Gethin Jenkins, a tenant farmer at Model Farm, to the east of Cardiff Airport, first heard of plans to build a business park on the land on 31st May 2019. Jenkins’ family have farmed the land for three generations, since 1935. He explained, “It was a shock that such a big area was to be developed in one go. Being realistic, I realised there would be something close to the airport, but maybe in one or two fields.” It seemed that Jenkins’ hopes of passing the farm to his son Rhys had been dashed and he said, “It is a case of good agricultural land being taken away. Once agricultural land is bulldozed, it is lost forever.”
Local people were surprised by what might happen to the farm when an exhibition of the plans was held at the local social club on 7th June. Jenkins said, “We have been heartened by the local support we have had – people are aghast at the scale of what is planned.”
He expressed scepticism over claims that upon becoming fully operational the project would create 2,000 jobs. The land targeted for development covers 44.9 hectares and is within the St. Athan-Cardiff Airport Enterprise Zone. Jenkins anticipated being served notice to quit after being visited by a representative of Legal and General, a financial services and asset management company which owns that land. Legal and General claimed that the business park would deliver more than 158,000 square metres of warehousing and distribution floorspace for Cardiff Airport .
Legal and General hoped to receive planning permission for the development before the end of 2019 and stated that the land has been allocated for development as part of the Enterprise Zone for a number of years, with public consultation about potential uses for the site having taken place since 2006. Outline planning permission was being prepared, working closely with Vale of Glamorgan Council, Cardiff Airport and other stakeholders. The development would provide business space and warehouses for aerospace and related industries. A spokeswoman said the project would “help Cardiff to strengthen its position as a gateway for business, tourism and leisure”. Rhys Jenkins said “I’ve grown up and thought I would farm, it’s all I wanted to do. It’s a kick in the teeth seeing my dad get upset. He’s worked his whole life, as has his father, to make the farm a success.”
Planning permission granted despite objections In August 2019 plans were submitted on behalf of Legal and General by RPS Planning and Development. Currently farmland, the site is allocated for employment space under Vale of Glamorgan Council’s local development plan. Vale of Glamorgan Council Planning Committee granted planning permission, despite more than 1,000 public objections. The prevalent reasons for objections were summarised as: • Traffic congestion and lack of provision for new transport infrastructure • Loss of farmland/ opposition to eviction of tenant farmer • Detriment to local heritage assets • Detriment to residents’ wellbeing and amenity • Lack of need and justification the development, in this location • Detrimental visual and landscape impact/ loss of open countryside • Opposition to proposed Porthkerry Country Park extension • Not sustainable/ will greatly contribute to climate change • Nature/ habitat loss, detriment to ecology and biodiversity • Loss of trees/ impact to ancient woodlands • Local drainage infrastructure inadequate to accommodate development • Flooding and contamination • Opposition to illustrated Rapid Transit Corridor • Procedural matters
The project plan splits the land allocated for the project into 12 development parcels. Barry Town Council expressed strong objections to the project for many reasons including: generation of increased traffic and congestion on local roads, the project appearing to be speculative with no identifiable tenants, proposals appearing to have inadequately assessed implications for the local environmental and unacceptable new build of greenfield land when the Council should be directing developers to existing brownfield sites .
Gethin Jenkins had told the Planning Committee: “We rear beef cattle, grow cereals, and have recently started growing wildflower seeds for sale throughout Wales. The increase in bees, pollinators and other insects in these fields is truly amazing. In the aftermath of Brexit, it should be of paramount importance to secure a sustainable supply of home-grown food and reduce the carbon footprint and food miles of our goods. Taking away this productive farm goes against all these principles. Anything that will be built here, could also be built on a brownfield site within a three-mile radius. If you allow this development, you will not only be taking away my family’s farming future and my son’s home, you will be denying all future generations their right to see a vibrant countryside on their doorstep. One it’s built on, it’s gone forever.”
