Future plans for the Norwegian Church

Important Update for WNS members & friends:

Notes on Cardiff Council’s decision (Nov 2018) and where the Welsh Norwegian Society fits in:

We hope this short report will keep all members informed about the latest news concerning the Norwegian Church. We will circulate more information closer to the date of the Extraordinary General Meeting (24th February).

In the meantime, please get in touch if you have any questions or can offer help with this issue.

WNS Committee contact@welshnorwegian.org

 

1. Cardiff Council: Future plans for the Norwegian Church

What we know:

In mid November 2018, the Cabinet of Cardiff Council agreed a proposal to seek a commercial tenant for the Norwegian Church, “subject to any issues relating to its current Trust status being appropriately resolved”.

It is part of a wider plan to find commercial solutions for heritage buildings in Cardiff including Cardiff Castle and the Norwegian Church. A BBC article stated there was ‘significant commercial interest’ in the Norwegian Church: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-46125578

In December, a manager of the Tourism, Culture and Events section of the council (which includes the Norwegian Church) referred to the plans for a commercial tenant as ‘press speculation’.

Nonetheless, the Cabinet’s decision is definite – it is in the public domain and is online here:  http://cardiff.moderngov.co.uk/documents/g3541/Decisions%2015th-Nov-2018%2014.00%20Cabinet.pdf?T=2                                          [page 13 & 14 of the document]

What we don’t know:

·         We don’t know any details of what the council mean by a commercial tenant for the Norwegian Church. An officer in the council’s Property division has confirmed it will be for the whole building (so it doesn’t sound like just a new cafe franchise).

·         We also don’t know what they mean by “subject to issues relating to its current Trust status being appropriately resolved”.  Could it mean that the council hope to change the charitable objectives or wind up the trust, thus leaving them free to take a more commercial approach to the running of the Norwegian Church?

·         If the Norwegian Church were to have a commercial tenant, what does this mean for the current public uses of the building as a visitor attraction, etc, and also for the Welsh Norwegian Society?

 

2. The Charity Issues:

As many WNS members know, Cardiff Council became the sole corporate trustee of The Norwegian Church Preservation Trust in 2006. Although it is under the wing of Cardiff Council, it is still a charitable trust, and is subject to all the usual charity regulations and also the particular charitable objectives stated in the original deeds (essentially to preserve the building and maintain it as a leisure and amenity facility for the public).

When the Trustees were considering the handover to the Council in 2006, the Charity Commission wrote to remind them that “the property is impressed with charitable trusts and cannot simply be absorbed into the corporate property of the Council”. There was also a reminder about particular clauses of the original declaration of the trust, 1987, should the Trustees seek to wind up the Trust. (These documents are in the late Ewart Parkinson’s papers at Glamorgan Archives. Ewart was Chairman and later President of the Trust until the handover in 2006). (See Background Note 1)

 

3. Questions for the Welsh Norwegian Society:

Given WNS’s long history of connections to the Norwegian Church and our special status*, does WNS wish to act as a guardian of the Norwegian Church as we know it, and aim to protect it from the possible implications of a commercial tenancy? Do we also wish to protect our longstanding free use of the building for our WNS meetings?

We will formally ask members for their views at the Extraordinary General Meeting on Sunday 24th February.

WNS is in the unique position of having greater awareness and understanding of the issues than the majority of the public who use and support the Norwegian Church. It is likely that most people are unaware of the Cabinet’s decision. The Trust status and the associated charity issues are probably not widely understood.

 

First Steps

The WNS committee has decided to join Cardiff Third Sector Council as a member organisation. We have already asked C3SC for advice about the issues surrounding the Norwegian Church Preservation Trust.

We will also write to Cardiff Council and diplomatically ask for more detailed information about the council’s plans for the Norwegian Church. We will ask to be consulted on the future plans, and ask again for the Norwegian Church Advisory Committee to be reinstated, with WNS as a member.

