SINCE being announced in 2011, the Circuit of Wales has weathered a public inquiry, widespread opposition from environmental campaigners, and - now - financial fears that could scupper the entire project.

At the beginning, many sceptics doubted anything would ever come of the plans, which proposed a multi-million-pound racetrack to be built in Ebbw Vale.

The cynics were almost proved right last week when the outgoing Welsh government said it would not underwrite the investment needed.

After careful consideration, economy minister Edwina Hart said it was ‘too risky’ to cover the £350million necessary.

It was taxpayers’ money and the government believed it unfair to take on the risk.

It was another blow – undoubtedly the most damaging so far – and the disappointment was heard loudly in Blaenau Gwent.

Residents have grown exhausted of hearing terms like 'regeneration' without anything actually changing.

But developers are still hopeful.

Two years ago, Michael Carrick, chief executive of Heads of the Valleys Development Company – which is behind the plans – said “the size of the prize is too large to walk away from small challenges”.

Given the developers are planning to work to find an alternative financial deal with a shared risk over the next two months, it seems his words still apply.

The motorsport world was stunned when the project was first announced toward the end of 2011: MotoGP – British motorcycling’s Grand Prix – would be moving from Silverstone, its home since 2009, to a Welsh valley.

It was called 'the most significant capital investment programme in automotive infrastructure in the UK in the last 50 years' by developers, and would include a low-carbon technology park, an international karting track, industrial units, retail space and a motorsport academy.

The facility, over 830 acres north of Rassau Industrial Estate, was yet to be built, but a five-year deal was signed for the MotoGP, with the possibility of a further five. There was little information about how the project would be funded and many in British motor racing were shocked at the commitment.

But soon the scheme met its first road blocks.

It was hoped the racetrack would be completed and ready to host the 2015 MotoGP, but it soon became apparent this was not going to happen and the event was moved to Silverstone for two years.

Mr Carrick did say, however, that a Welsh flavour would be injected into some of the surrounding entertainment, as part of an effort to build up excitement for the Circuit of Wales.

Away from the motorsport industry and in Blaenau Gwent, the project was hailed as fantastic news.

A total of 6,000 jobs were promised.

This included at the racetrack itself and through local hotel and tourism opportunities.

According to the unemployment figures for the year ending December 2015, Blaenau Gwent had the highest rate of unemployment in Wales.

The Welsh government estimated 9.3 per cent of residents were out of work last year and a total of 36 per cent of people in Blaenau Gwent aged 16 and over had no recognised qualifications, which was, again, the highest rate in Wales.

So it was welcome news when developer Mr Carrick spoke from the outset about regeneration.

He would pursue the project as a “new form of partnership between industry, local authorities, regional and national governments and investors," he said.

Also promised, were 750,000 visitors a year and £45million pumped into the local economy every year.

Community leaders spoke of the hope the project gave residents and called it a matter of 'survival'.

Former MP and manager of the Ebbw Vale Institute, Dai Davies, said: “As someone who presided over the closure of the steelworks, this is the greatest opportunity in Blaenau Gwent since 1938. That’s what we have suffered from – the poverty of opportunity.

“You see us at the top of all the league tables you don’t want to be top of. But this is going to give many people a new hope, a new inspiration and a new sense of purpose.

“My son is 17, but it breaks my heart to tell him he has to move away to get a job. But for every person employed on that site you are talking about four other jobs because of the industry the circuit will bring.

“There is a lot of hope on the ground, but the bureaucracy that holds it up is frustrating.”

Rev Geoff Waggett, representing Ebbw Vale churches, said that there was a 'hopelessness' in Blaenau Gwent.

“There’s only one word here which we can use to sum it all up and that’s 'survival'. If it does not go through the public inquiry, what will happen to the people?” he added.

“This project gives hope and aspiration.

"Someone had an aspiring vision and they have had the nerve and the guts to do it and we just want to support them wholeheartedly.

“The dream is in five or 10 years’ time you are going to see a drop in unemployment, an increase in the average wage, an increase in house prices, an increase in hope for the future.”

Further problems were encountered with objections from environmental bodies.

Because the site lies covers what is known as common land, permission was needed to make permanent changes.

During a 10-day public inquiry in March 2015, arguments and counter-arguments were lodged, but the Welsh government eventually gave it the green light.

Hopes were boosted.

But then last week, just over a year later, the financial hammer blow was dealt.

Some were rejoicing. Gwent Wildlife Trust, who had long campaigned against the project, responded to the news.

They say the site will threaten the wealth of wildlife, including rare dragonflies and birds, as well as leading to an increase of greenhouse gas emissions.

Ian Rappel, chief executive of Gwent Wildlife Trust, said: “We understand that there is a need in the local area for jobs and economic regeneration, but the Circuit of Wales project would degrade and erode the natural environment which is essential for our health and well-being.

“The development would blight the Welsh countryside, without coming close to achieving the overly ambitious economic projections.”

The next six to eight weeks are crucial for the scheme and all concerned.

Alun Davies, Labour assembly candidate for Blaenau Gwent, said a financial deal needs to be struck, where the risk is shared between investors and the Welsh government.

Aviva Investors said they were unable to comment on whether they will still consider investing without the Welsh government’s commitment to underwrite, but other developers may be found.

One thing is for sure: there are many people who will be awaiting the next announcement with a huge amount of interest.


2011: The Circuit of Wales is unveiled to widespread support and excitement. Plans are submitted to Blaenau Gwent Council. Some environmental groups, including Gwent Wildlife Trust, state their opposition to the plan.

August 2013: The plan is delayed by the Welsh Government who want a closer look at the racetrack. Welsh Government then indicate Blaenau Gwent council will make decisions about the project. Construction set to start around Christmas 2013 with a completion date of 2015/16.

September 2013: Thousands of people join Facebook group in support of project while objections mount from environmental campaigners.

March 2014: Former Silverstone chief executive Richard Phillips writes to British Prime Minister David Cameron suggesting Welsh Government investment amounted to illegal state aid.

July 2014: The then environment minister and AM for Blaenau Gwent, Alun Davies, is found to have broken his ministerial code after he lobbied Natural Resources Wales in favour of the racetrack.

March 2015: A 10-day public inquiry is held to determine whether the 650 acres of common land needed to build the circuit should be deregistered.

November 2015: The Welsh Government agrees to deregister the land. Many welcome the green light but others, including environmental organisations, call it a “black day”.

April 2016: Welsh economy minister Edwina Hart announces the government cannot underwrite the whole 100 per cent demanded by Aviva Investors. Aviva would not guarantee even 20 per cent.

May 2016: Circuit of Wales is expected to announce whether they have reached a deal.