Llanelli’s Sports Direct store at the St Elli Centre is to close in September 2022. The Parc Trostre store is not closing.
The closure comes at a time when the Wilko store in the centre has been reduced to almost empty of stock in preparation for closing their doors.
Sports Direct recently launched its flagship store in Birmingham with a £10m investment. Specialist areas within the store include, a permanent golf putting green, running gait analysis, a bra-fitting studio and a Jordan basketball performance challenge. Dedicated areas have been set out for football, running, outdoor and specialist sports, alongside men’s, women’s and kidswear.
Llanelli like other towns is seeing the demise of independent and big name retailers either closing down permanently or adjusting their presence by moving out of town or going online.
The county council has invested in the town but some critics claim that the investment in transforming derelict buildings should have been put into improving existing business areas.
Llanelli businesses also contribute to the BID, which works towards putting on events which draw in visitors.
The town centre that has been in decline for decades, the impact of COVID and related restrictions have only made an already struggling Llanelli, even worse according to one local politician.
Although there have been rally calls for encouraging more and more hyper-local, small businesses and entrepreneurs, supporting existing independent retailers and creating a space for local entrepreneurs – investing in local talent, keeping profit in wales and the Welsh pound local there is little evidence of any action.
Towns like Kidwelly have been seeing a rise in the numbers of local producers and crafts people taking up the offer of low priced market stalls but in Llanelli the market has been reduced to a handful of stalls, a burger van and an ice cream van.
The indoor market continues to offer a wonderful array of goods and the stall holders there appear to have weathered the storm against all the odds.
A report on Foundational Economy; Small Towns, Big Issues claims that with imagination and organisation in place, towns could get a proper local return from national policies which tackled the primary financial problem and tilted the balance of
business model incentives towards repurposing town centre fabric and away from edge of town capture of relocating activities. The report proposes the following:
- In edge or out of town retail parks, allow conversion of units for non-retail uses only when facilities like gyms,shared workspaces, health centres and such like serve an edge of town neighbourhood purpose.
- Levy per hour charges or business rates on every marked, publicly available car parking space in edge of town retail parks to create a significant fund for the support of in town social infrastructure.
- Recognise Section 106 and other levies on new build have raised little money to date and consider also levying an urban renewal charge through the rates on all existing buildings; on the same principle as electricity bill charges for green policies that will benefit future generations.
- Lobby Westminster for designating town centres as renewal zones with a suite of tax concessions including zero business rates and no VAT on building refurbishment to divert activity and reduce costs for developments that contribute to the Future Wales vision
Editor’s Comment: It remains to be seen whether taxing car users for parking at out of town centres will aid town centres or drive the shoppers to online shopping only. Developers have had an easy time of it and perhaps it is time for a rethink on the amount of Section 106 money generated and the purpose it is used for.
A town like Llanelli was built in the halcyon days when industry was in full swing. Whole families were employed in local factories and there was a rugby stadium minutes from the town centre. Parking was relatively free with a huge car park at the former Tesco store. The streets were attractive and lined with those trees that the Welsh Government are so keen for us all to plant.
Perhaps the solution is to redesign the town centre into a smaller more compact set of buildings, which provide a combination of residential, office and retail spaces for large and small businesses with a strong emphasis on helping local people get on to the business ladder by offering free retail units. The surrounding areas could be turned into greener spaces, more trees, free or discounted parking areas, park and ride, electric charging points, regular markets promoting healthy living and local produce. Gardening plots and children’s play areas dotted around the outskirts so that it draws in families. A dedicated arts and performance area for events. The town has to change to adapt to the times we are living in. The biggest problem is lack of leadership and lack of people with the intelligence and experience to actually design, implement and maintain a long term plan for the future of Llanelli Town Centre.