The Welsh Government has been criticised by an investigation that probed its £4.25m purchase of farmland as it sought to give its backing to the Green Man music festival.
Adrian Crompton, the Auditor General, said ministers acted with “avoidable haste” when they chose last March to acquire Gilestone Farm for the music, science and arts festival, whose organisers have since chosen to stay at the site where the event has been held for two decades.
The Audit Wales investigation raised several concerns ranging from the level of due diligence to the advice given to Economy Minister Vaughan Gething, who approved the deal. Crompton found that the “haste” of the purchase was linked to a desire to use an in-year underspend.
The Welsh Government acquired the 240-acre farm in 2022 before a full business plan had been provided by the Green Man festival. Ministerial advice before the decision had said the festival was constrained by a lack of available land to accommodate visitors.
Crompton found that the Government did not keep a record of what was discussed with Green Man in “various virtual meetings” to consider the business plan outline. But he found that the “most significant” factor behind the pace of the decision was an opportunity to use an in-year underspend in the government’s Economy Main Expenditure Group.
Green Man, which attracts 25,000 visitors each year, has said is will not be relocating to Gilestone but may host smaller events there each year. They intend for the farmland to remain in agricultural use and for the accommodation to be in residential and tourism use. On making the deal, the government agreed to lease the land back to the previous owner at a peppercorn rent to maintain the property and harvest crops. The lease expired last October before being renewed on what the report described as “commercial terms, including a profit-share”. This new lease is due to expire this October.
The report added: “Despite obtaining an independent valuation of the site which was £75,000 higher than the actual purchase price, in the event of an onward sale, the Welsh Government may not be able to recover the full purchase price, either due to market conditions or to separation of the site into separate lots, which are in total worth less than the whole site in a single lot.”
Conservative Senedd group leader Andrew RT Davies argued the report “highlights the latest example of Labour ministers in the Senedd recklessly throwing around millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money to fund a new vanity project”.
He added: “There is currently an A&E crisis in Wales and the time and money Labour spent on Gilestone Farm should instead have gone towards our Welsh NHS.”
A spokesperson for the Welsh Government said: “It is clear from the review that the acquisition of Gilestone Farm followed the appropriate processes, was value for money and is clearly aligned to our economic ambitions.
“Due diligence work continues on Green Man’s detailed and comprehensive business plan which will conclude in the coming weeks. No final decision on the future of Gilestone Farm will be made until the due diligence process is complete.”
This year’s Green Man will be held August 17-20.