Foneddigion a boneddigesau, rwy mor falch i allu ymuno â chi yma heddiw yn hen Ysbyty Gogledd Cymru, Dinbych, ac i weld drosof fy hun yr adeiladau rhyfeddol yma.
[Ladies and Gentlemen, I am so pleased to join you here today at the former North Wales Hospital, Denbigh and to see at last for myself this remarkable range of buildings.]
If I may, I should like to let you all in to an open secret? When I first had the idea to set up my own Historic Building Preservation Trust about ten years ago, I was actually inspired by what I heard about Denbigh Hospital. I launched my Phoenix Trust with the following – alas, prophetic – opening remarks: “I recently heard from a leading North Wales estate agent charged with disposing of an historic hospital building. He reported that the only enquiries he had received involved “breaking the site up and selling off the attractive elements”. Such asset-stripping, he pointed out, would leave most of the hospital's larger buildings unoccupied and decaying...”
And here I am at the front of that very building and I can only feel profoundly saddened that my sense of foreboding was proved right: the shocking example of cynical asset-stripping which has taken place here is truly disheartening.
A building that was in good repair eight years ago is now a wreck requiring extreme measures to rescue, repair and regenerate it. The sale of the “attractive elements” that could have helped finance rescue of the historic buildings has taken place, and the previous owner has been allowed to get away with a huge profit from all this deliberate destruction.
Eight years ago I pledged that I was not prepared to sit back and see this legacy of great historic buildings needlessly squandered – especially when, with imagination, they can become real assets to their local communities, offering job opportunities and a focus for local regeneration – which is the great thing about so many of these historic sites.
This is especially important here for Denbigh, where the gift of this wonderful parkland setting was made by a local landowner to the people of North Wales to provide a place of safety – asylum – for those who suffered from mental illness. The construction of the hospital was originally a collaboration between five of the six counties of North Wales, particularly to provide for Welsh-speaking patients who had previously had to travel to England to receive treatment in a foreign language. Amazingly it was the first asylum of its kind in Wales and the law had to be changed, as you all know, to allow it to be constructed collaboratively.
My Phoenix Trust, in collaboration with the new owners, Acebench Investments Ltd, Denbighshire County Council, Cadw and the Welsh Development Agency, have formed a partnership to investigate ways of rescuing your unique Hospital from the frontline of dereliction and demolition.
What are now the historic buildings were constructed with careful craftsmanship from local materials at the expense of the public purse; by finding and realising new uses for them, we are building on the achievements of the past and giving, if I may say so, your community another chance to use and enjoy assets that would otherwise simply go to waste.
I have come here today to see for myself what is proposed, and to launch two weeks of public consultation. The panels you see around you explain what the partnership lead by my Phoenix Trust is currently making of this challenge. I gather the display will be on view in the public library in Denbigh from tomorrow until 24th July and it is important to know what you think.
Obviously, every project needs careful planning and it is important that people in Denbigh and the surrounding area have every opportunity to comment, voice anxieties, and make suggestions, to help those responsible for developing and delivering this project to get it right for everyone and influence the success of the enterprise we have embarked on together.
To restore these Historic Buildings to a high standard and keep their character will, I understand, require funding from allowing new high-quality and well-designed buildings on the brown-field areas where buildings once stood. The intention is to create a mixed development, with a substantial area of business use for employment, as well as residential, sheltered housing, public access and community uses.
In concluding, I just wanted to say that from what I have seen today of this marvellous range of buildings, it appears that the situation is urgent if they are to be rescued and given a sustainable future. I believe with your help, a bright new future beckons for the whole of the local community.
I have asked my Phoenix Trust team to give me periodic reports on how things are going, and I very much look forward to hearing of the progress you are making and, if I may say so, even more to being invited back to see the results of your collaboration.