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Council leaders call for city support package

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The leaders of three major Welsh councils are calling for a comprehensive and significant support package to help cities through the pandemic.

Those who head Cardiff Council, Newport City Council and Swansea Council say that, although direct action continues to be taken by local authorities and major investment made, cities are being particularly badly impacted by the crisis.

The challenge has been brought into sharp focus this week by the troubles of high street retail giants Arcadia and Debenhams. Cardiff, Newport and Swansea together employ tens of thousands of people in retail and hospitality.

(Image: Artem Beliaikin / Pexels.com)

The council leaders said: “The news about Arcadia and Debenhams is a severe blow to the cities of Wales.

“These announcements could have a potentially catastrophic domino impact on other retailers who depend on the footfall created by anchor stores.

“The effect could be widespread too – if the cities struggle, everyone will struggle.

“A comprehensive and significant support package is required to help cities through the challenges.”

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The leaders acknowledge that the pandemic has impacted on all communities. However, they say that:

  • The pandemic is hitting cities harder in every way;
  • Its health impacts are more concentrated and severe in cities;
  • The stop-start approach to the economy is having deep and damaging impacts on the retail and hospitality sectors which characterise city economies;
  • Wales and its regions depend on cities as the engines of economic growth.
(Image: Artem Beliaikin / Pexels.com)

They said: “As councils, we have all been working with our retail partners to help them over the past months.

“Now, as cities, we are deeply concerned about the potential knock-on impacts on our retail heartlands.

“Our high streets have faced the growing challenge of online shopping – now the situation has been fueled by the pandemic.

“We cannot allow unmanaged decline in our city centres so we are calling on the Welsh Government to use all levers at its disposal to protect our city centres.

“This includes relief on business rates during the pandemic and beyond, increased grant support for the retail and hospitality sectors and enterprise zone status.

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“We would like to see the Economic Renewal Fund 4 brought forward and focused on our city and town centres.

“Our city centres are the engines of the Welsh economy. If they fail, Wales fails.

“Our city centres collectively employ well over 100,000 people across South Wales, around one in every eight jobs, and that’s without considering their wider supply chain.

“The crisis of city centres strikes at the heart of the Welsh economy, and needs urgent and extensive support from government to stimulate recovery.

“Needless to say, high concentrations of businesses in our city centres are making a vital contribution to the economy but also to Welsh public finances, through their rates.

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“Support now is crucial to sustaining our cities’ collective ability to anchor Wales’ emerging city-regions.”

The call by the council leaders is supported by Business Improvement Districts thatrepresent more than 2,500 businesses in the three city centres.

Union Street in Swansea in better times (Image: Swansea Council)

Swansea BID, FOR Cardiff and Newport Now Business Improvement Districts said: “Businesses have been making heroic efforts, at great personal cost, to keep the city centre economy going and to protect vital jobs – but so many business owners are at breaking point or beyond.

“We know that once city centres are hollowed out by the toppling of businesses, it is often the death knell for them.

“Swift and generous support, accompanied by a well-thought-out recovery plan developed working with us as businesses, is essential.

“Allowing city centres to wither away is unacceptable, and a comprehensive and significant support package would help city centres through these challenges.

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“Our government now needs to use all its levers at its disposal to protect our city centres and quickly.”


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Welsh and UK Governments agree to establish Freeports in Wales

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The Welsh Government has reached agreement with the UK Government on the establishment of Freeports in Wales.

Welsh Ministers have agreed to support Freeport policies in Wales following the UK Government’s agreement to meet the Welsh Government’s demands that UK Ministers provide at least £26m of non-repayable starter funding for any Freeport established in Wales, which represents a parity with the deals offered to English Freeports.

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The UK Government have agreed to meet a number of other demands – including that both Governments will act on the basis of a ‘partnership of equals’ to deliver any Freeports in Wales.

In addition, both Governments have agreed a Freeport will only be implemented if it can be demonstrated clearly it will operate in a manner that aligns with the Welsh Government’s policies on fair work and environmental sustainability, including the commitment to Wales becoming a net-zero carbon nation.

Economy Minister, Vaughan Gething said: “Following considerable engagement between our Governments, I’m pleased we have been able to reach agreement with UK Ministers to establish Freeports in Wales. The agreement we have reached is fair to Wales, and respects the Welsh Government’s responsibilities in devolved policy areas.

“However, we have made it clear to the UK Government that a Freeport will only be implemented if it can be demonstrated, using robust evidence and analysis, that it will support our fair work agenda and deliver long-term, sustainable benefits for Wales, and value for money for Welsh taxpayers.

“I very much hope that the UK Government’s willingness to work with the Welsh Government as equals on Freeports can provide a positive model for future co-operation between our governments on other initiatives.”

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The UK Government’s Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, Michael Gove said: “I am delighted that Wales is the latest area in the UK set to benefit from a new Freeport.

“The UK Government’s ambitious Freeports agenda will help to level up our coastal communities and create new opportunities for people right across the country.

“Together with the Welsh Government, I look forward to seeing innovative proposals come forward that demonstrate tangible benefits for the people of Wales.”

In addition, Welsh and UK Ministers have agreed that the UK Government will provide tax incentives for Freeports in Wales in parity with Freeports in other parts of the United Kingdom for the reserved taxes that have been designated to advance the policy aims. The Welsh Government will design tax reliefs from local and devolved taxes (Non-Domestic Rates and Land Transaction Tax) to support the policy aims.

