MYNYDD Y GWAIR WIND FARM. JULY 2016
APPLICATIONS UNDER SECTIONS 16 AND 38 OF THE COMMONS ACT 2006
RWE Innogy UK Ltd. submitted repeat applications for the de-registration and exchange of pieces of common land, and for restricted works on common land, following the dismissal in February 2015 of similar applications. These further applications differed from the original applications in that they offered some additional land to replace the land to be deregistered. Planning permission for the 16 wind turbines scheme was granted in 2014 but as the scheme, both the turbines and access tracks, was intended on common land, permission had to be granted for the land to be occupied by the scheme to be deregistered as common land.
An independent public inquiry took place in February 2016 and the inspector issued his Report on 31st March 2016 for the Welsh Minister who eventually, on 20th July 2016, issued her decision. The applications, in essence, were granted.
The Gower Society gave evidence at the inquiry on the detrimental effect on the landscape, as the public interest was a relevant factor to which the Minister had to have regard.
The inspector reported that visually the scheme would change people’s perception of the landscape and it would affect the enjoyment of the majority of people using the commons.
However, he concluded the harm would be outweighed by the substantial benefits, both economic but more particularly renewable energy, bearing in mind the Welsh Government’s commitment towards an increased provision of sustainable renewable energy and, in particular, the site being within one of the areas in Wales identified by the Welsh Government as being technically, practically and environmentally better able to accommodate the landscape and visual impacts of wind farms than other parts of Wales.
He stated: “I have concluded that the wind farm would be detrimental to the character and appearance of the commons and to the majority of people’s enjoyment of them for recreational purposes. However, as the site lies within Strategic Search Area E and there is policy acceptance in principle to landscape changes in order to gain renewable energy development, the weight attributed to this harm is not as great as it might otherwise be. The scheme would bring substantial benefits, both economic benefits and, more particularly, the benefits of renewable energy. Bearing in mind the Welsh Government’s commitment towards the increased provision of sustainable renewable energy, the need to achieve targets for its development and the sustainability benefits of moving towards increased reliance of renewable energy, I attribute substantial weight to these benefits and consider they far outweigh detrimental defects.”
In this balancing exercise, he attached less weight to the effects on the landscape than the previous inspector, and he did not pay regard to the cumulative effect on the landscape by the scheme being next to the existing scheme on Mynydd y Betws.
In accepting his recommendation, the Welsh Minister, in granting the applications, concluded: “Having considered the competing interests of the landscape and visual amenity as against the benefits of renewable energy, I have formed the view that benefits of renewable energy outweigh the detrimental effects to landscape and visual amenity outlined”.
REVIEW OF DESIGNATED LANDSCAPES IN WALES
THE SOCIETY’S STATEMENT ON THE FINAL REPORT DATED 31st JULY 2015
AND PUBLISHED NOVEMBER 2015
This report by an independent Panel chaired by Professor Terry Marsden was commissioned by the Welsh Government “to ensure that our designated landscapes are best equipped to meet current and future challenges while building upon their internationally recognised status”. It deals with both the three National Parks and the five Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty in Wales. It has been welcomed by the Alliance for National Parks Cymru which represents the interests of the Parks as well as AONBs. The Gower Society is the only voluntary sector body concerned with AONBs and is a member of the Alliance.
The review Panel has used the term National Landscapes of Wales to embrace both the parks and the AONBs. The tenor of is proposals suggest that future Welsh Governments will see much more commonality in their approach to these designated landscapes.
However, the Society welcomes the recommendation, which reverses a previous recommendation in the Panel’s interim report that the names of “National Parks” and “Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty” as the key designations of the “National Landscapes of Wales,” be retained. Additionally, it recommends one set of statutory purposes and an associated single statutory duty for both designations. It is hoped, as a consequence, the status and protection of the Gower AONB, particularly its natural features, will be enhanced.
The Society takes comfort from the Panel emphasising the priority of the Sandford Principle from 1974 that where conservation and recreation cannot be reconciled by skilful management, a greater weight shall be attached to the purpose of conserving and enhancing the natural beauty, wildlife and cultural heritage. However, following the Principle in practice will continue to be contentious.
