30 years of turn­ing Bay from mud­flats to a thriv­ing water­front

South Wales Echo - - NEWS -

THIRTY years ago this year the Cardiff Bay De­vel­op­ment Cor­po­ra­tion (CBDC) was set up to over­see the re­gen­er­a­tion of much of south Cardiff, and the term Cardiff Bay came into com­mon use.

It is now over 15 years since the Cor­po­ra­tion was wound up.

So, in 2017, how should we look back at an or­gan­i­sa­tion and de­vel­op­ment process that dom­i­nated Cardiff in the fi­nal years of the 20th cen­tury?

I was a pro­fes­sional work­ing in Cardiff when the cor­po­ra­tion was set up in 1987 and I had a good in­sight into how rad­i­cal the process of change would be.

The Cardiff Bay years were busy and chal­leng­ing but of­ten ex­hil­a­rat­ing ones pro­fes­sion­ally.

Hav­ing been closely in­volved in ac­quir­ing and de­vel­op­ing prop­erty within the Bay and con­tribut­ing to some of the Bar­rage Bill work, it is in­ter­est­ing to stand back and see it all with a more ob­jec­tive eye.

At the time of the des­ig­na­tion and the years that fol­lowed, Cardiff Bay was a very di­vi­sive, al­most Mar­mite­like en­tity.

The re­mit of the de­vel­op­ment cor­po­ra­tion was to bring about change, and this worked at many lev­els.

The cen­tral fo­cus of the scheme was the cre­ation of the Cardiff Bay lake, which was in­tended to cre­ate an en­tic­ing en­vi­ron­ment and re­gen­er­ate the large ar­eas of derelict dock­land and for­mer in­dus­trial ar­eas that dom­i­nated south Cardiff.

The neg­a­tive en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pact of this project was po­ten­tially enor­mous on wad­ing birds, ecol­ogy and ground wa­ter.

A more pos­i­tive re­sult was the mod­erni­sa­tion of the creak­ing sewage sys­tem in south Cardiff, where sewers un­til then dis­charged into the Bay, and the ef­fec­tive cre­ation of a large flood pro­tec­tion scheme.

The clear­ance of the re­main­ing old in­dus­tries in south Cardiff was con­tentious and painful, but along­side it went the process of de­con­tam­i­na­tion and site im­prove­ment, which was car­ried out to right the legacy of the coal ex­port­ing days of the 19th cen­tury.

As old in­dus­tries went, new in­dus­tries which were based on of­fice and ser­vice ac­tiv­i­ties moved in, bring­ing with them high-qual­ity jobs and salaries.

Hous­ing was an emo­tive topic dur­ing the life of the cor­po­ra­tion, and still is.

The large hous­ing ar­eas of Grange­town, Bute­town, Splott and Tre­morfa, as well as Pe­narth head­land, were largely un­touched by the De­vel­op­ment Cor­po­ra­tion, which fo­cused its at­ten­tion oth­er­wise on the non-res­i­den­tial ar­eas where most change was needed.

The con­cerns at the time were about an in­flux of “yup­pies” and out­siders.

To­day, much of the hous­ing is apart­ment-led and any di­rect im­pact on the pop­u­la­tions of south Cardiff is hard to gauge.

How­ever, a process of os­mo­sis has seem­ingly taken place in terms of job op­por­tu­nity, mo­bil­ity in hous­ing, and rel­a­tively seam­less in­te­gra­tion of the ex­ist­ing pop­u­la­tions with the new face of south Cardiff and east Pe­narth.

As well as im­prov­ing the phys­i­cal in­fra­struc­ture of south Cardiff, one of the aims was to im­prove the trans­port sys­tem.

Cardiff Bay ben­e­fited from the al­ready rolling pro­gramme of build­ing the pe­riph­eral dis­trib­u­tor road (PDR) around Cardiff, and a no­table achieve­ment of the cor­po­ra­tion was to per­suade cen­tral gov­ern­ment to fund the PDR be­ing put into a tun­nel through Bute­town rather than on an em­bank­ment or viaduct.

