One year on... is the dragon ready to take flight?

Reporter:

Phil Robinson

CHIRK’S dragon tower has hardly had a smooth flight.

Since the £9 million project’s fanfare launch on St David’s Day 2010, the man behind it has ridden an emotional rollercoaster of highs and lows in its progress.

But following its formal approval by Wrexham Council’s planning committee, it now seems the mythical symbol of Wales will finally soar into the realms of reality.

The patriotic Simon Wingett, an Erbistock-based art dealer, naturally chose March 1 to unveil his ambitious Waking the Dragon scheme.

Bringing it to life as a lasting tribute to his late father has been a long-cherished dream.

Mr Wingett, 55, believes his brainchild will create up to 50 jobs and attract visitors from across the globe.

At the time the plan was announced, the site, owned by Wrexham Council, was under consideration for the borough’s new traveller and gipsy park.

But soon afterwards the council decided to locate that facility close to the existing park off Ruthin Road.

Mr Wingett’s father, well-known local businessman Frank Wingett, died from throat cancer in 1988.

His family set up an appeal in his name to raise money for cancer research.

He envisages the entire cost of building the tower – at launch it was £6 million but is now estimated to be £9 million – will be raised from commercial sponsorship and charging people £2,000 for a personal dedication on each of 416 steps inside the structure.

Mr Wingett believes the tower can raise £1 million a year, with all entrance fees going to the Frank Wingett Cancer Appeal.

The scheme drew early support from Aled Roberts, leader of Wrexham Council, who said “There is no doubt this project will strengthen and further develop the tourism and heritage available to visitors in this part of North East Wales.”

Just a couple of weeks after the launch there was more high-level political support for the project from former Welsh Secretary Peter Hain, who said: “Just as the Angel of the North in the North East of England makes a statement, I think the tower could make a statement here in Wales.”

The project took a major leap forward in April when Wrexham Council’s executive board agreed to grant an option on the land at Chirk Park to the Frank Wingett Cancer Appeal.

Later the same month Simon Wingett announced his scheme to ask Welsh people across the world to contribute £1 towards the building the dragon.

He outlined the money-spinning idea to residents in Chirk, saying: “The idea is for them is to simply walk into any NatWest Bank across the country and hand over the cash.”

Mr Wingett had already picked up his first £1 donation, from Hilary Spragg, who chairs Chirk Town Council.

In July, the Wrexham public had their first 3D sight of the dragon when Mr Wingett formally submitted a planning application.

He showed off a 20th scale model of the beast, which itself stands an impressive 4ft tall and has a wingspan of 8ft.

Also on hand was Yorkshire-based sculptor Steve Winterburn who created the dragon and also crafted the model.

Just a few days later there was more high-level support for the scheme.

Welsh Heritage Minister Alun Ffred Jones said: “I think it is a good idea if they can get together the wherewithal to put it there and if it wins the support of the community.”

There was a setback last December when the planning application was put back for further consideration due to concerns over styling issues.

And when it went before the planning committee in January it was deferred again.
Issues raised included the business plan, traffic management and the colour and design of the dragon.

Some members felt it should be red to be an iconic Welsh symbol and concern was expressed that the one being proposed could be green.

Mr Wingett said: “There are more hoops that need to be jumped through.”

But February 7 was to be a red letter day in the dragon saga – as that is when Wrexham planners finally gave the scheme the go-ahead.

See full story in the Leader

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