Calls for urgent action as visitor boom causes problems at historic aqueduct
Liam Randall, local democracy reporter
Calls have been made for urgent action to be taken to manage an increase in visitors to a World Heritage Site in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.
The Pontcysyllte Aqueduct near Wrexham attracted a record number of tourists in 2019, with about 363,000 sightseers flocking to see it.
That figure is believed to have risen further since travel restrictions were first introduced last March, causing people to holiday closer to home.
However, concerns have been raised over the impact on communities surrounding the 126-foot-high structure, which was built by canal engineers Thomas Telford and William Jessop.
A £41m plan was unveiled last year, partly to address parking and traffic problems near the Trevor Basin. While proposals for extra parking and a new visitor centre have been welcomed, a local councillor has claimed improvements are not being delivered fast enough.
Speaking at a meeting to discuss the running of the site, Llangollen Rural representative Rondo Roberts said: “The main issue for myself as the local member is the visitor numbers and their management.
“It’s the largest visitor attraction in Wrexham and car parking and signage have been discussed but I think these are issues that need to be raised in a meeting like this.
“There’s some quick fixes on certain issues which could and should be done a lot quicker. The emphasis that I want bring in is for the locals, as we have to live in and around it.
“Partners should be working a lot closer to minimise any disruption, to maximise the improvements and speed up the delivery.”
The site was first recognised by UNESCO in 2009, which saw it granted the same status as Stonehenge and the Pyramids in Egypt.
Visitor numbers have quadrupled in the decade following its inscription, with tourism worth a reported £140m a year to the area’s economy before the pandemic.
Wrexham Council said the growth in value was largely fuelled by increased awareness of the aqueduct.
A combined bid of £15m was recently made to the UK Government’s Levelling Up fund to improve the site’s infrastructure, with proposals also outlined to create a treetops walk and campsite.
Rebeccah Lowry, the local authority’s regeneration service manager, said it was committed to tackling the issues raised by residents but would require the support of other public bodies.
Speaking at last Wednesday’s (October 6, 2021) meeting, she said: “We’re very aware of some of the impacts on the community and the anxiety it can cause for local residents.
“The biggest constraint for us is the funding as it is a very successful visitor destination.
“We want it to be pleasurable for all and that’s about ensuring that visitor management is there.
“As Wrexham Council, we own very little of the land there and it’s very much about a partnership approach.”
She added: “A lot of progress has been made in the last couple of years with this current master plan.
“Aspects of it are featured in the Levelling Up fund bid so we really do hope that’s successful.”