The Courthouse, Guildhall Square, Carmarthen
The castle remains are a focal point and facilities have been improved for visitors. Merlin is said to have lived nearby as did King Arthur of the legend. The area is steeped in history and myth and forms an ideal central location to explore the history and countryside of South West Wales. Carmarthen’s County Museum is located in the old Bishop’s Palace at Abergwili and is a few minute’s drive from the town centre. There is plenty of free parking and easy walks in the ground of the old Palace. The museum has undergone many improvements to bring it more into line with what visitors expect and it is well worth a visit. The County Museum also has other buildings, Parc Howard at Llanelli, The Museum of Speed at Pendine and an Industrial Museum at Kidwelly..
Carmarthen itself, although the County town, has suffered from a hotch-potch of development and poor planning over the years with the result that industrial development has taken place close to the town centre – blighting visitors’ first impressions.
A new by-pass and bridge over the River Towy has relieved traffic congestion to some degree, but parking facilities within the town is congested, especially at weekends and during the holiday period.
The Town’s Shopping areas
Shopping areas in the town have been upgraded in recent years and are for most purposes adequate but they by no means match those offered in similar sized towns elsewhere in the UK. The Greyfriars shopping mall with tiled wall panels supplied by Felingwm Pottery, which whilst welcome was built without overhead cover in this, one of the wettest parts of the UK. In September 2004, the frozen food store “Iceland” ceased trading in the precinct.
In 2005 a branch of Ethel Austin opened in the mall and joined Argos, TK Max, mobile phone shops and other well-known high street names. Ethel Austin did mot last long and by 2008 the store had closed its doors for the final time and was replaced by an “everything a pound” shop. In recent years other casualties in the Greyfriars Mall were a specialist card shop and a clothing shop.
In 2006 the Greyfriars shopping centre was completely re-painted and new signage installed to make it a more family orientated scheme. The centre attracted almost 4 million visitors in 2006.
Harveys moved from their store opposite Halfords and Laura Ashley opened in its place. Matalan opened a branch in new buildings near Focus and Comet and PC World and Currys opened stores on the old Towy Ford garage site. In 2006 Kwik-Save at Pensarn went downhill and stock levels were heavily reduced. At the time of writing (February 2007) there was little improvement and the shop is not really worth a visit and it finally closed. In 2008 the empty Kwik-Save store was renovated and was opened as part of the Aldi group. Lidl’s, meanwhile, always seems to have plenty of customers and great bargains are to be found – the downside is that the car park is small.
The Cambrian shopping mall, an earlier development, was also built without cover. The lack of provision of weather protection is another instance of poor planning by developers and Council planning department.
The controversial re-development of the Market area has caused much discussion but the benefits to shopper will be immense. It finally got the go-ahead in mid 2008 and when completed Carmarthen will offer greater choice and be more in line with what is available elsewhere.
There has been opposition to the scheme from the Chamber of Trade and other bodies who did not want the market site improved, but as the market has few traders on some days and the building is quite ugly things can only get better. A big benefit will be the addition of a Debenhams store and more shops – giving more choice for the consumer. Debenhams, who were sceptical at first, are now fully in favour of the development.
Carmarthen Market 2009
After much controversy and some opposition Carmarthen’s new market hall was opened on 8th April 2009 as part of the town’s multi-million pound shopping development. The market is the first part of a £75 million development to be opened to the public. The opening ceremony was performed by Wales and Scarlets rugby star Stephen Jones.
Although the Market Hall is open every day, not all stalls are open for business every day, so it remains to be seen if the new building attracts more visitors than the old one.
The Future of the Shopping Mall
The trend for shopping centres world-wide (including the UK) is that all new shopping centres will be open and with less covered walk ways. This seems to have been confirmed by a massive survey which has been carried out in the United States to try to discover what shoppers want. The results suggest that in 2008 only about 10 per cent of shopping centres that are opening there will be of an enclosed design.
As UK trends tend to follow America, albeit a few years behind, it appears that large open plan schemes with a fashion for ‘market stall’ type venues will be arriving here in the near future.
Demise of Music Zone in the Greyfriars precinct
In 2007 Music Zone (next door to Argos) was taken over by Fopp Music Store and Music Zone went into administration. Fopp Music Store was not open long, and that too closed. In August 2007 the empty premises was awaiting new tenants.
Carmarthen’s Adams children’s clothes shop
The group went into Administration in December 2008 and the Carmarthen branch closed.
