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The Modern City and it's Future


In 1947 the Town and Country Planning Act required every local authority to present a development plan for its region. The Cardiff Corporation first advanced proposals in 1953 but translating them into practice proved to be a lengthy process. In 1964 the Council decided to seek expert advice from the firm of Colin Buchanan and Partners who were appointed to recommend improvements to the highway network of Cardiff, its public transport policy, and the future development of the city centre.

The Buchanan Report proved to be controversial, especially the proposal to  build a motorway, or "Hook Road", into the centre of Cardiff. Over 1,700 properties would have been demolished in this ambitious project, but vigorous opposition to the scheme, coupled with the recession of the 1970's, led to a more realistic evaluation of the city's requirements.

In the city centre, the construction of the Boulevard de Nantes to the north, and the widening of Bute Terrace and Adam Street to the south, helped to keep the traffic moving. The inner bypass from Ely Bridge to St. Mellons was completed in 1971, when Eastern Avenue was opened by the Queen. About the same time, Manor Way and Northern Avenue were widened to ease the traffic flow to Pontypridd. During the last decade, the emphasis has switched to the construction of a peripheral distributor road for southern Cardiff. When completed it will thread its way through the south of the city from the M4 at Capel Llaniltern to the Eastern Avenue. It has been described as "a necklace of opportunity', with its  outlets to the city centre and Cardiff Bay offering a more prosperous future for southern Cardiff. Unfortunately, the road was planned as a bypass, not a commuter highway, and traffic congestion may become a serious problem when economic activity in the bay intensifies.

In the 1960's, despite its capital status, Cardiff seemed to be lagging behind other cities which had a smart appearance after implementing their plans for postwar development. The Corporation was still grappling with its planning policy in 1968, when  Buchanan wrote "Much of the city is either obsolete or likely to be so before the end of the century'. But, in the long run, the delay caused by the controversial elements of the Buchanan Report worked to Cardiff's advantage.

Thus the St. David's Centre, while it was not opened until 1981, had a fresh, gleaming appearance at a time when earlier shopping centres, rebuilt in badly blitzed cities, were beginning to lose their novelty. At Christmas time, 250,000 people pass through the St. David's Centre each day and, such is its popularity, that shopping expeditions are organised from as far away as the Midlands. Heron Corporation, the developers of the site, spent over £6 million in 1990 to uphold the centre's prestige as one of Britain's top retailing sites.

Since 1980 the rejuvenation of the city has proceeded at a rapid rate. The Queens West Centre was completed in 1987 and the Capitol Exchange Shopping Mall was opened in 1990. More recently the Queens way extension to the St. David’s Centre has placed the shopping focus of Cardiff even more firmly in Queen Street.

This situation raises the possibility that the older businesses of St. Mary Street, High Street and The Hayes might lapse into decay. Fortunately, stores such as Howell's and Morgan's continue to compete effectively, while the Castle Arcade has been restored in a manner which is pleasing aesthetically and profitable commercially. After a lengthy delay, the splendid Victorian buildings at the southern end of St. Mary Street have also been carefully restored by the Regalian Company.

The pedestrianisation of Queen Street, St. John's Square and Working Street, linking the older shops with the new, is a further example of thoughtful planning. Street entertainment in these pedestrianised areas creates a bustling, carnival atmosphere which appeals to tourists and local people alike. The activities vary from radio shows to pavement artists, roundabouts for the children, and music of every description.

In recent years there has been a proliferation of “out of town” retail centres where car parking is much easier. In particular, the section of Newport Road between Rumney Bridge and Rover Way has become a golden mile of D-I-Y centres, furniture stores and motor showrooms. The Planning Department has the task of striking a balance between the demands of the consumer while safeguarding the prosperity in the heart of the city.

The new hotels built in Cardiff during recent decades, including a number of fine developments in the suburbs, testify to the city's growing importance. Some of these buildings stand on historic ground. A former warehouse near the East Dock became the premises of the Celtic Bay Hotel,while the 12 storeys of the Marriott overlook the site of the old canal in Mill Lane. Jury’s, near the International Arena, is built on land where penniless Irish immigrants once lived in abject squalor. In 1999 the St. David’s Hotel in Cardiff Bay and the Hilton in Cathays Park were opened to give the city its first five star hotels.

