The Changing Face of Cardiff, by Jerald Solis, Business Development and Acquisitions Director at Experience Invest

The face of Cardiff has changed dramatically in the past thirty-two years. From Lord Crickhowell leading charge with the creation of the Cardiff Bay Development Corporation (CBDC) in 1987, to the ambitious new-build projects in the city centre, Cardiff appears to be in a constant state of change.

Whilst the priorities of Cardiff’s regeneration have realigned themselves over the previous three decades, the objectives have remained consistent; to create an environment, which promotes job creation and consequently a better quality of life for residents. Indeed, as the years have progressed, the drivers of change have adjusted with the times, from redeveloping the former bay and driving new business development, to the construction of accommodation complexes.

This is indeed an exciting time for Cardiff, with a multitude of employment, education and investment opportunities presenting themselves in recent years. However, this has not always been the case.

Where It All Began

Cardiff has not always been such a vibrant city, which offers a plethora of opportunities for locals and students alike. Like many industrial towns after the Second World War, its dependence on just one or two trades, coal and wool, proved to be detrimental.

Before the Second World War, Cardiff was a prosperous city; jobs were plentiful, and the city’s economy was booming. The majority of coal and wool factories were based in Cardiff Bay, then a bustling area of activity. With traders from all over the world being able to obtain Cardiff’s materials, thanks to an easily accessible harbour, income was flowing into the thriving city.

However, after the Second World War, global trade fell, and Cardiff Bay began to lose out to the more competitive ports across the UK. What’s more, the decline of the UK’s coal and wool industries, meant that Cardiff’s income and employment opportunities decreased dramatically. Consequently, by the 1980s, what was once a vibrant and prosperous city, was a bleak wasteland.

With high unemployment and the standard of living dipping, the innovative mind of Lord Crickhowell saw an opportunity to drive change in the city, placing specific focus on the regeneration of Cardiff Bay. His proposals were dramatic; from marine engineering to create greater opportunities for businesses to grow in Cardiff Bay, to an overhaul of the city’s infrastructure in order to reconnect the city with the bay itself, his ambition was to encourage locals, and even tourists, to visit the area.

However, the proposals did have to overcome numerous obstacles. Concerns that marine engineering would flood the local area proved to be the greatest objection. This was swiftly followed by protestations that the project was too costly and would not offer any real value to Cardiff. Yet despite opposition, Crickhowell finally gained permission to commence with his regeneration project; work began in 1994.

The results of Crickhowell’s work speaks for itself. In 2000, work around the Bay was completed and the area was almost unrecognisable. New bars, restaurants and shops had opened, and locals and tourists were able to visit the area thanks to improved transportation links; money began to flow into the bay. 

In later years, the regeneration project refocussed its attention to standard of living for locals, with a multitude of new flats being built in the city centre. Indeed, the standard of living for residents has improved dramatically within the past thirty-two years. However, there appears to be one group, whose needs have not been adequately met, despite their growing numbers. This group I refer to, is the city’s ever-increasing student population.

A Shift In Focus

Indeed, Cardiff has experienced a rapid increase in its student population in recent decades. With three prestigious universities in the city, it is inevitable that students across the UK have flocked to the area within the past two decades.

An influx of students presents an excellent opportunity for Cardiff’s regeneration project. Not only do new students offer the promise of additional income for local businesses, from the local corner shop by the university to an independent fashion boutique in the city centre, they also present a new wave of prospective employees. Indeed, organisations across Cardiff will likely want to attract educated young talent to the area, to boost their productivity and profitability.

It would seem logical, therefore, to draw students in from the moment they begin considering university options. Whilst Cardiff has a sterling reputation for its nightlife, as well as academic rigor, it seems fitting that the universities provide the accommodation to match. Afterall, a pleasant experience at university would provide ample motivation for students to stay in the area.

The rest of this editorial will be published at a later date.