Thursday, December 13, 2007

Questions in the Assembly Wednesday December 12

In view of the opinion expressed by Jane Davidson, Minister for the Environment, Sustainability and Housing in a letter to Ruperra Conservation Trust on 5 December, that the issues regarding Ruperra Castle were 'not of more than local importance', it has been very reassuring to read the questions and replies made in the Assembly on Wednesday 12 December. The questions were asked by the AM for Caerphilly Jeff Cuthbert and all the AMs involved seemed to understand the significance of the scheduled monument. Here is a transcript of the proceedings.

( The full report, in English and Welsh can be seen by clicking the link below: )

Q2 Jeff Cuthbert: What discussions has the Minister had with Cadw and officials with regards to Ruperra Castle?

The Minister for Heritage (Rhodri Glyn Thomas): I am aware of the plans to repair and convert Ruperra Castle and surroundings to provide residential accommodation. My officials in Cadw provided the planning authority with expert comments to help highlight the significance of the monument and to help inform the county council’s assessment of the proposals.

Jeff Cuthbert: You may be aware that, at the recent planning application meeting of Caerphilly County Borough Council, the proposal to develop the grounds of Ruperra was rejected almost unanimously. Would you be prepared to look into the matter further with your officials to see if it is possible for any further applications for unsuitable development to be rejected, and for the shell of Ruperra Castle to remain as it is, and to be regarded as a historic ruin?

Rhodri Glyn Thomas: I am aware of the planning authority decision of 5 December, and, obviously, I cannot comment on the merits of the application, as the owner could well appeal to the National Assembly. I agree that Ruperra is a major monument, and that it is important to find a viable solution that will arrest its deterioration. Cadw ensured that the planning application criteria required those steps to be taken in any development. However, I will certainly discuss it again with officials.

William Graham (AM for South Wales East): Could you convey to your officials the thanks of many people, including me, who live within a reasonable distance of Ruperra Castle, for the splendid action taken by your department in pointing out the relevant legislation to the developer? You will know that this is an important monument; it is a late Renaissance building that, unfortunately, caught fire on Pearl Harbor night in 1941 and has remained a ruin ever since. It is significant in both its setting and its design. I pay tribute to your officials, who have been most helpful to those who have opposed the plans, and to the county council, which has come to what I believe is the right decision.

Rhodri Glyn Thomas: I am grateful for those words, William, and I will convey your sentiments to the officials. As I said, in these situations, Cadw works to protect our heritage. Hopefully, we are able to do that with all applications.

Mohammad Asghar (AM for South Wales East) : I understand that there are certain grant-making bodies, such as the Prince’s Regeneration Trust and others, that might be willing to assist with the renovation of Ruperra Castle and its outbuildings were it not in private ownership. Would the Minister be willing to discuss with Cadw and the local authority the possibility of taking Ruperra Castle into public ownership, provided that grants can be obtained to enable the purchase and refurbishment of the castle, in order to preserve it for the nation of Wales?

Rhodri Glyn Thomas: This issue has been raised with me and I will talk to officials about the situation. It is difficult when heritage sites are in private ownership. All that we can do in that situation is ensure that any development is in keeping with the heritage of the site and that all remedial work is carried out. However, I am quite happy to have that discussion to see whether we can bring the castle back into the public sector.

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