VISITORS to Cwmcarn Forest Drive could face price hikes for admission fees as Caerphilly Council tries to shore up the attraction’s finances.
The site currently operates at a “small profit”, but failure to invest further would mean it “will not be financially viable in the long-term”, according to a council report.
A Caerphilly Council cabinet meeting on Wednesday October 18 has paved the way for admission costs to rise from £8 to £10 for cars, from £15 to £18.50 for minibuses, and from £30 to £35 for coaches.
The price hikes “reflect inflation” and would start in April 2024, in a move the council described as “not a light decision to be made”.
But cabinet member Philippa Leonard told colleagues a “rise in prices may have a big impact on low-income families”.
Anthony Bolter, the council’s visitor economy and destinations manager, said the local authority “understood” the price rises would have an “impact”, but said “comparable costs of entry” at other outdoor attractions were “much more than we are charging”.
“It is very good value for what people get at Cwmcarn, I think,” he told the meeting.
Caerphilly County Borough Council manages the Forest Drive as part of a partnership agreement with environment agency Natural Resources Wales, which owns the attraction.
The attraction shut in 2015 when a tree disease was found there – nearly 150,000 trees had to be felled before the refurbished Forest Drive reopened in 2021.
Council leader Sean Morgan praised the attraction as “fantastic” and said “there has been so much achieved over the last few years” – but added more improvements could be made at the drive, such as increasing the restaurant options for visitors.
A council report describes the past two years as being a “honeymoon period” for the new-look site, and while the number of recent visitors is still higher than pre-pandemic levels, there are worries the Forest Drive is facing a “downward trend” in footfall.
“There is some concern that the Forest Drive may not be able to financially ‘wash its face’ if numbers continue to decline,” the council report warns.
An application for UK Government grant money from the Levelling-Up Fund was unsuccessful – an outcome cabinet member Chris Morgan told colleagues was “disappointing”.
In light of that failed bid, the council has warned “the need for further investment is critical to the ongoing development and operation of the site”.
As other outdoor attractions in south Wales “improve and become stronger” there is likely to be a “negative impact” on the Forest Drive unless there is “further investment” in the site, according to the council report.
“Small” increases in admission price will, therefore, “help to produce a healthier income” for the attraction while “ensuring they do not deter people [from] visiting”.