“If You Want to Build a Town, Do It Yourself

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Once again, the Hay Festival will next week transform the small Welsh border town into a global literary hub, so it’s a good time to revisit last year’s post about placemaking pioneer Richard Booth “So many Welsh towns are run by stupid people” . Booth was certainly known for his memorable quotes and pioneering spirit, that profoundly transformed an anonymous town and put it on the global stage.

Booth’s disdain for bureaucracy was legendary and with a General Election announced for 4th July, it’s worth recalling his belief in direct action and community-driven regeneration. Booth famously said, “If you want to build a town, do it yourself. You don’t rely on politicians and bureaucrats who only think about their next election.”

I’ve often said that Wales is the birthplace of regeneration, and there’s no doubt that we have long exported ideas and practices in this field. Richard Booth’s transformation of Hay-on-Wye did just this; it sparked a global movement. His model of turning a small town into a cultural hub centred around books has been replicated in over 50 towns worldwide, from Redu in Belgium to Montolieu in France. Booth’s vision created a template for cultural and economic revival that continues to inspire.

Despite his personal reservations about the Hay Festival, its global reach significantly boosted Hay-on-Wye’s economy and international profile. Attracting over 250,000 visitors annually and spawning sister festivals globally, the Hay Festival underscores the lasting impact of Booth’s initial vision.

Today, as towns and cities grapple with the challenges of online retail and shifting consumer behaviours, Booth’s model remains highly relevant. His emphasis on uniqueness, localism, and community can be seen as a precursor to modern trends in urban planning and cultural economic regeneration. Booth’s philosophy was clear: “Culture isn’t something you can package and sell. It’s something you live and breathe every day.”

Richard Booth’s eccentricity, vision, and commitment to culture have left an indelible mark. Revisiting the story of Hay reminds us of the power of combining personality and regeneration, and the enduring importance of community and tradition in an ever-modernising world.

Pop-up placemaking? – Wrexham’s ‘The Ryan Rodney Reynolds Memorial Park’

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When I embarked on the journey of preparing the Wrexham City Centre Placemaking Plan, little did I know that I would be contemplating the inclusion of Hollywood A-listers in the “responsibility” column of our action plan. In hindsight, what a missed an opportunity.

But fast forward to this week, and we witnessed the unveil of “The Ryan Rodney Reynolds Memorial Park,” yet another addition to the ever-growing influence that Hollywood stars Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney are having on regenerating Wrexham.

It’s fair to say the announcement was a surprise, even for the local authority, and it’s just a headline grabbing ‘novelty’; but may be its much more than that? Clearly the vision has urbanism at its heart, it demonstrates the potential of pop-up placemaking (with Hollywood clout), designed to transform an urban landscape, test creative ideas, and, possibly pressurise local authorities into making changes more permanent.

Just a few years ago, the Hippodrome site stood as a sombre reminder of neglect and decay right in the heart of the city. Wrexham Council took a bold step, acquiring the site to eliminate this eyesore and open the doors to a greener urban space. In the Placemaking Plan, we envisioned a flexible public space that would revitalise the ‘market quarter.’

The Plan called for a flexible, family-oriented space that would encourage playfulness, showcase artwork, introduce street food, and host an array of pop-up activities.

And now, with the grand unveiling of “The Ryan Rodney Reynolds Memorial Park,” the stars have aligned perfectly. This new public outdoor space echoes our very vision for the Hippodrome. Their website paints a picture of a place where culture thrives, communities come together, and creativity flourishes.

You can check out Rob and Ryan’s ideas on their website and even support the funding for the vision by grabbing a piece of their merchandise  – link Parks and Wrex

Hereford opens its Cycling Track

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It’s great to see a major project you have played a part in ultimately secure the funding and developed. So, I was super excited to attend the official opening of the Hereford Cycle Track (ribbon cut by cycling legend and active travel czar Chis Boardman). With a 1km traffic free wheeled sports and cycling circuit of regional and national importance, putting the County on the cycling map as one of the few UK locations to have a dedicated traffic free training, coaching and competition facility. It offers cyclists of all ages and abilities the chance to learn to ride, train at every level, and enjoy their sport without having to negotiate busy roads.

Having an early lead-out train role in the business planning, visioning and masterplan was a great privilege – a true sweet spot project where my passion for cycling and profession collided. The final sprint to the finish line for the £1.7m facility was led by Halo Leisure and British Cycling – chapeau to all ! View the track here Hereford Cycle Track


Masterplanning the biggest agricultural showground in Europe

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Owen Davies Consulting is excited to announce we’re leading a ground-breaking masterplanning and visioning study for the Royal Welsh Showground. The Royal Welsh is the biggest agricultural show in Europe and its 150 acre showground boasts over 40 buildings and is a permanent place of work for over 30 staff and several agri institutions and organisations.

