Penarth developer and Blues coach business partner's 'community hub' vision for derelict church
WHILE the Vale Council is set to consult local residents on the future of the derelict St Paul's Church on Arcot Street, a local property developer and his business partner, Cardiff Blues coach Xavier Rush, have spoken of their desire to develop the site into a 'community hub'.
Simon Baston, who owns XB Properties with the former New Zealand All Black, believes their Avon House-based company could provide Penarth and the St Augustine's ward - currently without a community facility - with a multi-purpose community centre, and 'live-work units' suitable for young entrepreneurs in the area.
Mr Baston said XB Properties, which is currently renovating Albert Road Methodist Church, could help ensure 'long-term sustainability for the residents, clubs and societies of Penarth' and protect the architectural heritage of the dilapidated Arcot Road site.
But the Vale Council says it will not be discussing any development proposals for the site at the moment, as it has just been agreed by the Cabinet to hold a ward-wide consultation to find out what residents would like to see.
Despite that, Mr Baston says that if given the go ahead, XB Properties could deliver a complete renovation within 10 months of receipt of planning permission.
"XB Properties want to work in conjunction with the community of Penarth to provide an all inclusive social hub, retain the magnificent building and provide the maintenance/insurance of a community hall for five years, allowing the community project to accumulate momentum and sufficient funds to preserve the long-term viability of this landmark building," he said.
The plan proposes a 170 square metre multi-purpose hall, accommodating 50 to 60 people, an external play area, sustainable garden, male/female changing rooms, meeting room, and rear kitchen, with nine separate and 'affordable' live/work units at the front of the building.
Mr Baston, who oversaw the renovation and remodeling of flats above the Windsor Arcade prior to XB Properties, added: "Our vision is to create an innovative, vibrant and sustainable future for one of Penarth's most important buildings.
"Xavier lives in the St Augustine ward with his young family and it is his ambition to give something back to south Wales, and Penarth specifically.
"We believe the only way this building of fantastic architectural merit is going to survive is in co-operation with a private company that is prepared to manage the risk and deliver the project."
But Cllr Lis Burnett, Cabinet member for regeneration, innovation, planning and transportation, and ward member for St Augustine's ward, said the local authority would not be in discussion with potential developers ahead of the conclusion of the consultation.
She said: "A Penarth businessman has contacted the council and local councillors at their surgery to make them aware of his thoughts. However as the building is subject to public consultation on its future use as a community facility, we have not, and will not, be taking the conversation further."
The previous Conservative-led administration had promised the building to Penarth ABC, which had been based there for more than 35 years until they were forced to leave on health and safety grounds last year, and Penarth Gymnastics Club, which left its base at the Pier Pavilion to enable the redevelopment there to begin.
But the new Labour-led council says public consultation is now the way forward.
"The introduction of a public consultation on the future use of St Paul's Church is a positive move in my opinion," added Cllr Burnett.
"We will be working with Penarth Town Council to ensure that local people are fully informed, and I am pleased that the local community will at last get a say in the future of the building."
St Augustine resident Alan Guppy said that ideally the £800,000 designated for the church by Crest Nicholson as pat of its Penarth Heights Section 106 agreement would be spent by the council to make the building habitable again.
"But short of that, if the only way to get a community facility is through a partnership with a private company, then so be it," said the Plassey Square resident.
Mr Guppy, a former chair of the Alexandra Ward Residents Association, also said he felt the significance of the consultation - which will start as soon as possible according to cabinet members, and conclude around Christmas - would depend on what questions it asked.
"If it's negatively slanted and focuses on the congestion and traffic that two big clubs would bring to the streets around the church, then they are only going to get one sort of response," he said.
"It has to be objective, and ask questions which are fair.
"But it also seems to be a little bit like any excuse and delay not to do the actual work necessary. Before long the building will be un-repairable, and then it will be too late."