In autumn 2021, a group of local people going by the title ‘Penarth Unlocked’ met with Penarth Business Group, Penarth Town Council and the Vale of Glamorgan Council to put forward ideas about making our town centre more people-friendly. From this meeting we saw the emergence of Penarth Living Streets. This report was prepared in anticipation of that meeting.

“We want more worldly goods and more attractive surroundings. We also want repose. We want to escape from everyday worries and have fun. We want to provide for the future, live in the present and keep some reminders of the past. We want roots, we want security, we want to belong. We want to live in a habitat which is convenient, which is human, yet containing elements of beauty which can inspire us and lift our spirit towards ambition and adventure.”

Government publication: How Do You Want to Live, written in 19721

What we are about

We are local people who live in Penarth, some of us are key members of local community groups. We are residents, neighbours and citizens. 

Our ambition is a healthy, safe, clean and green people-friendly town for all to enjoy, with less cars, more trees and clean air.

Our role is to be a voice for the people, we aim to do this through listening, engagement, participation and involvement. We are just starting out.

We want to form and be involved in partnerships for planning the future of the town centre.

We are keen to find meaningful ways for us all to work together.

We have based our campaign so far around the Penarth Town Council proposals to create safe spaces in response to COVID last summer and the Town Centre Survey, which indicated support for the proposals.

Our proposals

1. Reinventing the town centre as a destination and gathering place

The town centre plays an important role in bringing citizens together and providing a social and community focal point for people of all ages6 and from all walks of life.

We would like to see the area around Windsor Road and Lower Glebe Street open for people, with safe space for people to shop and socialise and clean air to breathe.

We could have a continental civic square feeling, creating a motor traffic free zone, other than for early morning deliveries and drop off zones.

We call on VOG and PTC to work together, and with us, PBG and other stakeholders to create a strategic vision for the future, developed in partnership with the local community.

2. Pilot closure of Windsor Road and Lower Glebe Street to through motor traffic

What if we began with a pilot, opening the high street to walkers and shoppers for a limited time each weekend and for cafes to have seats outside?

Penarth Town Council views this proposal positively and will facilitate a pilot if requested by a range of stakeholders. The Vale of Glamorgan Council have agreed to deliver the necessary road closures.

We do have to start somewhere. We hope we can begin by finding middle ground. We have ideas that would make the town centre attractive for visitors and locals for the day of the pilot road closure, we could have;

  • Play spaces delivered by Play Wales and the Vale Play team
  • Sustrans parklet equipment perhaps
  • Space for business to spill out on the street (VOG support this)
  • Community market – informal stalls for community groups to gather to share info about projects and opportunities for involvement and volunteering, inc GPG, Benthyg Penarth, Penarth Growing Community, Friends of Victoria Sq (see other local groups here)

A pilot would be an opportunity for us to collect data. Local business can play a part in that too. For example, a clipboard with a question to ask customers how they travelled to the shop today.

3. People’s Forum

Wide community collaboration is essential to high street and town centre regeneration. We’d like to establish a stakeholder group to bring all the stakeholders together to create a shared vision for the future of the town centre and the town more widely.

Stakeholders include: residents of all ages and walks of life, local businesses, Penarth Town Council (PTC), Vale of Glamorgan Council (VOG), visitors, workers, schools, youth groups, voluntary action groups, transport operators, police, property owners, leisure operators, residents groups, community groups – there will be more to add to this list

Why do things need to change?

