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A resurgent Welsh tiger roars again

CARDIFF

Wembley's loss is Cardiff's gain as the Millennium Stadium hosts the FA Cup Final. The Welsh capital is on the up as a surge of investment fuels an ambitious regeneration plan. Joanna Booth reports

THE CITY of Cardiff has seen its fortunes rise and fall nearly as often as the tides that lap its bay. A Norman town in hostile Wales, it was razed to the ground in 1404. The world's busiest coal exporting port in 1913, it was hard hit by German bombs in World War II and more recently by the downtu rn of the mining industry.

Cardiff is now on the up ? the council is styling it as Europe's fastest growing capital city.

Cardiff Bay was once the site of the docks, a teem ing area then called Tiger Bay. Once seen as a slum, it is now premium development land, largely due to the completion of the Cardiff Bay barrage in 1998.

At just over 9 m, the tidal range off the coast is the second highest in the world, but the 1.2 km long concrete wall across the bay has created a permanent and constant-level freshwater lagoon.

The bay is one of Cardiff's hottest spots for development. Already the site of the Wales Millennium Centre and the sail-roofed Welsh Assembly building with a phalanx of bars, restaurants and offices surrounding it, the coastline south of the city cent re will see massive const ruct ion programmes over the next decade.

The most significant of these is the Cardiff International Sports Village project. The Millennium Stadium may have cost Laing an arm and a leg, but it kick-started regeneration work. And sport will play a large part in Cardiff's future building programme.

A new stadium for Cardiff City Football Club and an athletic stadium are about to be cross-funded by a retail development scheduled for construction on the current Ninian Park site in the east of the city, while a host of different venues are planned on the International Sports Village in the bay.

Residential developments have sprouted up all over the city, with one of the most noticeable being Alto Lusso, a 23-storey Redrow Homes project completed by Laing O'Rourke last year. Vast numbers of residential units are pencilled in around the bay, which will also see the development of office space.

The city's history is not being neglected, with local contractor Opco undertaking a major programme of conservation on Cardiff Castle. The £8 million project, which will see the fabric and foundation of the castle restored and enhanced and an interpretation cent re built, is suppor ted by a Her itage Lot tery Fund grant of £5.7 m illion. Work star ted in August 2001 and is expected to be completed in 2008.

The construction contract for a huge new mall in the city centre has just been let, and the council is using retail development revenue to fund public facilities not only in the bay but all over the city.

Primary infrastructure works are necessary to support these developments, but massive transport projects in the city may not be forthcoming.

The peripheral distributor road that links most areas of the city to the regional and national highway network was begun in the late 1970s, but the last section was only finished in 1995.

'We have plans to enhance the whole transport infrastructure. The difficulty is how to fund it, ' says Rodney Berman, leader of the council.

'We have repeatedly asked the Welsh Assembly but they haven't got money available.

'We're looking at the possibility of bringing in a congestion charge or road user pricing, but it isn't clear what line central Government is taking on th is yet.' Plans are ongoing for an M4 relief road to the east of Cardiff. Currently the project is at preliminary design stage, being undertaken by Arup. The £400 million scheme will probably be procured through PFI and is programmed to start in 2010.

Feature continues on pages 24-25