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Future of new museum thrown into doubt

03 Nov 2023 4 minute read
Image of replica old world cottages planned as part of the Kidwelly attraction

Richard Youle, local democracy reporter

The future of a planned museum in Kidwelly with exhibits including replica old world cottages appears in doubt because the group supposed to build it is being dissolved.

The group, called The History Shed Experience Community Interest Company, had been working with landowner Kidwelly Town Council to create the attraction on recreational land by Glan-Yr-Afon car park, Bridge Street. One of its former directors, Tony Jukes, who resigned in May, claimed that factors outside its control left it unable to cost the project or see a way forward.

The town council said it was very disappointed, and that it was looking into the possibility of other organisations which might be interested in progressing the scheme.

The History Shed Experience drew up the designs for the project and the town council went on to secure planning permission from Carmarthenshire Council. The attraction was to feature an exhibition space, two pole barns, steam engines, a replica Sherman tank, and four single-storey cottages replicating life in Wales, America and Patagonia from days gone by.

Mr Jukes said the company was going to build and then operate the attraction as tenants. But he claimed that as time went on, land contamination issues emerged, along with a requirement to use piling for the main building rather than an alternative method which he said wouldn’t have gone so far into the ground.

Mr Jukes said the town council paid for an initial survey of the land, but he claimed that it was not willing to pay for a subsequent one.”Our hands were tied,” he said. “We couldn’t pay for surveys as it was not our land.”

Mr Jukes said he and one of the company’s two other directors met town council officers to discuss the situation, and that he left the meeting “rather unsatisfied”.

He said: “The site had problems. We could not cost the project. We could see no way forward.”

Local support

The planned museum has had a lot of support locally and from further afield, but there were also concerns about the use of the recreational land for it and how the site had been chosen. Objectors said they believed other places in Kidwelly would be more suitable.

A land risk assessment commissioned by the town council as part of the planning process said it was possible that the ground had been disturbed by previous industrial activities, and that there was the potential for soil and groundwater contamination. It recommended that a more extensive investigation was carried out. Environment regulator Natural Resources Wales said the area had been used as a landfill site in the past, and that it would object to the town council’s application unless a “full suite of land contamination conditions” were included as part of any planning consent.

Carmarthenshire Council’s planning committee approved the application at a meeting last year after hearing from both sides of the debate. Mark Stephens, the town council’s estates officer, said: “This project has caused a split in the community, but I am of the opinion that the advantages outweigh the disadvantages.” Objector Denise Phillips said the land in question was used for carnivals and festivals, and added: “It belongs to the people of Kidwelly for the use of residents – it should not be given to support an enterprise.”

Several of the 20 conditions imposed as part of the planning approval related to land and groundwater contamination risks, including the need for a comprehensive scheme to deal with these risks and verification of any remedial work required as a result.

The town council told the Local Democracy Reporting Service, when asked, that it had spent £5,844 on planning costs, including surveys. It said: “As you can imagine Kidwelly Town Council are very disappointed with the demise of the community interest company in relation to the project. However we are currently investigating the possibility and feasibility of other organisations who might be interested in taking the project forward. The town council feel that the project has intrinsic value that can attract and promote tourism in Kidwelly.”

The points and claims made by Mr Jukes were put to the town council, but it did not respond at the time of going to press.

Mr Jukes, meanwhile, said The History Shed Experience had written off around £4,000 on the project. Asked if he was disappointed about the outcome, he said: “You are always disappointed when you’d hoped to achieve something.”

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