In an Argus exclusive one of the men leading the Circuit of Wales development has questioned criticisms over the alleged impact of the project saying the multi-million pound scheme would improve the area.

ONE of the senior members of the team behind a proposed £250m motorsports complex has hit back at claims about its ecological impact by Wales’ leading naturalist and a Gwent charity.

Peter Thomas questioned whether TV presenter Iolo Williams has been to the Rassau site where the Circuit of Wales is proposed to be built, refuting his claim it would be a devastating blow to wildlife.

He disputed claims by the Gwent Wildlife Trust that the development would damage a peat bog, and Mr Thomas said that measures to be taken by the development company would actually improve conditions for wildlife at the site.

National Resources Wales had been a high profile objector to the Circuit of Wales project but removed their objections following talks with the developer. The Welsh Government decided on Thursday it would not call in the project.

Mr Williams said in a statement released to the Argus earlier this month that the project would release over 10,000 tonnes of greenhouse gases through the destruction of peat moorland, and that the project would be devastating to wildlife.

But Mr Thomas, who is the CEO of Insight in Infrastructure and responsible for planning the project, said: “I don’t think he’s even been on site. He’s entitled to his view.

But he added: "How much work has he done and how much he has quoted are factual rather than viewpoints?

“We’ve done a huge amount of work looking the site. We’ve done wildlife surveys and so on. We’ve done significant amount of work looking at the peat. I use the word peat lightly.

“The way it is presented is like its some pristine peat bog. It’s not of that nature. The majority of the soils on that site are less than 18 inches deep.”

But Mr Thomas said peat releases CO2 when it dries out: “Because the nature of the materials on site is that they are fed by running water... there would be a number of periods in its life where it would have dried out.

“When it started to wet again, the amount of CO2 released increases up to 500 per cent as its rewatered. This would have gone through a number of different periods of drying, wetting, releasing and so on.

The Argus asked if it wasn’t known how much was on site: “No, and that’s the work we’re going to do with NRW to look at exactly what we’ve got on site, to minimise the impact of its movement and then come up with a solution for mitigation.

“We’re doing all that we can to mitigate for the release of CO2.”

But Mr Thomas, contradicting Mr Williams' claim the circuit would be devastating to animals, said: “What wildlife?”

Studies for the development have found no unique species of wildlife on the site, despite Gwent Wildlife Trust saying the site is home to a wealth of wildlife including rare dragonflies and birds, including the hen harrier and grasshopper warbler.

Mr Thomas said: “We know the mitigation we’re going to carry out is to improve habitat and give species like Hen Harrier a better chance of survival.”

No one has, up until now, done anything to improve the habitat of the development area. “As soon as we come along all of a sudden it’s an area of huge significance,” said Mr Thomas.

'Not enough detail' in track plans

GWENT Wildlife Trust’s chief executive Tom Clarke said there isn’t enough detail yet on proposals to mitigate the impact of the Circuit of Wales project.

Mr Clarke said the trust does not “automatically oppose development or job creation.”

“However, we remain a wildlife conservation charity and it is absolutely essential that we scrutinise significant applications for development that would cause irreversible damage to the wildlife of Gwent,” he said.

He said assurances were not a substitute for detail and mitigation of peatland - regardless of soil depth - is a complicated process.

Mr Clarke sited work by the chair of the UK peatland programme, Dr Rob Stoneman, saying the threat to Welsh moorland was a serious issue and would be expected that the Welsh Government ensures the complexities of any mitigation proposals are carefully examined.

“Mitigation proposals of sufficient detail are not discernible at this stage. We will be able to form a view once those details are forthcoming,” Mr Clarke added.

“In the meantime Gwent Wildlife Trust remains opposed to the development, and we reiterate the very scientifically-reasonable request for this proposal to be called-in.”