Central Hotel

Central Hotel
12 February 2007

Throughout the 19th century, Cardiff transformed rapidly from a small town into Wales’s largest city and the world’s busiest coal port; a great deal of its built heritage is consequently Victorian.

The slump in the Welsh coal industry after the second world war led Cardiff into a period of decline and by the 1980s, with its docks now derelict, the city showed the effects of years of under-investment. Over the last decades, however, the Welsh capital has undergone considerable regeneration. Cardiff is now the seat of the newly devolved Welsh government and, according to its council, the fastest growing capital city in Europe.

Today the city centre is dominated by a 40,000-square-metre rugby stadium and the mudflats of the former Tiger Bay docks have been flooded into a lake by a £200m barrage. Even without Zaha Hadid’s opera house, the redeveloped Cardiff Bay has won praise for its Millennium Centre by Capita Percy Thomas and Richard Rogers’s over-budget, behind-schedule but Stirling Prize-nominated Welsh assembly building.

In the face of this, Cardiff’s city centre has also seen the demise of one of its listed Victorian buildings. Once known as the Diplomat, Central Hotel was built in the 1880s next to Cardiff Central station, of red brick and Bath stone. Its business had suffered since the depression of the 1920s and it had lain empty for many years, visited only by Cardiff’s homeless sheltering here at night.

The Old Monk Company acquired the building in the early 2000s, intending to refurbish it for use as a budget hotel. But planning permission was never implemented and the building was sold to Burleigh Estates, who also wanted to restore the building, but convert it into a pub and flats. After two fires in January 2003, it was finally decided that the hotel should be demolished and rebuilt.

Burleigh Estates are to construct not a facsimile replica but a taller modern building reflecting the layout and materials of the original hotel. With the recommendation of the Design Commission for Wales, a nine-storey development has been designed by the Cardiff-based architects Kennedy James Griffiths, with a bronze-aluminium framework clad with stone and terracotta.

The new Central Hotel will comprise 49 two-bedroom apartments sitting above a large Sports Cafe: a chain of pubs originating from Canada, typically having 100 TV screens and a loud sound system for viewing sport.

Conservationists regret the loss of the historic, Grade II-listed hotel. The Ancient Monuments Society, who were consulted on the application, were also unenthusiastic about the new building.

The applicants now promise ‘a top quality building of a design worthy of its location at a major gateway into our European city — vibrant and architecturally stimulating’. The current proposal is not exceptional and does not meet this promise. Nor does it provide a building individual to Cardiff, but rather a developer’s standard solution that could be in any city in Europe.1

Despite such criticism and a dispute over the Sports Cafe’s failed application for a late licence, Cardiff council has granted planning permission for the £2m scheme. The original Central Hotel has already been demolished and the new pub and apartment block will soon form part of a revamped Central Square. (Last edited: 20 May 2008)

Update 20 May 2008:

As of April 2008, the Sports Cafe development is still only in the early stages of construction.

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