The beautiful open space set to be lost to Wales for a museum few want

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An area of open land loved by local families and people from around Wales who visit the increasingly densely congested Cardiff Bay is to be ripped up for a museum few support.

A campaign is gathering place to block a a controversial military museum in Cardiff Bay which has been branded “unwanted and financially unstable”

On Wednesday plans were approved for the museum of military medicine on the site of a playground, well-used open space and a small hut in Cardiff Bay despite strong objections.

The planned location would deprive the public of a much-loved waterside location close to the Norwegian Church and change the character of the grassed area called Britannia Park by blocking light and views.

It is the third-side in Cardiff mooted for the Museum of Military Medicine, currently based in a barracks in Hampshire, after previous attempts to site it on the Cardiff Bay train station and close to the Red Dragon centre.

Many are asking why it is being proposed to destroy a cherished area of open space when there is still so much disused land in desperate need of regeneration in the Bay.

In a public letter, Ossie Wheatley, a former Glamorgan cricket captain and a member of Friends of Britannia Park, said: “Green space matters. To put an industrial block on the park is a blot on the landscape and an attack on the ambience of the whole bay.”

Architecture experts have also attacked the design of the large, five-storey building saying it has the “decayed appearance of rusting steel and a jagged sawtooth roof – both extremely tired symbols of ailing industry”.

In 2018, the council bought the land for £3.1 million to save it from the unpopular Dolffin Quay plans — the 24-storey wedge-shaped block of flats — because of concerns about the loss of the park.



How the new museum would look



How the new museum would look

The five-storey building can now be built, which will include exhibition space, offices, teaching space, and public toilets free to use.

Nirushan Sudarsan, of Butetown Mattes, said: “I’m very disappointed and angry they’ve decided to go ahead with this. It’s unwanted, it’s financially unstable and it’s taking away vital green space.

“It’s one of a few green spaces left in Butetown, with a growing population. Where are people going to go? They’re taking away the children’s park. And it’s just irrelevant to the community.”

The site is currently home to a children’s play park and a Grade II listed Lockkeeper’s Cottage, with both set to be relocated for the new development.

Nirushan added: “The green space is vitally important. it’s one of the many reasons why so many people are angry. Lots of people here live in flats or crowded spaces.

“Especially during the lockdowns, people need to be able to go out. There’s already a lack of open green space in Butetown, so taking away one of the few is not going to help anyone. Green space is so limited. I just don’t see the benefit.”



How the inside of the museum could look

Nirushan added: “If anything should be there it should be to do with Tiger Bay to celebrate the diversity of the community, rather than a military medicine museum which has no bearing and no relation to Butetown. And it’s been rejected in other cities and it’s simply been dumped in Butetown.”

Cian Ciarán, a member of the band Super Furry Animals, said: “This is an imposition at the expense of local residents’ wellbeing, lacking foresight and consideration in their attempt to glorify empire and in search of a quick buck.”

Jonathan Ware, a Second World War historian, said the project is “exceptionally risky” and questioned how many people will want to visit.

Publicly available documents previously showed that the museum estimates visitor numbers that would make it one of the top paid attractions across the whole of Wales, and second only to Cardiff Castle in the capital.

Documents for the museum outlines planned visitor numbers show they want to attract 225,000 people annually by 2024.

Welsh Government data shows that Cardiff Castle had more than 452,000 visitors in 2018, one of only five paid attractions in the same year to have more than 225,000.

In the same year, Techniquest attracted around 153,000 people. The US Army Medical Museum in Washington D.C. attracts around 50,000 people annually with free entrance and free parking.

Jonathan said: “With an eye-watering price tag of £30m, the Museum of Military Medicine represents one of the astonishing ambitious and exceptionally risky heritage schemes in the UK.

“A corporate vision aiming to draw visitor numbers equivalent to the National Army Museum or the Tank Museum is completely unrealistic and ungrounded by sector evidence, leaving the MOMM prone to suffering catastrophic commercial failure not dissimilar to that endured by a hauntingly similar project, the Sir John Monash Centre in France.

“Even before Covid-19 there were simply no guarantees that high risk, high tech, high capital heritage will yield great rewards or achieve break-even visitor numbers.

“Given the dire economic backdrop and questionable location that doesn’t feel remotely sensitive to Cardiff and Tiger Bay’s remarkably diverse past and present, I am simply astounded plans have progressed so far.

“So can the museum potentially achieve these gargantuan visitor figures and sustain them year after year? Time will tell. I’m deeply sceptical.”

Architect Owain Williams also hit out at the design of the building, stating the project speaks “of a dated view of Wales”.



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Owain, head of projects of art, architecture and design at London Met said: “Every new building we propose is an opportunity to say something about how we treat our landscape and our people, providing a measure of how we as a society reflect on our past and project our future.

“The silhouette of the Waterfront at Cardiff Bay has become a progressive symbol of our political and cultural identity both in its architectural ambition and its relationship to the land.

“It is an extremely deflating prospect that the decayed appearance of rusting steel and a jagged sawtooth roof – both extremely tired symbols of ailing industry – will reduce our history to a crude one-liner at the expense of a sensitively-observed reflection, or buoyant vision of our future.

“The process of construction is extremely resource and energy-intensive, so we must see the lifespan of anything we build today to be at least 120 years. Unfortunately, both the function and form of this project speak of a dated view of Wales through a distant lens, in a position of such prominence that should be reserved for works that represent the best of who we are, and who we could be.”

Jason Semmens, director of the Museum of Military Medicine said: “Our aim is to create a museum for everyone, and we recognise the necessity of working with the local community to ensure that the history and heritage of Butetown and Wales features heavily in the stories we share.

“The museum’s commitment to working with local communities and those from surrounding areas will be key in creating a venue that will benefit local residents and attract tourism from across Wales and the UK.

He added they are already working with Race Council Cymru to facilitate meetings with local organisations and individuals on how the space can “serve the community”, and anyone interested in speaking with the museum is asked to contact enquiries@museumofmilitarymedicine.org.uk

James said: “Working together, we can create a national venue that serves the community it joins, shares stories that deserve to be told, and collaborates with educators, healthcare providers and those creating lifesaving innovations.”



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