By Matt Tomlin
Many of you will have heard recently about the plans to demolish Guildford Crescent, a historic 1860s street in Cardiff city centre, which is home to three successful, local independent businesses: Madeira, Thai House and Gwdihw. If demolished, the land of Guildford Crescent is expected to be redeveloped into either more upmarket student accommodation, a car park or outlets for more modern chains.
These expectations of potential demolition are a reflection of the changes which have occurred in Cardiff over recent years, and Gair Rhydd has covered the likes of gentrification and the expansion of substance-deprived big business developments in Cardiff on several occasions in recent months. When I helped Gair Rhydd interview people on the Save Guildford Crescent march in January, something which was mentioned to me was how big business, high street chains in particular, were coming into Cardiff, providing little substance to the Cardiff community and helping to drive out small independent businesses.
This wasn’t said to me in a way which was disapproving of big businesses and chains, however. People at the march thought that a lot of the developments in Cardiff city centre, and also in Cardiff Bay, were a good thing, but that this should not be coming at the expense of local businesses such as those on Guildford Crescent.
With the three outlets on Guildford Crescent now closed, and a three-month wait until a decision is made on whether the council and Cadw will move to protect the historic buildings, we have plenty of time to consider what sort of city centre and what sort of retail sector we want in Cardiff. And the comments which I just mentioned implied a balance as being what people want most.
People like chains and the brands they offer. We wouldn’t shop in chains if we didn’t like the familiarity of the product or service offered. However, we do not want a manufactured, uniform city centre experience wherever we go and we do not want this for others or for future generations. What is needed is the protection of our historic buildings and improved financial backing from the government and local councils for small, independent businesses, while keeping a degree of big business chains in our city centres.
How likely such a balance would be supported by those at the top varies depending on the party in power, which is a topic I will not go into in this article. What I wanted to say was that there is no salience for a black-and-white view of how our city centre experience should be. Combining the presence of chains and fancy developments with the protection and preservation of more traditional smaller, independent businesses is wanted by the public. Time will reveal whether such a stance is taken by those in power, and the challenges our city centre may face in implementing such a balance.