Monday, June 27, 2011

Powys CC wind farm meeting on Wed

Cannot go to the special meeting of Powys County Council being held at Welshpool Livestock Market on Wed.. Councillors will be debating their approach to policy on wind farms and associated transmission infrastructure. To some extent, the Welsh Government First Minster's statement of 10 days ago has drawn the teeth on this debate, but its still an event I would like to have been able to attend. Let's start by looking at the motion that is currently down to be debated.

'Powys County Council calls on the Welsh Government to carry out an immediate review of TAN 8, and to call a moratorium on all wind farm applications, whether pending or in pre-application stage until the review is completed. In carrying out the review, the Welsh Government is specifically asked to consider environmental, socio-economic, community, ecological, transportation, cultural, and cumulative impacts of the construction of wind farms and the necessary infrastructure in rural Wales. Powys County Council also asks that in carrying out this review, the Welsh Government carries out a cost benefit analysis of wind farm energy production when compared to alternative sources of energy'.

I'm not at all sure that this is now directed at the right target. Since this motion was first being worked on, we have had the Carwyn Jones statement, which has fundamentally changed things. The most important sentence was that the TAN 8 limits should be regarded as the 'upper limits'. To that extent, I rather like TAN 8. And the second most important sentence was that there is no need whatsoever for a 400kV cable/pylons to deliver these 'upper limits'. I rather like this as well. This needs to be reflected in the Council's thinking. These sentences, if translated into policy, would mean about 100 new turbines, no 400kV cable, no sub-station, (and buried 132 cables as well). Not everything protesters wanted - but nothing like as bad as we were fearing.

The real target now is the Westminster Government, which will be debating recently published National Policy Statements on Renewable Energy Generation before the summer recess. Its what I'm building towards. Because energy (over 50 Mv) is not devolved, TAN 8 is referred to in these 'statements' as no more that a 'material consideration'. Not good enough, and the Council should be saying so, loud and clear - and it should be a part of the motion. Energy is not going to be devolved, but we need to raise the bar a bit higher than 'material consideration'. What about something like 'presumption in favour' of the TAN 8 targets. And I would like to see something about refusal by the Council to contemplate a sub-station. That should scupper National Grid's hideous plans. And there should be some serious questions about what the Welsh Government is going to do about all these wind farms that were thought to be heading towards forestry land. Expect to see some changes in the motion. This is all enough to make me wish I was still a councillor.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Its why we Welsh dream

40 years ago today, the British Lions beat the All Blacks on their own turf. They achieved legendary status by going on to win the test series 2-1, with one test drawn. Rugby was a big part of my life then, and the stars of that tour remain stars in the Glyn Davies 'Hall of Fame' today. Right up there with Trever Hunt, who joined me for a tour of the House of Commons and lunch last week. He was the surgeon who redesigned my lower body 10 years ago, while removing a cancerous tumour from my bowel.

And most of the 1971 Lions were Welsh. Let me list them - in no particular order. Coach Carwyn James, Captain John Dawes, Gareth Edwards, Barry John, JPR Williams, Mervyn Davies, Delme Thomas, Derek Quinnell, John Bevan and John Taylor. There were great players from the other home nations as well. Willie John McBride, Mike Gibson, David Duckham John Pullin, Fergus Slattery, Ian McLaughlan. There was even a second row named Gordon Brown. They were heroes. McBride's forwards never took a step backwards, and Barry John's backs were mesmerising. We all have our favourites. For me, the greatest of them all was Gareth Edwards.

Here's Carwyn's speech before embarking on the mission

- "Look here, I want each one of you to be your own man. Express yourself not as you would in the office for the next three months, but as you would at home. I don't want you Irishmen to pretend to be English, or you English to think you are Celts, or for Scotsmen to be anything but Scottish to the core. You Irish must continue to be ideologists off the field, and on it fighters like Kilkenny cats. Let you English continue to stiffen those upper lips, and simply continue to be superior. And the conservative traditionalism of you Scots - strong, dour, humourless in phony caricature - let it be seen as colourfully fired up these next 90 days by the oil of your country's new-found radicalism. As well, I demand that all of you make sure you let us Welsh continue to be bloody-minded and swaggeringly over-cocky in our triple-crowning arrogance."

Imagine Warren Gatland saying that - or any Welshman being in a position to say that today. 1971 is why we Welsh alway carry a candle of eternal hope. Happy dreams.

