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Tuesday, April 6, 1999 Published at 17:57 GMT 18:57 UK

Building a new assembly

The building's design was chosen by a competition

When former Welsh Secretary Ron Davies announced a competition to design the home of the new Welsh assembly, he wanted a building to capture the imagination of the Welsh people.

The building, designed to symbolise Welsh democracy in the next millennium, certainly has - but not for all the right reasons.

Mr Davies made his announcement when he was on track to become Labour's leader in Wales and the likely first secretary.

Since then, his career has been put on hold following a "serious lapse of judgement" on Clapham Common in October last year.

But Mr Davies can rest assured that no matter who the leader the National Assembly for Wales will, eventually, have a state-of-the-art home.

A tale of two cities

[ image: The assembly architects designed the dome]
The assembly architects designed the dome
The new 10m assembly building, to be designed by Lord Richard Rogers, will not be ready when the assembly meets in May.

Instead, the members will have their inaugural meeting in Crickhowell House, next door to the site of the proposed new building in Cardiff Bay.

That compromise is the result of long and bitter negotiations over where to house the assembly.

The initial consultation produced 24 proposals at more than a dozen locations across Wales.

As well as the Welsh capital, Swansea and Machynlleth, once the venue of Owain Glyndwr's parliament, staked a claim to house the new assembly.

However, the Cardiff claim to house the assembly was "too compelling to resist", according to Ron Davies

"In making this decision, I am mindful that Wales has invested 40 years in promoting Cardiff as our capital city," he said.

"We are a small country and must build upon our achievements to date. Cardiff is established now not only as the capital of Wales, but as a leading administrative and financial centre."

Conservative, Liberal Democrat and Plaid Cymru politicians were keen to see the assembly housed in Cardiff City Hall.

Last year, the magnificent Edwardian landmark hosted the European Summit.

Nevertheless, Mr Davies announced a new waterfront assembly would be built in Cardiff Bay in March 1998.

[ image: Cardiff City Hall hosted the European Summit]
Cardiff City Hall hosted the European Summit
The winner of an international competition would be a chosen by a panel, chaired by former Prime Minister Lord Callaghan.

Appealing to the public to drop the idea of using the city hall, Lord Callaghan said, "To those people I would say, I love the city hall.

"But we are building for the 21st century and we've got new materials, new ways of construction, a new openness, and this is it."

'Dog's dinner'

Many of Mr Davies colleagues did not support his decision. Labour MP from Cardiff West Rhodri Morgan called the decision a dog's dinner.

Wales on Sunday newspaper said Mr Davies would still be making his mind up in 2018 after years of the assembly members living a nomadic existence meeting everywhere from pubs to massage parlours.

The Western Mail described the Welsh secretary as dithering and the decision as farcical.

At least they couldn't argue with the price. A 125-year lease, at a nominal 1 fee, was signed for the site.

The competition received interest from 55 architects - nine from Wales, 38 from the UK and eight from outside the British isles.

The winning design, by the Richard Rogers Partnership, was the panel's unanimous choice.

The architects say the building "will symbolise democracy by encouraging public participation in the democratic process".

It is transparent at public level and aims to use daylight to its maximum potential.

Lord Rogers' previous projects include the Millennium Dome, the Lloyd's building in London and the Pompidou Centre in Paris.

Mr Davies did not hesitate in giving the design his backing, calling the building "visionary and imaginative".

He said: "I am confident that this assembly building will be recognisable throughout the world as a symbol of our new democracy, into the next century."

The decision was one of his last as Welsh secretary.

'Waste of money'

[ image: Rhodri Morgan: Critical of Crickhowell House]
Rhodri Morgan: Critical of Crickhowell House
The controversy did not end with the decision on design. Upon Alun Michael's appointment to the Welsh Office, Conservative Welsh spokesman Nick Bourne repeated calls for the new building to be scrapped.

Professor Bourne, who eventually lost out to Rod Richards to lead the Tories in Wales, said the building was an "incredible waste of money".

He said: "It will be costing at least 10m, even on the government's own estimates, and these things always go up.

"There was little or no public consultation on the decision and city hall remains a much more viable alternative which would be more readily available."

The new building is not the only assembly home which has come in for criticism.

Nevertheless the construction of the new assembly is going ahead. It is expected to open in 2001.

Like Rogers' other design, the Millennium Dome, time will tell whether the building will not only capture the imagination of the Welsh people but also their hearts.

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