Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Column, October 17, 2006

I DON’T know what depresses me more – Rhyl’s funfair or its replacement.
There may be some who will rejoice to see the end of the funfair and its replacement with offices, housing and hotel.
Others may be sad to see a landmark of the North Wales coastline disappear. I’m just a little disappointed that something for which the term ‘fading glory’ might have been coined is being replaced with something which sounds so bland.
There was nothing intrinsically wrong with the funfair, but as owner Rhyl Amusements chief exec Harold Robinson conceded: “There’s a lot of nostalgia attached to this place, but it is just not economically viable any more.”
He’s got a better grip of the economics of it than I have, being at the sharp end of trying to tempt people onto the waltzers, but we’ll get back to nostalgia a little later.
But I have to say that even the name of its replacement – Ocean Plaza – makes my heart sink.
I know that some people living around the West End of Rhyl will see 50 flats, offices and a four-star hotel as an infinite improvement on a funfair, but they might not agree in a few years when the shiny newness of the flats has worn off and it’s just yet another nearly-new development on the North Wales coastline.
Because what’s also happening at the same time? Well Asda are moving their store there as well.
So what does Rhyl get to pull in the holiday punters? Yet another supermarket and a hotel, office and flats development. I can hear them cancelling their flights to Magaluf in their droves when they hear of those delights to be had in sunny North Wales .
Yes, the funfair had an end of the pier atmosphere to it, but at least it wasn’t part of some ghastly chain, at least it had a nodding acquaintance with Rhyl’s heritage as a seaside resort.
But the disappearance of landmarks like Rhyl’s funfair are all part of the creeping homogenisation of the North Wales coastal resorts.
Yes, the Ocean Plaza development will, if it goes ahead, have the effect of beginning the redevelopment of that end of Rhyl. Where Ocean Plaza leads, then the chain pubs and slightly more upmarket shops will follow, slowly but surely gentrifying the town. A task some might have described as impossible.
But the cost will be to sweep the town clean of any last vestiges of originality and character. The Rhyl visitor guide in 10 years time will just be a list of bars, shops and hotels which the visitor can see in any other resort in the UK .
You can’t really blame the council, as it’s not their fault the bars and tacky shops have spread through the town. Once one bar and one shop selling tat is allowed in – and after all, it’s not a legitimate planning reason to turn down a shop on the grounds it sells rubbish – then the council has no option but to allow them to proliferate.
What puzzles me is how the resorts of the South East of England can get this right and yet North Wales still fails to tap into the growing market for British seaside resorts.
In the South East resorts that were on their uppers have seen a resurgence in the family holiday trade. Perhaps not the weeks and fortnights of the past – but weekends and short breaks.
Here we haven’t really woken up to the fact that our customers in Liverpool and Manchester now have airlines on their doorstep that will whisk them to somewhere much sunnier for a fraction of the price of a holiday here, even though our resorts are a short drive down the A55.
There is a massive market in the nostalgia holiday – people my age who want to take our children on the sort of seaside holiday we had as children. Sadly if I take my children to some of the places I went as a kid, all they would find would be soulless rows of slot machines and bars serving the already inebriated enough cheap booze to get them really fighting drunk.
What the North Wales coast needs is some decent strategic thought and the planning powers to push through its ideas.
The answer lies not in chain pubs and stores and Ocean Plazas, but in small individual family businesses catering for short family breaks and charging prices which don’t make easyJet look like Santa Claus.
The sad thing is these businesses are already out there, fighting an image that has grown up round Rhyl over the years and gone unchecked by those who were happy to as long as it brought in visitors for whom a foreign holiday was a pipe dream.
The ills of Rhyl will take some sorting out, I’m just not sure Ocean Plaza is the remedy they’re looking for.

MEMBERS OF Pwllheli Chamber of Trade were surprised to receive a recent e-mail from Coun Michael Sol Owen.
In it he asked whether the Chamber would be extending an invitation to Asda to join their membership.
It’s a little surprising that in an area as rural as the Llyn, Coun Owen is not aware of the phrase relating foxes and what they do when allowed entry to a henhouse.
Given the fact that its membership may be dwindling when the full effect of the arrival of Asda is felt, the Chamber would be forgiven for recruiting Asda to its ranks.
All the same, I’m told the feeling among chamber members is that Asda should do the same as everyone else and fill in its application form for membership rather than expect an invitation, albeit at the suggestion of a local councillor.

A QUESTIONNAIRE arrives inviting me to give my thoughts on attitudes to crime.
In it I’m asked what, of a great long list, are my concerns about crime.
Along with drug dealing, litter, graffiti and speeding is ‘youths hanging around.’ That’s right – hanging around. Apparently, in the eyes of council bureaucrats, hanging around is a crime on a par with selling heroin to schoolchildren.
Firstly, if any youths were hanging round my home, they would clearly be lost and in need of assistance. I'm in the back of beyond, so they'd probably be in the early stages of hypothermia and dehydration.
But most importantly, this is, the last time I checked, a free-ish country and provided that you are not committing a crime or about to commit one, then hanging around is not an offence, and what’s more, none of anyone’s business.
Let’s face it, if you’re 13 years old, you’re too young-looking to get into the pub and too old to want to stay in with mum and dad, what more is there to life than hanging around?
Is it any wonder that children feel marginalised, criminalised and misunderstood when their mere existence is regarded as an offence?

1 comment:

Ifan M Jones said...

Kids only leave the womb to escape a fine for loitering.