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Why that personal touch is so important

By South Wales Evening Post  |  Posted: February 17, 2014

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IT is one of the most familiar ports of call in the centre of Swansea: the Kardomah coffee shop and restaurant run by the Luporini family for nearly 44 years.

Juliet Luporini has been involved in the Portland Street business for 10 years as co-owner and financial director and says its staying power is an example of what the city centre can offer, an independent trader working alongside the big nationals.

"It says that people still want the personal service which gives them good quality products," she says. "They still want that in Swansea. We can adapt and have adapted to changing times. We have fought off competition from large franchises and we are still here. We have modernised what we produce but still keeping that unique waitress service, which I think for us is a real selling point."

But Juliet is not one to just concern herself with the custom passing through her premises. She has got a wider brief, a much wider brief. With a philosophy of 'we are stronger together', she is vice chairwoman of Swansea Bid (Business Improvement District) and on the First Minister's Commission on Public Service Governance and Delivery. Another role has been membership of the Welsh Government Business Rates Task and Finish Group, and she joined the board of the newly-formed Swansea Bay City Region, bringing together the private and public sectors across South West Wales, from Pembrokeshire in the west to Neath Port Talbot in the east.

There is a bigger picture out there and Juliet is passionate about contributing to it.

"I am proud of Swansea Bay City region," she says. "That sort of teamwork and collaboration can be a real economic drive for this region. I do very much look at the bigger picture and I am lucky with my own business to keep my foot on the ground in the city, as well as having that much bigger playing field with aspects of Welsh government policy.

"In the First Minister's Commission, I am not in that team having political allegiance to any party, but being involved on the end of public service delivery. I can see it from a Bid point of view, give it a fresh set of eyes and I think that is very important.

"On the region board we are there to make sure that we take into account economically the whole of the region and make sure that we chose projects which are fully transformational and can really bring forward employment and economic growth.

"We know that in this part of Wales, and in Wales generally, we are lagging behind others and we are there now to give clear economic strategic direction, to form goals short, medium and long-term in terms of the projects chosen. When you go to the region you have to leave behind your own agenda. You have to look at what the region needs.

"Swansea is seen to be the commercial hub and, therefore, is going to require that support in terms of infrastructure. We need to consider selling ourselves as a whole region. We need to make sure we have projects that reach across the whole region. We want it to work together and grow.

"One of the things I have noticed is that there is so much talent and potential in Wales and yet we tend to go about it in a piecemeal fashion. It's not coordinated."

She points to the Dylan Thomas 100, this year's celebrations of Dylan Thomas's birthday, saying many different groups were involved as opposed to there being an holistic, coordinated approach.

"I have had several people asking me if I wanted to be involved in this, that or the other," says Juliet. "It is getting a handle on these sorts of things, which I think can really help economically. Together we are stronger."

And that includes her home patch of Swansea, which she promotes through Bid. There has been encouraging feedback.

"Customer service is fantastic in Swansea," she says. "There is a real unique selling point which Swansea has. It has its issues, some of which are not controllable. There are external factors, like internet shopping which we are still battling. There is out-of-town shopping. We know there is quite a large segment who want convenient shopping and parking, and want it for free, so we are battling that."

But she thinks the city centre is on the up, although concedes the long-term roadworks in the Boulevard scheme, which aims to create a vibrant, tree-lined city street between the River Tawe bridges and Princess Way, have done no favours.

"I think we have done well if you stand still during the recession," says Juliet. "If you look at other parts of the UK they have really gone backwards. I don't think we have here. The Boulevard project has had an impact on business but I think we have got to look beyond that. We have got an infrastructure which is being improved. We have got rail electrification coming to Swansea.

"There are certainly ups in it all. Yes, we have got empty units, but Bid is working very closely with the local authority and other partners to try and reduce rent and rates and fill empty units."

With major calling cards like Swansea Market, Juliet feels the city centre has plenty going for it.

"We need to work together with events and promotions and make sure people recognise the offer," she says. "I do believe we have an advantage on out-of-town from the pure point of view that, as humans, we still like to meet people and talk to people. We can offer that in the city centre, which they can't in the soulless out-of-town developments."

The revamped traffic system in the Kingsway and surrounds has been a constant source of irritation to many over the last few years. Change could be in the air.

"The traffic system has had an impact and are we happy with it?" she asks. "No. We are a are a stage that the Bid is in conversations with the local authority and there are mock-ups or simulations of different possibilities for the Kingsway because we are very aware, as are the local authority, that what we have now is not right.

"The traffic has had an impact because I think we are creatures of habit and we got used to coming into Swansea in a certain way. And I think, with all due respect, it affects the older generation because you don't like to feel uncertain as where you are going."

On parking, she thinks the scheme allowing it in car parks for £1 an hour for the first three hours has been successful.

"I don't think people like to lug huge amounts of shopping around the city centre, so there is always room for improvement," she says. "I think if you have got the retail offer that people want and we make the most of our fantastic natural environment and we sell it as a whole package people will come and pay for parking."

The business rates task and finish group has called on the Welsh Government to devolve business rates and incentivise councils by allowing them to keep half of any extra rates raised.

"It would actually mean Swansea Council would keep the business rates that they collect, so there would be an even greater incentive to make sure that properties are filled because you are going to get more revenue from that," she says."Also I think it is good for the business community to see how their rates are spent. There is more accountability locally."

She gives a cautious welcome to the £756 million, power-generating Swansea Bay tidal lagoon proposed scheme.

"I think the tidal lagoon is something we really need to look into closely," she says. "It could be a fantastically transformational project, but we have to make sure we look at the environmental side of it and all of those issues. It would be awful to put a tidal lagoon in and it falls flat. But, yes, it is a really exciting project that is ambitious and ticks all the boxes. But it needs to be looked at closely for any possible flaws."

Overall Juliet is optimistic about the future, but wants everyone to feel part of it.

"I think it is really important for all businesses to remember, and in fact residents and shops in Swansea, that they can have an input into the city regions," she says.. "There are avenues in communication with websites and various other things.

"And I think that in the past we have sometimes been a bit reticent about that. Now is the chance to have your say and to be part of this and work together collaboratively. It is not just about the people who are sitting there on the board. We are representing your views."

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  • Gowerview  |  February 19 2014, 2:38PM

    Hopefully the city region team can address the awful economic decline in Swansea centre. The council regeneration office of Messrs Mowbray & Holmes look to be struggling to kickstart a meaningful regeneration programme. The city centre in Swansea does not resemble a city. Our council leader ,regeneration chiefs and sadly the partners including Assembly have failed Swansea. An independent body with local business representation including the right legal and professional regeneration experts need to be involved now. The city centre looks unplanned, forgotten and pretty much third world . It will remain stagnant so long as the current authority look at temporary seasonal events , pavement widening, street lights, signage , pay and display car parking and city of sanctuary residential as the solution to increasing footfall. Swansea has less visitors and hence less investment . People are flocking to new, vibrant centres like Carmarthen , Cardiff and Bristol. Swansea has sleep walked into a poor , stagnant ,under occupied and under performing centre. There looks to be no vision ,ambition or leadership. The planning briefs recommend a significant regeneration . They promote a step change in the Swansea retail centre. It needs a landmark venue as well as this. It needs an ambitious mixed use regeneration . It needs this in the city centre. The St David's - Oldway House site has seen buildings removed . How long will we see a pay and display car park here? Put it this way, the Quadrant was built in 1979 and successive council leaders and regeneration teams have failed over the last 30 years. Nothing has been done to significantly enhance the city centre economy. How many developers have left and how many plans have failed to materialise in that time?

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