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. . . as minister ponders choices for Welsh Assembly

News

Welsh secretary of state Ron Davies is under mounting pressure from Downing Street to come up with a home for the National Assembly for Wales, due to be opened in May 1999. Following last year's failure to reach agreement on the use of Cardiff's City Hall, the Welsh Office has been considering a number of alternative locations, and was expected to rush through a decision within two or three weeks after the end of the present consultation exercise on 30 January.

However, none of the proposed sites, except perhaps for Swansea's Guild Hall, would be ready in time for the official opening next year. Further embarrassment would arise through the obligation, if a new building were chosen, to follow European Union public procurement rules and advertise for tenders. This would add at least another year to the selection process and mean that the Assembly would be without a proper home for at least two years after beginning business.

A number of public buildings offered by Welsh local authorities have been ruled out on a variety of grounds, including conversion cost, location and accessibility. There is general agreement among Welsh Office ministers and officials that the Assembly has to be based in Cardiff, and a new building in Cardiff Bay is the preferred choice, according to Welsh Office sources.

Italian architect Manfredi Nicoletti was in Cardiff last week, promoting his adventurous design for an extravagant building on what is emerging as the most likely site for the National Assembly. The favoured location is an empty plot on Grosvenor Waterside's land at Cardiff Bay, between the existing Pierhead Building and the planned Wales Millennium Centre. Nicoletti is a firm advocate of the area, with which he became enamoured when producing his crystal wave design for the ill-fated Cardiff Bay Opera House. Nicoletti's proposal for the Assembly building similarly makes extensive use of glass. The new concept (which the promoters refuse to elaborate on at this stage), resembles the top half of a human body with outstretched arms. The glass head would incorporate a debating chamber, while the left and right arms would provide office space. Japanese architect Itsuko Hasegawa, another contender on the Opera House shortlist, is also involved in the scheme. He is said to be working on a communications tower to form part of the Assembly complex. The consortium behind Nicoletti's design includes Cardiff architect Burgess Partnership, builder McAlpine, engineer Ove Arup and developer Sovereign Estates.

An alternative proposal by Grosvenor Waterside would involve taking over Crickhowell House at Cardiff Bay and constructing a debating chamber alongside, linked to the existing office block by a pedestrian walkway.

CityLink, the consortium that is building the boulevard Bute Avenue, has offered a site at Bute Square, to be constructed as part of the road- building scheme. Several alternative designs, one including a 14-storey tower, have been prepared by staff and students at the Welsh School of Architecture.

Helical Bar's office development at Kingsway, still unlet despite being on one of the city centre's most prestigious sites, has also been proposed by its owner.

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