Wrexham is on the up! There’s a real feeling of pride and confidence in one of the UK’s newest cities. Global awareness has grown and perceptions are changing boosted by Hollywood ‘glitter’ investment and the success of Wrexham AFC. The award of city status in 2022 followed Wrexham’s advance to the final stage of the 2025 City of Culture competition, and this has boosted the ambitions for gaining the prestigious title in 2029. In the background we’ve been working with Wrexham Council on a new Placemaking Plan for the city centre. It captures new ideas for investment and place shaping taking full advantage of the ‘window of opportunity’ Wrexham has been given.
So much has happened in Wrexham in such a short period of time. We began supporting Wrexham Council in the preparation of its then-town centre Placemaking Plan in 2021, along with studying the business case for city status. During a two year period Wrexham’s profile as a place of opportunity, growth and ambition has been raised significantly at a national and global level, and the new Placemaking Plan attempts to harness this interest, attract new investment and positions cultural regeneration and 2029 at its core.
Spending time in the centre of Wrexham it’s easy to find a very likeable, close-knit working class community, a surprisingly historic built environment, cultural vibrancy and memorable experiences. Notably, the urban area is surrounded by a generally more prosperous leafy countryside community, the households from these outer areas are more mobile and likely to travel to work, shop and spend their leisure time across the border in Cheshire. This is one of the city centre’s biggest challenges, spending data shows the Borough’s households spend more in out of town retail parks, Cheshire Oaks, Broughton and Oswestry (£178m) than in the Wrexham city centre (£101m). The Placemaking Plan sets out to reverse this pattern.
There’s also a confidence factor playing out in the property market, with the centre suffering from above average vacancy rates, numerous larger buildings incompatible with current retail and leisure requirements and occupiers led by discount stores that appeal to a narrow urban segment of the community. Languishing rents and viability are disincentivising private sector investment. And there are perception issues and the reality of antisocial behaviours associated with social issues sometime visible on the street. However, these challenges are not unique to Wrexham and are being tackled with place specific strategies working with partners across the city.
However, just like the Wrexham AFC, Wrexham’s centre is going through its own period of transformation. Work is underway in the centre of the city to repurpose commercial premises in response to changing trends in shopping and living, and to grow its cultural, commercial and community assets. The recently awarded City Status and working towards the City of Culture 2029 ambitions, will enable the County Borough to address many of the economic challenges at both central and wider regional cross border levels. A transformation that makes Wrexham more distinctive and builds on its culture and heritage, will foster a sense of civic pride and encourage people to make return visits, live, work and invest in the city. Vacant sites have been purchased for meanwhile uses, and major projects already in the pipeline include the new Football Museum of Wales, the regeneration of the historic indoor markets, active travel improvements and Wrexham Gateway.
And the Council are leading the way with a long-term investment in digital infrastructure, not only will it help build the reputation of a modern city, but recent studies identified the need for further technology, sharing data and analytics, and digital infrastructure to facilitate large cultural events and activities.
The new Placemaking Plan helps to unify existing investment activity and initiatives to make it easier for the community and stakeholders to understand the overall vision, it also clearly states the scale and level of transformation necessary to alter perceptions and boost confidence in the city centre. Placemaking for the city centre will have to make an impact at scale and the Plan focuses on six delivery areas including the impressive ‘Old Town’ and uniquely landscaped ‘Civic Quarter’ – each one with a critical mass of opportunities capable of creating distinctive place shaping improvements.