Friday, January 08, 2016

Mid Wales Wind Farms

Today's Shropshire Star reports on my 'top-level talks' with Secretary of State at Dep't of Energy and Climate Change about two wind farms in Montgomeryshire. Sounds a bit 'grand' but I suppose it's correct. I did indeed meet the Minister this week, but the discussions were limited in scope - to what is proper from a judicial perspective. It is not proper to discuss anything relating to the merits of the applications. This post is an attempt to explain what it's all about. It's a complex and controversial issue. 

The story began in 2005 when the Welsh Govt decided that mid Wales should become home to multiple wind farms. I thought at the time there was much deception in the Welsh Govt strategy, trying to hide the true impact of their plans from local people. To me, it was clear from 2005 that a new dedicated 400kv line into mid Wales from Shropshire would be needed, which would result in far more wind farms that the number being talked about. I reckoned another 500 turbines on top of what we already had, plus a major new 400kv line carried on massive steel pylons. I became an implacable opponent of the new line when it was eventually proposed by National Grid in 2009. So did many others, including Powys Councillors who refused planning applications by developers. There were local protests seeking to stop these proposals.
But these developers were very used to having their own way, cared nothing for local opinion, and appealed against refusals, spending £millions of their customers money to finance the legal actions they assumed would ride roughshod over local objections. Through much of 2013/14 there was a massive 'conjoined public inquiry' to hear 6 of the appeals (5 wind farms and one 132kv line to serve one of them). On Sept 7th 2015, the DECC Secretary of State approved one wind farm and refused everything else). Two developers, RES and RWE then decided to seek a judicial review of the two refusals at Carnedd Wen and Llanbrynmair (as is their right) on the last possible day they were able to do so. The others are now officially deceased.
Before Christmas, the Secretary of State consider the position, decided to conduct a thorough reconsideration of the two decisions and on Dec 16th agreed with the High Court that they should be 'quashed'. She will now reconsider them, ensuring that every detail of the process is followed scrupulously and announce her new decisions in due course. 
I do not yet know what is involved in this reconsideration process. In particular, I do not think it has been decided whether the public inquiry should reopened. Personally, I can see no sense in doing so, but I do know that the Secretary of State won't hesitate if she thinks it's necessary for a full and fair reconsideration of the two applications. Again personally, I would not be at all concerned if the public inquiry were to be re-opened. Surely cannot be in the interests of the developers, because Mr Poulter, the Inspector actually recommended approval. I'm sure protesters, including myself would be well up for a full blooded attempt to persuade a new inspector (Mr Poulter has retired) to refuse them. 
I'm supportive of what the Secretary of State has done. Notwithstanding my personal preferences, I do think it's crucial that such controversial decisions, where opinion is so divided at all levels, must be taken with total fairness and transparency. 
What of National Grid? You may well ask. After terrorising several off my constituents over several years and spending perhaps £20million of customers money, they have gone away (for now anyway). I'm told their area office (Shrewsbury I think) is no longer manned. I pray they never come back! 
We do not know how long we will await the Secretary of State's decision. There is no time limit. I cannot think of any reason why she should change her mind. But we will have to wait and see. The judgement is being made by the same person. The Inspector's Report stands. I hope, after due and full consideration, these two applications will be refused again and this threat, which has blighted our beautiful countryside in Montgomeryshire for such a long time, will finally be lifted.

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