THE WELSH Heritage Minister Huw Lewis has refused to step in to save Port Talbot’s Customs House and Royal Buildings from demolition.
Campaigners had been hoping for a last minute reprieve for the historic buildings with the help of the Welsh government.
Bethan Jenkins AM reacted angrily to Huw Lewis’s refusal to intervene in the planned demolition.
The historic buildings, which could be pulled down by developers Coastal Housing to make way for a new social housing scheme in as little as three weeks, have been at the centre of a campaign to save them. The campaign has involved local people as well as Bethan Jenkins AM, Peter Black AM and Suzy Davies AM. In recent weeks, Aberavon MP Hywel Francis has also pledged his support for the campaign.
Bethan Jenkins has appealed on a number of occasions to the Welsh Government to grant protected status to the Talbot family-built buildings, but Welsh heritage agency Cadw has refused. Customs House was commissioned by Emily Talbot in 1897 to headquarter the Port Talbot Railway and dock company of which she was chief investor.
In the Assembly this afternoon, Bethan Jenkins read out correspondence from the Port Talbot writer Lynne Rees, which said that the history of Customs House is inextricably linked to the industrial history of South Wales.
The letter went on to say, “The sense of betrayal amongst the people of Port Talbot is palpable: a town that has lost so much of its heritage through ill-advised town planning in the past deserves to retain the little that remains. A community survives because of its history.”
After reading out the letter, Bethan Jenkins asked Huw Lewis, “Can I ask you one final time if there is anything you or your Cadw officials can do at this late hour to stop this demolition?”
Mr Lewis said that it was not possible for him to become involved.
In a statement this evening, Bethan Jenkins said: “Wales has lost many – too many – landmark buildings that remind us of our important industrial past. They continue to be neglected and demolished at a time when there is a growing interest in industrial tourism. But more than that, as Lynne says, these buildings are part of Port Talbot, and Port Talbot deserves better.”
“Campaigners have reached a point of sheer and utter frustration with this process,” she added. “I am now wondering – do we now have to lie in front of the bulldozers to have our point heard?
Ian Shakeshaft has been leading the Hands Off Our Heritage campaign.
“The Minister’s stance is completely contradictory,” he said. “He makes self-congratulatory statements in chamber about his personal dedication to the preservation of our industrial heritage and local distinctiveness and has the power to intervene, but the skewed system will not allow him to enforce them.
“The Welsh government committed itself to funding the scheme long before the planning application went before elected representatives at council, making a mockery of the democratic process.”
“The campaign now is looking to broaden support in the wider community through the media. We’re not getting any cooperation from local or Welsh government so our only chance of turning tide will be by force of numbers.”