Penrhos and Hailey Park: The campaigners battling to protect Wales' green spaces

Hilary Patterson-Jones has been a fierce campaigner for over 11 years. A resident of Holyhead on Anglesey, she is committed to protecting the Penrhos nature reserve from being developed.

The coastal park has been owned by a Cumbrian company called Land & Lakes for over a decade. The company says it spends in the region of £200,000 every year maintaining the estate’s woodlands, pathways, toilets, meadows, and natural habitats.

But Land & Lakes also want to change Penrhos. In 2016, they were granted planning permission to build a holiday park in the nature reserve. Building the 500 chalets and facilities would involve cutting down acres of trees and altering the landscape.

"This was my playground as a child", Hilary tells me from a nearby shoreline. "This is the only woodland we have in Holyhead and it's really prized and loved".

Hilary is campaigning to preserve her local nature reserve. Credit: ITV Wales

Land & Lakes has planning permission already secured for 600 acres of land at Kingsland and Cae Glas as well as Penrhos, which it says will create up to 600 new training and career opportunities on the island.

The firm says there are a lot of misconceptions about the project, including that 27 acres of trees will be felled, but a spokesperson would not say how many trees would be cut down.

"A development of this size is never going to protect it is it", Hilary says. "It's nonsensical to think that. You've got 500 cabins going in amongst the trees".

No one from Land & Lakes was available to interview, but a written statement promised that any holiday park built at Penrhos would be "environmentally sensitive".

Sharon Jones used to volunteer at Penrhos as a child. She now lives in Caernarfon but visits her mother and Penrhos in Holyhead as often as she can.

"I just don't understand it especially with climate change so highlighted in the news", Sharon says. "This place is so important. It can't be destroyed".

Wales is home to beautiful green spaces across the country. Credit: ITV Wales

The charity Fields in Trust say nearly a quarter of a million of us in Wales live further than a 10 minute walk from a green space.

Chief Executive Helen Griffiths argues that the priority for development across Wales should be for brownfield sites, not green spaces.

"Wales meets the minimum standard for green space provision but the regional variation from local authority to local authority is significant. The lived experience of people in those areas in terms of access to green space will obviously be very different".

Helen says the people who do not have access to green spaces nearby will not be able to reap their benefits on their mental and physical health.

"We need to strategically prioritise where that space is as well", Helen says, "so making sure people have access to that space is even more important in places where people don't have access to private outdoor space".

In Cardiff, there are also passionate calls for protecting green spaces. One campaign group is committed to thwarting plans by Dŵr Cymru to build a sewage pumping station on Hailey Park.

The utility company says it is a necessary project to manage the sewage from 7,000 new homes being built at the Plasdŵr development in the north west of the capital.

But Save Hailey Park campaigners say there are better alternative solutions that would not involve building over a part of their green space.

Pam organises litter picks in her local area. Credit: ITV Wales

"This is absolutely not a NIMBY [not in my back yard] campaign", Pamela French tells me.

Pam is part of the YGC Rebel Mams campaign group who regularly meet to pick litter on the banks of the River Taf, which runs along Hailey Park.

"We have multiple oppositions to this. The campaign is about the fact that a growing population needs to have a net increase to green space. We've seen through the pandemic how important this area was for all of our wellbeing. [The pumping station] will also encroach on the rugby pitches so we're losing recreational space too".

Pam says the level of sewage waste being washed up on the river bank in recent months is unacceptable and doesn't think the new pumping station is going to do anything to help the issue.

Dŵr Cymru says the footprint of the final pumping station will be very small, with most of the infrastructure being buried underground.

"We completely understand the love for this green space", Dŵr Cymru's Managing Director of Wastewater Services, Steve Wilson, says.

"We as a water company want as little impermeable area as we can because the more green space there is in Cardiff the more the rainwater can be soaked up and we don't have to deal with it.

"But technically to get these new houses connected we have to put some infrastructure somewhere and so to do this, the tunnel has to come underneath the river here and so the location of the pumping station has to be at the lowest point so that we can pump it into the sewer.

"So it's a matter of geography really", Steve explained.

The Save Hailey Park campaign has succeeded in seeking a judicial review of Cardiff Council's decision to grant planning permission to Dŵr Cymru to carry out the work here.

Responding, a Cardiff Council spokesperson said in a statement: "We will contest these matters in court."

In Penrhos, Hilary's campaign group also has an active legal challenge to the holiday park planning permission. That is currently being considered by Anglesey Council.

In a statement, Land & Lakes said: "An effective start to the development at Penrhos was made in 2021, which means the planning permission for the site is now held in perpetuity.

"We remain committed to creating an environmentally sensitive leisure resort, which is carefully planned to showcase and preserve its exceptional natural environment.

"Any development would be guided by the care and expertise of relevant environmental agencies and local authorities, and would be respectful of the environment".

But the campaigners in Holyhead say they do not want to contemplate the thought of losing their long battle with the Penrhos landowner.

"During the pandemic it meant such a lot to us", Hilary told me. "I live not far from here, it's one of the poorest estates in Wales. That tells you that not many people have cars or gardens and they come here.

"This is their lifeblood".

"We are concerned [about losing the battle] but we will fight to the end", Sharon Jones tells me.

"As far as I'm concerned this won't happen, I feel too strongly about this. I'll learn to climb a tree!"

Hailey Park and Penrhos - two stunning green spaces in opposite corners of Wales - both at the centre of fierce debates over their future.

The question is how to balance the needs of the economy and a growing population with the passion felt by many for their green spaces.

The answer will never be straightforward.