Chepstow Town Report: Business opportunities arising from removal of toll from Severn Bridge
The Committee welcomed James Woodcock, Business Insights Manager, to the meeting to consider both the impact and opportunities arising from the removal of the tolls on the Severn Bridge. It was noted that the Chamber of Commerce had commissioned a report on the High Street and how it would be perceived by visitors.
The importance of ensuring that the retail offer appeals to residents and visitors was emphasised in view of the alternatives, such as Cribbs Causeway and online shopping. Regarding the number of store closures, it was noted that efforts are being made to reach out to other retailers to locate in town whilst also acknowledging the reduction in footfall and the rise in business rates.
A report has been commissioned on the future of the Monmouthshire economy. In recent years, the county has seen growth in employment within arts, entertainment and recreation, manufacturing, storage and the science and technology sectors.
It was explained that part of the above process is to determine the range of business premises that are need to attract new businesses and retain existing ones for inclusion in the Local Development Plan. There is a well-qualified work force that often works out of the area. It is hoped that new businesses will be able to offer employment to local people and also encourage more young people to stay in the area.
It was agreed that the toll is not so much of an issue for longer term visitors but does discourage short term day visitors. Work is underway to encourage more coach tourism which would benefit local businesses.
A Member questioned what funding is available in Wales. It was responded that the Welsh Government supports enterprise. The Cardiff City Region supports investment within the region and can be approached for specific projects; European funding is also still available at present. The Council has already accessed central government funding for Broadband. Welsh Government has adopted a national approach with regard to infrastructure funding and now targets specific areas; Severnside is currently being considered for possible regeneration funding and it will be possible to consider other areas in future.
A Member stressed the importance of cross border relationships. Regarding economic opportunities, it was questioned what is being done to promote the area and nurture local growth. It was explained that there is significant joint working especially on tourism.
In response to a question, it was confirmed that local businesses can receive support from the Council and their partner organisations and there are a limited number of small grants available to support investment in new and existing businesses according to potential.
A Member made the point that the average age of Monmouthshire residents is 48 compared with 34 in Cardiff. This highlights the importance of creating the conditions for young people to stay in the county especially in terms of provision of affordable housing. Concern was expressed that the new LDP will take at least 2 years. It was also queried if there is a mentoring facility for small businesses to encourage enterprise and entrepreneurism.
A Committee Member called for urgent action to address the vacant shops in town and to address aspects that make the town unattractive, such as overflowing bins. The importance of the Council having a directory of businesses was also emphasised, as was the need for a skilled labour force. It was queried how we adjust school curricula to suit businesses of the future. All agreed that the road network in Chepstow and the shortage of affordable housing both require urgent attention.
The need for more apprenticeships was identified. It was also suggested that all schools ensure pupils complete a weeks’ work experience.
The Committee was supportive of the work of the Chamber of Commerce.