Residents across Merthyr Tydfil are vowing to halt a development by Dŵr Cymru / Welsh Water, which they say will "decimate" one of the "finest green belts" in the county borough. 

Welsh Water wants to build a single 100-acre water treatment works on a family farm in Pontsarn to replace the smaller Pontsticill, Cantref and Llwyn-on works, which it says are "aging and have become increasingly difficult to maintain".

Planning permission has yet to be sought and currently Welsh Water says it is in a consultation period. But the local community is worried about what's on the cards.

The decision to build a single supersite was taken in 2017, when the options were narrowed down to three possible locations - two at the disused brownfield site of Vaynor Quarry and one on the Pontsarn working farm. By 2018, the latter was eventually chosen as Welsh Water's preferred site. 

Welsh Water want to build 100 acre water treatment facility on farmland in Pontsarn, north of Merthyr. The local community say they will fight to protect the green space. Photo: Siriol GriffithsA satellite map showing the location of the proposed Welsh Water development in Pontsarn. The disused Vaynor Quarry site is nearby. Source: Google Maps

Fran Allman Bevan lives in Trefechan, which overlooks the site, and says she is "devastated" by Welsh Water's proposals. 

"I've lived in this area all my life and Pontsarn is a special place to us all, and that goes back generations," Fran told The National

"Pontsarn is like the green lungs of Merthyr, what with it having been a heavily industrial town to the south."

Welsh Water want to build 100 acre water treatment facility on farmland in Pontsarn, north of Merthyr. The local community say they will fight to protect the green space. Photo: Siriol GriffithsA view across the land from the proposed site towards Trefechan in the distance. Photo: Siriol Griffiths

When they heard about the proposals, Fran and other concerned residents set up a Facebook group, which saw more than 2,000 people join in just one week. They argue there's no need to destroy the land at Pontsarn and that the nearby brownfield Vaynor Quarry should be re-considered as a location.

"What really gets me is the sneakiness of this entire development," says Fran. "Because in 2018, Merthyr Council were looking at their local development plan. Welsh Water had apparently already decided on this idea by then and didn't even mention it to the council. 

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"I'm active in my local community, but I and hundreds of other people had no idea about these plans until very recently, so how can they say they're fully consulting locals? Shouldn't that have been done back in 2018?

"We're not NIMBYs and we know full well how important this area's clean water is but why destroy a beautiful piece of countryside when there's the disused quarry so close by? It makes no sense to me but it must be about money... to the detriment of everything else."

Welsh Water want to build 100 acre water treatment facility on farmland in Pontsarn, north of Merthyr. The local community say they will fight to protect the green space. Photo: Siriol GriffithsThe disused Vaynor Quarry north of Trefechan. Photo: Alan Hughes CC BY-SA 2.0

Richard and Kathy Pendry are brother and sister whose family have lived in the tiny hamlet of Pontsarn since the mid-1970s. 

"Just before last summer, we had a man in high-vis knock the door," Kathy says. "He said he was from Welsh Water and was warning there'd be men arriving to carry out surveys for a water treatment works on the land opposite. 

"Well, that left us in a state of shock... what water treatment works we were asking?"

Welsh Water want to build 100 acre water treatment facility on farmland in Pontsarn, north of Merthyr. The local community say they will fight to protect the green space. Photo: Siriol GriffithsFrom left to right: Pat Murphy, Buster the dog, Kathy Pendry and Richard Pendry stand on the site of the proposed Welsh Water treatment works. Photo: Siriol Griffiths

"It's been devastating to us," Richard adds. "What they're doing is ripping out a huge chunk of a beautiful place when there's simply no need. 

"And we're the 'lucky' ones because people over in Trefechan weren't told at all about this until a few weeks ago. 

"There's an SSSI on the edge of this development, which will be affected, not to mention the impact on everyone's wellbeing in north Merthyr.

"It's the repeating of mistakes which I can't stand. The loss of green spaces like this. It keeps on happening over and over but for how much longer?" 

Welsh Water want to build 100 acre water treatment facility on farmland in Pontsarn, north of Merthyr. The local community say they will fight to protect the green space. Photo: Siriol GriffithsA drone shot showing the scale of the proposed Welsh Water development. The Gurnos Estate is shown in the bottom right hand corner with Gurnos Farm on the other side of the A465 road. Photo: Eye in the Sky

The development, should it go ahead, will be situated on land belonging to Gurnos Farm, which was once more than 450 acres in size, but got eaten up by the construction of the Gurnos Estate decades ago. 

It is currently owned and farmed by Gwyn Parry, 76, who has been living and working on the site for 72 years. He stands to lose 101 acres of land to the Welsh Water development if permission is granted. A compulsory purchase order would likely be put on the land should Gwyn refuse to sell voluntarily, meaning he'd suffer financially. 

"I don't want to leave here," Gwyn told The National. "I'd prefer to stay here and continue to farm as I always have done. It's been my life."

Welsh Water want to build 100 acre water treatment facility on farmland in Pontsarn, north of Merthyr. The local community say they will fight to protect the green space. Photo: Siriol GriffithsGwyn Parry with his grandson Jack Kedward. Photo: Siriol Griffiths

Gwyn's grandson, Jack Kedward, 18, had been hoping to inherit the farm and carry on the family tradition: "I'm the fourth generation and I thought this would be my future.

"I spent three years in college studying agriculture but now what am I going to do?

"I wouldn't want to farm anywhere else because this land is what I know. It's my home." 

Welsh Water want to build 100 acre water treatment facility on farmland in Pontsarn, north of Merthyr. The local community say they will fight to protect the green space. Photo: Siriol GriffithsA view of the tiny hamlet of Pontsarn from the site of the proposed development. Photo: Siriol Griffiths

Dŵr Cymru / Welsh Water said in a statement to The National

"We are currently developing plans to site a new water treatment works in the Merthyr Tydfil area.   A new works is essential to replace three existing treatment works in the area which are nearing the end of their operational life. 

"We are committed to engaging with the local community about the plans and have just completed 6 week non-statutory consultation period to provide the local community with an opportunity to view our initial plans and provide comments.  This has included hosting information events locally and creating a virtual consultation room on our website with information about the project.  People have been able to submit their comments either through feedback forms at the information events, through the virtual consultation room or by emailing us at the dedicated email address we have set up.  We have been encouraged by how many people have responded and would like to thank them for taking the time to do so.

"We will now review the comments received and assess how these can be incorporated into the plans for the works.  The next step will be for us then to hold the statutory consultation with the local community ahead of us submitting the planning application to the local authority.  During the statutory consultation process, we will again engage with the local community and provide them with opportunities to come and view our plans and provide feedback."

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