Twyn Bryn-March, site of the proposed Circuit of Wales. Photo: Alan Bowring CC-BY-SA-2.0

Twyn Bryn-March, site of the proposed Circuit of Wales. Photo: Alan Bowring CC-BY-SA-2.0

Campaigners have expressed their anger at a land swap allowing a motor-racing circuit to be built on the edge of a national park.

Part of the proposed Circuit of Wales will be constructed on common land near the Brecon Beacons.

Because the development will swallow up the land at Trefil Las and Twyn Bryn-March Common near Ebbw Vale in Blaenau Gwent, alternative space has to be provided.

But the Open Spaces Society, the country’s leading campaigning group for commons and green spaces, said seven small parcels of land, one of which is 30 miles away, is a poor alternative. The society described the Welsh Government’s deputy minister’s decision a black day for common land.

The OSS said 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 common.

Because the development, which has planning permission, will be sited on common land, the developers have to provide land in exchange which will then be registered as common. The exchange has to be approved by the minister Rebecca Evans, having regard to the interests of right holders, the neighbourhood and the public.

Kate Ashbrook, general secretary of the Open Spaces Society, said: “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 society said the public inquiry inspector 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 considered 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 reported 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.

Ms Ashbrook said: “This is a black day for common land. We believe that the public will permanently lose out as a result of this decision.”

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