Between November 2017 and April 2018, the Shaping Newport project, a collaboration between the Isle of Wight Council, Newport Parish Council and Newport Business Association, set out to ask the people of the county town for their experiences and opinions of the place, its positives and negatives.
Over 3000 people took part, through online and paper questionnaires, public meetings, workshops, meetings and correspondence. A scored ‘Place Standard’, together with 15,000 individual comments and suggestions, from people of all ages, produced a data set big enough to reveal a clear pattern of local priorities for change. The issues that ranked highest in the surveys and discussions were:
- Identity and Belonging – a lack of pride in the Island’s capital, a frustration at the town’s spreading anonymity, and a lack of the civic confidence necessary to build local enterprise and attract new investment.
- Influence and Control – a sense of severance between the community of Newport and its systems of decision-making.
- Traffic and Parking – on the one hand the problems of a town centre dominated by traffic, leaving walking and cycling the poor relations; on the other the obstacles to simply getting in and out of town by car.
- Streets and Spaces – a public realm that has become bland, over-regulated and out-of-reach to community activities.
At the same time as identifying the problems, the participants in Shaping Newport were clear about the assets of the town and parish, the distinctive resources and materials that must be part of the solution. These include Newport’s 3 rivers, its castle, minster and Roman villas; its youthful population and concentration of centres of learning and training; its internationally renowned music festival and the cluster of cultural venues; its uniquely preserved Medieval street pattern; its 2 national cycleways, 50 protected wildlife areas and its dominance as the Island’s centre of employment. The mismatch between Newport’s qualities and its performance was striking to many.
By analysing the public scores, commentary and advice built up through its 6 months of engagement work, Shaping Newport was able to condense the key objectives into 3 categories, Newport’s DNA:
- Destination: rediscovering and celebrating Newport’s identity; creating compelling and distinctive reasons to visit, invest and return.
- Navigation: making it easy to get into Newport, and out again, to find a place to park and to safely cross on foot, or by bike; marking safe, appealing and coherent town routes for visitors to explore.
- Association: building better, more useful and constructive connections between the people who live and work in Newport and the decision-makers.
There are 15 recommended actions within these 3 priority areas and a ‘First Steps’ programme to ensure that positive action for change begins immediately:
- Appoint a town-centre champion to broker new collaboration between public services, business and community.
- Build a Shaping Newport budget by pooling existing town funds, levies on development, and a percentage reinvested from public revenues raised in the town (e.g. car parks).
- Create a New Town Charter that sets out Newport’s planning rules and a regeneration agreement with town centre landlords.
- Produce and manage a 12-month events calendar of free public and community events through the first delivery year of the project, celebrating the town’s heritage, and its future.
- Publish a ‘User’s Guide’ to Newport to follow the events programme, encouraging business, community, organizations and individuals, to use the town’s public spaces and civic centres for entertainment, spectacle, information and celebration, and making it as easy as possible.
- An immediate start on a ‘top 3’ of the 15 Shaping Newport project recommendations, completed within 18 months.
- An evaluation, after 18 months, to measure change, adapt and improve the Shaping Newport delivery programme and continue.