As you will know from our previous correspondence dated 30th July 2022, we have raised serious concerns about the Welsh Government’s proposed usage of the site as a festival venue which is set to cause serious environmental, ecological and social damage to the local area. We have received further evidence which highlights the lack of due diligence on behalf of the Welsh Government to look into the economic case for purchasing the farm and remain deeply concerned by the lack of public consultation, as well as Senedd oversight and scrutiny.
Whilst I appreciate the many pressures on departmental time, I am disappointed that I have not yet received any correspondence from your officials about the detailed reservations that were highlighted in our last letter, which provides further information on the ecological damage which any potential festival would cause to Gilestone Farm. As you know, not only is Gilestone Farm on the floodplain of the river Usk – a Special Area of Conservation – it lacks suitable access, is home to protected wildlife and incorporates a Grade II listed farmhouse.
With the Senedd declaring a nature emergency in June last year, and your colleague the Minister for Climate Change on record as suggesting that restoring nature and mitigating the impact of climate change are top priorities for the Welsh Government, we are deeply concerned that the Welsh Government has opted to dilute its commitment to these important issues in favour of marginal economic gain, of which the local community would derive little meaningful benefit.
The Welsh Government’s decision to purchase the farm appears to be primarily motivated by the desire to capture the claimed and unverified economic benefits of the festival to the Welsh economy. Detailed publicly available financial information for the festival - which is owned by a private company - is very limited, therefore UVCG – and indeed wider third-party organisations - have been unable to adequately affirm and verify the economic impact of the festival on the local economy. We have also been forced to question the value for money that the leasing of the site to the festival would represent, particularly in light of the fact that the festival has received nearly £1.3m in public funding since 2014.i
A recent Freedom of Information requestii has also revealed that the Welsh Government failed to request and examine a key economic impact report concerning the benefits of the festival – produced by an independent consultancy working on behalf of the owners of the Green Man Festival – while it
considered the purchase of Gilestone Farm. Instead, the Welsh Government appears to have accepted a Green Man produced PowerPoint presentation, which pointed to key headline economic numbers from the report, as sufficient. We would expect the Welsh Government to apply more thorough analysis and consideration when determining the spending of public money, particularly when working in partnership with a private company who has regularly benefited from public financial support. It is alarming that such due diligence was not undertaken prior to purchase, and that the Welsh Government relied on information – provided by the desired future tenant – to make the business case for the farm’s purchase.
Our wider concerns regarding the farm’s purchase and subsequent lease have been extensively detailed in our previous correspondence, while our disappointment at the lack of consultation regarding the site’s sale and lease has also been stressed. We believe the failure on behalf of the Government to undertake proper due diligence into the economic benefits of the site’s purchase – in addition to not assessing a detailed business plan from the owners of the Green Man festival prior to purchase – amounts to gross mishandling of public funds, and questions the entire credibility of the purchase.
We consider that the farm is totally unsuitable for the uses that Green Man representatives have outlined to the Community Council and also that those uses would represent a loss to agricultural production. In essence, the Welsh Government has bought the wrong farm in the wrong place. If the Government does not reconsider its purchase and offer it for sale, then we feel that the Government must urgently commission an independent inquiry that examines the potential impact of the Green Man Festival’s activities on the site; whether the Welsh Government applied sufficient scrutiny and analysis throughout the process of the purchase of Gilestone Farm; and whether the leasing of the farm to Green Man represents true ‘value for money ’for the Welsh taxpayer.
I will be placing a copy of this letter on our website, in the public domain, and sharing with media outlets. I look forward to hearing from you in due course.