22 January 2002 Millennium Centre


Extract of Debate on the Millennium Centre 22 January 2002


Alison Halford:

 As a member of the Culture Committee, it is pleasing to learn, belatedly, what we are all being committed to. I cannot support this project. Using £37 million of taxpayers’ money from a finite budget for this cannot be justified. I know that all the £37 million may not be used, but what kind of signal are we sending to the people in north and west Wales? Wales needs to build on existing successes, such as Theatre Clwyd Cymru, rather than gambling £100 million on a sixth theatre for Cardiff. How exactly would my constituents benefit from it? How do they get to Cardiff? The train fare costs around £50, and the price of the tickets and a hotel bill would be on top of that. To get here by road takes four hours. It is unrealistic.Once the centre is built, it will require a public subsidy of £800,000, in addition to another £500,000 in maintenance costs, every year. The figure may rise to £6 million a year, if things go wrong. Once the building is up, there is pressure to improve public transport links to the bay and public facilities here and in the surrounding areas. We do not have the money to satisfy such expectations.
Financial safeguards are vital, and I know that the Minister for Culture and the Minister for Finance, Local Government and Communities have worked exceptionally hard to ensure that they are in place. However, I remain unconvinced that we have the expertise to successfully manage the Wales Millennium Centre, nor do I believe that Cardiff needs yet another theatre. Building and maintenance costs are key areas where, eventually, the Assembly will be forced to bail out the centre if the targets are too optimistic. Half a million paying customers a year will be needed to break even, otherwise the Assembly will have to pick up the tab.
The Auditor General’s reports on Crickhowell House and the Cardiff Bay Barrage—Peter mentioned the £12 million a year in maintenance costs—show that we do not have the expertise to build, furnish and run such enterprises. The hole in the ground still has to be sorted out. A total of £8 million was lost on the now empty Centre for Visual Arts. All of this leaves a sour taste. It is also reported that the Welsh National Opera will have to make redundancies. If that is so, it is shocking. Why are we looking for a home for the Welsh National Opera if we cannot fully subsidise it? The company will have to stop a major production due to the loss of staff.The main north Wales theatre is crumbling and needs a cash injection. There is not a substantial area to display art in north Wales. Regrettably, £2 million will not go far. The Government’s move today will, sadly, rekindle the north-south divide. Are we to behave like some backwater council, pandering to the wishes of certain south-based Members, or are we going to set proper priorities for the benefit of Wales as a whole? We are moving too fast for a fledgling Assembly with a finite budget. I do not have anything against culture or Cardiff, but I regret that I find this to be an unnecessary cultural flight of fancy. The money would be better spent on more deserving causes.Tom Middlehurst: Peter Law and Alison Halford reflect, properly and rightly, the concerns and reservations of many people in Wales. However, I take issue with their analysis. I have long supported the vision and concept of an arts house, commensurate with the rich and diverse artistic and cultural talent that exists in Wales. The building, with its existing design features, is worthy of the traditions of those who will take up residency. We must have the courage of our forebears, who had the vision, commitment and foresight to create some of the most magnificent buildings on these islands.
This is a worthy project. We would do well to remind ourselves that this is not an Assembly project. It is a project that has gained support from the Assembly, the Arts Council of Wales, the lottery and the private sector. As I well know, the project has had its problems, and the issue of cost has been the stumbling block to progress. However, that was not of the Assembly’s making. I am glad to say that the commitment and dedication of the trustees have brought us to a position where we can have some confidence in the projected costs. I have always held the view that there must be a high degree of cost certainty before the Assembly further commits its resources. It appears that we have that now.I am also concerned about the business plan and the ongoing revenue consequences. The business plan must be robust and deliverable. It cannot be allowed to be a rising call on the Assembly’s public finances. I want to see the project proceed. I also want it to be a springboard for ongoing investment in other parts of Wales. The WMC will provide a home for some, but not all, of our flagship arts and cultural organisations. I want this initiative to provide the impetus for wider investment in the arts in other parts of Wales. I note the Minister’s announcement today of an additional £2 million. That will not be enough.5:10 p.m.
In the same way that we recognise the needs and the worth of the Welsh National Opera, Diversions dance company, Urdd Gobaith Cymru, Hijinx and others, other flagship organisations such as Clwyd Theatr Cymru should attract the same commitment and financial support in recognition of ambitious plans on behalf of the people of Wales. The millennium centre will provide an international focus for our artistic and cultural talents. The contribution of others located in other parts of Wales must be seen as part of the compendium, in which the WMC will play a significant part.
There has already been significant investment in existing and new cultural institutions in Wales: the National Museums and Galleries of Wales has benefited from important decisions by the Assembly; the maritime museum in Swansea, and the National Library of Wales’s visitor centre, have also benefited. They are evidence of the Labour Party’s commitment to artistic and cultural life in Wales. We must apply that commitment to other visionary projects. Clwyd Theatr Cymru will play its part in raising Wales’s profile, but it needs the resources to do so.