The masterplan and visioning study on behalf of the Royal Welsh Agricultural Society aims to revitalise and reimagine the Showground, ensuring its continued relevance and success for generations to come. The study has been supported with UK SPF funding and will identify a coordinated range of opportunities, set within the national and rural Wales context, for new investment and development.

New Masterplanning and Visioning Study Unveiled for the Royal Welsh Showground


Is the UK’s explosion of craft beer and cider coming to an end?

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After decades of gradually being overshadowed by other drinks, the 21st century has seen an explosion in craft beer and cider that has changed the landscape of what, where and how we drink. Many high streets have benefitted from the additional footfall and novel bars that have subsequently appeared.We are sponsoring Pete Brown’s talk at this month’s Abergavenny Food Festival when he explores the craft beer and cider revolution. Pete has witnessed, drank and chronicled it all in the twenty years since the publication of his first book, Man Walks into a Pub.

The UK has enjoyed a decade-long boom in the craft beer scene. Even though the UK high streets have experienced dramatic change in fortunes, the drinks sector has largely gone from strength to strength. The market has grown consistently for innovative and premium craft beer and cider producers, and consumers have also been happy paying more for experiential drinking with the growth of town and city centre independent breweries and taprooms.

Our interest in the craft drink scene comes from working with industry experts in several towns and cities to assess and develop the evening and night-time economy. We have designed and reshaped the streets and quarters where people meet to eat, drink and socialise – creating experiential destinations that transform places to go beyond purely drinking.

But has the bubble burst for craft beer and cider? The industry reports over 100 microbreweries have closed in the last 18 months, due to a mix of Brexit repercussions, COVID financial hangovers, rising living costs, and impending alterations to beer tax regulations. Whilst this may well lead to a visible decline of craft beer and cider on the High Street, independent brewer are also seeing growing sales direct to consumers and an increased trend in online sales.

We are very excited to hear Pete’s talk on the craft beer and cider revolution. Pete will choose beers and ciders local to Abergavenny that represent key points in this extraordinary journey, and share some of the tall tales from the twelve books that have seen him named Beer Writer of the Year four times.

Tickets are available for Pete’s talk from https://www.abergavennyfoodfestival.com


Wrexham’s pride, confidence & placemaking

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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.



Launching the Smart Towns Delivery Manual

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Over the past couple of years, we’ve applied our digital placemaking approach in more than a dozen towns and cities across Wales to help local stakeholders explore and plan for how they can use digital and data to improve their place. 

In that time, it’s fair to say that we’ve seen the good, the bad, and the ugly of these ‘Smart Towns’ projects: some have been tremendously successful and left a positive impact on their place, whilst others have struggled either to get off the ground or to make a long-lasting impression. 

Recently, we’ve been reflecting on this and asking ourselves why some projects succeed whilst others struggle, and now – comissioned by Smart Towns Cymru and Welsh Government – we’ve put together a Smart Towns Delivery Manual to share our thinking on this and set out what we think is a best practice approach. 

The Manual is a guide for how stakeholders can design, plan, deliver and evaluate place-specific Smart Towns projects, and so it includes practical information, examples, and links to other useful resources.  

You can read the Delivery Manual published by Smart Towns Cymru here: https://www.smarttowns.cymru/downloads/documents/delivery-manual.pdf  

…and find a new set of case studies we’ve produced about promising Smart Towns projects in Abergavenny, Bangor, Crickhowell and Wrexham, here: https://www.smarttowns.cymru/en/case-studies  

Of course, no guide is perfect or can be exhaustive, and so we would love to get feedback on what it says and what might be missing, so the Manual can continue to get more and more useful over time. 

To give us your thoughts or discuss how digital placemaking could help your place, contact our Digital Placemaking Consultant, Adam Greenwood, using adam@owendaviesconsulting.co.uk or on 07480 063761. 


“So many Welsh towns are run by stupid people”.

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It’s the world-famous Hay Festival this week when the small Welsh border town becomes the centrepiece for literary A-listers, creatives and politicians. And it’s about this time of year that this provocative quote from Richard Booth always springs to mind. I’m interested in Booth because he was a renowned British eccentric and pioneer of town regeneration – a placemaker as we now call it. His quirkiness and detested for bureaucracy were at the heart of his methods when he turned around the fortunes of Hay on Wye, a pretty but otherwise unremarkable Welsh border town.

Hay is often referenced as an example of successful town regeneration and for the obvious reasons of becoming a world famous Town of Books and a centre for the secondhand book trade. It’s also equally famous for Hay Literature Festival founded in 1988 – although Booth was said to have resented the festival because it was worlds apart from the dusty jumbled book shops he had created.

