Transformational projects planned for Neath Port Talbot county: Wildfox Adventure Resort, Celtic Freeport, Global Centre of Rail Excellence
At one time in Neath Port Talbot county, if you asked someone where they worked – they’d more than likely tell you ‘at the steelworks’.
At its height in the 1960s, the works employed around 18,000 people. And if you didn’t work there, you were probably a miner, or one of the 2,500 people who worked at, or their jobs were linked to, the massive BP Llandarcy oil refinery.
The mining industry is now a shadow of its former self, Llandarcy is now a giant housing estate, and while around 4,000 people still work at the steelworks, its future is far from certain.
Like all parts of the UK, the county has seen some particularly difficult times over the last few years, in the wake of the global Covid pandemic, millions of pounds worth of council budget deficits, and the current cost-of-living crisis.
However, there could be some light at the end of the tunnel for the area now, with a number of huge, multi-million pound investments and developments beginning to take shape.
Described by council bosses as projects that could be the “catalyst for further new opportunities, bringing more quality jobs and investment to communities,” it is hoped these developments could be the spark needed for some major economic changes across the county borough.
Here are some of the major development projects coming to the borough of Neath Port Talbot over the course of the next few years, and how they could impact the people closest to them.
The Celtic Freeport
The successful Celtic Freeport bid was set up in 2022 with the aim of supplying floating offshore wind turbines at a site in the Celtic Sea, as well as developing green energy research and tax breaks for inward investing companies in the area.
The project, run by Associated British Ports, alongside Neath Port Talbot Council, Pembrokeshire County Council and the Port of Milford Haven gained Government approval in March, 2023, and was started with the aim of becoming the first of its kind in Wales.
Freeports are special areas within the UK’s borders where different economic regulations apply, such as tax incentives for eligible businesses within them. They also offer simplified customs procedures, and streamlined planning processes intended to boost redevelopment in their vicinity.
Once completed, experts say the Freeport in Neath Port Talbot could create more than 16,000 jobs in south west Wales along with generating more than £50 billion for the local economy.
It is a project the chief executive of Neath Port Talbot, Karen Jones, has said could have a massive impact for both residents and local businesses, as the project begins to get underway.
She said: “The Freeport bid will accelerate the opportunity that exists for the area to benefit from the developments in the renewable energy sector, with proposals to licence a development out in the Celtic Sea that will see a significant floating offshore wind-farm, with ongoing work to create and develop hydrogen technology as a replacement for fossil fuels.
“The bid that we’ve put in proposes that the port of Port Talbot would be ideally placed to manufacture and fabricate the structures for the turbines, and then the port of Milford Haven would be best placed to do the ongoing maintenance of the turbines.
“We estimate that the economic benefit of the Celtic Sea wind-farm will be something like £54 billion, so you’re talking about absolutely huge amounts of money, and what we want is to make sure that flows back in to the UK, and in to Wales in particular.”
“We also estimate 16,500 jobs could be created by this, and they would be new jobs because they’d support the new green industry that’s emerging. Because it’s co-located on the same site as Tata there is also an opportunity that this development could actually create work for the steel works and help to de-carbonise the steel works as well.”
You can read more about what locals in the town of Port Talbot had to say about the development of the Celtic Freeport here.
Global Centre of Rail Excellence
Work is already well underway for the new the £250 million Global Centre of Rail Excellence in south Wales, which was funded by the Welsh and UK Government, after it was approved by members of Neath Port Talbot and Powys County Council last year.
Based on the former Nant Helen opencast site and Onllwyn Washery in Neath Port Talbot and Powys, the plans will see the creation of a 550 hectare rail testing site that features electrified testing tracks, as well as space for research development and education facilities.
With completion hoped for some time in 2025, the state of the art centre is expected to run 24 hours a day, testing new railway vehicles such as high-speed trains and hydrogen-powered rolling stock, with a 4.5 kilometre looped track and 6.9 kilometre outer looped track at the south-east of the site.
A previous statement from Neath Port Talbot Council said: “The Global Centre of Rail Excellence (GCRE) will be transformational for the areas surrounding the site and for the county borough and region as a whole. Due to open in 2025, this purpose-built facility will provide a much needed ‘one stop shop’ for the UK and European rail industry creating a site for expert testing of rolling stock, infrastructure and innovative new rail technologies.”
The Leader of Neath Port Talbot Council, Cllr Stephen Hunt, added: “It will put this part of Wales on the map as the go-to country for UK and international train manufacturers, network operators, the wider industry and academics to research, test and develop the latest technologies in green transport for the global rail industry.
“It will also create jobs and is likely to be a catalyst for further new opportunities, bringing more quality jobs and investment to our communities.”
Wildfox Adventure Resort
Plans for the creation of a brand new £250m holiday resort in the Afan Valley, could also have a big impact on the borough, with the proposed Wildfox Adventure Resort, based on 132 hectares of land at Pen Y Bryn, by Croeserw and Cymmer, expected to bring in millions of pounds worth of investment and around 1,000 new jobs.
The proposals that include 570 holiday lodges, a 50-bed hotel, and 15-bed apartment-hotel, as well as indoor water park and canyoning facilities, were approved by Neath Port Talbot Council in 2022, with fencing and temporary footpath closures now being set up around a development site in the upper Afan valley.
When completed some time in 2027, the site will also contain a spa, restaurant with viewing area, a climbing and bouldering building with a small retail central plaza, along with a forest hub and arrivals building.
There will also be a series of mountain bike trails linking the various activities and accommodation, a 650-space guest car park, a 250-space staff car park, guest access off the A4107 to the west, and use of the existing A4063 for staff access via the east. Wildfox Resorts has also signed a legal agreement with the council, which included the provision of a solar farm site.
On the development of the resort, Cllr Steve Hunt said: “This is a transformational project for the Afan Valley and this region as a whole as it will provide a large number of jobs in the construction phase and when it is finished local people will have many jobs available to them.
“It promises to make the Afan Valley the go-to place for adventure tourists and will also have a spa and wellness offering with many spin-off benefits for Neath Port Talbot.”
Cllr Simon Knoyle, Neath Port Talbot Council’s cabinet member for finance, performance and social justice, said the large scale investment into Neath Port Talbot at the moment was a fantastic thing, and he added that officers had worked really hard with the public and private sector to secure these investments.
He said: “A potential £400m investment at the GCRE; creation of approximately 1,000 jobs at the Wildfox Resort in the Afan Valley; £5.5bn of investment; and estimated 16,000 new, green jobs with the Celtic Freeport – this is superb for the economic development of Neath Port Talbot, and we hope to work with further developers who wish to invest.”
By BBC LDRS
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