Co-creating Regional Economic Frameworks – Mid & South West Wales

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The economies of Mid Wales and South West Wales are intrinsically connected. And Welsh Government wish to develop a set of priorities which will be key in helping both areas’ economies recover from the impacts of coronavirus and meet the challenges posed by the UK leaving the European Union.

Owen Davies Consulting are assisting Welsh Government as they look to the future therefore and consider both the long-term economic development of the region, as well as its short-term post-Covid-19 reset and recovery.

Co-creating Regional Economic Frameworks during the current pandemic and with social distancing is less than straightforward. It’s critical that the Frameworks are ultimately co-owned, by those whose lives they will impact upon.

Therefore, a pioneering approach is being taken to draft the Frameworks that allows all voices to be heard via a range of online activities run by the Co-production Network for Wales and Cazbah.

If you’re interested in the economic future of Mid and South West Wales or the methods being used to encourage involvement then take a look here – https://midandsouthwest.commonplace.is/

Owen

Improving open spaces across a social housing estate.

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Four of our planning application for environmental improvements have been granted this week – they increase residential amenity and the quality of open spaces within a predominately affordable housing estate located in Caldicot, Monmouthshire. This is particularly timely following lockdown and the greater emphasis on improving outside spaces for health and wellbeing.

We have been working with Element Urbanism for our client Monmouthshire Housing Association (MHA) who are proposing substantial environmental enhancement of four open spaces within the housing estate known as ‘The Views’, located in Caldicot. The designs include the redesign of the community space, new garden boundaries to help encourage social interaction, play, healthy activities, whilst also improving drainage, visual character and biodiversity.

The four communal spaces are heavily enclosed by housing that forms part of the original layout of the estate built some 40 years ago. The potential for amenity use has gradually diminished over the years and the spaces are currently featureless and of poor quality in terms of design and materials. The condition and layout of the hard and soft areas are not conducive to their use by residents and are visually monotonous and unattractive. The garden boundaries fronting the space generally comprise low trip-rails and are in poor condition.

As a central component of the design process, we have worked with MHA to involve the tenants and private residents to identify and agree with the nature of the improvements.

The proposals include new cross-route across the spaces to allow more convenient access, resurfaced high-quality lawns and new multi-functional low walls that can be used for seating, play and as a distinctive design feature. The spaces will also include boulders to allow informal opportunities for seating and active play. The landscape proposals include a SuDS surface water drainage scheme that will integrate with the overall aesthetic of the proposals. Swales will retain surface water at, or near, surface-level and will form ‘rain-gardens’ supporting a diverse planting. These areas will connect with adjacent proposed areas of lawn, wild-flower, shrub, and tree planting.  Species have been selected for both their suitability to thrive in the prevailing site conditions, seasonal interest, and their enhancement of biodiversity through the provision of habitats, food, and pollen.

Regarding sustainability, health and wellbeing, the primary objective of the project is to ensure long-term improvement in quality and amenity of an existing area of predominantly affordable housing.

Owen Davies Consulting has over a decades experience working with RSL’s to audit, masterplan, design and deliver their estate renewal and regeneration programmes and would love to hear about your next housing project. Please drop Owen a line.

“I never normally ask for help” – how a social media plea helped a small Welsh business survive lockdown

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“I never normally ask for help,”  said Carwyn Adams when I recently met the artisan cheesemakers and owner of Caws Cenarth near Newcastle Emlyn in Carmarthenshire. We were discussing the dramatic impact of COVID 19 on his business. When 80% of their orders disappear at the beginning of lockdown a state of panic had enveloped his business.

Then, on 20th March Carwyn decided to post his first-ever YouTube video, his plea “This is dire times…” with an authentic and heartfelt message had an amazing 30,000 + views. Following the post, 3,000 new customers came forward to help, the phone didn’t stop ringing, the orders flooded in and the business sold out of cheese in 3 days.

