‘Landmark’ 65m store opens at last

Image copyright Kier Construction
Image caption The external perimeter of the building is a mile around

A new £65m megastore's opening has been described as a "landmark" in the regeneration of Merthyr Tydfil.

The Trago Mills discount department store will employ 350 people and has taken 18 months to build but has been almost 30 years in the planning.

It will also include the town's first tourist information centre for three years.

The development next to the Cyfarthfa retail park also includes independents ranging from bakeries to hairdressers.

Proposals first emerged for a store in the Pentrebach area in 1990, back to before the retail park was built off the A470.

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Media captionPeople in Merthyr Tydfil share their thoughts about the new complex

But there were planning and economic issues.

Council leader Kevin O'Neill said: "The local authority is thrilled to see Trago open after many years' anticipation - not just because it's a fantastic addition to Merthyr Tydfil's shopping offer but also because it's another landmark in the overall regeneration of the county borough."

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Image copyright Kier Construction
Image caption Nearly there... work on the site pictured six months ago

This will be the fourth Trago Mills store, the first outside south west England. The family business was founded in Cornwall in the 1960s.

The store, covering a space the size of nearly five football pitches, is the first phase of a development which Trago hopes will eventually include a petrol station and a motorbike and cycling dealership.

Trago chairman Bruce Robertson said it would make a "significant contribution" to the local economy.

"We are most grateful for the expressions of support received from throughout the community, and indeed, without them none of this could have been possible," he said.

Image caption Tenneco-Walker created 200 jobs in 2014 but Merthyr has seen job losses too

Analysis by Brian Meechan, BBC Wales business correspondent

Merthyr has had some good news and some bad news in recent years when it comes to jobs.

General Dynamics opened its new plant in the town - where it assembles and tests the next generation of armoured vehicles, creating 250 highly skilled jobs.

And exhaust maker Tenneco-Walker opened a site in Dowlais Top - creating more than 200 jobs.

However, 350 people lost their jobs at the food group 2 Sisters when it decided to move the packing section of its business to Cornwall.

At 5.8%, unemployment in Merthyr is higher than the Welsh average of 4.8% based on official figures for 2017. But that has fallen from 14% in 2012.

So, 350 new jobs at Trago Mills is good news.

What is never certain with these out-of-town developments is how many jobs are being moved out of towns rather than being created.

The fact it has taken so long for the store to open says quite a lot about the planning system and the economic turmoil of the last 20 years.

Prof Brian Morgan, entrepreneurship expert at Cardiff Metropolitan University, said it was a good news story but there was a possibility it could have a negative effect on the town centre, while they also needed to ensure people could reach it easily without a car.

"The investment in out-of-town shopping centres is a bit of a double-edged sword," he said.

It can generate jobs and new people into the area but it can also have this displacement effect on the town centre itself and other areas.

"We need to question whether these 350 jobs will be net jobs.

"Merthyr Market stallholders are struggling at the moment, there are a lot of empty shops so you need to question whether there is a strategy for maximising this investment in terms of its regenerative ability for the whole of Merthyr."

Read more: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-south-east-wales-43838035

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