Agenda Item No. 9

 

THE VALE OF GLAMORGAN COUNCIL

 

CABINET:      6TH JUNE, 2018

 

REFERENCE FROM ENVIRONMENT AND REGENERATION SCRUTINY COMMITTEE:

 

 

"            DEVELOPMENT OF TOURISM AND COMMERCIAL OPPORTUNITIES AT COUNTRYSIDE SERVICE SITES - CALL-IN - COUNCILLOR L. BURNETT

 

The Chairman commenced by asking Councillor L. Burnett (not a Member of the Committee) to present her call-in to the Scrutiny Committee.  Councillor Burnett referred to the fact that the principle of income generation had been discussed in depth by both Cabinet and Scrutiny Committees at a number of meetings and the development of commercial opportunities had been well established as a strategy to offset financial challenges facing the Council and to protect non-statutory services such as Country Parks.

 

However, as outlined in the call - in resolutions 1, 2 and 4 of the current proposals Cllr Burnet had stated that this represented a step change in the Council's approach to commercial activity in Country Parks. Rather than commercial activities on land that remained within the control of the Council, these resolutions related to the disposal and potential privatisation of large tracts of Public Open Space within our Country Parks to facilitate the establishment of campsites. As such they required in depth scrutiny before progressing.

 

Cllr Burnett’s call – in further expressed that “scrutiny should include consideration of:

 

1.         The terms and conditions related to disposal of land and the intended leases.

 

2.         The terms and conditions related to the operation of campsites

 

3.         Proposed operational arrangement for campsites including type of user; tents, caravans, motor homes etc

 

4.         Potential construction of buildings for offices, shower blocks etc, and the envisaged supply of power, sewage, drainage and roads within the site.

 

5.         Proposed governance arrangements.

 

6.         Whether the use of wide-ranging delegated powers is appropriate in this case and whether the outcome of the invitations to tender should be reported to Cabinet.”

 

Cllr Burnett stated that for her the question was whether the proposals represented “creeping privatisation”.  In the past she stated that Councillor Neil Moore and herself under a previous administration had asked many questions regarding outsourcing of services to the private sector.  Cllr Burnett also referred to a previous consultation that had been undertaken where a  Member of the Council who was now a Member of the current Cabinet had said that the Council should look to work with organisations such as Centre Parks to seek to establish similar facilities in the Vale. Cllr Burnett queried whether this suggestion had been followed up by officers.  She also stated her disappointment that no ward Member Councillor had called the report in in relation to the sites in their ward areas. 

 

The Cabinet resolutions made on 16th April 2018 as outlined in the extract of the minutes before the Committee were noted as below:-

 

  • “That the Council      undertakes a marketing exercise and invites tenders for development of      tourism and commercial opportunities at the locations identified in the      Appendices A – F attached to the report and in accordance with the      contents of the report.

 

  • That Authority be granted      to the Head of Legal Services in consultation with the Head of Finance, to      advertise the areas of land shown in Appendix B, D, E, G and H attached to      the report for disposal by lease to third party partner organisation as      required by Section 123(“2A) of the Local Government Act 1972, and,      subject to no objections being received, to proceed with disposal subject      to the use of appropriate delegated powers.

 

  • That the Head of      Regeneration and Planning be granted delegated powers in consultation with      the Managing Director and Cabinet Member for Regeneration and Planning, to      agree fees and charges, terms and conditions for new commercial (leisure      and tourism) activities in respect of Leckwith Woods and to authorise the      Head of Legal Services to enter into appropriate legal agreements on      behalf of the Council in this regard. “

 

The Operational Manager for Regeneration in presenting the Cabinet report advised that the programme of exploring commercial partnerships was about making the parks more sustainable.  The purpose of the report was to seek approval to offer areas of open space land (under lease agreements) to third party partner organisations to develop new activities and facilities that would enhance the product offer for both residents and visitors within the Vale of Glamorgan, within Cosmeston Lakes Country Park, Porthkerry Country Park and Leckwith woods as set out in Appendices A – F attached to the report.  Although the current parks were operated to high standards in the Vale one of the reasons for looking at such opportunities would be to bring the parks into the 21st century.  The Operational Manager also referred to the fact that a report had been submitted to Cabinet on 11th January, 2016 which had sought authority to invite tenders from potential commercial partners in order to create new tourism and commercial opportunities in Cosmeston Lakes and Porthkerry Country Park and to investigate opportunities at Leckwith Woods.  The report noted that two separate invitations to tender for the provision of tourism and commercial activities at the country parks had subsequently been submitted to the Sell2Wales website. 