A chance discussion about the YouTube post with filmmaker Ross Anderson led to our collaboration and the making of this beautiful film about the Caws Cenarth’s COVID 19 experience. The film captures the story of their journey from desperate times at the start of lockdown to success following the social media plea. We met Elfyn the dairy farmer and supplier to Caws Cenarth that had nowhere to send his milk, as well as the employees that quickly learnt to deal with customers over the phone instead of  loading pallets of cheese onto a lorry destined for the supermarkets. Many challenges remain for Carwyn and his team, and a new business model is only beginning to emerge as it adapts to a new normal.

I hope you enjoy watching our 5-minute film, produced by a professional film crew that also volunteered their time because they were inspired by the story and eager to re-start shooting following lockdown.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x0Fv3xuwH0A

Owen is currently working with Carmarthenshire Council to help boost the economic fortunes and growth of five rural towns supported by the Ten Towns Initiative. Ross Anderson Mr Anderson Limited is an award-winning creative director and producer located in Abergavenny that wanted to help tell a real, authentic story of a business surviving lockdown.

Shutdown Towns – how was Saturday trading in Abergavenny?

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On my local high street this weekend, 30% of the businesses stayed closed despite the lifting of retail lockdown.

All non-essential retail shops have been able to reopen this week in Wales, provided they follow Government guidelines to make them “Covid-secure”. These include clothes and shoe shops, book shops, electronics retailers, and shops selling toys. The hospitality industry, unfortunately, remains shutdown by the restrictions.

During the lockdown, I have observed the business activity in the normally thriving Abergavenny town centre, as it gradually begins to reopen. Essential businesses have been open for some time, and a handful of restaurants and bars have adjusted to by offering takeaway services – this has allowed them to reopen much sooner than would have been otherwise possible.

With today being the first Saturday since retail restrictions have been lifted, a quick survey of Abergavenny’s main high street shows that some 65% of businesses were open. The town centre felt busy and quite vibrant, and it was great to be a local shopper once again. There were quite a lot of people on street queuing, and this probably made the centre feel artificially busier than it actually was.

However, a third of businesses that could have opened decided to keep their shutters down. It’s clear that charity shops are finding it challenging as none of the shops on the high street were open – maybe because of their reliance on volunteer and often older-aged and more vulnerable staff. The other noticeable closures included travel agents and probably more surprisingly the branded coffee chains.

Even though there seems to be an equal mix of independent and branded businesses closed, it was worrying to see so many of the town’s distinctive independents not back in business. Let’s hope none of these has become a longer-term casualty of lockdown – this is something to keep an eye on over the coming weeks.

How many businesses have reopened in your town?

Owen

Shutdown Towns – How we measured the impact of Coronavirus closures on small towns

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The reality of shutdown towns isn’t breaking news. The economic lockdown has all but turned our local high streets and business parks into ghost towns. So how do we measure the economic impact over such a short space of time in smaller towns where data isn’t so readily available? And what might the data tell us to help prepare urgent restart and revival packages for the local economy?

It comes as no surprise that there is very little data, so far, available for the smaller market towns, partly because they are not covered by the reports from national brand and property industry surveys. And to fill in the gaps by walking the streets with a clipboard collecting data isn’t permitted under the existing restrictions. However, in the months before the pandemic, our team were researching the baseline economy of five market towns in Carmarthenshire (Llanybydder, Newcastle Emlyn, St Clears, Whitland and Laugharne) as part of Carmarthenshire’s Ten Towns Initiative. We found, through combining our business and property survey data with selected census and employment statistics, and online research of business activity during the lockdown,  we were able to identify early economic insights for each town.

JOBS MOST ‘AT RISK’

The Institute of Fiscal Studies has identified occupations most at risk and it is almost certain jobs will be lost across most occupation sectors. However, not all business will have been affected equally, some businesses continue to operate but could struggle when government financial support is lifted, others have adapted to work at home, whilst many businesses will have furloughed staff and keeping them in employment for the time being at least.

We calculated 35% people in employment across our five towns are in occupation groups most at risk. These include administrative, sales, leisure and elementary occupations that often employ a higher number of young people, women and low earners. Across the five towns, unemployment would increase by 70% if even one in five of the most at-risk staff lost their jobs. The true impact of job losses may only be seen after the furlough periods ends in July and October.