Leader of the Welsh Conservatives political party and Vale councillor, Andrew RT Davies, thought there were sufficient grounds for rejecting the planning permission application. He said, “This decision is disastrous for the people of Rhoose and west Barry, who had rightly raised concerns about the loss of agricultural land and the impacts on road congestion.” In the initial stage of the business park plans councillors were informed that a proposed relief road would provide key transportation access, but this road would not be built. He also pointed out that the Covid pandemic had reduced demand for commercial office space and that this was another factor that should be considered.
Plaid Cymru Councillor Ian Johnston raised concerns over how the business park plans contradict recent Vale of Glamorgan Council commitments to reduce carbon emissions in response to climate change, and over the increase in road traffic: “Well, if declaring a climate emergency at Welsh Government and council level doesn’t mean that we should at least think twice about plans that will put thousands of cars on the road every day for a business park that caters for the aerospace industry, then what is ever going to be refused?”
A representative of Legal and General would not tell the planning committee the identity of a “high-profile, prestigious employer” that it plans to sell the land to, having signed a non-disclosure agreement .
Protest and a community campaign group On 21st August 2021 protesters gathered outside the Senedd (Welsh Parliament) to voice their support for the Jenkins family, who had been served an eviction notice by Legal and General. The family, supporters and politicians voiced their opposition to the demolition of the farm and to business park plans.
Plaid Cymru MS Rhys ab Owen described what was happening to the Jenkins family as “disgraceful”, saying: “They’ve had next to no consultation about having to leave the farm, and we’re just ignoring all the declarations that have been made about the climate emergency and the biodiversity emergency – those are all being forgotten because they think there are economic advantages to ignoring it.” Andy Slaughter of the Green Party prised the protesters for a “real sense of community” behind the campaign to save Model Farm .
The protest was organised by a community campaign group, Vale Communities Unite, established to save Model Farm. In a short space of time the group had gained thousands of supporters and was raising funds to pay legal fees to appeal the planning permission decision. Kelly Jenkins said the family was still in shock and unsure of where they would relocate to. She said they had been given a 12-month eviction notice, a letter delivered by an enforcement officer, on 31st July. Rhys Jenkins was worried about the effects on his father: “It’s horrible to see what it’s doing to everyone, but especially to dad. He spent pretty much every day of his life on this farm since he was born until this day. To see what he is going through is not nice at all. It’s not doing his health any good. I know that.” Rhys explained that his father had worked hard to create a productive farm. He had established a water supply including pipes and tanks in every field so that livestock could be kept in them. Improving soil condition was a long-term and complex project that had taken 60 years .
Business park plans quashed The business park plan was stalled in September 2021; Vale of Glamorgan Council quashed planning permission, accepting that Viability Information had not been included as it should have been within the Officers’ Report. The planning permission decision is now the subject of a judicial review and will be considered in court before the matter goes back to the planning committee for another decision. Councillor Andrew RT Davies welcomed the news. He urged members of the planning committee to reject the application when it comes back before them and warned that error in granting planning permission could undermine residents’ confidence in the process. He said: “The decision to grant permission at Model Farm was a betrayal of Rhoose and surrounding villages, so I am extremely pleased it has been quashed.”
Vale Communities Unite, the community group set up to protect Model Farm from development, had issued proceedings for the judicial review after raising funds for legal fees. Legal issues had arisen surrounding how much financial information was published in a report on the planning decision, pertaining to Section 106 agreements (legal agreements between Local Authorities and developers that are linked to planning permission and can also be known as planning obligations) about how much the developers were obliged to fund local infrastructure and public services. Local resident and campaigner Maxine Levett said: “We’re very happy, we feel very relieved and very ecstatic that we have got to this point. We feel we have had some justice from the dismissive way that planning was conducted.” Legal and General might contest the decision, which could lead to the issue being fought out for months in court. If Legal and General does not contest the decision the application could return to the planning committee by the end of the year. The committee could then decide either to approve permission again, or to approve permission.
Vale Communities Unite is still raising funds for legal fees and anticipates a protracted battle over the planning application. Maxine Levett said: “We know there’s still a battle to come. We don’t know that Legal and General will come back with. Will it go back to planning again? I’m hoping not, given the climate and nature emergencies, and Project Zero. I would hope they would have a rethink, especially now they know the public is so upset by the proposal. We will have to remain vigilant.”