Updated: Feb 10, 2021
According to a report in the Powys County Times, the Welsh Government is sifting through responses to a pre-application consultation on developing a £100 million rail testing centre on the edge of Powys. Powys County Council is part of a joint venture with Neath Port Talbot County Borough Council and the Welsh Government to develop the Nant Helen site which straddles the local authority boundary.
Council leader Cllr Rosemarie Harris has been asked by Labour Group leader, Cllr Mathew Dorrance (Brecon St John) under the questions at any time protocol to provide an update on the plans. She replied: “The project completed its pre-application consultation with the local community at the start of November as a precursor to the submission of two planning applications – one in Neath Port Talbot, one in Powys – both of which are awaited. The council has assisted the development of the project via a joint venture with Welsh Government and Neath Port Talbot Council given the project’s potential economic benefits.”
Discussions have been taking place between the Welsh and UK Government over the possibility of them investing £30 million into the site. It also emerged in September that German multinational Siemens, has earmarked a site in Lincolnshire for a rival bid. While this proposal is long way behind Nant Helen, there is only room for one of these sites in the UK and official.
In recent months, Brecon and Radnorshire MP, Fay Jones, has met with Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) Alok Sharma MP and Under Secretary of State at the department, Nadim Zahawi MP, to press the case for the project.
The GCRE could provide a major economic boost to the Ystradgynlais area, and a use for the Nant Helen open cast site, once it stops extracting coal. It is hoped that, when built, rail companies and Network Rail would flock to the site, creating extra jobs through research and design projects.
The rail-testing tracks which allow trains to be tested at speeds of up to 100mph would help other developments such as the South Wales Metro. It would also allow train drivers to have their skills tested under realistic conditions.
It is expected that an outline planning application will be submitted to both authorities before the end of 2020 and will be discussed early next year. Construction would take two years and if everything goes to plan, the site could be operational by 2025.