Regional AM Suzy Davies has welcomed the publication this week of a long-awaited report into reversing the pedestrianisation in parts of Bridgend town centre.
But she has also urged council leaders to get out of their bubble at the civic offices and take decisive action before it is too late to save the town.
Mrs Davies, the recently returned Welsh Conservative AM for South Wales West, launched a campaign with traders last year calling for the lower end of the town centre to be opened up to traffic. A petition backing this was signed by 1300 people.
Mrs Davies has questioned the haphazard way in which this report has been released. She said: “My office contacted Council Chief Executive Darren Mepham in March to find out what was happening to the report prepared in January. I had no reply before the Assembly was dissolved in April.
“When the office was up and running again after the election, I contacted the Chief Executive again because I was hearing rumours from some traders that the report was ready but that only Labour councillors had been briefed on it, including Labour town councillors but not others. I was therefore surprised to hear from Mr Mepham that he had not seen the report himself but then I was told that it was ready and it was forwarded to me and other AM’s.
“No explanation for the delay has been given which is very disappointing considering our campaign and the formal referral by the town council.“
She went on: “The council intends to hold a public consultation about the four options within the report about how Queen Street, Dunraven Place and Market Street can be safely re-opened to traffic. But this cannot be a tick-box exercise.
“A number of different proposals are being considered, some of which I suspect will not satisfy traders. At the moment, the assertion is that totally reversing the pedestrianisation would cost £800,000 although I’m not clear yet how that figure has been reached. Assumptions are made in reports like this and may need to be challenged.
“I would urge everyone who uses Bridgend town centre to make their views known. People now have the chance to get pedestrianisation scrapped in this part of Bridgend and to breathe new life back into the town centre.
“Footfall was 13 per cent down earlier this year – six times worse than the Welsh average. Labour’s complacency about the future of the town centre was epitomised by cabinet member Charles Smith who said it was no worse than Caerphilly. And the Head of Regeneration at the council believes that Bridgend can’t realistically expect to draw visitors from outside the area. Where is the ambition and the aspiration for Bridgend?
“Labour-run BCBC has revealed breathtaking apathy and indifference to the plight of town centre traders but why? Snuggly tucked up in the Civic Centre bubble for so long, they have been in denial - arguing that pedestrianisation was a good thing. It has taken the strength of public opinion against it to get them to even consider making a change – and since then we have had months of delay and another terrible set of Christmas trading figures.”