and retail developments won’t happen for a long time. If it’s taken this long to get a major supermarket chain to commit, how long will it take to get the mooted (but not confirmed) cinema, or the “leisure box”built? It could result in the only deliverable project being a supermarket with a housing estate around it. That would be a huge let down.

Maybe Bridgend Council could do what Newport Council did. When the very ambitious Friar’s Walk development fell through, they waited until a slimmed-down, but equally ambitious, proposal came along – when they could’ve accepted any old development.

My concern is that, with mounting criticism, Bridgend Council, or their regeneration partners, might want to cut their losses and open the land up to anything – just to get something built, or to stall for time. Porthcawl deserves better than that.

Owen

  • I've visited Porthcawl twice fairly recently, both times were to take my kids to the theatre. The first time we walked up and down the main street looking for somewhere nice to eat and ended up going to the subway because that was the best option (of a bad bunch).

    The second time we made sure we ate before we went and went elsewhere for food.

    As with most small towns I can see the Tesco sucking the life out of the town. The next town over from me had two shops with lottery licenses. One is a family run shop that's been there for years. Lotto took their lottery license off them to give to Tesco. The already struggling main street is becoming a ghost town.

    Is Tesco really the answer? Maybe an indoor market would be a better solution.

  • Good point, WNB.

    Sadly though, people “vote” with their wallets. Supermarkets like Tesco are seen as more convenient and accessible than having several shops spread out over a street. At least in this example, the supermarket will be right next door to the town centre proper, instead of stuck on the outskirts like most are. There's already a small supermarket in Porthcawl.

    It should help to keep trade, and money, in the town itself, when otherwise they might have had to travel to Bridgend, Pyle or Port Talbot. But as you suggest, most of it could be hoovered up by Tesco.

    Porthcawl does/did host Bridgend's Farmers Market IIRC.

  • Instead of getting bread at the bakers, flowers at the florist, papers at the newsagents, shoes at the shoeshop, clothes in the clothes shop, fags, booze and lottery in the offie, bacon butties in the cafe, keys cut at the cobblers, foreign money in the travel agent, TVs in the elctrical shop etc

    Just get 'em all in Tesco.

    It'd be interesting to make a note of all the shops on the main street and then compare in a few years. See how many have been replaced with charity shops and pound shops.

  • Anonymous

    The problem lies in the leases held by several prominent families in the town, a “supermarket” and its money is needed to buy out those leases. Regeneration has been promised many times over the past 50 years, maybe the old urban district council should of been a bit more prudent with its holding before being absorbed into Mid Glamorgan CC

  • Anonymous

    Any tourism department that believes building a supermarket on prime seaside development land alongside an established shopping centre will attract tourists is delusional. This reinforces my belief that Bridgend County Borough Council does not have a clue what to do with Porthcawl, apart from milk its residents dry to fund communities in the Labour-voting areas to the north of the M4. Porthcawl will never get a fair deal under BCBC and must look elsewhere for a local authority that can help it achieve its huge potential.

  • Lew

    Alana Davies lost her borough seat for basically being pretty hopeless as a councillor & had there been more independent candidates available at election time then the probability is that she wouldn't now be a town councillor. “Anonymous” is right in that relatively nothing will happen in regard to regeneration in Porthcawl whilst it is tied to the money grubbing coat tails of BCBC.

  • Thanks for all the extra comments.

    Anon 21:20 – That's pretty interesting. It's a prime site, so you would've thought all those sorts of issues would've been sorted out before proceding with any regen. scheme.

    Anon 09:42 – Barry Island is building/planning some sort if “indoor” tourist attraction. I would've expected something similar in Porthcawl. Maybe that's what the so-called “Leisure Box” is, I don't know. Oakwood aside, Wales lacks a theme park on the scale of Blackpool's Pleasure Beach or Alton Towers. Coney Beach has had its day, but I'm surprised there doesn't seem to be any ambition to replace it in the long-term with something bolder in Porthcawl – if not on the seafront then somewhere else.

    Lew – I don't know the exact ins and outs of why Alana lost – probably the only big shock in the local elections considering her position – I assumed that the regeneration issue was just one reason.

    As it's an issue both you and Anon 09:42 raise, where could Porthcawl go?

    The town could become an exclave of the Vale of Glamorgan, and be run from Barry, or the more logical alternative would be to join up with Neath Port Talbot – where they have Council Tax rates at least as high as Bridgend with Porthcawl becoming a distant third or forth fiddle to Port Talbot, Neath and probably Pontardawe too. A separate Porthcawl authority is a non-starter as the trend is increasingly towards amalgamation and collaboration. I'd be surprised if BCBC is here (as it is) in the next 10-20 years, and will probably become a part of a Swansea Bay “city region” in the medium to long term.

