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Councillors to vote on future of Greenmeadow Community Farm: Resident starts petition

Councillors in Torfaen are being asked this week to approve extra investment for Greenmeadow Community Farm or close the attraction.

A resident started a petition last week titled ‘Oppose the closure of Greenmeadow Community Farm’ and it’s gained 362 signatures so far.

Last October, a £1.7m plan was agreed to transform the farm into a ‘premier visitor destination for families in Gwent’. A report this week reveals that as officers went out to the market in November 2022 to talk to contractors, they heard concerns about “inflation” and felt that the plan could not be completed at that budget within the planned timescales. The plan was stopped and councillors were given information about the delay at a confidential members’ seminar in March 2023.

The option to keep the farm open, attract more visitors, and lead to the ending of the council’s annual subsidy will now cost a total of £3,738,900. This includes the £1.7m agreed last year. A group of councillors from across the county formed a ‘task and finish’ group to ‘scrutinise and challenge’ the new plans as they’ve been developed this year. The plan to join up two of the barns into a single building with ‘large, glazed covering’ has been removed. This new feature was highlighted by contractors as a problem within the budget. But more facilities will be available to visitors without having to pay to enter the farm. This includes a ‘large community space’ with a cafe. The reports says this will allow people to enjoy meeting ‘such as parents and babies’.

Weddings at the farm

The report is also clear about a barn at the farm being available for hire for weddings and other events.

Ongoing improvements

The farm’s forecasted figures also include a £100,000 reinvestment in 2028/29 for updates to the ‘exhibit and visitor experience’. A £100,000 investment in these improvements would be made every three to four years.

Predicted visitor numbers

In 2016/17 the farm had 61,573 visitors. In 2019/20 (the first lockdown was in March 2020) the farm had 48,662 visitors. Predictions in the report say the attraction is aiming for an ‘ambitious increase’ to 123,000 visitors in five years’ time. The report highlights the impact on the farm’s income if its revenues are 10 per cent and 20 per cent lower than predictions. It adds that it ‘would not be appropriate’ to continue to use council reserves to make up any shortfalls at that point.

Since the farm closed the animal barn has been found to be unsafe and will need to be demolished and replaced (£300,000 cost). And a new feature to manage the slurry on the farm has to be installed to meet upcoming legislation (£50,000 cost).

If the increased investment gets the go-ahead, officers will follow a traditional procurement procedure to reduce risks of ‘inflated prices, as tenderers would price in the risk of cost overruns’. The report says this would give a timeline for the farm to re-open by April 2025.

If councillors vote for it to be closed there would be approximately £68,000 in staff redundancy costs and £100,000 to manage it’s safe and secure closure. During 2023/24 the costs of the farm not being open to the public are being met from the council’s reserves in the adults and communities revenue budget.

Cllr Fiona Cross, Torfaen Council’s executive member for communities,  said: ‘I know the decision facing members isn’t straightforward given the current financial climate but these are really exciting proposals which support our County Plan to make Torfaen a thriving place to live and visit and helps protect our rural heritage and open spaces. The proposed investment will make the farm a premier visitor attraction in the region, and part of our Destination Torfaen offer. It will repay the capital investment and produce a surplus for future reinvestment in facilities, keeping the visitor offer fresh.

“The additional investment will attract visitors all year-round with an increased focus on the outdoor visitor experience, responding to demand from visitors for more all-weather activity, authentic experiences with animals, time spent outside in nature and use of natural materials and landscape for outdoor play.  The new barn space will provide opportunities for weddings, parties, community activities and an events programme, ensuring the farm serves as an important hub within the wider community. Crucially for the farm to reopen it is vital we must make the animal barn and wider site safe and make journeys around the farm accessible to all visitors.”

The councillors meet at 10am on Tuesday 19 September 2023.

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Councillors to vote on future of Greenmeadow Community Farm: Resident starts petition

entrance sign to a farm
Greenmeadow Community Farm