Dafydd Wigley:

I declare an interest, as my wife is active in the arts world. I noted with interest Alison’s comment that she has nothing against culture. That is comforting, given that she is a prominent member of the Culture Committee.I welcome these motions for three reasons. First, such a centre is needed for the music and performing arts in Wales and, particularly, to create a quality home for Welsh National Opera. At one time, we could have lost that company’s headquarters to a location outside Wales. We need a worthy stage for singers such as Bryn Terfel, a neighbour of mine in Bontnewydd. At present, there is no adequate hall where the people of Wales can hear him in his full glory.Secondly, we must take advantage of the money that is available from the Millennium Commission. We will lose about £31 million if we do not support this bid. We are getting very good value for money, as the Assembly only has to pay half the cost of £104 million for this building.
Thirdly, we must prove that we can proceed with plans for public buildings, in order to instil confidence in our architects. We must also prove that we have sufficient self-esteem as a nation to build a centre such as this.
However, I must note that there are concerns in other parts of Wales that everything is being sucked into Cardiff. Some Members have already mentioned this. Given that, I will support the Tories’ amendment. A system must be developed whereby productions staged in Cardiff tour to other venues in Wales. I heard Jenny’s comments and I hope that there will be a strong commitment to this. The productions should be staged in centres such as Caernarfon and Bangor in north-west Wales, Mold and Wrexham in north-east Wales, and Aberystwyth, Carmarthen and Swansea, so that everyone in all parts of Wales can benefit from this development and enjoy culture that is accessible to them.I have two concerns. The first is the current costs. That is crucial, and I hope that we will have an assurance on this. We are placing our trust in Sir David Rowe-Beddoe’s work. My second concern is how we deal with the land. I listened carefully to Jenny’s opening speech. Questions still remain regarding the contingent liability. We will vote on the motion today without knowing all the facts. This matter was raised in the Culture Committee meeting last week, and I am sure that its members will return to it. However, I support this motion. I wish Sir David Rowe-Beddoe and his team, and the scheme as a whole, every success.The Deputy Presiding Officer: If Members continue to make succinct speeches, we may not have to extend the session. The session may overrun by about 10 minutes, but at this rate, we may be able to avoid that.

Lorraine Barrett:

 It is essential for Wales’s credibility that we support the Wales Millennium Centre project today. We all know that it will house some of Wales’s best performing artists. It will also provide a centre for the Urdd movement, enabling children from all over Wales to have a city cultural experience..
It is not just a theatre, Alison. It will provide a home for our world-renowned Welsh National Opera, as well as the other excellent companies, such as Diversions dance company, Hijinx Theatre, and Academi, which promotes literature and provides residencies for writers. Academi also supports 3,000 events each year, with 250,000 people attending, and 90 per cent of its activity takes place outside Cardiff.
The WNO produces hundreds of community and education projects, reaching over 40,000 people each year. It deserves a proper base from which to continue to develop as a world-class opera company, and to expand its work outside Cardiff. Other Assembly Members and I went to a leisure centre in Merthyr Tydfil where a school was participating in a wonderful production.
Diversions dance company tours for 20 weeks a year throughout the UK, and is known in countries such as Spain and Australia. We saw young people from the Valleys dancing at lunchtime in the Assembly. They deserve the opportunity to experience performing in a world-class centre.
I turn to the building, and why it needs to be in Cardiff, on this site. The site has been earmarked for an arts and cultural centre for over a decade. Both that and the site of the new debating Chamber, as Jonathan said, are the last two pieces of the jigsaw ensuring the viability of the redevelopment of Cardiff bay. We have not been sharing notes, nor have I been cribbing off Jonathan.
If the development of Cardiff bay fails, the repercussions will be felt across Wales, culturally and economically. For the centre to succeed, it needs the critical mass that a capital city can attract. If we fail to support this project today, £31 million will go back to London. The private money that has been promised will disappear, and we will be left with an empty site. What will be put there? IKEA? A supermarket? An office block? Who knows? Something exciting, I am sure. If we do not commit ourselves and support this motion today, we can say goodbye to the vision of a confident and aspiring Wales.
Peter, you are a good friend of mine, and I am still a Rhondda girl at heart. My family still live in the Rhondda, and I sympathise with your stand. I understand why you say what you do. However, I believe that the people of the Valleys deserve and can expect to experience the arts. Some of our best visual and performing artists come from the Valleys. The arts is not some airy-fairy hobby. It is a driver for economic growth. If we do not go ahead with the building it will be to the detriment of the whole of Wales.

Delyth Evans:

 I want to emphasise the importance of the arts in economic regeneration. That is not rhetoric. Numerous examples show how artistic schemes and visions have stimulated economic growth in a city or region that, formerly, was struggling to attract investment and visitors.
We are familiar with the history of the Guggenheim museum in Bilbao, which has transformed the image and prospects of the old industrial harbour. Also, Glasgow is now one of the most exciting cities in Britain, thanks to a purposeful strategy to develop the city’s arts, and market it as a city of culture.Cities and towns in the north of England are now using the same vision to regenerate their communities, with exciting architecture and adventurous arts projects in Manchester, Hull, Gateshead and Newcastle. Those schemes will transform the civic landscape and, crucially, will transform the image of the region from being a poor, bleak, post-industrial area into an area brimming with excitement, confidence and imagination.
5:20 p.m.
In referring to all these proposed schemes in the north of England, Stuart Cameron, head of the school of architecture, planning and landscape at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne said that they had a deliberate strategy to use the best in arts and culture to drive economic regeneration, replacing the old method of building factories and motorways. This is the lesson we must learn in Wales: the arts have value in and of themselves, but that they have a much wider value too, namely the ability to create economic confidence and convey a sense of creativity, aspiration and success. Is that not what is needed in Wales? The business sector understands that well—that is why it is so eager to see matters progress in Cardiff bay.This will not only be a building for Cardiff, but a national arts centre; a worthy home at last for the opera company and a national stage for the best of our artists, be they dancers, actors, young people, singers or musicians. The activity that will take place here will radiate outwards to the rest of Wales, creating a positive spiral of creative activity the length and breadth of our communities. Therefore, let us support this aspiration and this vision, because through the arts, we can bring new wealth—both spiritual and economic—to our communities.Richard Edwards: I welcome the prospect of finally pressing ahead with the Wales Millennium Centre and creating a great national cultural institution and an economic driver for all of Wales. I accept that and the other reasons that have already been mentioned. I also accept, though I represent a constituency some distance from Cardiff, that the centre must be located in the capital. However, there are legitimate concerns, including those of cost certainty and revenue implications. I will concentrate on one area of concern, which I do not think has been mentioned so far and which leads me to have some sympathy for the viewpoints of those in areas of concentrated deprivation who feel that they will not benefit from this massive public investment. The perception will be that this is yet another example of the public purse being raided for the benefit of a privileged elite. I do not accept that, though I understand it. That perception cannot simply be attributed to philistinism; there is a kernel of truth. Arguments of economic impact aside, I want to focus on the high-culture aspects of this institution. High culture, for want of a better phrase—opera and great music in particular—should not be the preserve of a privileged few. This centre may physically be in Cardiff, but it must be linked to an extensive outreach network that guarantees access and participation throughout the whole of Wales. In fairness, the Welsh National Opera has an excellent, and probably incomparable, record of outreach and inclusivity in what is perceived to be the most elitist of arts. However, it cannot be a matter just for the WNO; I want us to explore every possibility, mindful of our equal opportunity and social inclusion remits, to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to access to great music and can therefore have their lives enriched by music and opera in the way that my life is enriched by it.We must do all that we can to break down this perception, which is fostered by the snob value that some so-called followers of opera and other forms of high art attach to it and often glory in. As someone who has been to the opera several times, I have witnessed countless examples of this. That angers me and I see how alienating it is. There should be nothing intrinsically elitist about high culture.

