Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Lots of new openings

This morning's first retail partnership board meeting after the summer break was unusually well attended, as the main agenda item was several briefings about the big retail openings in the next forty days.

First, this Thursday evening, the VIP re-launch of the former James Howells Department store as House of Frazer. HoF have owned and run it before but been respectful of Cardiff's retail heritage by keeping the old brand name alive. Two complete floors have been re-modelled, new brands are being introduced, the exterior is being buffed up, rather than re-styled - a good move because the building already has a stylish façade, the only outstanding retail façade in St Mary Street. Only the signage and window dressing has changed. High Street and St Mary Street has some remarkable buildings in mixed styles but few shopfronts of aesthetic value, HoF has got the best.

Then on 23rd of the month, the day after the Climate Change conference in City Hall the new and eagery awaited John Lewis store opens for business, slightly before all the public realm work is complete and the free bus shuttle around the city centre is up and running. By then, their own underground car park will be operational, but I bet it will overflow with interested customers.

Exactly a month later, on 22nd October the Grand Arcade of the St David's shopping centre will open to the public and three days of opening activities are planned. Once all the 2,500 new car park spaces are accessible the city will have 25% more parking spaces than it had three years ago, and, at least for short term and evening parking for a couple of hours, the cost will be lower than it has been for a decade. £2-3 for a couple of hours. I reckon it would be even possible for people to come in by car for Sunday afternoon shopping, maybe a meal, and come to Evensong for the same price as a bus journey in from the suburbs.

In poor weather, people could park and walk to St John's nearly all the way under cover, and in an environment where no kind of anti social behaviour will be tolerated, less of a distance than parking out beyond City Hall. Making the most of off-peak offer and easy safe access is capable of opening all sorts of new social opportunities for people who at present find that coming into the city centre in the evenings is too much of an effort.

After the meeting, I made a flying visit to Nelson, to deliver a couple of boxes of USPG exhibition photographs to the Rector, Chris Reaney, and to meet his house guest, Sunil, the Bishop elect of Kushtia, the second diocese of the Church of Bangladesh. Sunil will be with us next week at the climate change conference. Subash Chellaiah, USPG's East Asia officer, an Indian will be presenting the research of another USPG mission partner in Bangladesh, James Pender, on how climate change is being tackled in that vulnerable country. The work is a fine example of best practice for us to take note of. I guess the risk that country is exposed to concentrates minds. It's so good that we have this international component to this conference - think globally act locally is still the best advice.

This evening, the Street Carers' Forum re-convened in County Hall, there were 28 of us present, representing 14 different churches. There was some searching discussion, in the light of the policy differences we were bound to report, as this had retarded progress for so many months, but at the end of the evening, I got the impression that most were satisfied with the direction we had taken and were pleased to see us get on with arranging the training and getting the process of accreditation for Street Carers working. Lots more to do, but feeling supported in attempting to achieve it.

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