Eco-worries over Circuit of Wales, Ebbw Vale lifted

Artist impression of circuit
Image caption The £280m race track would be built near Ebbw Vale

Eco-worries over plans for a £280m motor racing circuit in Blaenau Gwent have been lifted after an environment body said it would not ask ministers to investigate the proposals.

Natural Resources Wales (NRW) had been concerned about the visual impact of the proposed Circuit of Wales near Ebbw Vale on a nearby national park.

If it had recommended a so-called "call in" by ministers it could have delayed the scheme by up to a year.

But NRW said it had been reassured.

Campaigners said the news was "a big boost" for the plans - and said it was "heartening" that NRW had worked with the developers to secure the agreement.

The Welsh government said it would consider responses from other people affected by the plans before deciding whether or not the application should be called in.

Developers want the 830 acres (335 hectares) site to host all motor racing championships - except Formula One.

The plans also include a hotel with conference facilities along with a business and leisure complex.

Outline planning permission for the race track was granted unanimously by Blaenau Gwent council on 10 July.

But NRW had been asked by the Welsh government to advise it on whether the scheme should be called in for further investigations.

Graham Hillier from NRW said the body had recognised the importance of the development for the local community.

"Equally, we would have failed in our statutory duties if we had not raised the concerns about the impact this proposed development could have on the environment," he said.

"Following lengthy discussion with the developers, we have agreed how the potential impacts of this development could be mitigated and the scheme can progress."

Supporters say the track would generate £50m a year for the economy.

The MP for Blaenau Gwent, Nick Smith, said there was still a long way to go before the plans became reality but welcomed the decision by NRW.

He said the venture would bring thousands of jobs to the area.

"It would be a real turning point in Blaenau Gwent's history," he said.

"We have been bereft of a big development for a generation, and our community has suffered as a result.

"It is heartening to see the NRW using their remit to work with the developers for the benefit of everyone concerned.

"There is still a long way to go but a big hurdle has been overcome."

Environmental impact

NRW had initially raised several concerns about the race track plans, including loss of habitat and visual effect on the nearby Brecon Beacons national park.

Gwent Wildlife Trust also said it was concerned about the environmental impact of the development on land next to the Rassau industrial estate.

Michael Carrick, chief executive of Heads of the Valleys Development Company which is behind the project, said it had worked with interested parties throughout the planning process to ensure concerns were addressed.

"After ongoing discussions with Natural Resources Wales we are pleased to have reached a positive outcome and await further news once the Welsh government has had sufficient time to consider the responses from stakeholders," he added.

A Welsh Government spokesman said: "We have received a letter from NRW indicating their view that the planning application need not be called in on issues within their remit.

"Officials will now consider the responses of other consultees and all other information before them and prepare advice for the minister on whether or not the application should be called in.

"This will be done as soon as possible."

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