David Williamson:

Western Mail - - WM2 -

THE Welsh think-tank Gor­wel had the best pos­si­ble back­drop for the launch of its re­port sug­gest­ing Wales could ben­e­fit from its own royal palace.

In the lead-up to pub­li­ca­tion day, thou­sands of peo­ple put their names on a pe­ti­tion de­cry­ing the UK Gov­ern­ment’s de­ci­sion to re­name the sec­ond Sev­ern cross­ing The Prince of Wales Bridge with­out a pub­lic con­sul­ta­tion.

The Royal Fam­ily and their role in Wales are be­ing talked about. These are the per­fect con­di­tions to launch a re­port de­signed to stir de­bate and pro­voke re­ac­tion.

The au­thors sug­gest that a royal palace based in Cardiff – a lo­ca­tion guar­an­teed to trig­ger con­tro­versy – could gen­er­ate be­tween £7.65m and £36m in its first decade in ad­di­tional tourism in­come. It is easy to imag­ine fu­ture bus­loads of tourists watch­ing The Crown on their tablets as they zoom over The Prince of Wales Bridge and head to­wards the cap­i­tal to ad­mire the Welsh res­i­dence of the UK’s King.

This is not an im­age which will de­light Welsh repub­li­cans, who would much rather see the na­tion gain a fully fledged par­lia­ment. But even peo­ple who are am­biva­lent about the monar­chy may wonder why Wales is the only na­tion in the UK that does not have its own of­fi­cial royal res­i­dence.

When a monarch wants to es­cape fe­brile Lon­don, he or she could do worse than fol­low Theresa May’s reg­u­lar ex­am­ple and head for Snow­do­nia. If they had a Welsh base as fa­mous as San­dring­ham, this could en­cour­age Amer­i­cans, Chi­nese and glo­be­trot­ters of all na­tion­al­i­ties who are in search of en­chant­ment, soli­tude and ad­ven­ture to go on a sim­i­lar jour­ney.

And if there was se­ri­ous mo­men­tum be­hind the pro­posal then peo­ple of all po­lit­i­cal stripes would start to plot how to turn this to Wales’ ad­van­tage.

One of the best ways to make train ac­cess across north Wales or to Aberys­t­wyth a pri­or­ity would be by putting an in­ter­na­tional tourism des­ti­na­tion at the end of the line. (Sim­i­larly, if re­ports leaked out that the Prince of Wales was deeply alarmed that so many mo­torists cross the bridge that will soon bear his name and then end up in soul­cur­dling grid­lock, that could put a rocket under pro­pos­als for an M4 re­lief road.)

It would not be nec­es­sary to build a palace from scratch. There are plenty of beau­ti­ful but creak­ing po­ten­tial res­i­dences through­out the na­tion which would ben­e­fit from some ren­o­va­tion and the magic that a crack team of gar­den­ers can work. Cas­tles and manor houses could be­come the fo­cus of pre­cisely the type of arts and craft en­deav­our that Prince Charles cel­e­brates.

But the trick might be to opt for some­thing bolder and use the palace project to un­lock colos­sal in­vest­ment.

A palace could be home to an ex­tra­or­di­nary art gallery. The spec­tac­u­lar Guggen­heim Bil­bao Mu­seum was vis­ited by 1,103,211 peo­ple in 2015.

Peo­ple don’t just trek to the Basque city to ad­mire the art­work on the gallery’s walls but to ad­mire the Frank Gehry ar­chi­tec­ture. Such a mod­ern mas­ter­piece could be lo­cated near the blaz­ing mag­nif­i­cence of Port Tal­bot steel­works or, if built on An­gle­sey, it could link the is­land in the imag­i­na­tions of mil­lions with the very best in con­tem­po­rary cre­ativ­ity.

Cardiff ’s sense of cos­mopoli­tan con­fi­dence was turbo-charged with the ar­rival of the Wales Mil­len­nium Cen­tre, al­though peo­ple still wonder what would have hap­pened if Zaha Ha­did’s planned opera house had not been aban­doned. This na­tion has pro­duced some of mod­ern cul­ture’s most mem­o­rable lit­er­a­ture and mu­sic, and it could do with more venues that will show­case and nur­ture ge­nius.

If the ad­di­tion of a few royal bed­rooms to the plans could make such a land­mark more likely to ap­pear in Swansea, Wrex­ham or Machyn­l­leth, only the most ar­dent anti-monar­chists would try to block the ar­rival of the ce­ment mix­ers.

More than six out of 10 (63%) of the vis­i­tors to Guggen­heim Bil­bao were from out­side Spain, and the mu­seum fu­elled di­rect ex­pen­di­ture of €362.9m. Of course, it might be pos­si­ble to bring such a des­ti­na­tion venue here with­out any royal help (Plaid Cymru’s Adam Price mused that a Welsh Guggen­heim made sense back in 2013) – but this could be just the sort of project that a Prince of Wales who loves to paint might want to back.

Champions of any big project would likely face ac­cu­sa­tions that money could be bet­ter spent else­where and that in­vest­ment in art is an elit­ist in­dul­gence in a coun­try still blighted by poverty.

This can be coun­tered by mak­ing ar­gu­ments that our lo­cal economies need the boost the projects could pro­vide and that ev­ery child in Wales should have the op­por­tu­nity to see and hear mas­ter­pieces – not just those with par­ents who can af­ford to take them on a city break.

But if the Roy­als wanted to back a re­ally big idea with im­pec­ca­ble so­cial jus­tice cre­den­tials, they could com­bine a mag­nif­i­cent Welsh res­i­dence with a hos­pi­tal as beau­ti­ful as Ver­sailles. Ev­ery day, health­care pro­fes­sion­als across Wales do bril­liant work in gloomy con­crete build­ings that are the op­po­site of in­spir­ing.

If the Roy­als could use their mus­cle to spur the cre­ation of a place of heal­ing with gar­dens as splen­did as those at the Al­ham­bra in An­dalu­sia, the world would ad­mire not just Wales’ ar­chi­tec­ture and am­bi­tion but also our val­ues.

The most ex­cit­ing ar­chi­tect of the 20th cen­tury, Frank Lloyd Wright, was deeply proud of his Welsh her­itage. With works such as Falling­wa­ter, he cre­ated do­mes­tic dwellings which con­veyed such tran­quil­ity that his de­sign touched the realms of the po­etic.

If such bril­liance could be har­nessed in the con­struc­tion of a hos­pi­tal where day­light, fresh air and the very pro­por­tions of the rooms gave staff and pa­tients a sense of peace and hope, then all of Wales would feel pride. It is ex­actly the type of project that fu­ture mon­archs who want to build new bridges with Wales could sup­port.

> San­dring­ham House, Nor­folk, pri­vate home of the Queen

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