The First Minister:

You have perhaps identified one of the great paradoxes of this matter. With few exceptions, almost all the outstanding opera singers produced by Wales have not come from Cardiff; they have come from the Valleys and the Gwent valleys, for example, Dame Gwyneth Jones from Pontnewydd and Dame Margaret Price from Blackwood, Sir Geraint Evans from Cilfynydd—who was a miner’s son—and Jason Howard from Merthyr Tydfil. Apart from Dennis O’Neill, who was a doctor’s son from Pontarddulais, almost all these people were working-class kids who became world famous opera singers. None of them came from Cardiff. We must put that together—the talent of north Wales, such as Bryn Terfel, a farmer’s son—with a building that is worthy of them. They are not snobbish kids from a middle-class background. That is what you must provide for by having this opera house and then you—The Deputy Presiding Officer: Order. Rhodri, this is supposed to be an intervention, not a speech.Richard Edwards: I accept that insightful intervention. I wanted to make the point that there is no good reason why so-called ‘high art’ should not be popular, and that any vested interest opposing this should be challenged head on, given the level of public investment involved.Rhodri Glyn Thomas: I welcome this debate. Several important points have been made. On behalf of the Culture Committee, I thank the two Ministers who have succeeded in bringing this project before the National Assembly, and extend our appreciation of the work of Sir David Rowe-Beddoe and his committee in ensuring that we have a credible and viable scheme to consider this afternoon. I also pay tribute to Sir Alan Cox. Without his work in the first instance, we would not be here today discussing this scheme. His perseverance did a great deal to bring this scheme before us.
Several fundamental truths have been noted this afternoon. It is only in Cardiff that we could have this building. It is a pipe dream to think that it could be established anywhere else. If you look at the revenue scheme and the business plan, it is only in Cardiff, credibly, that this important building could be built. It is central to our culture—not to Cardiff, but to the whole of Wales, because Cardiff is the capital of the whole of Wales. A schedule of activities will grow out of the Wales Millennium Centre, and it is important that it links with the excellent work that takes place at Clwyd Theatr Cymru and promotes cultural activities throughout Wales. It is central and important to Cardiff city’s bid to be the Cultural Capital of Europe 2008. I declare an interest as a member of the board of directors of that bid. It is a bid, not only for the city of Cardiff, but for Cardiff and Wales.We have heard what culture can do to regenerate and create growth in the economy. I appreciated the First Minister’s contribution. It is a shame that he did not make a speech and contribute directly to the debate, but I appreciate his intervention—it was important. He talked about the background of some of our best performers in Wales. However, we must also be aware of our history. It is the ordinary people—the poor people—of Wales who have ensured that we have cultural and educational institutions in Wales, not the crachach and the rich. It is the ordinary people of Wales who have been in the vanguard.Janet Davies: You talk about the poor people in Wales, Rhodri. I fully recognise and support this project, but when the Minister was talking about the details of the negotiations, she described them as highly technical. I am afraid that alarm bells rang in my head at that point, particularly in reference to the complex details of the land transfer. Will you, as Chair of the Culture Committee, obtain complete assurance from the Minister that she will ensure that the principles of robustness, transparency and soundness apply to the detail of the negotiations?