 

As a result, a new ice cream parlour had been established at Cosmeston Lakes and discussions were ongoing in respect of other operations.  A number of organisers had been signed up to provide weddings at both country parks. These new partnerships would the report stated enhance the product offer for visitors to Cosmeston Lakes Country Park, develop the tourism offer, whilst providing income to the Council to contribute to future savings and protect the parks accordingly.  It was envisaged that these new business partnerships would provide further evidence of the potential viability of the commercial opportunities that existed within the Country Parks and would help promote the sites for further investment.

 

Delegated powers were already in place for the Country Parks and Medieval village, that allowed the Head of Regeneration and Planning, in consultation with the Managing Director and Cabinet Member for Regeneration and Planning, to agree fees/charges, terms and conditions for new commercial (leisure, tourism and retail) activities and to authorise the Head of Legal Services to enter into the appropriate legal agreements on behalf of the Council in this regard, including leases. This was restricted to the country parks only and hence the same delegated authority was required for any future negotiation relating to Leckwith woods (see recommendation 4).

 

The previously submitted Cabinet report (Tourism and Commercial Opportunities at Countryside Service Sites C3043 - 11th January 2016) had proposed that officers investigate tourism and commercial opportunities at Leckwith woods.

 

Within Cosmeston Lakes Country Park, Porthkerry Country and Leckwith Woods as set out in Appendices A - F it was important to note that the Council would be seeking proposals for a wide range of opportunities and with particular regard to the provision of campsites  related to high quality camping pods.  These were used elsewhere in the country and were an upmarket provision.  Various examples of such facilities were displayed around the Council Chamber for Members’ information. 

In referring to the way in which leases could be managed, the Operational Manager advised that the Council would set out high standards of operation and  for the camping pods very stringent conditions would be associated.  It was also important to note that planning permission would be required in respect of some activities and this would involve widespread consultation on specific proposals. 

 

In response to some representations that had been made on social media regarding potential residential development the Operational Manager confirmed that the proposals were only for tourism development, appropriate to the sensitive country park setting.  In referring to some points as outlined in the written representations that had been received and which had been circulated to Members and tabled at the meeting the Operational Manager referred to the queries regarding biodiversity and advised that in particular with regard to the golf course at Porthkerry this was surrounded by important habitats but the golf course itself was not of significant biodiversity value, being close mown grass.  The Operational Manager added that he could not see how perhaps 10 to 15 camping pods would significantly contribute to parking in relative terms bearing in mind the scale of visitor use and again in referring to litter issues advised that there were current litter issues on the sites which needed managing and there was no reasons to believe that a relatively low number of camping pod users would add to this.  In respect of suggestions of anyi-social behaviour, the Operational Manager acknowledged that some such issues already existed as with any such location but he felt camping on the site could help by the early reporting of incidents as opposed to camping adding to such issues. 

 

In referring to commercial operators the Operational Manager stated that they would obviously have to undertake research and provide details of their proposals to the Council for consideration prior to any proposals being approved. The Committee was further provided with examples of a large number of areas throughout England and Wales and including nature reserves and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty where similar activities as outlined in the report were currently operating.  These were sensitive areas of high biodiversity importance and the principal of such activities taking place was well established.  

 

Councillor K.P. Mahoney, not a Member of the Committee, granted permission to speak, had also made written representations which had not only been forwarded to Members of the Committee prior to the meeting but had also been tabled at the meeting.  Cllr Mahoney commenced by stating that  the previous Administration of the Council had set the “ball rolling” for such opportunities to be considered and that although he appreciated the difficulties with budgets in his view  destroying the whole ethos of the parks was not appropriate.  He referred to the area of Sully that he said was under threat from new housing developments (1100 houses in total) in a very small area.  Both Cosmeston and Porthkerry were he stated very beautiful sites to relax in. In referring particularly to the Cosmeston he advised that it was idyllic and serene area with many people visiting the site for relaxation purposes. In referring to the Wellbeing Act he felt that the authority should be looking at the importance of such sites to assist people and their wellbeing.

 

In referring to the Glamping Pods, he stated that although he had no direct opposition to such facilities proposing these on such a serene site was in his view not appropriate.  He did not want to deprive the local community of such facilities and questioned why the gravelled area further north into Cosmeston could not be considered for such use.  At this point the Operational Manager took the opportunity to advise Committee that the area being suggested was a site of special scientific interest and was identified as a conservation area within the country park from which the public were generally excluded to protect the most sensitive land as habitat for biodiversity.  The proposed Glamping location fell outside all such designations.

 

Councillor Nic Hodges not a Member of the Committee, with permission to speak, stated that the Council in tourism terms had not in his view fully utilised the  Nell’s Point site and that in his view the facilities being proposed at the sites contained within the report would destroying the iconic beauty of such areas. Cllr Hodges urged the Council to not  spoil the facilities that currently existed and also questioned the effect on the adder population and wildlife habitats.   With specific reference to Glamping pods, he commented that the campsite would also be under a flight path from the neighbouring airport and sited near a railway network.

