‘And as soon as a bulldozer goes on to a field, that field never comes back. If someone says, ‘Oh, it's not going to work’; as soon as that has been stripped, that will never come back to agriculture.’ – Gethin Jenkins, Model Farm farmer
In May of this year, 2019, Legal and General (Strategic Land) Ltd, released their plans to build a 45ha Business Park on land at Port Road, Rhoose, adjacent to Cardiff Airport; the current site of Model Farm.
The Business Park proposes Class B1, B2 and B8 floorspace for businesses, ample car parking, landscaping, and drainage infrastructure and biodiversity enhancement through the gifting of land to Vale of Glamorgan Council to extend Porthkerry Country Park.
It has been touched on by both Legal and General (Strategic Land) Ltd, RPS Group and the original Local Development Plan that this development may be a phased project taking years to complete.
This area is currently inaccessible by car and it is proposed that access will be provided via a new arm of the existing Port Road Roundabout which links Barry to the wider Vale.
RPS Group (planners for the proposed site), are promising that ‘It will provide high quality offices, light industrial and warehousing and distribution units in a unique setting.’
Recently, I caught up with all parties that have an investment in this development to get their opinions on the proposed business park.
Gethin Jenkins is the third generation farmer of Model Farm which is the proposed site of the development. Here's what he had to say on the plans.
So, can you just explain a little bit about yourself and how you fit into the Model Farm development?
I'm the third generation farmer on Model Farm, my grandfather moved to the farm in 1935. He was followed by my father and I worked alongside my father, I was lucky enough to work alongside him all of my life. And now I've got a 32 year old son who is working alongside me, and I had hoped that he'd be able to carry on. I mean, Model Farm and farming seems to be in the Jenkins blood.
How did you find out about the proposed development?
I found out on the 28th of May, which was just one week before, L&G had a public consultation in the Rhoose Social Club, two representatives; one of the representatives from Legal and General and one of the representatives of the firm that doing all the planning for them, came to see me, they laid out all the plans, which was a great shock to us because at the time, we'd always expected possibly a little bit of a development close to the airport, one or possibly two fields, because L&G and bought it as an investment, so that wouldn't have come as a great surprise. But the biggest shock was to find that they wanted to develop 100 acres of the farm and then to give 70 acres to the Council of our farm, plus another 30 acres of another farm, which Legal and General own just across the valley. Again, that goes to the council, supposedly to extend the Country Park, seems a little bit strange because the council at the moment are struggling to maintain what they've got with the public purse being as tight as it is. Services, and Amenities; they really are finding things very tight.
So have you read the development plan?
The LDP? Yes, we knew about that. Back in 2013. L&G wanted to try and get a bus link to the airport and direct rail link to the airport. And again, when they came to see us, they put plans on the table and said, ‘Oh, we would like you to be the first to know about this. We don't want you to see it anywhere else first.’ The following day, it was published in the press. So that was a sort of a shock. It seems strange that the people who are most affected by this, namely the Jenkins family at Model Farm always seem to be the last people to know. [Legal and General] have been talking to the council for years before that. But they didn't deem it to necessary to give us any information whatsoever. So that seems to be the way they work is just keep them in the dark.
So when Legal and General came to see with these proposed plans, did they give you any options?
No, no. All they said to me was that they were putting [the plans] in, and they were having the public meeting in [Rhoose Social Club]. They had to give the statutory 21 days notice and for people to object to it, if they deem that way, or if they liked it, they could make their own comments. They intended them to put the plans into the council by early July, I think it was then [anyway]. And they've paid extra fees to fast track the planning permission, to get a decision, and they said by October so my next question to them was, ‘Well, if the Council say yes to you and give you the right to develop, what's going to happen to us?’ and they representative just said to me, ‘Well, if we get permission, we'll be serving you notice to quit and you'll be out,’ which was a bit of a bombshell, really. The position we're in is that I don't know what my son is going to do. I don't know what sort of future he's got as far as farming is concerned, because their proposals involve knocking the farm buildings down and knocking the farm house them. So not only am I losing my business, but I'm losing the accommodation that my son is in at the moment. But until I get some sort of idea of what they’re going to do, I’m stuck. Because another question I had for them was, ‘Well, is this going to be a phased development? Are you going to try and do it all in one go because hundred acres is a considerable size development. Are you going to do it all in one go? Are you going to try and do a certain section to see how that goes and then just rolled it out to cover the area in a number of years?’ to which I was told ‘Well, we're not sure yet it, we haven't spoken to anyone wanting to move into any units because we can't advertise until we get the permission’. But at the moment, [representative from Legal and General] said it is something of a speculative development. And [they] won't be building unless [they] know people are going to want the units. So, and again, to me, it begs the question of where are the people going to come from that wants to go into these units. The site at Model Farm is only across the main road from the Cardiff Wales Airport. And there's an airfield of some 50 to 60 acres that's been owned, well, it's still owned by the Council. And that ground hasn't had anything done to it in the last 24 - 25 years. I think I was probably the last person to do any farming activity on that land. All that’s happened since then really is just ponies and the couple of horses been grazing. So that ground is going to rack and ruin and yet if the Council [have] 60 acres of their own, and these people are, you know, looking for development sites? Why hasn't that been developed? You know, that's in the LDP and the Enterprise Zone, which we know. Cardiff and St. Athan are all part of this joined up aerospace industry. This ground is just begun to be developed, this just go into waste at the moment and you can't get anything closer. It's right in front of the main doors of Cardiff Wales Airport, but no one seems to have come forward and done anything with it.
