Bunhill: Arcades are back

ARCADES are back. Best if they're Victorian, but, says Peter Smith, 'they're emphatically not a trip down memory lane. At the end of the 19th century they were state-of-the-art stuff, the precursor of modern shopping centres, but now they're really contemporary.'

Mr S speaks with authority. His private company, Arcadia, has three of them, all Victorian, all in unlikely cities - Cardiff, Stirling and Walsall, for God's sake. Worse than Manchester, as the Queen might have put it.

London Merchant Securities, Lord Rayne's property company, is sufficiently impressed to be backing Mr S to the tune of pounds 14.5m. It's rather a heartening story since it's all about the return to the City Centre, the promising future for small shops, and all that sort of stuff. What's more, it appears to be true.

Mr Smith cottoned on to the idea in the late 1980s as a counter-cyclical reaction when out-of-town shopping malls were all the rage. 'Arcades looked like a good way of providing space for small independents. We don't rely on the multiples but on shopkeepers of every description.

'Of course they vary. In Walsall we've got lots of convenience shops, while in Cardiff the arcade appeals to the fashion-conscious.'

Perhaps Mr Smith could ask Alan Bennett to open the next one: one of his most moving TV appearances was a visit to the arcade in Leeds where his father used to sell wooden toys.

(Photograph omitted)