Cefin Campbell, Plaid Cymru’s Member of the Senedd for Mid & West Wales has called on First Minister to prioritise rural town regeneration.
Speaking during First Minister’s Questions on Tuesday (02 November) Mr Campbell highlighted the recent plight of many rural towns and communities, and its consequences for future generations.
A recent report by Audit Wales found that past policy choices, changing consumer expectations and technological advances are now adversely affecting many Welsh town centres. Mr Campbell also highlighted the detrimental effect of the Covid-19 pandemic, coupled with Brexit, was having on many rural high streets across Mid & West Wales.
Current Audit Wales figures show that 1 in every 7 shops on Welsh high streets are empty, with Mr Campbell identifying that many rural market towns have faced the brunt of the economic decline with many banks, post offices and other essential services abandoning their communities, resulting in a wider malaise.
In Wales, between 2012 and 2020, bank and building society branches reduced by 28.8% falling from 695 to 495. Across the Mid & West Wales region, many towns including Fishguard and Narberth, have been left with the unenviable reputation of being ‘no bank towns’.
Cefin Campbell MS, Plaid Cymru’s spokesperson for Rural Affairs highlighted the worrying trends experienced on many high streets across Mid & West Wales, saying:
“What we are seeing is a picture of decline in our main market towns across the region: shops, banks, pubs and post offices all closing; our town centres being empty and the footfall falling; public services cut and a number of areas having difficulty in recruiting GPs and dentists.”
Mr Campbell also highlighted the decline in reliable public transport provision in many rural towns – describing it as “more of a lottery than a service”.
Calling for the Welsh Government to urgently prioritise rural regeneration, Mr Campbell also highlighted the negative effect the declining town centres was having on opportunities for younger generations – with 60% of respondents to the Wales Rural Youth Research Report noting that they considered moving to a town or city where employment opportunities are better.
First Minister, Mark Drakeford responded defending the Welsh Government’s approach – claiming “we do give priority to supporting rural towns to overcome the impact of coronavirus and face the challenges that are to come.”