Cardiff's grade II listed Coal Exchange is one of the most iconic buildings of the Welsh capital; it started its life in 1833, during the 19th century coal boom, as a daily meeting place for coal and ship owners and their agents to trade. The Coal exchange was a world centre for the coal industry, with the first £1m deal being struck inside the walls of the famous building. After a downturn in the industry in 1958, the Coal Exchange closed, only opening again in 2009 as a live music and events venue.
The 140,000 square foot building is owned by developers Macob Exchange Ltd who gained planning permission to transform the Coal Exchange into a bustling business hub in Cardiff Bay, featuring apartments, restaurants and office space, at an estimated cost of £20m. Unfortunately, Macob Exchange soon had to abandon their plans after the residential property market collapsed, as the cost involved with work on a listed building was no longer feasible.
As the Coal Exchange went into decline, the structure of the building became unstable and risk of collapse became a serious concern. The Coal Exchange was completely closed in May 2013 and the council were forced to step in under section 78 of the building act 1984, to make sure the building was repaired to a standard that was safe for the general public.
According to Wales Online the total cost of repairs to the Coal Exchange has reached £900,000 with a weekly £590 charge for safety barriers, all taken from taxpayer’s money. Owners Macob Exchange are obligated to reimburse the costs to retain their ownership and hopefully then their plans will go ahead. However many critics, including David Walker, leader of the Conservative group on the council, doubt Macob Exchange’s ability to repay these costs. He has said:
“It does appear to be a high-risk venture for the council and in the current economic climate, with severe pressures on budgets, they need to ensure they get sufficient guarantees of the future”.
If the owners fail to repay the large costs needed to repair the structure then the building will be taken on by the council and will be retained for public use. Cardiff and Vale College, the University of South Wales and Cardiff University have already shown an interest in using the Coal Exchange.
Despite major costs - potentially at the taxpayer’s expense - the Coal Exchange is a famous part of Cardiff’s heritage and it would have been terrible to see it become derelict. Nerys Lloyd-Pierce, chair of Cardiff Civic Society, shares this view:
"It's one of the most important buildings in Cardiff. It's part of the fabric. Cardiff was built on coal so it's got a very significant part to play in our history".