TALYBONT-ON-USK COMMUNITY COUNCIL
NOTES OF MEETING HELD ON TUESDAY 19TH SEPTEMBER 2023 WITH WELSH GOVERNMENT – GILESTONE FARM
Jason Thomas (JT) – Director, Culture, Sports and Tourism
Gerwyn Evans (GE) –Deputy Director, Creative Wales
Dai Baker (DB) – Welsh Government (WG)
Cllr John Jones – Chairman Talybont-on-Usk Community Council
Cllr Nina Krauzewicz
Cllr Phil Darbyshire
Cllr Harry Chapman
Cllr Craig Burdon
Cllr Glyn Thomas
Cllr Geraint James – Vice Chairman
Cllr Chris Jones
Ms Clare Preece – Clerk Talybont-on-Usk Community Council
Welcome and Introductions
Latest from Welsh Government
A constructive debate took place and notes were made as follows:
The Chair of Council Cllr John Jones opened the meeting by welcoming the Welsh Government (WG) officials from the Creative Wales team led by Jason Thomas (JT), Director of Culture, Sport and Tourism, Gerwyn Evans (GE), Deputy Director Creative Wales and Dai Baker (DB), Sector Development Manager.
Cllr Jones explained that the aim of the Council was to try and represent the people of the Talybont Community while fully cooperating and working with (WG) by communicating openly and honestly in consulting with a community that had been polarised by the proposed Gilestone Farm developments.
He stated that personally he was supportive of Green Man at Glan Usk and fully recognised why the WG were keen to retain the Festival in Wales. He and the Council also fully appreciated that there were no plans to transfer the current festival to Gilestone Farm. Indeed, he felt if that were the case it would probably have been more acceptable to the community given Green Man Festival is one week out of a year with the current proposal to create a permanent venue at Gilestone. The potential to have significant impact on all aspects of the village and surrounding communities and environment throughout the year is obviously of concern to many people resulting in anxiety about what could possibly take place given the level of consultation to date. The Council hence felt that bearing in mind the current situation it was sensible to move forward urgently with the survey allowing the community to express their views even given the limited information available. The survey was therefore carried out so as to reboot the consultation process in an attempt to avoid even further escalation of what has become a very worrying and unhealthy situation here in Talybont on Usk.
The Community Council were now satisfied that they had fulfilled their role in carrying out the survey as part of the Community engagement process.
Regarding the Survey Process
The survey was conducted in line with audit guidelines to ensure credibility, relevance, confidentiality, and value for money. Cllr Jones explained how the survey was done in house with external consultants only used for distribution of the survey forms and the online part of the survey including analysis of responses. This was necessary to put as little strain as possible on the public purse, the cost being £1211.42. Its compilation involved all Councillors in post at the time and at every stage. It was sent out to all those on the electoral roll with the results independently verified before being sent to WG and published on the Council website.
JT commented that the WG survey experts thought that the design of the survey questions could have been improved but acknowledged that the Community Council were not professionals in this area and that the survey had been conducted with no allocated budget and as efficiently as possible taking into account use of public funds.
The Chairman stated that the survey questions and returns had been further examined by the Head of Cardiff Research Centre who considered overall the survey to be balanced and fair taking into consideration the information that had been made available by the government and Green Man Project and that it is, after all, a guide to the general feeling present within the Community at that moment in time.
JT said he wanted to make it clear that they were not challenging the process and had welcomed the opportunity to view the results and the many comments from individuals within the Community.
Cllr Jones went on to say that whatever anyone thought about the results one thing was absolutely clear and that was that the vast majority of people felt the need for more detailed information about what exactly was being planned. A major concern being in relation to large scale events which many respondents felt completely unsuited to this location for many reasons.
Discussion on Information and Engagement
JT said that Civil Servants observe a code of conduct which endorses Integrity, Honesty, Objectivity and Impartiality. He said that they live by the code. Economic development is needed in Mid Wales and that the priority is sustainable growth. He said that WG will not steamroll the community’s feelings. He said that he acknowledges what WG have got wrong and that he genuinely feels that this will be great for Wales but that he did not gauge the level of anxiety within the community. Cllr Jones responded saying that the council were grateful for that.
