Ebbw Vale race track approval prompts environment fears

Artist impression of circuit
Image caption Developers want to see the race track up and running by 2015-16

A leading wildlife group has said it is disappointed that plans to build a £280m race track in Blaenau Gwent have been approved by local councillors.

Councillors backed the Circuit of Wales development near Ebbw Vale at a meeting on Wednesday.

Supporters say it will generate £50m a year for the economy but Gwent Wildlife Trust says it will damage habitat.

The Welsh government is undergoing consultation over a request to call in the plans for inspection.

Outline planning permission for the race track was granted unanimously by a special meeting of the county borough council.

The project covers 830 acres (335 hectares) of land next to the Rassau industrial estate, and will be built by the Heads of the Valleys Development Company (HVDC).

It claims the track represents the largest ever privately-led investment programme UK motor sport has ever seen.

The backers want construction to start by the end of 2013 and say it will create 3,000 new jobs during that phase, and will see between 4,000 and 6,000 people employed once the development is complete.

"It is a hugely important development, not just for the regeneration of Blaenau Gwent but also for the UK economy, and will enable significant private capital to be mobilised," said HVDC chief executive Michael Carrick.

"We promise to deliver a truly innovative and sustainable business, helping to deliver long-term economic and social benefits for the region."

The first phase of the planned development is building the international-specification motor racing circuit, including a hotel and commercial and retail complexes.

It will include a 3.5-mile (5.6km) track, a motocross track, an international karting track and off-road driving facilities.

The backers say it will also provide a hub for research and development in environmental technology and energy.

Lost habitat

But the Gwent Wildlife Trust said it would continue to oppose the project.

Its chief executive Tom Clarke said: "The size and scale of the project is of such a large proportion that it should be called in [for examination by government inspectors]," he said.

"Our main concern is the loss of habitat, and the impact that will have.

"There will be the loss of enormous peat reserves, and that has an important role to play in carbon storage.

"It is disappointing, particularly when you realise the great tragedy is you are taking an area that is offsetting carbon emissions, and turning it into an area that will generate carbon emissions."

The trust said it had voiced concerns about the impact the development may have on watercourses in the area, and how that could affect flooding issues in the future.

It also objected to the loss of natural open space, as the area is common and open access land.

The original plans had also faced opposition from Environment Agency Wales, now part of Natural Resources Wales (NRW).

But after councillors backed the outline planning application, NRW said it believed many of its concerns had been addressed.

"We recognise this is an important development for this area," said Graham Hillier, executive director at NRW.

"We have already been working with the developer to find ways in which the environmental impacts can be reduced.

"We will continue working with the developer and local authority to get the best possible outcome for both the environment, community and the economy."

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