Welsh fall behind on siting Assembly

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A CASTLE, an assortment of town halls, old factory sites and office buildings have all been put forward as potential homes for the new Welsh Assembly.

Although more than 20 bids have now been made, or are about to be made, to house the Assembly and its members, the Welsh Office is racing against the clock to make its choice and get the deal settled.

There is little more than a year to go to the Assembly's first meeting - and the Welsh project is falling behind that of its Scottish equivalent.

Last week it was announced that the Edinburgh parliament would be housed in a building opposite the Palace of Holyroodhouse.

Until last year it had always been assumed that the Welsh Assembly would be established in Cardiff City Hall, but Cardiff County Council rejected the Welsh Office offer to buy it for pounds 3.5m.

First to launch a rival bid for the Assembly was Swansea, where campaigners point out that, while Cardiff's voters rejected devolution in the referendum, Swansea was in favour. Last week, campaigners trying to attract the Assembly produced a promotional CD with the Morriston Orpheus Choir and the words of local son Dylan Thomas.

Margam Castle near Port Talbot is also on offer, as is a 17-acre site in the valleys near Pontypridd, and various buildings and sites in Cardiff. Llandrindod Wells, the old spa town which is claimed to be at the geographical centre of Wales, has also put in a bid.

Welsh Office officials have already inspected the Swansea site and have been to North Wales to look at bids from three towns: Wrexham, Mold and Ewlow.

This week, bids from half a dozen other organisations are to be assessed.

The Welsh Secretary, Ron Davies, who is widely expected to make a decision within the next two months, has laid down the specifications for what he wants. He has said: "The essential choice lies between significant investment in a single site, probably a purpose-built building, or a split investment between a less expensive building for the Assembly coupled with a communication strategy which could link the Assembly's home base to other sites throughout Wales."

Around pounds 17m is available to fund the capital costs of setting up the Assembly, with ongoing costs of up to pounds 20m a year.