Wales' most innovative and influential think tank

Connect: Twitter Facebook LinkedInTel: 01685 350938

The case for Anchor Towns

January 6th 2021

In our Transforming Wales series, ahead of the Senedd elections, Helen Cunningham outlines the case for Anchor Towns

It is universally accepted that towns matter. Of course they do – Wales is a nation of towns and we have hundreds of them. They are a defining feature of our geography. The vast network and diversity of towns across Wales – from coastal towns to market towns to valleys towns – makes them fundamental to what Wales is. And towns are loved. Cwmbran’s recent victory in the vote for best UK post-war town – a playful world cup of new towns – illustrates the interest and passion there is for towns.

Pre-coronavirus, towns were already edging up the policy agenda, from UK government’s towns deals in England to Welsh Government’s Town Centre First approach. The pandemic has also refocused the debate. In lockdown, place has taken on a new relevance in people’s lives. From concerns about what high streets will be on the other side of the pandemic to weather there will be a “flight” from the city to towns large and small. The conversation continues to evolve on what next for towns in Wales

A new future for towns?

If there is to be a long-term focus on towns then it has to be around what their future is and how to achieve it. Our work on anchor towns advocates the evolution of some towns as lynchpins within their region. They are connected to surrounding places, offer a mix of business and consumer services, have capacity for growth and a core of public services and anchor institutions. Their development can help to re-balance development in Wales and change the fortunes of the wider regions they are in. This is important because towns make up a significant proportion of the places the population of Wales works and lives. They are intrinsic to the economy in Wales. As the OECD has observed on productivity growth, Wales is confronted with a choice; a distributed model where no single region is the main contributor, or a concentrated model where “frontier” regions are the principal contributors. Both have advantages and disadvantages. Whatever one the Welsh government decides to pursue, towns will important for achieving it.

A different narrative

Crucially, anchor towns also build on what makes a town what it is – its character and identity. Including through its cultural, civic, community and public life. Every town is unique in some way and no two places are the same. The identities of places are fundamental to their success, progress and  very survival. In our recent valleys manifesto, we advocate designating a ‘new town’ along the heads of the valleys corridor, as part of a network of anchor towns could be a catalyst for an enhanced valleys identity, as well as new investment. How towns view themselves and how others view them, their story and narrative, is important yet sometimes overlooked. They have tangible impact on where places are going. From choosing to make a life somewhere; starting a family, setting out in business or having the confidence to invest in a place – the narrative and identity of that place matters enormously for determining its future.

With the right support, imagination and buy in, Anchor towns can be help unleash the full potential of some towns, which, whatever happens over the year ahead, will continue to be fundamental to Wales’ success.

Helen Cunningham is policy and research officer at the Bevan Foundation

Leave a Reply

In Print

Exchange Magazine »

Exchange 17: Autumn 2020

Wales’ best policy and politics magazine! This bumper issue reflects on the impact of Coronavirus on Wales’ economy and society, and highlights some ways forward to recover, renew and reset Wales in its aftermath. This issue includes articles by: Darren […] »

Events »

Friday Connect: February 2021

We warmly invite you to our new, informal discussions – Friday Connect Many of us feel we have too many online meetings, but they can also be a great way of connecting with others especially when we can’t meet in […] »