Neath's popular Gnoll Estate County Park is set for a revamp in a bid to attract even more visitors.
Neath Port Talbot Council's cabinet has approved a funding package of £50,000 to improve facilities at the park including new benches, signage and walking routes.
Neath North representative Councillor Alan Lockyer said the works will "greatly enhance the Gnoll", which "needs a bit of a lift... as beautiful as it is".
During a meeting held on Wednesday November 25, cabinet members agreed to fund the improvements to the 200-acre park, which features formal cascades, ponds and historic structures.
As part of the agreement, information panels will be installed throughout the park detailing its key historic features. New signs will be added to the entrance points and car parks explaining how the parking fees go towards the upkeep of the park.
Some of the funds will be put towards revamping the cafe at the park's visitor centre with new signs and staff uniforms. BBQ stations will also be introduced as well extra seating, benches and walking routes (possibly with a designated running trail).
According to the report, if the council has the space/budget to do so, additional play equipment will be installed at the on-site children's play area.
The cabinet also agreed for a group of officers to work with key partners to deliver the "masterplan" for the park, which outlines upcoming changes for the next three to five years.
This means council officers will research whether it's possible for the council to create visitor accommodation at the park.
Currently, the most popular suggestions for accommodation are refurbishing the former ranger's cottage (situated in the park) and using it as a holiday cottage or building 12 wooden camping pods with en-suite bathrooms.
The family-sized pods would cost around £8,000 each while standard pods would cost around £7,000. The old ranger's cottage would cost around £200,000 to refurbish and the council is also considering leasing it out as a residential unit.
A report by Michael Roberts, head of street care, and Simon Brennan, head of property and regeneration, states it "may be unrealistic" for the council to get funding from the Welsh Government to create visitor accommodation at the site.
The report reads: "Due to the significant ongoing impact of Covid-19 the likelihood of sourcing external funding in the near future to develop these proposals is decreasing.
"In addition to this the ability of the council to prioritise funding for these proposals at this time may be unrealistic."
However, the report also mentions the proposed accommodation could be delivered by the private sector.
Councillor Rhidian Mizen asked if the lodges would be run by a private company or by the council.
Mr Roberts said there will be "an expressions of interest process" with the private sector and the findings would be reported back to councillors so they can decide what to do next.
The council already has £50k within its capital budget to deliver the improvements to Gnoll Country Park by March 2021. The longer-term improvements - such as visitor accommodation - would require external grant funding and so council officers will work on finding this.
In January, the council launched an online survey to understand what changes visitors to the park and locals would like to see.
More than 800 people responded with suggestions such as a new play area, improvements to the cafe, more focus on conservation/environment and rowing boats for hire. Other recommendations included an open cinema, food festival and ghost tours.
The report by Mr Brennan and Mr Roberts said council officers settled on recommendations that were "deliverable within the time frame remaining".
In 2019, the Woodland Trust bought around 95 hectares of land adjacent to Gnoll Country Park. The trust wants visitors to this land to be able to use the current parking site (situated on council-owned land) rather than create their own parking area.
The cabinet agreed to enter discussions with The Woodland Trust about improving visitor access throughout the park.
The council's cabinet member for finance Cllr Carol Clement-Williams said she was "quite surprised to see the report", which she had only finished reading on the morning of Wednesday's meeting because she had been "busy".
The Baglan representative said she had "no involvement" in the consultation "whatsoever" and questioned what consideration had been given to the feasibility of providing visitor accommodation.
Cllr Peter Richards said he welcomed the plans but agreed with Cllr Clement-Williams that the report had "come out of the blue".
Council leader Rob Jones said: "There's a lot of things in this report that still have to be decided" including car parking and "a variety of other things".
"What I'm concerned of here is that we go forward with the recommendations."
He also said the cabinet member involved in the research was Cllr Peter Rees, cabinet member for education, skills and culture. "It falls into his portfolio, not ours," he said.
Cllr Annette Wingrave said she was also involved in the consultation process and was aware of the report being made.
The Cadoxton representative said: "Most of the funding is going to be external funding any way. It's an ideal time to get on board with this now so I do support it."
Cllr Jones said: "I think we are in danger of straying into the semantics of process here as opposed to the decision-making that we need to do as a cabinet."
Cllr Rees said: "We're just looking to go for the process now of actually getting this moved along... all the other issues can be ironed out later."