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Cardiff Council threatens to demolish part of Coal Exchange

Grade II* listed landmark a symbol of Wales’s 19th Century commercial heyday needs sympathetic repair, not demolition and redevelopment

©The Victorian Society

The Coal Exchange on Cardiff's Mount Stuart Square is one of Wales's most important landmarks: a Grade II* listed building dating from 1883 when Cardiff was at the centre of the international coal trade.

This elegant and distinctive building marks Cardiff's development from small fishing village to the largest and busiest coal exporting dock in the world. In the closing decades of the 19th Century when the 'black gold' of the Rhondda became one of the most prized and valuable commodities in the world the Coal Exchange was the hub of commercial activity in South Wales.

Designed by Cardiff architect Edwin Seward, of James, Seward & Thomas, the Coal Exchange still retains much of its extremely fine early C20th internal features which richly illustrate the history and the purpose of the building. The wood panelling on the trading wall, the oak balcony and the Corinthian columns all remain.

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Anteroom to Exchange Hall ©The Victorian Society

The Coal Exchange has been largely unoccupied for much of the last decade - a proposal to convert it floundered with the recession - and while it reopened for a while as a music venue it is beginning to suffer from neglect. In 2013 it was suddenly declared unsafe and in imminent danger of collapse by the Council on the basis of a brief structural report by RVW Consulting. It was closed and protective barriers erected around it.

The Council claims to be convinced of the building's structural instability although no conservation report has been produced to verify this claim. No remedial works seem to have been carried out to the actual structure other than fencing and boarding up although Council documents show that £900,000 has been spent on advisers' fees and protection around the site.

Cabinet Meeting papers from January 2014 include a prospectus illustrating potential plans for the Coal Exchange, featuring a large glass domed extension above the existing roof. As yet no planning application for such plans has been submitted but the Victorian Society fears that alarmist structural reports are being used to prepare locals for unjustified substantial alterations to the building.

Costings by the Council's advisers' RVW for a "demolition scheme" and "retention of facades" have been obtained by local campaigners following a Freedom of Information request. The Victorian Society, which the Council is obliged to consult on proposals to demolish any part of a Victorian or Edwardian Building, has not been approached and has so far been unable to speak to the relevant conservation officer at the Council.

James Hughes, Conservation Adviser of the Victorian Society comments: 

"The Cardiff Coal Exchange is a hugely significant Grade II* listed building which should be central to Cardiff. We are very alarmed at the suggestion that partial demolition is being considered and that our attempts to discuss these plans with Cardiff's Conservation Officer have not been successful. To date, we have seen no evidence that the building is about to collapse.

We urge the Council to carry out a thorough heritage assessment of this great building and work with all interested parties to restore it to its former glory. This is a building designed as a vibrant international commercial hub and we hope that it can regain that status in the 21st Century."

Thursday 27 February, 2014

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Earlier item: Victorian Society applies for Smithfield General Market and Fish Market to be listed

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