Council to consider development plans for former British ironworks site at Talywain
Twm Owen, local democracy reporter
Plans for what is described as the largest remaining post-industrial site in South Wales could see it used for ‘green’ and hydrogen energy production as well as a salmon farm.
The British, at Talywain, Pontypool, is a former ironworks site. It was brought by Torfaen County Borough Council in 2018 – and the council’s cabinet is now due to consider potential partners for developing the derelict site.
Formal expressions of interest had been invited by the council in 2019 due to the number of approaches it had from firms seeking access – and commitments from it – to develop the site.
The authority has a masterplan, drawn up following public consultation, for the site based on the key key pillars of creating a sustainable community, set within a dramatic natural landscape, with a wealth of historic character.
When the Labour cabinet meets on Tuesday, October 18, it will be advised to authorise officers to draw up a licence for one of three bidders to have access to the site and undertake feasibility studies, on the basis there is no cost to the council.
They will also be able to start thrashing out ‘heads of terms’ for a potential joint venture with the bidder, that is only referred to in council documents as EOI 3 (Expression of Interest), on developing the site. The bidder has proposed establishing a Community Interest Company with the council.
It hopes to use ‘green bonds’ to fund its feasibility work and develop the site for green energy and hydrogen production as well as aquaculture development which would focus on “high nutrition food and salmon production”.
The investment would also fund the restoration of the heritage buildings.
Hydrogen energy production would use pumped hydro storage and re-channelling water flows on site, with the production supplemented by wind and solar, to produce cheap energy for use on site with any surplus sold to the National Grid if a connection is available after 2026.
The bidder is aware that plans are already in place for the Blaengafog brook and there is no opportunity for it to use that water.
The cabinet report also highlights that further due diligence work on the financial and legal liabilities of a potential joint venture will be required and, once costs are known, further funding requests could be made within the council.
Dave Leech, the council’s chief communities officer, says in a report to the cabinet: “EOI 3 is best aligned to the strategic ambition of the council for the British site and officers would recommend working closely and exclusively with the bidder to enable the feasibility work to be undertaken at the full risk of EOI3. It is recommended that a licence be issued to EOI 3 for this purpose.”
Though the bidder has stated in its submission that “the funding structure will not require capital or revenue from the council”, instead promising to raise funds from ‘green bonds’ and trusted investment partners, it has suggested it would be looking for the council to guarantee the ‘green bonds’.
The council will also maintain contact with the two others bidders, that had both proposed using Mynydd Maen for a windfarm, but neither will be granted any lease or licence until the plans with EO1 3 have been fully explored.
The first bidder already has a connection to the grid and, if it had access, was prepared to carry out feasibility studies immediately while the second bidder was reliant on planned connection upgrades, unlikely to be in place before 2026, before it could complete its studies.
The council report said neither could provide “sufficient reassurance that their proposal would result in the delivery of the overall ambition for the British” and it is feared the “less profitable elements of the site would remain undelivered indefinitely if this (profitable) green energy activity was delivered in isolation”.
If the recommendation is approved further work on the details will be undertaken and the council will arrange for the bidder to engage with the local community.
The 10 ‘opportunity areas’ identified in the council’s masterplan are:
Gateway to the British: Car parking and visitor improvements at Big Arch;
Ironworks Heritage Trail & Café: Renovation of the Cornish Engine House and associated trails;
Road Improvements: Adjustment of the northern road access to soften the current bend;
Waterside Landscape Corridor: Creation of walking routes around the phase 1 attenuation ponds;
Potential development areas: Areas that are most likely to be able to accommodate building foundations;
Community food growing zone: Areas earmarked for community food growing/community allotments;
Discovery trail hub: Potential for the British to be a hub on the NCN cycling “Discovery Trail”;
Sustainable energy generation: Solar, wind, hydro and mine-water heating;
Cwmbyrgwm heritage trail: Informal circular walks and interpretation of the Cwmbyrgwm landscape;
Trekking centre: Activity centre and trekking routes across the British.
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