Monday, June 20, 2011

The Greek tragedy

Longstanding and dear friend, David Rowlands called in my office this morning, plonked himself down and handed me another of his letters. David is a full blooded Ukip man. I assumed it would be another of his 'outraged' letters - probably about the idiocy of pouring more billions down a Greek drain. But No, he was supporting me on my mission to prevent the mid Wales uplands from becoming industrialised by wind farm companies. It didn't matter because Boris dealt with the impending Greek tragedy in his Telegraph article today anyway.

Boris says that "We should stop chucking good money after bad". This will have a lot of purchase because so many people who talk to me about Greece agree with Boris. In fact people who talk to me about anything agree with Boris on this. Now, the consequence if no-one chucks more more money at Greece is 'default', exit from the Euro, followed by unpredictable turbulence across Europe and wider. Another way of looking at all this is to see the EU as developing into a single state (fiscally speaking) and these massive transfers as a sort of EU Barnett Formula - an extension of regional policy. This could well be the equivilent of Baldrick's cunning plan. I hope David didn't read the Boris article or he'll be back in my office tomorrow with another envelope.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Where now on wind in mid Wales.

Just about landed back on earth again following the First Minister's 'Statement' about onshore wind farms in mid Wales last Friday. It astounded me, which is a rare event for this old hand. Keep on looking for the catch, and cannot find it. OK, so there's all this 'side issue stuff' about devolving extra powers to the Assembly, which the media is lapping up (despite it having been on the agenda for at least 10 years). But it cannot conceal the main issue. The Welsh Government will not support a 400kV cable on pylons into mid Wales - and there is no chance that an undergrounded cable can be justified, while Carwyn Jones sticks to a max of 500 Mw of new wind generation in the 3 mid Wales development areas. I'm a cynical old b***** but this looks good however which way I look at it. The overall 'project' looks to be in deep trouble - which is just where I like it.

Am a bit reluctant to commit to 'next steps' for a few days. Need to talk to National Grid, SP Energy Networks and my 'advisers'. But I have already called publicly for National Grid to abandon their plans to run a connection from mid Shropshire to mid Wales. No doubt NG will consult Dep't of Energy and Climate Change for guidance on this. My advice (for what it's worth)is "Listen to me boys" (in a non gender sense). If you and DECC go ahead with this when all of Wales is opposing you, and that's how it looks, you will precipitate a constitutional crisis. Just throw darts at a photograph of Carwyn, and bite the bullet. Smell the coffee. Your plan to industrialise the mid Wales uplands is over.

Of course, there will still be plenty to argue about. There could easily be a wind farm that is economic running a 132Mw cable all the way to the Grid (that's onshore wind farm economics, or fantasy economics to the rest of us). But last Friday's Welsh Government 'Statement' will give the Local Planning Authority more confidence to refuse permission. There will still be a rumpus about the one big outstanding application at Llandinam that awaits decision, and which does have a licence to export electricity. Probably won't say much about this issue for a week or so - when future strategy has been decided. I talk about something else.

Friday, June 17, 2011

The 'Listening' First Minister

Was driving home from Llandrindod when I heard the news. Almost drove through the hedge. Carwyn Jones, First Minister of the Welsh Government had issued a Statement on Planning for Renewable Energy in Wales - blowing the project to industrialise the uplands of Montgomeryshire right out of the water. He said "My Government could not support the construction of large pylons in mid Wales and my ministers are pressing this case with Nationl Grid Transmission and with Ofgem" - and he made special mention of Montgomeryshire. I promise never to be rude about Carwyn ever in my life again. Well not for a few days anyway.

Of course there were the crudest of smokescreens to cover the huge reversal in policy, but the important point is that he did the right thing - so there will be no churlishness from me. The people of mid Wales have begged and pleaded and persuaded Carwyn Jones to amend Tan 8, and help us save mid Wales from the sentence passed upon it in 2004. Just as David Cameron has done in respect of the NHS, Carwyn has recognised that his renewable energy policy needed changes, and he's had the courage to deliver.

Lets look at the cover, which is itself interesting. First is the tossing of the ball into the Westminster Government's court. For weeks I've been building up my campaign to persuade Charles Hendry, the Minister to publicly reject the National Grid 400kV connection from mid-Shropshire to mid-Montgomeryshire. It had been going well, and I was planning a big speech on July 19th. Now I will have a new message. Its not just the people of Mid Wales who are opposed - its the people of Wales. To approve National Grid's plans when every political party in Wales, the thousands of campaigners and the First Minister would make Tryweryn look like a vicarage tea party. I will be asking National Grid to abandon its plans forthwith.

