BBC BLOGS - West Country Cash
« Previous | Main | Next »

Cabot Circus: Are you singing Happy Birthday?

Dave Harvey | 11:06 UK time, Thursday, 24 September 2009

There's hardly a Bristolian without an opinion on it.

Talk about quantitative easing and eyes may glaze. Raise the question of government-backed securities in Lloyds, and you may lose your audience. But tell people you're covering a shopping centre's first birthday party - and prepare for an earful.

The numbers are huge. £500m invested. Four thousand jobs. Twenty million shopping visits in a year.

We'll come to the thorny question of whether Cabot Circus is making any money later - and yes, your thoughts, experiences and opinions are very welcome here right now.

First though, the neighbours. Before I went inside the Circus, I had a look round the back. Where there are some mighty unhappy people.

Patricia O'Reilly

"There's a hell of a lot missing," Patricia O'Reilly tells me. She lives in the flats behind the car park, and remembers talk of landscaping, a neighbourhood gathering place, their own parking spaces. Patricia's part of a local residents association, chaired by John James who feels promises have been broken.

"They came to lots of our meetings, showed us lots of improvements," he says. "Can you see it? Because I can't."

John James

Now here's the thing. John and Patricia can't show us a piece of paper promising specific improvements that the developers have failed to deliver. They admit they were seduced by friendly talk that never got down to details. And of course, the area is better than it was.

"We do have regular liaison with local residents, a number of them I speak to on personal terms," James Bailey tells me. Mr Bailey is one of the centre managers at Cabot, and he doesn't think they've broken any promises.

But remember that price tag. £500m. Half a billion pounds. If they'd spent half of one percent of that on St Jude's, the place would win Britain in Bloom. As it is, there are a few shrubs and some new paving. A bit of new turf and a pole which, one day, will have a CCTV camera on it.

Many round here think the council was weak with the developers, so eager were they to get the flashy new shopping centre and its attendant jobs and glitz. And a neighbourhood that had been long neglected could only get better with a new megastore, couldn't it?

Developers are clever people. They know how to create an atmosphere in which everyone - locals, campaigners, councillors - think they are getting everything they could ever dream of. When you scrutinise the fine print, of course, it says "benches, landscaping and communal area". And is a square of paving stones a communal area? By the time the diggers are gone, everyone's just happy the dust has settled.

Whether you go inside the shops at all, Cabot has changed the city skyline for ever.

Better? Worse? Everyone has an opinion - let's hear yours now!

Tomorrow, Friday, they'll be having a birthday party. Will you be joining the celebrations?

Phil Gayle will be talking about Cabot too, on BBC Radio Bristol's Interactive, Friday morning from 9 - 10. Give him a call.


  • Comment number 1.

    I would like to say as a teenager myself, I think Carboot Circus sorry Cabot Cirus is a disgrace. It has shops which Broadmead already had, it has Cafe's Broadmead already had, it has a hotel which yet again Broadmead already had. It takes up half of Bristol and is a complete waste of space to be quite honest. I advoid Carboot Circus when I go into Bristol, because I get angry when I go in and see what they have done. Their are way too many bridge's it's almost like the designer got bored and said "I have an idea let's stick another bridge in." The money that was spent could have been better funded on other things in and around Bristol. It could have also helped a lot more things for charities or third world countries. It's just the most stupidist thing I have ever seen. Another thing, as if it wasn't bad enough that they have repeated pretty much all of the shops Broadmead already had they charge you about £70 for a pair of jeans, it's ridiculous. People ie council and the people who thought this pile rubble would be a GOOD idea, have no idea how to spend money. It's ridiculous, over expensive, nasty, horrible and a waste of people's time and space!

  • Comment number 2.

    Thanks Kiki,
    Well I said people have strong opinions! I've heard the elaborate reasons behind all those bridges and the designers are quite sure they weren't just bored... but hey! The customers is always right they say, and it sounds like you won't be a Cabot customer any time soon!
    Thanks for taking the time to join in. Dave :-)

  • Comment number 3.

    I think developers are caught between a rock and a hard place really. It's pretty clear that with a half billion pound investment they will want to provide plenty of incentive to local residents to get their support on board and although I'm not a St Jude's resident, or indeed a frequent visitor to the cathedral of commerce that is Cabot Circus, I can see how people's perceptions need to be carefully managed. Whether or not promises have been kept or broken, and that's probably a matter of opinion, it's the old story that you can't please all of the people all of the time. Unforunately, depsite the success of Cabot Circus, it's one battle that they will probably never win.

  • Comment number 4.

    Personally, I don't think Cabot is that bad. In fact, I quite like it. I'm a young person aswell, and shopping is busy, but good. I like the curves and bridges and glass. But I think it's way too expensive - they could have been more conservative. Yes - it is nice and I'm glad we have it, but the money could have been put to better use, easily. The council need someway of democratically deciding what most people want and how to go about it - not spending money recklessly on something that will become outdated in ten years and isn't as deserving as other causes.
    Cris1987 has the last few lines right. Maybe Cabot is the way to satisfy the most people - I just wish that people could be a little less self-centred.

