Following further details being revealed over the weekend on the People’s Market partial change of use to an Arts Hub we asked local Assembly Member candidates their views on the proposals.
The details revealed the ongoing predicted losses in the business plan for the hub, along with gaps in information in the documentation being presented to Councillors on Wednesday.
We asked each of the currently declared candidates (that we are aware of) if they support the proposals as they stand, and if not what changes are required to make them acceptable. With the report and a previous scrutiny meeting mentioning possible impacts on the town’s other two markets we enquired if they had any concerns. Finally, if the proposals are not executed Wrexham Council could have an unallocated or surplus £1.5m, so we asked where they believe such money should be spent.
Carrie Harper, the candidate for Plaid Cymru said: “The proposals by the council don’t address the needs of the market traders and the potential to develop the market for new start-up businesses and enterprises. Neither does it, from what I’ve seen, meet the cultural demands of the town because of the limitations of the building. Most importantly the council has not engaged with the public – there has to be public support for such a venture or it will become a white elephant.
“There has been historic under-investment by the council in the markets, which have huge potential to help rejuvenate the town centre. When I was a councillor, I worked with traders to try to improve matters but many council officers were – at best – uninterested in revamping the markets. The concern is that there is a deliberate decision to run down the markets because they’re seen as a problem. So, yes, I do have concerns about the long-term future of the markets if there’s not a better relationship with the council.
“I don’t think it’s a simple matter of spending this £1.5m as if it’s a ‘surplus’. The council continues to face cuts and closing Nant Silyn care home is just the latest loss of an important frontline service. There are many services that need safeguarding but one thing I would earmark a modest amount of money for would be for Splash Magic. The leisure centre there is now run by the community and is providing a vital community service at virtually no cost to the council. The council could easily afford an additional £50,000 to ensure important maintenance work was carried out.”
Lesley Griffiths, current AM and candidate for Labour, commented: “It is vital for Wrexham’s town centre regeneration that innovative projects are created, however, as a significant proportion of the Arts Hub funding is reliant on receiving grant finance from the Arts Council Wales, Wrexham Council needs to assure itself all the necessary funding is in place and their business case is sound, before proceeding any further.
“After Wrexham Council received a considerably better than expected settlement from Welsh Government, it is important frontline services are protected.”
Conservative candidate Andrew Atkinson said in reply to our questions: “This is a very difficult decision that balances investment in the future of Wrexham with unanswered questions that could cause problems for the town if unaddressed. We face a choice of losing Arts Council funding if the Council do not go ahead with the project, but I worry that we do not have the financial certainty to press ahead.
“I have campaigned for and support cheaper car parking charges, and we only have to look at Eagles Meadow footfall increasing due to a cut in car parking charges, to know that an increase at the Arts Hub may have the opposite effect.
“The short fall in funding worries me, as it would with any project that is grant-driven. When projects are designed around grants it’s very hard to construct a business model that is self-sufficient when the grants have stopped or are reduced, or cut in the future.
“I want to see assurances that our other two markets will be protected if the more profitable market can no longer subsidise them. We are a market town and we must protect our markets and heritage. Our existing traders need to be included in the new hub, and a part of any new offering.
“It’s great that the Council have a bold plan to have a mixed offering in the town centre as well as retail, and the prospect of an Arts Hub and cultural offering is something I fully support. My concerns lie in the sustainability of this project and whether it will be the best use of precious tax- payer’s money if future income streams are not developed. I need these questions to be answered.”
Arts Council Wales Query
Locally we have spoken with several stakeholders who have expressed a view that the proposals are required to be passed otherwise the Arts Council Wales funding could be lost, and future funding requests could be affected.
A spokesperson for the Arts Council Wales responded to our query on this point stating: “We are currently assessing a Lottery application from Wrexham Council regarding the Arts Hub. As part of our usual assessment processes we will be looking at a range of factors relating to this application.
“These will include issues such as public benefit, the project construction costs, the quality of the architectural proposal and the long term viability of the project. It is difficult for us at this point in time to comment on any other funding bids that might be received at some stage in the future. Each funding application is assessed on an individual basis and considered according to our standard procedures.
“As far as the current application is concerned, the strength of the commitment of other funding partners, such Wrexham Council, will always be a very important aspect of the viability of a project’s long term viability. We are always keen to see that new projects are a success and can be sustained. So whether now, or in the future, the support shown by funding partners will be one of the key issues we look at when making investment decisions.”
The Arts Council told us they will be considering the Wrexham Arts Hub application at its February meeting, with local assessment on Wednesday in a Scrutiny meeting with Councillors.