I’ve been visiting Hay all my life, rarely during the festival, but often on visits to see family or as a perfect coffee stop on a long cycle through the Black Mountains. I’ve observed Hay as an example of personality-led regeneration frequently overlooked in contemporary ideas yet can be the vital ingredient for some otherwise ordinary towns. Booth appears to have been a genuine visionary, entrepreneurial, brand aware, deep-pocketed, and strong-willed with his roots in the community and ability to lead others.

Booth was no politician – “policies not politicians” was another of his anarchic phrases. He built a following through unconventional means buying up cheap empty buildings during the 1960s and 1970s, opening bookshops, and forging relationships with employees that led to them opening bookshops of their own. At its height, the Hay had 30 secondhand bookshops whilst not quite so many remain today.

Booth became a pioneer for the British high streets several decades before Portas or Grimsey. The experience of seeing faceless shopping malls on a book buying trip to the US apparently made him fear the future of market towns. His vision was founded on tradition, opposing modernisation and creating a vibrant, local economy free of big-brand. Sounds familiar?

Arguably one of Wales’s and the UK’s finest placemakers, Booth became an almost accidental expert in regeneration and exporter of ideas creating a model copied in over 50 towns across the world. He singlehandedly turned around the fortunes of Hay leading a highly effective global publicity with whacky and wonderfully eye-catching campaigns. In April 1977, he famously declared his hometown a sovereign independent state and made himself king.

Booth’s property-led spotlight-seeking self-publicist and non-conformist approach might also have something to do with the tolerant and experimental influences unique to the 1960’s and early 1970’s and therefore are unlikely to be fully repeated. Today, Hay thrives as a tourism hot spot throughout the year, although the town has a more boutique than book town feel to it. At a time of increasing sameness and uniformity on the high street its widely recognised that the future of town centres is about being distinctive, memorable, entertaining and independent – just like Booth’s vision of Hay.


Why some towns in Wales are successful and others need regeneration

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The BBC Politics Wales investigated the Welsh Government’s new Policy Statement for town centres and why some towns in Wales are successful and others need regenerating. The WG Minister Julie James explains the new statement and  BBC’s James Williams asked me the questions about the challenges faced by town centres and how to reinvigorate them.

5 min interview with Owen  https://youtu.be/7RsrumkS8aU

The full feature is available from iPlayer  (11.30 mins)(07/05/23) https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episodes/m000dk1n/politics-wales


The first ten years

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Ten years ago, I started Owen Davies Consulting with a simple aim: to help make places more memorable, liveable and viable.

Looking back, it was the right opportunity at the right time (and a bit of luck) that made it happen. I had spent many hours sketching out an idea for a purpose driven, creative, and bespoke consultancy – frustrated with the multi-national consultancy I was with at the time. And I had a couple of key clients that were also interested in the idea and willing to stick with me if I decided to take the plunge. The break came in May 2013, with my sketchy business plan, we launched.

I haven’t looked back – enjoying every opportunity to build a purpose driven team team and blending our planning, economic, regeneration and design skills. Plus, helping turnaround the fortunes of many types of places – buildings, streets, neighbourhoods, towns, cities, and on a bigger scale supporting government at local and regional levels to devise their strategies.

So, our first ten years have seen Owen Davies Consulting grow into a small but vastly experienced consultancy. I’ve picked up some accolades along the way such as becoming an expert for the Governments High Street Task Force and Fellow of the Institute of Place Management. Sometimes it feels like we punch above our weight as we deliver major initiatives and landmark projects across the UK – the latest helping Wrexham to gain its city status (enjoying its global fame I had to mention Wrexham !)

Through our work, we have also tried to be socially engaged, environmentally conscious practitioners doing our bit to help regenerate where we live, work and visit. Whether it’s been investing our own time and funds into repurposing an empty town centre property, providing the experience for budding students or volunteering with a heritage trust to help restore an amazing historic building.

It feels like I’ve been thinking about memorable, liveable and viable places long before it became branded as ‘placemaking’. And it’s all about sticking to what you know, doing your research, speaking to the right people and being clear how your ideas can make a difference.

Ideas + execution = impact

So, as we pass our ten-year milestone it’s time to thank the clients that trusted us with their briefs and their budgets. To the politicians, businesses, organisations and communities that have welcomed us to their town, city or neighbourhood. Thank you for your time, wisdom, and honesty. And to the team and range of experts we have worked with – urban designers, economists, engineers, artists and creatives – we are grateful for the new perspectives that you brought and the ideas that we have created together.

Here’s to another ten years. Here’s to regeneration and placemaking. And here’s to taking the plunge and a bit of luck.


PS – why not read about the projects we have been up to in our regular website news posts

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