 

Councillor Wilson, not a Member of the Committee again granted permission to speak stated that he represented the Stanwell Ward and was conscious that there had been various attempts by different administrations to consider opportunities for countryside sites.  However, in his view he felt that the proposals were a step too far and reiterated that Cosmeston was a peaceful site and a sanctuary for the population and should be looked at sensitively and urged  to reject the proposal as a step too far.

 

The Chairman then referred the debate to the Committee itself.  A  Member of the Committee reiterated the view that the proposals were a step to far in their view and it was not appropriate to turn the parks into campsites.  In referring to the Pitch and Putt Golf site at Porthkerry a number of Members advised that the area was prone to flooding and was surrounded by bio-diversity.  The proposals they stated were an attempt to destroy biodiversity and in particular over develop Porthkerry.  The Member continued by stating that they could not see the significant financial benefits that were being suggested and the report did not provide any detailed information as to  what the proposed financial income would be. The serenity of Cosmeston he stated was special and he urged that the proposals be reconsidered.

 

Another Member reiterated the comment that in their view there was a lack of detail in the report, with no financial costings being provided and indeed no real indication of what the Council would be receiving.  The Member also concurred that there were opportunities for developing commercial partnerships and that disposing of the land on a long term lease had not been the previous administrations intention, the intention being to consider a tourism offers and not disposal for private use.

In referring to the issue of the golf course losing money he stated that it if that was  the case then the Council should consider closing the facility. A number of Members considered that the public outcry to the proposals should be taken into account and that the proposals should be rejected. 

 

In response to a query as to whether there were constraints / covenants in relation to the Porthkerry site the Operational Manger had sought advice from the Legal Department and could confirm that there were none in place.

 

At this point the Cabinet Member for Regeneration and Planning advised that the proposals were about seeking opportunities to work with providers and to ascertain whether there was an appetite to provide facilities at such sites. He also took the opportunity to reassure Members that if the proposals were accepted that he would ensure that any Expression of Interest applications that were submitted were brought to the Scrutiny Committee in turn for consideration aswell as Cabinet.

 

However, a number of Members of the Committee reiterated earlier sentiments that the Council needed to protect its open spaces as it was widely accepted that the proposals would destroy the peace and quiet currently experienced at the sites. Any proposals they felt that were put forward should in their view enhance the areas.

 

Although Members acknowledged the need for income generation proposals for the Council they felt strongly that the report was lacking in sufficient detail and did not allay the public’s fears or the Committee’s fears in relation to environmental issues.

 

A Member in referring to the issue of consultation stated that in their view neighbouring wards should have also been consulted and he was not aware that this had been undertaken and that public open spaces were vital for communities. 

 

 

Being afforded the opportunity to respond following the debate, Councillor Burnett stated that she had recognised the risk to herself in bringing the call in to the Committee as the previous Cabinet Member under the previous Administration advising of the need to ensure that correct activities for the areas were developed.  Furthermore the report and the proposed use of delegated powers were loosely defined in her view and required further consideration and discussion as had taken place at the meeting.

 

In conclusion, the Chairman took the opportunity to thank all the Members of the Committee and the public present in the gallery for their interest and for the written representations that had been presented for the Committee’s consideration.  In summing up he stated that the Committee’s views appeared to be centred around the lack of detail, they did not like the idea of Glamping pods and the lack of consultation about the types of facilities to be allowed at the sites and suggested that the concerns raised should be referred to Cabinet for consideration.   The suggestion from a Member that a Task and Finish Group be set up to look into the matter was also felt appropriate. The Cabinet Member in response reiterated his view of the importance for the Council to go out and seek proposals for facilities on the sites and again reassured Members he would bring back individual applications for Member’s consideration. 

 

Following the debate it was subsequently

 

RECOMMENDED -

 

(1)       T H A T the Scrutiny Committee did not support the principle of camping on the sites as detailed within the report and that the concerns raised at the meeting be referred to Cabinet for consideration.

 

(2)       T H A T any future reports identifying income generating options should contain greater detail around the financial benefits whilst ensuring that proposals should have at their heart the principle of protecting Public Open Spaces.

 

(3)       T H A T a Scrutiny Task and Finish Group be established to look at future proposals for Tourism and Commercial Opportunities at Countryside Service sites and that this recommendation be referred to the Scrutiny Chairman and Vice-Chairman Group for its consideration in line with Corporate Priorities.. 

 

Reasons for recommendations

 

(1)       Having fully considered the report, the representations received and in view of the sites detailed within the report.

 

(2)       To ensure full financial detail is provided and to ensure that any proposals consider the principle of protecting Public Open Spaces.

 

(3)       In order that future proposals can be investigated."