WREXHAM Council is continuing to back the Brymbo heritage project and visitor attraction, but the project faces a potential £1.7m funding shortfall.
Last week it was announced that site owner Brymbo Developments Ltd (BDL) and community regeneration charity, Brymbo Heritage Trust (BHT), had signed an agreement to a 25-year lease for 65-acres to operate and deliver restoration works and projects preserving and celebrating Brymbo’s industrial past.
It will help conserve a 300-million-year-old fossil forest and provide an area for community events, activities, and all-age learning.
The lease is seen as a step towards gaining £10m of investment, the majority of which is awarded by The National Lottery Heritage Fund, and The National Lottery Community Fund, alongside a co-funding package from various government agencies, local government, and national charitable trusts.
An appeal for support from the trust was considered at Wrexham Council’s executive board meeting for the project, with a request for assistance with cashflow subject to discussion at a future executive board meeting.
This month the executive board agreed to ongoing involvement in the project, including nominating councillors to sit on a co-op group, and as a trustee on the board.
But while councillors are supportive of the project, believing it has the potential to one day become a World Heritage Site, concerns have been raised about whether all the necessary funding is in place.
Executive board member, Bryn Cefn Cllr Beverley Parry-Jones (Con) said: “I have got a few concerns about this project.
“It’s rumbled on since the late 1990’s and from what I’ve seen to date there has been no action.
“I feel that the calibre of the existing trustees is weak, they don’t seem to have an awful lot of direction and I look at projects that have been delivered further afield i.e the Lowry in Manchester, and for this project I really feel that is the calibre of person we need to lead it.”
Cllr Parry-Jones also raised the issue of potential future requests for funding.
She added: “This project I would love to see succeed. It has all the possibilities of being a World Heritage Site. We are a city and I do feel this needs to be handled and managed carefully and sensitively.”
Council leader, Esclusham Cllr Mark Pritchard (Ind) took a contrary view on the calibre of trustees, responding: “Everybody’s entitled to their own opinions and you’ve spoken what you feel as an individual.
“I disagree with that but we’re all entitled to our opinions.”
Rebeccah Lowry, the council’s regeneration manager said rising prices in the building trade had affected the project costs.
She said: “In terms of the shortfall there is an anticipated figure that ranges between £1.7m and £2.2m and the reason is that there are still some fluctuations being experienced in the building trade.
“The deficit is for the heritage trust to source from external funding.”
Brymbo Cllr Paul Rogers (Ind) said: “It does come as some concern that there is a shortfall and that has just come to light.
“I’m sure the community will be equally as concerned that there is still a shortfall when promises are being made that this project is imminent and will start within the next 12 months hopefully.
“I have long advocated for more community involvement and Wrexham Council in this project and this report goes some way to addressing those concerns.”
Cllr Rogers asked for assurances that when the trust does approach the council for support that there is scrutiny of expenditure and value for money.
The council’s chief executive Ian Bancroft said extra assurances were being sought as part of the partnership that the business plan is on track.
He said: “It’s the beginning, we take very seriously as a council our role and this report is confirming those governance arrangements.
“It’s not been an easy project to get to this stage, partners are working much better together but the cooperative relationship is to make sure that remains the case through project delivery through to completion.
“We all want to make sure what is an important project in terms of its significance, the oldest fossil forest that exists, we want to make sure that is preserved for generations.”
Earlier in the meeting, lead member for the economy, Gwenfro Cllr Nigel Williams (Ind) was nominated for the trustee role and Cllr Paul Rogers was nominated as the co-op steering group member.