The second lovely strategy (which I really enjoyed) was to claim that there's a danger of Westminster imposing large wind farms on mid Wales, and that the responsibility should therefor be transferred to the National Assembly - supposedly to save us. Laughed when I read that. The main reason these wind farms were proposed in the first place was Carwyn's TAN 8 policy guidance. But lets be done with this churlishness. Today has been a great day, and I genuinely feel for the first time that the Powys protesters have a great chance of pulling off a spectacular victory.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Welshpool Livestock Market - centre of anti wind protest.

Interesting developments in Powys. Montgomeryshire Councillors David Jones and Graham Brown have submitted a motion for debate by the Powys County Council on 29th June. It demands that the Welsh Government conducts a full review of its renewable energy policy guidance to planning authorities before any new planning permissions for wind farms are granted - including a proper environmental assessment that (disgracefully) has never been held. This is an excellent proposal which I expect the Conservatives to support.

The meeting was to have been held in the Council Chamber at Llandrindod Wells, but it seems there is a high profile visitor to the town that day. If a decent crowd of protesters turn up, the important visitor could be discomforted. I know it can't be the Queen, because Mrs D and I are going to her Royal Garden Party that afternoon! They shouldn't have moved the meeting because if its a member of the Royal family, he or she may well have wanted to join the protest!

Anyway, Cabinet Business Manager, Steve Boyd has informed us that the meeting has been moved to Welshpool Livestock Market, where a building is being converted into a makeshift debating chamber. An audio system is also being installed so that any people attending will be able to hear what is going on. This is all rather a good idea. I'm only upset that I cannot attend, because of the afore-mentioned Garden Party, and a very important debate over dinner in the House on 'Care' that I'm sponsoring that evening. Let our councillors speak for the people - and expose the First Minister's attitude towards the the people of mid Wales.

Monday, June 13, 2011

In Praise of U-Turns.

I really have read and heard the most utter tosh about the NHS reforms that the Coalition Government are currently taking through Parliament. Sometimes I really despair at the hopelessness of commentary on our political process. And some of it from our own side!

Now lets start from the proposition that we want our Government to legislate in a way that delivers the best results. The 'best result' is not necessarily the Bill that is first put before the House of Commons (or Lords) - which is why we go through the various stages of debate before the final product goes forward for Royal Assent. Sometimes a lot of change is needed and sometimes no change at all. Sometimes a Government abandons its proposals altogether. What happened with the NHS Reform Bill was that the Health Minister and the Prime Minister decided to 'pause' for three months to reflect, after a fair bit of criticism from health professionals. We need to get any reform of the NHS right. A group of knowledgeable people were asked to advise, which they did today. And now we can move forward with a better bill. Seems to me a sensible way to behave.

What I find particularly childish is the portrayal of this entirely sensible consideration of complex and sensitive policy as some sort of dual between the two Coalition partners. There are still some who do not get it. We have a Coalition Government. The Lib Dems and the Conservatives are colleagues. Whenever I hear Conservatives undermining Lib Dems or vice-versa, I think its like watching footballers trying to kick the ball into their own net. We govern together as a team, and we win together as a team.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Welsh Football Supremo Speaks Out

I was pleased to read of the opinions of the President of the Football Association of Wales, Phil Pritchard in today's Wales on Sunday. I know Phil. He lives just down the road from me - in Welshpool. We sometimes have a coffee and chat about things. I've not seen him since the Wales supported the uncontested election of Sepp Blatter to continue as FIFA President, in what was widely seen as a farce. Football has become such big international business that it was just not reasonable for the FAW to say nothing. So the interview was a bit of a coup for the WoS.

Seems to me that more than anything else it was a big poke in the eye for the English FA. I quite approve of that. Now I had been ready to criticise the Wales FA stance, but now I'm not so sure. I think I have rather more sympathy with Phil's view. Yes, Blatter has become a comic figure. Yes, his continued presence at the pinnacle of world football brings the game into ridicule. But reading Phil's comments makes it clear that England's representatives treated the other home countries with casual arrogance, simply assuming they would fall into line behind them with minimal discussion. If England had not been quite so full of themselves they might have received a bit more support. Maybe Wales will vote for someone else when Sepp Blatter reaches his mid 90s, and FIFA meetings have to be held in his nursing home - assuming there is an alternative candidate who has not been barred from standing because of corruption charges. Until then, the activities of FIFA will carry on being a carry on. After all, football is in the entertaining business.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Its 'The Economy' Stupid.

