Future of council-run community farm in doubt
Twm Owen, local democracy reporter
A council run farm attraction could face closure less than a year after a £1.7 million revamp was approved, unless its budget is doubled.
Greenmeadow Community Farm, in Cwmbran, has remained closed since autumn last year after the first stages in its overhaul, which was the creation of a children’s play area, was delayed due to rising construction costs.
That meant the 120 acre attraction which is still a small working farm couldn’t open to visitors as planned in the spring and its gates remained locked throughout the summer with nine staff made redundant.
Now all members of Torfaen Borough Council will be asked next week whether it should agree to find an extra £1.6 million and press ahead with the investment in revamping the attraction or agree to pull the plug and close the farm.
If the 250-year old farm, that has been run as a community attraction since the 1980s when enthusiasts feared it would be lost to development, is saved from closure it won’t reopen until 2025 as outlined earlier this year when the council confirmed it would miss the planned spring reopening.
Should the Labour controlled council agree to find the extra £1,641,400 capital funding to complete the revamp, which was intended to ensure the farm could attract enough new visitors so that it could run without a council subsidy, it will also have to budget for additional annual running costs.
It had been intended the farm, which is located off Greenforge Way in a residential area, would generate enough income to turn a profit from the 2024/25 financial year but a report for the Tuesday, September 19 council meeting states those projection have been blown off course.
Instead the council, which is expecting to produce a near £1m underspend this financial year largely due to a failure to fill social care vacancies, will have to find another £400,000 annually in its revenue budget, for day-to-day costs, to fund the farm through to 2029/30 when it could reach profitability.
Closing the farm would cost the council around £68,000 in further redundancy costs to cover those staff responsible for the animals and grounds, and an estimated £100,000 to secure buildings, maintain alarm systems and make weekly inspections for a year. Further spending would also be needed to remove play equipment and sheds.
The report to be presented to the full council asks that either option A, to approve the additional spending, or option B, to approve the closure, is backed but doesn’t recommend either as a preferred decision.
The council has said visitor numbers have “declined steadily in the 2000s and 2010s” and in 2019 it appointed consultants to help it look at a more sustainable business model.
Visitor numbers, in the report for the council, show there was a total of 61,573 in 2016/17 which increased to more than 66,000 in the following financial year before falling to 63,837 in 2018/19. In 2019/20, which was impacted by early weeks of the Covid pandemic and lockdown, numbers stood at 48,662.
The £1.7m overhaul, which included plans for a zip wire, the new children’s play area to create indoor attractions, and revamping its food and drink outlets, was agreed by the full council in October last year and was intended to help attract more than 700,000 paying customers a year by 2026 and boost tourism in Torfaen.
The 2022 plan included £1.2m of borrowing by the council to fund the work but it said potential contractors soon raised concerns over “costs and timelines” and that inflation and the proposed budget made it unattractive.
Council officers then agreed, in March this year, to delay the reopening and brought on board new consultants to review the plans and implications for the agreed business plan.
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