Decision anticipated on future of popular Cardiff park café

A DECISION is soon expected on the much anticipated future of a popular Cardiff park café.

Cardiff Council is set to approve the award of a contract for the running of The Secret Garden Cafe in Bute Park next week.

The award of the five year management agreement and lease is still subject to a legal process and the conclusion of a call in period, which runs until Monday, April 8.

It is the latest update in a long running saga which the council came under some fire for due to its handling of the tender process.

Cardiff Council’s head of economic development, Neil Hanratty, said at a scrutiny committee meeting last year that he regretted the anxiety the process of deciding the future of the cafe caused current tenant, Melissa Boothman, and her staff.

He also said the council was happy with the job being done by Ms Boothman and her team and encouraged her to bid when the management agreement went out to market.

Ms Boothman entered into lease renewal negotiations with Cardiff Council in summer, 2022, a year before the tenancy agreement was due to end.

The council sought legal advice at the beginning of 2023 on offers put forward by Ms Boothman.

It was also around this time that the council decided that a management agreement, or concession agreement, instead of a property lease agreement was the best way forward for The Secret Garden Cafe.

Ms Boothman’s representative was informed in February, 2023, that the offers she put forward would not be accepted.

Mr Hanratty apologised at last year’s scrutiny committee meeting for the period of time it took for the council to get to a point where it understood that a concession agreement was required.

The new management agreement and associated lease for The Secret Garden Cafe was published on Sell 2 Wales on December 22, 2023, with a deadline of January 24, 2024.

Tender specification documents for the cafe show that the council requires the new tenant to keep the name of the cafe as The Secret Garden Cafe.

They also state that the new tenant will be responsible for the maintenance of the public toilets within the cafe courtyard and that they are permitted to keep the premises closed for up to five days a year.

Liberal Democrat councillor, Cllr Rhys Taylor, criticised the council last year for taking too long to seek legal advice on the way forward for The Secret Garden Cafe and said its approach did not represent the best value for money.

Cllr Taylor called the councils proposal in for scrutiny to look at whether the process that was followed by the local authority was fair to the current tenant of the cafe.

At the special economy and culture scrutiny committee meeting held in August, 2023, he said: “This is about… whether or not the process has failed the tenant and whether or not the choice that has been made around the preferred route can be evidenced as the best way forward for both the business and for the council.”

Many Cardiff residents and Bute Park visitors were moved by the council’s decision to go out to tender for a new cafe operator, with one woman saying the premises under Ms Boothman played an important role in helping her integrate when she moved to Cardiff.

Residents and visitors have also noted the role The Secret Garden Cafe under Ms Boothman has played in the community over the years.

The café raised £5,000 to repair the park and replant trees.

During the Covid-19 pandemic, the business made 6,000 meals for the NHS and over the past five years it has raised just under £18,000 for different charities

Following a spate of vandalism, a murder and rape at Bute Park, which all took place between September and July, 2021, the cafe also organised the Reclaim Bute Park event as a show of solidarity.

The council’s decision to award a new management agreement and lease will come into force on Tuesday, April 9 if there are no call ins.

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