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APPLICATION LATEST NEWS
On 31st March 2016, the Isle of Man based Renewable Energy Holdings plc (REH) – part of the Mynydd y Gwynt (MyG) consortium – filed a winding-up claim with the High Court of Justice of the Isle of Man to commence liquidation. The Board of REH had reached the conclusion that there was no prospect of repaying its outstanding debts. The company has borrowed extensively over the past seven years to fund its operations, including the development of plans for MyG. During November 2015 the Secretary of State in Westminster refused permission for MyG. An application to seek permission for a Judicial Review of the Secretary of State’s decision was lodged in December and subsequently refused.
But the story is not yet finished, as a renewal application for Judicial Review has been submitted. An oral hearing of this application is scheduled for 9th June 2016 in Cardiff.
Before submitting the plans to the PI, the applicants had to carry out a formal consultation and prepare a report on the responses – part of the “pre-application stage”. The consultation ended on 19th July 2013.
Formal plans were first submitted on 24th April 2014. PI had 30 days to decide whether the application was acceptable. The plans were withdrawn a day before this deadline.
Revised plans were then submitted on 31st July 2014, and this time the application was accepted by PI.
Following a three-month “pre-examination stage”, the PI held a preliminary meeting on 20th November 2014, in Llanidloes, to set out the procedure and timetable; the Inspector has 6 months to reach a decision. The meeting was attended by several CMS members, including Chairman Professor Roger Earis, our consultant Geoffrey Sinclair, partner in Environment Information Services, and Peter Foulkes, Chairman of the Society’s designation committee. CMS requested a special hearing to examine an unprecedented conflict between the proposed development and the Welsh Government’s TAN8 planning guidance, which prohibits windfarms above 25MW outside defined Strategic Search Areas. Windfarms above 50MW are decided by the UK government, not WG, so it is possible that the a UK government decision could flout WG Planning Policy.
Consideration by the Planning Inspectorate is mostly a written exercise, but during the first week in February there were two opportunities for interested members of the public to attend, and to speak if they wished.
The first was an Issue Specific Hearing on the draft Development Consent Order. If the wind farm is approved by the Secretary of State, the DCO would set out the terms and conditions e.g. the timescale for planning permission; whether an archaeological walkover has to take place before the foundations of each turbine are built etc. This was largely technical and most of the discussion took place between barristers representing the Applicant, Natural Resources Wales, and Powys County Council, but CMS representatives (Chairman Roger Earis and consultant Geoffrey Sinclair) were also present and made a useful contribution. Geoffrey Sinclair – a longstanding member of CMS – has been an invaluable help with his expertise and wide experience of these enquiries.
The second meeting was an Open Floor Meeting covering a broad range of relevant topics. Unfortunately, this was not well attended, but again the CMS Chairman spoke, highlighting the remote and wild beauty of the landscape and the significance of the archaeological setting and its contribution to the outstanding Pumlumon landscape. The hearing was also addressed by CMS trustee Peter Foulkes and his wife Gillian who both made impassioned pleas for the area and its landscape. Other organisations represented included Ramblers Cymru and the British Horse Society. (Audio recordings, along with all written statements, are available on the Planning website).
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 issue specific hearings 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.
As well as participating in hearings, the Cambrian Mountains Society submitted a major paper, prepared by its consultant Geoffrey Sinclair, concentrating mainly on landscape issues.
The National Infrastructure Planning Inspectorate completed its examination of the proposal in May 2015, and on 20th August it made its recommendation to the Secretary of State that the development be permitted.
On 20th November 2015, the UK Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change refused permission for the development. Click here for a government press release with further information and links.
On 8th December 2015 Mynydd y Gwynt Ltd. submitted a pre-action letter for a judicial review challenging the Secretary of State’s decision to reject the windfarm. This application was refused.
Mynydd y Gwynt is a company, not a place. The location is about 5 miles north-west of Llangurig in Powys, on a grassy ridge north of the A44, with the Wye valley to its west, and Hafren forest to its north-east. Earlier versions of wind proposals for this site, dating back several years, have been known as “Y Foel”, named after a summit long distinguished by its anemometer mast.
The plan is for 27 x 3 megawatt turbines, each 125m high; the north-west-most turbine would be less than 2 kilometres from Pen Pumlumon Arwystli, part of the main Pumlumon summit ridge.
Most of the proposed turbine sites are on land classed as visually outstanding in the Welsh Government’s LANDMAP system, which was developed to aid decision-making on planning applications (see map below).
The scheme is being promoted by a consortium including the landowners, who also run the Sweet Lamb car rally complex.
The Mynydd y Gwynt website, contains, as might be expected, much more wind and spin than substance, but if you want to get to the brass tacks of the proposal, download the Non Technical Summary, part of the Environmental Statement (“ES”) submitted by Mynydd y Gwynt to the Planning Inspectorate.
The Welsh Government’s policy is to confine major wind power schemes within seven Strategic Search Areas (SSAs) defined in its Technical Advice Note TAN 8, which thus also has a role and purpose of conserving the remainder of the Welsh countryside. This proposal (and two others in North Wales) fails to conform to policy because it is separated by the whole of Pumlumon from the nearest SSA at Nant y Moch.
The Planning Process
Because the 81 megawatt proposal exceeds 50 megawatts installed capacity (installed capacity is its theoretical maximum output), it counts as a major infrastructure project, so the planning application will be determined, not by Powys County Council, but by the Planning Inspectorate’s National Infrastructure Directorate (PI) – the successor to the short-lived Infrastructure Commission or IPC. The PI will make a recommendation to the UK Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, who will then decide whether to accept the recommendation.
Before submitting the plans to the NID, the applicants had to carry out a formal consultation and prepare a report on the responses – part of the “pre-application stage”. The consultation ended on 19th July 2013.
Formal plans were first submitted on 24th April 2014. NID had 30 days to decide whether the application was acceptable. The plans were withdrawn a day before this deadline.
Revised plans were then submitted on 31st July 2014, and this time the application was accepted by NID.
This acceptance signalled the start of a process of “Examination”, during which organisations and individuals have an opportunity to object and make representations.
At the end of the examination, the NID will make a recommendation to the Secretary of State, who will then decide whether to accept the recommendation.
What the Cambrian Mountains Society is doing
The society has engaged a consultant with long experience of the area, Geoffrey Sinclair of Environment Information Services, who prepared its response to the pre-application consultation, and will make representations during the examination process.
Summary of CMS response to pre-application consultation
Part One argued that the application should not be accepted at all because, being well outside any Search Area, it is contrary to and contains an explicit challenge to Welsh Government policy. For that reason the submission was copied direct to the relevant Welsh Government minister, and to the Chief Executive of the Planning Inspectorate for their personal attention.
Part Two commented on the draft texts of the application, criticising the Non-Technical Summary as:
“not a summary of the ES as it should be, but an applicant’s brochure for the development using material that does not appear in the ES, and has no place in either. We particularly refer to the misleading pictures of the car rallies, and the paraphernalia around it, and the failure to produce a proper summary so that a general reader would gain a representative and cogent impression backed by key facts…”
A further criticism related to the methodology used, which is biased toward minimising the sensitivity of the landscape and the people viewing the proposals (the ‘receptors’) and the magnitude of impacts. It concluded:
“This produces a biased framework incapable of expressing potentially important effects while being deliberately designed to provide a disproportionate opportunity to claim that effects are of minimal importance. This is unacceptable, and if the project is to be accepted despite our fundamental policy reservations, the ES and NTS need to be completely re-written and subjected to further consultation.”