*See Background Notes 2 & 3 at the end of this report

 

4. Purchase of the land – Britannia Park:

The Cabinet meeting in November also agreed that Cardiff Council will purchase Britannia Park from Associated British Ports (ABP). Cardiff Council will then become the ground landlord for the Norwegian Church, as well as the corporate trustee of the Norwegian Church Preservation Trust. This would seem to be a good thing, at least from the point of view that it removes the worry that the Norwegian Church’s ground lease from ABP was due to expire in a few years.

Cardiff Council does want to develop the land surrounding the Norwegian Church but, it seems, on a less extreme scale than the Dolffin Quay proposals put forward by ABP in 2017. The Council will of course be fully aware of the level of public opposition to the Dolffin Quay scheme.

Restaurant and leisure quarter plan for Bay area: https://www.walesonline.co.uk/news/wales-news/new-leisure-quarter-restaurant-horizon-15394395

People involved in the Dolffin Quay campaign are naturally keeping their ears to the ground for news of future developments on Britannia Park, surrounding the Norwegian Church. Hopefully it will be development of a more appropriate, human scale, while maintaining the parks as recreation spaces. We’ve heard talk that some development will be proposed along the waterfront strip running north from the Norwegian Church towards the Senedd (the grass area with trees). The WNS Committee will ask to be involved in pre-planning consultations about this development.

 

 

Background Notes for newer members & friends

Background Note 1:

Short history of the Norwegian Church Preservation Trust:

The Norwegian Church Preservation Trust was formed in 1987 to preserve the then derelict Norwegian Seamen’s Church. Charitable donations were raised from Hordaland Fylkeskommune (£90,000) and Cardiff Bay Development Corporation (£50,000), and numerous other organisations. The Trust eventually secured a prime waterfront location for the reconstruction of the Norwegian Church at the heart of the Cardiff Bay development (the Norwegian Church was officially reopened in 1992). It was an independent charitable trust from 1987 to 2006.

In 2005, the Trustees approached Cardiff Council to ask if they were interested in becoming sole corporate trustee of the charity. The long-serving Trustees had various reasons for wanting to step down, including family and personal circumstances. They initially tried to find individual new trustees but did not find enough interested people. The transfer was agreed and took place in May 2006. Cardiff Council has been the sole trustee of the Trust since then.

 

Background Note 2:

Welsh Norwegian Society: Longstanding connections to the Norwegian Church:

After the reconstructed Norwegian Church had reopened in 1992 (as a visitor attraction and arts centre), the Welsh Norwegian Society was formed to maintain the community of people with connections to the old Norwegian Church and its congregation, and also to encourage cultural links with Norway, etc.

Several key people with connections to the old Norwegian Church were founder members of WNS and have been long-serving pillars of the Welsh Norwegian Society, and also the former Norwegian Community coffee afternoons.

Also, there was always a strong representation of WNS members who served on the Management Committee of the Norwegian Church itself - the management committee was appointed by the Trustees to oversee the day to day running of the building. Over the years, WNS members have given countless hours of (unpaid) time towards cultural activities and the general running of the Norwegian Church.

 

Background Note 3:

Welsh Norwegian Society’s special status in relation to the Norwegian Church:

Importantly, WNS is the only group to have always been granted free use of the Norwegian Church Arts Centre, due to its special status as a continuation of the old congregation and a promoter of ongoing cultural links with Norway*.

When the original Trustees of the Norwegian Church Preservation Trust handed over to the Council in 2006, they asked for this recognition of WNS to be continued. It was agreed that an Advisory Committee would be formed by Cardiff Council to guide the management of the Norwegian Church, with representation from WNS, Hordaland, ABP (landowner), etc.

This was formally recorded in Cardiff Council’s Executive meeting of April 2006.

In reality, the Advisory Committee sadly petered out.
WNS and Hordaland have raised this with the Council many times, asking for the Advisory Committee to be reinstated, but the council have effectively batted away the questions.

*The former Norwegian Community coffee afternoons were also given free use of the Norwegian Church, but sadly this group ceased to exist around 2012 when their use of the building became more restricted. Thankfully, the WNS coffee afternoons are a happy revival of this tradition.