Cardiff Bay ‘worst example of waterside regeneration’

January 30, 2013 6 Comments »
Cardiff Bay

Adrian Jones critcised “the dumb plan” that was used to develop Cardiff Bay.

Cardiff Bay is a contender for the “worst example of waterside regeneration in Britain”, according to a planning specialist born in the city.

Adrian Jones, an award-winning consultant who grew up in the city but moved away 40 years ago, said his hometown had become blighted by “crassness and banality”.

And he contrasted it with rival Swansea, which he said had “managed to create much more coherent and attractive dockland regeneration with less public money”.

He added: “Swansea, a city that lives in the shadow of Cardiff and sadly seems to have a low opinion of itself, can certainly teach the capital some lessons in town planning and place-making.”

Writing in the latest edition of the Bevan Foundation Review, Mr Jones said he was disappointed the city centre Empire Pool had been “destroyed for a trashy leisure complex” but reserved his strongest criticism for an attack on Cardiff Bay.

He writes: “It is not principally the buildings – poor as most are, sadly they represent the current British regeneration standard.

“No, it is the lack of any coherent urban structure, of real streets and worthwhile public spaces. In other words, it is the dumb plan. Instead of building on the strong pre-existing urban fabric, this has been ignored and left to rot. A new ex-urban car-dominated masterplan has been superimposed.

“Worse, Butetown has been literally ghettoised with new development turning its back on the community, which is fairly amazing as the rationale for public investment in the Bay was ostensibly about the deprived communities of south Cardiff.

“Much public money has been wasted on vanity projects.”

Criticising the city centre, he said: “The bleak extension of St Mary Street, for example, has blown apart a townscape which desperately needed pulling together and destroyed what were interesting warehouses which could have added creative diversity to the city.”

Mr Jones said Callaghan Square – the office-dominated area south of St Mary Street – was a “relatively successful example of new urban design” – but claimed it was “not plugged into the lively street life of the city centre, being quarantined by the glittering cavern of the new John Lewis”.

And the consultant said he was disappointed by the landmark expansion of the St David’s complex.

He writes: “Terrifying ramps spiral up to a gargantuan, ungainly car park which feeds the mall below.”

Recommending a way forward for the city, he said: “What it actually needs is less braggadocio and more finesse, more control, calm and confidence.”

But Cardiff South and Penarth Labour MP Stephen Doughty denied that Cardiff Bay was a travesty.

Highlighting the popularity of the area with programme-makers seeking locations for the likes of Doctor Who and Torchwood, he said: “It’s got remarkable architecture they choose to use. If it was that miserable, why would they be filming here?”

He said the docks area had been transformed since his childhood and called for both Swansea and Cardiff to be “beacons of good architectural practice”.

However, Mr Jones acknowledged Cardiff remained “an attractive city with such a good quality of life” despite recent planning decisions and says suburbs are “buzzing with metropolitan confidence”.

And he said: “[The] structure of the inner city and suburbs, which in most British cities has been mangled by post war demolitions and damaging urban motorways, in Cardiff is very much intact, except towards the Bay.”

What do you make of Adrian Jones’ comments? Do you think Cardiff’s development over the last decade has been characterised by “crassness and banality”? Are his comments about the Bay and Butetown fair? Some of your thoughts from Twitter can be seen below, and add you can add your own in the comments.


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  1. @murfilicious January 30, 2013 at 11:06 am - Reply

    I couldn't agree more with Adrian's comments about Cardiff Bay. Mermaid Quay is a bland, soulless unimaginative collection of cheap low rise buildings full of generic chain stores – there's no imagination and nothing to distinguish it from being "anywhere else in the UK".
    Meanwhile to the rear we have a collection of gorgeous old buildings full of character but not tennants – these relics of the dock era are going to waste and will probably ultimately be vandalised or demolished to make way for more bland buildings like those in Mermaid Quay.
    Lloyd George Avenue is a large pointless windswept dual carriageway flanked on one side by a railwayline and a decaying station building, an on the otherside by rows of bland Barratt/Persimmon shoebox appartments and the rear of the Red Dragon Centre. And don't get me started on the RDC which, while being "in the bay" couldn't be further from it!

