Friday, September 05, 2008

New projects ahead

My, did it rain this morning, and first call of the day was a site visit to do with the representative of British Geothermals, who'd driven down from Preston yesterday afternoon, to come and look at the possibilities of installing a geothermal borehole heating system at St John's. Martin our architect came as well, and all three of us got pretty wet circunavigating the permiter several times before we could finally sit down to a cup of tea.

It's going to be difficult, challenging, and, so far so good, not impossible. There are lots of technical issues connected with a daisy chain of twenty boreholes around the property, and we've get to see if the price range will fall without our expenditure possibilities. Executing the project will depend upon the good will of the City, the Diocesan Advisory Committee, the Representative Body of the Church in Wales, County Planning and CADW. But, as St John's is one of Cardiff's most important historic public buildings, with a marvellous living witness to its core purpose, it's going to be worth the effort, and won't inflate into a political football, either inside the church or outside (famous last words I think to myself as I write this). Given the unfolding complexity of the project, this one will last until my retirement, if not longer. It's going to take all the patience I have left with bureaucracy of all kinds.

After lunch I went over and talked with the city redevelopment project manager about what we are exploring, and received a considerate hearing. We'll need lots of goodwill to get a drilling rig in and out for a period, after all the work on poshing up the public realm has been completed. It couldn't be speeded up to fit in with work in progress, simply because we didn't know we'd have the possibility of money from the sale of St James to use on a new capital project until a couple of months ago. The next few months of feasibility studies and preparation to make plans and applications will need all the care I can muster.

During my visit to the city centre management office, I learned that the person responsible for bringing the Pennant sandstone from the quarry in Gwent will be in town next week. It looks as if the cost per slab will be affordable after all. We certainly need to get on and do it as soon as possible because the unsafe nature of the path to the south porch is a worry, especially in wet or frosty weather. We have a window of opportunity now while the slab laying is going on around the church exterior. In a month's time they'll be doing the path which crosses the churchyard from Queen's Arcade to the Market (aka 'dead man's alley'). How marvellous it would be if we could secure the permission to go ahead and hire the same team of masons to do the job while the 'alley' is closed for re-paving. For this we're in the thrall of the Diocesan Advisory Committee, who suggested Pennant to us a year ago, when we thought it too expensive. Let's hope they haven't forgotten. Foolishly, we resisted their advice for want of checking prices at the time - except that a year ago we didn't know there was a ready supply of this special local stone as close to us as the Wye Valley 30 miles away.

This evening I gathered together some of my photographs and a text I've devised for a leaflet I've been working on to promote the 'Castle Quarter' the area in front of the Castle from St John Street across to Westgate Street, embracing Church, Market, Howells department store and more than a hundred other retail outlets, restaurants caf├ęs and bars, as well as two fine Victorian arcades. A similar initiative by arcade retailers nearly ten years ago failed to flourish. Now that the Castle is re-launched and on the map as one of UK's top ten paid tourist destinations, and St John's is seeing tens of thousands of visitors annually, there's every reason to revisit this - except that nobody much seems to want to bother. So, St John's is taking the first steps supported by Keiran, Oner Signs owner and graphic designer who does signs and banners for us and works just down the street from the church. I've assembled the raw material and hopefuly he'll be able to turn out a visually acceptable draft leaflet which we can pass around in order to see which of the traders would be interested in having their details on it and contributing to printing expenses. What's good for city centre business will be good for the church. We want people to know that we care in a practical sort of way about encouraging visitors to come and spend time and money with us in our special historic Quarter locale.

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