DOWN THE RABBIT HOLE
Since November last year Powys residents have been living an Alice in Wonderland adventure, though now we have perhaps moved on from Lewis Carroll to Franz Kafka.
To set the scene: planning regulations require construction in accordance with the permission granted. That means one should develop according to approved plans, within the red line boundary and abide by any conditions attached to the permission. If this is not followed development is unlawful and potentially the developer could lose their permission. At Hendy wind farm the developer also needs separate common land permissions for his access across Llandegley Rhos to the wind farm site. A planning authority can enforce against a breach of planning conditions, but only if it is expedient to do so. (Expedient: adjective meaning, “convenient and practical although possibly improper or immoral”.) That is in the real world; here we are in Powys, in Wales.
The developer is chasing a subsidy deadline of 31st January which apparently allows only one turbine erected out of seven to commission but it does not have to have a grid connection. So why bother with the niceties of regulations when pound signs beckon? Publicly Njord Energy Ltd or Hendy Wind Farm Ltd, anyway, Steven Radford, maintains he is not being unlawful and he’s a responsible developer and that those nasty local residents are victimising him.
Before the last of the discharge of conditions applications was submitted the developer had made a construction compound outside of the red line boundary. The public complained to Powys Development Management.
Next an access track appeared, still outside of the permitted development. The public complained to Powys Development Management and pointed out how their own department had relentlessly pursued enforcement of an adjacent landowner for over five years, even taking him to court. We received an email from the planning officer, it was fine, the developer had told them this was permitted development so Powys could not enforce, although a breach of conditions case was opened.
The developer “re-stoned” the track across the common. It rained and it rained but turbine foundation works progressed apace. The public complained to Powys Development Management. The public complained to Natural Resources Wales. Lots of round straw bales appeared in ditches and streams to catch sediment. Sheep on the common land could not believe their luck, graziers are not allowed to feed them on the common. Meanwhile the track across the common, widened by heavy use of lorries, turned to mud. A culvert collapsed. Natural Resources Wales made the developer repair it.
Meanwhile, Powys had sought counsel’s advice which is: there needs to be evidence of environmental harm otherwise it is not expedient to enforce.
Concrete pouring was imminent. The concrete would be irreversible damage to land at the headwaters of a river that is part of the River Wye SAC. Brecon and Radnor CPRW decided to apply for an injunction. A temporary injunction was granted until a court hearing three days later. The developer sent a letter to court stating that they believed that they had done nothing unlawful. The development was predicated on the subsidies and if they failed to commission by the deadline, they would have to apply for bigger wind turbines. Also, concrete pour must be completed by 4th January to allow for erection and commissioning of the wind turbine.
At the court hearing Justice Garnham agreed that concreting the foundation was irreversible nevertheless he asked what the cut-off date for concrete pour would be to get subsidy. Then, with miraculous timing, an email from NRW was sent to court stating the concrete pour would be okay as long as it followed the methodology submitted. That was the end of any injunction.
Concrete pour day, the 3rd of January, arrived and Powys residents turned out to meet and greet the mixer lorries whilst exercising their Open Access rights on the common track. The police and extra security drafted in to deal with the rabble found them a real handful. For goodness sake, they also exercised their right to use the bridleway which crosses the track on the common.
It all got a bit boisterous and a tragedy was narrowly averted when one lady ended up on the ground and if she had not been quick would have gone under the wheels of a lorry. The video, which was uploaded to YouTube, shows the lorry slowing then speeding away, yet Steven Radford when recently challenged by the local AM, Kirsty Williams, claimed the lorry stopped. Should’ve gone to Specsavers. This riotous assembly caused such a delay that a second meet and greet the mixer lorries had to take place on 8th January. Luckily, because NRW had okayed the concrete pour it was still not expedient to enforce.
What of Hendy Wind Farm’s letter to court stating that concreting must be completed by 4th January in order to allow the “cure” before erection and commissioning of the lonely wind turbine? Was that an honest misunderstanding of civil engineering technicalities?
After all that excitement a few days of gentle activity around the turbine base getting it all landscaped and ready for the turbine components lulled us all before the surprise appearance of abnormal load access plan “version 4” on 17th January. Why wait for daylight to arrive when you can work in the dark beside the A44? By the end of day hedges had been removed, trees felled, soil moved and a new track onto the common was almost made. Extraordinary that this just happened to be the same day as planning officers were at the monthly planning meeting. Please, do not be worried about these latest works because a workman on site told a community councillor it can be put back when they have finished.
Having made a site visit planning officers are pondering the expediency of enforcement for this new access because it has no planning permission, but if they can hang it out just a little longer the abnormal loads, temporary traffic restrictions for which seem to have been expedited, will be here after which it would not be expedient to enforce because all the damage has already been done.
Anyway, why use enforcement when they can just ask the developer to apply for retrospective planning permission to rectify all the misdemeanours. It will then be expedient to approve any application because the council is too poor to go around the merry go round again.