Our analysis takes into account that some areas of the economy have seen employment growth including distribution, online retail and healthcare. To what extent this is short term growth is also unknown.

HIGHER OCCUPATIONAL GROUPS LIKELY TO WORK FROM HOME

The ability to work from home is likely to have made some jobs less vulnerable. This ability to work from home varies significantly across industries and occupations, and those in higher occupational and professional groups are ten times more likely to be able to work from home: managers, directors and senior officials. The swift adoption of home working by most sectors means the jobs of most professional occupations, between 20% and 27% of employees across the five towns, are likely to have been less vulnerable. Of course, this doesn’t take account of the actual capacity to work digitally from home. Carmarthenshire experiences some of the worst and in some cases non-existent broadband connectivity in Wales where it’s a concern for delivering economic growth under the ‘old normal’ let alone during the economic lockdown. Across the five towns the level of premises unable to get superfast quality speeds ranges between 40% and 70%.

SELF EMPLOYED

The self-employed have also been hard hit, with many experiencing abrupt and, in some cases, total loss of income. The Governments scheme to provide income support to the self-employed with a taxable grant worth up to 80% of trading profits come into operation later this month. All the towns studied have about one in five of the workforce in self-employment, more than the rural Carmarthenshire as a whole.

THE PROPORTION OF BUSINESSES IN SHUT DOWN SECTORS

In March, the UK Government directed certain sectors of businesses to close. These businesses include restaurants, pubs, café, non-food retail, hotels etc. The businesses that remained open included medical services, garages and petrol stations, banks, hardware shops, tool hire agricultural supplies shops, corner shops and newsagents etc. However, many shops that could have remained open have closed with health concerns for staff and customer taking priority. Some businesses have only been able to reopen in the last few weeks as they have adapted their operations to the new regulations.

Using the data from our business premises research and surveys we have estimated the number of businesses located in shut down sectors located by town. We estimate 42% of businesses across the town centre, business parks and wider hinterland are in shut down sectors. We are cautious about these figures because they include all retail and services when in reality some retail businesses have remained open. However, the figures indicate a large variation of between 42% and 67% closure across the five towns reflecting the diversity of their economic base. Towns with a higher proportion of leisure/retail and service businesses are worse-off compared to those with a larger industrial base.

The Impact on Retail, Leisure and Hospitality has been widely reported and using our latest business surveys we estimate 82% of town centre businesses may have closed due to the pandemic.

For many retail businesses, with their customers under lockdown, shops shut, cashflow drying up and their staff on furlough, it’s a case of survival. But among all these threats, some companies, big and small, are finding new commercial opportunities.  Well run independent convenience businesses have adapted to provide home delivery and takeaway services, where people are unable to leave home or wish to avoid supermarkets. These are habits that might last beyond the crisis. We have gathered online evidence that some 13 businesses in the five towns, notably those selling food and groceries, have adapted quickly and are providing new home delivery services. However, the extent that home delivery has been enough to offset other financial losses being unknown.

There are also some 50 food and drink business located across the five towns and when the restrictions are lifted, there is likely to be sub-economics for many businesses trading with fewer customers under social distancing measures. Local businesses in this sector have claimed that operating under such circumstances is ‘more catastrophic’ than being shut with furloughed staff.

The 100 accommodation businesses located across the five towns are closed until further notice, although our research identified 5% had re-opened for specific purposes such as accommodating key workers. However, all businesses face uncertainty because they have been requested to take no bookings for the lockdown periods, the length of which is currently unknown.

AGRICULTURE

Some 10% of the workforce are employed in agriculture, a higher proportion in the five towns than rural Carmarthenshire as a whole. The pandemic has seen abrupt changes in supply chains and consumer buying patterns that is varied across the different agricultural sectors. Fluctuations in prices have also been damaging with dramatic falls in milk and instability in livestock. The closure of the foodservice/hospitality sector has had a significant impact on both the red meat and dairy sectors which has left supply chains struggling to re-align themselves to retail-led demand. Likewise, innovation and in the growth of veg boxes or milk home delivery is unlikely to have offset losses elsewhere.

