The long-term future of the Senedd’s main offices hangs in the balance as the clock ticks down on the building’s lease, a report has revealed.
The finance committee has recommended looking into buying the freehold of Tŷ Hywel – the red-brick building behind the Senedd, which houses members’ offices, Senedd Commission staff and the Welsh Government.
Currently, the commission leases the 120,000 sq ft (11,148 sq m) property for around £2m a year but the lease is set to expire in 2032.
Tŷ Hywel, which opened in 1991, is reportedly owned by Broader Company Limited – a shadowy offshore company based in the tax haven of the British Virgin Islands.
According to a report at the time, the building was bought for £40.5m in 2014 by a family of private investors from Kuwait in the Middle East.
The Senedd Commission, which is responsible for the Cardiff Bay estate, has now instructed a global property firm, Avison Young, to advise on options for the future.
Agreed in 2007, the 25-year lease requires the commission to maintain Tŷ Hywel, which is linked to the Senedd by glass walkways, and replace end-of-life items such as boilers, doors and windows.
The cost of replacing the windows – which are more than 30 years old and in poor condition, with replacement parts unavailable – was estimated at £6m in 2020.
Call for clarity
The finance committee’s scrutiny report on the commission’s 2024/25 draft budget said: “The committee has previously made recommendations relating to the commission’s estate, including asking the commission to explore issues relating to the lease of the Tŷ Hywel building and its obligations in terms of replacing windows.
“We therefore call on the commission to provide further clarity on this …. It will be crucial for the commission to ensure members are informed and consulted on what will be a large multi-year project with a significant cost.”
In its draft budget, the commission provides an overview of the Cardiff Bay 2032 project: “This project will provide the commission with long-term, secure accommodation beyond the 2032 end of the Tŷ Hywel lease…. This project is in its very early stages and will evaluate a robust range of options as part of a full, three-stage business case process.”
The draft budget allocates £1.25m to the 2032 project in the next financial year and says: “The resources requested as part of this budget for the Cardiff Bay 2032 project represent provision for enabling progress to be made on any selected option which will need to be expedited given the Tŷ Hywel lease is ending in 2032.
“The picture will become clearer as the project progresses during the next 18 months and the business case is developed.”
The Senedd Commission is expected to respond to the finance committee report’s 11 recommendations on Wednesday, 8 November.