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The Cardiff property market - past and present

The Cardiff office of JLL celebrates 125 years of business in the city

This year, the Cardiff office of JLL celebrates 125 years of business in the city.  The firm was established as Powell & Powell in 1890, prior to its merger with JP Sturge in 1990, becoming King Sturge in 1992 and Jones Lang LaSalle in 2011.

Chris SuttonOne hundred and twenty five years ago, Cardiff achieved fame as the greatest coal exporting port in the world; the resultant growth in population and the substantial wealth invested allowed Cardiff to win city status.  The prosperity of the time is reflected in many of the enduring civic buildings, public spaces and impressive city centre commercial frontages.

Over the past thirty years, Cardiff has experienced a period of sustained economic prosperity not dissimilar to those heady post-Victorian days.  However, since 1890 much has changed in the way we live and work.  This is reflected in the modification and adaptation of the built environment and these changes have contributed to making Cardiff the city it is today.

Early 1900s

The Queen Alexandra Dock, the last of Cardiff’s five docks was completed and the general area known as Butetown grew into a truly cosmopolitan community.  The Coal Exchange, site of the first £1 million transaction, was refurbished in 1911 and the Cardiff Electric Tramways were officially opened.  Guest, Keen & Co. amalgamated with Nettlefolds Ltd to form Guest, Keen & Nettlefolds (GKN) and 1908 saw the opening of the JR Freeman cigar factory.  Other notable openings included the New Theatre and the population of Cardiff reached approximately 165,000. As is the case now, sporting events were popular and the residents of Cardiff were able to enjoy the opening football match at Ninian Park between Cardiff City and Aston Villa. 


The 1920s saw the opening to the public of the National Museum of Wales and the construction of the Capitol Theatre on Queen Street.  This was the largest purpose built cinema in Britain at the time with some 2,800 seats.  The Coal Exchange was acquired by the Great Western Railway bringing an end to the relationship between the Bute family and the docks which had lasted nearly 85 years.  Following the Great War, the city experienced a significant boom in the shipping industry, although this was to prove shortlived.


By 1932 the city was in the depths of depression and coal exports had fallen to below five million tonnes.  Cardiff Docks never really recovered and coal exports continued to decline until they eventually ceased in 1964.  On a more positive note, GKN transferred its rolling mills from Rogerstone to Cardiff and the decade saw the opening of Sully Hospital, the establishment of Cardiff Airport at Pengam Moors and the construction of the Town Hall and Law Courts at a cost of £276,000.


Unlike Swansea, Cardiff escaped largely unscathed from the Luftwaffe’s raids although notable casualties included Llandaff Cathedral, Dewi Sant Church and Cardiff Arms Park.  Trolley buses replaced the electric tramcars and the 5th Marquis of Bute presented Cardiff Castle and Sophia Gardens to the City of Cardiff. In the post war era, we saw the start of major inward investment into South Wales including the construction of over one million sq ft for British Nylon Spinners at Pontypool and the opening of the Hoover plant in Pentrebach, Merthyr Tydfil.


GKN established a new wire rod mill at Tremorfa, Sophia Gardens Pavillion was constructed as part of Cardiff’s contribution to the 1951 Festival of Britain and three years later Cardiff (Rhoose) airport opened.  The following year saw Cardiff made the Capital of Wales and in 1958 the Empire Pool was built for the British Empire & Commonwealth Games. 


Bute West Dock closed after almost 150 years of coal shipments but Cardiff was still very much a manufacturing city and a new wire nail manufacturing unit was added to GKN’s Tremorfa Works.

The expanding Welsh Office was established in Cathays Park and following the controversial sale of the site of the Old Friary ruins, 1967 saw the construction of the 262ft tall Pearl Assurance House (renamed in 1998 as Capital Tower), Cardiff’s first genuine high rise office building.  The BBC moved from Park Place to new studios in Llandaff and colour television was first received in Cardiff.


