Cardiff’s nightlife held back by planning constraints

July 15, 2011 No Comments »
Cardiff’s nightlife held back by planning constraints

mill lane

The Welsh capital needs more control over how its city centre economy develops, according to industry experts and Cardiff council.

A planning quirk leaves Cardiff lagging behind its English rivals at being able to cluster similar types of night time entertainment establishments together.

A report into how the city’s night time economy highlights how an inability to differentiate between new takeaways and high end restaurants makes it hard for the council to create the aspirational areas like the ‘Castle Quarter’ it wants to create.

Gareth Hooper, partner at DPP planning consultants, said the city’s apirational plans for a Central Business District would have a huge bearing on how the city centre developed.

He said: “I think there’s a big opportunity for Cardiff to look at creating different quarters in the city centre, like the council has been doing with the branding and idea of the Castle Quarter.

“It is stuck at the moment by how much it can plan at the moment due to planning rules. I think the development of the Central Business District and the high end types of establishments which could come with this will be key.”

Mr Hooper said he had seen a change in the operation of pub companies in recent years as they try to take their offerings more upmarket.

“In the current climate there’s been a real change in the way pubs and bars are looking at their offerings,” he said, “obviously the bottom end of the market is doing very well with the value chains, but the likes of Greene King and Marstons are trying to create more, almost boutique offerings, where they can up the prices and charge more as people get more quality.”

The report by councillors points to how council’s in England – where planning guidelines allow for more flexibility – such as Sheffield had been able to develop a strategy.

Sheffield council’s Cathedral Quarter plan is held up as a shining example with the report stating “There has been a sharp growth in the city’s evening economy, particularly in the West Street/Division Street areas.

“It is not envisaged that the quarter will become an extension of the West Street drinking circuit, but will present an alternative and higher quality offer.”

Nick Newman, chair of the Cardiff licensees forum, pointed to the likes of Mill Lane where similar businesses were already working alongside each other.

He said: “You see the vibrant restaurant and bar scene on Mill Lane and this shows how certain areas can develop without having a planned idea.

“I would welcome having more of a plan for the way the city centre develops in terms of nightlife, but we need to be flexible.

“There needs to be a mix of different businesses in different areas, the last thing you want is a business carving out a niche in a certain area but then finding it doesn’t fit with what the proposals are.”

John Rostron, organiser of the Swn Festival and concerts throughout the city, welcomed the report and the quarters idea.

He said: “The data gathered in this report shows that the people of Cardiff don’t want any more bars or clubs and that there’s overwhelming demand for more variety in the night time economy in Cardiff.

“There should be more support for live music events and live music venues and that should include a strategy for music in Cardiff developed in partnership between the Council, the Welsh Music Foundation and key stakeholders such as ourselves.”

The report on the night time economy – by the economy and culture scrutiny committee – calls on the council’s executive to lobby the Welsh Government to change the A3 use legislation.

A Welsh government spokesman said there are no plans to change the planning legislation relating to A3 use.

Executive Member for communities, housing and social justice, Coun Judith Woodman said: “The city boasts varied and exciting nightlife which attracts many people to the city and contributes hugely to the economy.

“We acknowledge that Cardiff, as well as many other cities in the UK has experienced problems in anti-social behavior and binge drinking however we have successfully created important partnerships who undertake positive work and have contributed to achieving successful improvements in recent years. These include a reduction in crime and innovative work with health officials.

“Recommendations from the report including providing a more diverse night-time economy and implementing a management strategy will assist in making Cardiff a safe, lively and enjoyable place to be at night.”

Cardiff’s potential quarters

St Mary Street district

Including Westgate Street and Wood Street, its described as an “extremely lively night-time economy” and with the recent part-pedestrianisation there’s a push to move it more upmarket and away from the crowded bars and downmarket clubs. It is currently constrained by a saturation policy, limiting the amount of licensed premises.

Legal quarter

A “quieter zone” of the night time economy, which includes more upmarket bars and restaurants – along with entertainment spots the Sherman Theatre and Cardiff Arts Institute. It is currently protected by the ‘Northern Professional Office Area Planning Brief’ which has led to limited development of the night time economy.

Cafe quarter

The central retail area around St Davids. Big scope for development with high footfall and demand from shoppers for good and upmarket eateries. Also includes the Mill Lane strip which has developed naturally as some top restaurants and night spots.

Independent quarter

Around Charles Street and Churchill Way, this is home to the city’s gay nightlife and lots of independent restaurants and bars. Away from the hustle and bustle of Queen Street and St Mary Street it offers something different.

Castle quarter

Currently being promoted heavily by the council since the pedestrianisation of High Street finished, there’s a desire to turn the area into an event space and encourage more upmarket restaurants and bars. Benefits from Cardiff Castle and some music venues on Womanby Street.

Friary quarter

Has most of the city centre hotels – such as Hilton and the Park Plaza – and the developing Greyfriars Road night scene. Big clubs like Tiger Tiger draw big crowds, alongside feeder bars. Increasingly busy area and student dominated, but also includes the New Theatre.

Business editor of the South Wales Echo, Sion Barry, gives his views on the development of the night time economy

Cardiff has certainly improved its leisure and retail offer in recent years.

The St David’s scheme is a prime example and has attracted a plethora of leading retail and restaurant operators.

However, while having leading brands is a prerequisite for any city, it is important that Cardiff also encourages more indigenous businesses to thrive in its city centre and in doing so offering something unique to visitors to the capital.

And to support this local planners need to be freed from inflexible planning guidelines. The current A3 categorisation covers everything from say a fast food takeaway outlet to a high end restaurant and bar.

Planners need to be allowed to assign certain areas for more quality food and drink operators; and not trust that market forces will bring them together in a cluster. But this can only happen if the Welsh Government takes a more pragmatic line on planning. It hoped that it’s proposed legislation on streamlining the planning process will address this.

Cardiff Council must be allowed to distinguish between different types of operators when giving planning consent.

This would allow say an entrepreneur looking to open a quality delicatessen, using locally sourced produce, in a Cardiff suburb – rather than the current position of a blanket ban on A3 as a means of preventing the opening of fast food outlets.

What do you think the future for the city’s nightlife could be? What do you think of the quarters idea? Let us know your views in the comments below

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