Lloyd George Av­enue was an ex­pen­sive com­mod­ity but, in terms of how the road sys­tem has evolved in cen­tral Cardiff, it is now some­thing of a white ele­phant.

There was un­fin­ished busi­ness with trans­port and links to the city cen­tre, while im­proved, still await the step change that the elec­tri­fied Metro will now hope­fully de­liver.

The net­work of walk­ways and cy­cle­ways, es­pe­cially around the edge of the Bay, are how­ever a valu­able legacy for the city and make it a unique water­front en­vi­ron­ment in the UK.

Cardiff Bay De­vel­op­ment Cor­po­ra­tion spent a lot of money and, as with projects such as HS2 and Cross­rail, there are al­ways claims that the money could be bet­ter spent.

In the con­text of what is now on the ground in south Cardiff, as well as the over­all spin-off ef­fects of in­vest­ment else­where, there has been a good re­turn on the pub­lic in­vest­ment.

The mar­ket­ing bud­get that Cardiff Bay held was the envy of many, and we all re­mem­ber the signs at Padding­ton sta­tion, the mer­maid logo and the Frank Bruno/Len­nox Lewis fight which was spon­sored by Cardiff Bay De­vel­op­ment Cor­po­ra­tion – tak­ing the mer­maid logo all over the US ca­ble net­work.

Cardiff Bay De­vel­op­ment Cor­po­ra­tion ex­isted in a very po­lit­i­cal cli­mate.

Be­cause it was cen­trally funded from West­min­ster (un­til, halfway through its life, de­vo­lu­tion took place) it was handed many pow­ers that the lo­cal author­ity tra­di­tion­ally would have had. This made it ripe for po­lit­i­cal po­lar­i­sa­tion.

Even­tu­ally, of course, the new As­sem­bly es­tab­lished it­self in Cardiff Bay.

Be­cause it was such a po­lit­i­cal en­tity, the cor­po­ra­tion was wound up, per­haps a few years too early, and this re­sulted in some items not be­ing quite fin­ished, prin­ci­pally the com­plex link­ages with the city cen­tre and the de­vel­op­ment of the more pe­riph­eral ar­eas at Pengam and Ferry Road.

How­ever, even though the cor­po­ra­tion was wound up, new op­por­tu­ni­ties were cre­ated in the buoy­ant new mil­len­nium years, and the Sports Vil­lage pro­pos­als grad­u­ally came to life.

Although there are very many tan­gi­ble lega­cies of the ac­tiv­i­ties of Cardiff Bay in south Cardiff, per­haps the great­est im­pact was in the wider Cardiff area, south east Wales and in­deed Wales it­self.

In the late 1980s, in­dus­tri­alised Wales was in a dif­fi­cult po­si­tion with the vir­tual dis­ap­pear­ance of the coal in­dus­try and a sub­stan­tial run down of the steel in­dus­try.

Wales was not looked on from out­side in a very pos­i­tive light, but what Cardiff Bay did was make new in­vestors of all types look at Cardiff and Wales dif­fer­ently.

The mar­ket­ing spend linked to that of the Welsh De­vel­op­ment Agency steadily pro­moted a very dif­fer­ent face of Wales.

The USP of Cardiff Bay it­self with a water­front lake makes Cardiff dif­fer­ent to any other city in the UK.

These days I never hear peo­ple talk about the ground­wa­ter, the sewers, the dere­lic­tion, the wad­ing birds, the tur­moil and change or the pol­i­tics of Cardiff Bay.

What I do hear are pos­i­tive com­ments, es­pe­cially from visi­tors, peo­ple in busi­ness and peo­ple abroad, all of whom now know of Cardiff and Wales, which wouldn’t have been the case 30 years ago.

In its rel­a­tively short life, the cor­po­ra­tion was a ma­jor stim­u­lus and step change in this process of turn­ing around Wales.

When it was des­ig­nated, it was said that it would take a gen­er­a­tion for all of the change to be ef­fec­tive.

Now, a gen­er­a­tion on, it can be seen in a very much more ob­jec­tive and, I be­lieve, pos­i­tive light.

Mike Law­ley is chair­man of Cooke & Ark­wright.

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