GE said that Fiona Stewart’s objectives had been clearly stated on their website making an argument for the economic benefits to the Welsh economy.
Cllr Darbyshire said that the Council have had not had sufficient information to enable it to independently quantify the economic benefit.
JT said that simply if it does not stack up then they will not be doing it.
Cllr Burdon had looked at the Green Man website thoroughly and said the information available on there needed more detail. He had asked questions using their online facility but had not had a response. He had noted that their FAQs are not updated regularly. A figure of £23 million in contribution to the Welsh economy had been thrown out there without any substance to back these claims up. He said there needs to be clean lines between Gilestone and Green Man to reflect clarity on these financial claims.
Cllr Chapman added that he agreed there needs to be more flesh on the bone. Nothing seems to be gained from these meetings just a lot of talk which is making things difficult for the Council.
Cllr Darbyshire pointed out that the Council are a group of moderates. There are extremes but the Council was working hard to steer the middle ground. Opinions are polarised and there is currently a war on social media. He would very much welcome a discussion surrounding timelines and any opportunity to work with WG to provide more detailed information to the community regarding what exactly is planned.
Cllr Krauzewicz attended the Stop Gilestone march after being made aware that 80-year-old residents had joined the march carrying placards and found concerns particularly about increased traffic and noise and worry for wildlife.
JT said that the WG has never intended to steamroll the community and thinks that this is a moderate room and all questions are valid. They admit they have got some things wrong but that they believe this is such a good opportunity for Wales. Fiona Stewart has sustainable economic development ideas that appeal to the WG.
On Planning and the Lease
Although assurances were given that the Green Man Festival would not come to the area there were misgivings that the business will get sold once the owner had capitalised on the acquisition of the site. The very real fear in the area is that Gilestone will become the new Green Man but not just for one week per year but 365 days. If the plans relating to a brewery, bakery and farm which supplies supermarkets are realised the infrastructure could not withstand the volume of traffic and heavy goods vehicles required for distribution let alone the thousands of visitors necessary to deliver appropriate income to sustain such a venture.
JT assured the meeting that mass volume is not a consideration.
GE added that under no circumstance would business plans be shared when they were in commercial contract negotiations. They said that WG would not be involved in this project if they feared that the Green Man would sell to another corporate entity and offered assurances to the Council that this would be addressed in the lease discussions. Clauses in the lease were currently being negotiated.
Cllr Jones stated that perhaps the lease could be a sensible way to deal not only with the sale of Green Man at Glan Usk but also with the issue of music festivals at Gilestone which are clearly a key issue for majority of the community.
Cllr Burdon asked if the road network had been taken into consideration in the planning of this agreement.
JT said that the negotiation between the parties did not go into this level of detail and that unless the correct licensing and agreements were in place with the BBNPA then it will not be going ahead.
Cllr Burdon also voiced concerns that preplanning applications could have already been completed ahead of the lease agreement although there has been no response to the Council asking for an informal planning consultation with the developer.
Cllr Jones and Cllr Thomas spoke again on the subject of planning and the National Parks authority highlighting that the Community Council have tried to register concerns in the past on a number of applications but the Council’s comments had fallen on deaf ears. An example was given as the Outdoor Centre which was granted planning permission for 60 tents with a Certificate of Lawfulness because there used to be a campsite there. This is not correct and although the Council had challenged the decision were told the permission would go ahead regardless of the Council’s views. There have been several instances where Council’s views are not taken into consideration.
Cllr Jones said that he had been informed the National Parks do not have the resources to deal with breaches in planning policy which has been evidenced recently with a number of developments in the area progressing without proper consultation or authority. He was concerned that given the already declared support for the Green Man Project by BBNPA and Powys County Council anything would be allowed unchallenged at Gilestone. WG said that they would make sure that planning approvals will be implemented in the right way. Clearly things have not been done correctly in the past.
Cllr Thomas said that it was all very well to mention up to 3 events per year but those residents living on Station Road already have experience of many unlicensed events prior to the Welsh Government ownership These events include large weddings with loud music emanating from the Gilestone Farm location causing serious disturbance to residents. This noise not only directly affects many local residents but also reverberates through the whole valley. The family of a seriously autistic boy who live nearby are now already being forced to look at a move away from the area.