You may be wondering where are the politicians and press in all of this? UK newspapers are apparently not interested in the scam a FTSE listed company is pulling, enabled by an extraordinarily lax accreditation loophole. The local press has kept the story alive and BBC Wales have done a couple of short news items including one about Bryn Blaen wind farm not producing any electricity since it was finished in early February 2018. Ofgem claims this wind farm is not accredited but they do have submissions for electricity export for Feb and March 2018. Has Bryn Blaen registered for accreditation but not yet received that in full because of grid connection problems? But they must have had a grid connection at the time of commissioning or else how did they manage to submit output for two months? Anyway, news is, there is a flurry of activity on the wind farm. Will it really be operational by 31st January as promised? There is that all important date again.
Labour politicians in the “Welsh Government” are all hiding behind Brecon and Radnor CPRW’s S288 challenge to Lesley Griffiths decision to approve the wind farm. Can they really not differentiate between a challenge to the permission and questions from local residents about lawful procedure of enforcement?
Previously Lesley Griffiths, Labour, could not say anything but Julie James, Labour, Minister for Housing and Local Government now has planning in her remit but cannot say anything. Did our new FM spot a conflict of interest in the fact that under Carwyn Jones the Minister for Energy also had the power to decide energy projects? Eluned Morgan, Labour, one of our regional AMs is of course now a minister so cannot say anything. Joyce Watson, Labour, a regional AM has remained eerily silent. Kirsty Williams, Lib, Minister for Education and Brecon and Radnor AM, can and has supported local residents. Neil Hamilton, UKIP, regional AM has been supportive but encountered the same Alice in Wonderland experience.
Our local politicians, not to be outdone, have also entered the rabbit hole. The leader of PCC, Rosemarie Harris, keeps quoting “expediency” whilst at the same time has asked WG for more money to help finance the monitoring of the fiasco they themselves have facilitated.
The local County Councillor, in whose ward the wind farm sits, was sponsored to become a CC by a landowner with an interest in the wind farm. Before being elected as a county councillor in 2017 he was not a politician but has had a meteoric rise to Cabinet being the portfolio holder for Economy and Planning. Under which conflict of interest have his occasional visits to the wind farm site been made?
What of the contractors, Jones Bros of Ruthin? A visit to their website does not enlighten on the Hendy or Bryn Blaen projects yet they tell us all about other wind farm projects they have been involved in. Why would a high profile contractor knowingly work on an unlawful development?
Then there are those stalwart Guardians of the Common; local residents out there in all weathers and sometimes in the dark. At first the protests were amicable then Dyfed Powys Police turned up saying that they were in possession of a sworn affidavit from the landowner of the common. Since then their attitude changed. A quick trip to Carmarthen headquarters the same day failed to locate the affidavit. An FOI submitted on 12th December to see the affidavit has resulted in a reply on 14th January to say they need more time to decide if they are even prepared to confirm or deny that the alleged affidavit actually exists. Some locals have already seen it!
As they say, follow the money.
♦ end ♦
Jac adds: I can understand perfectly the involvement of developers and investors in onshore wind turbines – money in the form of subsidies from the UK government.
I also understand the motivation of the UK government in giving such subsidies. On the one hand it’s a bit of ‘greenwash’ to keep environmentalists happy, and on the other hand it puts a lot of money the way of important people like David Cameron’s father-in-law, the Duke of Beaufort, FTSE-listed companies, etc.
But what I cannot understand is why any body or individual claiming to be serving Welsh interests would help these parasites desecrate our country. Lesley Griffiths, in allowing the Hendy scam to proceed, argued that it was ‘in the national interest’. But how does Wales benefit?
So obvious is the scam that – as we see with Bryn Blaen – it doesn’t matter whether the turbines turn or not, the subsidies keep rolling in! So we are paying for turbines that aren’t even generating anything!
And on the subject of paying . . . I assume the developers are paying for the heavies they’ve brought in to rough up old dears, but who’s paying for the police? I guess it’s us, again.
So let’s recap: The ‘Welsh Government’ is encouraging the desecration of our country with wind turbines that produce negligible amounts of electricity – sometimes none at all – and we have to pay for it, not only in the damage caused by thousands of tons of concrete, and access roads driven across pristine landscapes, but also in the deaths of birds and bats (when the turbines turn). Yet this is all justified in the name of ‘environmentalism’!
As if that wasn’t bad enough, we have to pay for the subsidies through our electricity bills and now we also have to pay for Welsh police to ensure that this con can be perpetrated.
One great irony is that the Labour Party has always been luke-warm to wind energy (certainly the more ‘traditional’ elements in the party), yet here it is bending over backwards to force these monstrosities on us. Somebody is obviously applying pressure on the management team down Cardiff docks.
Though one party that has had a decades-long love affair with these monsters is Plaid Cymru. It would be nice to report that the scales have finally fallen from their eyes and from now on Plaid will prioritise Welsh interests.
But I can’t.