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Brynmawr comes down as Assembly says it is 'powerless'

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Architecture Week began in the worst possible way for Wales as the Principality's minister for the environment, Sue Essex, sounded the final deathknell for the Brynmawr Rubber Factory and demolition of the building's nine domes began.

Essex refused to bow to protestors and intervene. She said the Welsh Assembly had only limited powers to modify a planning consent and such action would be 'protracted' and might not be fast enough to beat the bulldozers.

She added that options to save the Grade II* listed structure were 'technically difficult and architecturally unjustified', and would also mean the National Assembly would be open to claims for full compensation of more than £6 million.

But that figure is less than the £6.3 million grant which the Assembly sanctioned through the Welsh Development Agency (WDA) to allow the demolition and rebuild scheme in the first place.

Questions about the viability of the replacement retail and housing scheme from Maincourse also remain (AJ 12.4.01), although neither Blaenau Gwent council, the assembly member for the area, nor the local MP have asked Essex to reconsider it. Observers continue to question whether an end-user for the retail scheme is yet in place.

Cardiff contractor Brunswick had already reduced to rubble what Docomomo estimated last week to be 20-30 per cent of the listed elements since work started in April. But at 2.32pm on Monday one of the nine listed domes was demolished, with local and regional media on hand to witness the event. Campaigners said it was uncertain if the remaining domes were fully decontaminated - 'therefore we are not aware of the schedule to demolish them', but full demolition is expected to take 10 weeks.

The conservationists also delivered solicitor's letters to council officials on Monday morning requesting confirmation that planning laws had been properly adhered to. Laws say a viable scheme must be in place before demolition, but the Borough Council sent a fax assuring them that everything was in order.

University of the West of England lecturer Richard Parnaby, who this week took part in a BBC television debate on the saga, said demolition of one of the first post-war buildings to be listed was 'an absolute outrage'. He suspected that CADW, which like the WDA is funded by the Assembly but to look after listed buildings, had not done its job properly. 'The local council has shown a determination to destroy the building, ' he added. Royal Society of Architects in Wales director Mary Wrenn said it would be a 'tragedy' if, as was now likely, all the domes were destroyed. She said the society had been pushing for the building to be incorporated in the retail development by Cardiff 's Powell Dobson Partnership.

Essex told the Assembly last Friday that the factory's 'future life as a working building could not be secured', especially since the WDA 'suggested that the building may be suffering from concrete rot'.

'I would argue on the basis of advice, personal observation and my own belief in democratic processes, that events have gone too far to allow us to intervene now, even if we had the will, justifiable use of powers and funds to do so', she said.

Essex added there was no money to make the building safe and run it as a scheduled monument and she was 'very sad' that the end was in sight.

A Docomomo meeting supported by the RSAW was scheduled for yesterday in Cardiff on the subject of learning from the mistakes of Brynmawr. Called 'Brynmawr and Beyond - what to do with modern buildings in Wales', the event aimed to devise strategies for ensuring that Wales' modern architecture 'becomes better appreciated in the future'.

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