A new team has been given conditional planning approval to take forward the Afan Valley leisure resort project – which is expected to be the first of three resorts of its kind in the UK.
The new team led by the Salamanca Group, a privately-held merchant banking business, was granted permission to progress the project by Neath Port Talbot Council's planning committee on 12 October.
Now named the Wildfox Resort Afan Valley, the adventure resort will encompass a 100-bedroom hotel, 600 lodges, a spa, restaurants, cafés and bars, and facilities for skiing, hiking, cycling, zip wiring, rock climbing, white water rafting and other outdoor pursuits. Site preparations are expected to start at the beginning of next year and the resort is hoped to open in 2024.
Planning permission for the project was originally granted in March 2019 to a subsidiary of Gavin Woodhouse's Northern Powerhouse Developments (NPD).
Following an investigation by The Guardian and ITV into the finances of Woodhouse's companies, interim managers were appointed to NPD in 2019 "to secure the assets of the company while enabling a detailed assessment and forensic investigation into where many millions of pounds have gone".
A spokesperson for NPD at the time said the group strenuously denied any wrongdoing. NPD's 10 hotels later fell into administration and have since been closed and/or put up for sale.
The Serious Fraud Office announced in August that it was investigating suspected fraud and money laundering in relation to NPD founder Gavin Woodhouse, as well as individuals and companies associated with him.
The council continued discussions with former director Peter Moore, who developed Center Parcs in the UK, and Duff and Phelps, administrator and interim manager of the project, and has confirmed it is content the Wildfox Resort Afan Valley development is deliverable.
According to the website for the project, it has "retained certain specialists that we believe add value and ensure the continuity of the project, however, these are not connected to the former owners of the Northern Powerhouse Group".
Ben Lloyd, managing director of Pure Advisory Group and a partner in the new Wildfox team, confirmed the group had been successful in securing the finance required to progress the project.
Martin Bellamy, chairman and chief executive of the Salamanca Group, said: "We are creating a new team with the expertise, finance and capability to deliver the Wildfox Resort to achieve positive social and environmental benefits for local communities. We appreciate the complexities of this project, the frustrations and disappointments of the past and understand what is required to turn it around."
Karen Jones, chief executive of Neath Port Talbot Council, added: "The council has been working with the applicant and their agents for some time to ensure sufficient information was submitted to enable the council's planning committee to thoroughly assess the proposed development. As part of this process, officers have been providing advice and guidance and I now look forward to working with the new delivery team to ensure benefits associated with the proposed development are maximised and potential impacts minimised."
Salamanca Group's previous project include Bulgaria Mall, One Ocean Port Vell in Barcelona and Gravity Smart Campus in Somerset.