National Broadcast Archive for Wales: £1m backing agreed

BBC Wales archive being viewed

A row over funding for a £9m National Broadcast Archive for Wales has been settled, after ministers agreed to back the project.

The National Library of Wales in Aberystwyth wants to house the archive of 180,000, mostly BBC, recordings dating back to the 1930s.

Culture minister Lord Elis-Thomas warned last November he could not commit £1m to the plans as they stood.

But he said "outstanding issues and concerns" had now been resolved.

"Amendments" to the project, which have been the subject of talks between the library, BBC Wales and Welsh Government, have been agreed by library trustees.

Lord Elis-Thomas said: "The Welsh Government has consistently expressed support for the ambition of the National Library to establish a National Broadcast Archive.

"I appreciate the efforts which have made been made over the last few weeks to resolve the outstanding issues and concerns, and am delighted that the project can now move forward."

Lord Elis-Thomas's original unwillingness to commit was called "outrageous" by opposition politicians, while the library said it was "disappointed".

Image caption Digitised content would be viewable by the public in Aberystwyth and three hubs around Wales

What is the National Broadcast Archive?

  • It aims to be a "chronicle of the life of the nation" and "Wales' national memory"
  • The BBC has been broadcasting in Wales since 1923 and it has 95,000 audio tapes, 64,000 video tapes - being digitised - and thousands of cans of film
  • It would join the ITV, S4C and screen and sound archives collected at Aberystwyth
  • Digitised content would be available to view by the public and researchers at the National Library but also at new hubs in Cardiff, Carmarthen and Wrexham.
  • Material would include archive from World War Two, Aberfan, the miners' strike, battles over devolution, sporting moments and news items.

Library president Rhodri Glyn Thomas said he was "delighted" with the deputy minister's decision and it meant it could submit its final bid to the Heritage Lottery Fund.

"As the home of extensive sound and moving images collections, and with material from ITV Wales already at the library, we intend to safeguard this vital source of our nation's heritage for present and future generations," he said.

Rhodri Talfan Davies, BBC Wales director, added: "I'm delighted to see the next phase of this exciting and innovative project in motion."

Image caption When questioned about the archive project, Lord Elis-Thomas told AMs he had to protect public money

Analysis by Huw Thomas, BBC Wales arts and media correspondent

During the public debate about creating a new broadcast archive, private conversations have often focused on the personalities involved.

The culture minister and the library president are former colleagues who had served as Plaid Cymru assembly members.

Now independent, and in government, Lord Elis-Thomas oversees the public funding of the National Library.

But this row was always about more than personal relationships, and I'm told that there was genuine concern among government officials about the library's financial future.

There's no detail about what has changed in the library's budget projections to persuade the government to commit funding for the project.

The BBC will not be increasing its own contribution towards future maintenance and copyright issues, despite Lord Elis-Thomas stating publicly his demand that Auntie relax her purse strings.

In a few weeks the plans for the broadcast archive have moved from stalemate to starting gun, and despite the public bluster the private manoeuvres have ensured the new facility can move to the next stage of its development.

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