Monday, March 28, 2016

Update on Wind Farms in Montgomeryshire.

Over the last few weeks, engineering works have begun on road straightening/widening in Montgomeryshire to accommodate the passage of wind turbine parts. This has led several people to contact me, asking what is going on. Generally, they had thought the Govt response to the conjoined Public Inquiry last year meant that no more wind farms would be going ahead. This was not so. In fact there is little new or unexpected to report. However, I will comment on the issues I've been asked about.

Firstly, there is Tir Gwynt, a wind farm development driven by a group of local farmers in the Carno area (inevitably supported by an international investor). This is nothing to do with the Public Inquiry. The development already has access to the Grid along existing power lines. This wind farm has to be producing power by April 2017 if it's to receive public subsidy. The turbines for this wind farm will travel through Welshpool, and on through Cwmgolau and Cefn Coch to the site. There is already engineering work being carried out in the Cwmgolau area, and perhaps elsewhere.

Secondly there is another wind farm known as Garreg Lwyd near the Radnorshire/Montgomeryshire border. This development was also not part of the Public Inquiry, and already has it's own access to the Grid, having no need for the Mid Wales Connection project, opposition to which has been at the heart of the protest movement. These turbines will travel through Newtown and I some engineering work in already taking place to facilitate access. And I am told that with typical wind developer sympathy for the areas they move into, the turbine movements will be in August, causing chaos on our roads at the peak of our tourist season! 

A third issue of interest are two proposed wind farms which were part of the Public Inquiry located in the Llanbrynmair area. They were refused by the Secretary of State, but the two developers concerned, RES and RWE challenged the Gov't decisions by seeking judicial review. The Sec of State decided the best way forward was to quash the two decisions she had taken, and reconsider the applications afresh. I do not know what the position is with these at present, because it would be improper for me to even ask any questions. These two developers are clearly intent on using any legal loophole they can to have their way. These two wind farms would need the Mid Wales Connection Project to go ahead for grid access. I will leave it to you to guess what I think of these two developers and their proposals!! 

Fourthly, there is a recent decision by the Powys County Council Planning Committee to grant permission for a wind farm near Carno which states an intention to connect to the currently suspended Mid Wales Connection Project. Must admit I was shocked by the Cllrs decision. The Planning Committee clearly lacks the courage that the whole Council showed two years ago when it refused applications. However, it would not have made that much difference because any appeal would have been to the Welsh Govt, rather than to the Westminster Gov't. I'm told the reason the Cllrs voted to support this wind farm was because they were frightened of the Welsh Gov't. This should worry the people of Wales. 

  Fifthly, I must refer to why the Planning Committee Cllrs were so understandably afraid. Since 2005, the Welsh Govt has been utterly determined to trash the Montgomeryshire landscapes with multiple wind farms and pylons. On March 1st, the UK Gov't devolved planning powers to local councils in England and Wales. On the same day, the Welsh Gov't took those powers away from Welsh councils and unto itself - simply so that it could approve even small wind farms, irrespective of local opinion. Thankfully, the granting of subsidy to these wind farms remains undevolved - which makes it unlikely that the Mid Wales Connection Project will go ahead. I will continue to do all I can to frustrate the terrifying determination of the Welsh Gov't, National Grid and a dwindling number of developers to trash our wondrous landscapes.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Bashar-al-Assad - force for evil or stability?

There cannot be any doubt that the Syrian President, Bashar-al-Assad is an evil tyrant, who deserves to be removed from power. He has murdered huge numbers of innocent civilians using weapons of  mass destruction. I would never have thought it possible to hear favourable comments about such an awful man. But today we read of the success of Assad's army, backed by Putin's bombers having driven the even more evil Daesh out of the ancient city of Palmyra, saving much of it's historical treasure, and civilian lives. The Middle East really is an impossible place to read.
There have been two crucial debates in Parliament over last couple of years. It's interesting for each of us who were MPs during these debates to reflect on what we thought and did at the time, and judge whether it was right, with the benefit of hindsight. 
 The first debate was when Parliament was recalled from summer recess to vote on a motion giving authority to the Prime Minister for a military strike against Damascus. I left home fully expecting to vote against such action - mainly because I could not see how it would improve the position. Lots of other MPs must have done likewise, because the Govt motion eventually put before us condemned Assad, but required another vote in Parliament before action could take place. This was a very different question and I was content to support the Prime Minister on this. But Ed Miliband (in my view) behaved utterly disgracefully, refused to back the motion, putting a similar slightly differently worded motion forward himself. The British Parliament looked idiotic in the eyes of the watching world. Both motions were defeated. And that was the end of that. Assad was free to do his worst to his own people.
Until terrorists, thought to be linked to the Middle a East conflict launched a terrible attack in the centre of Paris. The French Govt sought British help. Britain was already conducting military operations in Iraq, and the Prime Minister sought authority from MPs to conduct limited military action over the border in Syria. Along with most MPs, I felt this was the right action to take. Daesh is utterly evil, and it must be crushed. There can be no peace until Daesh is no more. And no solution to the displacement of the Syrian population. Already around 10 million Syrians have been driven from their homes in what is probably the worst humanitarian crisis since the Second World War.
Now, I do not know how to react to Assad, backed by Putin, driving Daesh out of much of Syria. It's a choice of evils. But I do have to ask myself whether anything can be worse than Daesh, and that any setback to such evil can be anything but welcomed.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Future of Nuclear Power in the UK

Excellent Energy and Climate Change meeting yesterday with a witness panel made up of senior executives in the nuclear power generation sector in the UK. We had Chief Executives of EDF (Hinkley Point C, Bradwell B and Sizewell C), Horizon (Wylfa and Oldbury) and NuGeneration (Moorside) along with Zhu Minhong from China General Nuclear, (EDF funding partner)  who had travelled from China especially for the meeting. Fantastic panel.

