Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Retail optimism and anxiety

This morning's retail partnership board meeting welcomed the Bank of England's local agent, Ian Derrick to paint us a portrait in financial graphs of the current economic situaition. While there are indeeed signs that the recession is just about to 'bottom out', the return to 'normality' whatever that is, seems destined to be tentative and slow. The recent opening of the St David's shopping centre may have cushioned Cardiff from the worst effects, but that doesn't reflect the wider picture of the Welsh economy. There yet may be set-backs to come for businesses, when public spending cuts and VAT temporary reduction ends.

No matter how sobering these thoughts, the mood of good cheer among retails prevails, as recent weeks have seen modest rises in spending and big increases in the numbers of people visiting the city to shop. We finall heard the official footfall figures for the opening of the new St David Centre. 150,000 the first and second days , 200,000 the third day - that's half a million in the first three days, and a million in the first week. The St David's PR team are well pleased with the response to their efforts. Northing stands still, of course. We were also briefed on the retail partnership's pre-Christmas publicity campaign to promote Cardiff shopping, now under way.

Some concerns were expressed about the now approved adaptation of the Old Custom House building for use as a centre for the homeless during the years when the Huggard Centre and Tressillian House will be demolished and re-built with vastly improved facilities. This is close, uncomfortably so, to several hotels, John Lewis, and the south entrances to the Grand Arcade. The guilty feeling is that many would prefer street people to be swept out of sight, so as not to frighten the customers. The project in hand is, as far as I'm concerned, the best possible option until the new building is ready, so I have spoken up in defence of it in several quarters, including the retail partnership.

Homeless and suffering poor people are going to hang out in the centre no matter where services are provided for them. It's public realm, a place of human equality despite unequal spending power and social status. There should be no places in public where people are barred, provided they behave acceptably. That's the core of the problem. Unacceptable behaviour arises from being pushed around, not being able to be cared for adequately, despite resources available and people wiling to help. When people are anxious insecure and rootless, what they need most is not to be pushed from pillar to post, or playing 'chase' with police dutifully moving them on. I believe a collaborative approach to managing the planned temporary centre for street people, is needed with some real dialogue around how to provide a safer environment during this period of change. This is as important for immobile poor and rootless people as it is forthe ultra mobile spending classes. I think I have to set about persuading others of the necessity of doing so.

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