GE said that the power lies in the process of the licencing and planning authorities. This fact highlights the necessity for the council to speak to BBNPA and ask that planning applications be decided by committee and not by a planning officer so that the parks have an obligation to consult. It was agreed by WG that conversations need to be had. He added that the WG will do nothing the harm the environment. The tenant will not be let loose to do what they want.
Cllr Jones said he felt reassured by GE’s commitment to preserve the environment and felt as though the Council had been “thrown under a bus” with regard to this whole project and hoped it was now recognised by all that the Community Council has no power whatsoever to determine anything or even influence planning decisions on any development that may adversely affect the residents in the area. He very much welcomed the WG’s support in influencing the relevant authorities to change this situation.
Cllr Darbyshire asked if the one component of the development depended upon another being successful. He asked what proportion of the jobs the development promises to create are going to based around the buildings and would they be full time, or part time people employed during events.
JT said that all these are valid questions and he understands that more detail is needed but WG are in commercial negotiations and cannot release the information. Also, that what happens in year three could influence what is done in year five. This also highlights again the need for a proper consultation process with Powys County Council and the BBNPA.
Current Situation and the Ospreys
GE confirmed that ospreys were on the site and that he was delighted at the amazing news and that this announcement impacted on the business plan overnight and was a game changer. The WG have commissioned a conservation report from an expert ornithologist, and this will drive what happens on site. Some of the proposed activities may still be able to go ahead to deliver on their objectives. A “Tweet” had been published by WG following the discovery. An exclusion zone will be needed around the birds for their protection and security has already been installed.
GE said that the protection of ospreys is a very powerful piece of legislation and one the WG was absolutely committed to adhering to. The discovery of these birds on the site could be a game changer in a positive way and had impacted on everything that had been previously discussed. The osprey report will influence the decision that will be made by WG. Councillors expressed real enthusiasm to see this as part of a solution.
The WG said they would commit to sharing the report on the ospreys once it has been approved.
JT said that Ministers want the matter sorted out as soon as possible and that so much work has been put into it and more needs to be done but it needs to be resolved as soon as is possible for everyone’s sake and clearly decisions will be have to be made as to whether WG do a deal with Green Man or not. For information the lease with Charles Weston will end on 25th October 2023 and no decision had yet been made going forward. The WG obviously want to manage this asset as well as possible.
JT committed to coming to give a presentation to the community and to take questions once the osprey report had been finalised.
This offer was very much welcomed and appreciated by all.
The meeting concluded with a discussion around the unnecessary and unwarranted attacks on the Community Council and its Clerk from various supporters of the Green Man Gilestone Farm Project in what clearly are orchestrated attacks and attempts to disrupt the Council now at every opportunity including Council meetings. Councillors explained how the Council had borne the brunt of a Pro Gilestone Group angst which had severely disrupted the previous night’s Council meeting. It was hoped that following this meeting with WG officials and the sensible discussions with the open and honest exchange of information that has taken place the WG recognises the Council is working fairly with them to bring this proposal to a satisfactory conclusion. Further, that they can recognise that the Council is representing the Talybont on Usk community to the best of its ability.
WG stated they had received significant Freedom of Information (FoI) requests on this subject and alongside all the extra work involved in dealing with these and the wider correspondence from those against the proposal has slowed them down from resolving the matter.
The Clerk reiterated she too was in receipt of many duplicated questions/complaints and FoIs which had completely disrupted her statutory duties as Clerk. WG sympathised with this and DB offered his help to navigate the process.
Regarding the many similar or duplicated FoIs, complaints received by the Council from Pro Gilestone Group supporters and conflicting advice received on how to deal with these, the WG officers offered their support. Steven Kingstone, therefore, will be asked to speak to the Monitoring Officer at Powys County Council to confirm a few aspects of the procedure.
The Chair, Clerk and all Councillors thanked Jason, Gerwyn and Dai for visiting Henderson Hall to meet us and for what was a sensible and constructive meeting.