The Society also welcomes the recommendations for: continuing strong links between local authorities and AONBs; AONBs being bodies becoming statutory consultees on planning applications with a potentially significant impact on the special qualities of their area; and a statutory duty on local authorities to establish a formal committee, with at least two representatives of the local interest, to oversee the management of the AONB.
The Society’s main reservation concerns the extent of those planning and committee recommendations. It is for the local planning authority to decide, ultimately, which applications to refer, and the committee has to be properly resourced and its recommendations acknowledged.
In the case of Gower, there is a danger of the AONB being less regarded by the local authority, should its area be considerably expanded due to the possible amalgamation with a neighbouring authority.
A working group, chaired by Lord Ellis Thomas, will now consider the implementation of the recommendations. The Alliance will be represented on that group.
APPLICATION FOR SOLAR ARRAY NEAR ILSTON REFUSED
Application by Gower Power Community for Ground Mounted Solar Array at Webbsfield, Near Brookvale, Ilston, Swansea, SA2 7LD.
Much to the concern of local residents and The Gower Society (GS) an application was made in June 2014 for a 1MW solar generation array complete with security fence, cameras, access and associated buildings. The location was in one of three fields purchased by the applicant that are directly opposite Ilston Quarry. Whilst the proposal was not in a prominent location the GS recognised that it was an inappropriate location and if this was allowed by the planners of City and County of Swansea (CCS) it could open up the floodgates for similar schemes throughout the Gower AONB.
As a consequence the GS Planning Team put in a lot of effort at the initial planning stage to show that the application should be refused on two grounds: that it would basically damage the AONB’s natural beauty, and that it was an industrialisation of the landscape. It was also argued that alternative sites outside the AONB had not been investigated. The applicant had designed a tree planting scheme partly to hide the structures but we still thought that they would be seen from various locations. This part of Ilston is a hidden gem, with its river, mature trees, old quarry (that is a SSSI and Nature Reserve) and its closeness to the adjacent commons that are Special Areas of Conservation (SAC). The GS thought it should it not be compromised.
The Planning Officers and the Officers responsible for the AONB recommended approval to the Planning Committee. Thankfully the elected members of the Planning Committee were persuaded otherwise by strong representations from local residents, Ilston Community Council and the GS. The application was refused on 2 September 2014.
We knew that the applicant would not take this decision as final and he appealed to the Planning Inspectorate later in the year which resulted in a busy period over Christmas 2014 for objectors to prepare their submissions to the Inspector. The GS main Committee took the difficult, and potentially expensive, decision to employ a Consultant, Boyer Planning from Cardiff, and Landscape Architects, Tirlun Design Associates from Bridgend, to present the GS case against the scheme. This was not easy because of the Christmas period.
The applicant made a strong and comprehensive case for his scheme and garnered renewed support from over 90 individuals. Analysis of their letters of support showed that many were from outside Gower and some indeed from outside Wales. The similarity of text suggested a standardised letter.
Linked to the applicant’s case was the creation of a community farm that has attracted a a lot of support but we did not accept any relevance of an array to the “farm”. The cost of the land bought for the project by the applicant was some £150 000 and we could never see how a return was to be achieved. Objections on the other hand were all strongly local to Ilston. The CCS case had now to carry out a ‘u turn’ from its original recommendation to the Planning Committee.
The Appeal was heard on 17th March 2015, by the Inspector Hywel Wyn Jones, and representations from appellant and objectors were completed in the day. Then on the 18th March, the Inspector accompanied by both appellant and objectors , embarked upon a comprehensive site visit. A thorough inspection was carried out and the site viewed from various key locations
On the 21 April 2015 the Inspector dismissed the Appeal mainly because of the visual impact upon the AONB. He ruled that the solar panels would be seen from a number of locations and said ” I consider that from these vantage points the rear elevation of the rows of arrays would appear as monolithic, alien features that would be out of scale and character with its countryside and surroundings.” He concluded “I consider that the natural effect on the natural beauty of the landscape and the visual amenity of the area would be harmful. Mindful of the statutory duty in relation to the protection of the AONB, I consider that the extent of theis impact would be significantly harmful.”
