How people power saved a green space in Caerphilly
Published: 21 Jan 2021
We need our green spaces more than ever.
At a time when more species are going extinct than ever before, parks and woodlands provide much-needed habitat for local wildlife, nurturing biodiversity.
Green spaces are essential in the fight against climate change. Trees and plants soak up carbon from the air and pollutants in the air, helping to reduce emissions and improve air quality. The soil and the roots of trees and plants store water, reducing the risk of flooding.
Being able to enjoy nature close to home is important for our own mental and physical well-being, especially during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Gwern y Domen
South of Bedwas village, off Rudry road in Caerphilly, lies a green space rich in biodiversity called Gwern y Domen.
Located near Lansbury Park, a community with one of the highest deprivation figures in Wales, this site has a unique combination of woodland on the gently sloping higher areas, and pastoral farmland, wildflower meadows and even a disused railway line on the lower sections, with dispersed rural buildings and farms.
The wildflower meadows, woodlands, marshy grassland habitats and hedgerow trees provide valuable foraging and wildlife corridors for several UK protected species.
Gwern y Domen is incredibly biodiverse, rich in wildlife, and home to buzzards, kingfishers, barn owls, invertebrates, dormice, great crested newts, bats such as brown long-eared bats, slime mould and at least 24 rare wax cap fungi.
The endangered skylark has also been seen soaring over Gwern y Domen.
Adding to its uniqueness is the brook Lamprey, a living fossil which has not altered its present form for several million years, currently residing in Nant Arian’s freshwater brook on the lowlands of Gwern y Domen, parallel to the old railway line.
Why is Gwern y Domen in danger?
In 2016 Persimmon Homes and PMG Ltd submitted planning applications to allow 12,400 houses to be constructed on greenfield sites in Caerphilly, including Gwern y Domen.
Although this local development plan was scrapped in July 2016 by Caerphilly County Borough Council, plans to build up to 618 new homes were submitted in May 2017 and resubmitted in June 2019 with minor changes as a “standard claim” to meet the high housing demand.
The proposed development would have been built on the lower fields of Gwern y Domen, nearest to Caerphilly train station, leading up to and around the farm and Long Barnes at Gwern y Domen Lane near Rudry Common.
The site would have included a sports pavilion, open space and a playground, linked by pedestrian, cycle and public transport circulation networks.
The power of community action
Lots of people in Caerphilly were against the plans because it would have led to more traffic and air pollution, and increased the risk of flooding in several areas including Bedwas, Badgerswood and Mornington meadows.
It would also have led to the destruction of rare habitat and endangered species, and affected the wellbeing of local people, depriving them of their precious green space, used by children, dog walkers, ramblers and by people in an adjacent estate, many of whom have very small or no gardens of their own. People also complained that some of the houses would be executive homes, out of the reach of many people in Caerphilly.
The plans seemed to go against the objectives of several pieces of legislation including the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 and the Environment (Wales) Act 2016 and the Well-being of Future Generation (Wales) Act 2015.
Planning applications submitted by developers faced significant opposition from a wide range of people including local councillors and politicians.
The Gwern y Domen Conservation group raised the profile of the campaign by gaining the support of TV presenter, Iolo Williams, and members of this group, along with other local people, went tirelessly from door to door informing residents, providing template objections, and working with others to plan protests which attracted press coverage from BBC Wales Online, Caerphilly Observer and Western Mail.
Approximately 4500 people signed petitions against the first development proposals on greenfield sites. In addition, 400 people protested against development plans to construct almost 700 homes and a bypass on Caerphilly Mountain as well as separate development plans for Gwern y Domen, leading to the first scrapping of the local development plan.
2019 - success!
When planning applications were resubmitted in 2019, a horseback protest was organized by a local riding school. This stunt got national TV coverage, even catching the attention of the Daily Mail.
An online action using Action Network was created by Caerphilly Friends of the Earth in collaboration with other local campaigners to make it easier for people submit their objections to the development proposals. In the end, a remarkable 2600 objections were submitted.
In August 2019, Caerphilly County Borough Council rejected the planning applications. Finally, all the efforts of local people, who had worked tirelessly on the campaign for years and years, paid off.
Some residents have been committed to the conservation of Gwern y Domen from as early as 2006. Campaigners believe that the willingness of local people from many walks of life to work together played a major role in the rejection of the local development plan and the planning application.
The actions of local people have certainly increased awareness and appreciation of Gwern y Domen and the importance of green spaces, community cohesion and social inclusion. It also gave residents the opportunity to make their voices heard in decision-making, whether through a protest or online objection.
Many of the people who fight for Gwern y Domen walk these fields everyday, admiring its beauty. “Nature rescued us!” some often say. Children and adults continue to enjoy this miraculous place, where they can learn about species unique to this area and to Wales. Walking the fields makes them appreciate what they have got and what they could lose.
Sadly, Gwern y Domen is still under threat of development and now residents have other concerns, which include fox hunting, removing of hedgerows, litter and bikers racing through the fields. So what does this mean for Gwern y Domen? Although its future is uncertain, the hope is that enough local people will join forces again to prevent future development plans - this site is too precious to walk away from.
'A national priority'
Friends of the Earth Cymru’s Climate Action Plan for Wales is calling on the Welsh Government to ensure every household is within a 5-minute walk of public green space.
Saving our green spaces should be a national priority, otherwise our precious Welsh countryside, including wildflower meadows, woodlands, and rare flora and fauna will be lost forever, replaced by countless housing estates and business parks.
What occurred at Gwern y Domen is a prime example of how people power is capable of saving a greenspace by putting pressure on the local council to refuse a developer planning permission. However, should the fate of future greenfield sites under threat of development, like Gwern y Domen, be dependent on campaigners putting pressure on planning authorities?