I am a bit behind with my blogging at the moment, so please forgive me commenting on old news, but a story in the Citizen from Tuesday 5 November caught my eye.
The story talks about creating a ‘restaurant quarter’ in Westgate and Southgate.
Why does Gloucester feel the need to keep carving the city up into distinct areas and ‘quarters’?
The story quotes city leaders as saying “new efforts to revitalise Gloucester city centre should focus on an eating out culture”. Apparently a report into the city’s ‘evening economy’ suggests that Westgate and Southgate could become a new “restaurant quarter”. This, it is said, could help to spark more life into the area on the back of the Quays regeneration and help us to compete with Cheltenham, where there is more of an eating out culture.
There is much in the story to agree with, and I definitely think that anything that can help to generate an eating out culture should be encouraged. However, why do we need a dedicated ‘quarter’ to do the job?
It is already acknowledged in the article that the restaurant area of the Quays has been very successful and encourages people to stay there rather than venture into the city. This new plan may succeed in bringing people into the city, but surely it would again only be one part of it.
There are some excellent pubs and cafes serving food in Westgate and Southgate, but should we seek to disadvantage those restaurants in other areas, such as C&W’s African Experience, Sebz or Dino’s Taverna: all excellent restaurants in the north of the city.
And where does this fit into plans for that other much-vaunted ‘quarter’, King’s Quarter, which is also supposed to be aiming at the night-time economy.
I only recently expressed my concern at the segmentation of Gloucester’s night-life in Eastgate Street and this is doing the same thing. Surely a better approach is to address the city holistically, attempting a good mix of experiences throughout the centre.
I suspect what the excellent eateries of Westgate and Southgate would really welcome is not more restaurants and cafes to compete with, but other things to drive footfall in their direction: namely some big-name shops.
There are some superb, quirky independent shops in the area, but by and large people do not set out to look for them. What most people want is some big name stores and, when they go to them they stumble across the independent stores and the cafes and restaurants and they go to them too.
I don’t think I will be accused of being too sexist if I suggest that women stereotypically tend to be the most enthusiastic shoppers, but if they are out looking for clothes they are poorly served in the centre. Some recognisable mid-range clothing brand stores are what’s required to kick life back into Gloucester. Independent stores are important to retain the city’s individuality and prevent it from just becoming another clone town, but they cannot survive on their own.
I fear at the moment the city is in a negative spiral when it comes to such stores: there aren’t enough shops to bring in custom, so shops don’t want to open in the city, so there aren’t enough shops to bring in custom, etc.
I live in hope that King’s Quarter will rectify this problem by introducing some big name stores into the city, but I hope it’s not allowed to become another enclave carved off and segregated from the rest of the centre.