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Plea to help traders in 'neglected' shops zone

By South Wales Evening Post  |  Posted: December 02, 2011

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IT was a day to remember. Entertainer Larry Grayson was in his TV prime. And he pulled them in by the thousands when he opened Swansea's new retail showpiece, the St David's shopping centre.

Inside: an indoor, first-floor market, a big Somerfield supermarket and a Mecca bingo hall. There were posh gift shops and a furniture store and a hairdresser among its attractions.

Centre stage? A TV studio.

It all seems such a long time ago.

Over the best part of three decades some of the original players moved on. Not all of them have been replaced.

Today there are just six units occupied and those in some of them think the complex is regarded as the poor relation of the city's retail sector.

There are more units closed than open, and a tatty sign still directs people to that first-floor studio a full 16 years after S4C weekday magazine programme Heno stopped broadcasting live from there.

Nearby are the high-profile Quadrant shopping centre and Oxford Street. But St David's is seen by many as a short cut and not somewhere to go in its own right.

Boarded-up units play their part in that, although those that operate do everything they can to be a success. But they do so against a background of anti-social behaviour, even if it most of it takes place at night when the shops are shut.

Dave Ellis, who has lived in the nearby Llys Dewi Sant housing complex for two years, says just about the only reason he goes out and about at night is if he has to go to the nearby Tesco store.

"It is always dark here at night," he says. "Residents at Llys Dewi Sant won't come out at night. There are people with drink and drugs in the area.

"People urinate against the walls there and in the grounds of St David's Church. You can tell when people are on drugs. You can smell 'grass' and you can tell they are on drugs by the way they talk. There is nothing here. It is a complete waste of space."

Last month an office worker called for increased security there after fighting off a handbag snatcher while she was walking through on her way home at about 6.15pm.

Police say they do regularly patrol the area, and have issued a number of notices to individuals forcing them to leave the area in order to prevent incidents of anti-social behaviour."

The Jewellery Centre has been there for around 30 years. Owner Sheila Moroney says she is generally satisfied with her lot.

"We could have some Christmas lights here," she adds.

"And yes, there is room for improvement. But we are happy to be trading here because we are one of the busiest jewellery businesses in Swansea."

Action Bikes Swansea has been there for 15 years, although owner Richard Smith is critical of the way things are today and feels the area is a poor relation of the city centre retail scene.

"It's much worse than it was then," he adds.

"It is just tired and dated. It has dropped off. It is unwelcoming. There are no Christmas lights here to show we are alive.

"We feel a little bit left out of the city centre, the poor relations."

Mr Smith says the shop makes its financial contribution to organisations such as Swansea Business Improvement District (Bid), but feels that its fringe status in the centre is not being rewarded like businesses in higher-profile locations.

"We pay city centre rates like everyone else, but we don't have the image that Oxford Street gets," he says.

"There is no desire to see footfall here.

"Put some Christmas lights here or have an outdoor market, or even part of a market. They have been saying for years that 'this is going to happen, that is going to happen', but nothing ever does."

Specialist surf shop Big Drop has also been in the centre for 15 years, Owner Mark Winrow voices similar sentiments.

"They( the council) say it is going to be redeveloped and they can't spend any money before," he adds.

"We have seen plan after plan, probably four or five, to redevelop it, but nothing ever happens.

"We pay our lease, our business rates and our contribution to Bid, but the rest of the city centre has been re-paved, and has had new bins, new signs, new lights and Christmas lights. But it all stops at the entrance to the Quadrant."

And it is no surprise to Mr Winrow that the presence of out-of-town retail parks has had an effect on the city centre.

"Swansea is a city of a certain size, so there is only a certain footfall," he adds.

"If you have out-of-town parks you are just moving that footfall along."

But Big Drop continues offering its specialist service.

"We just get on with it," he adds.

St David's Church has been there since 1838 and Canon Michael Flook, who runs it, expresses regret that it has not been made the focal point of what should be a thriving square.

"I can't speak about anti-social behaviour because I have never experienced it," he adds.

"But it seems to be dead in the day and dead at night.

"If on the continent you had a church as attractive as this one it would be the focal point of a square. You would have cafes around it. It would bring the place alive. It needs a whole lift.

"The church is screened off from Mumbles Road, but we get about 300 people at our weekend masses. We are keeping alive in that sense.

"I would like to see the church more incorporated in the life of the area. It is an attractive church and I would like to see landscaping. They seem to have completely disregarded the church."

Council bosses say St David's is a "key strategic location for long-term regeneration."

A spokesman adds: "We are working hard alongside the Welsh Government and our partners in the private sector to identify a scheme that can move forward when market conditions improve.

"But we're doing all we can in the meantime to help all city centre traders, including those at St David's, during difficult economic times."

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