Wales politics

Circuit of Wales decision delayed after 'inaccuracies'

Circuit of Wales artist impression Image copyright Circuit of Wales
Image caption The Welsh Government has already given £9m towards the project

A decision on the Circuit of Wales racetrack faces yet another delay as Welsh ministers accusing the developers of providing "inaccurate" information.

The company behind it has asked for a £210m taxpayer-funded guarantee - about half the cost of the scheme.

The firm said it had responded to every question on a "complex project with thousands of pages of information".

Plaid Cymru and the Conservatives have accused ministers of trying to "bury bad news" until after the election.

A decision was initially expected in March, but the Welsh Government has now said the process will take "a final few weeks".

Although the track near Ebbw Vale would be privately funded, the developers - the Heads of the Valleys Development Company - have asked ministers to guarantee around half the £425m cost.

Image caption Ken Skates has said immense pressure was put on the developers to provide the information required

In a written answer, Economy Secretary Ken Skates said officials and external advisers "identified many material gaps and inaccuracies in the information contained within the Circuit of Wales application".

Final submissions were received in the last week which will allow an analysis of the plans to be completed.

"This further delay has meant the timescale asset in March has slipped," Mr Skates said.

"I am advised that the remaining process will take a final few weeks, following which cabinet will consider the project as soon as is practicably possible."

In February, Mr Skates said the plans would be looked at thoroughly as part of a due diligence process that would take four to six weeks.

Later, he said no decision could be made before mid-May because the company had not provided all the information required.

Image copyright Circuit of Wales
Image caption It has been claimed the track could create up to 6,000 jobs in one of Wales' poorest areas

Disclosure of the latest hold-up came in an answer to Plaid Cymru AM Adam Price, who accused the Welsh Government of "dissembling and delay".

"Having originally said they would make a decision after the local council elections in May, they are now, it seems, seeking to postpone any announcement until after June 8 - and blaming the company in the process," he said.

"The conclusion you are forced to make, based on this answer, is that they have made their minds up but are seeking to bury bad news until after the election."

'Recklessness'

During angry exchanges in the assembly chamber later on Wednesday, Mr Price said people in Blaenau Gwent had been "strung along with false hope and empty promises for six years".

"What you've done is conduct a forensic audit with the express purpose it seems to me of finding some excuse, any excuse at all, to justify saying no," he said.

But Mr Skates told AMs he was still excited by the project and would not "not short-circuit the due diligence process".

He said: "My interest is with the people of Ebbw Vale. Yours seems to be political self interest.

"There is a big difference between ambition and recklessness."

Image caption Adam Price said Mr Skates should "get on and make a decision"

Earlier, Welsh Conservative economy spokesman Russell George also accused the Welsh Government of trying to "suppress bad news" until after polling day.

He said "serious questions" remained over its judgement in giving £9.3m of public money to the developers already.

In April, the Wales Audit Office said there were "significant shortcomings" in the way that funding had been approved.

"If it transpires that the project does not go ahead then the public can reasonably expect that this money is returned to the public purse, and that an alternative vision for the regeneration of Blaenau Gwent is brought forward in its place," Mr George said.

'Transformational'

The Circuit of Wales said in a statement: "The development is a complex project with thousands of pages of information and we have responded to every additional question asked by the Welsh Government during the due diligence process, a process that is complex and time-consuming and amounts to a forensic scrutiny of every aspect of the company's proposal.

"We look forward to a positive announcement in the coming weeks that will allow us to commence construction on a destination that is being fully funded by the private sector and will have a transformational impact on the south Wales valleys region and deliver investment and new full-time sustainable jobs."

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