Hendy Wind Farm decision criticised at the Assembly

Andrew RT Davies has criticised the Labour Cabinet Secretary’s intervention on the Hendy Wind Farm proposal in Mid Wales during an exchange at the National Assembly for Wales.

 

The Welsh Government Cabinet Secretary, Lesley Griffiths, overturned the decision of the Powys County Council planning committee and the planning inspectorate to grant permission for the wind farm proposal between Penybont and Llandegley.

 

The decision by the Welsh Government minister has been met with widespread criticism from the local community and last Wednesday at spokespersons questions, Andrew RT Davies, queried whether it was now “open season” for such developments across Wales, regardless of planning rules and regulations.

 

Commenting on the Minister’s decision, Welsh Conservative Shadow Environment Secretary, Andrew RT Davies AM, said:

 

“The local community is rightly angered by the Labour Minister’s intervention, which once again flies in the face of the evidence and the decisions taken by the local planning committee and planning inspectorate.

 

“This intervention will leave people with very little confidence in the Minister and her ability to make decisions on the evidence which is available. Of late, we’ve had inexplicable decision after inexplicable decision from the Minister and her department.

 

“From the ban on shooting, despite evidence recommending the contrary, to a wind farm being developed outside the specific zones identified and against the wishes of the relevant planning bodies and the local community.

 

“It’s a scandalous approach and one has to wonder what influence the Liberal Democrat Assembly Member for Brecon and Radnorshire is actually wielding at the Welsh Government’s cabinet table when such unpopular proposals are being imposed in her own backyard.

 

“I would therefore implore the Minister to listen to the concerns of the local community, listen to the planning officials, and change her decision.”

                                                               

Ends/

 

Notes to editors:

 

A video of the exchange can be accessed here: https://www.facebook.com/AndrewRTDaviesAM/videos/300139827495126/

 

A link to the transcript can be accessed here: http://record.assembly.wales/Plenary/5362?lang=en-GB#A46418

 

The exchange between Andrew RT Davies AM and Labour’s Cabinet Secretary Lesley Griffiths AM is below:

 

Andrew RT Davies AM:

Thank you, Presiding Officer. Cabinet Secretary, you recently took the decision on the Hendy windfarm to allow permission for that to be granted, despite the local authority's planning committee refusing the application and the planning inspectorate's own appeal inspector refusing the application. As I understand it, Welsh Government officials have been involved with Powys County Council in the zoning of areas that would be acceptable for windfarms to be developed. The unitary development plan or the local development plan up in that neck of the woods clearly identifies certain areas, and Hendy, as I understand it, falls outside of those areas. What confidence can local people have that the system is working on their behalf when you go in and override the local planning committee and also the planning inspectorate, who have stuck to the rules? 23

Lesley Griffiths AM:

I don't think it's a matter of overriding; I'm satisfied the planning inspector considered the relevant issues, but I disagree with the conclusion. I'm also the Cabinet Secretary with responsibility for energy. We have set renewable energy targets. We have to make sure that we deliver on those targets and, for me, the benefits of the proposal in terms of delivering renewable energy are material considerations that are sufficient to outweigh the identified impacts of the scheme on both the landscape and the visual amenity. 24

Andrew RT Davies AM:

I think in your reply to me there, Cabinet Secretary, you indicated that the planning inspector did stick to the rules but you disagree with his conclusion. Your department recently, as well, when it comes to shooting on public land, disagreed with the independent report that was commissioned at a cost of £47,000. Can you give us a sense of why the department is going against the evidence, in particular when it comes to this particular application? As you said, the planning inspector stuck to the rules; it was just that you disagreed with those conclusions. What part of the conclusions do you fundamentally disagree with that overrides the planning imperative here that local residents need to have confidence in when these applications come into their areas? 25

Lesley Griffiths AM:

Well, I mentioned in my original answer to you why I believed the proposals around delivering renewable energy—. Our material considerations—they are sufficient to outweigh the identified impact. So, I think the balance, therefore, weighs in favour of the appeal. But I think, also, wind energy is a key part of Welsh Government's vision for future renewable electricity production, and I think that has to be taken into consideration by decision makers. 26

Andrew RT Davies AM:

I do take the point that Welsh Government, in fairness—we can disagree or agree with the policy—has had a policy of promoting wind energy, but they've had a policy of promoting wind energy within certain areas and certain zones that are proved for the development of these windfarms. Here, this particular development was outside of that zone and, as I said in my opening question to you, the Government have been involved in identifying those zones and the local authority have engaged in that discussion. How can communities and, in particular, local authorities have confidence that they will not be undermined and will not face huge costs from developers when you take such an arbitrary decision as you have on this particular application, because the planning permission that was refused stuck to the rules, the appeal inspectors, as you said in your own answer, stuck to the rules—the planning guidance that was given—and yet you came in and overrode that? This is causing huge frustration in this part of mid Wales. Other areas of Wales where they see that you will not intervene when you are requested to intervene are completely bemused by the decision that you have taken. So, can you clarify whether it is now open season to develop windfarms the length and breadth of Wales, because, as I said, this application is outside of the zone that you, as a Government, have approved with the local authority? 27

Lesley Griffiths AM:

It's certainly not open season. I think one of the ways of ensuring the public do have confidence is not to have conflicting policies. And I think one of the things that has become very apparent to me over the two years that I've been in this portfolio is the conflict in policies, and we are taking steps to ensure that that's not the case.