Election candidates voice concerns over £100m leisure village plans
Gareth Williams, local democracy reporter
Candidates vying to become Holyhead’s newest councillor have called for a review of plans for a £100m holiday village on the outskirts of the town.
Despite the principle of building on parts of the site being established eight years ago following approval of a contentious planning application, recent months have seen a marked resurgence of a long running campaign to “save” a popular nature reserve.
Land and Lakes, which has purchased the Penrhos site once owned by Anglesey Aluminium, says it is committed to keeping the coastal path open and accessible to the public.
But despite outline planning permission being granted by Anglesey Council in 2013, the Save Penrhos group has been continuing to campaign, fearing the potential impact on the 28 acres of woodland and continued public access.
Including up to 500 lodges and cottages at Penrhos, the outline permission also includes a water park, sports hall and restaurants.
Meanwhile, another 600 homes at Cae Glas and Kingsland were set to be used as temporary accommodation for workers building the proposed – but since suspended – Wylfa Newydd nuclear power station, before being converted into conventional housing.
Plans for the £100m Bluestone Holy Island Resort at Penrhos were later formalised after the firm struck a deal with Land and Lakes in 2018.
Land and Lakes has maintained it would continue to offer public access to “much” of the woodlands and nature trails, having successfully applied for the coastal path to be dedicated as a public right of way in 2017, ensuring it will remain accessible for the long term.
With the resort tipped to create 900 jobs, it had been expected that a detailed planning application would be submitted by the summer – which would need further approval from Anglesey Council – ahead of a hoped 2023 completion date.
But after Bluestone revealed last month that the plans are currently on hold due to “no funding solution” being in place, it has sparked calls from some for a review of the entire proposals.
Thursday will see Wales turn out for the Senedd and Police and Crime Commissioner elections, but residents in the port town – as well as the Seiriol ward on the eastern tip of Anglesey – will also vote for a new councillor to represent them on Anglesey Council, following the death of Cllr Shaun Redmond last year.
With the Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS) having contacted all four Caergybi ward candidates for their views, two have responded and stated their continued reservations over the proposals.
Howard Browes, who is standing for Plaid Cymru, believes that what’s being proposed for Penrhos “isn’t right.”
“We must preserve our heritage and natural assets, therefore Penrhos must not be sacrificed for short term financial gain, and why planning permission was awarded in 2013 must be challenged,” he said.
“The Covid pandemic has resulted in many of us re-evaluating our priorities and better valuing our locality. Developments, solely based on ‘profits for investors/ shareholders’ which disregard local needs and local views are wrong for the community and future generations.
“My view is simple, this planning application should have never been approved. The current planning approval ignores the views of local people and destroys a treasured and much-loved natural resource.”
Jen Saboor, who is standing for Welsh Labour, says that Bluestone’s lack of funding solution means it is “unclear what the future holds.”
“I am worried about what Land and Lakes will do next,” she told the LDRS.
“Rio Tinto Zinc/AAM Ltd should not have sold this part of the estate – the community thought it had already been given to them, and that would have been the right thing to do.
“The Save Penrhos group are passionate about the Nature Reserve portion and want to raise enough money to buy the reserve and run it themselves for the community.
“I think this would be an excellent outcome.”
Both Jeff Evans and James Marsden, standing as independent and Welsh Liberal Democrat candidates respectively, have not responded.
Mr Evans, however, was an Anglesey Councillor at the time of the 2013 outline planning decision but rules meant he was unable to vote due to representing an affected area, namely the neighbouring Ynys Gybi ward.
But speaking at a public meeting in Holyhead to rally support for the development beforehand, Mr Evans lauded the economic benefits, with a subsequent condition stating that around 80% of the facility’s employees would be local.
Mr Evans was quoted as saying: “The island has high unemployment. I’ve been involved with youth clubs and speak to teenagers who are sitting their GCSEs and what they tell me is that they don’t want to leave the island, but they feel they have no choice if they want to work.
“They are sitting exams to leave Anglesey when they want to be able to live and work here.
“The developers have said that the Welsh language, our culture and history will be a selling point to bring tourists here and that creating jobs here would protect it.
“We cannot allow the lifeblood of the language to leave and migrate for work.
“We cannot be scared of progress which is why I will be speaking in favour of the application at the meeting.”
The candidates were pressed on what alternatives they could offer as an economic boost for the town, were their opposition to the Penrhos developments actually realised.
In response, Plaid candidate Howard Browes said, “Employment in Holyhead must not be based solely on employment associated with tourism and the port. To develop much needed employment for the town, and especially our young people, we need to attract new employers, which provide a wider range of job opportunities.
“The proposed Freeport development may attract new employers to the town. This remains a contentious issue with ‘indecision and a lock of purpose’ clear between Westminster and the Senedd. As a result, Liverpool will gain if this indecision and lack of political will is not sorted.
“Holyhead must be viewed as an ‘New Enterprise Zone’. Holyhead is ready and waiting for interest, investment, and jobs.”
Labour candidate Jen Saboor, asked the same question, said: “Tourism is one of our major industries and, because of the pandemic, British people will be staying in the UK much more often.
“We need to take advantage of this and work to make sure that here on Anglesey we offer facilities and things for tourists to do all year round.
“We need to make it easier for businesses to set up in our town, for example through grants or reductions in council tax.
“We also need to encourage manufacturing industries to come to the Island, including in the emerging green economy. I also strongly support more all-age apprenticeships.”
The full list of candidates contesting the Caergybi ward by-election on Thursday, May 6, is:
Howard Browes, Plaid Cymru
Jeff Evans, Independent
Jennifer Saboor, Labour
James Marsden, Welsh Liberal Democrats