A couple of stories in the Citizen have particularly attracted my attention this week. First, on Wednesday, Stanhope, who are slated to undertake the re-vamp of King’s Quarter, criticised plans to upgrade the Quays to include new restaurants, shops and a cinema as it provides a threat to their own scheme. Then, on Thursday, Darren Payne from the Farmhouse Deli in Northgate Street was reported as calling for a halt to development schemes in the city until all of the empty shops are filled.
I have some sympathy with both of these views, but overall I think they are missing the point.
I have less sympathy with Stanhope as surely plans for Phase 2 of the Quay’s development have been anticipated since the beginning, so shouldn’t have come as a great surprise. Indeed, it would appear to be Stanhope who are introducing a major threat to the Peel Centre by proposing a second cinema in the city.
On the face of it, Darren Payne has a better case. He bemoans the loss of shops which are a part of Gloucester’s history and which give Gloucester its sense of identity. He says the centre needs to be “vibrant and healthy” before new development is considered and calls for a halt to the King’s Quarter development.
However it seems to me that he is guilty of that sign of madness where you keep doing the same thing and expect a different outcome. If Gloucester does not encourage development how is the city going to improve?
What both of these complaints seem to miss is that to make Gloucester centre “vibrant and healthy” you need a critical mass of shops and leisure opportunities to make it a destination worth visiting.
As it stands there are some very good independent retailers in the city, but this doesn’t stop people complaining that there is not enough in the centre to make it worth visiting. If people are serious about shopping, all too often they travel to Cheltenham, or even further afield to Bristol or Cribbs Causeway, rather than spending their money in Gloucester.
If there were a good number of quality shops of different types and some key big name ‘anchor’ stores, people would make the pilgrimage – maybe even travel from other parts of the country to spend their money here. It is these stores that will bring people into the city, but once here they will discover the independent stores, they will use the pubs and restaurants, and they will appreciate the city’s history and culture.
So bring on the developments: the more the better. It may take time to build up momentum, but ultimately this way everyone wins.