  • Anonymous

    I agree with comments made by a previous posts that Porthcawl has lots of key land tied up with leases by a few families from Porthcawl. It's these families that have let down Porhcawl over the years by preventing re-generation or allowing new facilities or franchise food outlets for their own greed. One cannot blame BCBC for all the problems Porthcawl is having it is the families who have drained everyones pockets and given nothing back to the town in return. And as for a massive supermarket it is not the answer!!! I enjoy visiting seaside resorts in both Wales and England, where do I have to go to find a supermarket when i am staying in 99 percent of these, at least 6 miles away from the town. Seaside towns are about individual traders and a different shopping experience than what your used to, if people from Porthcawl want to go to a supermarket they trave about 6-9 miles to shop at any of the big 4. Holiday makers dont want to come on holiday to shop at tesco's……..Big mistake.

  • Anonymous

    Porthcawl should look to Hythe Village Marina for inspiration for what to do with the Salt Lake and harbour areas before they create another spectacular cock up like the 'Esplanade Bottle Bank'

    http://www.mdlmarinas.co.uk/

  • Thanks for the comment, Anon.

    I'm surprised the marina at Porthcawl hadn't been expanded sooner, perhaps many years ago, as it's a major asset. I think they did take “inspiration” from other similar developments for the design brief, but the plan I did find (posted above) is quite different from that.

    Why not replicate something much closer? I think Swansea marina (“skyscraper” aside) is a pretty decent development. Combine it with a decent civic centre (perhaps including indoor leisure facilities, for residents and tourists alike), a smaller supermarket and some landscaped areas and it might work.

    It should be up to the people of Porthcawl what they want, of course.

  • Thing is, supermarkets killed Porthcawl a LONG time ago. We used to have a Bakery on New Road which lost a lot of trade firstly when the big tesco opened in Bridgend, then when they put the humps on the road, and finally when Sandy Bay shut. John St. has long been filled with charity shops.

    I went home for a few days last week and saw cranes at the harbour that looked bigger than the ones for pulling out boats.

    I hope they keep the character and Victorian feel of the place, but I have to say, I welcome development. Salt Lake car park as it stands is a waste of space, and an ugly one too.

  • Anonymous

    For Porthcawl (also read Mumbles) – there has always been a small but vociferous minority in Porthcawl who are opposed to any regeneration/development at all. Because of these objectors Porthcawl was deprived of a marina and associated developments at Salt Lake in the mid 1980's and a Waitrose led development in the late 1990's. You only have to put a chair outside a house near the seafront and “action Groups” and petitions quicly follow. The bottom line is that the loudest of all objectors have only arrived in Porthcawl over the last few years, and they seem to want the town to crumble away as they themselves are doing.

  • Thanks for the comment, Anon.

    You get those groups everywhere, even in major towns and cities. Sometimes it's reasonable (i.e an open cast mine next to your house), other times it's not.

    The general public, myself included, really don't help ourselves sometimes. I have issue with groups who oppose something for the sake of it, without backing it up with rational arguments. I think in Porthcawl though, this is a rare – perhaps welcome – case of a group set up because nothing is being done.

  • john

    porthcawl is a fab place had many a good day/week there . coney beach fun fair just needs updating and a few new rides/buildings inside the park . WIth barry island fair now gone everything possible and support given to coney beach fun fair as it is a attraction of people visiting porthcawl and to loose it would be terrible . sandy bay was a fab caravan park why dont parkdean who own trecco bay buy it and develop it not housing !! on a warm day porthcawl cant be beaten and imagine a lovely lodge in amongst the sand dunes on sandy bay overlooking that sandy beach !! unbeatable . The way porthcawl is needs to be preserved but in places needs a bit of tlc . but i stress again dont loose the funfair just invest in it make it like blackpool pleasure beach it worked for them and continues to to this day

  • Thanks, John.

    Yes, I would like to see a modern replacement for Coney Beach instead of housing. As you said, Pleasure Beach would be great to model it on. I think some aspects of Porthcawl in the summer, especially towards the dune area, are fantastic. There's enormous potential, but just not enough money or will to see things through at the moment.

  • terry

    definately should keep coney beach fair where it is its a big attraction for visitors it does just need to be updated . it would be a shame and a bad thing to let houses or appartments to be built there instead

  • Thanks, Terry.

    I think they are going to struggle to build houses and apartments on the Coney Beach site over the next few years. Bridgend Council have already reduced the number of homes they want to build there by several hundred. I think Coney Beach will still be there for a while yet, though I wouldn't mind seeing a modern replacement someday.