On the Brink: Womanby Street, Cardiff.

Womanby Street in Cardiff is the home to many locations who offer live music in the city, but over the last month the historic street has been under threat. Dempsey’s has already faced closure and The Full Moon is currently in the process of refurbishment due to staff taking over. But there is another challenge facing Cardiff’s hub for live music.

Proposed plans by Weatherspoon’s to build a seven-storey commercial and residential property next to Clwb Ifor Bach, and plans to create a Weatherspoon’s hotel has been met with major criticism.  On the 29th of April, Save Womanby Street (SWS) campaigners joined politicians, musicians and owners to meet Cardiff’s local party leaders in a march to the City Hall.

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The aim of the campaigners is to get the Cardiff Council and the Welsh Government to change policies on planning to protect music venues against noise complaints. They also are looking to have the council amend the city’s Local Development Pan to ensure the street is regarded an area of cultural significance and a ‘night-time economy zone’.

It is a stance against the demise of one piece of Cardiff’s cultural heritage which has been backed by Jo Stevens (Cardiff Central MP), Neil McEvoy (Fairwater councillor and South Wales Central AM), Jenny Rathbone (Cardiff Central AM), Julie Morgan (Cardiff North AM) Kevin Brennan (Cardiff West MP), and Stephen Doughty (Cardiff South and Penarth MP).

According to Guto Brychan, who runs Clwb Ifor Bach, Weatherspoon’s plans to build a hotel on the street would lead to complains about noise levels.

“The problem we have more than anything I think is that having a place with flats right next door to Clwb is going to create a difficult situation which would not be easy to resolve”

“Noise does carry, we have a lot of elements within the building already which ensure that the noise doesn’t carry, but having flats right next door is totally different, it would be totally impossible.”

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The importance of this stance against the domination of a corporation and for the sustainability of a street which has been at the heart of Cardiff’s creative commonplace could not be emphasised more. It’s a massive disappointment seeing the possibility of the types of clubs that Womanby Street accommodates facing closure. There are so many young, up-and-coming, grassroots bands and artists with so much potential who need these kinds of venues to kick-start their careers.

Super Furry Animals, Coldplay, Killers, John Peel, Biffy Clyro, Euros Childs, Stereophonics and Catfish and the Bottlemen are just a few highly reputable bands and artists who have played at Clwb Ifor Bach over the years.

But this particular problem on this particular street may be a sign of problems that other cities are facing as well. A city’s ability to attract talent means that their ability to create new business, attract other companies, innovate and create new wealth and prosperity is boosted. Over the past decade, Cardiff has been one of the quickest growing cities in the UK. However, the fact that Womanby Street, such a historical and contemporary creative hub in Cardiff, is in jeopardy due to corporate investment shows the vulnerable position that creative pockets of cities can find themselves in.

With increasing concentrated ownership of venues and consumerist culture on an all-time high, and the arts and culture industry facing less EU funding post-Brexit, there is a real possibility that independent music venues will get more and more vulnerable.

Weatherspoon’s and the campaigners are still waiting to hear the results of the planning application. According to Cardiff Central, they recognise that live music is important to the city and that it’s important to ensure that Cardiff’s nightlife stays lively. But whatever the result, the battle will continue for the protection of these unique venues in this special location.

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