Plans for £5 million Caerphilly Castle revamp get the green light
Rhiannon James, local democracy reporter
An ambitious Caerphilly Castle revamp has been given the go-ahead, despite one councillor comparing the development to Disneyland.
As part of a £5 million revamp, the castle’s Great Hall will be given a makeover and a new visitor centre will be built.
Councillor Nigel Dix raised concerns about the design of the new visitor centre at the planning committee meeting held on Wednesday, June 8.
The Independent councillor for Blackwood said: “It’s being turned into a bit of a Disneyland.”
He added: “I’m not a fan of what the plans will be doing to the castle, they could’ve come up with better drawings and designs.”
Plaid Cymru councillor, James Fussell, said: “Beauty, as we are told by our officers, is in the eyes of the beholder.”
Planning officer Justin Waite said: “I appreciate the design is modern, but I think that’s done on purpose so we can easily see what’s new and what’s historic.”
The plans are part of Cadw’s five-year “masterplan”, which was announced in 2019, to improve the 13th century Grade I listed castle.
Cadw is a Welsh Government body responsible for Wales’ historical sites and it aims to boost visitor capacity by 30% now the plans have been approved.
Deputy leader of the council and Morgan Jones ward councillor Jamie Pritchard, spoke in support of the application at the meeting.
He said: “We’re always told as councillors that if we get more people in to the town we will get a knock-on effect. We need to appreciate the huge investment opportunities this brings.”
The new visitor centre will have a green roof and a glazed front. It will be a maximum width, depth and height of approximately 31.5 metres, 16 metres and seven metres respectively.
Chair of the planning committee, Cllr Roy Saralis, said: “I have always been impressed with buildings designed by Cadw. Any work I have seen produced by Cadw has been exceptional.”
The visitor centre will have a reception area, café and toilets on the ground floor, and staff facilities on the second. In addition to seating and play areas outside.
The planning report, which was presented to the committee, states: “The position and height of the proposed building has also been carefully considered so that it is concealed by the castle wall when viewed from Castle Street.”
However, it will be visible from Dafydd Williams Gardens.
Cllr Pritchard, Cabinet Member for Prosperity, Regeneration and Climate Change, said the new visitor centre is designed to achieve a “green excellent rating” via the Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method (BREEAM).
He added: “In light of the carbon reduction declaration, I do think it’s important to achieve a building as close to net zero as possible.”
Other parts of the development include the current visitor centre, which will remain as a shop and ticket office, with some internal alterations.
The Great Hall is subject to minor refurbishments including underfloor heating, but most of the refurbishment work will be done on Earl’s Apartment.
Earl’s Apartment is the name for the ruins near the Great Hall.
Changes to the Great Hall and Earl’s Apartment will allow for a marquee and pop-up bar to be erected when events are held at the castle.
Visitor access is also set to be improved, with decking, handrails, ramps and bridges proposed throughout the grounds, as well new benches and signs.
Plaid Cymru councillor Fussell, said: “It’s great that this is now going to come through.”
He added: “A new development in the 21st century is about time.”
Before work begins, the development will need to have Scheduled Monument Consent, which will be approved by Cadw, who is also the applicant.
Greg Ead, Plaid Cymru councillor for Penyrheol, questioned whether this was a conflict of interest as Cadw would be deciding whether to grant the SMC for its own proposal.
Robert Tranter, head of legal services at the council, said it is not unusual for public bodies to self-regulate.
Despite councillors’ concerns over the design of the visitor centre, the plans were unanimously approved.
It is unclear whether the castle will remain open during the construction work.
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