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Behind the scenes at Bath's new shopping centre

Dave Harvey | 16:06 UK time, Monday, 12 October 2009

When Bristol opened its flash new shopping centre a year ago, they had circus dancers on the roof. Trapeze artists cavorted high above shoppers.

So what is Bath planning for its new SouthGate shopping centre, which opens in three weeks on 4 November?
Southgate shopping centre under construction

A Roman quadrille marching down Milsom St? Beau Nash and a throng of Georgian dandies flouncing through the Pump Rooms?

"We thought we might ask a couple of schools down to cut a ribbon", the man from SouthGate confides. This is Razzamatazz, recession style.

Actually, it makes perfect sense. For entirely practical reasons, they will open SouthGate in three phases. A third of the shops in November - including a huge new Boots, Sainsbury's, and H&M. Phase 2 opens in May 2010, and then in September the builders leave and the flagship Debenhams store will open.

I've just had a wander round behind the scenes, and you can see how they're getting on here.

southgate.jpg

Because the centre's opening in phases, it's all much calmer than the final weeks before Bristol's Cabot Circus opened in September 2008. Every cherry-picker in the west was commandeered, and shops were still fitting out at midnight before opening day. None of that at SouthGate.

And since they're opening what will still be a massive building site, they could hardly have a big flashy ceremony. Cranes and diggers rather spoil the effect.

But somehow, it all seems rather symbolic. Cabot's opening day now seems like a flashback to another world. A world of instant credit and endless shoppers. A world where you could sell pretty much anything to the passing crowds. A world that has gone.

SouthGate even has the right shops for the new mood. Sainsbury's. Boots. Debenhams. Practical, everyday shops instead of fripperies and fancies. It's ironic really, when you think about the two cities. Bristol, traditionally the more grimy, working, down to earth city gets the flashy new Circus. Bath, home of the dandy and still beloved by lunching ladies, gets sensible SouthGate.

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