The Circuit of Wales has the green light for development, with approval given for more than 600 acres of common land north of Ebbw Vale to be deregistered to enable the multi-million pound project to proceed.
Developers believe the motor sport complex will bring 6,000 full-time jobs and around 750,000 visitors a year, and pump £45m annually into the local economy.
And it is this massive investment into one of Wales’ most deprived areas that appears to have swung the decision in its favour.
It has already secured a five-year contract plus a further five-year option to hold the British MotoGP, although Silverstone will host the 2016 race.
Rebecca Evans, the Welsh Government’s deputy minister for farming and food, has approved an application for the exchange of the common land required for part of the circuit, at Trefil Las and Twyn Bryn-March Common.
In a letter to legal representatives of the Heads of the Valleys Development Company (HOTVDC) – which is behind the £315m Circuit of Wales project – and seen by the Argus, she agrees with the conclusion of planning inspector Emyr Jones that deregistering the common land will harm the public interest in landscape conservation, and the protection of public rights of access.
Mr Jones also considered that the land offered as proposed replacement for the loss of common land for the circuit is not of at least equal benefit.
He states that if there was nothing of “very significant public benefit” to balance the proposal there would have been sufficient evidence to justify refusing the application.
But he concludes that the socio-economic benefits of the Circuit of Wales will bring that significant public benefit and Ms Evans agrees.
In her letter she states: “I believe the socio-economic benefits… will be of significant public benefit to both the immediate area and beyond.”
The 830-acre Circuit of Wales is proposed for land north of the Rassau industrial estate.
The project has garnered widespread support with Blaenau Gwent MP Nick Smith called the case in favour “compelling” and AM Alun Davies saying it is set to have a “transformative” effect. Ebbw Vale’s Business Forum has also backed the project.
A Welsh Government spokesman confirmed that Ms Evans has informed the applicant of her formal decision to grant the application for deregistration and exchange of common land.
She has made an Order giving effect to that decision, which is subject to a condition “which means that the Order will not have effect until those rights of common existing on the release land have been both surrendered by the commoners and also removed from register of common land.”
There has been opposition to the project too.
Michael Carrick, HOTVDC chief executive, said gaining approval to deregister the common land is “vital” for the Circuit of Wales to proceed.
He said the mitigation measures proposed had the support of “93 per cent of local residents, the commoners, and the local councils.”
“The Circuit of Wales has the ability to generate thousands of employment opportunities, attract greater long-term investment and deliver regeneration into Blaenau Gwent and South Wales,” he said.
The Open Spaces Society, the pressure-group for common land gave evidence against the deregistration proposal at the public inquiry last March and general secretary Kate Ashbrook said she is “appalled” at the conclusion “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.”
“This is a black day for common land. We believe that the public will permanently lose out as a result of this decision.”
The Circuit of Wales has been granted permission to build on common land, according to the Open Spaces Society.
Campaigners say 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 motorsport development to be built on the edge of the Brecon Beacons National Park.
The Heads of the Valleys Development Company (HOTVDC) has said their £315 million Ebbw Vale race track development will bring 6,000 full time jobs and an annual 750,000 visitors.
They were told in August that Ms Evans was “minded to grant them” their section 16 application to de-register common land, subject to consultation with people who would be affected by the project.
The 830-acre development would be located next to the Rassau Industrial Estate.
The Open Spaces Society’s general secretary has however criticised the decision, calling it a ‘black day’ for common land.
The 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.
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.”