  • IPCC/climate change
  • Welsh Government policy objectives around net zero, active travel, placemaking and health and wellbeing
  • We haven’t benefited from any public realm improvements in Penarth like they have in other places in the Vale. Now is our time. The Welsh Government is supporting this agenda with their Placemaking Charter.
  • VOG climate and nature emergencies – we need to move towards net zero carbon and increase spaces for nature, to a certain extent this agenda will require individual behavior change from citizens. We need to start living differently, starting by using our cars less and our gardens more.
  • To support a thriving local economy that meets the needs of local people and others who use the town. We know there have been challenges for the high street. There is mounting evidence that space for people in town centres is better for business, locals and visitors. Bring people into town by creating a nice place for them to be.
  • Respond to people’s call for a safer, healthier, cleaner and greener place to shop, socialise live and work
  • To redress the imbalance over access to shared public space and ensure an inclusive and welcoming place for all to enjoy
  • Mobility – to open up space for people to have real choice about how they travel around town with great provision for walkers, wheelers and cyclists 

Presenting evidence on the business benefits

Our calls to make Penarth more people-friendly are rooted in evidence that indicates that changes to the look and feel of the town centre do improve footfalls and increase turnover for local businesses. 

Literature on pedestrianisation’s effects on retail started coming out as a niche research area in the early 80s in Germany and the Netherlands and continued steadily until the early 00s when these studies became mainstream. The last two years saw an acceleration of publications due to increased attention.7

It’s a win-win situation that many other town centres across the UK, who have already restricted traffic flow, are finding in these difficult times.

The PTC Survey from the summer of 2020 is a measure of support from local people. Of the 840 responses: 

  • 70% think that there should be more outdoor space for pedestrians and businesses
  • 75% think that parking arrangements need to change
  • 79% think that we need to prepare the town for the future

PTC concluded in their report on the survey that “The consultation shows that a clear majority recognise the need for a degree of change in the town centre, both for it to survive in the present and to thrive in future. The results call for the establishment of a greater degree of safe space and proposals which increase a degree of pedestrianisation whilst also increasing parking spaces”. 

Evidence shows shopkeepers often overestimate the use of the car by up to 100%. The majority of customers walk into town. The survey conducted in Penarth also showed less car journeys than expected. Research also shows that pedestrians visit more shops and stay longer in town. Places that have improved the public realm and design of streets are outpacing other areas, even in the  face  of  falling  retail  spending.3

  • Shop vacancy rates are five times higher on streets with high levels of traffic (more here)5
  • Retail turnover in pedestrianised areas generally out-performs non-pedestrian areas (more here)5
  • Retailers tend to significantly overestimate how many of their customers travel by car, and hence overestimate the number of parking spaces their customers require (more here)5
  • Evidence shows us that, per square meter, cycle parking delivers five times higher retail spend than the same area of car parking (more here)5
  • While those who arrive on a shopping street in a car may spend more in one go, more people can access the cycle parking space that would be taken up by just one car, so overall spend increases5

The Pedestrian Pound report presents the business case and economic benefit for better streets and places, focusing on how creating such places will help attract more footfall to our high streets. It provides case studies of high street regeneration from around the world, including Church Street Ebbw Vale, and Swansea. One example given is of investment in Piccadilly, Stoke-on-Trent that led to 30% more footfall in the area. Such improvements that increase footfall can be seen to directly lead to increased retail sales. See a summary of the business case findings here.

In 1999, Pontevedra in Northern Spain made a car-free town centre. They saw a drastic drop in traffic accidents, reduced anti-social behaviour, and with three quarters of all journeys formerly made by car now made on foot or by bike, there have been positive health outcomes for local citizens. They have a metro-style map with walking times. The reduction in car use has achieved a 70% drop in CO2 emissions.2

In 2018, Madrid decided only private vehicles that belong to residents were allowed to enter the town centre. Helsinki has been working on a multimodal mobility plan to reduce the need to drive in the city centre. Oslo removed all private cars from the city centre in 2019, turning parking spaces into bike lanes, playgrounds and cultural spaces. Bogota has a weekly car-free day.2