However, on a positive note, the livestock markets in Llanybydder, Newcastle Emlyn and Whitland have reopened. Food sales are a mainstay of livestock markets and their continuance will have been key for the sustainability of local farms, local producers and the market operators. With financial uncertainties, markets are important to achieve competitive/maximum prices rather than lower prices often achieved with dead-weight sales. Llanybydder Market returned during April and the auctioneers posted successful reports online with cattle, ewe and lamb sales demand was very strong and buyers supportive which saw a terrific top price”. Similar reports from Newcastle Emlyn of ‘demand certainly outstripped supply’. Whitland Market returned in mid-April and reported ‘top prices for both steers and heifers’. The return of the markets and strong sale prices experienced are likely to positively impact on the economic, employment and community life of the town and benefit other businesses that remain open such as farm machinery dealers, feed merchants.

OTHERS ‘LOSING OUT’

Our baseline studies of the five towns established an abundance of ‘hidden’ microbusinesses, many in newer ‘lifestyle’, visitor-related and creative industries that combine both living and working in rural areas. The businesses can range from sole practitioners, freelancers to limited companies. The higher than average self-employment levels in the five towns also reflects the foundational side of the economy with people providing essential and day to day local services such as local trades, driving instructors, child and social care. This form of employment is often part-time and with people holding down more than one job. Some of the notable examples of businesses ‘losing out’ are those without premises, company directors, freelancers and the most recently self-employed who have not benefitted from some of the Governments support which has been made available. Some of the specific groups considered to be missing out include: start-ups; directors who are paying themselves via dividends and not wages; non-VAT registered firms; self-catering businesses and home workers/sublets.

And finally, our research established that social care businesses are one of the largest employers and fastest-growing part of the town’s rural economy. Whilst the viability of the private sector provision was known to be quite fragile before the pandemic Care Forum Waleshas recently reported the sector could lose half of its care homes within a year because of rising costs and reduced revenues unless urgent action is taken. And the situation is likely to be exacerbated with coronavirus putting the already fragile sector in jeopardy because of increasing staffing costs; rising overheads such as PPE and falling occupancy. There is a real sense of closures happening within the sector.

The purpose of our analysis has been to provide a greater sense of the economic impact of Coronavirus to inform decisions that help to fire up the economy. The evidence exists that the five towns we have studied have experienced the significant economic shock we thought they had. Most of the data we used for our analysis is readily available and would help you understand the economic impacts on your towns.

If you want to know more about how we did it contact Owen at

owen @owendaviesconsulting.co.uk.

 

Chapeau! – investment in closed road cycling circuits (CRC’s) facilities across the UK

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As cycling’s popularity grows, so does the need for new facilities to support and encourage higher levels of participation in one of the most accessible, healthy, green and social activities there is.

In the same way that the introduction of all-weather pitches resulted in a huge increase in grassroots football, the development of traffic-free Closed Road Circuit (CRC’s), as they are known, is having the same impact for cycling and other wheeled sports. There are around 20 facilities already located across the UK, their purpose is not only about supporting high performance and elite level cycling, but also directed to encouraging participation in wheeled sports for leisure, sport, coaching, training, and competitions.

There are numerous reasons why people aren’t comfortable riding on the open road. It is often intimidating and at times a dangerous place for the young or novice cyclist to gain confidence, learn new skills and improve fitness. The purpose of a CRC is to tackle these barriers by removing a reliance on the open road and provides a safe place to go on a regular basis during the day and evenings. And even where there is a rural network of quiet lanes and traffic free paths outside of towns and cities, these are mainly a resource for recreation, they are not always suitable for coaching and learning basic bike handling skills.