 

Twice in the last thirty years efforts have been made to improve the structure of local government. In 1974 the City Council was forced to cede many of its functions to the new county of South Glamorgan, despite fighting a vigorous campaign to "keep Cardiff a real capital'. This division of responsibilities came to an end in 1996 when a fresh attempt to reorganise local government led to the creation of the County and City of Cardiff. While power was being shared between the City and South Glamorgan, both authorities showed a spirit of co-operation in promoting Cardiff’s interests.

The new Central Library in Bridge Street was an example of such co-operation. Libraries were the responsibility of the County Council but, as owners of the land, it was the City Council which released the site in exchange for the old Central Library building on The Hayes. The South Glamorgan authority then negotiated with the developers to provide a library in return for the right to build shops on the ground floor. As a result, the people of Cardiff gained a new library at no cost to the taxpayer.

Similar deals, such as the car park in Dumfries Place and the Wales Ice Rink, were financed by private investment. The ice rink gave the city a splendid amenity and led to the formation of the Cardiff Devils, the most outstanding ice hockey team in Britain during the 1990‘s.

Perhaps the best bargain of all was made with the Heron Corporation which contributed £4 million towards the building of the St. David's Concert Hall. The hall seats more than 2,000 people and, since its opening in 1982, the magnificent auditorium and acoustics have attracted artists and orchestras of worldwide fame. In addition, the use of St. David's Hall as a conference centre has been of major importance in drawing an increasing number of visitors to Cardiff.

The Cardiff Corporation displayed an enlightened attitude towards the arts on another occasion in 1963, when it rescued the ailing New Theatre. The theatre was in danger of becoming a bingo hall but, in conjunction with other interested parties such as the Welsh Arts Council, the Corporation took the lead in forming the New Theatre Trust. In time the Trust purchased the theatre which was beautifully restored in 1988. Once again the New Theatre offers entertainment comparable with its great days before the First World War.

Cardiff was fortunate enough to gain another theatre in 1973, partly funded by University College, but also through the generosity of the Sherman family, after whom the building was named. The Sherman is a theatre shared with the community, providing a setting for amateur as well as professional productions. When University College encountered financial difficulties in 1987, the future of the theatre was in danger but the Sherman was able to carry on as a limited company.

Sports facilities in Cardiff compare favourably with other cities of a similar size. In the 1960's, the decision was taken to develop the Cardiff Arms Park as the home of Welsh rugby. The National Stadium was a fine arena but, when Wales was chosen to host the 1999 Rugby World Cup, the Millennium Stadium was built to provide a grander venue. The ground, capable of holding 73,000 people, creates a wonderful atmosphere at Welsh rugby and soccer matches. English teams too can now sample this experience as the FA Cup Final and other big football games are being played at the stadium while the future of Wembley is being decided.

Since 1967 the Cardiff Rugby Club has played its matches on the former Arms Park cricket ground. Glamorgan cricketers found a new home at Sophia Gardens where the club now owns the site and is rapidly improving its facilities. The headquarters of the Welsh National Sports Council is also located at Sophia Gardens and, throughout the city, leisure centres offer a variety of sporting activities for people of all ages. The future of Cardiff City Football Club appears brighter than for many years thanks to the enthusiasm of its new owner, Sam Hammam. His aim is to produce a team playing in a modern stadium which ultimately will be capable of holding its own with the elite of the Premier League.

A thriving university life is an essential component of a successful city in the modern world. Following the Robbins Report, University College entered into a period of rapid expansion in the 1960's. New buildings began to fill Cathays Park north of the existing college. They are interesting examples of modern architecture, but do not compare in beauty or quality with the earlier buildings of the Civic Centre. As events proved, University College expanded far too quickly for its own good and, after incurring massive debts, it had no choice but to merge with UWIST in 1988. The University of Wales Institute of Science and Technology had evolved from the former Technical College and was highly respected for its science and engineering courses.

