Saving Cardiff’s heritage buildings for future generations

The high cost of running some of Cardiff's most historic and celebrated buildings means Cardiff Council is set to look at new and inventive ways of safeguarding their future without putting an unsustainable strain on stretched Council budgets.

A report to Council's Cabinet says the authority is fully committed to protecting the city's past for future generations, but that it needs to look at innovative solutions building on partnerships with the private sector, to ensure some of Cardiff's most iconic buildings are properly maintained and preserved.

The city's heritage buildings, including City Hall, the Mansion House, the New Theatre, the Old Library, St David's Hall, the Norwegian Church, currently have a maintenance backlog of £24m and net operating costs of some £2.6m per annum.

A Council report, which will go before Cabinet on Thursday, November 15, is calling for permission to pursue new private-sector and other partnership arrangements similar to those which saw the Coal Exchange and Tramshed brought back to life. It's believed similar deals could eliminate maintenance backlogs and reduce operating costs while retaining the council's freehold ownership and safeguarding the future of the buildings.

Initial ideas outlined in the report include:

  • Renting the New Theatre directly to a commercial operator;
  • Turning the Mansion House into a boutique hotel;
  • Bringing new attractions to Cardiff Castle including a Doctor Who Film Tours Exhibition in partnership with BBC Worldwide.

Councillor Russell Goodway, Cabinet Member for Investment and Development, said: "These buildings are the jewels in Cardiff's crown. With local government finances crippled by austerity, we have to find new ways of securing their long-term futures. Work we have already done with the private sector has seen some of the city's finest buildings which were close to being lost restored and revitalised.

"The Coal Exchange, which was in a terrible state, is now open as a hotel. Insole Court has been brought back to life as has Llanrumney Hall and a dilapidated, Grade II-listed tram depot on Clare Road has become a thriving music and arts venue called the Tramshed. These are clear examples of how partnerships can deliver for the city, safeguarding our most precious, heritage buildings for future generations.

"What I will be presenting to my Cabinet colleagues are new ideas on how we can preserve these buildings by working with the private sector and other partners. We have to have a business-led approach to these matters as the maintenance and operating costs are not sustainable."

Due to the age of the buildings the cost to maintain and run them is significant and continues to rise. The report says to maintain the status quo, ensuring the buildings are safe for public use, will require an increase of £1.2m a year to the Council's revenue budget. This would take the overall cost of operating the Council's heritage buildings to around £3.8m per annum.

The report, on what can be done to preserve the future of Cardiff Castle, City Hall, the Mansion House, New Theatre, St David's Hall, the Old Library and the Norwegian Church, will be presented to Cabinet at its meeting on November 15th.

Cardiff Castle

The medieval castle and Victorian gothic revival mansion is the most important and iconic of all of the city's historic assets. Owned and operated by the Council, the building has received significant investment in recent years, but still has a significant maintenance backlog. The operation of the building does make money, but additional visitor attractions are required to fund the ongoing maintenance backlog.

Two new attractions will be put in place by the summer of 2019 - Black Tower Tales, in partnership with Unusual Expo and the Doctor Who Film Tours Exhibition in partnership with BBC Worldwide.

Cabinet will be asked to allow officers to identify additional attractions and events that could generate income for the Castle and ensure that any additional income generated is ring fenced to address ongoing maintenance costs.

City Hall

City Hall is an iconic landmark and was the home to the local authority from 1906. The building has a dual use, council staff still have offices there, but the space is outdated. The building's mechanical and electrical systems are in need of comprehensive investment.

The venue is also used for weddings and conferences which creates an income, but this is far outweighed by the operational cost to run the building. With plans underway for all council staff to be located to a new modern county hall, a number of commercial uses have been identified, including potential for new commercial office space and conference space.

Cabinet will be asked to provide authority to develop a detailed options appraisal setting out all the financial implications of these proposals which will be presented back to Cabinet at a later date.

Mansion House

The Mansion House is the former home of the Lord Mayor and is now used as a meeting venue. The ground floor is in relatively good condition, but the upper floors require significant investment to bring back into use.

The building currently runs at a loss.

The report highlights potential for the building to be turned into a boutique hotel, offering up to 20 rooms.

Cabinet will be asked to provide authority for officers to consider the most appropriate ways to attract investment and reduce the financial liability while maintaining public access to the building.

New Theatre

The theatre is now 110 years old and is need of investment. Essential maintenance has been carried out to ensure that the building can remain open for the public. The day-to-day operation requires a subsidy from the Council.

Cabinet will be requested to provide authority for officers to explore the possibility of renting the building to a theatre company reducing the subsidy.

St David's Hall

St David's Hall is not regarded as an historic building, but it is an important public building in the city centre which has a backlog of maintenance repairs. The Council subsidises St David's Hall and the building is in need of investment.

Due to its location, there are opportunities to open up the four retail units on street level and incorporate these units back into the main building to increase footfall. This would then allow shoppers to access the hall through the shopfronts.

Cabinet will be requested to give authority for officers to develop a detailed modernisation proposal.

Old Library

This is a listed building which is owned by the Council and situated in a prime location in the Hayes in the City Centre. Cabinet is asked to provide officers with the authority to investigate commercial uses that will cover the full running costs of the building. Officers will return to Cabinet with a detailed proposal in due course for a final decision.

Norwegian Church

Originally the Norwegian Church was a Lutheran church which was consecrated in 1868 and provided a place of worship for Scandinavian sailors and the Norwegian community in Cardiff for over one hundred years. It is now an iconic building on Cardiff Bay's waterfront.

The building receives a small subsidy from the council and for the building to reach its full commercial potential, significant investment is required in both the building itself and the immediate surrounding area.

The building has great potential and there is significant commercial interest.

Cabinet will be asked to provide authority for officers to explore and secure a commercial tenant that will invest in the building, remove the maintenance backlog and ensure that the Council doesn't have to pay a subsidy.