#wales Archives | Owen Davies Consulting

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


Digital placemaking & skills for mid Wales towns

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Poor digital connectivity, a lack of supporting business infrastructure, a skills ‘digital divide’ are part of the regional economic picture shaping towns in mid Wales. The economy is large and predominantly rural and is known for its natural beauty, historic towns, and strong cultural identities. And despite many economic strengths, the region’s economy has its digital and data challenges with structural weaknesses that are currently hindering the potential of its residents and businesses to flourish.

Driving investment in digital through the UK Shared Prosperity Fund, and supporting the adoption and exploitation of next-generation technologies has been prioritised to make Mid Wales a more competitive as a region. New digital technology like 5G plus the Internet of Things (IoT), Artificial Intelligence and data analytics have the potential to open up new businesses and improve the lives of communities. To capitalise on recent investment, Powys County Council are working with Owen Davies Consulting and Cwmpas to harness the full potential of infrastructure investment across three towns – Llanfair Caereinion, Newtown and Ystradgynlais.

Each town will prepare its own Digital Place Plan including a digital place diagnostic – a series of placemaking, physical infrastructure, software and third-party data criteria – for assessing how far a town has traveled along the ‘journey’ towards becoming a ‘smart town’. And businesses, organisation or groups will receive bespoke digital support including a bespoke digital improvement plan outlining, areas for development, examples of similar businesses utilising digital in productive ways and areas where ongoing learning would be beneficial/should be considered.

Digital placemaking is a key strategic opportunity for rural towns across Mid Wales and its implementation over the next 12 months will inform potential expansion across an additional six towns to enable Mid Wales to accelerate our economic ambitions and add even further value to ongoing investments at both a regional and local level.

If you are interested in this project and digital placemaking, we recently delivered an online masterclass as part of Welsh Government’s Smart Towns Cymru initiative. If you missed it, you can now watch it on YouTube: https://youtu.be/FVspi0X6g3E

We also have a short film explaining all about our Digital Place Plans you can watch here: https://youtu.be/7yFechhxRrE




Digital placemaking – harnessing technology & data to revitalise our towns

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How do you realise the potential of digital as part of mainstream placemaking and place strategies? There’s six key lessons we’ve learnt through preparing Digital Place Plans that harness technology and data to regenerate urban spaces, revitalising high streets and boost local tourism

At Owen Davies Consulting, we’ve been thinking about the future of places for almost 30 years and in that time have helped places big and small to understand the opportunities for increasing their social, economic, cultural and environmental prosperity. But it has only been in the last few years – and especially through our involvement in the Welsh Governments Year of Smart Towns programme and including supporting 15 towns across Wales to pilot a new approach to digital placemaking – that we have fully realised the potential of digital within mainstream placemaking and place strategies of towns. 

We’ve already supported 15 towns across Wales to pilot a new approach to digital placemaking, but we’re still learning, of course, but here are six things we’ve learned so far: 

1 – Digital is everywhere, so places of all sizes need to embrace it rather than hide from it. 

All aspects of local, regional and national policy now have a digital dimension deeply embedded within them, so if you want to stay aligned with or influence it – and of course access related public funding such as Transforming Towns here in Wales – you need to embrace it. 

2 – Although some of the jargon involved can be baffling, the principles of digital placemaking are straightforward. 

With mysterious terms like ‘smart cities’, ‘LoRaWAN’ and the ‘Internet of Things’ widespread in the digital dialect, it’s perhaps no surprise that place leaders are often unclear about how to harness technology and data to regenerate urban spaces, revitalise high streets and boost local tourism. For us, digital placemaking is straightforward: it’s about bringing together the practice of placemaking with the exploitation of technology and data. Or put even more simply, it’s about including consideration of how using technology and data can help make better places. 

3 – Digital placemaking is just as important for smaller places as for bigger ones. 

The concept of ‘Smart Cities’ has been around for a long time now, but programmes like the Year of Smart Towns have demonstrated that there’s no reason why smaller (but no less important) places can’t reap the benefits of becoming smarter too. No town should be left behind! 

4 -Digital placemaking is a journey, and you’ve got to start that journey somewhere. 

