Cardiff: The new kid in big school

Has Cardiff become a great city, or great big mall?

Thousands of houses and apartments have been built in what are now trendy areas of Cardiff, the Bay, the city centre and Roath, but why is there a demand for apartments in Cardiff?

Has the population of Cardiff grown? Are more people naturalising here? According to census figures, no.

And if they were, why would they come? Is Cardiff a cultural mecca? No, we have an opera house, some small theatres, and one exception to that rule, Chapter.
Is Cardiff a foodies paradise? No, we don’t even have one Michelin starred restaurant – it’s mostly chains, with a few good independents thrown in.
Is Cardiff a place where music grows up? Not really, but only because the live music scene isn’t allowed to thrive in Cardiff – I think because its councillors are grumpy old men, banging on the wall shouting “Turn down that racket!” – every time a venue license in granted the venue is put under pressure to soundproof, an expensive process. We almost lost The Globe on Albany Road this year for that reason, and two years ago the The Point in Cardiff Bay had to shut after they spent £10,000 soundproofing, a cost that they would later find they could not recoup.

What does Cardiff have? A hell of a lot of shops and way too many bars, are people really given good reasons to come to live in Cardiff?
Oh sure, a lot of people come here for events at the stadium and the Millennium Centre, and even more come down for the nightlife, for a stag or hen party, but I can’t imagine why anyone would come here to live day-to-day, over somewhere else like Bristol, Bath or Manchester.

Cardiff councils’ local development plan is a shambles, it’s been thrown out more times than a used Kleenex and now I can only imagine that it’s a crumpled up piece of paper with “GET MORE BIG CHAINS TO OPEN SHOPS” scrawled on it.
Cardiff city council seem to have got an idea from somewhere that the sign of a successful city is that brands like Hugo Boss, TGI Fridays, Starbucks and John Lewis want to open stores, and that developers want to build houses and bars, and for this they are given all the support and some.
Where others would have to go through years of consultations and the rigmoral of dealing with the planning department, developers like Land Securities Group (St David’s developers) are given all the assistance they need to get their applications through successfully and above all, quickly.
It took my parents 8 months to successfully apply to have the extension on their house widened by 4 feet; by that standard, to demolish half of the city, rework traffic routes and rebuild, the application for the new St David’s shopping centre should have taken 25+ years to go through.

What is this fascination with big business that makes the heads of Cardiff councillors swell? Is it some kind of foolish playground notion that “if the cool kids talk to me, that makes me cool too”?
Cardiff needs more centres of cultural activity, and by that I don’t mean a firework festival that’s sponsored by McDonalds. We need more Chapter arts centres, more independent restaurants, more street activities, more meetings of minds, more creative opportunities.
There is only so much that individuals or groups of like-minded people can do. Rent and rates in Cardiff city centre are too high for independents to survive, most of the time, this is why we have seen closures of restaurants like Bali; and bigger projects are given too much power to affect the city as a whole, as seen during the St David’s project where most of the city’s arcade shops almost went bust because of the size and impact of the works. Cardiff city council need to sit up, think of its citizens and not the travellers that they could possibly attract. We live here, they don’t.

9 Comments

  1. Great points Nathan.
    This is being played out in every town. What we need to really understand is that local councils are accountable to global governance dictates, and not to we the people.

  2. Totally agree with your article.

    As a city centre dweller I have written to Cardiff Central councillors, the AM and the MP asking why they are hell-bent on destroying the character of the city. Sure they have attracted many more shoppers into the city but now they are firefighting the traffic system just to cope. Coming up with bizarre bus lanes that hardly get used, installing a plethora of street furniture, concrete bollards, ugly paving and the constant opening and closing of roads.

    The council’s only focus is growing the city purely for financial gain with no thought for any cultural development. As you point out, the city doesn’t even have a top class restaurant.

    It’s totally unacceptable that the city council have effectively turned our capital city into one giant department store.

  3. Couldn’t agree more! Cardiff is getting to be a less attractive city to live in and get around. High Street is a much more attractive street that Queen Street but is dying because there is no reason for people to go down there except to get drunk! The buses should be brought back into the centre and stop here, as they used to, until 6 at night. Proper cycle lanes should be built and bike only routes provided. M and S started off as a local business but there is no genuine support for hard working entreprenurs.

