Swansea teenager campaigning for BMX track left disappointed by planners’ ‘negative feedback’
Richard Youle, local democracy reporter
A teenager who has been trying for three years to get an outdoor track for BMX riders and skateboarders said he was frustrated by the negative response to the proposal by Swansea Council’s planning department.
Jake Gates and two friends, Elliott Wadley and Jed Wood, have been carrying out surveys, knocking on doors, fundraising and trying to encourage as much support for the project since October 2018.
“It’s a great feeling when adults are listening to you,” said Jake, 15, of Bishopston, Gower. “The whole idea is to get people outside and off their screens.”
The efforts of Bishopston Skatepark Project and their supporters have included running skateboard sessions for primary school pupils, a sponsored 24-hour trampoline challenge, and a presentation to Bishopston Community Council.
They have spoken to their local police officer, the National Lottery, a BMX track designer, and also an ecologist and historian about the site, on Mansel Green, Murton, which was selected as the best location for the free-to-use track.
Jake said the initial idea was to create a skate park but that a consultation revealed a preference for a pump track – an undulating asphalt course for BMX riders but also skateboarders and scooter riders.
He said the community council was on board with the project and that permission to use the area of Mansel Green in question had been given by the Gower Commoners Association.
Swansea Council, he said, had provided nearly £5,000 in grants for things like design and planning costs, while ward councillor Lyndon Jones had been very supportive.
In May Jake’s mother submitted a pre-application enquiry to the council for a 684sq m pump track on Mansel Green, with additional documents. These included a letter from the community council which, along with Bishopston Skatepark Project, wants to add nature trails and enhance the area around the proposed pump track.
But council planning officers said recreation proposals in the open countryside, like Mansel Green, would only be allowed if they were economically viable, helped improve tourism, and could not be situated within or adjoining an existing settlement. Access and impact on residents were also key considerations.
Officers said the pump track would bring no economic benefit and that land opposite, on Murton Green playing fields, was considered a better location and was located within a defined settlement boundary.
The man-made bumps of the pump track would, they added, “significantly alter the heathland character” of the site, with bins and seating compounding the issue.
Officers said they’d been advised there were “significant concerns” with the proposed location but added that residents – the nearest of whom would be 130m away- would not be adversely affected.
Jake said he was disappointed, especially given the support from other departments within the council. He also said he’d been advised that the response would come after three weeks, rather than the 15 weeks which transpired. Planning officers apologised for the delay.
Asked if there was opposition to the proposal, Jake said people had asked questions about it but had changed their mind and come to support it.
“It’s such a shame that the planning department gave so much negative feedback, but we will try really hard to take it on board,” he said.
“We will address every issue and concern they have. We are already working on getting ecological studies.”
But the Bishopston comprehensive pupil said everything was on hold for now, and that he was worried there could be extended delays if surveys had to be carried out at specific times of the year.
He thanked everyone who has donated to the project, which would cost £70,000 to £80,000 to build, and said he was determined it would materialise.
Jake’s mother, Sally-Anne Gates, said he was persistent and always looked at the positive side of things.
She added: “He is not afraid of people saying ‘no’.”
Cllr Jones said he had backed Jake, Elliott and Jed from the outset. “Initially they didn’t have great support, but we have come a long way,” he said.
“We conducted a survey, which I paid for personally, and there was a phenomenal response.
“Since then the community council and commoners have come on board as well.
“There is now huge support, and there is a need for it in the community.”
Cllr Jones said construction firm Kier, which is working on Bishopston comprehensive, would help Jake and his supporters prepare a detailed planning application.
He said the planners’ response was disappointing, but added: “Those issues now need to be addressed.”