An accompanied site inspection and three issue specific hearings (ISH) were held in Llanidloes during the week commencing 16th March 2015. The first ISH was on Policy – essentially the planning balance/weight to be given to National Policy statements (EN1, EN3), and to Welsh Planning Policy (TAN8 etc). At the start, the Planning Inspector stated that the recent announcement by the UK Government about devolution of “Energy” to Wales would not be relevant to this enquiry and the planning application would be considered under current legislation.
The second ISH covered Landscape, Cultural heritage, Ecology, PRoWs, and Grid connection. This was a quite a wide-ranging hearing that spread over 1½ days. The most notable point to emerge was that the Applicant was still considering a longer turbine blade (max. tip height still 125m) with a rotor diameter of 105m rather than 90m. CMS’s consultant questioned whether this was acceptable change to the already submitted plans.
The third and final ISH considered the draft Development Consent Order. This is really the planning permission if the Development gets approval and includes any requirements (planning conditions). The discussion was largely technical and/or legal. The Applicant appears to be trying to keep maximum flexibility in the design details including turbine type and build time (they want an 8 year consent window whereas 5 years is the norm).
The ISHs were fairly formal in the sense that the Applicant and the statutory consultees (Powys County Council and Natural Resources Wales) were all represented by barristers each with a support staff of solicitors and others. CMS was represented by the Chairman and Geoff Sinclair (Consultant); they were strongly critical of the Application, focusing on landscape and visual. The Planning Inspector did give all objectors a fair chance to air their views during the ISHs.
The Examination is due to close on 20 May 2015 and there remain limited opportunities for consultees and interested parties to have an input during the remaining written process. Ultimately, it is likely to come down to whether UK energy needs outweigh the impact on landscape. The UK Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change will make the decision, based on the Planning Inspector’s report. The decision should be announced by November 2015.