Cardiff Coal Exchange revamp should be halted, MP says
An MP has called for a halt and inquiry into a £40m plan to restore Cardiff's historical Coal Exchange as a hotel.
Developer Signature Living said the Grade II*-listed building would be "the jewel in Cardiff's crown" once again.
Cardiff South and Penarth MP Stephen Doughty told MPs he was concerned about the financial record of those behind the company and a lack of consultation.
Cardiff council defended its actions, while the firm dismissed his comments as "foolish and ill-informed".
Built in the 1880s, the Coal Exchange thrived when Cardiff was the centre of the world's coal trade, closing in 1958.
The main hall later reopened as a venue staging concerts, dinners and other events, but closed again in 2007 for a redevelopment which never went ahead due to the credit crunch.
Ownership of the building passed to the Crown in 2014 after then owners GYG Exchange Limited went into liquidation.
Speaking in a Westminster Hall debate on Wednesday, Mr Doughty told MPs he had concerns about the latest redevelopment plans, and claimed Cardiff council had not offered the project in an open public tender.
He said Signature Living co-founder Lawrence Kenwright had gone bankrupt in 2010, and in 2004 had been disqualified from being a company director for eight years following the collapse of Wrexham-based women's clothing business Yes and Co.
The MP said there was also uncertainty over the exact mix of the project in terms of hotel, flats and other uses, its likely impact on local residents, and the future for the 40 existing tenants of the site.
Mr Doughty called for an inquiry into "the overall process over a number of years", including prohibition orders issued by Cardiff council.
"It's been deeply unsatisfactory - it's involved the use of health and safety powers, and the spending of public money in a deeply un-transparent way," he said.
"I think we should put a halt to to this proposal - I think we should re-engage with the community and other stakeholders, and that we should act in the national interest to save the Coal Exchange."
Wales Office Minister Guto Bebb said: "Anybody would agree that a redevelopment of a business of such an iconic nature should be done in an open and transparent manner, and should have the support of the local community."
The Coal Exchange - a short history
- Dates back to 1883 when Cardiff was at the centre of the coal trade
- Coal merchants, ship owners and their agents met daily on the trading floor
- At one time the price of the world's coal was determined there and in 1904 the world's first recorded £1m deal was struck there
- Closed in 1958 after the decline of the coal industry in Cardiff
- Earmarked as a future home for the Welsh Assembly but that plan fell through after devolution was rejected in a 1979 referendum
- In more recent years it has been used for concerts, dinners and other events
- There were once plans for the exchange hall to be restored and a 1,300-seat banqueting hall, public square, office space and innovation centre developed
A Cardiff council spokesperson said it was "content that its officers have adhered to the appropriate legal process in this matter".
"The council did not own the building and was exercising its powers as statutory mortgagee to recover public funds incurred in carrying out emergency safety works to the building, following a structural engineer's report," the spokesperson said.
"The deteriorating condition of the building had been widely publicised and the council had received a number of expressions of interest.
"Signature Living was considered to be the party with the greatest commitment to restoring the building, coupled with an established track record for raising private funding and carrying out similar projects."
A Signature Living spokesperson dismissed Mr Doughty's remarks as "foolish and ill-informed", adding: "This is a thriving and successful business that has exciting plans to restore and save The Coal Exchange and give it a new lease of life.
"It is clear Mr Doughty is also on the wrong side of public opinion. People are supportive of our plan, it is the only credible and realistic plan to save the building and make it a great landmark for the people of Cardiff to enjoy once again."