Concerns raised about Gwent windfarm “the same height as the Gherkin”
Twm Owen Local Democracy Reporter
A group of 180-metre wind turbines planned for a Welsh mountain would be taller than a nearby tower block and the Gherkin in London, a councillor has said.
Cwmbran’s Tower Block is the town’s tallest building at 22 stories and 210 feet at its highest point, which at 64 metres is less than half the height the eight turbines proposed for Mynydd Llanhilleth would measure from their base to the tips of their blades.
Cwmbran Pontnewydd councillor Stuart Ashley told Torfaen Borough Council’s planning committee he considers wind turbines to be a “necessity” in addressing climate change and moving away from fossil fuels.
The Labour councillor said of the turbines proposed for the mountain north west of Pontypool and south east of Abertillery in Blaneau Gwent: “This thing is taller than The Tower block in Cwmbran that a lot of people in this borough can contemplate. We are looking at a very tall structure that has to sit there for some time.”
Council planning officer Justin Jones added: “In terms of height they are the same height as the Gherkin in London.”
Cllr Alfie Best, whose Pontnewenydd and Snatchwood ward borders the proposed site, said the turbines wouldn’t be as tall as the broadcast and telecommunications transmitters at Wenvoe, near Cardiff, and Haverfordwest that are 384m and 264m tall respectively.
“If anyone is familiar with the Haverfordwest and Wenvoe radio towers they are significantly higher than these turbines, just for a local frame of reference,” said the Labour member.
The wind farm has been proposed by Welsh firm Pennant Walters and will straddle the boundary between Torfaen and Blaenau Gwent, but as it is considered a development of national significance – that could power up to 21,500 homes for 30 years – the application will be decided by a Welsh Government minister who will consider a recommendation from Planning and Environment Decisions Wales.
But councillors in Torfaen were presented with a report outlining the potential impacts of the development, with the council’s planners having identified potentially as many as eight negatives ranging from noise and potential harm to the ecology as well as the “cumulative impact” on the landscape when combined with other similar proposals nearby.
Pontypool Fawr independent councillor Mark Jones said he was concerned with others in the pipeline – which combined would outnumber the total number of onshore turbines approved across all of England in recent years.
He said: “There’s the eight they want here, there’s another 12 at Twmbarlwm that’s 20 in that little area when only 20 turbines have been allowed in England in the last 10 years. It seems like this gold rush to get down to net zero has come to Wales all of a sudden and that is a concern.”
Strong Welsh Government support
Figures widely reported in September last year, when the UK Government proposed relaxing planning rules in England for on shore wind, stated just 20 on shore turbines had been given planning permission across the border, since 2015. The Welsh Government “strongly supports” renewable energy production and has identified pre-assessed areas considered likely to be suitable for on shore turbines, though only one of the Llanhilleth turbines is proposed to be located in a designated area.
Cllr Jones also said he couldn’t understand why the wind farm has been proposed for the area and asked: “It says in the report they don’t build these turbines in areas of outstanding natural beauty how you cannot say that is not an area of outstanding natural beauty where they want to put them? I really don’t know?”
The report highlighted the Welsh Government policy that applications for large‑scale wind and solar are not be permitted in National Parks and formally designated Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty such as the Wye Valley border between Monmouthshire, Gloucestershire and Herefordshire.
Councillors also raised concerns about the impact of hauling the turbines on local roads with access intended to be through The British, the former industrial area owned by Torfaen council.
Mr Jones said the highways department was confident access can be achieved though it will likely require “mitigations” such as the removal of some trees and hedges and a condition survey would be carried out and the developer would have to pay for any upgrades required.
Blaenavon independent councillor Janet Jones said: “What everyone seems to forget is this borders the World Heritage Site.”
She asked if anyone had contacted United Nations heritage body UNESCO, which granted the status to Blaenavon, ICOMOS, the international council on monuments and sites, and Welsh heritage body Cadw.
The councillor said UNESCO’s guidelines state wind turbines are a threat to the international designation.
Mr Jones said ICOMOS has been asked to be notified by PEDW about the development and Cadw would be consulted. The report stated the developer’s environmental impact statement’s assessment that the wind farm would not have an adverse effect upon the outstanding universal value of the Blaenavon World Heritage Site has been accepted by the council.
The council’s impact report will be submitted to PEDW and councillors were encouraged to contact it with their own comments by its January 17 consultation deadline.
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