Exploring Welsh Towns

June 20, 2017

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Gina Wilson, Carnegie UK Trust

Towns in Wales have a particular geography. Larger towns and cities are concentrated around the edge of Wales, along the coasts and the border with England. In the heart of Wales, there are no large towns but a plethora of small towns up to a size of around 20,000.

Carnegie UK recently hosted a discussion event in Cardiff, ‘Understanding Welsh Places’, to explore what data exists and what it could tell us about Welsh towns.

The picture of towns is one of diversity. The vibrancy varies significantly. Commissioned by Welsh Government in 2008, Professor Woods set out to develop a typology of towns to better understand their roles and interrelationships. His key message? You cannot treat small towns in Wales as a single category.

The variety of towns was described through a six point typology:

  • subregional centres (e.g. Aberystwyth)
  • anchor towns (e.g. Brecon)
  • island towns (e.g. Fishguard)
  • doughnut towns (e.g. Milford Haven)
  • satellite towns (e.g. Caldicot)
  • niche towns (e.g. Hay-on-Wye)

Many towns have faced challenges in maintaining key services; this is a picture which has worsened since the original research was undertaken. Watch a short video input from Professor Woods as he describes his research and asks if it is time to look again at classifications?

The team behind Understanding Scottish Places (www.usp.scot) demonstrated the data tool, shared some case studies of its use in Scotland and asked whether an ‘Understanding Welsh Places’ tool could be useful? If so, what could it look like? Is there a need for it?

Professor Leigh Sparks and Matthew Jackson – two of the key figures behind the development of www.usp.scot – described the policy landscape which paved the way for the data tool in Scotland and the original work behind the creation of the ‘interrelationships’ measures which reveal similarities between towns.

You can find the slides from our event and follow the discussion here.

We shared our experience of developing www.usp.scot; but recognised there was as much to be learned from work happening in Wales. Infobase Cymru is a free to access, comprehensive bilingual data resource covering a wide range of interests. Keeping data up to date is a challenge for any organisation – the Data Unit and Infobase Cymru work to an impressive 5-day turnaround.

The Shape My Town toolkit is an engaging place planning resource being used by a number of communities in Wales. We shared Scotland’s award winning Place Standard tool, and spoke together about our learning on the use of visual resources to support community engagement and co-creation in place-planning.

The Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015 provided the backdrop to much of our discussions. In taking a long-term and collaborative view to the future, there is need for local data to help shape local wellbeing plans. That data should be ‘usable’ by people interested in their place. Interpretation through simple visualisations could help to make data accessible and meaningful to a wider audience.

The question of whether an Understanding Welsh Places data tool should be developed remains an open one. If you’d like to share your thoughts, please do get in touch with me by the end of September 2017.