The start of the decade saw the opening of the University Hospital of Wales in the Heath and the National Sports Centre in Sophia Gardens at a cost of £670,000 – now refurbished and renamed the Welsh Institute of Sport.  Two year later, the Sherman Theatre opened its doors, while in the city centre Westgate Street Fire Station was cleared to make way for a multi storey car park, the pedestrianisation of Queen Street commenced and St David’s Hall on The Hayes was constructed. 

The City’s movement away from a manufacturing base towards a more service orientated economy was evidenced by the closure of East Moors Steelworks with the loss of 3,200 jobs.  This steelworks, alongside many redundant colliery sites in the Valleys were cleared away by the Welsh Development Agency, who became world leaders in brownfield regeneration.

At Pentwyn, Panasonic established its European TV Plant creating thousands of jobs in a difficult economic period.  In the City Centre the landmark office buildings Brunel House and BT’s Stadium House were constructed.


Heavy snowfall in January 1982 caused the collapse of the Sophia Gardens Pavillion roof leading to its eventual demolition.  On the sporting front, the decade saw the opening of Cardiff Arms Park, Wales National Ice Rink and Leckwith Athletics Stadium.  In the mid eighties Tarmac commenced redevelopment of the area around Bute East Dock and in 1987 the Cardiff Bay Development Corporation (CBDC) was set up to regenerate 2,700 acres in the Docklands.  Many years before the merger of King Sturge and JLL, the late Honor Chapman, an international director of Jones Lang Wootton, was personal adviser to Nicholas Edwards, then Welsh Secretary. Honor served as a board member of CBDC from its inception in April 1987 until 1994 and greatly influenced the strategy of marketing the Bay to inward investors.  To demonstrate the Council’s belief in the viability of a redeveloped waterfront County Hall was built on Atlantic Wharf at a cost of £28m. 

At the end of the decade the Castle Arcade (originally opened in 1849) was refurbished at a cost of £500,000 and the Queens West Shopping Centre and Queens Arcade were developed. 


The decade which saw the creation of the National Assembly for Wales started with the opening of the Bute Tunnel and Taff Viaduct, the construction of the NCM building, the Mermaid Quay development and the St David’s Hotel and Spa.  Cardiff’s first purpose built five star hotel looked out over Cardiff Bay following the completion of the Barrage – a mere 20 years later, we have to ask the question ‘could we deliver the Barrage now in terms of planning, overcoming environmental issues and funding?’

In the city centre, the International Arena was opened by the Queen and the Empire Pool and Cardiff Arms Park were demolished, making way for the Millennium Stadium which was completed just in time for the 1999 Rugby Union World Cup.  Office development continued apace to support the expanding call centre economy and Ocean Park and Wentloog emerged as the new location for commercial and industrial development.  The decade also evidenced the trend for inner city living, manifested in the conversion of redundant office buildings in the city centre and the explosion of apartment style units in Cardiff Bay.


In 2000, CBDC was wound up, being merged into the Welsh Development Agency which, itself, was brought into the civil service later in the decade. 

The Millennium Centre opened as a landmark in Cardiff Bay and work started on the International Sports Village, both of these marking a remarkable transformation of southern Cardiff.  In the city centre the St David’s Partnership announced plans for St David’s II, a 750,000 ft² predominantly retail led scheme which aims to reflect the history and culture of the city by mirroring the city’s Victorian arcades.  The extension to St David’s opened in 2008, in the middle of the credit crunch and worse financial crisis since the 1930s.  However, the scheme rapidly let to a range of national and international retailers including the first John Lewis store in Wales.

The Present Day

Since 1999, the big winner of devolution in Wales has, arguably, been Cardiff which has taken the opportunity to grow into a confident and vibrant Capital City.  The expansion of public services in Cardiff Bay has had a direct impact, whilst there has also been growth in both the creative industries and financial and professional services sectors. 
The electrification of the GWR mainline and the potential of the Metro links into the Valleys now provide an opportunity to spread prosperity across the wider City Region. 

The new Admiral headquarters, the proposed BBC Wales office scheme and continued development and investment within Central Cardiff Enterprise Zone are all factors which should combine with our Universities to enhance Cardiff’s reputation as an excellent city in which to both live and work – a status that will hopefully remain with the Capital for the next one hundred and twenty five years.