(Title Image: BBC Wales)
The Welsh Government have published a prospectus for a new regional park in the south Wales Valleys, which is hoped will have the same impact for tourism in the region as the Wales Coastal Park.
Distinctive & Breathtaking
“The Valleys are home to some of the most distinctive and breathtaking natural landscapes in Wales and the United Kingdom, but for too long their potential to attract visitors and to be used fully and recognised by the communities themselves has been overlooked and undervalued.”
– Public Services Secretary, Alun Davies (Lab, Blaenau Gwent)
From the work of the Valleys Taskforce, it was clear people living in the Valleys were proud of the natural landscape, which has undergone a “remarkable transformation”. The Secretary’s vision is for the Valleys to be recognised globally in terms of landscape, heritage and outdoor recreation.
£7million has been allocated by the Welsh Government to develop the regional park in the 2019-20 draft budget.
While the Shadow Communities Minister, Mark Isherwood AM (Con, North Wales) was in no doubt of the area’s beauty, he criticised the Welsh Government’s track record in the region.
“Why is it, do you think, that, in the eighteenth year of Welsh Government, when the last official figures were produced, the value of goods and services produced per head of population in West Wales and the Valleys was still the lowest out of the 12 UK nations and regions, despite billions spent on economic regeneration and anti-poverty programmes, with Anglesey bottom, at 52 per cent, Gwent not far behind at 56 per cent, and the central Valleys at 63 per cent of the UK average?”
– Mark Isherwood AM
He also reminded the Secretary that the West Wales & the Valleys region contains four north Wales local authorities; where was their fund?
The Secretary refused to be drawn on “partisan disagreement” and warned of the dangers of parochialism – success should be celebrated regardless of where in Wales it comes from.
Ambition and Faith
Dai Lloyd AM (Plaid, South Wales West) welcomed the initiative. Wales is rightly proud of its industrial heritage, but he wondered what would be made of the nonconformist tradition?
“We see it now in hundreds of non-conformist chapels—most of them shut; some, occasionally, thriving—and the history of powerful preachers and revivals dotted around the last 250 years.”
– Dai Lloyd AM
The Secretary believed that we all have a duty to teach ourselves some of our own histories, with both AMs reflecting on where their respective families lived prior to moving to the south – namely, the Welsh-speaking north and west. One part of the park prospectus is creating “Discovery Gateways” to recreate the stories of communities and showcase the best parts of them.
“….there are real opportunities within the regional parks for exploiting our network of disused railway tunnels—that’s in terms of active travel links, heritage tourism and so much more. How could you see this fitting into the wider Valleys regional park policy? I’m thinking specifically of the Abernant tunnel, which links my constituency with my colleague Dawn Bowden’s constituency in Merthyr Tydfil, and comes out, really, right at the entrance to BikePark Wales. “
– Vikki Howells AM (Lab, Cynon Valley)
The Secretary has visited and spoken with groups seeking to re-open disused rail tunnels and he was inspired by their “fantastic creativity” – though despite the warm words there were no commitments either way.
Suzy Davies AM (Con, South Wales West), Rhianon Passmore AM (Lab, Islwyn) and Dawn Bowden AM (Lab, Merthyr Tydfil & Rhymney) all raised points about potential projects and “gateways” in their patches, with the Cabinet Secretary generally concurring that they all had “fantastic potential”.
Cwmcarn Forest Park was singled out as an example of what the Welsh Government wants to achieve.