In the original LDP, the development was three phased. Do you believe this has now changed?
Well, as I say, I can only tell you what the L&G man said to me when I said, ‘If you get the permission, you know what's going to happen to us’. And I was just told by them, ‘you'll be served notice to quit’. And there's virtually three fields left after the Council have their chunk. They develop the other hundred acres, there's probably 30 acres of ground maximum. And I even asked him, ‘Well, what are you going to do with that?’ And his answer was, ‘well, because it's not in the magic LDP circle on the map, I'm not concerned about that’. So it was very much a question of anything to with the development, that's what I'm talking about, but anything else, I'm not interested. And it seems as though history is repeating itself because I think it was in 2003, [Legal and General] then took four acres of ground from us to build a hotel, the Holiday Express hotel right next to the airport. At the time, they were perfectly entitled to take the ground. And we knew that that was happening, [it was] earmarked many, many years before for airport related warehousing. But when Legal and General bought the estate in 2001 off the companies which are one of the advisors that they use. They managed to have a change of use from commercial warehouse and they got permission to put a hotel there. But right from the time that they asked that we release the land to them straight away, I just said, ‘Well, what you want to do? You know, what's go in there?’ And they wouldn't tell me; right to the day that the bulldozers pulled into strip the soil, Legal and General would not tell me what was going on. The council had to give me, [well,] I had a full set of plans from the council. Because being an occupier was the ground, one of the rules are that the council sends you a list of the plans to say this is what's happening. They said right up until the time that they started stripping the topsoil off, Legal and General, and their agents would not tell me what was going on. And it just seems pointless. You know, there's nothing I was going to do to stop them. You know, they were perfectly within their rights, but it just seems that's the way they do their business.
So do you think there would be any positives should this development take place?
I can't see [that] this is going to benefit the Vale at all. Some of the people in the meeting, in groups, they thought at first, when they were told, that they could be 2000 extra jobs. They said, ‘Oh, well, that's gotta be good for the local community’. Again, if it is airport related and specialist manufacturing of some sort, then it's not the sort of jobs that people have. I'm not saying that the people [of the Vale] aren't capable of doing that work, but whether they've had the training that they could just go in and do that; a lot of these specialist firms bring their own staff in, so that’s the only benefit of the local community [which] would possibly be some groundwork construction work. I'm very dubious that there's anyone going to actually come in, as I say, with the council site across the road. It's been there for so long. And I think in all that time, there's an airport catering firm: It's got one small shed there. But that's all. It’s actually, you know, being looked at our local man, Councillor RT Davis, [who] had been to the airport to meet the airport management on some business, I don't know what, and it was on the same day as the public meeting in Rhoose. And he asked them ‘Well, what do you think of [the proposed development plan]?’ and they didn't know anything about it. And they said, ‘Well, we've got no need’, and why would they because at the moment, I think the passenger figures for Rhoose airport is something like 1.67 million, whereas in 2005, it was 100,000 more than that. So they've actually gone down. In 14 years they've gone down 100,000 passengers not increased, and they've got more than adequate cargo facilities in the airport buildings [that] are there. It needs modernising, yes, but, you know, we're talking about 100 acres of farm ground, which is producing food for the nation or helping to produce and feed the nation. And as soon as a bulldozer goes in on to a field, that field never comes back. If someone says, ‘Oh, it's not going to work’ as soon as that has been stripped, that will never come back to agriculture. And I feel that it's just, it's just a crying shame. You know, it should never be allowed in favour of alternatives. You know, St. Athan, there are huge hangers down there. And if we're talking about airfreight that is the ideal place, you know they got massive hangars, they can have big planes coming in with whatever cargo they want. And the facilities are there. They don't have to go strip greenfield sites, everything is in place. It just seems strange to me.
So what's the next step for the residents of Model Farm?
That is the hundred thousand dollar question, until Legal and General come and talk to me. I honestly don't know if they will get permission from the council, and this does go ahead. And one of the first things I've got to do is sort out some accommodation for my son and I can see I'll have probably a massive battle with Legal and General trying to get some sort of compensation for them, taking my business away from me, and I say ‘Well, we have to sell a lot of stock. And there's no way we can farm without buildings’. You know, it is just a family farm. As I said, you know, we've been there three generations for 50 years. And it's all we've known. My son with a young family now. It's put us in a very difficult position, in the stressful position, as you can imagine, you know, with a young family, and he thought his future was mapped out for him. But now to have the rug pulled from under his feet and to say, ‘Well, sorry, you're out on your ear now’. If they only came along, and L&G came along and said, ‘well, right, we will try and do this and we'll try and do that’, It would be great. But they seem to put these press releases out which say, ‘we're working with the Jenkins family to try and mitigate the risks, to reduce the disruption to their business’, well, that's nonsense, because, you know, they haven't even said to me, ‘well, we'll try and help you or will do this or will do that’, we have got some statutory rights because of my tendency, but it just seems to be something that they're not mentioning. And I can't press them and say, ‘Look, I want you to do this one after the other’ because at the moment, until they tell me, I'm out, I have no farm. So I'm going to be alone for the rest of the tenancy in the future. So I know it's something that is coming. But it sounds like a strange situation to be put in. But you just have to carry on until you were told for certain that you can't carry on, if that makes sense to you.
**Interview has been amended for clarity – a full transcription is available on request**
Samantha Campbell is a producer for the Vale this Week, which airs Wednesday night from 6pm on Bro Radio. Samantha also writes online content for special events in the Vale of Glamorgan.