Over a hundred and fifty Powys residents took part in protests over the last week with a march and a public meeting to demand the Welsh government listens to their concerns about plans to use Gilestone Farm to expand the Green Man music festival’s activities.
The meeting at Henderson Hall in Talybont on Usk heard that local people had been “kept in the dark” about the plans. Residents also staged a Walk For Our Wild Side event in the village to highlight their fears for rare wildlife at Gilestone Farm if the Green Man’s proposals go ahead.
The events were organised by the Stop Gilestone Farm Project group, which says the Welsh government failed to consult or listen to the local community before its controversial decision to pay £4.25 million for the farm.
The meeting heard from county mammal and bird recorders who described the potential impact on important species of birds and mammals that live along the River Usk, some of which are internationally significant, as well as red-listed (at risk of extinction).
The thought is that they are likely to be disturbed if the project goes ahead. One person observed, “The more events, the more festivals, the more pollution. If bad things happen to these animals – the world gets to know.”
Some of the bats and birds are unique to the area – not just in Wales but in global terms, including Lesser Horseshoe and Beckstein’s bats.
The potential for smaller farming or commercial units was also queried, given its capacity to disrupt far more of the land than a single farming entity. Otters, hedgehogs, deer and eels are commonly sighted in the area, but the concern is that this would be far more unlikely if events or small commercial units were present.
The Stop Gilestone Farm Project group says the Green Man’s plans for the site, which include public events attended by up to 3,000 people, are incompatible with such an important habitat. The plans are expected to increase traffic, congestion and pollution on local roads, and some villagers are warning that the local community will not be able to cope with the high number of additional visitors.
From toilet facilities to parking, the village is experiencing significant pressure already during summer months, and the residents fear the situation could become much, much worse. The Green Man organisation says the scheme will generate £23 million, which critics say suggests a large commercial operation, or series of operations, which would be unsuitable for the site.
Another speaker stated his concerns for the village, expressing his fear that the lack of consultation was dividing the community, and the lack of information hampering effective engagement. As a local hill farmer, he commented on how much he had envied the ‘flat lands’ when working his slopes and that the site needed to remain a farm, as part of the local fabric of the village. Residents also said they were concerned about public money being spent on the project when the NHS in Wales was overstretched, and patients faced long waiting lists. The Stop Gilestone Farm Project is asking the Welsh Government to stop, consult and listen before allowing the controversial plans to go any further.
The Welsh Government has confirmed that there are no plans to bring the Green Man Festival to Gilestone Farm, saying "it is not logical to move the current festival six miles to an undeveloped site which would disrupt the economic stability of the region. In addition, Gilestone Farm is not large enough to accommodate the Green Man Festival."
A Welsh Government spokesperson said that the Welsh Government has responded to the claims made by the community group before, and has created an online FAQ profile. They are proposing that the site will be used for farming, a creative hub, new live experiences and gatherings, food and beverage, an opportunity to increase tourism, and weddings and other events, citing an established history of tourism and small-scale events at the site. The website page also states: "The plans do stipulate though that the sustainable principles of Green Man will also be incorporated into the agricultural activity on the site and assessments will be undertaken to ensure that all activities work in harmony with the environment and not damage the biodiversity of the site. As an example, the business plan sets out that all future farming activities will use best practices in managing excess phosphates leaching into the River Usk."
A spokesperson for The Gilestone Farm Project said: “As a business, we are totally committed to sustainability, and with over 21 year’s experience of successfully delivering in Powys, the idea that we would embark on a project that would harm the local environment is utterly preposterous and a blatant attempt by people from outside the area to scaremonger.
“Our aim at Gilestone is to enrich the local biodiversity and be custodians of nature across the farm. A priority will be to tackle the shocking pollution of the River Usk by stopping the use of phosphates by introducing regenerative farming working with agricultural professionals with experience in these matters. These actions would be hugely beneficial for local wildlife.
“In relation to traffic, we have years of experience in managing traffic at large-scale events. At Gilestone we will work with local authorities to ensure that traffic is diverted away from Talybont-on-Usk. At no time has it been indicated or planned that Gilesone Farm would become a visitor attraction in its own right which would result in a constant increase in traffic. On the 20th of May 2022, Fiona Stewart informed the Talybont Community Council at an in-person meeting that Green Man would not be moving to Gilestone Farm and it was not suitable for large events. That has not changed and been further supported by statements from Vaughan Gething MS, Minister of Economy, in the Senedd.
“Gilestone Farm would be a base to develop our commercial and philanthropic ambitions locally, across Wales and internationally. Again this is another attempt to promote misinformation to confuse, upset and manipulate local people.
“Since the launch of our website eight weeks ago we have been contacted by large numbers of people living in our community who have great ideas for the future and would like to work with us to make these happen. We have also been able to address the upset and confusion local people have experienced as a direct result of the misinformation campaign. What has been more shocking is the level of bullying, misogyny and harassment which has taken place to those who either support the Gilestone Project or just don't agree with the methods of those who do not. It is truly shocking and distasteful behaviour and has left many feeling too intimidated to speak up.