Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Don't Believe The Hype

When I see an artist’s impression of how a development is supposed to ultimately look, it often makes me wonder if the “artist” ever visited the town in question…

Kingsway Shopping Centre development - John Frost Square, Newport, South Wales

The vision

The reality

These pictures aren’t actually up to date, but that vision was how it was supposed to open and that was the reality. It doesn’t get much busier than these pictures suggest and I must point out there are very few shops inside the shopping centre.

In time for the Ryder Cup they’ve painted some bits of the surface and stuck a couple of giant marbles in, apparently they’re fountains.

They’ve also stuck some Dragon sculptures (“SuperDragons”) throughout the town, but most of these have been vandalised and removed for repair at some point over the last few months. There are also flags and banners proclaiming various things and always that the ‘city’ is hosting the Ryder Cup 2010.

And I can't forget the Ryder Cup Countdown clock. A large digital clock stuck on the side of an old carpark, at the back of the square in this photo, the carpark on the right.

Took a while to get it working properly but it turned out to be a truly exceptional waste of money and as you can probably tell from the picture it really captured the imagination of quite literally hundreds of people who may have glanced at it as they passed through the square over the last few months...

When I see these 'imaginings' of developments for Newport, they never quite ring true. It wouldn’t just be about knocking up a few fancy buildings; they’d have to change the nature of the town.

The truth is I don’t know what has happened with developments in a lot of other towns in the UK, but I can’t help but imagine there’s a closer correlation between vision and reality. Newport has never quite managed it. Maybe one day it’ll change, but it certainly hasn’t happened as the Ryder Cup is upon the town and it comes under something of an international spotlight.

The Kingsway Centre was just one part of developments throughout the city centre, aimed at transforming the city in time for the Ryder Cup. To get into the complexities of the reasons behind the tragic reality would take a long time and not be of any interest to many. But to cut a long ridiculous story short:

- The Celtic Manor won the bid for the Ryder Cup in 2001, the local authorities must have thought they were onto winner and whether by holding out for the best offer or through simple incompetence, they waited through the property boom right up until just before the financial crash to start any significant development, the money dried up, the economy went into recession and all of the developments backed by private investment stopped.

- Now a large number of shops are empty; partly because the proposed developments didn’t go ahead and partly because of the downturn. So Newport city centre has a half finished University Campus, a hastily finished railway station, some superficial adornments and a foot bridge to nowhere, and very little else! All in time to welcome the teams and the world’s media for the Ryder Cup.

After 13 years of a Labour Government which coincided with a major economic boom, the city centre, give or take a few fundamentally minor developments, looks worse than it did before. With no shops, it could look no other way.

It's pathetic and though the authorities have a lot to answer for, all you ever hear is the usual positive propaganda, born of the New Labour machine.

This is political and relevant to so many aspects of modern British society. We are told one thing by detached politicians and authority figures, but it is average people who have to live with the reality and ultimately tax payers that fund their mistakes and follies.

The usual excuses are trawled out when those responsible are very occasionally held to task by an essentially partisan and apologetic local media, but the economic crash is no excuse when you consider the time they had. They had nine years through an economic boom and in the nearby cities of Cardiff and Bristol; major developments have recently been finished, as work continued into the crash. But both of those cities have had strategies that have spanned decades, Newport hasn't.

While everyone tries to be positive about what is a big event and something that can only be good for the area, the mistakes are excused and the reality for most people is overlooked, so how will the situation ever improve? When so little has been done in such opportune times and the same inept authorities will remain in control.

I suppose it must be an essential resource if you're in a position of power; you have an excuse ready for every eventuality. This one may not come from a public servant or politician, but I like in this article where David Russ, managing director of South Wales Chamber and Centre for Business claims:

“There's no point in building shopping facilities and bars and restaurants if they'd be full for a week then empty for the next three or four years.”

So why plan a f**king £200 million development in the first place then!?!! If it was only going to be used for a week?? What's the point in ever doing anything? The economic circumstances haven't stopped so many other cities continuing with developments and it hasn't stopped public money being used in Newport. A***hole! And one that doesn't have to live with the reality and is just making excuses to suit the circumstances. The fact is they missed the boat and royally f**ked up, but he just says 'ah well, no point in doing anything during a recession...' Anyway he's only from the South Wales Chamber of Commerce and from a quick search it looks like he's got public sector form...

Newport Council have slapped themselves on the back, when it is the Celtic Manor that has organised the event and built the most important facilities; the courses and resort. Notice the difference in results when private finance works alone. If the Local Authorities had been in charge of the event I think we’d be looking at another Delhi.

I don’t intend to dwell on this but there will be more to follow on the inept handling of development in Newport. The fact is these authorities do handle a huge amount of tax payers’ money, but whoever said they know what they're doing??? Whoever said they shouldn’t be properly held to account?

If they were more honest about expectations and the reality, and of course if they didn't p*ss so much money up the wall, it wouldn't seem so bad.

It would certainly seem better if they didn't sp*nk £20 million pounds on a pointless railway station, but more about that next time. Only a little more though...