When we work with towns to produce a Digital Place Plan or properly consider digital within a Placemaking Plan, we encourage them to do things thoroughly by following a five-step process to produce the Plan, and then when looking at delivery, to focus first on delivering a few simple wins. As with many things, it’s better to start small, learn lessons and then grow, rather than try and do too much, too quickly, and get overwhelmed.  

5 – Digital placemaking isn’t easy and there are plenty of barriers to overcome. 

Needing to understand the dynamics of local decision making, overcome apathy, and demystify key concepts… sound familiar? The barriers to digital placemaking are similar to those faced when taking a more traditional placemaking approach. Fortunately, we’ve learned plenty of lessons from our pilot work and now have a toolbox of techniques to help stakeholders achieve the best outcomes. 

6 -Get it right and you can have a big impact. 

By using data, people can make better decisions for their town and local area. With transparency on actions, activities, and trends, they can recognise opportunities and act on them faster. Just for starters, this can mean giving people the confidence to launch new businesses, helping existing businesses grow, and attracting and evidencing the success of public events. 

All the above means that digital placemaking is a key strategic opportunity for practitioners in the heritage, regeneration and urban development sectors, including developers, place managers, planners, architects, designers, heritage trusts, and local governments. 

If you are interested in learning more about our work in digital placemaking, we recently delivered an online masterclass as part of Welsh Government’s Smart Towns Cymru initiative. If you missed it, you can now watch it on YouTube: https://youtu.be/FVspi0X6g3E  

We also have a short film explaining all about our Digital Place Plans you can watch here: https://youtu.be/7yFechhxRrE 

Digital Placemaking Team

owen@owendaviesconsulting.co.uk  + adam@owendaviesconsulting.co.uk +ieuan@owendaviesconsulting.co.uk



New planning powers in Wales curb second homes and crackdown on Airbnb’s

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Few things in planning are truly “radical”, but after decades of campaigning new planning powers in Wales are set to curb the contentious issue of second homes and crackdown on holiday lets with the introduction of three new use classes.

In Wales and other coastal communities from Cornwall to Cumbria, the impact on local communities of the growing second home market and the loss of private rental property to Airbnb style holiday lets has become a hot political issue. Rising house prices are pricing local people out and the shortage of affordable rental properties is turning communities into ghost villages out of the holiday season. And in Wales, there’s the acute issue of the decline of Welsh speaking communities.

We have observed these impacts during one of our recent studies preparing an action plan to manage the impact of tourism on the idyllic Welsh speaking coastal community of Llansteffan in Carmarthenshire. It’s estimated in the village with about 500 people, 25% of properties are second homes, just 11 homes have families with children of school age and only 9 properties are on the social housing register. The lack of affordable housing for local people and families because of a growth in second homes, holiday lets, and rising house prices has been raised as a major issue. Young people, therefore, families with children are moving out of the village. During our study we met with a group of young adults, each one had grown up in the village, and all were employed but had been forced to move away or were ‘stuck’ living with a parent in the village. This raised concerns about the longer-term impacts on sustaining the community and social infrastructure including the school. For some, they believed it was too late and will never be able to return to live in their home village.

The new power in Wales will give local planning authorities the ability, where they have evidence, to make local amendments to the planning system through an Article 4 Direction, allowing them to consider whether planning permission is required to change from different types of dwellinghouses to another and to control the number of additional second homes and short-term lets in an area. The Use Classes Order is being amended to create new use classes for ‘dwellinghouses, used as sole or main residences’ (class C3), ‘dwellinghouses, used otherwise than as sole or main residences’ (class C5) and ‘short-term lets’ (class C6).

In addition, the General Permitted Development Order (GDPO) is being amended to allow permitted changes between the new use classes, C3, C5 and C6. These permitted development rights can be dis-applied within a specific area by an Article 4 Direction made by a local planning authority based on robust local evidence. These new powers will come into force on 20th October 2022.

These changes come hot on the heels of legislation allowing local authorities in Wales to impose a 300% council tax hike on second homes and plans to levy a higher Land Transaction Tax on purchases.

Likely, similar coastal and rural areas of the UK with parallel issues will look on Wales with interest and maybe envy. Earlier this year the UK Government declared “war” on second-home owners said the press when a review into Airbnb and holiday homes in tourist towns was launched as part of the “levelling-up” programme.

Owen Davies

43A Frogmore St, Abergavenny NP7 5AN
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