Select Committee on Welsh Affairs Written Evidence

Written Evidence from Dr C Stephen Briggs

  1.  I recognize the need for and welcome your inquiry as prelude to a national debate on energy. It is here my purpose only to draw attention to matters raised by the development of wind farms.

  2.  Until 1995 I lived in Llangwyryfon, where in 1991 planning permission was granted to develop a windfarm. This was briefly reported upon for the first WASC energy report1. Our home was, we believe, the closest ever built to 6 wind turbines (600 m), being within 350 m of 3. [The situation has since changed, as those turbines were replaced by larger ones, all further from inhabited dwellings than their predecessors].

  3.  We found two aspects of the 1991 development unsatisfactory: first, the process whereby planning permission is gained, and secondly, the means governing how developments are then monitored in the public interest.

  4.  Regarding the planning process, we found that there was a serious level of misrepresentation by developers which, it appeared, did not faze local councillors. They seemed not to notice the damage the developers did to local roads or that the promised local employment never materialized. That some local residents and farm animals were badly affected by the sound was put down to the instability of the victims, not the mendacity of the developers and the experimental nature of their tormentors. Neither did councillors seem to believe it necessary to understand what it was they were voting for—indeed, it is a matter of record that some of them slept through the presentation that preceded the vote. Like many others who have found themselves with a major development in their back yard, we soon discovered that it was impossible to challenge what seemed an unjust the system, without an expensive judicial review. The developers built and excavated in places they had not been given permission. These unscheduled works affected the endurance and purity of our water supply and let to permanent damage in the central heating system. Most of all, the development affected our peace of mind and divided the community.

  5.  My wife eventually became ill from the infrasound emitted by the turbines. As a result, we sold our home (we were "helped" by the developers, who gave us £K7 towards our expenses, and, we believe, saw to it that our neighbours bought the house cheaply.) Just prior to our departure, we had Messrs Stoneman associates of Swansea University bring acoustic gear into the house and demonstrate that the house certainly did pick up non-audible sound, contrary to the advice the industry was then giving, and contrary to the predictions of the Environmental Impact Assessment and developers' promises.

  6.  We have followed subsequent developments with some interest, and have seen many others encounter similar problems.

  7.  As an archaeologist working among windfarms, I am extremely concerned that although archaeological desktop surveys and watching briefs may be recommended in the planning process under TAN8 [cf PPG16], the nature of the ground on many of these sites—I think particularly of Cefn Croes—often includes extensive tracts of peat bog. It seems very important here that cognizance be taken of this bog as an important information repository containing pollen, which upon analysis can enable documentation of climate and vegetation as far back as the end of the last glaciation (12,000-8,000 B.C.). A number of peat bogs are currently drying out at Cefn Croes without having been investigated. Aside from its implications to CO2, this represents a serious loss of human and environmental archive resource. In similar vein, I believe the Institute of Field Archaeologists is at present making representations to WAG about the problems presented by offshore power stations. These arise because so little of the offshore shelf has been surveyed for ecology and archaeology and there are at present insufficient archaeologists trained in submarine work to undertake such surveys if they could be agreed in advance with developers. It is to be hoped your committee will take these problems into consideration when examining the potentially damaging environmental impact of most forms of energy generation. It is a matter of ensuring that a full record is made when deposits of national interest are threatened with damage or complete loss.

  8.  I therefore request that in considering the country's energy needs, your committee gives serious consideration to the many aspects of energy generation that are not as yet properly understood. This includes windfarm sound and other types of pollution or developmental destruction. I furthermore earnestly request that your committee will make supportive recommendations to help pave the way to a more just planning system, one in which Planning Objectors have the right to appeal (as under the European Convention of Human Rights) in line with the way developers can appeal against Planning Refusal.


1  "Memorandum by Dr Stephen Briggs (WE49)", 383-392 in Welsh Affairs Committee Second Report: Wind Energy, Vol.3, (London: HMSO, 1994).

2 December 2005

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