They're mining tourism in the South Wales Valleys

Mark Rowe on the attempt to revive a depressed industrial area

Just how far can tourism help to rejuvenate economically depressed areas?

The former coal mining communities of South Wales may be about to find out. The collapse of heavy industry and the mine closures of the late 1960s and 1980s left the region on its knees. Now the region, collectively known as the Heads of the Valleys, has turned to tourism as a way to improve its economic and social fortunes.

The Heads of the Valleys are defined by the A465, which runs across the heads of the old mining valleys from Abergavenny in the east to Merthyr Tydfil and then Neath to the west. To the south of the road, the landscape is intensely industrial; to the north, open countryside and dramatic scenery beckon in the shape of the Brecon Beacons and the Black Mountains.

This year, funding by the Government and the Welsh Assembly has been directed to the five local authorities in the valleys. The intention is to create 300 new jobs, with local people working as guides and attractions run by community organisations, such as the Grade II-Listed Ynysfach Engine House in Merthyr Tydfil.

The hope is to attract 250,000 more visitors, and develop tourism into an industry worth more than £120m to the region. This is part of a wider, 15-year, £140m regeneration plan for the former industrial heartlands. The ultimate aim, according to the Welsh Assembly, is to transform the region by 2020 into "a culturally rich, dynamic network of vibrant and safe communities".

Tourism is already an important player locally, and brings in 2.6 million visitors and £114m a year, usually to high-profile areas such as the Brecon Beacons National Park and the Big Pit National Coal Museum at Blaenafon. The new initiatives intend to highlight other industrial, cultural and social heritage attractions, along with extreme sports, and extend the network of cycle trails. The developments are initially targeted at day visitors, with the intention to build up a critical mass of good-quality hotels and restaurants so that visitors will be encouraged to stay and explore the wider region.

The projects are various, and include a £5.4m initiative to restore and upgrade the Grade II-listed Bedwellty House and Park in Tredegar, a former ironmaster's residence in Blaenau Gwent. Elsewhere, in Caerphilly, a £3.68m project will create a garden based on the theme of the environment and climate change at the former Markham Colliery, along with a heritage trail in Butetown.

In the 500-acre Dare Valley Country Park in Rhondda Cynon Taf, £1m will be spent on a redeveloped visitor centre, including a glass atrium to take advantage of the panoramic views. Another £1m project will fund the extension of the Pontypool and Blaenafon Railway southwards.

There is also a recognition that the region's natural beauty and its historical importance have been underplayed. There are 17 Sites of Special Scientific Interest in the region and 12 Special Areas of Conservation, while about 35 per cent of the area can be described as broadly upland in character. Just 3 per cent of the region is under buildings and roads.

However, good accommodation and food outlets are far from commonplace, something officials recognise needs to be addressed. "We are working to encourage them to improve," said a spokeswoman for the Welsh Assembly Government. "It makes economic sense to do so. We firmly believe that tourism is one of the vehicles that can tackle economic regeneration in the area."

The plans have been welcomed by tour operator and tourism industry spokesman John Wake. "It's such a diverse area. One day you can have the full industrial experience and the next be walking in Brecon Beacons," he said. "It involves a culture shock for outsiders, but it's a positive one."

But planning is essential. "Any money coming into this area is good," added Mr Wake. "But you need to lay the foundations of the tourism industry first. If you want people to explore the area they need to stay in the region – if they end up staying in Cardiff that defeats the point."

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Recruitment Genius: Bid / Tender Writing Executive

    £24000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: With offices in Manchester, Lon...

    Guru Careers: Marketing Executives / Marketing Communications Consultants

    Competitive (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a number of Marketi...

    Recruitment Genius: Marketing Executive

    £20000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This well established business ...

    Ashdown Group: Management Accountant - Manchester

    £25000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Management Accountant - Manchester...

    Day In a Page

    NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

    Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

    A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
    How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

    How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

    Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
    From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

    The wars that come back to haunt us

    David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
    Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
    Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

    UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

    Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
    John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

    ‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

    Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
    Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

    Let the propaganda wars begin - again

    'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

    Japan's incredible long-distance runners

    Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
    Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

    Tom Drury: The quiet American

    His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
    You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

    You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

    Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

    Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

    More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
    Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

    Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

    The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
    Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own