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Last Updated: Wednesday, 1 March 2006, 08:56 GMT
Has devolution finally inspired?

By Wyre Davies
BBC's Wales correspondent

The Senedd will host the debates of the Welsh assembly.

It's an expensive public building - an extension to a much criticised and pilloried institution - but it's almost impossible to find anyone with a bad word to say about the Senedd.

It's pretty disconcerting for a journalist covering an issue to find there only appears to be "one side" to that story but, believe me, almost everyone I've spoken to is gushing with praise for the Richard Rogers-designed creation in Cardiff Bay.

Most of the plaudits relate to the new establishment's "green" credentials.

Indeed, some people are calling it "the most environmentally-advanced public building in Europe".

Built principally from either renewable materials or those sourced locally in Wales - the slate, glass and wooden structure is undeniably easy on the eye. But in this case beauty is certainly more than skin deep.

Architect Lord Richard Rogers
Even opponents admit Lord Rogers has done a 'pretty good job'

The circular debating chamber is partially-lit via a huge mirror which reflects daylight down into the building.

This mirror is also an integral part of the distinctive wind-cowl that dominates the roof. Helping to ventilate the chamber, by allowing hot air generated inside by the 60 Assembly Members to escape upwards, it fulfils a practical as well as aesthetic purpose.

It is, though, in the bowels of the building that Lord Rogers' creation really earns it's "green" tag.

All of its water needs, apart from that for human consumption, are satisfied through "Grey Water" - the collection of rain from the roof in huge tanks underground.

More innovative still, there's a heat-exchange system that pumps water 100 meters down into the earth, where the ambient temperature is about 16C, bringing it back up to either heat the assembly in winter or cool it in summer.

Construction site
In the beginning... the construction site in August, 2001

All of this recently earned the new assembly building an award for sustainable constriction from the Building Research Establishment.

Sustainability aside, the other fundamental principle behind Roger's most innovative design to date is "openness" - the creation of an open space where members of the public are encouraged and inspired to come and meet their elected representatives in a relaxed, informal atmosphere.

The chamber, committee rooms and even the press briefing room are all designed to be "viewed" by people interested in following every twist and turn of the democratic process in Wales.

The Senedd's debating chamber
The debating chamber in its finishing stages

So, the criticism. Well, at a final cost of around 67m the new building is not cheap.

It is, however, a great deal cheaper that its Scottish equivalent in Edinburgh where costs rose to 430m.

Even those Assembly Members who were always opposed to "wasting" public money on a new home when they had an existing chamber in Crickhowell House admit that the Rogers team has done a "pretty good job".

There are, of course, arch anti-devolutionists who regard any expenditure on the institution in Cardiff Bay with suspicion.

Perhaps, with most reason for resentment, are the many relatively-deprived towns and cites in other parts of Wales witnessing yet more lavish public expenditure on another building in the Welsh capital.

Certainly there are those who would argue that, since 1999, devolution has failed to engage and inspire the people in Wales - inspiration from a new building, however much we love it already, will not deliver alone.


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