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Land Registry search reveals international financial web involving Coal Exchange

13 May 2023 5 minute read
The Coal Exchange in Cardiff. Photo Nation.Cymru

Martin Shipton

Renewed concerns are being expressed about one of Wales’ most iconic buildings after it emerged that its ownership is shared between a labyrinthine network of individuals with addresses all over the world.

Built in 1888 in the Butetown district of Cardiff, the Coal Exchange became a hub of the global coal trade and the city’s thriving shipping industry.

Its Renaissance Revival architectural design ensured it was granted Grade 2* listed building status.

After the decline in Cardiff’s role as a major coal exporting port, it became a music venue, but was forced to close in 2013 because the building was no longer considered safe.

In 2016 it was bought by the Liverpool-based hospitality firm Signature Living, with financial assistance from Cardiff council. Ownership was passed to a newly created subsidiary company called Signature Living Coal Exchange, which devised an ambitious renovation programme and turned part of the building into a hotel.

However, the Signature Living group effectively went bust during the Covid-19 pandemic, leaving the Coal Exchange in limbo.

Structural problems re-emerged, but a new company called Eden Grove Developments stepped in to take over the hotel. Its sole director is former Cardiff Labour councillor Ashley Govier.

Demolition

The hotel has reopened, but in March many were dismayed when a demolition contractor was used to remove part of the fabric of the building.

Now fresh concerns have arisen as it emerged that records at the Land Registry do not contain any mention of the building having been bought by Eden Grove Developments.

Nevertheless Companies House records show that a property development company called Albendan holds a legal charge over the assets of Eden Grove in respect of the hotel.

Nerys Lloyd-Pierce, who chairs Cardiff Civic Society which for years has been involved in a campaign to safeguard the Coal Exchange, undertook a Land Registry search to establish its ownership earlier this month.

She discovered there were as many as 325 separate entries in relation to the building, with evidence that individuals from more than a dozen countries in the world own segments of it. As well as the UK, the countries include Singapore, Poland, New Zealand, Australia, Azerbaijan, El Salvador, Taiwan, China, Seychelles, Brazil, Hong Kong, Malaysia and Abu Dhabi. The people concerned paid Signature Living, which is now insolvent, for their shares of the building.

Travesty

Ms Lloyd-Pierce said: “The Coal Exchange played a hugely important part in placing Cardiff on the world map, and in laying the foundations for Cardiff to become a capital city, and for Wales to have its own government. That the building has been treated so shabbily is a travesty. Both Cardiff council and the Welsh Government have shown indifference, bordering on contempt for this magnificent building, and for the dedicated, committed people from Save the Coal Exchange who were passionate about rescuing it.

“In practically any other city, the Grade 2* listed Coal Exchange would be seen as a major asset, but here in Cardiff you get the distinct impression it would be more convenient all round if the building simply fell down. Without energy and commitment from those in authority, the future for this wonderful building looks bleak.

“The title deeds to the Coal Exchange show an extremely messy financial web of investors, who have, for example, put money into various rooms and suites within the hotel. Few, if any of these people will see their money again. The complexity revealed here means that it’s very difficult to establish who actually owns the freehold of the building. Although, Cardiff council must have the answer to this question, as a council spokesperson is quoted as saying that the local authority approved an application for the owner to bring a crane on site, when part of the north wing was demolished in March.”

“I have written to Kelly Burton from Wilson Field, the administrator when Signature Living Coal Exchange Ltd went under, to see if she knows who owns the freehold. The title deeds don’t state that, as far as I can see. Someone suggested that Signature Living owns the freehold. Signature Living, despite its financial woes, is still listed as active on the Companies House web site.”

Privately owned

A spokesman for Cardiff council said: The building is privately owned and this question needs to be addressed to the private owner. It is Grade 2 listed, so the council’s only role is in relation to building control and the planning authority.’

“If there are any concerns with the Land Registry and an inability to get information from their website, that needs to be taken up with the Land Registry directly.”

In March, responding at a full council meeting to concerns about the Coal Exchange expressed by Conservative group leader Adrian Robson, cabinet member for investment and development Russell Goodway said: “While ultimate responsibility for the upkeep of the Coal Exchange building rests with the owners, council officers have been engaged in discussions with a number of key stakeholders about the safety and condition of the building, including Coal Exchange Hotel LLP (as the leaseholder), Eden Grove Developments Limited (as the freeholder), Cadw, Mann Williams (Specialist Consulting Engineers, recommended by Cadw), Cardiff Demolition and Valco Scaffolding.

“In early March, emergency measures were undertaken by the owners to carefully remove and store a limited area of dressed masonry from the north façade. The masonry had been displaced following a partial collapse of the roof. Part of this work also included the removal of that collapsed section of the roof. These works were undertaken by Cardiff Demolition and Valco Scaffolding following consultation with Cadw and Mann Williams. In addition, two remaining chimney stacks will require a structural brace to be fitted to prevent further deterioration, and this work is planned to be undertaken in the coming weeks.”

Mr Govier has been asked to comment.


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Mab Meirion
Mab Meirion
9 months ago

The should relocate Cardiff to St Fagans before there is no architecture worthy of the name left in our Capital City…

All together now ‘Due Diligence’ have they none…

Jonathan Edwards
Jonathan Edwards
9 months ago

My grandfather ran a shipping company from CoalEx and I had a law office there when Lawrence Kenright (Liverpool) took over. Great guy. A bunch of woke idiots tried to stop him, but they were seen off. LK got the project going, with Mike Johnson, a Bay star. Very sad, but not surprising, that the project is in the state it is, not LK’s fault. Labour ran Cardiff during all the bad years and the only thing they got right was finding LK through Liverpool Labour. Much too late though. In the end, I didn’t like it as a hotel.… Read more »

Last edited 9 months ago by Jonathan Edwards
Mab Meirion
Mab Meirion
9 months ago

Describe the funnel to me JE…

Jonathan Edwards
Jonathan Edwards
9 months ago
Reply to  Mab Meirion

Grandfather died when I was 4. He sailed with all he usual lines (Evan Thomas Radcliffe etc) photos of his ships everywhere here in Pembs. The Exchange story is funny and sad. My mother told me the story of how he wanted an account of his 50% share, suspecting the other fellow, who was dodgy. Granca locked him in the office till he paid. I moved into the Exchange in 2011. It was only at this point that mother told me that office that got locked had been in the Exchange. I suspect the company was a one-ship company. It… Read more »

Phil
Phil
9 months ago

These things, unfortunately, normally end as an ‘accidental’ fire, leaving the property irrecoverable but leaving a nice site for redevelopment

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