  2. Steven January 30, 2013 at 1:15 pm - Reply

    There are elements in Adrians paper which are relevant but to say that Cardiff Bay is the worst example of regeneration is an appalling statement: i am looking foreward to seeing robust responses from other planners who might have a different view. As a planner he should be aware that most of this area just 30 years ago was delerict and contaminated. Thankfully the Cardiff Bay Corporation had the foresight to place the distributor road in a tunnel to free up space for the public to enjoy the public space including the barrage which provides a unique experience. We also have world class sports facilities and the WMC which second to none in the world. By compariyyson the Swansea city centre still needs heavy investment, there are no iconic buildings or sporting facilities. Appart from the mumbles area and beach the use of space in the marina and SA1 is sterile, cut off and not used as intensively as Cardiff Bay. Adrian's paper seems to pander to the idealist or Cardiff bashers but I do agree the planners should have objected to the spiral ramps to St David's 2 which could have been designed more imaginatively.

  3. I Loves The 'Diff January 30, 2013 at 3:52 pm - Reply

    Well said, Steven (above). It's easy to take potshots at what is inevitably not going to follow a single-minded masterplan or blueprint. But as soon as private money and firms need to buy into a scheme (or series of schemes) in order to transform an area, it necessarily follows that what is created is done in part for reasons of profit as much as for 'the greater good' or those with lofty ideals in City Hall. But that's reality; we live in a capitalist society.

    While indie Bay-based shops like Fabulous Welsh Cakes should be celebrated and supported – and hopefully as many of these good businesses are shown to thrive it will attract more – what was the council meant to do with regards keeping chain businesses out? I'm totally against Cardiff becoming bland and homogenised, but Cardiff Bay is a success and an attraction thanks in no small part to the national companies that do business there.

    Cardiff city centre may be increasingly Anytown UK (though The Hayes looks amazing these days), but you take a photo of Cardiff Bay and it's immediately recogniseable.

    Lessons can be learned and mistakes have been made, but imagine Cardiff without its Bay. Or for the older ones, remember! It's something to be proud of. Every weekend thousands of people enjoy its attractions or the walk provided in part by the marvel that is the barrage (thank God we didn't listen to the conservationists on that one). It can be improved, but then no building is permanent, and mistakes can in time be rectified.

    In the meantime, Adrian Jones, you're off Cardiff's Christmas card list.

  4. Sarah January 30, 2013 at 9:47 pm - Reply

    Its such a pity that the Old Station building (completely derelict at the moment) and that area around Bute Street generally still remain so run down especially as the station is still an arrival point for people entering the Bay without a car. It creates a bad impression before you even get to the main part of the bay by the water. It could be such a lovely area with a few cafes, small businesses being encouraged to start up around there;. At night these streets also remain poorly lit and unwelcoming with litter building up (although there has been an improvement) up quite quickly

  5. Kevin February 4, 2013 at 2:21 pm - Reply

    When you visit Cardiff Bay after visiting SA1 you immediately think you have gone from a high-tech, modern masterpiece into a ghetto. Swansea got it right first time and Cardiff just seemed to have taken each building by design on it's own and then said "Yeah, like that, put it next to that one!" And then they repeated the process over and over and over. Now it looks a complete mess!

    Take a look at what Swansea is doing, all of it's plans are based on a region of the city centre. A developer is brought in for each section of the city to impose a uniform style and direction that works together. As that city gets a unique identity, Cardiff is getting it's shoelaces tied in a knot!

  6. Resident March 15, 2013 at 7:39 pm - Reply

    Well building a horrendous pylon cable tow wakeboarding facility in East Bute Dock isn't going to help much either. I love Cardiff and I saved for over five years to buy my home here only to see my area ruined by the Planning Office. I wish I was as short sighted as they are, then I wouldn't have to see the damn thing out of my bedroom window!

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