The announcement that Wales Comic Con will ‘takeover Telford’ this winter has opened up a wider debate about local infrastructure and if or how Wrexham can cater to big events.
Wales Comic Con, which was created and led by a Wrexham entrepreneur, has taken place on the Wrexham Glyndwr University campus for the past 11 years.
Starting its life in just the sports hall on the campus once a year, the entirely self started event now takes place biannually and attracts attracts thousands of people from across the world to the town each year.
Last month saw the event’s biggest offering to date, with the likes of David Tennant, Rupert Grint, Kiefer Sutherland and Billie Piper drawing in enormous crowds.
It is also estimated to pump £1 million a year into the local economy with hotels booking up months in advance, along with visitors using local restaurants, transport and the town.
But after issues with the venue, criticism from some attendees, along with weather and parking causing some problems during April’s event, this week it was announced that the “traditional Welsh stomping ground has become a little cosy” and that Wales Comic Con would be “taking over Telford” for its event in December.
The statement continued added: “You’ve asked for a new and bigger venue (preferably one out of the rain), and we’re thrilled to finally be able to deliver as we head to the Telford International Centre for our winter event. Please note that this will replace the normal winter Wales Comic Con, but not to worry! We’ll be working with the same awesome team, so you can still expect everything that you’ve come to love about WCC, but bigger, better and more indoors than ever!
“So it’s hwyl fawr for now, Wales (we’ll see you soon!) and here we come, Telford!”
Following the announcement that the December event would not be taking place in December, Wrexham.com have been told that pre-booked rooms in local hotels and B&Bs were cancelled almost immediately, with Telford seeing hotels booked up within hours of the announcement. One local hotelier who had such room cancellations told us the event move will cost their business thousands of pounds over the weekend in December alone.
The announcement has now led to a wider discussion over the capability of infrastructure across Wrexham and the wider North Wales region – with questions over how such large events can not only be retained, but also attracted to the area.
Despite questions and pressure from some social media users and politicians over the move to Telford while retaining the Wales Comic Con brand, organisers have said that alternative venues in Wrexham and North Wales did not have the capacity for the numbers the event attracts and were considered.
The most recent event in April was almost the perfect storm in showing how the event has outgrown its venue – with the added traffic pressures of a Wrexham home game at the Racecourse (we are told the fixtures came out after the booking) and lack of parking in the immediate vicinity meant there were parking issues in residential streets.
‘Storm Hannah’ also caused problems for those attending on the Saturday, with strong gusts and heavy rain putting a dampener on the day and also drawing criticism for long queues outside and a lack of shelter and the marquee leaking in areas.
Unusually for an event that attracts so many people to the town twice a year, there seemed to be very little awareness that the event was outgrowing its venue from politicians and councillors locally, with many we have spoken too saying they were even unaware of the scale of the event on their doorstep.
Plaid Cymru Councillor Carrie Harper, branded the news a “disgrace” and called for more investment in North Wales.
“This is more than disappointing – it’s a disgrace,” said Cllr Harper.
“The Welsh Government and Wrexham Council should reflect on this failure. Where is the ambition to make Wrexham the capital of north Wales? Where is the vision to build on these sort of unique events?
“Contrast this with the support given by the Welsh Government for a project in Newport.
“The International Convention Centre near the Celtic Manor is 50:50 partnership with the Welsh Government, which pumped £42m into the build. On top of that it has provided £2m in grants and loans to improve a nearby hotel. Show me a similar investment by the Welsh Government in the capital of the North.”
Following the announcement, Wrexham.com contacted local Assembly Member Lesley Griffiths to ask if there will be more communication locally to ensure that Wrexham retains big events and encourages more to the area.
We also asked if there would be similar discussions over how local roads and infrastructure can be improved.
Lesley Griffiths AM told us that whilst positive developments have and are taking place locally, it’s clear more can be done.
“Wales Comic Con moving to Telford is undoubtedly a great loss for Wrexham,” said Ms Griffiths.
“The event has rapidly grown in stature over the years so I, like many local residents, was very surprised and disappointed when I heard the news.
“After only being made aware of the difficult situation at the end of last week, I hoped no final decision had been reached and made urgent representations to the Welsh Government to see what support is available.
“Despite the announcement, I expect officials will engage with the Wales Comic Con team moving forward.
“Now the decision has been confirmed, it raises larger issues concerning local infrastructure.
“In spite of the challenging financial climate, the Welsh Government has invested in significant local projects, such as the redoubling of the railway line between Rossett and Saltney.
“Extra funding has been outlined to develop a transport hub at Wrexham General Station and work is ongoing with local partners focused on regenerating the area of the town centred around the Mold Road.
“Whilst positive developments have and are taking place, it’s clear more can be done. Wrexham is an excellent location and I will work to ensure all options are explored and to secure additional opportunities for the area.
“One key lesson to be taken away from this saga is the importance of openness and engaging with others. It was ultimately too late for Wales Comic Con on this occasion but the Welsh Government has a proven track record of supporting Wrexham-based initiatives and events, from the proposed national football museum to FOCUS Wales.
“For Wrexham to thrive, its vital local representatives, organisations and institutions work together and support one another for the good of the town.
“I will continue to work closely with the Welsh Government and am hopeful Comic Con will return to Wales in future.”
Over the past few days there has been criticism from some levelled about Wrexham Council and why they hadn’t offered the same level of support to Wales Comic Con as they do for some events that take place in the town.
In previous years the local authority have provided free town centre parking for a series of events on Llwyn Isaf and in the town – something which has not been provided, or offered, for the event.
Wrexham.com posed a series of similar questions to Wrexham Council over infrastructure and why similar incentives had never been offered in terms of parking.
Cllr Terry Evans, Lead Member for Economic Development and Regeneration, told Wrexham.com that the council had been approaches over the years with support to the comic con team, and would be willing to engage to ensure that a solution can be found.
Cllr Evans said: “Representatives from Wrexham Council’s events team made approaches over the years to Comic Con to offer support, and a recent event saw the council support the convention with the provisions of volunteer staff, though this offer was declined the following year.
“The event also won Best Large Event at Wrexham’s 2017 Tourism Awards.
“Organisers from Comic Con were also invited to take part in Safety Advisory Group meetings, which are held in order to address issues such as access and parking – however, no representation from the event was forthcoming.
“Comic Con going to Telford is undoubtedly a loss for the area’s events calendar, and we recognise their success and the impact they have on the tourist trade here in Wrexham.
“We are more than willing to engage with the organisation to ensure that a solution can be found for future events, and for the good of the local tourism economy.
“While the event’s success may have seen it outgrow its native venue, we would be happy to work with them on possible solutions or other sites for the future, should they envision future events in the area.
“Plans are underway for infrastructure improvements which will increase provision and capacity for similar large events in Wrexham in future, including the redevelopment of the Mold Road Gateway – further details will be announced in the near future.
“We have an active and varied events programme throughout the year, including three large events over the Christmas period during December.”
We have contacted the organisers of Wales Comic Con and will publish their response.
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