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May 21st 2003

John Houghton, Abergele Visitor

ONE of the A55's most prominent landmarks could be an ideal site for an Assembly building, says a well-known businessman from the area.

Last week the Visitor revealed the Assembly could be looking at Abergele as a possible permanent site for a North Wales base.

Andrew Wood, of Woods Motorcycles, Abergele, believes the historic Gwrych Castle could be the perfect location. "The castle would provide a wonderful backdrop for the Assembly," said Mr Wood, also chairman of the Gwrych Castle Preservation Trust. "It would make more sense to use a beautiful existing building rather than spend money on constructing a new one."

Once described as The Showcase of Wales, Gwrych Castle stands at near complete dereliction after years of neglect, vandalism, New Age travellers and the weather.

"Something needs to be done and all we would need would be 10 per cent of what has been spent on the Assembly site in Cardiff," added Mr Wood. "It would be a good opportunity for the Assembly to give something back to North Wales."

A number of ideas have been suggested for the castle over the years but according to Mr Wood none of them are commercially viable. The latest interest was expressed by enthusiast Michael McMullen, who has renovated a castle in Ireland.

"A number of developers see the castle and think it could be a fairytale development but then they realise the financial implications," stressed Mr W ood. "No businessman could afford to put in £10-£15m to renovate the building and then wait another 10 years before he gets a returnonit. "This is probably the best chance for the castle to be put to good use but it would need public funding. "The building is much more suitable for something sustainable such as a site for the Assembly or an education centre."

Gwrych Castle is a Grade One listed building which has had numerous owners over the years. It was opened to the public in 1948 and over 20 years attracted nearly 10 million visitors. Current owner, American Nick Tavaglione, purchased the castle in December 1989, but has done little with it.

©Mark Baker 2003