The Billybanks, Penarth

The Billybanks was a council housing estate in Penarth constructed in the 1960’s. After standing empty for years, the site was demolished and is now being redeveloped. The Billybanks has been described as the "heart and soul" of Penarth, and in its derelict years as a “monstrosity”.

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Aerial photo of Penarth marina

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Billy Banks 1

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The Billybanks - Prince Edward Block

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The Billybanks - Prince Charles Court

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The Billybanks - Chichester Road flats

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The Billybanks - Prince Charles Court

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Penarth Heights construction, June 2011

The Billybanks, Penarth

The Billybanks was a council housing estate in Penarth constructed in the late-1960’s to the high ‘Parker Morris’ standards of the time. With panoramic views over Cardiff Bay, the Billybanks estate had sixteen 2- and 4-storey blocks providing housing for around 600 people. Once described as the ‘heart and soul’ of Penarth, in its derelict years the site came to be seen as an eyesore and ‘monstrosity’ and in 1998 the decision was made to empty the flats. In more recent times, the redundant blocks of flats have been demolished and site is in the process of being redeveloped.

Building the Billybanks

The development of the Billybanks was undertaken by the Sir Percy Thomas and Son Partnership -the architects and consultants for Penarth Urban District Council in the early 1960s. By the mid-1960s, three sites had been identified for development on the hillside overlooking the Harbour: the first to be built on was a five-acre patch of land on Harbour View Road. The two others, located further down the hill were developed slightly later.

Harbour View Road

Building work on the Harbour View Road site began in May 1966 with the laying out of new roads. The housing blocks themselves were constructed from October of that year with a view to completion by April 1968. The estimated budget stood at nearly £700,000. In total there were sixteen blocks with 194 separate dwellings. This provided accommodation for between 550 and 600 people. Intended to be mostly four-storey terraces consisting of flats and some two-storey masionettes, the development provided for a variety of different sized families.

The housing blocks were arranged in four large, linear units at the top of the ridge. There were six similar blocks arranged at right angles down the sloping land to the south of Harbour View Road. Each of these came with a landscaped courtyard and were linked to car-ports leading to lower Chichester Road. The maisonettes and flats were reached by external stairs meaning that each unit had its own front door. Special provision was also made for elderly people with housing for sixteen residents in one-room flats. These were constructed in four separate two-storey blocks along the south side of Harbour View Road.

All of the buildings in this development were built to the Parker Morris standards of the 1960s with brick cross-walls, concrete floors between the flats, and standardised fittings.  They were heated by self-contained, circulated warm-air units. In the courtyard areas were groups of wash/drying-houses, play areas, small individual gardens, as well as ornamental landscape planting and pedestrianised areas. This is essentially what was built, being of grey brick construction, with concrete floors and concrete tiled pitched roofs. The living-rooms had railed balconies. The 6 blocks on sloping land were each built with 3 garages under the basements facing Chichester Road. A detached 4-storey block at the west end of Harbour View Road was of similar period and detail.

Prince Charles Court, Paget Road

Prince Charles Court on the north side of Paget Road, was completed in the early-1970s. Constructed in grey brick with concrete floors and tiled pitched roofs, built across sloping ground and had a terrace of four-storeys with two-storey maisonettes, accessed via a service area and main central south stairwell leading onto two access terraces along the north facade. The maisonettes had a kitchen and living-room with railed balcony to the living-room, and a stair to the bathroom and bedrooms. There were 32 units to the west and 21, larger in size, to the east. A similar four-storey range in-line adjoining the east end had access terraces on each floor for 43 smaller flats.

Royal Close

Royal Close consisted of three blocks of four-storey terraces and two-storey maisonettes. This part of Billybanks evokes several princes of Wales with housing blocks named Prince Edward, Prince Llywellyn and Prince Rhodry. It was completed in the early-1970s and there was also a detached community centre.

Although built to the high Parker Morris standards of the time, further economies were gained by standardised details and fitments, which enabled efficiencies in bulk buying. Savings gained from uniformity ensured that the council were able to afford to build the cheaper housing that had been outlined in the contract for the initial Harbour View Road development plan published in 1967. Having been successfully implemented in Royal Close, the standardised features and plan details were then replicated in the subsequent developments at Billybanks.

The Billy Banks was an inspiration to artists

Residents saw the Billybanks as a safe, vibrant, friendly community and the "heart and soul" of Penarth. Overlooking Cardiff Bay, the balconies of the flats had beautiful panoramic views, and there were places to congregate and for children to play. Gradually, however, the buildings became run down and uneconomic to upgrade to today’s standards. A decision to redevelop the site was taken in 1998 by the Vale of Glamorgan Council, and the homes were largely emptied by 2002. The people moving out were promised an opportunity to move back to the new development.

In its derelict years it wasdescribed as the ugliest estate in Wales and a “monstrosity”. Despite, or because of that,  it became an inspiration to artists, photographers, filmmakers and musicians, including the singer and guitarist John Lewis, whose CD, ‘The Billy Banks Sessions’ was recorded live in one of the remaining occupied flats in 2011; photographer Michael Napier  who won the Brian Ross Memorial Award in 2001 with his book “Billy Banks”, which incorporates residents’ own testimonies and photographs, and can be viewed on his website; and the artist Daniel Roberson who has depicted the estate in a series of realist oil paintings, currently on display at Aberystwyth School of Art post-graduate show. 

Demolition and the new Penarth Heights development

In May 2002 Vale of Glamorgan Council resolved that: “the Council approves the regeneration of the site by means of disposing of the land through the Controlled Whole Site Disposal option”. After a series of delays, it wasn’t until May 2007 that the council finally passed an application for the demolition of the estate.  Demolition of the Paget Road and Royal Close sites began in June 2010, and finally in 2011, after the last remaining occupants moved out, the Harbour View Road site was leveled.

In May 2007 the council passed an application for the demolition and construction of 377 residential units; of which 20% were to be ‘affordable’. The new development, known as Penarth Heights, is by Crest Nicholson, with Architects Edward Cullinan.Welsh boxing legend Joe Calzaghe opened the five-bedroom show home at Penarth Heights, in July 2011.

As part of the deal, money will be put into public art, education facilities, road improvements and other schemes local to the site. Projects include the restoration of St Paul’s Church, £800,000 towards community facilities, £1.5m towards education facilities, and similar amounts for infrastructure and sustainable transport.

A long-term resident, who moved to the Billybanks in 1981, said in an interview for the Penarth Times: ’It’s been hard to watch the estate deteriorate over the years, as a family, we have such special memories of the old place; there was a great community spirit. They were lovely flats and I just hope the new development is as good. It would be nice to think my grandson could afford to buy one of the new properties one day.’


Building survey by Geoff Ward, RCAHMW, 2010

Vale of Glamorgan Council minutes & appendices relating to Penarth Heights:,_agendas__reports/reports/cabinet/2009/9-07-29/penarth_heights.aspx:

John Lewis, musician:

Michael Napier, photographer:

Daniel Roberson, artist:

Penarth Times:

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