A row has escalated over plans to build a military medicine museum at Cardiff Bay.
Architects are planning to build a four-storey museum at Britannia Park, next to the Norwegian Church on Harbour Drive. The site for the new Museum of Military Medicine — currently based in Aldershot, Surrey — was previously considered for a major redevelopment of 200 flats, bars and restaurants.
Neighbours raised fears the museum plans would mean losing green space at the park.
Huw Thomas, the leader of Cardiff Council, has defended the decision to redevelop the area.
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.
Cllr Thomas said: “We intervened, met with the then-landowner, persuaded them not to proceed with the development, and instead sell the land to us. So we saved Britannia Park, and avoided a 24-storey monster on the water’s edge.”
To cover the costs of buying the park, the council now wants to give the land to the museum — but will not be contributing financially to the relocation or ongoing revenue costs. Addressing fresh concerns the museum would mean losing the park, Cllr Thomas said the “loss of parkland is minimal”.
But he insisted if the museum isn’t built, the council could have to cut back on spending on schools or cycle lanes.
He said: “My primary motivation in all of this — now achieved — was to save a park from becoming a block of flats. Politics is where dreams meet reality, and compromise is often required.”
Another museum at Cardiff Bay shut down in 2016 due to lack of funding – the Butetown History and Arts Centre.
Plaid Cymru MS Leanne Wood said the plans for the museum were ill though out.
“For Cardiff Council to watch the Butetown History and Arts Centre close due to lack of funds in 2016, only to welcome the Museum of Military Medicine to the area, is an insult to the people who belong there,” she argued.
“Cardiff is not a military town, and it just does not make sense to have a museum glorifying warfare there. What it does have is a rich history, but this is rapidly being pushed aside in the seemingly frantic gentrification of the Cardiff Bay area.”
Nasir Adam, from Butetown, is a curator of Welsh black history.
He said: “A successful museum provides a clear link to the lived experience of local residents. Whose history and culture is being told in the Museum of Military Medicine? If people can’t see themselves represented in museums, they are not going to want to be a part of that.”
However, the council could reopen the Butetown History and Arts Centre.
Cllr Thomas said: “I wasn’t leader in 2016 when the Butetown History and Arts Centre closed. If I was, I hope things may have ended differently. I agree that we need more that celebrates Cardiff’s history.”
He added the council wants to also build a modern art gallery at the bay and expand the Wales Millennium Centre.
He said: “If there’s scope to reopen and rehouse the Butetown History and Arts Centre, then we would like to do that too.”
Cardiff does have some history with military medicine — the HMS Hamadryad was a hospital ship based at the Docks from 1866 to 1900, treating 500 patients a year.
Jason Semmens, director of the Museum of Military Medicine, said: “The history of Wales and Butetown will feature heavily in the stories the museum will tell. We recognise that the museum must reflect the local area and its historical military medicine connections that include the Hamadryad military hospital, which was once located in Cardiff Bay.
“We have already commissioned a report from the Heritage & Cultural Exchange, a charity that is working to organise an archive of photographs, oral history recordings and other material relating to Butetown, Tiger Bay and Cardiff Docks from the Butetown History and Arts Centre, that will form the basis of displays within the Museum.”
Mr Semmens said the museum would be “more than an exhibition space”.
He added: “Our aim to showcase and inspire further medical advancements will bring new resources and technology to Wales, including the UK’s first 8K immersive video space, Deep Space, which will become a new and important resource for local school children.
“Our goal is to create a national venue…..it will become a centre for new educational programmes, which fosters research partnerships and create in Cardiff Bay an institution that demonstrates Wales’ place at the forefront of UK innovation in healthcare.”