Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Our Iconic Senedd

It cost about £70 million, over 500% more than estimated when the decision to build it was taken. So its no surprise that the National Assembly's Audit Committee has 'found' that the cost of the Senedd, the new (ish) home of Welsh democracy was expensive. But they like it. Must admit that I didn't believe the original figure. I recall being accused of 'scaremongering' when I used a speech to predict that the cost would rise to over £30 million - after having discussed the design with a builder of such large projects. Most people seem to have forgotten that the entire Labour Cabinet at the time also believed that the new building was going to be too expensive, stopped all construction work, and tried to force an utterly ridiculous alternative onto us. Now that was stupid. I was the leading opponent of the decision of Assembly Members to spend so much money on themselves as its first major spending decision, but even I thought the Lord Rogers design was better value than the idiotic plan that Rhodri Morgan's Cabinet all voted in favour of. Thankfully, almost no-one supported the First Minister on his proposals and the entire Cabinet looked like a row of isolated lemons as the vote was taken. In the end, the completion work was done within a fixed-price contract, so its no surprise that it came in within that budget.

Its a stunning building. In my opinion far ahead of the Scottish Parliament in design terms. I love its connection with the water. Only concern I have is that it could look too squat if tall buildings are built too near to it. I've had a bit of trouble explaining how I can be so excited about a beautiful new building, the conception and birth of which I sought to prevent. I've always compared it to that much loved painting that hangs on the sitting room wall. Just because we had to stretch the budget to buy it, and go without essentials for a while, doesn't stop it being a much loved masterpiece.

The only sensible approach for anyone who wants the best for Wales to take, is to want the Senedd to be seen as an iconic building across the world, to be proud of its curves, its femininity and its openness. Its definitely female, so she's not perfect. Its no surprise that sometimes she has occasional little tantrums than need attending to.

One issue that did concern me when I was an Assembly Member was the danger of losing contact with the public who visit the Senedd. Its easily possible for the politicians to conduct all of their business without meeting the public at all - not so in the old Milling Area. There is no need for AMs to venture out of the parts of the building not accessible to the public. I always used to make a point of taking coffee at least once a day in the public cafe area. Ths Senedd is a beautiful building, but it will always be more interesting to the public if they can mix with the people sent there to represent them. Jersey Zoo is also a beautiful place, but visitors like to see the animals as well.

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