* River Lodge is now empty and derelict
Wales’ top civil servant has admitted the way the Welsh Government handled the purchase of the former River Lodge Hotel in Llangollen is a “sorry story”.
Through the now defunct Welsh Development Agency, the government bought the building on the banks of the River Dee at the gateway to the town for £1.6 million in 2007.
Sole purpose of the deal was to facilitate a community project by the organisation Powys Fadog.
But the development never went ahead and following a series of vandal attacks the hotel now lies empty and derelict after costing the taxpayer a considerable amount of money.
The saga has sparked major criticisms of the part played by the government and led last month to the publication of a critical report by the independent Welsh Audit Office.
That report said the government’s decision to purchase River Lodge as “flawed” and “represented poor value for money”.
* The Welsh Government's handling of the purchase
of River Lodge has gone under the microscope.
On Tuesday morning (July 10) the issue was put under the microscope when it was discussed by the Welsh Assembly’s Public Accounts Committee, screened live on Senedd TV (http://www.senedd.tv/schedule.jsf).
There to give evidence on the government’s handling on the matter was Dame Gillian Morgan, Permanent Secretary to the Welsh Government and head of the civil service in Wales.
Questioned by Assembly Members, Dame Gillian freely admitted: “There is more information on this issue than anything else.
“This was unsafe all the way through from beginning to end.
“There should have been enough alarm bells ringing for people to say ‘stop this’ but that didn’t happen.
“This is indefensible … this is something that is a sorry story and we should not be in this position.”
Asked by one of the AMs on the committee where the “buck” for the situation should stop, Dame Gillian replied: “That’s easy – the buck stops with me.”
AMs also quizzed officials giving evidence to the committee on what was now likely to happen to River Lodge.
James Price, the Welsh Government’s Director General for Business, Enterprise, Technology and Science, said the rules stated that before being offered on the open market buildings such as River Lodge considered surplus to government requirements must first be offered to the public sector.
And he explained there were ongoing discussions about the possible acquisition of River Lodge by the local Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board.
He added that if the board decided to go ahead with the acquisition “they will buy it from us and put up a new building”.
Mr Price said the health board was the only organisation to so far an express an interest in River Lodge.
At the end of an hour’s debate on the issue, committee chairman Darren Miller AM said it would come back before members when they return after the summer recess and that he would been having further correspondence about it with Dame Gillian, who recently announced her intention to retire from her position as Permanent Secretary.