Mixed reactions to £250m adventure resort in Afan Valley
Lewis Smith, Local Democracy Reporter
The valleys of south Wales have always been known for their natural beauty and stunning mountain views – though as you head north from the town of Maesteg, along the winding inclines towards the borough of Neath Port Talbot, there is one otherwise unremarkable location that has come under the spotlight in recent weeks.
This is the Afan Valley, a green and mountainous area of Wales that has traded in its once heavy industrial past built around the mining of coal, for use of its rugged landscape in the form of adventure tourism.
It is the site of the proposed £250m Wildfox adventure resort that has just been approved by Neath Port Talbot Council, promising not only the prospect of a state-of-the-art adventure holiday facility in the borough, but the potential for major economic growth in the area as well.
Based in the Afan Valley on 132 hectares of land at Pen Y Bryn, near the villages of Croeserw and Cymmer, the new Wildfox resort will boast a hotel, indoor water park and rock-climbing centre, along with 570 holiday lodges when completed.
The approval was a decision local Councillor Scott Jones said would be a “massive game changer” for the area, particularly in the villages nearest the site such as Cymmer and Croeserw.
Walking around these small villages now, while some residents are visibly excited about the prospect of the resort coming to them, there are others who choose to keep their cards much closer to their chest, waiting until work actually begins before they allow themselves to believe.
‘Making of area’
Jeff Payne, 69, lives in Croeserw, a small village in the Afan Valley close to where the site will be built, and says he firmly believes the construction of the resort could be the making of the area if it is managed correctly.
He said: “Just look at the scenery and views around you, it’s fantastic up here in this part of Wales especially in the summertime, and we’re convinced the area is perfect for this kind of development.
“There could be a lot of jobs created from the Wildfox site and I’m sure that local shop keepers and suppliers will thrive when it’s built as long as it is run properly, and by genuine people.
“This is what we want for the Afan Valley. In fact, it’s essential for us to have local pleasures and things like this for the local economy because we are just surviving on fresh air up here at the moment.
“People will come from all over England and Wales, perhaps even further afield to enjoy this resort when it’s complete so we really can’t wait. People coming to invest is a great thing and as far as the community is concerned, we want it to be better because Croeserw is our home where we were born and bred.
“We’re not living in big cities like London where there’s lots going on, but a small valleys community that all sticks together. The community here is fantastic and the feeling we get for this kicking off is that it’s great for our children and the future generations to come, but we have to push to make sure it actually happens otherwise it could be very negative for us.”
Barbara Trahar has lived in Croeserw her entire life and says the development is something the people of the village have been waiting to happen for a very long time.
She said: “This is something we have been waiting for, for a long time, and I can remember maybe 20 years ago they were talking about it, but it was always put off. It’s nice now that it has been passed because if you look at the developments that could come out of it, it’s just unbelievable.
“We’re looking at more jobs, and we’re looking at better infrastructure. This was another thing we were concerned about in that if you have 3,000 people per week in there travelling back and forth, the infrastructure has got to be there to support it, so the roads will have to be upgraded which is going to be a winner for us all round.
“They’re also linking with the local a bike track, and in time when they open the tunnel in Abergwynfi they will be able to walk through to the next valley, so there’s loads of opportunities.”
Detailed plans for a £250m adventure resort in Neath Port Talbot’s Afan Valley were given the green light on November 8 after a special council planning committee took place to decide its fate.
Here it was revealed that the approved site would include a hotel, indoor water park and rock-climbing centre, along with 570 holiday lodges.
It will also be home to a modern spa and restaurant with viewing area, a bouldering building with a small retail plaza, along with a forest hub and arrivals building.
Developers at the Salamanca Group have also committed to the provision of a solar farm site and off-site compensation area with associated habitat management plans.
Lisa Evans, 55, works in Croeserw Community Centre and says she thinks this will be a huge boost for the area, not only in Croeserw but across the whole of Neath Port Talbot when it is built.
She said: “I think it will be wonderful for the valleys, creating lots of jobs for local people and hopefully fetching a lot of tourists into the valleys as well.
“It won’t just be the resort either as there’s lots of other places for them to visit from here, such as Aberavon beach and Margam Park, so it could really link these places together and encourage people to take more notice of the Neath Port Talbot area as a whole.
“Obviously there will be a big construction process but we will have to put up with it to achieve what comes after, and I’m sure it will be worth it in the end. There are definitely some fears from locals even now that it won’t go ahead as it is a project that has been discussed for a long time, but I think we have to stay positive.
“I have grown up kids and five grandsons so it will be great for them in the future, getting off the streets with somewhere to go and do these sort of adventure activities.”
Dharmit Patel works in a local convenience shop in Croeserw and says while he thinks there are a huge number of benefits that could come from the construction of the resort, there are also some reservations.
He said: “It’s a lot of money to spend here, and I’m sure overall it will be a positive thing, bringing lots of tourists and people to the area if it goes ahead.
“It has to be done in the right way though, building connections with local shops and businesses to make sure we all benefit from the development and not just taking the trade away. There will be some shops built there, so depending on what they are it will either affect us positively or negatively.
“There has been a bit of scepticism with it as it has been in the pipeline for so long now that some people think it won’t work, particularly during the cost-of-living crisis when people have less money to spend. I think they are projecting a start time of 2024 though so we will just have to wait and see.”
Support our Nation today
For the price of a cup of coffee a month you can help us create an independent, not-for-profit, national news service for the people of Wales, by the people of Wales.