It’s all Cardiff’s fault.
It was a frustrating occasion, reading through the Sunday papers this weekend. Flipping through the pages of the Wales on Sunday, it was hard to overlook the latest effort of Cardiff bashing to pass through the national media. What were the accusations being levied towards the capital city this time, being too successful! Now while we might expect cities to be the subject of harsh review when they serve as economic and social failures, it is an odd day indeed when the critical finger is pointed at a city that is, in relative terms, booming.
When the ‘St Davids 2’ complex construction began to rise from the ground, eyebrows were certainly raised as what appeared to be a monstrous mound of steel start to dominate the low roof lines of Cardiff’s centre. Visually intrusive, the new shopping centre soon began to leech not only attention, but business from its’ nearby rivals. Most notable in the firing line was Newport’s own attempt at a new shopping centre, which stuttered into a near terminal state of hibernation as brand name after brand name followed the M4 west for fairer pastures.
Now we hear the voice of Newport, Bridgend , Swansea and others, decrying the success of Cardiff, describing the centre as a leech for trade, and a suffocation on the shopping potential of its neighbours. In short, Cardiff is now a negative for Wales, because it is being too successful for Wales. It is difficult to surmise anything other than this being a very stereotypically Welsh attitude to the progress made by the capital. Where we should be praising the wonderful success of Cardiff, in a financial climate that is holding so many others back, we have many in this country looking to fire volleys in the direction of the city’s endeavours. Ridiculous.
What business leaders in Newport and Swansea, as well as any other nearby town feeling sorry for itself, should be doing, is not looking to scowl at Cardiff, but to speak to it instead, ask the question ‘what are you doing right that we are doing wrong?’ The respective centres of Newport and Swansea are not attracting shops and shoppers for a reason, neither are pleasant or well thought out places to visit. Swansea city centre is little better than Dresden at its worst, while Newport, outside of, the not so aptly named anymore, ‘Commercial Street’, remains a navigateable nightmare. For instance, Newport spent a small fortune on a new train station entrance for the Ryder Cup, which now expels potential shoppers into an area of town twice the distance away from any retailers than the previous entrance-exit. Where was the forethought in this decision, where was the planning? This sort of slap dash, band aid effort at commercial recovery is the exact problem facing cities and towns, other than Cardiff, in Wales today. They have themselves to blame, as much, and indeed far more so, than they have to blame Cardiff’s success, for their own failures.
Cardiff can and should stand as an example to the way in which new developments should be pursued in Wales. Access, location and style should underpin any efforts to enhance the respective commercial zones of Newport and Swansea, and sadly, these are the exact areas in which Cardiff’s competition have failed to address. So stop sitting on your haunches, stop complaining about Cardiff being too good, and start saying ‘Cardiff has got it right, let’s start doing what they have done, and see if it will work for us’. By following the example of success, rather than rebelling against it, the other so called cities in Wales might find themselves with half a chance of competing. Sadly though, it is likely they will continue to do as they have done for decades so far, keep sticking plasters on the wound and worry little about the long term treatment, wasting public money and economic potential in the process – typical.