  • Studies from the UK found an increase in trading of up to 40% across a number of pedestrianised sites3
  • In New York, there was a 49% drop in commercial vacancies in pedestrianised zones2, 75% of people think it has improved the area and economic activity went up by a staggering 22% between 2007 and 20113
  • In Mexico City resulted in a 30% increase in commercial activity and 96% reduction in violent crime3
  • Copenhagen closed to cars in 1962. Within a year sales were up 30%, the number of pedestrians increased 35%.3
  • Malmo started pedestrianising gradually in 1978, by 1981a sales analysis showed revenues had increased. A 1983 report stated “Pedestrian  streets  vitalize  city  centre”.3
  • London’s  Oxford  Circus  Diagonal  helped  stimulate  a  25% increase  in  the  turnover  of adjacent stores.3
  • In Toronto a  similar  study  was  done  in  a  shopping  area  and  central  street,  Bloor  Street  in  2008.  61 merchants  and  538  patrons  were  consulted.  Patrons  arriving  on  foot  or  bicycle  spent  the  most  money and had the highest visiting frequency per month and more business owners would have wanted to see even  better  possibilities  for  cyclists  and  pedestrians.3
  • In Exeter, motor vehicle traffic was removed from several streets in the city centre. At the same time, there was increased investment in the public realm of existing shopping areas, during development of the Princesshay shopping centre. Between 2002 and 2010 there was an increase in footfall of around 30% across these shopping areas

Furthermore, Facts and figures around cycling tell us:

  • Employees that cycle to work regularly have on average 1.3 days less sickness absence per year
  • Cargo bikes have the potential to replace the following share of motorised trips in urban areas: 

23-25 % of the commercial deliveries in cities 

50% of the commercial service and maintenance trips

77% of private logistics trips (shopping, leisure, child transport)

People coming by bike spend more than those coming by car, be it during a certain time period or related to the parking space that has to be provided for them: 

  • Per square metre, cycle parking delivers 5 times higher retail spend than the same area of car parking
  • Cyclists do their shopping locally, and are more loyal customers

Retailers often under-estimate the share of people that go shopping by bike, and over-estimate the share of car users among their customers. If a street is transformed in a way that gives more space to cyclists and pedestrians and less to cars, the absence of people that came by car before is more than compensated for by the people that come by foot or by bike afterward. In London, retail vacancy was 17% lower and retail rental values 7.5% higher after active mobility improvements in shopping streets and town centres.

For more examples of places where they’re creating streets for people see the range of videos here. In particular, for local traders, see Dundee here

Hear about what happened to change the mind of an ardent local trader, Steve Robinson, in Newcastle here. He states

 “Two years ago the council decided to change the road from a two-way to a one-way system with the loss of up to 20 car parking spaces. As an independent retailer I wasn’t too happy with this.

“However, since the changes have been made Acorn Road has become more vibrant with the increase in pedestrians and cyclists. Now with more bike racks we get more cyclists coming into the store.”

Wider health & wellbeing benefits

This Sustrans report shows evidence of the benefit to well-being and health, stating that “making space on our streets is key to achieving cleaner air and a lower carbon footprint whilst building healthier, safer and more resilient communities. During covid-19 and beyond. Outdoor spaces free from traffic are vital to maintaining good mental and physical health. Research shows that those who regularly walk and cycle have a significantly lower risk of feeling stressed, anxious and depressed.”

The move towards a zero carbon future

“To meet the 2050 net zero carbon emissions target the built environment has to change significantly. This will involve changes to most, if not all, aspects of the way people live and whilst it may seem a daunting challenge it’s also one that offers an exceptional range of business opportunities as Wales transitions to become a zero carbon nation. The extent to which these opportunities are capitalised upon is of course dependent on the degree to which the business community chooses to embrace and invest in what is a rapidly emerging green economy.” 

John Jackson, Why the Green Economy is Good for Business

Reducing the numbers of cars and increasing the number of people using active travel and public transport to get around town is vital for moving towards the zero carbon future we need to create, starting now. 

As we begin to recover from Covid19 and transform to a net zero economy we will see 20 minute neighbourhoods starting to come into focus as a way of living more locally. Most likely this will be driven by a revitalised local development plan. Penarth is perfectly suited to be a test bed for this principle. 

Public realm improvements in the town centre are the beginning of this move. They will coincide with the 20mph speed limit that will unfold nationally in the years ahead. We will also see the implementation of one way systems around town and our streets will start becoming low traffic neighbourhoods. This change is on the way. Our present moment brings an opportunity to change how we do things for the better.

