Thursday, August 04, 2016

How Many Shopping Centres Do You Need?

It was before I got to the meat of the subject that I thought oh no, here we go again. And once I had got to the meat, the feeling hadn't altered. The first part was to do with theme parks. There it was, another plan for a theme park. Not quite bang in the centre of Palma but well inside its urban sprawl. It turned out not to be quite as thematic a park as the intro had intimated. Indoor ice-rinks, surf machines and botanical gardens aren't themes, they're attractions: add-ons to the meat of the beast - a shopping centre.

Mallorca has form with theme parks, very little of it positive. Anyone remember the Tierra Santa, the Christian theme park? Even Christians (ones with whom I discussed the project) were either sceptical or aghast. Last heard of, some years ago, it was being lined up for some land in Inca, having been touted around much of the island. And that was the last that was heard of it, thank God.

Or perhaps you'll recall the Danish operation, The Theme Park group, with its plan for a lavish project somewhere between Llucmajor and Campos. You must recall this one, what with the photos of representatives around a table with the Balearic president, José Ramón Bauzá. It was getting on for five years ago. Since then, nothing, though the website's still there with the promise of "an environmental and sustainable approach to the design of the project". One imagines that this is not necessarily in line with the sustainable philosophies of the current Balearic administration. It might have met with the philosophies of the Bauzá administration, but some time after its announcement, the tourism minister, Carlos Delgado, said he had no idea what was happening with it. Nor did anyone else.

Delgado was something of a theme-park advocate. Or at least he was when he entered government in 2011. There were various items on his wish-list, and theme parks were one of them. Perhaps it was the non-emergence of any which contributed to his resignation. His successor, Jaime Martínez, offered no such wishes, but when once asked about the possibility of theme-park development in Mallorca, he admitted that the possibilities were low if not zero. The regulatory and environmental hoops to go through would be tortuous and in all likelihood prohibitive.

So, when there was this recent reference to a theme park, my reaction was that it was dead in the water even before the announcement was made. But it wasn't of course a theme park as such. It was for a shopping centre. Oh no, here we go again. How many shopping centres does one city need or to be planned? Of the latter, we have, among others, the one for Ses Fontanelles in Playa de Palma. On, off, on, off, and so it goes on. With regard to the realities, shopping fans are counting the days until FAN Mallorca Shopping throws open its doors in September and the multitudes rush forth and strip Primark bare.

I would like to be able to give an answer to the question regarding the number of shopping centres but unfortunately cannot. There may be worthy research into shopping centre-population ratios, but if there is it would be subject to all sorts of variables, such as the number of shops, while with Palma there is the additional and far from insignificant variable of tourism (one already on the island rather than one drawn by a shopping centre.)

Intu, which wishes to create Port Mayurqa in Palma, has been knocked back by the town hall and the government but it isn't giving up. The moratorium on new large commercial developments may well be extended when new regulations are approved (probably next year), but there's always a more compliant Partido Popular regime lurking round the corner of the ballot box. At least Intu is a company that knows what it's doing: you don't get to operate as many shopping centres as it does without having some idea. One would therefore assume that it has done its numbers and worked out that Palma does indeed need another shopping centre.  

But there are needs and there are needs. Those of smaller retailers are all too easily overlooked by the land grab by larger retailers and shopping centres. When MediaMarkt opened in Palma, there was a campaign against it because of potential impact on local traders. Emphasis on this local trade is very much a theme of the current government, for which sustainability goes beyond vague promises of it, as with Intu's "sustainable tourism product", a claim that one has to question. If it were a genuine theme park, then perhaps. But it isn't.

Sure, it would generate jobs, but at what cost? Sustainability infers observing the needs of whole communities, which aren't only those of Palma. They are island-wide.

No comments: