Select Committee on Welsh Affairs Written Evidence


Written Evidence from Alison Davies, Chairman of Conservation of Upland Montgomeryshire

  I am a partner with my husband in a 88 hectares farm in Montgomeryshire, sited within Strategic search area Carno North. Grid ref: SH994033.

  We have lived at Carreg y Bîg since 1983 and have never had mains electricity due to the prohibitive costs quoted by Manweb (currently about £50,000). We have a small wind turbine and run a generator. Perhaps due to our isolation we are constantly aware of consuming resources and of production of waste and make every effort to minimise our consumption and only put approximately four bags of rubbish for collection each year.

  We were approached by Manweb Generation Holdings in 1992 who wished to build a windfarm on land which included ours. After some heart-searching and research into windfarms, climate change and greenhouse gasses we concluded that we had no alternative but to oppose the development and any future proposals.

  An anti-windfarm group was formed by local people; due to the other impending applications in the area this developed to become Conservation of Upland Montgomeryshire/Cadwriaeth Ucheldir Maldwyn in 1995. The group currently has over 300 members but this is growing quickly since TAN 8 was agreed. Having attended four Public Inquiries in 1999 and 2000 and having received the Planning Inspector's reports which recommended refusal of two of the three applications and making strong comments regarding cumulative effect on the fourth; many local people had hoped that they had seen the back of this threat to our lives and land. Regrettably this is not the case, and despite there being over 1700 letters to the consultation on TAN 8 it has been agreed, almost unchanged. This has left us feeling that the democratic process has serious flaws - we have been ignored, despite always having behaved correctly and within the confines of the law.

1.  UK GOVERNMENT POLICY IN RELATION TO

(a)   the current and future energy needs of Wales

  The critical issues that need to be addressed are, I believe, reliable power for every property, whether this is a private home, a business or a public building. There has been very little attempt to reduce the energy needs of Wales. It is well documented that in Holyhead in the early 1990s Manweb provided each property with low energy light bulbs, thus reducing consumption to such a level that considerable cost in capital works and upgrading cabling was no longer necessary. Solar tubes are still considered to be innovative and are not encouraged in standard buildings.

(b)   the current and future provision of energy in Wales

  Due to the isolated nature of some properties in rural Wales and the disproportionate density of population along the M4 and A55 corridors we have to look at a variety of solutions; some small stand alone systems, some that are for whole communities and utilise the generation of heat from the property itself, providing the opportunity to sell excess to the national grid if that connection exists. The fact that there are still farms in Wales that have no mains electricity is disregarded and when brought to the public's attention, it is generally treated with some disbelief and assumptions are made that we live without 240 volt electricity, have to purchase a gas fridge at excessive cost and pay £15 for a single low voltage light bulb as some kind of life choice!

2.  THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN THE UK GOVERNMENT AND THE NATIONAL ASSEMBLY FOR WALES—INCLUDING THE DIVISION OF POWERSON ENERGY POLICY

  It is of very great concern to many that the Government, National Assembly and Local Government all seem to forget their responsibilities to the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1968 and take forward policies that directly destroy this country which they have a legal duty to protect.

  It is difficult to see how the National Assembly can really hold any power when they allow themselves to be pushed into a position where they produce and publish a draft TAN 8 when they have no Energy Policy—and this is justified by the fact that Westminster has one. The political drivers for windfarms are within the Deputy Prime Minister's Office and seem to have little to do with the reduction of greenhouse gases. When the meeting was held at the DTI to put forward PPS22 to the Local Authority Heads of Planning there was considerable consternation and at one stage a question was responded to on behalf of the Deputy Prime Minister's Office; the person who responded was Marcus Trinnick the legal advisor for National Wind Power. I personally do not consider that this is appropriate and would ask why there is this excessively "cosy" relationship between developers and the government? In Wales, National Assembly Sustainable Energy Group meetings are held regularly throughout the year. At one of these meeting held, I believe in April 2003 I was appalled to learn from Dulas Engineering, who are based in Machynlleth a description of their method of working. They promote their training on renewable energy in relation to planning, to the various planning authorities throughout England and Wales. They are contracted to carryout training sessions with Planning Officers, and they told us how, at the beginning of the sessions, the Planning Officers were reluctant to find areas suitable for windfarms in their "patch"; However, after a full day of work with them the Dulas Engineering staff were pleased that the POs were always able to identify large areas that would be suitable for such development. Following the training, Dulas staff collected all of the maps that the POs had used and on which they had marked potential sites, they took these back to Machynlleth and carried out further desktop studies and then returned to the areas to ensure that there were no houses etc that could hinder development. They were pleased to report to NASEG that following this work they passed the information they had obtained to developers. I was personally appalled at this but they were applauded by the majority of people, including the Assembly Members present.

  We are very concerned that Community Councillors, County Councillors and Assembly Members have interests, sometimes pecuniary, in windfarm development and the Community Councillors and County Councillors step far beyond the boundary of correct behaviour, for example by pressurizing their neighbours to support windfarms and not to speak out against their neighbours; the issues of Welshness and Welsh language are frequently mentioned.

3.  THE CURRENT AND FUTURE PORTFOLIO OF ENERGY PROVISION IN WALES INCLUDING

  As a group we do not feel able to comment upon other forms of energy, although areas of expertise are within the group. Our joint concern, however is that the "big hitters" such as clean coal technology have been available for some years, and without the will of governments across the globe to share their technologies any small changes made in one country will be wiped out by the increased emissions in other countries.

(d)   wind farms

  Having had to become involved in the fight to protect our hills from the proliferation of windfarms for over twelve years we have gained some knowledge and expertise. Our objections are based on the following points:

    —    Windfarms will never be an alternative to nuclear power stations and still many years on the general public still imagine that this is where the choice lies. The public do not realise that the aim is to reduce polluting coal fired power stations.

    —    Windfarms are now agreed to be detrimental to a landscape (see Planning Inspector's Report—Montgomeryshire Cumulative Effect 2001); so the question is now, whether the detrimental effect is within an acceptable level.

    —    Houses near windfarms are of reduced value. I have a written valuation for our property to demonstrate this.

    —    Communities are divided into those "for" and those "against". This is made worse as those "for" are either farmers who want them on their land or their relatives who are afraid to go against them (they have personally told me this), or neighbours who are again afraid to go against them. This means that the people who oppose the windfarms are the brave souls who have been born and bred in the area and are prepared to stand up to their neighbours and considerable pressure and unpleasantness; and people who have moved into the area, don't have the family ties, and are often from professional backgrounds and have an understanding of the planning process.

    —    Many people in the area are not used to writing letters—it is common practice in rural Wales for people to hand their cheque books over for the vendor to complete and the purchaser will just sign the cheque. These people find writing formal letters to be outside their experience.

    —    There are currently three windfarms in Montgomeryshire; two large, highly visible turbines at the Centre for Alternative Technology; one windfarm under construction; there are also 11 proposals for windfarms.

    —    There is considerable pressure to look at community benefit; a County Councillor, whose husband is a significant landowner in one of the eleven proposals informed me that the money coming to the community from the windfarm proposal was "astronomical" (£30,000!) and that they would have a similar amount from the other local scheme. The Councillor had already allotted the money before the application has even been submitted. Councillors have exerted considerable pressure on some members of the community, to support windfarms.

    —    It is evident that a small proportion of the population are very easily "bought"; and they can be bought very cheaply indeed. It is particularly galling that having won the Public Inquiry in 2001 we are having to fight for our homes and livelihoods because the Government and National Assembly; with excessive regard for certain pressure groups and multi National industry, have chosen to disregard their obligation to the countryside and are still not making any significant impact on reduction of CO2 emissions. This could have been achieved through a carbon tax and through compulsory energy saving measures.

    —    In Denmark; despite government support to produce 20% of their electricity from windpower, CO2 emissions have in fact increased. (Platts' Power in Europe.)

    —    The local authority does not appear to be able to meet the demand for its resources, so surveys and studies are not always able to be carried out by the Council to verify the data provided by the developers.

    —    The requirement for high quality EIAs is still not there and the documents provided continue to be a justification for their plans, not an assessment of the impact of the scheme.  

    —    Our group comprises of very concerned people who really do care about the environment—the whole environment and that includes the non-renewable Welsh landscape and countryside.

December 2005


 
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