  4. I’m with you on the need for more Chapter Arts type places. When friends visit I take them to the characterful highlights of the city; to Bute Park, for a stroll and beers along Cathedral Road, for tea and cakes in Roath’s independent cafes and a walk around the park, to see live music in Gwdi Hw or go shopping in the arcades. These things are what make Cardiff unique. I’ll admit the shiny shops of the new St Davids can be handy sometimes but when I think of the place I live in and love, they don’t factor in the images conjured. Let’s hope the character we still cherish remains in Cardiff and is built upon.

  5. Interesting article, and I broadly agree with you. But there’s one point I wanted to make – Cardiff is desperately in need of more *affordable* housing – the housing waiting lists are absolutely ludicrous, and it is commonplace for homeless families to be dumped in hostels for up to a year (more in some cases). And that’s just the homeless families – families already in housing, however poor or small wait vastly longer (I was recently told by an ex-colleague at Cardiff Council that the waiting list for Canton is over 1000 years!)
    Decent council/housing association housing rarely comes up, because the families that do have good housing in nice areas tend to either swap with other families with good housing in nice areas, or take advantage of ‘right to buy’.
    I appreciate that most of the housing being built hardly meets the definition of ‘affordable housing’ – but a percentage of all new housing builds have to be given to Housing Associations, so HAs do benefit.
    I fully understand objections to the endless building of ‘luxury’ flats, but I think we should all support efforts to build more affordable housing. I was actually quite upset recently to see that Llandaff North had started a campaign to oppose the building of small block of housing association flats on their street. The development proposed really was small and inoffensive and I felt people could have been more charitable given the fact that Housing Association housing is generally for people in the greatest housing need.
    I have to say, I do find it depressing thatwhen there are so many people that are either homeless or in poor, inappropriate housing, so much of the city is given over to student housing – which is often poorly maintained and frequently unoccupied for a significant chunk of the year. It has driven up house prices in many areas – pricing out normal families. I grew up in Cathays/Gabalfa in a lovely, reasonably priced terraced house surrounded by other families. There was a brilliant community feel, all the families knew each other, it was close to local amenities and near to town – in all, a great family area. The area is now full of buy-to-let and multiple occupancy houses- all the families have been priced out, or found the noise unbearable.
    I languished on the housing waiting lists for a good few years, in a mould ridden one-bedroom flat, when I had 2 children. I found it very depressing walking through Cathays in the summer and seeing all the neglected, empty houses, with rubbish piled up in the streets.
    This isn’t an anti-student rant by the way- I don’t blame students for this, I understand that they need somewhere to live – but I just think housing needs are being poorly managed.
    Onto another point – I do agree that Cardiff is losing it’s character. However I do feel a little torn on this – because I have really enjoyed some of the chains that have come to Cardiff. However, I think we need a good balance of chain shops and local independent shops. It would be great if maybe there was a scheme to give assistance to independent shops in Cardif – maybe they could be given reduced rents and allocated a certain percentage of shops in new developments?
    I also hope the arcades aren’t neglected – I love them, and they give real character to Cardiff.
    Anyway, great article Nate.

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  7. Cardiff is slowly becoming a major city again (apparently we were the biggest city in terms of Coal before, but I dont think anyone alive can really remember it – sure my Grandfather was around but he gets my sisters mixed up)

    We have some icon world buildings now WMC and Stadium. A Team on brink of premier league football, a rugby team that is fairly successful in the rugby world. Our own hooters and soon a lego store.

    I totally agree with you that can see by the redevelopment of bay and SD2 that the council are trying to turn Cardiff into a mini paris or Barcelona but instead seem to turn it into a generic american city, Big name bands but no character no real tourist attractions. 2012 we have some olympic events being held here. But there is nothing else on the cards.

    Duke Street and the roads around town have been worked on constantly for last 5 years, with no real end product.

    We also have our bus company introduce our own oyster card called Iff (stupid name) which took 2 months to send out card and it works nothing like an oyster card. instead of swiping once and be being charged a single rate then swiping a second time and being charged difference for day to go, you have to tell the driver if you want single or day to go. and it still issues tickets in form of receipts. They have used the money they saved from stopping the town circular bus and wasting it on this.

  8. I’m with you on the need for more Chapter Arts type places. When friends visit I take them to the characterful highlights of the city; to Bute Park, for a stroll and beers along Cathedral Road, for tea and cakes in Roath’s independent cafes and a walk around the park, to see live music in Gwdi Hw or go shopping in the arcades. These things are what make Cardiff unique. I’ll admit the shiny shops of the new St Davids can be handy sometimes but when I think of the place I live in and love, they don’t factor in the images conjured. Let’s hope the character we still cherish remains in Cardiff and is built upon.

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