IT'S been a rollercoaster year for the Circuit of Wales project.

If 2015 was the year it withstood a public inquiry, 2016 has, so far, been the year of repeated disappointment for the racetrack project with its financial plan stumbling through hurdle after hurdle.

In April, the project suffered its first blow when the Welsh Government refused to accept the developers’ proposal, which asked the assembly to underwrite the entire £370 million investment.

Their decision – taken by the then-economy minister Edwina Hart, who said it was “too risky” with taxpayers’ money - was seen by many as sensible, and a new financial plan was submitted.

Then, in May, we were told the developers were “on the brink of sealing a deal” with the Welsh government, with talks reported as progressing positively.

It finally looked like the much-anticipated scheme - focused around a 3.5 mile racetrack north of Rassau Industrial Estate in Ebbw Vale - and its 6,000 promised Blaenau Gwent jobs, was nearing approval.

So when the Welsh Government announced last week that it could not - for the second time - agree to a financial deal many were surprised and many more were highly disappointed.

Ken Skates, cabinet secretary for the economy and infrastructure, said the resubmitted proposals did not represent “value for money”.

The Welsh Government had been asked to underwrite around 75 per cent of the total cost of the project, it was said, with local councils underwriting eight percent.

Under the submitted plan, the private sector would take only 17 per cent of the risk and Mr Skates said he believed the Circuit of Wales was again still asking too much of the taxpayer, especially in the wake of Brexit.

The economy secretary was clear: any revised proposals must have at least 50 per cent of the project funded by the private sector.

Martin Whitaker, CEO of the Circuit of Wales, had not been too vocal since the project’s financial plan was rejected by the government last Wednesday, save for a statement posted online.

But on Friday he spoke to the Argus, and called the latest setback “just another stage in the process”. It is, he said, a process which is far from over.

“It’s understandable that people’s reaction has been one of disappointment but I do think, particularly in the Valleys region, everybody should understand this is work in progress,” Mr Whitaker added.

“There’s a route to travel and that’s exactly what we are doing.”

“We recognised Wednesday was an important day for all of us – the government and the circuit," he also said.

“If we are brutally honest, we always knew Wednesday was going to be another stage, admittedly another stage which brought us near to the conclusion but we knew it was another stage in getting to that final conclusion."

The Circuit of Wales team are now, Mr Whittaker said, to be in talks to “deliver what the minister asked us to deliver”.

He said: “We are working with his team as he asked us to do to resolve the issues that he has and get to a position which satisfies him, that then delivers the necessary requirements he sets out.

“That’s exactly where we are. Clearly there’s work to be done.”

He added: “We had from him a statement on Wednesday which effectively saw him put confidence in the project but there’s things we need to negotiate further and that’s exactly what we are doing today.

“And the good news has instructed his team to work with us. And ever since we left the building, since 7pm on Wednesday, these negotiations have continued today.

“What I will say, we met the minister prior to the meeting and we had a robust and solid meeting with him and his team which I think was very encouraging.”

Mr Whitaker said his message to the people in Blaenau Gwent - who he believes will benefit most from having the facilities - is: “There’s no disappointment. We would love to be further through the line but we understand the process.”

Politicians have hit out at the situation, with Plaid Cymru’s shadow cabinet member for finance Adam Price criticising the Welsh Government for its handling of the project.

“The Welsh Government claims that it is open for business, yet this project has been on the cabinet secretary’s desk for many months, and company has repeatedly been trying to engage with him on many occasions but have failed," he said. "This is no way to conduct a consultation on a large and complex project such as this.

“The minister failed to explain why he has chosen to prevent local authorities to take a financial guarantee in the project that will have such benefit for the local community above the arbitrary 50 per cent he himself has set. And why has it been changed from the 80 per cent that was initially proposed?

“This is a strong project with a strong business case, and he should get on with the job and support the proposal in an area of Wales that is crying out for leadership.”

Others have called the assembly’s decision sensible though. Wayne Hodgins, independent town councillor for Brynmawr, said the Circuit of Wales investors need to play by business rules.

“I would love to see it happen but we can’t expect the assembly to underwrite these types of loans when they are starving local authorities of money and needing them to cut services,” Mr Hodgins said.

“The private sector comes to Wales, they want to build a racing circuit but they are not putting much on the table.

“From a business point of view, they want the Welsh government to write 75 per cent. If I was to start a company up in Wales the assembly would barely put up 25 per cent. I would have to take the risk.

“The assembly should support it but they should only support it to a level they would support any other business.”

Nick Smith, MP for Blaenau Gwent, said he met the Circuit of Wales team on Friday before they travelled to Cathays Park in Cardiff to meet government officials.

“I have written to the minister encouraging a closer working relationship between the developers and decision makers," he said.

“This project still has huge potential and I want to see the right balance between public and private sector risk, recognising the huge benefits the project can bring.”

When the Argus spoke to Circuit of Wales CEO Mr Whitaker early in June, he said construction work was ready to start as soon as the Welsh Government gave the green light.

He, along with the ambitious scheme, has since suffered another considerable setback, but it remains clear his enthusiasm for the project has not dimmed one bit.

Only time will tell whether the ministers and developers will be able to reach a deal.


• The circuit itself will have viewing zones including a so-called Cauldron, which will have capacity of 30,000 and a view across the whole of the track. Circuit of Wales is working with Populous, who designed the Olympic and Emirates stadiums, to design their spectator areas.

• A central area for music concerts. The concert area will have capacity of 10,000 to 15,000.

• An extreme spots zone for visitors to try sports including zip wiring, archery, clay pigeon shooting, motor biking, rock climbing.

• A three star and a four star hotel.

• A properly furnished campsite. This will be for visitors to the local area and those for specific sporting activities, events and race days.

• An area with shops, restaurants and giant screens.

• A technology park. Companies who build racecar parts, will, for example, be able to run test at the site.