A few days ago I came across the story of The Roath Park, a former pub on City Road, Cardiff, which was closed and sold off last year by Brains Brewery due to an apparent lack of profitability.

Dating back to 1886, the historic building is the last Victorian-era pub in the area, and is currently the subject of a second application for demolition. Initial plans to tear down the pub and replace it with a block of “starter flats” were rejected last October, following public campaigning.

The story stayed with me for two reasons.

Firstly, because the developer behind these plans, Hydar Alkhafaji, is already familiar to me. Mr Alkhafaji is a prolific Cardiff landlord, operating Horizon Properties with his wife Victoria. The company deals largely in student accommodation of the kind that graduates will be familiar with – very large Victorian townhouses converted into Houses of Multiple Occupation.

Through voluntary work with my tenants’ union, Acorn Cardiff, I’ve had a few interactions with the husband and wife team, who between them own a not-insignificant proportion of the city’s housing.

Mostly though, reading about The Roath Park struck me because it felt like such an archetypical Cardiff tale. At this point when I read about a historic and/or particularly beloved local venue that has been targeted for destruction, the rest of the story writes itself in my head like the punchline of a lame dad joke: public outcry, a heavily-signed petition, and the inevitable flattening or gutting of the place will follow, as sure as a dentist’s favourite time of day is tooth-hurty.

We’ve lost an astonishing number of Cardiff’s best-loved institutions over recent years, most of them gig venues that lent the city its now-fading reputation for live music and comedy.

Since the closure of Barfly in 2010, which had hosted artists such as Scissor Sisters, the Black Keys and Interpol in its time, we’ve lost pub and Swn Festival venue Dempseys, the mural-covered Buffalo Bar, and the always fun (if pricey) multi-storey cocktail bar and music venue Ten Feet Tall.

Particularly painful (for me at least) was the loss of Guildford Crescent. This tiny terraced street was home to brightly-coloured Gwdihw, where friends of mine had performed stand-up and music, and in whose elaborate smoking shelter I’d had many a barely-coherent drunken chat.

Next door was the electric-blue, family-run Thai House restaurant, where I’d discovered the unbeatable deliciousness of Miang Kham – self-assembled leaf wraps of chilli, dried shrimp, coconut and a syrupy sauce. Despite a 20,000-strong petition and a well-attended march, the street is now a skeleton, with only the building facades still standing.

Plans discussed for the area in May this year proposed “landmark world class luxury hotels” with “first floor uses including mid-market and high-end restaurants, luxury bars and high-end retailers”, with the existing Motorpoint Arena to be demolished and turned into “grade A office space and residential space with exciting designs”.

As a Cardiffian, when I read this I ask myself – who is this for?

Save for the odd affluent patch scattered here and there, I wouldn’t consider Cardiff a particularly wealthy city. I and many other Cardiff residents I know moved to the city from Rhondda Cynon Taff for work - mostly low-paying admin jobs. Others are students working part-time in hospitality, or are from the working class BAME communities of Butetown (who recently lost their own battle – this time to have a planned apartment building in the area incorporate the Paddlesteamer Café, which had been a central meeting spot for local Yemeni and Somali people for years).

I don’t think many people actually living here are crying out for luxury hotels and high-end retailers, is my point – particularly given the deepening financial hardship that the Covid-19 pandemic has brought with it.


That’s not to say the city is or was perfect, or that it doesn’t need regeneration – it absolutely does. The Roath Park, for instance, is currently sitting empty, and the site of yet another Cardiff planning row, Britannia Park (shout out to the Museum of Military Medicine that nobody wants!), could do with some TLC. The area around Guildford Crescent, even, is fairly ugly.

But redevelopment plans in the city are overwhelmingly made without true community input and mostly take the form of a bitter conflict, with residents on one side and the council and private developers on the other, and any compromises or concessions made begrudgingly.

New parks, allotments, swimming pools, cultural venues or spaces for independent and co-operative businesses and community facilities are almost never among proposals; as a result we have an increasingly nondescript, concrete-and-glass city centre, populated by chain-restaurants, call centres and identikit flat blocks that residents can scarcely afford.

It’s as though somebody’s decided that our capital must be reshaped in the image of the worst and least interesting parts of London, and the trivial matter of its inhabitants – what they want, and what they can contribute - is immaterial.

Speaking on the Guildford Crescent controversy in 2019, the Welsh Labour cabinet member for investment and development, Russell Goodway, was unphased: “All major developments in Cardiff over the past 25 years have been secured through public-private partnership and I am pleased that once again the private sector has engaged proactively to help deliver this exciting new vision.”

Judging from the array of plans I’ve seen, that vision – of a city entirely inhabited by management consultants, discussing Bitcoin over a £7 craft ale - is far from exciting.