RECOGNISING UNFULFILLED POTENTIAL
For the ten years between 1983 and 1993 Ffos Las was a very different place from the multi award winning, major tourist attraction it’s become today. In fact, it was the site of the largest and deepest opencast coal mine in Europe, yielding in excess of six million tonnes of the finest Welsh Anthracite coal over its operating life. The site was backfilled with 250 million tonnes of rock and subsoil, but remained essentially a brownfield, unimproved site and was largely regarded locally as a bit of an eyesore.
Walters Group recognised the unfulfilled potential of the site however and in 2003 set up the nascent Ffos Las Limited. By July of the same year a truly visionary planning application was submitted to the local authority for the first National Hunt, Hurdle and Flat Racecourse (for horseracing) to be built anywhere in the UK since 1927.
A detailed business plan and several independent economic appraisals (from both local and national government) all concluded that the venture was “robust, professional and entrepreneurial” and after a few setbacks and hurdles, by June 2007 a revised “final” planning application had been approved and the development team was duly assembled. The first 18 acres of residential development land were sold to Persimmon Homes Ltd and work began in earnest.
With a two year deadline from inception to completion, Ffos Las was a demanding project from the start. Aiming for gold standard eco credentials from the off, the Environment Agency and the local authority were consulted at every juncture. The resulting habitat creation and the vastly improved land drainage achieved is one of lasting legacies of the development, with many species of butterfly, Skylarks, Lapwings, Ringed Plovers, Stonechats, Hares and even Otters now resident on the 600 acre site.
The Grandstand was opened bang on schedule in June 2009 by local Rugby Legend Jonathan Davies, (who had his first labouring job on site when it was an opencast mine). While the Grand Opening event later that year (August) saw racing legend Sir Peter O’Sullivan cut the ribbon in front of 15,000 cheering racegoers.
REDEVELOPED AND REBORN
From the off it has been a successful venue, attracting crowds of 15,000 plus on occasion. It’s achieved good profitability in a challenging economic climate and diversified to include a range of non-core activities, ranging from conferences, weddings, venue hire for events, clay pigeon shooting, walking, biking and has considerable potential for the future.
A full calendar of 19 races fill the 2017 diary, including the Welsh Champion Hurdle, Ladies Day and a host of other exciting days out. It’s been praised by racegoers, jockeys, trainers, owners and race organisers and even won awards for Racing Quality.
The site, once a post-industrial eyesore, is reborn as an attractive, environmentally friendly development. Sustainable housing, a pub, hotel and network of footpaths make it an attractive place to live and work. It’s further enhanced by the planting of 45,000 trees in partnership with the Woodlands Trust and a newly commissioned Solar Generation park. Plans for the future are equally bright, they include further investment in tourism, leisure and the local ecology.
For further information and to book your visit, please visit the Ffos Las website at ffoslasracecourse.com.
FROM OPENCAST MINE TO SUSTAINABLE LEISURE
Like the Groups other successful leisure development at Ffos Las Racecourse, Walters Arena originally started life just after WW2 as a massive 4,000 acre opencast coal surface mine. It was home and workplace to some of the largest earthmoving equipment ever seen on the UK mainland including the 1,800t Ransomes and Rapier Walking Dragline . After British Coal and later George Wimpey wiped out the coal reserves, the site was loosely backfilled, topsoiled and planted with conifers and mixed grass. In the 1990’s Walters took over the partially reclaimed and re-planted site and undertook a significant overhaul, increasing tree planting for timber and improving the quality of the topsoil, landscaping, roads and public access. Once again, we recognised potential for sustainable, long term development.
AN INTERNATIONALLY FAMOUS VENUE
The site quickly evolved to become a major international motorsport complex. Hosting the internationally prestigious Welsh round of the World Rally Championships, The RAC Rally and Wales Rally GB amongst the events. Now firmly established as an internationally famous testing venue for Manufactures World Rally teams, it’s had its share if very famous patrons, (5 in one day!) with most of the recent World Rally Champions having tested there at one time or another. It’s also used by world leading manufacturers to develop their road cars and competition derivatives. There are several national and international competition events held there for rally cars, 4×4 vehicles, etc Manufacturers and dealers often hire the venue for new model press launches and corporate events, also Walters Arena has featured on Top Gear, Fifth Gear, Wheeler Dealers and may more TV Programmes.
