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St David’s Hall could stay closed for up to 18 months

St David's Hall. Credit: Kiran Ridley

A report into ‘potentially dangerous’ concrete panels in Cardiff’s St David’s Hall recommends that the building’s roof needs to be completely replaced.

The report was commissioned by Cardiff Council following changes to Health and Safety Executive (HSE) advice on Reinforced Autoclaved Aerated Concrete RAAC in public buildings.

Over the past few months several buildings have closed across the UK due to concerns over RAAC – a building material which the HSE said was now past its intended lifespan and is liable to fail without warning.

RAAC experts have been at St David’s Hall for several weeks carrying out ‘intrusive’ tests on panels across the span of the building’s roof.

Their report noted that a significant number of the 900 plus panels in the roof are ‘red – critical’ and others ‘red – high risk’ meaning they could fail and collapse. Engineers recommend the venue stays closed either until emergency temporary mitigations are put in place, or the whole roof is replaced.

Temporary mitigation would take at least six months to install and is likely to cost several million pounds, but the entire roof would still have to be replaced at a cost of many more millions within a relatively short time.

This poses a serious question around the financial and practical merits of putting a temporary solution in place, given the medium-term need to replace the roof entirely in any case. It also raises concerns around insurance and liability which any temporary fix would have to satisfy. The Cabinet Report thus recommends fixing the roof in one go enabling the venue to reopen for the long-term when it is ready to welcome back concert goers.

St David’s Hall was in the process of being leased to the Academy Music Group (AMG) which is aware of the RAAC in the building and had committed to refurbishing the venue and dealing with the roof issues as part of the original lease agreement.

Cardiff Council’s Cabinet will now meet on Thursday, October 26, to decide next steps and whether it should still go ahead with plans to enter a new lease agreement with AMG which recognises issues raised by the engineer’s report.

Under the original lease agreement, AMG had planned to keep St David’s Hall open with only short closures whilst repairs were carried out, but the findings of this new report now point towards a complete closure to enable a new roof to be installed and a refurbishment of the venue to take place. This could take around 18 months to deliver.

The replacement of the St David’s Hall roof will be a complicated and costly exercise for the following reasons:

  • the city centre location in the Hayes;
  • the height of the roof/ceiling;
  • the building has recently been listed as having special architectural and historical interest;
  • the requirement to preserve the acoustic quality of the venue;
  • the likely requirements for planning permission.

Despite the confirmation of the RAAC plank risk, AMG has confirmed that they remain committed to investing in St David’s Hall and still wish to proceed with the proposed transaction previously agreed by Cabinet in the July 2023.

However, considering recent developments, AMG has asked the Council to consider the lease being conditional for a period to enable them to work towards identifying a viable solution and to secure planning permission and listed building consent for the required works to the roof and other parts of the building.

Entering a conditional lease will provide AMG with the assurance it requires to spend money up front to undertake detailed design works and to submit applications for planning permission and listed building consent. Once these are achieved, the lease would become unconditional in advance of AMG undertaking the works. The costs of undertaking the design works will be at AMG’s risk.

AMG is targeting a reopening well in advance of the next BBC Cardiff Singer of the World competition in July 2025.

All other conditions of the lease, including protecting the classical calendar when the venue reopens, would be adhered to.

The vulnerabilities of RAAC, which has a lifespan of about 30 years, have been known since the 1990s. It was a material used in construction during the 1960s to 1990s, however, it wasn’t until 2020 that local authorities in Wales were made aware of the potential issue with it.

A Cardiff Council spokesperson said: “A building management and health and safety strategy has been implemented at the venue for the past 18 months. This included regular inspections by independent structural engineers with specific RAAC expertise.

“Throughout this time no issues were raised about the condition of RAAC in the building and there was no evidence of deterioration. However, following a change to HSE advice RAAC experts were brought in to carry out an ‘intrusive’ survey. This has resulted in a recommendation to Cabinet to keep the venue closed until the roof is replaced by AMG. Cardiff Council has cancelled all upcoming concerts and events at the Hall until the New Year. Following Cabinet’s decision on next steps we will release more information on what will happen to concert dates after the New Year.

“We know this will cause a lot of inconvenience and disappointment for our customers, but we hope they will understand that the safety of audiences, staff, artists, volunteers, and everyone at the venue is paramount.

“We will be in contact with promoters and hirers to discuss the potential for moving performances to other venues. There is no need for customers to contact St David’s Hall, we will be in touch with all ticket holders about options available to you once we have spoken with each affected show’s promoter. We would be grateful if customers could give us the space to undertake this work so that we can come back to you as quickly as possible about your ticket purchase/cancelled event.

“The council has been consistently clear on the need for investment into St David’s Hall to secure its long-term future, addressing the RAAC and other maintenance issues, all of which was confirmed in a cabinet report last year.

“Work is continuing to progress the transfer of the hall to (AMG). Ahead of taking over the operation of St David’s Hall, AMG had already undertaken its own inspections and while it did have plans to undertake remedial work and to keep the venue open, the latest report into the condition of RAAC in the building indicates clearly it would be better to keep the venue closed until it is completely refurbished, and a new roof has been installed.

“Once again, we apologise to customers of St David’s Hall for the late cancellation of shows, and we want to reassure you that we will be in touch to discuss rescheduling of performances and/or alternatives. Please follow the St David’s Hall website’s news section, for updates. Thank you for your understanding and patience.

“We continue to work to progress the transfer of the hall to Academy Music Group (AMG). We are keeping them appraised of the actions we are taking, and we are in constant dialogue with staff at St David’s Hall to keep them updated too.

Council’s Economy and Culture Scrutiny Committee will take the report this Tuesday at its 5.15pm meeting, on October 24.