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  • Whiterock Wales

Making the right impression

I’ve heard it said from time to time that Swansea is a city of artist’s impressions. I understand where that expression comes from but it’s wrong to say that plans never leave the drawing board.

I recently drove into the city with an associate from Gloucester who had not visited Swansea for around 10 years or more. As we travelled in along Fabian Way he voiced approval for the new university campus, the SA1 development and even the boulevard.

For me, the journey was a timely reminder of our piecemeal approach to development. We rarely appreciate ourselves how things have changed over time and that provokes a sense of frustration.

As far as the city centre is concerned, we’ve seen successive council administrations come up with distinctive solutions which they think can meet the needs and expectations of people who live here but are also attractive and accessible to visitors.

Yet for every shopper who demands better facilities, there’s a trader who insists their business remains entirely unaffected during the transformation process. Hence the incremental approach.

As someone once said, the only reason that Swansea saw a huge post-war re-development was that Hitler’s bombers did the demolition job without the need for a compulsory purchase or planning consent.

The danger though is that we can misinterpret change as progress. Nowhere in my opinion is this more apparent than at the junction of Kingsway and Princess Way.

The anonymous paved wasteland where the monotony is broken only once a year by the council’s Christmas tree was designed to cater for a busy footfall that barely existed before a protracted period of construction and entirely disappeared afterwards.

Anyone who reads this column will know that I’m not a fan of big-bang regeneration schemes. They’re tricky to fund, tough to achieve and end up being something substantially less than envisaged.

The dilemma facing Swansea is that the council is both a planning authority and a significant city centre landowner. The two roles have never quite gelled. Accordingly, the in-house outlook in the past has been that all you have to do is unveil a shiny masterplan and the investors will flock to your location.

That didn’t work in the boom times and it’s plainly nonsensical today.

What makes the current Swansea Central concept a lot more deliverable isn’t a sexy design or leading edge architecture – although that will help later on. The key has been a pragmatic upfront outlook which recognises how the regeneration business works and that you always need partners.

Accordingly, the current consultation stages are not just meant to spell out the scope of the overall development but that the combined schemes are going take at least a decade to complete.

Things will undoubtedly be a lot busier with a new city-centre arena and investment that will likely double the city’s commercial footprint.

Be under no illusion, the process of getting there is going to be disruptive, dirty and seemingly endless; however the result is definitely going to make an impression.

Guesswork over growth

Experience over the years has led me to observe that predicting economic trends is like forecasting the weather. By that I mean you can get away with almost anything provided you say it with sufficient authority.

That’s because most people end up being more occupied with whatever eventually transpires rather than recalling whether or not you got it wrong.

Although the headline stuff of exchange rates and stock exchange values continue to reflect the impact of the Brexit phenomenon, economists insist that it’s indicators like growth which show the state of the ‘real’ economy.

The trouble there is that whereas the Bank of England predicts 2% growth in the UK economy this year, the influential purchasing managers index (PMI) recorded its first slowdown in the services sector for four months.

As it happens, the UK's service sector accounts for more than three-quarters of the economy.

I think it’s going to rain – but I could be wrong.

Retail anarchy

It seems that rebellion is breaking out among clothing shoppers. Apparently, we’re all rejecting the established behaviour of following the seasonal trends set by the stores. Instead we now wait for sales and then buy stuff as and when. Outrageous!

According to retail groups, this civil disobedience has resulted in sales dropping by 2% in 2016 compared to the previous year. In case you’re wondering, that’s around £180m in value.

It’s a worrying situation but what is now concerning the big names most is the downward trend in the value of the pound.

Prices are forecasts to go up as the industry prepares to pass on the rising costs of items imported from abroad. My view however is that’s likely to make shoppers even more discerning.

I’ve read that our wardrobes are generally made up of 10% items we need and 90% items we want. It seems retailers have a tough enough time ahead without shoppers getting more savvy into the bargain.

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