Regular visitors to this blog over the last few years will know that I am no fan of onshore wind farms. My main opposition to them has been based on the damage they do to landscape and natural beauty for minimal benefit - even if my opposition to the project to cover the uplands of Mid Wales with mass turbines and pylons has been based on the sheer lunacy of the idea. But I've realised that no-one cares about landscape, and that there are many otherwise sensible people who have been conned into believing in this lunacy. So - in a moment of mental clarity today, it dawned on me that if we are to defeat this madness we must fight it on economic and financial grounds. We must help people to see the truth. Future posts on this issue will no longer be about the desecration of our uplands and valleys, awful though that is. Because its about a search for truth, I will write in a way that invites those who disagree to inform me, and my readers where they think I'm mistaken.

In this post, I'll look at the misleading nature of claims made by onshore wind developers - and use a local example to demonstrate. In last week's local press, a developer was lauding, with great pride, a new wind farm application which could produce 80 megawatts of power (and power several million homes! ). OK, so I exaggerated the second bit! Well, lets look at this a bit more closely, assuming that the power would be sold to Scottish Power. We know that the most recent production factor for Welsh onshore wind farms is 19% (despite some ill-informed journalists claiming it to be higher). So this new wind farm is actually going to produce an average of just 16 megawatts, at completely random times - sometimes delivering 80 megawatts and sometimes nil. This means that Scottish Power would need some other form of conventional power source (oil, gas or nuclear?) to provide 80 megawatts of rapid back-up whenever the wind doesn't blow. For the wind farm to provide anything at all needs some other form of power generation to be running at reduced power - and reduced inefficiency. A bit like a car idling.

What was being boasted about as delivering 80 megawatts, actually delivers bu**er all. Probably makes the position worse. And that's why the people of mid Wales, who began by opposing a mad project to desecrate their homeland, have become opponents of the whole onshore wind farm sector now that they know a bit more about it.

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Philip Johnson's Must Read in Today's Telegraph.

I've never met Philip Johnston, who writes for the Daily Telegraph. I have read some of his stuff - but I've not read anything as good as the article he's written today. The headline reads ' Wind farms aren't just a blight, they're a folly'. As a PPS, I have to be conscious that I do not say anything that conflicts with Coalition Government policy of 'onshore wind having a role to play as part of the energy mix, but that proposals should have strong community support and democratic legitimacy". So I'll just tell you what Philip wrote, without embellishing it with my opinion.

"there is one fundamental difference, between the great transformative projects of the 19th century and today's wind turbines: the latter don't work"

"To produce the same amount of electricity as one coal-fired power station, you'd need a wind farm the size of Greater London. And when there is no wind - or too much - the power produced is minuscule or the turbine has to be switched off while fossil fuel stations take up the slack."

"to see remote tracts of countryside that, by and large, survived the industrialisation of the landscape now threatened with defilement for no good reason is scandalous."

"A conspiracy of vested interests is seeking to bludgeon communities into accepting what has become a money-grabbing free-for-all masquerading as an environmental panacea."

"It is the greens and not the opponents of wind farms who are the true heirs of the 19 century Luddites, standing in the way of an energy policy that would benefit us all - and protect the landscape."

Monday, June 06, 2011

Pulling a fast one ?

Had an interesting email this morning from probably the sharpest legal brain I know, which accuses the Welsh Government of seriously duplicitous behaviour in respect of the timing of its controversial TAN8 decisions. Its a bit complex but I'll try to simplify what he claims happened.

European Directive 2001 requires member states to undertake statutory consultations with other agencies before proceeding with any "plan or programme" concerning "land use" or "energy". This directive was adopted in Wales by Statutory Instrument no 1656(W 170), taking effect on 24.7.04. The Welsh Government rushed through its TAN8 announcement just 11 days before the deadline - before when it would have been statutorily required to consult the Countryside Council for Wales, Environmental Agency and CADW. Environmental scrutiny of a massive land use change, supposedly to benefit the environment. The only people who would have understood what was happening would have been the relevant civil servants and the Minister they were advising.

Probably too late for Judicial Review, but its being looked at. Personally, if this is as reported, I would find it quite shocking to discover our new devolved democracy behaving in such an underhand way. Just one more thing. The First Minister was a barrister, and responsible for energy policy when all this happened.

