At the end of January I was privileged to be invited to the Friends of Cwmcarn Forest Drive meeting to discuss the future of this drive. The meeting, held at Cwmcarn Working Men’s Club & Institute, was chaired by Rob Southall.
Rob provided a brief history of the Forest Drive and discussed its importance to local people when addressing a room full of concerned individuals, including rare appearances by local AMs, councillors and Welsh Assembly candidates.
The Drive was shut on the 2nd of November 2014 in order to remove 160,000 diseased larch trees. The trees are not natural to the hillside, they were initially planted by the Coal Board to provide timber for mine props. Nevertheless they and the Forest Drive are much loved by many local people and visitors from much further afield.
Also in attendance were representatives from Natural Resources Wales (NRW). John Hogg, NRW Head of Operations for South East Wales, made the point that the group were ‘pushing at an open door’ in terms of arguing the case to reopen the drive. He stressed the importance of communication with communities. However, NRW also confirmed that there was no current funding to reopen and maintain the drive, and that any plans for the drive’s future were likely to include a shortening of the drive. Sally Tansey of NRW said that a reopened drive would need to be more ‘sustainable and compact’.
It appears that the council is discussing plans with NRW, but representatives from Welsh Labour were vague around what decisions had actually been made to date. Our own discussions with NRW suggest that there could be organisational, resourcing and funding challenges if left to some political groups whose track record leaves much to be desired. We need action, coordination, and people who can really make this happen.
Friends of Cwmcarn Forest Drive have been campaigning hard to ensure that the drive is open and returned to its former glory, even if this means a different variety of trees. Rob Southall said “...the big issue for us is that we need to form a single body to manage it all, otherwise you are going to have people pulling in different directions.”
Matthew Kidner is the South Wales East Valleys Local Party Vice-chair and has responsibility for the website and social media. He is also the Welsh Lib Dems Assembly Candidate for Islwyn. His interests include Education, the Environment and Entrepreneurship. He lives in Newbridge with his wife and Daughter.