Reason behind the meeting being arranged was public doubt that the EDF developments will ever go ahead. EDF's Chief Exec, Vincent de Rivas was amazing. No way was he going to say anything unplanned. We wanted to know when EDF intend to make the formal commitment to go ahead. He wasn't telling us. Trying to pin him down was like trying to nail jelly to the wall!! Zhu Minhong must have been impressed by the Frenchman's inscrutability. All we learned was that EDF are 100% committed to the project and that the French Economics Minister has said a final decision will be made by mid May. I think we knew that before the meeting. Mr de Rivas was so brilliantly elusive I had a job not to laugh out loud. Questioners will have to rise very early in the morning to get the better of him!

Despite learning nothing new from the session, I have more confidence that Hinkley Point will get the go-ahead sometime soon. Too much money has been invested for EDF (effectively the French Govt) to walk away. EDF has already invested over 2billion in the Hinkley development which will cost £18 billion in total, an eye watering sum. I also think the budget and timetable being discussed are so generous that it will come in on budget and timetable. But confidence also grows that Wylfa and Moorside will be up and running before Hinkley - producing by mid-2020s. Both are progressing under the radar wand the public interest in Hinkley. I suppose it's the UKs obsession with potential failure, and boredom with likely success!

While I feel increasingly sure the UK will develop a new 'fleet' of large scale nuclear, I also think it unlikely that there will be the talked of 18 Gw of new generation by mid 2020s. I also think that we are now looking to build the last large nuclear power plants in the UK. The future is small nuclear, renewables and hydrogen. That warrents a separate post.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

I am undeclared about EU Referendum.

In early 2013, the Prime Minister committed to an In/Out referendum. The people would decide whether the UK should remain a member of the EU, or leave. The referendum was to take place before 2017. Last month, the Prime Minister announced that he had secured a deal which reformed the UK/EU relationship sufficiently for him to recommend that the UK remain a member, and announced that the referendum would be held on June 23rd.
Unusually, the Government is committed to 'Remain' while Conservative MPs, including Ministers and Cabinet members are free to campaign to 'Leave'. It is inevitably going to be a feisty debate. Feelings are running high, especially but not exclusively in my party. Most MPs very quickly announced which way they were going to vote. I didn't. I decided I should discuss the issue with party members and constituents before declaring. I've held a private meeting with party members, and already have 2 public meetings with constituents arranged. My aim is to 'declare' at least 6 weeks before the vote.
At my meetings, I will make two admissions at the start. Firstly, that I have been a Eurosceptic since 1975, when I campaigned to leave the EEC - the last time we had a vote. I will also say that I am a great supporter of the Prime Minister, and am reluctant to do anything which undermines his position. You can immediately see why I am conflicted. So far I have only once defied a 3 line whip, and that was to abstain. Admittedly if was an important vote, and I was summoned to meet the Cheif Whip!! Whenever I've told the whips that I could not support the Gov't, the whip has been dropped to a 1 line whip, which is, in effect a free vote. This is the position in respect of the Referendum.
It has surprised me that some constituents have criticised me for not declaring my position as soon as the referendum date was set. It seems more sensible to me to carefully consider the issue, listen to the arguments and discuss the issue with those whose support made me an MP. It just depends how you look at it. My view is that it's a referendum of the people, and my vote is of no greater value than anyone else.
So that's the position. I will remain 'undeclared' until after the Assembly Election. By then, I would not expect anyone to be much interested!

Big fuss over Mid- ranking problem

Been doing quite a bit of media today. Bit of excitement going on over resignation of a Cabinet Minister. Like it's never happened before. Felt at my most avuncular. Advice to all us "Calm down dears".  "Don't get over-excited".

The root of the problem seems to have been Personal Independence Payments (PIPs), which are due to replace Disability Living Allowance in 2017. Announced in the budget was a reduction in the cost of PIPs - though well trailed beforehand. Sec of State at Dept of Work and Pensions decided, after some consideration, that he could not support this budget measure and resigned. Pity I thought. He was replaced by the well thought of Stephen Crabb, a good friend. This opened the door for the promotion of two other good friends, Alun Cairns and Guto Bebb. Did seem like a Welsh reshuffle.

