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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”.

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