Thursday, February 04, 2010

Interesting times ahead

After the lunchtime Eucharist today, I went to a meeting in the Castle of the Transport, Public Realm and Wayfinding Focus Group. The Countdown 2009 process ended with the re-launch of St David's shopping centre, but is being brought back to life with 2020 as its focus. The meeting began with a presentation giving an overview of the continuing process of redeveloping part of the city centre and Bay areas that is envisaged to take place in the coming decade.

It's rather more than a sketch on the back of an envelope, but the complex and detailed planning and design process has to start by surveying the possibilities, and proposing some ideas that can form the backbone of a briefing for architects and infrastructure planners to work with. Various Focus Groups will be retained and asked to address themselves to giving feedback at an early stage throughout the decade as plans and proposals emerge. There are all sorts of organisations and people outside local and national government administration whose activities will be affected by changes to infrastructure, amenities and services contemplated by future developments. Getting them all to participate at an early stage rather than bringing them in late in the day, only to point out unforeseen snags nobody else had thought of, is a good idea. Something positive has been learned from the Countdown 2009 programme, even though it was a mixed success.

The area both sides of Central Station is one of the main targets for major building projects. By the time High Street and St Mary Street makeovers are complete, a new bus terminal on Wood Street may well be emerging, if plans now being formulated obtain the necessary approvals. The site of Marland House and its neighbouring car park is due for redevelopment. There is land on the south side of the station ripe for redevelopment, and a need for much closer integration of train and bus services, not to mention taxis. The central section of Callaghan Square (referred to disparagingly as "currently a skatepark") is also an area targetted for redevelopment, to make better use of the space, and improve traffic flows.

It was almost the end of the meeting before I managed to raise a discussion about the lack of use of the 'Free B' shuttle bus, although the most recent publicity flyer about it was spread in abundance around the conference table. A bemused and knowing smile spead around the table at the mention, as well it might, given that none of the transport professionals sitting around the table had been involved in setting up the service. The simple answer given to the question of why it wasn't being used was - "Nobody knows where it's going." It's one thing to look at a flyer containing a map of the shuttle service, but users want to know things like : Does it go to the Museum? Does it go past the Hilton or the Angel Hotels? Does it link with the Park & Ride buses? Nobody has yet considered programming the front and rear display panels with a stream of key destinations around the route of the shuttle. But then, the people who dreamed it up and bid for the funds, somewhere else in County Hall, didn't think to seek the advice of people who earn their livings from public transport.

It's all about missed opportunities in communication - indeed, we spent another five minutes debating how this might be remedied, when existing communications strategies don't seem to work as well as they need to for the city's success. Throughout the redevelopment, after a slow start, Land Securities and City Centre Management public relations teams worked energetically to retain public interest in what was happening, and persuade shoppers to stay loyal. The interest shown in launch week and run up to Christmas was a vindication of all their efforts. The Council's communications, team on the other hand, struggled throughout to establish any substantial role in engaging with and informing the public. It indicates the world of difference in between people doing the same job in local government and those driven by the demands of commercial enterprise. Let's not even begin to think about what really drives church efforts to put its message across!

Altogether an interesting meeting for once.

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