Home to the BMW Off-Road Skills Motorcycle experience for many years, it’s become embedded in the psyche of budding Adventure motorcyclists from around the world. The Dawn To Dusk 24hr motorcycle Enduro race is also hosted by the venue and internationally attended.
Unmatched for its variety of terrains, ranging from fire breaks and natural broad leaved woodland, to mature pine and larch plantations, criss-crossed by a bewildering array of gravel roads and smaller trails and paths of varying gradient not to stray from the footpaths as the facility is used for 300 days of the year and often has vehicles traveling at over 100mph! The fauna on the site, which includes several ponds and watercourses includes Peregrine Falcons, Red Kites, Sparrow Hawks, Barn Owls and the obligatory Rabbits of course, with Brown Hares returning slowly.
More recently it’s also become the home of the Maesgywn Windfarm, a Pennant-Walters development, in which the civil engineering division collaborated to build 13 x 2MW wind turbines, linked by 14km of new or refurbished gravel roads and 12km of buried cable, all connected to an on-site substation for grid supply.
A 3.7MW solar scheme has just gone live and there are further plans for a 100kW Hydro scheme, a 10MW Standby Gas Generation scheme and a further 7.5MW of wind generation. Maesgwyn is a unique and truly special site that has seen transformation from an opencast coal site to a hub of sustainable energy generation and one of the leading motorsport facilities in Wales. Truly a marriage of sustainable eco-friendly power, with the more traditional horsepower.
Please do not attempt to visit the facility without our permission or knowledge as it may not be safe to do so due to the nature of the facility. All motor cycle activities must be organised through enrolling on one of the courses by the BMW off road skills http://www.offroadskills.com/.
For more information about rally car testing for non-manufactures teams, corporate rally driving days, filming, photographs, product launches and 4 x4 events at the Arena, please contact Cliff Mainwaring – 07850783346, firstname.lastname@example.org
Walters Arena, A4109, Inter-Valley Rd, Neath SA10 9LR (Works Access sign at the top of the hill).
SEEING VALUE AND POTENTIAL WHERE OTHERS DIDN’T
Owning a major Land Rover franchise may seem a little out of the ordinary for a Civil Engineering, Plant and Development company. The story of how we added it to our portfolio reveals much about the type of company we’ve become. Seeing value and potential where others didn’t, adding to that value proposition with investment and training, then seeing the resulting operation prosper and grow in the hands of a revitalised management team.
JV Like and Sons (based near Hay-on-Wye) was an established, family owned Land Rover franchise, from whom we sourced a significant proportion of our own 4×4 fleet requirements for a number of years. However, despite a loyal customer base, the business had struggled through the 2007-09 recession and began to feel the effects of high overheads and being leveraged against other ventures. Walters took the decision to step in and save the 70 year old business and over 20 jobs. Walters could see the potential of the Likes brand, dealership and management after years of consistent service as a supplier, and so invested in the right kind of support, investment and training to keep the business on its feet.
ONE OF THE TOP LAND ROVER DEALERS IN THE UK
Walters Group empowered senior management, initiated staff training support, reduced overheads and minimised interference from above, while making capital resources available for investment in stock and premises. Our faith in the Likes team was evidently justified, for the past 5 years running, they’ve established themselves amongst the top 25 Land Rover retailers in the UK (despite their rural location in the Welsh Borders) and the team have consistently beaten the dealership volume targets for new and used vehicles. With a customer centric attitude instilled at every level, our valued colleagues communicate confidently, clearly and importantly often with customers, putting them at the centre of every transaction. Operating as a team, they are highly regarded for their product knowledge and professionalism, avoiding pushy selling techniques while concentrating on listening to and advising the customer. Effective use of contemporary communications such as email and social media, is key to the ongoing strategy and a vital part of how the company is perceived among both its customers and the wider public.
The next step for Likes is to replicate this successful formula with a second Land Rover franchise combined with a new Jaguar franchise in Carmarthenshire in 2019. Capitalising on the lessons learnt, we have already started building a similarly well regarded, well trained and professional team. To be housed in a state of the art, purpose built facility, it will both display the vehicles to their best advantage and have the technical back-up and service knowledge so hard won over years of brand experience.