Now of course it would have been preferable if this had been handled better, but Ian Duncan Smith gave no warning of his resignation. No chance for the 'comms' teams to swing into action. By today, they were back in control of things.
So where are we today. Firstly, we should say thanks to IDS. He has done six years in a tough job, and achieved much in his personal mission to move people from welfare into work. He should be proud of what's he's achieved. And let's wish his successor, Stephen Crabb well in his new role. It will be a stern test of what he's made of. I reckon he'll do ok. "No more welfare cuts in this Parliament" was a great start, and surprised me - bearing in mind our manifesto promised £10billion reduction in welfare budget. (I think so anyway). Must admit I'm pleased about this, no matter what our manifesto said.
Some of the media comment has been mightily overblown. 'Govt in Crisis' sort of stuff. Reality is it will be forgotten by next week. Though there is the associated matter of the EU Referendum which will be the source of multiple spats until 23 June (and perhaps afterwards).
Goodbye and thanks IDS. Welcome and good luck Stephen. Congrats to Alun and Guto. Now move along please. Nothing more to report. At least that was my line with the media today.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Last MP for Montgomeryshire?

Made a special journey to London on Friday to speak with the Montgomeryshire Society - Cymdeithas Maldwyn. Wanted to meet and talk to people with a connection with Montgomeryshire, who are looking in with affection and interest. Didnt have as much 'chat' time as I'd have liked, and regrettably all discussion is EU Referendum at present. Roll on 23rd June.
I think everyone was taken aback when I said, almost in passing, that I am probably the last MP for Montgomeryshire. Because I've known this for some time, it's easy to assume everyone else does as well. They don't. So I outlined the position.
In 2013, Parliament resolved that the number of MPs be reduced from 650 to 600. I sense the public welcome this - largely in response to the 'expenses scandal' that filled our newspapers in 2010/11. It was also resolved that each constituency should be of the same size (no of constituents). This would work out at figures around 75,000. The Boundary Commission was charged with drawing up the new constituency 'map', with only a 5% tolerance to allow for local circumstances. I thought it should have been 8/10%. As the Bill passed through the Lords, their Lordships (quite outrageously - though personally welcomed by me!) inserted a delay of 5 yrs before the new boundaries would be confirmed. We are now in the process of building up to this in 2018, in time for 2020 election.
The position in Wales is much greater than anywhere else because of previous over-representation and more limited flexibility around boundaries. The no of Welsh MPs will reduce from 40 to 29. We are expecting the Welsh proposals to chop Montgomeryshire into 3 pieces, going South, North and West. The detailed proposals will be made in Sept, and confirmed in 2018. At least the ancient county of Montgomeryshire/Maldwyn will survive as an Assembly constituency.
Personally, I utterly detest this change. Seems bizarre to me that we are "reducing the cost of democracy" while continuing to increase size of the House of Lords. And I really cannot see why every constituency must have the same number of constituents, irrespective of local circumstances, histortoric links and sparcity. But it was in the Conservative 'offer' at last years election.
So there we have it. Unless something unexpected happens, I will be the last MP for Montgomeryshire.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

'First cut' on EU Referendum.

Let's begin at the beginning. When David Cameron announced in 2013 there was to be an In/Out Referendun before end of 2017, I was horrified. Not critical though - for two reasons. Firstly, I thought the Prime Minister didn't have much choice and secondly, I thought it was what the British people wanted. I was in favour of a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty, and would be in favour of a referendum on any other treaty. And there will be one to merge the Eurozone countries into a single economy before too long. Anyway we have the big one, an In-Outer on June 23rd. 

I am 'undeclared'. It seems this is unusual, which surprises me. I didn't even have to think about taking this approach to the referendum. My first step has to be to discuss it with my local Association members. They selected me. They supported me. Without them I wouldn't be an MP. So I've invited them all to join me on Sat at 1.30 in Welshpool. (the Kick-Off is at 4.00). I'm also going to arrange local constituency meetings - probably starting in my own village of Berriew. And friends from other areas have asked me to visit their communities. I'll do what I can.

But what am I going to say when I open the meeting? Not thought it through yet. But I'll have to admit some facts (and they are in very short supply). I have been an 'Outer' since 1975, when I campaigned to leave the EEC the last time such a referendum was held. I've never supported the idea of sub summing the British state into an undemocratic bureaocracy. Whatever, my side lost - and lost big. This fundamental belief has never stopped me working as diligently as I could with the Commission for the interests of whatever body I've been leading over last 40 yrs. But I am a great supporter of the Prime Minister. He's put a massive effort into securing reform. No-one could have tried harder. I would hate the thought of being thought by him to be disloyal. So already conflicted!! 

I will make but one brief point. There will be plenty more blog posts over next three months. Where I think it's impossible (deliberately so) is that we have no idea what 'Leave' looks like. And we won't have on June 23rd. The reality is that the Govt is campaigning to stay in, backed up by the entire civil service. If it were ever intended to be a genuine choice, the Govt would be working in preparation for a Leave vote. But it's not. Every Govt sinew is being strained to persuade us to vote Remain. Not willing to contemplate anything else. So there will be no verifiable facts. The Govt will seek to portray Leave as a "Leap into the unknown". And of course it will be. But equally the refugee/immigrant crisis makes remain a bit of an unknown as well! I can but hope that my meetings with members and constituents help clarify their thinking - and mine!!