Denbighshire is a local authority area in North East Wales which contains eight contrasting but relatively small towns. They are a Partner member of the Institute. The towns in the county vary in scale, location (from coastal towns to rural settings), and function. What the towns have in common is that they are faced by both outside pressures, such as the very current issues of a changing retail scenario, and local issues.

As the County Council seeks to work with its various towns and ensure their sustainability, it organised an event on Friday 25th May that brought together Council officers from across different departments and services whose remit touches in some way on town centres in a Town Centres Vitality Workshop. The officers came from Asset Management to Highways, from Planning to Economic Development, from Business Rates to Leisure and more in between. Nearly 30 officers participated and the session was initiated by the Leader of the Council.

Denbighshire has been looking at its town centres for a number of years, and is working on a comprehensive strategy for the regeneration of one of its centres: Rhyl. Rhyl was once a thriving coastal resort but its economy declined considerably in the 1990s. The Council wants to ensure that other towns and their centres are also sustainable. These include Prestatyn, also a coastal town, Denbigh and Ruithin, both rural locations, the recently created, though inhabited since the 6th century, city of St Asaph, Britain's second smallest, and Llangollen, which is a rural town with significant tourism. Initiatives to date include a magazine called Town Business, the development and growth of #lovelivelocal that is getting prominence for local businesses and consideration of Business Improvement Districts in Prestatyn and Rhyl.

The workshop heard about a number of initiatives taking place in each of the towns and this was supported by quite detailed data on the nature of the towns and activities within it, including footfall patterns. Break-out groups looked at the strengths and challenges for each town, the reputation of the town, initiatives or actions that were underway and then sought to identify potential for further action based on the 25 priorities for town centre vitality that the Institute has published and which Institute Director Simon Quin presented in the session.

A key point that emerged was that town centres were not a specific part of the local authority corporate plan, but so much that happened in them influenced the achievement of that plan. The officers participating in the workshop represented many disciplines but this place-focused workshop illustrated to them how much they cross over in locations and how much their work can impact on the future of each centre.

It was a really useful workshop and one that could be copied in other local authority areas. Arising from it are ideas about wider involvement and engagement with stakeholders in the town centres and the possibility of a similar event with elected members.

Many local authorities will face the challenges that Denbighshire does, and bringing officers together, with high level political support, for an extended period to look in detail on a place focused basis could be a useful step in supporting town centre vitality.