Manx National Heritage has agreed a deal with the Treasury which will see the Great Laxey Wheel repaired in time for the 2022 visitor season.
The agreement provides funding for the emergency repairs to the mechanism of the wheel which will allow it to turn again and also brings forward maintenance which was planned for future years. The works will now be combined into one substantial programme so that there should only be one period of closure.
Two recent structural failures and an engineering survey have highlighted the urgent need for repair work to the Wheel mechanism and rod duct system. The wheel and the rod system which really define the Laxey Wheel are timber and iron components of a functioning machine which extends up the valley between the wheel case and the T-rocker. Although not a fast moving machine its component parts, whether iron or timber, are individually substantial and the entire system is susceptible to mechanical wear and either continually saturated by the water which drives it or exposed to the elements.
Comprehensive repairs and reconstruction of the rod system were last undertaken in the mid 1980’s and are now beginning to fail. Reinforcement works at the T-rocker and to some areas of the rods have been undertaken previously in efforts to extend the life of the system and, following an engineering evaluation of the rods in 2019, a strategy was in the process of being developed to address the issues on a phased basis. This is no longer an option following an unexpected failure of the connection between the least accessible final rod and the T-rocker which has rendered it inadvisable to operate the wheel.
MNH said it is ‘difficult to estimate costs precisely without clarity on the logistics and methodology’.
‘However, we estimate that a figure of about £450,000 will be required for the repairs to the Wheel and rod duct mechanism. We further estimate that some £300,000 will be required to repeat the painting, pointing and minor repairs which was done in 2015.’
Treasury and MNH will split the funding 50:50 for the work with trustees allocating funds from the sale of a property bequeathed to the Trust by the late John Donald (Donny) Collister to this project.
Meanwhile MNH says it is unlikely that it will hire seasonal staff this year, but will instead offer ‘a programme of tours and programmed events to the Wheel this year which will not just allow local people to visit but which will encourage them to see it from a different perspective’. However if the situation regarding the borders and tourists changes, this may be reviewed.
Jonathan Hall, Chairman of Trustees said: ‘We are very grateful that the Treasury Minister has given this his personal attention. The Laxey Wheel is an iconic symbol of the Island and Trustees are very keen to see it running again at the earliest opportunity. We fully accepted that it was not an “emergency” by comparison with other issues facing the Island but felt that it was hugely important in terms of morale and pride in our island. In such circumstances, the Trustees accepted that a more innovative solution needed to be found.’
Treasury Minister Alf Cannan added: ‘I am pleased that we have been able to develop a pragmatic solution to this matter. The Treasury had been clear that only emergency bids were to be put forward in this budget round to maintain a balance of expenditure on our Island’s critical operating infrastructure whilst reflecting the impact that the pandemic has had on available funding. Clearly the Laxey Wheel is no longer critical operating infrastructure but it is iconic and a cornerstone of our visitor experience. With this in mind I am pleased that we have identified this joint funding solution to ensure that the wheel turns again as we hopefully come out of the challenges of the COVID pandemic.’