THE STREET THAT'S DYING OF THIRST; St Mary Street Is Seen as a Buzzing Hot Spot in the Capital, but Why Do So Many Properties Remain Empty? ED WALKER and DAVID STUBBINGS Investigate Whether a Council Policy Is Stifling Business on the Street
Byline: ED WALKER; DAVID STUBBINGS
THE pictures on these pages show 24 properties lying empty on one of South Wales' most famous streets.
St Mary Street, in the centre of Cardiff, is known around the world for offering some of the best nights out - but a council policyhasbeenaccused of slowly killing it.
The decision to reject an application by a burlesque club to open in the former Life nightspot has drawn scorn from Cardiff residents.
Online comments left after the GreeneRoomwas refused a licence last Fridayquestioned whether a saturation zone on St Mary Street was still needed.
The saturation zone, which was brought in on January 8, 2005, makes it harder for new and existing businesses to gain alcohol licences as any plans trigger an automatic objection from SouthWales Police.
The chair of Cardiff council's licensing committee defended the zone but revealed it was being reviewed.
Councillor Ed Bridges said: "As a committee we are aware of the changing nature of the area and we recognise that we may need to change where the policy applies to.
"Thismaymean taking the lower end of St Mary Street out of the zone and moving other areas such as Greyfriars into it."
Coun Bridges said he could understand people's frustration with the recent Greene Room decision.
Hesaid:"We candistinguishbetween more upmarket applications, such as the Greene Room, but we needed assurances on public safety for such a large venue - and they couldn't provide that."
The saturation zone was introduced because of high numbers of licensed premises in the area leading to high crime rates.
Nick Newman, chairman of Cardiff licensees forum, said although a number of businesses had closed, he still supported the saturation zone.
"I still think that in terms of St Mary Street it is needed.
"We still have a lot of licensed premises in the area.
"The way I understand it is that each application is heard on its merits and that's the way it should be."
Mr Newman said the rise of "lounge-bars" outside the city centre could be a sign of people trying to escape the saturation zone.
He said: "You've got places like Juno Lounge popping up in old terraces outside the centre,andmaybethese are people trying to escape the saturation zone and take an easier route."
Themanager of a restaurant on High Street, who asked not to be named, said: "They don't distinguish what type of business it is. It's about stopping people from being out on the streets at 2am but my customers aren't out at 2am, they're in bed.
"I'd like to see one or two more restaurants at this end. Customers from restaurants don't cause trouble. We wanted to put tables out the front. The council want this cafe culture yet to have meetings with them about it makes it awkward. It's extra hoops to jump through. They can designate the High Street end as fair game and denote the difference between clubs and restaurants."
David Hughes-Lewis, chairman of Cardiff Retail Partnership, said the street had suffered during the recession.
"It's sad to see so many empty premises, but Ihopewe can see StMary Street restored to its former glories," he said.
"But I think it's changing. "The top end of High Street is now very different to the lower end, and I hope once the work is all finished we'll see more businesses, particularly day-time ones, return to the street."
Cardiff council is pedestrianising High Street and St Mary Street. The firstbatchofworks, tothetopendofthe street, were finished in November last year and the whole Castle Quarter scheme is due to be completed in September this year.
Bar managers on the street feel the saturation zone is working as they see less trouble than in previous years.
Josh Powell, who works in the Missoula bar, which has a licence until 3am on Fridays and Saturdays, said: "There isn't any trouble here in general. …