This group have traded in the town for many years but ran into difficulties and was placed in Administration. Buyers could not be found and in October 2008 it was announced that the store would be closing. After a closing down sale the shutters came down in December 2008.
Carmarthen’s Officers’ Club men’s clothes shop
The whole group went into Administration in December 2008, but the Carmarthen branch is to stay open and remain trading.
Other shops which closed in 2008/9
Whittards of Chelsea; Denzil Evans (motor dealer) moved from Priory Street to Pensarn.
Carmarthen’s Tesco Extra
On 13th November 2006 Tesco opened a new superstore (said to be the largest in Wales at the time of its opening, but subsequently this proved not to be the case and better and a larger store is to be found at Fforestfach) and garage at the Five Fields site on the fringe of the town. There was opposition as some feared that trade will be taken from the smaller shops in the town. Shopping trends have changed and shoppers these days want to get their main shopping in one place and not have to carry numerous bags from one shop to the next, then back to the car. There always will be a place for small shops, but they have to specialise and sell what the larger stores do not. The new Tesco was visited on the opening day but was found to be smaller than the one at Fforestfach. The restaurant is very small and the bakery is as far from the entrance as it can be.
Carmarthen’s Wilkinsons store
In early 2007 the old Tesco building was renovated and national store group Wilkinsons was mentioned as a possible tenant. The car park previously used by Tesco was taken over by the Council and charges were imposed. On 29th June 2007 Wilkinsons opened its doors and started trading in Carmarthen.
Carmarthen’s Woolworth store
Having traded in the town for may years the group failed in the “credit crunch” of 2008. A closing-down sale was held in late December 2008 and its doors closed for the last time on New Year’s Eve.
Sony and Panasonic opened stores in 2008 in the Cambrian Precinct
Parking in the town
A point to be considered is the ever-rising cost and difficulty of parking in the town centre. To attract more shoppers to the smaller shops parking charges need to be reduced and more spaces allocated.
These developments are welcomed or Carmarthen as a main shopping town will only go downhill. There are places within easy driving distance where parking is a lot easier (Trostre, Fforestfach, Ammanford, Llanelli and Swansea for instance, although to be fair parking in central Swansea can be difficult) but the shopping experience is more relaxing and pleasurable.
Carmarthen’s Greyfriars shopping centre
The area is well served by out-of-town-centre superstores supplying food, DIY materials, electrical appliances, flat-pack furniture and motoring goods. Gardeners are catered for by a small branch of the national company, Wyevale. Prices are generally high and this garden centre lacks facilities seen elsewhere in the UK. The usual shops found in most towns and city centres are present to some degree but for more choice Swansea or Cardiff remain the best options. The lack of under-cover precincts is probably the biggest deterrent to shopping in Carmarthen when the weather is bad, and unfortunately this is often. Parking in the town centre is usually difficult, especially in the holiday season.
Footbridge gives better access from the Station
In 2006 a new footbridge over the Towy was completed, giving easier access to the station. Some parking spaces were provided at the station end of the footbridge, but who wants to pay high charges and then have to walk over a windy bridge in the rain to get to the town centre?
In 2009 a re-vamp of the station was underway
Out-of town stores at Pensarn are Morrisons (they took over the Safeway group), Halfords, Focus, Comet, Currys, PC World, Wyevale, MacDonalds and a Carmarthen Farmers outlet. A Crazy Macs warehouse-style outlet was opened at Pensarn but in the Carnarthen Journal of 21st March 2007 there was an advertisement for a closing down sale and it subsequently did close.
At Five Fields there is Tesco Extra (opened November 2006), while B&Q is close by – all have excellent free parking areas.
There are several everal used car dealers; Howards (a Peugeot main dealer); a Vauxhall main dealer, and branches of ATS, Kwick-Fit, National Tyre plus a garden machinery supplier and repair specialist in the town or close by.
At Johnstown there is an industrial development where you can find a branch of Llandeilo Builders Merchants, Howdens, a glazing firm and numerous other businesses to cater for most things.
An excellent website to visit is Carmarthen Town
The Cross Hands development a few miles east along the A48 has a branch of Leekes (a department store), Supermarkets, MacDonalds, Car dealers, Furniture shops, Double Glazing retailers and many other businesses make up this industrial development. Parking is easy – and free! One outlet especially worth visiting is the Farm Foods freezer store.
