Posted: Wed 20th Sep 2023

Torfaen Council Votes to Save Greenmeadow Farm with £1.6 Million Investment

news.wales / newyddion.cymru
This article is old - Published: Wednesday, Sep 20th, 2023

TORFAEN residents have been urged to make use of the council’s Greenmeadow Farm now councillors have voted to save it from potential closure. 
The borough council voted unanimously in favour of a further £1.6 million investment in the attraction which closed in November last year for a £1.7 refurbishment programme intended to boost visitor numbers and generate a commercial income with its council subsidy withdrawn. 
The only other option presented to councillors, who met at Pontypool’s Civic Centre on Tuesday, September 19, was to approve prepartions for the closure of the farm which isn’t due to reopen until spring 2025. As well as finding the extra £1.6m captial costs councillors were told they will also need to put aside £400,000 in the budget to meet the attraction’s running costs until it is expected to generate a profit in 2029/30. 
A host of councillors lined up to speak in favour of making the further investment which was outlined by officers as a response to concerns raised by contractors who said the original overhaul, approved by the full council in October last year, was unaffordable and after rising inflation meant the intended opening date of this spring was missed, with nine staff made redundant as a result. 
Labour councillor Karl Gauden said debate on social media since the two options facing the council were published, which had led to a protest outside the farm on Monday, was a “welcome change from discussion about the 20 mile per hour speed limit” and he recognised the “passion” for the farm. 
But he said: “Please, please when it opens go and support it as if we’re having this debate again in 2029/30 I’m afraid it might be a different outcome. We can’t keep funding it ad infinitum. I’d hate to say it’s a last chance salon but if we’re still talking about it in five years time I think we’re in a different place. 
“The council has made a commitment, go and buy a coffee, take the kids and the grandkids and support the farm so we can make it work.” 
The Llanfrechfa and Ponthir member, who had been on the cross party task and finish group which was scrutinising the investment plan after it was supported by the council last year, said he realised further investment was the only option if it was intended to keep the farm: “I came to the conclusion on that group it was go hard or go home.” 
Cwmbran Two Locks member Ron Burnett said he had, in the past, called the farm the council’s “black whole” and was one of a number of councillors to say it had suffered from a lack of investment, which was blamed for a decline in visitor numbers with around 60,000 a year visiting in the three years before the 2020 pandemic. 
The indpendent councillor said: “It has to be down to the residents, I put it to the people of Torfaen it’s up to you to save this farm as well.” 
The council’s Labour leader, Panteg councillor, Anthony Hunt said he was supporting the further investment but said he thought it was right to give the full council the opportunity to decide whether it should make the investment or move to close it but admitted it may have caused some “anxiety”. 
He said it would have been a “clock and dagger approach to say we’ve already spent a lot of money, and what choice have you got?” 
Dave Leech, the council’s strategic director responsible, said the overhaul of the farm site will now cost £3.7m in total, and there is a contingency for rising construction costs, and changes made following the advice of new consultants, and contractors, include a conservatory to boost the farm restaurant capacity, rather than adjoining two barns as planned. 
There will also be a new playground and an indoor play area, as agreed last year, to boost visitor numbers over the winter, new landscaping and enhancement of the farm’s educational spaces, which it was said fits the council’s priorities on supporting education including in the community. 
Mr Leech said the council is also looking at whether it has the “right animal mix” at the site which as well as being a tourist attraction is a working farm. 
The vote was welcomed by Cwmbran mum of seven, Abigail Davey who had come with a small group of protesters to picket the meeting and listen to the debate. 
The 40-year-old said after the decision: “I just feel overjoyed, especially with it being a unanimous decision I’m so relieved. I would have been heartbroken had it been closed. 
“It was good to hear from the councillors and good to know they really want to make it work as well.” 
Earlier she and her fellow campaigners had been forced to stand in the heavy rain outside the Civic Centre after council officials told them they couldn’t stand in its sheltered outside reception area. 
Before the meeting Sian Davies, who used to work in the farm’s kitchen for six years before she was made redundant in March, said: “We had so many promises from Torfaen that it would never close and no jobs would be lost but they obviously back-tracked on that. 
“The staff worked so hard it, it was an amazing place to work, it wasn’t like working.” ‌​‌​‌​​​‍‌​‌​​‌‌‌‍‌​‌‌​​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌‌​​



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