We asked people if they really prefer shopping in Cwmbran and this is what they said

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It’s the decade-old conundrum among shoppers and traders in Newport.

Ask any trader or punter on the high street, and you’ll often be met with some variation of the following:

“Oh, people don’t come into the city centre to shop anymore. They go to Cwmbran for the free parking.”

For years many have been lamenting the death of high streets around the UK, and conversations around Newport have been no different.

Empty shop fronts. Too many people in tents. Nothing to offer.

But with many prominent chains and a slew of independent traders scattered around a city centre moving towards a multi-offering approach, things aren’t quite as bleak as many would have you believe.



Friars Walk in Newport

With a shopping centre less than ten years old and a recovering city centre, Newport has plenty with which to combat the long-running Cwmbran Centre just over five miles away. But does it do so?

Even stevens – but indie outlets make the difference

When it comes to matching up the two shopping districts, there are more similarities than differences.

When it comes to major food chains and supermarkets, Newport’s Friars Walk has anchor tenants Debenhams, recently given an eleventh-hour reprieve thanks to Newport City Council, and its nearby retail park has Marks and Spencer.

Both Newport and Cwmbran have big hitters like Primark and Asda, and there’s plenty of crossover on the retail front with New Look, River Island JD Sports, SportsDirect and Jack and Jones.



Debenhams in Friars Walk was saved from closure by Newport City Council earlier this year

But what makes Newport and Cwmbran stand out from each other when it comes to shopping?

In Newport you’ll find a number of independent, specialist offerings. There’s two comic book shops in the city alone, Sin City in the shopping centre and Friendly Neighbourhood Comics in the market.

Music-wise there’s Diverse Vinyl, an independent, long-running store which more than compensates for Newport’s lack of a big music shop like HMV, which closed some years ago and which you’ll still find in the Cwmbran Centre.

Although there are the likes of Rugby Heaven, you won’t find quite as many independent traders in Cwmbran, admittedly a town with only a third of the population Newport has.

Both have the usual services like pharmacies – Holland and Barrett, Boots – while Newport has a small amount of independent travel agents like Nassa Travel and La Vida. Both also have the usual charity shops – British Heat Foundation, St David’s Hospice – but as a more expansive city centre, Newport’s are a little more scattered about.

Not just about the shopping

With the difficulties affecting high streets all around the UK, shopping is rarely an isolated activity anymore – punters want variety, somewhere to eat and drink while they browse.

Here again there’s crossover; the usual brands – KFC, Greggs, Costa, McDonalds. In Cwmbran Centre there’s the independent Cafe Venetian.



Cwmbran Centre

Friars Walk lost its only independent eatery last year, although a stone’s throw away is the long-running and excellent Bar Piazza.

And Newport’s existence as a less compact, sprawling city centre gives it some clout among those looking for a coffee, or something stronger. While Cwmbran’s offerings are largely limited to its centre’s chains, in Newport you’ll find the likes of The Pot Cafe, The Cellar Door, the Rogue Fox Coffee House, Le Pub and more.

Undoubtedly an issue, and one of several which has plagued trade in Newport in recent years, is parking.

As has been said time and again, parking in the city can be difficult without paying. In Friars Walk you’ll pay £1 for up to an hour, £1.50 for one to two hours, while longer stays of 3-4 and 4-6 hours cost £3.60 and £6 respectively.

It’s slightly cheaper in the nearby Kingsway, where it’s 50p an hour, £1 for one to two hours and £2 for two to three.

For those who don’t live within walking distance to the city centre and instead rely on public transport, this can be an issue.

But what do the people say?

Shaun Price is a trader with shops in both Newport and Cwmbran, and he admitted parking was an “obvious factor” favouring the latter.

“Free parking makes a huge difference. Newport has huge potential but it feels wasted. If they made parking cheaper more people would come to town. The prices are nearly at Cardiff levels.

“It’s a bit of a catch 22 because if they made it cheaper, more people would come in, but they need to make money.

“Having retail parks like Spytty hasn’t helped in getting people into the city either.

“The shopping centre has also lost a few tenants in the last few months, with Topshop, Schuh and Krispy Kreme going. There haven’t been many that have moved in in the past few years – Sin City Comics is the only one I can think of.

“Newport is also very spread out – in Cwmbran you can get out of the car and straight into Primark, whereas you have to go back and forth on yourself a bit in Newport. The SportsDirect there for example is much further down the high street than in Cwmbran.

“Cwmbran is definitely more user-friendly – you park, walk around and everything is there.

“They need to bring some of the bigger players in. Thank God the council stepped in and saved Debenhams, otherwise it would have been a huge blow.”

Judes Churchill lives in Bettws and agreed that parking was an issue.

“It’s the parking thing really. I don’t like the car park, it’s quite tight and has lots of bollards and that, and it often doesn’t suit if I want to just run in for something quickly. You still have to pay.

“It takes me as long to get to Newport as it does to get to Cwmbran, so I’ll often go there. I find it much easier to shop in Cwmbran, it has everything you need from supermarkets, clothes shops, cafes and leisure facilities to a gym, cinema, restaurants etc.

“I have a nine-year-old daughter and often find Cwmbran cheaper for eating out and things like the cinema.

“There are shops like Debenhams in Newport that I like, and I’d probably go there if they made the parking cheaper or had a certain number of hours free or something.”

However, other shoppers we asked recognised the unique experience of going to a city centre and its benefits over shopping centres.

One shopper, Harold Bishop, said: “I love shopping in Newport. I might not be your most typical shopper, but Newport has everything I need from a town: a real bookshop, two comic shops these days, a craft beer shop and a couple of good non-Wetherspoons pubs. The one thing I like about Friars Walk is the restaurants, and we have some good independents too.

“I resent paying for parking, but at the same time, it isn’t that expensive and it’s easy to do everything you need to quickly.

“It’s also a bit cliché to say but Newport has some beautiful buildings and art and some actual character, that I feel Cwmbran lacks.

“Cwmbran is very enclosed, and feels a bit claustrophobic. It has some high rises overlooking it too, and it seems that no matter how bright it is outside, some if it is always dark.

“I’ve been there at night a few times after going to the cinema and there were gangs of kids hanging around and because the streets were so narrow it felt much more intimidating to walk past them than in Newport.”

Julia Price lives in Newport and said she prefers to support the city over Cwmbran.

She said: “I’ve lived in Newport for nearly nine years and in that time I went to Cwmbran once. It was soulless and uninspiring and the shops just not special enough to get me back there.

“Newport has its issues, but so does every town centre. People tend to run Newport down and think other cities are better in terms of the number of people in tents, but homelessness is a problem across the board.

“The sense of place and history does it for me. The architecture is beautiful. And Newport is where I live, so I will support above anywhere else. Why wouldn’t we support our own city centre?

“Town for me these days is more about socialising, meeting friends for a coffee or lunch and then perhaps picking up something I see while I’m there. So opportunity shopping.

“I absolutely love this city, there’s a friendliness and a sense of community walking around. I don’t want to go to a homogenised shopping centre. It’s markets and quirky independent shops that draw me to shop somewhere.”



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