Traders pin hopes on Abertillery town centre revamp
Traders say they hope a £13m revamp will help breathe new life into a south Wales valleys town centre, but some fear it will not be enough.
The first phase of improvements has just been completed at the northern entrance of Abertillery.
There are also plans for new retail space and an indoor market, besides extensive cosmetic work to the centre of the Blaenau Gwent town.
Traders welcome improvements but remain concerned about its future.
Stuart Lewis, owner of Fresh and Fruity greengrocers on Church Street, said Abertillery was a "very dated town" which was "not catering for the modern shopper".
"I think a lot of money should be spent in getting traders to open up," he said.
"I think the money may have been better spent on maybe a canopy for [Church] street.
"You could have had a farmers' market and things that would encourage more people into the town."
Rod Davies, chairman of Abertillery Business and Town Centre Forum, said traders were battling a difficult economic climate.
"I wouldn't be so negative as to say it's a waste of time," he said.
"What I would say is that all towns, and there's no exceptions whether it's the city centre of Newport or other valley towns, are suffering from the downturn in consumer spending and the general effects of the recession.
"With these moves in terms of the streetscape and making grants available for the external works and general improvements, it's got to be a step in the right direction."
Mohammed Zia, owner of The Tasty Bite fish and chip shop, believes there are wider issues preventing Abertillery from flourishing.
'Living on benefits'
"It's not just Abertillery, it's all the little villages and towns and everything. All the towns and villages are dying. Something needs to be done about it," he said.
"There's no manufacturing and this is the basic problem. Every other person is living on benefits."
The grants will fund a makeover to key town centre streets such as Church Street, High Street and Somerset Street.
The first part of the work has seen new paving, traffic calming measures, CCTV and street lighting at the northern end of the town.
More ambitious developments are also planned involving new retail and community space.
There is also a scheme to turn a former derelict church on Foundry Square into an indoor market, which Nick Landers, the council officer overseeing the project said would be delivered by July 2012.
"Ultimately, it's about attracting as much footfall as possible and creating a safer environment for shoppers and ensuring there's enough car parking available.
"We recognise town centres are competing with out-of-town retail units so it's putting more life back into Abertillery town centre."
'In the doldrums'
Don Wilcox, executive member for regeneration, recognises Abertillery has been in the doldrums.
"What we hope to do is re-enliven the town centre and make Abertillery a place where people want to go to do their business and do their shopping," he said.
"Blaenau Gwent council recognised in 2005 that Abertillery town centre was dying. I think that was a bit strong but it was on its knees.
"Traders have been affected by the work but all traders will benefit in the long term.
"We can make Abertillery a place people want to go to and we can keep the town centre alive."