The Open Spaces Society, Britain’s leading pressure-group for common land, is angry that the Welsh Government’s Deputy Minister for Farming and Food, Rebecca Evans, has approved the deregistration and exchange of a square mile of common land, to enable the Circuit of Wales mega-motorsport development to be built on the edge of the Brecon Beacons National Park in south Wales.
The application from the Heads of the Valleys Development Company to swap common land was heard at an eight-day public inquiry in March. The Open Spaces Society joined the Brecon Beacons Park Society, British Horse Society, Gwent Wildlife Trust and other objectors in arguing that the proposed seven areas of land offered in exchange were inferior and did not compensate for the loss of the extensive Trefil Las and Twyn Bryn-March Common near Ebbw Vale in Blaenau Gwent.
Because the development, which had planning permission, was to be sited on common land, the developers had to provide land in exchange which would then be registered as common. The exchange had to be approved by the Minister, having regard to the interests of right holders, the neighbourhood and the public.
Says Kate Ashbrook, general secretary of the Open Spaces Society: ‘We are appalled that the Minister concludes that it is acceptable to sacrifice a square mile of open hillside, where people have rights to walk and ride, on the edge of a National Park in exchange for seven much smaller areas scattered some distance away, where either there is already public access by right or custom, or the land is inaccessible. We argued at the inquiry that this was an unfair exchange and did not meet the requirements of the law.
‘Indeed, a chunk of the exchange land is Wentwood Forest, 30 miles away in Monmouthshire, which is already leased to the Welsh Government and where the public can walk and ride freely.’
The public-inquiry inspector, Mr Emyr Jones, conceded that ‘overall the proposal would be detrimental to the public interest in the protection of public rights of access’, and that ‘placing a development of the scale and nature represented by the Circuit of Wales in such a location would have a significant and irreversible detrimental effect on the character and appearance of the site itself and the surrounding area … the Circuit would erode the sweeping grandeur and sense of remoteness experienced within part of the National Park’.
He further considered that the proposal ‘would cause significant harm to the public interest in landscape conservation’ and that it ‘would be detrimental to the public interest in the protection of public rights of access’. However, he concluded that the alleged socio-economic benefits of the proposal would ‘outweigh the identified harm and failure to provide land of “at least equal benefit”’.
The Deputy Minister agreed with the inspector and confirmed the exchange.
‘This is a black day for common land,’ says Kate Ashbrook. ‘We believe that the public will permanently lose out as a result of this decision.’