Despite the trauma which the merger created for many staff at University College, the new "University of Wales College Cardiff' has great potential, since it enrols far more students than any other college in Wales. The Faculty of Engineering  complex, currently under construction at the rear of Dumfries Place and Newport Road, clearly indicates the possibilities for the new  establishment. "The most up-to-date engineering set-up in the United  Kingdom' will be completed at a cost of £20 million in  1992.

Other colleges in further and higher education have  proliferated since the Second World War. Anthony Hopkins was a student  at the Cardiff College of Music and Drama in 1955 when its premises were  at Cardiff Castle. In time, the college moved to a new building in North  Road, which was officially opened by the Queen on her Silver Jubilee  visit to Cardiff in 1977.  The buildings and huts at the Heath, once  occupied by the American forces, provided accommodation for teacher  training after the war. In 1961 the Cardiff College of Education was  built at Cyncoed to replace this makeshift arrangement and in 1976 it  merged with other local colleges to form what was first of all the South Glamorgan Institute of Higher  Education and later became UWIC.

From its earliest days, the University of Wales made  resources available for the study of medicine. The Welsh National School of Medicine built on these foundations and was granted independent  status within the University. The prestige of the school was greatly  enhanced when the University Hospital of Wales was opened at the Heath  in 1971. The hospital not only gives full training in the professions of  medicine and dentistry but, as the first purpose-built, completely  integrated hospital and medical school in Britain, it has become the  focus for all medical care in South-east Wales.

 

As the twentieth  century draws to a close, the most dynamic region in Cardiff is once  again its waterfront. The decay, resulting from the decline of the  docks, is giving way to regeneration in Cardiff Bay. Originally, it was  proposed to redevelop no more than 50 acres of land in the docks area, but by 1987 growing confidence in the city and its future led to the formation of the Cardiff Bay Development Corporation. Public and private investment worth £2 billion is being allocated to breathe new life into 2,700 acres of once derelict land. Eventually, seven miles of waterfront from Penarth to Pengam Moors will complete what the Investor's Chronicle has termed, "one of the most exciting development projects in Europe'.

The barrage was the most controversial element among the proposals for the bay. The freshwater lake, created by a barrage holding back the rivers Ely and Taff, stretches from Penarth Head to the Queen Alexandra Dock. Residential, leisure and business properties are all in close proximity to the lake that has been described as "a place in which people will want to live, work and play'. Critics of the barrage maintain that it poses a danger to the wildlife of the region, while a rise in the level of ground water is a threat to property.

However the large number of people now visiting Cardiff Bay seem to have given their approval to its transformation. The South Glamorgan County Council gave a lead to others by establishing its headquarters at Atlantic Wharf in 1988. Overlooking the East Dock, the building is attractively designed in a rather unusual oriental style. Atlantic Wharf has become a bustling, animated scene as old warehouses are transformed into apartments, offices and hotels. The  Bonded Warehouse has been tastefully converted into offices for the architects; Holder, Mathias and Alcock. New buildings, canals, promenades and the East Dock itself all merge with these reminders from the past to form a delightful environment for years to come.

Work near the Pier Head has almost finished. Mermaid Quay is a pleasant promenade of shops and restaurants but unfortunately the Maritime Museum was a casualty of this development. Two great attractions in the bay are the Techniquest Science Centre in Stuart Street and the Atlantic Wharf Leisure Complex with its choice of cafes, a bowling alley and 12 cinema screens. At present the Welsh Assembly meets at Crickhowell House but soon its new home will be a prominent feature in this area. By 2004 it is hoped that the Millennium Centre will also be open to stage opera and West End shows.

Amid these new proposals, the historic buildings of Butetown have not been forgotten. The Pier Head Building is once more in a pristine condition and stands out in an attractive square overlooking the bay. Likewise the Exchange will be restored by the Marcos Group to its former glory. There will be space for offices and luxury apartments but the building will mainly be an elegant venue for entertainment and conferences. After years of slumbering decay, Mountstuart Square is once more astir with lively activity. The district has become a focus for independent television companies, making commercial and video films for distribution in the home and international markets. The Exchange presents an ideal setting for much of their work.

