History will judge Birmingham's leaders over their handling of the controversial Elan Valley heritage museum, critics claimed yesterday.

John James, chairman of the Institute of Directors, believes the wrangle will define the legacy of council boss Mike Whitby and his deputy Paul Tilsley.

"Surely it is time for our political leaders to swallow their pride and respect our joint heritage with the people of Elan Valley," he stated.

And in a move designed to pile on the pressure with just weeks to go before the local elections, he added: "I think how Mike Whitby and Paul Tilsley respond to this challenge will ultimately define them as leaders: and how history - and the electorate - will judge them as guardians of our past and of our future."

As reported in The Post, the city has refused to help fund a museum in Wales to mark the heritage lost when the Elan Valley was flooded to provide fresh water to Birmingham.

However, campaigners claim the community has a "historic responsibility" to help create a lasting legacy.

Coun Whitby's initial refusal to consider supporting the Elan project caused a backlash of criticism from the public in Birmingham.

A team of officials from Rhayader, the nearest town to the village of Elan, visited the city at the end of March to capitalise on public support for their cause.

They were met by The Lord Mayor of Birmingham Coun John Hood (Con Sutton Vesey) who agreed to set up a public subscription fund.

He donated a symbolic #101 out of his own pocket, representing the number of years the city has drawn its water from Elan.

A further #350 to #400 has since been donated by the public.

"Our Welsh friends believe they have a shared legacy with Birmingham and they are upset the City Council won't begin to acknowledge it," Mr James said. "What they want is a partnership - one that reflects not just 101-years of joint history but also looks forward to another century of shared links."

Mr James said Coun Whitby's initial response was insensitive and had hurt and confused the Welsh campaigners.

Earlier this month Coun Whitby (Con Harborne) was left embarrassed after urging campaigners to ask Severn Trent for cash only to be told the water firm had already agreed to donate a substantial sum to the heritage centre.

Mr James called on the city council to stump up #25,000 - a small sum compared to the authority's #3billion budget, he claimed.

About 110 square miles of the Elan and Claerwen valleys, 70 miles from Birmingham, were flooded to build the reservoir.

The brainchild of Joseph Chamberlain, it secured a supply of clean drinking water to the fast-growing city, helping to fuel its industrial expansion.

More than 100 people living in the Elan Valley were forcibly evicted when the land for the reservoir was acquired.

Coun Whitby maintained the museum was "of limited direct benefit" to the people of Birmingham.

Last night a spokeswoman for the authority said: "We have already made it clear what the council's position is. The city's help will be in the form of the appeal launched by the Lord Mayor."