Allegations have been made this week in Private Eye that the core of Cardiff’s historic Coal Exchange could be demolished without listed building consent being sought.
The grade II* listed Cardiff Coal Exchange sits in Mount Stuart Square, and is the jewel in the crown of the conservation area that protects the city’s old business quarter. The Square dates from the later 19th century, a time when Cardiff was the biggest exporter of coal in the world. The Coal Exchange building, designed by Edwin Seward and Thomas and built between 1883 and 1886, sits in the centre of the Square, surrounded by the Cambrian Buildings, Empire House, Perch Buildings, Beynon House, Crichton House – home of the Capital and Counties Bank, Baltic House, and Phoenix Buildings.
Built largely out of limestone, the external scale and architectural detail of the Coal Exchange demonstrates the commercial importance and wealth of Cardiff at this time. It’s described by Coflein as: “…designed around the centrally placed Coal and Shipping Hall. The Exchange floor is surrounded by galleried tiers of offices in Jacobean style dark wood. The Coal and Shipping Hall was rebuilt in 1911 and …[the] magnificent hall, .. [has] Corinthian columns, oak balcony and rich wood panelling…In the entrance hall two lion statues support dials giving the tide times”.
At its height, the Coal Exchange had more than 1,500 members It was here that the UK’s first million pound business deal was made. Since then there have been peaks and troughs for Mount Stuart Square and the Coal Exchange. The Square now houses a mixture of charities, restaurants, and media companies as well as apartments. The Coal Exchange has been a concert and function venue but this ended in 2012. In 2009 redevelopment plans were approved by the Council to turn the Coal Exchange into apartments, restaurants and office space but this opportunity was forestalled by the recession. Now, the Civic Trust for Wales and a number of national amenity societies are becoming increasingly concerned for the future of this important building.
In January a report to Cardiff’s cabinet sought permission for talks with the building owners and their bankers in order to support the redevelopment of the Exchange at no cost to the council, while pursuing discussion with government, the Wales European Funding Office and the Heritage Lottery Fund to develop a sustainable long term use for the Exchange as a business centre.
Writing in this week’s Private Eye, ‘Piloti’ alleges that there are proposals to destroy the magnificent interior of the building on safety grounds, but that there is insufficient evidence of structural failure to justify this action. Piloti suggests that if demolition were authorised under section 78 of the Building Act it would not require listed building or conservation area consent and could therefore bypass Cadw.
Heritage groups, including the Civic Trust for Wales, the Victorian Society and the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings are urgently considering options to respond to this apparent threat.
There’s an eloquent description of the Square in decline in Peter Finch’s Real Cardiff