 

In 1967 the Welsh Office published a document, The Way Ahead, in which the assumption was made that Cardiff could look forward to continued economic growth, both in its manufacturing industries and in the expansion of such services as retailing, entertainment and commerce. In its assessment of industrial growth, the forecast was far too optimistic. The effects of the East Moors closure, together with the recession of the 1970's, caused serious unemployment in the city and by 1985 the number out of work was almost 20,000. Four years later the figure had dropped by more than half, dramatic proof of a revival in Cardiff's economic prospects.

Essentially, the economy of Cardiff is now dependent on the services which the city provides, and 80% of its workforce are employed in this sector. Cardiff's designation as the capital of Wales has provided many job opportunities in the Welsh Office and the Welsh Assembly. Other clerical posts have arisen from government agencies such as Companies House in Cathays.

Fresh initiatives by private enterprise have taken a variety of forms. Well known financial companies such as the Legal and General Bank, the Halifax Card Services and Chartered Trust, the largest firm of its kind in Wales, have made Cardiff a leader in this field. Technology companies have also brought prosperity to the city. ASCOM Telecommunications has created 600 new jobs at St. Mellons, though there have been setbacks in this industry, notably the recent reduction in the workforce at Panasonic. A British Airways maintenance unit near Cardiff Airport has given employment to 800 people, while the former steelworks at East Moors has given way to workshops involved in electronics, engineering, printing and photography. So far 16,000 jobs have been created in the revitalised docklands of Cardiff Bay and this attractive location should continue to act as a stimulus to the local economy.

 The Cardiff international Arena in Mary Ann Street, capable of holding 5,000 people, stages events such as concerts, conferences and exhibitions. The Cardiff World Trade Centre, co-operating with the Chamber of Commerce, is also based at the CIA and, using modern technology, has forged links with trade centres in other countries. As a result, it has become easier to communicate with the international business community.

In one sense, this revitalisation of Cardiff is creating a dilemma. A shortage of industrial land has resulted in the establishment of business parks at Coryton, Pentwyn and St. Mellons, but covetous eyes are now being cast on green belt sites in North Pentwyn, Thornhill and the Vale of Glamorgan. In the next few years, careful planning decisions are essential to ensure that industrial land is not released at the expense of the rural environment.

Since 1986 the number of visitors to Cardiff has increased by 20% each year. Tourism is becoming ever more important to the local economy, and a recent survey, acclaiming Cardiff among the top ten most popular places to visit in Britain, can only enhance its tourist appeal. Apart from its own attractions, the city has the advantage of being within easy reach of the sea, the Brecon Beacons and the heritage of the Welsh valleys.

In the last twenty-five years, better communications have been instrumental in bringing new business to Cardiff. The Severn Bridge was finally completed in 1966 and, despite delays from time to time, the journey by road to London has been greatly shortened. The Central Bus Station was thoroughly modernised in 1983 and now serves millions of passengers, travelling locally or to other parts of Britain. Though the rail network has had a chequered existence in the last quarter of a century, considerable sums have now been spent in making the Central Station worthy of a capital city.  Many of the lines built in the Victorian Age were "axed' by Dr. Beeching in the 1960's but, in the last twenty years, new stations have been opened and commuters are once more being tempted to use the "sprinter' trains for their journeys into Cardiff. It has also become easier to visit distant countries from Cardiff Wales Airport which offers flights to European and North American destinations.

 

The ambitious ideas and initiatives, which are altering the face of Cardiff, account for the interest in the city at the present time. Peter Walker, the former Secretary of State for Wales, commented that, "Rapid, accelerating change ... is making Cardiff one of Western Europe's most exciting cities in which to live and work'.

Cardiff Castle, St. John's Church and Llandaff Cathedral survive to remind us of a long and eventful past. The rest of the mediaeval town disappeared when Cardiff grew at a prolific rate to become the "coal metropolis' of the world. The dereliction and ugliness which accompanied that industrial revolution are now being eliminated, as the way is prepared for a new phase in the city's history. Cardiff has changed dramatically since the days when its prosperity depended on the docks and the export of coal. Now widely recognised as one of the finest cities in Britain, the portents are that Cardiff will continue to be a worthy capital and show piece for the people of Wales in the twenty first century.