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Welsh Government’s onshore wind energy policy ‘rigged in favour of developers’

04 Mar 2024 8 minute read
Offshore wind farm and fishing boat

Martin Shipton

The Welsh Government has been accused of manipulating its onshore planning policy in order to attract “massive industrial-sized” onshore wind farms to Wales from which England is protected.

Clive Goodridge, an environmental activist who lives near Abergele, has written a critique in which he sets out what he claims has been a deliberate strategy to skew the planning system in favour of developers.

Invasion

In his article, for the campaign group Net Zero Watch, Mr Goodridge states: “Even after the recent relaxing of policy at Westminster, the English countryside and its rural communities are far better protected than Wales from marauding 700ft/200m+ wind farms. In 2015 the UK Government gave the decision for onshore wind back to the local planning authorities (LPAs) in England and Wales.

“The vast majority of the Welsh public seem unaware of this, blaming England/Westminster for the latest wind farm invasion. But the Welsh Government had introduced its new Developments of National Significance (DNS) policy to accommodate relatively small proposals and any future devolved energy power consents coming their way, thereby having an ‘oven ready’ planning policy into which to slip all onshore wind proposals above 10MWs. DNS decisions are only made by a Welsh Minister and cannot be challenged except by a cost prohibitive Judicial Review.

“A ‘tick box’ exercise of numerous government consultations failed to reach the Welsh public. An FOI request shows certain Welsh Government newsletters claimed to have been forwarded to ‘626 town and community councils’ in reality weren’t sent. Most of Wales’ rural population, still to this day, don’t know they are living in so-called ‘Pre Assessed Areas/PAAs’ for up to 250m high wind farms until after a proposal has been submitted.

“The Welsh Government’’s specification to Arup, the consultation company used to ‘assess on-shore wind potential in Wales’ stated there would be a “policy decision to ignore it if it is impractically restrictive’ and ‘higher evaluation areas may need to be ‘washed over’. Only one of the Welsh Government’s s newsletters mentioned briefly, under Energy Research’ Arup’s assessment into onshore wind; nowhere else was this publicised.

“The new increased 250m turbine height limit is not being openly mentioned or publicised anywhere. Another FOI request shows this newsletter was sent to 696 registered recipients, not the previously mentioned councils though, but only had 253 unique openings/viewings out of a population of over three million! In Arup’s assessment report it states: ‘Attendees concluded that this needs to be a very public conversation evaluating the benefits of increased renewable development against landscape impact’. This never happened.

“For a previous consultation, an Arup spokesman stated: “I guess that, in the end, the elected politicians and Ministers at the time made a decision that they were going to continue with the policy regardless of the responses”. At a Welsh Affairs Committee meeting in May 2022, the Welsh Government stated: ‘We spoke to communities right across Wales’. Perhaps they meant the 148 people who attended 11 drop in events across Wales, held in libraries, during September and October 2019.

“Arup only carried out a desk top study for the Pre Assessed Areas’ landscapes, whereas Natural Resources Wales (NRW) states: ‘A purely desk-based approach cannot substitute for field observations’.

“As there’s no challenging the impact on landscape change, and there’s a ‘presumption in favour’ for wind farm development within these areas, then not only should Arup have carried out a more thorough assessment but those most likely to be adversely affected, the rural communities, should have been consulted early on during the process as required by the Aarhus Convention and Gunning Principles rules of consultation, not in September 2019 when it was finished.

“Renewables UK Cymru and members of the wind industry (developers) were involved in shaping the policies from the outset, including numerous stakeholder workshops and meetings with ministers. The public were not. This all started as early as late 2013 with ‘Positive Planning’, the Welsh Government stating they wanted a change in attitude away from ‘regulating development towards encouraging and supporting development’, much to the detriment of local communities and individuals closest to the wind farms, with no regard to loss of neighbouring amenities or compensation for loss to property values.

“It’s not nimbyism, as who would agree to having their property, often their life savings, devalued by 20% or even 40% &/or made unsaleable due to a wind farm in close proximity, owned by foreign companies that earn millions taking the money out of the country without financially compensating those most affected? The Welsh Government admits that ‘land based planning decisions can affect property prices’.

“With the Welsh Government’s latest Infrastructure (Wales) Bill’ still currently under discussion, consent for these wind farms and miles of unsightly pylon routes across Wales’ countryside will become easier to obtain and even more difficult to oppose.”