Haverfordwest is well worth a visit. It is an easy 45 minute drive along the A48 which has seen improvements recently. The shopping area has most of the usual High Street outlets, although on a smaller scale. There are few of the larger type DIY outlets in close proximity, along with an excellent Morrisons store. The riverside development is attractive and entices the visitor to browse. Parking can be a problem at times.
Llanelli, several miles to the south, offers good facilities and the close-by Trostre development has better facilities than Carmarthen, especially parking. The St Elli Precinct has a wide range of shops, including an ASDA and a good market – all undercover – and numerous other outlets as found in most High Streets in the rest of the UK. The downside is that parking in the town centre can be a problem – and costly. Just outside the town is the Trostre Shopping centre with Tesco, Comet., B&Q, BHS among the many retailers. In 2006 much new development is evident and parking is both easy and free.
St David’s, a few miles along the coast is a popular place for the visitor. The coastal scenery en route is spectacular. This is the smallest City in the UK and draws large crowds due to the Cathedral and other historic buildings, including the ruin of the Bishop’s Palace. The painted ceilings of the Cathedral are a sight to behold. The few shops cater mainly for tourists. On a fine day it is a place to roam and contemplate. Parking may be difficult.
Swansea is an easy drive of about 25 minutes along the A40 and the town has a good range of shops, covered precincts and a large undercover market. On the outskirts are several large Enterprise Parks where National outlets can be found. Parking on the Enterprise Parks is easy at all times, but within Swansea town, it can be both expensive and difficult most of the time. Just outside Swansea, at Fforestffach, the there’s a Tesco superstore, along with a branch of Dixons, and various other shops. No shopping area would be complete without a mobile phone shop, and yes, there is one of those too!
Cardiff is to the south east along the A40. As one would expect from a capital city the facilities are excellent and too numerous to mention. Drive time from Carmarthen is about an hour and a half. Trains or coaches are probably a better bet but the train can be slow. This city has shopping facilities equal to none. Parking in the city centre is again both expensive and difficult and from Carmarthen it is probably better to go by train or coach.
A few general observations
Along with the rest of Wales wages remain below other areas of the UK. It is not uncommon for individuals to have two or three jobs in order to supplement income. Property prices have been rising since 2001, but remain lower than comparable properties in the rest of the UK. Living expenses are the same.
The area generally is insular. The pace of life, while pleasant, can be frustrating at times. Change does not happen overnight, if at all.
One visible major improvement in 2003 was the addition of computers and free Internet facilities in Libraries throughout Carmarthenshire. These are well used and are always busy. Llanelli’s Library has been modernised and provides a welcoming atmosphere, but the main Library in Carmarthen remains [in 2006] one of the most unwelcoming ever visited by the writer. This is not due to the Library staff who are always extremely helpful, but the condition of the interior of the building itself. The addition of a lift and development of the basement to provide a museum is welcomed.
Internet and Broadband
Broadband arrived in Llanegwad in 2005 but speed is much restricted in many areas due to distance from an exchange. Between Felingwm Uchaf and Horeb the best speed that can be obtained is from a basic 512k to a maximum in good conditions of 1.4Mb. It’s a start I suppose.
The Council’s Welsh language policy has come in for much criticism due its ‘dogged’ approach in trying to force it on everybody – regardless as to whether they wish to learn it or not. Whilst it cannot be wrong to keep the language alive it is the method used which is the problem. The Welsh language will always be low in the in the ‘most spoken language league table’, along with Latin and Esperanto. Other problems are that the language is spoken differently in the north and south; English words have sometimes to be used because there is simply no Welsh equivalent. Many people can speak Welsh but they cannot write it.
This was brought home with a vengeance for a subscriber to this site when the Council was approached to assist with the translation of details for an English/Welsh competition. After printing the documents and passing them on to prospective entrants it was discovered some spellings in the Welsh version were incorrect! But there again that is Wales.
Cost of implementing the language policy are probably horrendous, figures are hard to come by. Emails sent to the local Council have remained unanswered, no surprise as they appear to cover up things for as long as they can. Council philosophy seems to be “keep quiet” and no one will know or find out. They are in for a big surprise!!!
Carmarthenshire County Council and its ‘Cabinet’ are constantly criticised over policy and lack of democracy. The criticism seems well justified judging by letters regularly published in the Carmarthen Journal and other newspapers. The words “Mickey Mouse” spring to mind when the Council’s name crops up.
It is a shame really as Carmarthen – both town and County – have a lot to offer its residents and visitors. Its public officials need to listen carefully to the people they represent rather than implement their own ideas – they are there to serve the people after all.