Gathering places

“The 21st century town is about an activity-based community gathering place.” 

William Grimsey6

There are two questions to hold on to as we go into the future:

What is the town centre for? 

Who is the town centre for?

The town centre is at the heart of the community and, as Jake Berry (Minister for Northern Powerhouse) states, the “original social network”. Wiltshire Council6 acted in response to the knowledge that what brings people into towns is mainly employment, cinemas, parks, libraries, events, festivals, leisure activities and other services. 

Out of town shopping and online retail are both challenges that existed long before Covid 19 and continue to impact now6, it seems those businesses that have an online offer are doing better. The town centre urgently needs to adapt, transform and find a new focus in order to survive, and these solutions have to be local. See how Stockton has done that by ripping up the rule book. The Council there devised a year-round programme of events to keep bringing local people and those from further afield into the town. 

As a town we need to create our own identity based on local characteristics. We are on our way to woodland town status and ‘garden-by-the-sea’ is popular amongst local folk. We could be a model ‘liveable town’, we could set the tone for future development of towns with our approach to sustainability, net zero, mobility and local economy. 

Conclusion

What makes any town centre improvement scheme successful is 

a) the attractiveness and good design of the streets, fitting to the needs of the community; 

b) the attention given to the transition period (ie nobody needs to be unduly impacted, residents/neighbours/shops); 

c) alternative solutions in terms of services supported by local government (eg dedicated pick up points or delivery of heavy material/shopping; time-based pedestrianisation; active travel etc); 

d) good engagement and consultation with all those involved

Success is achieved by coordinating efforts to nudge towards increased use of both the town centre as a place to meet needs and alternative modes of transport for getting there. We know that pedestrianisation alone works in the end but often at a cost (eg older folk go to nearby supermarkets; relocation or closure of businesses that are not given time to shift core business/products; etc). 

We wouldn’t want to pay the cost if it is possible to achieve the same outcome without it. We must take heed of this caveat.  

Therefore, we must see a holistic approach to implementation of changes, including attention to parking for cars and bikes, public transport, infrastructure to support safer walking, access for deliveries, click and collect, drop off and pick up. We also need good design and good local engagement. 

And, we all need to be asking:

  • How can we all encourage more walking and cycling? 
  • And encourage use of public transport?
  • What could you do to encourage your staff to use more active travel modes to get to and from work – and how do you travel yourselves?
  • Low carbon future will include cargo bikes – how might we embrace that now?

The UK parliamentary review that led to the High Streets Task Force had this to say about the future of town centres. “We are convinced that high streets and town centres will survive, and thrive…if they adapt, becoming activity-based community gathering places where retail is a smaller part of a wider range of uses and activities. Green space, leisure, arts and culture and health and social care services must combine with housing to create a space that is the “intersection of human life and activity” based primarily on social interactions rather than financial transactions. Individual areas will need to identify the mix that best suits their specific characteristics, local strengths, culture and heritage. Fundamentally, community must be at the heart of all high streets and town centres in 2030.”

Referenced links

  1. http://placealliance.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2019/06/BM9_5_Tibbalds-Making-people-friendly-places_s_Katja-Stille.pdf
  2. https://www.rapidtransition.org/stories/reclaiming-the-streets-the-increasing-trend-of-pedestrianisation-around-the-world/
  3. Reclaiming the Streets: the increasing trend of pedestrianisation around the world’).
  4. https://futureplaceleadership.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/Tallinn-High-Street-Case-studies-Future-Place-Leadership.pdf
  5. https://www.sustrans.org.uk/our-blog/opinion/2020/may/what-are-the-economic-impacts-of-making-more-space-for-walking-and-cycling
  6. https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201719/cmselect/cmcomloc/1010/full-report.html#heading-8
  7. Dr Francesca Sartorio, Lecturer in Planning, School of Geography and Planning, Cardiff University – local resident and contributor to our core group discussions.

Find out more about Penarth Living Streets here.

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