Rhodri Glyn Thomas:

 Yes, certainly. I can give you that commitment. We have already looked at the detail of the revenue business plan for the Millennium Centre. My colleague, Dafydd Wigley, raised this matter with the Minister in Committee. We have asked for greater detail on the transfer and we will keep our eye on that situation. If any worrying aspects develop, we will look at them critically.
I have tremendous respect for Peter Law’s commitment to his constituency, and certainly to the deprived areas of his constituency and the poor people who live there. I share that commitment to social justice. However, we are in danger sometimes of stating that poor people who live in deprived areas have no interest in culture. They have a tremendous interest in culture and have a right to enjoy culture of the highest quality. Let us be quite clear about this. The way to serve our poorer communities and our deprived areas is not to take money away from cultural ventures or stop a debating Chamber for the Assembly, which we badly need; it is by getting a fair taxation system, where those of us who are fortunate enough to work contribute what we can to the economy, and those who need those services get what they deserve out of the economy. While we try to fool ourselves about social justice by saying, ‘let us not have culture’, these people have—5:30 p.m.Peter Law: Do you accept that, if you cannot get to the millennium centre to enjoy the culture and cannot afford to enter the building, and if you do not have a quality of life that includes essentials such as heat and light because you live in poverty and are socially deprived, you cannot enjoy the cultural opportunities to which you referred? My constituents want such opportunities and I commend them, but there is a limit to how much public finance you can put into them.
The Deputy Presiding Officer: Order. You need to wind up now, Rhodri.

Rhodri Glyn Thomas:

 I take Peter’s comments on board. Such people will find it more difficult than people who are more affluent but, historically, those people have made an effort because they appreciate culture. Do not let us give the impression that they are not interested. Historically, those people have contributed to the best things in our society. That is important. I welcome this discussion. I hope that we can now move forward to build this centre, which is vital to the nation’s cultural development.The Minister for Culture, Sport and the Welsh Language (Jenny Randerson): Many of this afternoon’s comments have related to Cardiff. Like all capital cities, it probably has a love-hate relationship with the rest of its hinterland. However, in the last year, there have been several proposals that will benefit other parts of Wales, for example, the Swansea maritime museum and a new theatre in Wrexham. Other developments in west Wales and Caernarfon are also proposed.We have given a commitment that £2 million will be available to the rest of Wales, so that money is not seen to be being siphoned into the Wales Millennium Centre. That commitment is in addition to an increase of almost 30 per cent in the Arts Council of Wales’s grant by 2003, the vast majority of which will go to the rest of Wales.Peter is wrong not to see the economic development potential for his constituents. Three years ago, the arts in Wales employed 29,000 people and had a turnover of over £1 billion a year. Since then, the arts have grown over a two-year period, and employment in that sector has grown by more than 15 per cent, faster than any other sector of the economy. We must see the economic development and tourism potential, and the significance of this development for Wales as a whole.
I will make one correction, Peter. This Arts Council of Wales money is not public money from the Assembly; it is lottery money. It is important to bear in mind that, if we say ‘no’ to this—and I am confident from the tone of today’s contributions that we will not—we would be turning away £31 million worth of investment that, otherwise, would not come to Wales. It is important that, like Tom Middlehurst, who represents a constituency that is far from the Assembly, you see the vision and the significance and value of this development to Wales as a whole. I have received widespread support for this proposal from the arts community in north and west Wales. They see the benefits for the arts in Wales as a whole, even if not all Assembly Members do.Finally, as Glyn said, it is time to stop talking about this centre; it is time to build it. This is the moment of truth. We are determined to move forward with sound decisions on projects and policies that are good for the whole of Wales. I have spent the last year ensuring that this is a realistic proposal with realistic costings. I will come back to the Committee and to Plenary with the details of the landproposal once it is no longer commercially confidential.

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