Welsh Government decide not to call-in Ruperra planning applications despite a recent biodiversity commitment
Ruperra Castle Preservation Trustees were hugely disappointed that Julie James, Climate Change Minister, has decided not to call-in the Ruperra planning proposals for determination by the Welsh Government. This is despite concern for the future of protected species living on the site, including rare Greater Horseshoe bats whose maternity colony is in Ruperra’s Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). This is also in spite of the Minister’s recent written statement issued in December 2022 to all local authorities in Wales committing Welsh Government to strengthen protection for all SSSIs in Wales.
Caerphilly County Borough Council can now go ahead and issue the decision by the Planning Committee on 28 September 2022 which was supportive of the proposals for conversion of outbuildings next to Ruperra Castle into a residential community with no plans for Ruperra Castle, a building of huge historical importance and at risk. We believe the proposals will impact irreparably on the setting of the scheduled monument and Grade 2* Listed Castle, and its Grade 2 Registered Garden and parkland, and damage, rather than enhance the precious biodiversity of the area.
We are saddened that it is so difficult to protect heritage assets in Wales like Ruperra Castle, the Coal Exchange and many others despite the good intentions set out in Wales’ ground-breaking Wellbeing of Future Generations Act and in the Senedd’s founding principle of sustainability. Welsh people deserve these fine words to be followed by Government action, including better protection of our historic environment. Built in Caerphilly in 1626, Ruperra Castle is significant in Welsh history, and one of only a handful of pageant castles (built for show, not defence) left in the UK. It would be a tragedy if, without necessary repair work, it deteriorates further and is lost forever…
Many eminent historians and archaeologists agree that intervention is long overdue. They include Adam Nicholson, who in his book “The Earls of Paradise” mentions the woeful state of Ruperra Castle, this “great Jacobean house… burnt out and in collapse….” built by Sir Thomas Morgan, steward to the 3rd Earl of Pembroke.
We are petitioning the Senedd to press Welsh Government to require preparation of a conservation management plan for all scheduled monuments at risk, including Ruperra Castle. If you haven’t yet had chance to sign or share the petition, please do so:
Senedd petition: Make conservation management plans compulsory for scheduled monuments at risk such as Ruperra Castle
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Built in Caerphilly, 1626, Ruperra Castle is significant in Welsh history, one of only a handful of Pageant Castles left in the UK. It was home to the Morgan family and played host to Charles I, and the military in WWII. In 1941 it was gutted by fire and it is still a ruin at risk. A scheduled monument and Grade II* listed building, yet it has deteriorated through private ownership. One of the towers has fallen and without considered intervention it will deteriorate further and soon be lost…
Scheduled monuments are protected to preserve archaeology and buildings so that future generations can learn from our past. Many monuments are stable, others need managing to slow or avoid the effects of natural deterioration. Cadw’s website suggests owners may find it useful to draw up a Conservation Management Plan (CMP) to guide their decisions, but it’s not a requirement.
Welsh Government should make CMPs compulsory for scheduled monuments at risk, to avoid neglect and subsequent loss. This includes identifying significance, risks, and opportunities to conserve and improve the monument, so as not to damage what is special and guarantee we pass on what is valued to future generations.
This will ensure monuments at risk like Ruperra Castle aren’t neglected for another 80 years. It will also help alleviate worry about losing significant parts of our precious heritage and aid our wellbeing. The community has been trying to save it for 25 years
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On 20 December 2022, Julie James, Minister for Climate Change, wrote to all local authorities in Wales to give notice of proposed planning policy changes to strengthen protection for Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). This could be good news for the biodiversity of Ruperra, its SSSI and the protected species living there such as bats, which play an important role as pollinators. These are currently at risk of potential harm by the proposed developments to convert outbuildings next to Ruperra Castle into a private residential community.
Earlier in December Julie James attended the United Nations COP15 Biodiversity Summit where leaders agreed a new ambitious Global Biodiversity Framework to put the world on a path to restoring nature by the end of the decade. In attending COP15, Julie added Wales’ voice by pressing for urgent transformative action across the whole of society. She emphasised the key role that subnational governments, cities and local authorities play in protecting and enhancing biodiversity and in delivering actions across planning, implementation, and monitoring.
The letter from Julie James highlighted the essential role that the planning system must play in meeting the challenges and gave notice of proposed changes to planning policy in relation to net benefit for biodiversity and the protection afforded to Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and trees and woodlands. We are pleased to hear that a consultation exercise will take place on amendments to policy early in the New Year. Read the letter from Julie James which makes a commitment to step up and ensure delivery to realise ambitions.
The Ruperra Castle and woodlands SSSI is a nationally and internationally important roost site for the Greater horseshoe bat in Wales. One of the outbuildings provides a maternity roost with other buildings providing hibernation sites during the winter. Bats are very sensitive to light pollution and disturbance - excessive regular disturbance could mean the loss of the location as a suitable roost.
Greater horseshoe bats are a protected species and have always been scarce in the UK. Their British numbers declined significantly in the last two centuries and they were in danger of extinction. Numbers of Greater horseshoe bats have increased in recent years - this may be due in part to a series of warmer winters, and also due to increased protection of the few known breeding roosts.
Despite concern for the future of protected species living on the site, on 28 September 2022 the Caerphilly Council Planning Committee voted to approve all four applications subject to a long list of conditions. However, there are currently ‘holding directions’ on these applications while the Welsh Government decide whether to call them in for their own determination. Holding directions are issued infrequently and indicate that the proposed development is likely to raise planning issues of more than local importance. We hope this commitment to strengthen protection for SSSIs is demonstrated by the Minister taking a decision to call in the Ruperra applications.
Search for Sites of Special Scientific Interest on the Natural Resources Wales website where you can access more detailed information about each site.