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.
@yourcardiff Some buildings left out that need regen but it’s that bad. Focus so far been on Tiger Bay for industry. Rest must follow after.
— Steffan Harries (@Bendihossan) January 30, 2013
@yourcardiff I agree it’s a hodge podge of crap designed buildings and poor planing
— jim paterson (@gjpaterson) January 30, 2013
@yourcardiff Can’t argue with that. Lovely old buildings left empty and unused, and some godawful new ones, with poor transport links.
— Philip Davies (@PhilipRDavies) January 30, 2013
@yourcardiff Agree. The Bay was a terrible missed opportunity. Razed old buildings or left them to decay, put up shoddy new ones.
— Flumpmistress (@flumpmistress) January 30, 2013