  • Comment number 5.

    i think the 'Cabot' is quite an interesting place,if only to mooch around in,and although i visit quite often,i never buy a thing.
    the prices in every shop are so expensive,and even a coffee costs the earth,so i then meander off to the 'real'World of Broadmead.
    i personally believe that most folk begrudge the heavy parking charges in all cities !
    surely ,the first 2 hours should be free ,and after that the charges should be doubled ! this would give people more incentive to shop.?
    SO,if i want to do a day of retail therapy,i buzz off to CRIBBS CAUSEWAY where the parking is completely free.
    surely the planners of the 'Cabot' ,who no doubt are paid vast sums of money,should posess something called common sense.?but this is sadly lacking with all these pompous knowalls,who in reality know nothing,cause they never listen.!
    according to them ,as they always know that they are right,why would they listen to the man in the street.

  • Comment number 6.

    Why the total disgust for Cabot Circus? I am a Bristol University student, and I visit the shopping centre regularly. The open-ended architecture is endearing. I love shopping in the sunshine.

    Though I admit shopping at Cabot Circus is a little bit like walking through an Escher woodcut, if you can't figure out how to go up and down an escalator, it's a wonder you figured out how to use public transport to get there in the first place.

  • Comment number 7.

    I visited Cabot with my wife and baby. The shopping centre looks really nice but the baby facilities are virtually non existant. It was very difficult to get a bottle warmed up as non of the shops would heat the bottle, probably to do with health and safety. It was generally very difficult to get around with a buggy and would imagine it would be the same for a disabled person in a wheelchair. The staff tried to help as best they could but TBH for a 500 million development the facilities were very poor/non exsistant. There are not enough lifts for the amount of people and it would have been nice to have some sloping walkways for people with buggies/wheelchairs rather than waiting 10-15 mins to get a lift up to the next level(It didn't help with able bodied people being lazy and not taking the stairs!) It was the first and last time I'm shopping down there! Cribbs Causeway is such a better shopping experience plus comes with free parking and its all indoors!

  • Comment number 8.

    To me the circus is a waste of money... The shops are largely bland and appear to be scattered randomly. There is no focal point, there is no heart.

    I totally agree with Jockster. Cribbs Causeway is by far a superior shopping experience. Something like 5000 free parking spaces, it is all indoors, central focal point... But more importantly it has a broad range of shops that people will actually want to buy stuff from!

    I think the people responsible for Cabot Circus should be named and shamed... They certainly should never be allowed to work in a position of authority! Seriously.. Half a billion pounds on a few shops? What were they thinking??? How many more worthwhile projects could that have been spent on?

    I appreciate that the area was in need of plenty of TLC, but what has occurred is both obscene and offensive to Bristolians everywhere.

  • Comment number 9.

    Sorry, I don't like Cabot Circus. Just my opinion but I don't like the architecture and find it oppressive. I don't feel comfortable there.

    I used to prefer Broadmead and the Horsefair to Cribbs Causeway. If in town (usually for business) I use The Galleries (Now trying to rebrand as "The Mall").

    I now use Cribbs Causeway, which I have always called "The Mall". I try to avoid busy periods. I find it more relaxing and pleasant to visit. M&S particularly has most of what I need and the customer service is excellent. (OK I'm biased as my sister's company trained them).

    Parking and traffic on the new roads round Cabot Circus mean I rarely venture into the centre of Bristol now. When I do, I use the bus - not ideal for shopping. Any proposed "congestion charge" would see me desert Bristol centre entirely.

  • Comment number 10.

    I voiced my criticism against Cabot Circus at the time it was built, about the level of contribution we as Bristol council tax payers made that seemed to be designed for rich people who live in converted farmhouses in Somerset and Gloucestershire to use. I also didn't like the fact that the land it was built on was privatised - wheras Broadmead was public and people could busk, sell the big issue, do street theatre, hold protests, and generally use it as an open space, Cabot Circus is privately owned and you can't even raise your voice in it without getting bundled out of the exit by security.

    The betrayal of St Judes is the same as the betrayal of Stokes Croft when 51'02 was built, the same as the betrayal of those on the council waiting list when they were told that 'right to buy' would have no effect on housing stocks, and the same betrayal of Bradley Stoke that meant 10,000 houses were built before the builders were grudgingly forced to throw up a school and shop.

    The same old story, the same old lies, and people like me making the same old protests and being ignored. Why? Because every new project is backed up by a short term media 'blitz' that makes the naysayers seem like fools, that this project is going to be different, it is being built for the people, for 'the jobs', rather than just another way for a few people to make money at the expense of the rest of us.

    Remember the Evening Post Cabot Circus 58 page celebratory pull-out or whatever it was? Do you think Northcliffe Media did that for free? Or how about the Points West specials, the BBC website 'exclusive pictures' of the construction, and then the opening? This is what PR is all about, and the lack of funds for news sources mean they are more than willing to play the game - even the BBC, if it means they can get free copy and not have to pay reporters themselves.

    OK, rant over, but please, the next time you see a protest in the street about something, at least take the leaflet or stop and listen - it may be the only chance you get to hear the other side of the story. And remember, if you walk down the gleaming streets of privately-managed Cabot Circus, you won't hear anything at all.


BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.