Council grants planning permission for £150m rail centre despite ‘concerns’
Elgan Hearn, local democracy reporter
Planners have agreed in principle to building a £150 million train testing centre near Ystradgynlais despite concerns.
At a meeting of Powys County Council’s planning committee on Thursday, July 29, councillors looked at an outline planning proposal by the Welsh Government minister for a Global Centre of Rail Excellence (GCRE) to be built at the Nant Helen opencast coal mine.
If successful the project is expected to be fully operational by 2025, bringing a possible 300 jobs to the area, and councillors believe the economic benefit outweighed all other concerns.
At the meeting one of the local Powys County Councillors, Cllr David Thomas who represents Tawe-Uchaf stressed he welcomed the project but pointed out the there were concerns about its potential impact in the area.
He wanted the committee to consider whether “appropriate measures” are in place to lessen the gravity of any problems that could occur such as flooding issues.
Cllr Thomas said: “These are critical questions as the safety of 300 plus residents depend on them.
“I’m disappointed that the committee has not been to visit the area prior to the determination of this complex planning application.
“Without that on the ground knowledge I believe that you’ll find it difficult to judge the effectiveness of the mitigation.”
Caehopkin resident, Susan Pyett also spoke at the meeting objecting to the plans and stressed the possible noise problems that come from the site could affect villagers.
Planning officer, Gemma Bufton told the committee that noise has been “thoroughly considered” and there would be ongoing monitoring.
Ms Bufton, said “As part of the permission conditions a complaints procedure and a community liaison group to be set up to resolve problems.”
A separate SUDs application had been submitted to both Powys and Neath Port Talbot councils to deal with drainage issues, explained Ms Bufton.
Welsh Government, director of economic infrastructure Simon Jones, explained that the idea for the testing centre had emerged while talking to companies and trying to entice them to Wales to set up train building factories.
He said that not being able to test “rolling stock and infrastructure” fully in UK and Europe had been identified as a problem.
Mr Jones, said: “Our ambition is that those organisations that are performing that innovation will put roots down in the local community to be able to access that facility.”
“It’s about us creating something that industry will want to be near because they can’t access to this kind of facility anywhere else.”
He added that ministers had been pleased when UK Government chancellor, Rishi Sunak MP, had “unexpectedly” announced in his March budget and investment of £30 million into the project.
The Welsh Government is ready to invest £50 million, bringing the total funding for the scheme up to £80 million.
Cllr David Selby pointed out that there are over 60 conditions attached to the planning permission to ensure it does not disadvantage the community.
Cllr Selby said: “I’m delighted of the idea of a community liaison, group, I want assurance that the monitoring will be properly resourced.”
Lead professional planning officer, Peter Morris said: “We’re trying to make sure the development we have here is the best we can make it be and that it’s controlled properly.
“We want to see the operator will look to solve complaints themselves rather than things come directly to us.”
He believed that liaison committee would be key to this and a “good approach” to take.
Cllr Elwyn Vaughan said: “It is a step-by-step approach because of the complexity of the site, I welcome the mitigation proposals which alleviate concerns.”
Cllr Vaughan added he would be happy to propose the motion.
Cllr Hywel Lewis said: “I’m fully prepared to second the scheme.
“There may be a few small niggles, but the economic benefit far outweighs any other impact.”
The committee supported the application, with 15 votes for, one abstention and no votes against it.
The exact wording of the conditional consent will be delegated to Mr Morris and planning committee chairman Cllr Karl Lewis to write.