Sunday, June 05, 2011

Caring for the Elderly

'Appeared' on BBC Radio Wales' Sunday Supplement this morning. The subject was 'care of the elderly'. Fellow guests were Baroness Finley and a new Labour AM named Mark Drayford. Never encountered him before. He seemed very keen to be party political. Started off by talking about Mrs Thatcher for goodness sake, and later on started talking about reductions in public spending as if it was nothing whatsoever to do with the Labour Party. When discussing a really important subject I do find this approach to be so tiresome - so I just ignored him. I think Vaughan found him tiresome as well.

Reason this issue was under discussion today was the publicity there has been through this last week about Southern Cross, an issue that's been on my radar for a year. Southern Cross is the biggest care provider in the UK, and has been an accident waiting to happen. Lets set aside the 'care' aspect of this, and consider the financial structure of this company - put together in great haste, during a property boom about 5/6 years ago, by a private equity company, split into two and sold on (at graet profit). The problem as I see it, is that the property side of the business, and the operational side are completely separate entities. There's nothing wrong with this model if its a group of hotels say, or golf courses. If the property side goes awry (which happens) the casualties can look after themselves. But care home residents can't. When there are unplanned home closures, there is inevitable a great deal of human misery, and accellerated deaths. My view is that there should be financial regulation as well as care regulation to ensure that only sound business models are allowed to operate in the sector.

Truth is we are moving forward into a massive crisis in care delivery. We are living to be older, which brings with it a huge dementia problem which we are not ready for. It must be faced. The Coalition Government did put some 'sticking plaster' money into this sector last year, while we await the publication of a comprehensive report into the future - by the Dilnot Commission, expected later this year. We cannot carry on as we are. We have to find some way of paying for care. We have to find ways of keeping people in their own homes for longer. Failure to do these things will carry a massive price - paid by the most vulnerable people in our society. Its too big an issue to play political games with.

Saturday, June 04, 2011

Hello, I'm back - blown in by a wind storm

Have not blogged for weeks. Truth is that I'd become a bit bored - mainly because there are too many individuals around with so little to do that they spend time reading my musings in search of something to cause me or my party embarrassment. So I've decided to take a different approach. No-one who fails to identify themselves will have comments published. So the trolls can p*** off. Anon will need to be relevant, clever or funny.

Reason for me coming out of retirement is that I want to write about some issues which matter to me, one being the industrialisation of the uplands of mid Wales with wind turbines and cables. This first post is no more than a reflection on where we are. I'm going to tell you what is going on over the next few weeks. To begin, we need to look (briefly) on where we've come from.

In 2005, the Assembly Government decided that mid Wales should become the dumping ground for a 400kv cable's worth of wind turbines (as a starter) - 600+ turbines. The then Assembly Member for Montgomeryshire, Mick Bates thought this to be a splendid idea. I didn't. I stuck with that opinion thereafter. I knew that the local population would agree with me, when they realised what this all meant in terms of infrastructure. But even I did not expect the level of public outrage. When I called a public meeting in Welshpool Livestock Market in April, I was stunned by the numbers that turned up - somewhere between 1500 and 2000. I did get a bit carried away standing on a couple of big bales in front of such a responsive crowd, and asked the assembled throng to come to Cardiff with me to show how much we cared. I thought a bit of a do on the Assembly steps would be a good plan. They all came - and some. It was the best demonstration there has ever been outside the Assembly. At a conference two days later, the Secretary of State for Wales said that the people of mid Wales should not be ignored. Carwyn Jones told the conference that they would be ignored. I wasn't disappointed because I expected him to say exactly that. Within the Welsh Government, the opinion of mid Wales is of no consequence.

The Cardiff event was a stunning success - way beyond the wildest dreams of those of us involved in arranging it. But there is the question of where go now. Ideas are welcome on this blog. But a few of us did meet this morning to develop a strategy, and I was shocked by how things have changed in just a few weeks. Tentative beginnings have been replaced by cast iron resolve. The onshore wind farm sector will rue the day they joined in with the Welsh Government to trample all over the people of Mid Wales. They just picked on the wrong target. I always thought there would be a bit of a rumpus. I was wrong. There's going to be a bl***dy conflagration. I have no idea how its going to end. All I know is that they picked on the wrong people. Next blog will be about strategy - or at least that part of it that we are content for our enemies to know about.