Both Governments say they will remain open to the possibility of a multi-site Freeport in Wales. In recognition of Wales’ unique economic geography and the Welsh Government’s aspirations for economic development in Wales, the UK Government is willing to relax the 45 km boundary limit for a multi-site Freeport solution, should there be a sufficiently compelling case for doing so.

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Both Governments will also remain open to the possibility of allowing more than one Freeport in Wales, should they be presented with a sufficiently compelling business case.

As with English Freeports, a fair and open competitive process will be used to determine where the policy should be implemented in Wales. Both Governments will work together to co-design the process for Freeport site selection, and both will have an equal say in all decisions throughout the implementation process. This includes the final decision on site selection.

Both Governments have begun the process of designing the bid prospectus for the competition and further details about the timing of next steps will be released in due course.

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Swansea digital agency iCreate enters the metaverse with bespoke digital environments

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Swansea-based creative agency iCreate is entering the metaverse by creating 3D visual environments for Dubai-based NFT boutique Jumi – a new outlet for curated digital art.

The metaverse hit the headlines last year when Facebook’s parent company rebranded to Meta, reflecting the growing potential of the internet to offer an interactive virtual world through AI and 3D digital animation.

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The metaverse offers social connection through technology, interaction with brands and businesses, and online recreation.

It encompasses everything from online video games to virtual shops where you can digitally try on items before you buy them, and bespoke venues for online events of all kinds.

It’s expected to expand into an online world where people will have their own virtual avatars which they take from one virtual environment to another, purchasing virtual products for them and housing them in virtual homes.

This is where iCreate – which specialises in creating digital environments – comes in. The company provides CGIs, 3D flythrough animations, VR tours and marketing brochures to the off-plan property sector.

From interactive, customisable home interiors that enable buyers to plan every detail of their dream home, through to large-scale digital animations of new housing developments, iCreate is adept at creating virtual environments that look and feel like the real thing.

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Now it’s teaming up with Jumi and other partners to create digital environments that will never be built in the real world, but will exist in the metaverse, where people’s avatars can explore and socialise in them.

A key aspect of the metaverse is non-fungible tokens (NFTs): digital assets that can be bought and traded. These are increasingly hitting the headlines as everyone from independent artists to big brands creates and sells digital-only products, music, artwork and more.

Dawn Lyle (right) and the team at iCreate

Jumy, which completed a $1.2M seed funding round last year, is the ultimate NFT boutique marketplace for exclusive digital art. All artworks are curated from the world’s most creative digital artists, to guarantee outstanding quality.

The platform is the world’s first to offer a fully integrated digital art experience where visitors will be able to purchase pieces with payment cards, trade their NFTs, order NFT frames (digital frames for NFT art) and flex their NFTs on metaverse – all in one place.

By collaborating with Jumi, iCreate will make beautiful, exclusive digital environments for displaying NFTs in the metaverse. From here, it’s expected that a new market in bespoke virtual homes and offices will develop over the coming years, as more aspects of all our lives are lived in the metaverse.

Dawn Lyle, iCreate’s co-founder, said: “We’re delighted to have formed this new partnership with Jumi and to be taking our bespoke digital environments into the metaverse.

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“The metaverse offers such a wealth of possibilities, and over the coming years it will become increasingly common to play, meet and do business with people all over the world in virtual settings.

“We’re excited to be creating stunning digital environments in which these activities can take place; in the metaverse, there are no limitations and it’s possible to bring dreams to life, creating astonishing virtual places that delight and surprise. It gives us the opportunity to put all our creative skills to use in exciting new ways and we can’t wait to get started.”

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River Island launches its brand new Swansea concept store this weekend

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Fashion chain River Island is revealing its brand new concept store at Morfa Retail Park in Swansea on Saturday (7 May).

Located at the former New Look store at Unit 6 on the Brunel Way shopping centre, the new store is just a few doors down from its previous outlet, although promises to be an even bigger and better boutique shopping experience.

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Located across two floors, the 8,253 square foot store has been specially curated to the tastes of Swansea shoppers according to the fashion chain.

Set across one level, womenswear will occupy just over half the space, with the remainder split between menswear and kidswear, stocking kids, mini and baby.

To celebrate the new opening, River Island will be hosting a launch event weekend in-store on the 7th and 8th of May, where shoppers can expect to hear celebratory sounds with in-store DJ sets, whilst the first lucky 100 customers through the doors will receive a £10 gift card which can be redeemed in-store or online.

Frances Baker, River Island Property Director said: “River Island is thrilled to be relocating and open ing a new boutique store in Swansea, Morfa as part of our segmentation programme.

“We are excited to introduce our concept store to our existing loyal customers, with exciting opportunities to acquire new customers with our new look-and-feel store.”

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River Island say the store upgrade strengthens its 300 strong estate and solidifies its message of “standing by the high street”, a campaign set up in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic to show solidarity with other high street brands negatively hit by the effects of the pandemic.

The fashion chain say that by investing in finding ways to encourage and entice customers to return to in-person shopping it hopes to “enhance and improve the shopping journey for its customers”.

(Lead image: River Island)

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