CRC’s are usually between 1km and 1.5km in length and to ‘the person on the street’ appears very much like a road circuit, although they are designed to British Cycling’s standards for daytime and evening use and can’t be used by vehicles. The circuits are often located to take advantage of existing facilities at nearby leisure centres and schools. CRC’s should be designed to be ‘active environments’ that attract children, young people, adults and the mature cyclist from across a wide catchment area.  Of course, it’s not all about the bike, in addition to cycling, other wheeled sports such as rollerblading, roller skiing, wheelchair sports can take place on the circuit, as well as running.

Through the £15m Sport England and British Cycling’s Places to Ride fund announced earlier this year there are opportunities to invest in transformational cycling facilities across England, and in Wales, Welsh Cycling and Sport Wales have been investing more funds into similar projects.

For several years Owen Davies Consulting has been preparing detailed feasibility, site option appraisals, business plan, funding strategies and masterplanning new CRC’s in England and Wales. Planning permission was granted in May 2017 for our first scheme in Hereford (prospectus link) and we are working on a new proposal for Abergavenny (see article) 

We are no ordinary consultants – on our days off we are qualified British Cycling coaches, cycling fans, racers and activists!

 

Improving Wind Street, Swansea’s Evening & Night Time District

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Swansea Council and Swansea BID (Business Improvement District) are moving forward with regeneration aspirations to improve the Wind Street pedestrian and business environment. The area provides a significant evening, night-time, leisure and entertainment focus for the City Centre, and provides an important pedestrian link between the City Centre and the waterfront.

Owen Davies Consulting & Element Urbanism’s proposals for Wind Street are out for consultation until 12th October.Wind Street Consultation Boards Print Version A3

Only on maps is it known as Wind Street – Regenerating Swansea’s evening and night time economy district

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Only on maps is it known as Wind Street. If you are from Swansea, the most lively and attractive street in the city centre is known as ‘Wine Street’. We think its derived from the original Welsh name for the area fused over time with the history of the area as a location for bars and wine merchants.

The area’s history runs deep, it has the highest concentration of listed building in Swansea, and a reputation for drinking and entertainment that includes the poet Dylan Thomas and notoriety from the Second World for a young GI and future heavyweight champion Rocky Marciano flooring an antagonist.

As one of the very oldest streets in Swansea, it has seen many changes both to its layout and its building. It became a backwater in the second half of the 20th century when the commercial centre of Swansea shifted. However, it has continued to evolve and is now the beating centre of the vibrant evening and night time economy.

Wind Street is now known for its modern pubs, bars, clubs, and restaurants, as well as some of the oldest including the No-Sign Wine Bar. Whilst the areas reputation over the years has been linked with drunkenness and bad behaviour, today it has a very contemporary and relaxed feel to the area matched by its Purple Flag status.

In recent years, the pedestrianisation of Wind Street has been considered as a strategy to support the regeneration of the city centre and to strengthen its day, evening and night- time economy. Previous surveys and discussions have indicated that there is widespread support for this idea from local businesses and residents.

Owen Davies Consulting and Element Urbanism, have recently been appointed by Swansea Council and Swansea BID to take the next step to examine the feasibility of pedestrianisation in greater detail. We have just begun and are expected to be completed by April 2018.

Some of the key aspects of our work include:

  • There is an opportunity to create a physical and economic environment that addresses the day, evening and night time economies in equal measure. Wind Street can become more flexible and inspiring as a landmark and destination from the ‘day into night’
  • We need to consider a range of factors, some of which are non-physical, such as those relating to the way the street is regulated, managed and maintained.
  • The project should help create new economic opportunities through motivating businesses to become more creative, inspiring and ambitious with their day and night time operations
  • Design physical improvement that integrates with the rest of the city centre including the city centre regeneration framework, St David’s and the Castle Square redevelopments
  • Consider the importance of ‘symbolic capital’ and how to enhance its brand and character as part the city-wide ENTE, and that of a ‘happy, friendly, diverse, culturally rich city by the sea’.

77 Chapel Road, Abergavenny, NP7 7DR
Why not call us first for a chat on 07809 594524
If you prefer then send an email to Owen Davies at owen@owendaviesconsulting.co.uk