The Planning Inspectorate Appeal Reference APP/B6855/A/14/2226732 is available on line.
NEW PRESIDENT, APRIL 2015
PROJECT NEWS SEPTEMBER 2014
The Gower Society has started to initiate the funding of some special projects to enhance the appearance of buildings/structures in the area. All community councils have been approached with an offer of support and funding, but so far, none have produced a viable scheme. Hopefully, some will soon emerge.
Work started last winter on the walls leading down into Parkmill – a project which had begun under Ilston Community Council with Rural Development Partnership funding. Wall repairs have continued with Gower Society funding. There is still much work to be completed and work will restart in the winter. This will have increased costs because traffic will need to be light-controlled in order to allow the masons to work safely. So watch the extension of repairs as the months go on.
Work (with considerable Society financial input) has also begun on the restoration of the Coastguard Lookout building overlooking the causeway at Worms Head, Rhossili. The National Trust owns this building and currently leases it to the National Coastwatch Institution. The intention is that the end result will be an appearance much closer to its original state. For example, cement mortar will be replaced with lime mortar, asbestos roof sheeting will be removed and replaced with natural slate, with removal of plastic cladding, Upvc guttering/drainpipes etc. This is a much-visited location and we are sure that both locals and visitors will appreciate the improvement when the work is completed.
Several other projects are under consideration and it is hoped to start on these as soon as possible.
CASWELL BAY STONES
Caswell Bay Stones – click on the link for Swansea’s Tourism and Leisure explanation letter’
Growth this year is quite remarkable. A combination of weather and farming application and dare I say money. Conservation on this scale, as I have said previously, does not come cheap and the benefits of increased funding from The Society and the SDF have meant that we have not skimped for 2014.
Despite planting seeds on 1 June we have lots of sunflowers nearly in bloom, linseed in bloom and in seed, triticali (a barley cross) in head, three types of millet growing well and seed anticipated, chicory (stand and deliver) growing well down both sides but regret ably no poppies. I have written to the seed suppliers on this. We also have a profusion of fat hen that was not planted (unless within seed supplied) and is in great profusion. Seed bearing and attractive to birds though. Similarly we have a yellow glow of mustard over the whole field (again birds like the seed) but the dreaded sow thistle is within manageable proportions.
This morning I went down the field and there were about 40 swallows and 20 house martins coursing over the top of the flowers, About 6 to 10 whitethroats were gathering large quantities of a small caterpillar off the mustard and there was a profusion of cabbage white and meadow brown butterflies. The undergrowth is full of other insects,spiders, lady birds, grasshoppers and young crickets. A veritable feast for insect eaters.
Barry was down with his moth traps last Saturday and recorded 136 species in great quantities. He was ‘mothed out’ recording them between 5-30am. and 8-00am. Many were quite rare to Glamorgan and Gower. He is looking forward to bird ringing in the autumn.
Gordon and Beryl
The New Lifeboat House and shop on Mumbles Pier is open between midday and 4pm every day until September.
Visitors are being allowed on to the pier for the first time in almost three years, after it was opened for the summer. The owners are allowing a limited number of people onto the pier so that they can visit the new lifeboat station at the end of the Victorian structure. The pier had closed in July 2011 in order for the lifeboat station to be built, and for restoration work to take place.
In the autumn of 2014 it will be closed again for that restoration to continue.
John Bollom, managing director of Ameco which owns the 116-year-old structure, said 200 people at a time would be allowed on it, for safety reasons. He said they had made the decision to open it for the summer ‘to show good faith’ with the RNLI and the people of Mumbles and Swansea, who have backed the restoration project over the last six years.
The new Mumbles RNLI lifeboat station was opened in April when a £2.7m lifeboat was delivered. The pier restoration, which last underwent a major reconstruction after the Second World War, is part of a £39m retail and residential complex at the waterfront beside it. Mr Bollom said he anticipated that the complex, which includes a mix of accommodation, will be open in 2015.
MEET THE NEW TEAM 2014