Proliferation

Mr Goodridge went on to refer to the Welsh Government’s previous onshore policy, TAN 8. In 2011 the then Environment Minister stated: “An important function of TAN 8 is to restrict the proliferation of large scale wind farms in other parts of Wales.”and “Our approach is to limit the development of large scale wind farms to the areas of Wales which were independently and empirically assessed to be the most suitable.” Mr Goodridge commented: “If that’s the case what happened? Seven areas replaced with 10 Pre Assessed Areas for 250m turbines in areas previously considered unsuitable for 150m.”

Mr Goodridge continued: “By 2018/19 the majority of LPAs had carried out their own areas’ landscapes’ ‘Sensitivity & Capacity’ reports plus ‘Renewable Energy Assessments’ which showed no, or very few, areas suitable for even 120m high wind turbines/farms. Arup chose to ignore these as they presumed ‘wind energy development over a certain scale has not been considered, as development above this threshold is not suitable for the area and should be within areas as identified in TAN 8 and therefore ‘the slightly varying approaches of these studies has meant that these studies have not been used any further in the consideration of the refinement of the priority areas’.

“The reason why large scale onshore wind applications stopped between 2014 and 2020 was due to the renewables industry waiting for the Welsh Government to get all their planning ducks in a row. The Welsh Government is currently in the process of giving LPAs back the smaller proposals, up to 49MWs, due to now considering them “small, very small, tiny”, whereas previously, purely to set up the DNS, the Welsh Government took the decision away from the LPAs for 10-50MWs considering them of ‘national significance’ but as LPAs now have to comply with [the new policy], their previous Local Development Plans’ landscape safeguards are overruled.

“Offshore could easily meet 2030, 2035 & 2050 targets, with no need for any onshore at all. The Crown Estate is not devolved to Wales so the Welsh Government is looking at leasing deals on NRW land/forests for income, which at £50k per annum per turbine could amount to a considerable amount of annual revenue. Tidal, barrier/lagoon, wave and small modular nuclear projects are all possible alternatives to inefficient & intermittent wind.

“England may have a few more, much larger, onshore wind farms to contend with in the future but nothing like the devastation the Welsh and Scottish governments are imposing on their own rural landscapes and communities. The mainly foreign owned energy companies/developers must be laughing at us – all the way to their banks.

“Welsh Labour should hang their heads in shame.”

Threat

A Welsh Government spokesperson did not challenge Mr Goodridge’s narrative in detail, but said: “There is no greater threat to the environment than climate change. Our policy and planning system supports well-designed renewable projects that meet our policy requirements and are in the interests of people in Wales.

“It is based on robust evidence and extensive public consultation which has informed the identification of pre-assessed areas for onshore windfarms and associated policies, against which all applications for renewable energy developments must be assessed.

“The sector has the potential to provide significant economic opportunities to Wales. In particular, floating offshore wind could act as a catalyst to create a new industry in Wales and help us to decarbonise industry and our communities.

“Our new targets and Future Energy Grids for Wales reports set out our expectations for new renewables and the new grid needed to deliver them, which will need action by the UK Government and Ofgem. We are working with the UK Government and networks to unblock this issue and make sure plans for a new grid deliver high value and low impact for people in Wales.”


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James Wilson
James Wilson
1 month ago

Really enjoy reading Nation Cymru so a bit confused as to why an article about the development of renewable energy / onshore wind farms has as a front banner / picture from an USA offshore pylons / wind farm with a fishing vessel in frame. Lazy

Mab Meirion
Mab Meirion
1 month ago
Reply to  James Wilson

Par for the course; as is the behaviour of this totalitarian government. Sack them and start again with a general election. The phrase ‘riding rough-shod’ springs to mind…

Mab Meirion
Mab Meirion
1 month ago
Reply to  Mab Meirion

The behaviour of the under-performing senior ministers is a disgrace, born to rule they are not…

Why vote
Why vote
1 month ago

We appear to have reverted to 18 century politics when the population need not vote and the Lord and gentry made all the decisions for us and our betterment, secrets kept by a minority, we need not know the details of anything until we cannot contest them. This is not democracy drawing lines on maps allocating areas without informing the electorate or land owners of what is going on around them. The puppet masters of this lot are not in London its way further east. Democracy best lie ever.

No to 20mph
No to 20mph
1 month ago

Brown envelopes once again, hardly a surprise, the voice of the people means nothing.
This Labour government has been in power far too long.
It has long since gone stagnant, rotten and corrupt to the core.
The sooner the habitual voters realise this party no longer serves their interests the better.
No longer is this the party for the working class.

Liebour OUT!

Frank
Frank
1 month ago
Reply to  No to 20mph

Whoever we vote for they will become corrupt within weeks and serving themselves and their mates.

David
David
1 month ago
Reply to  No to 20mph

I agree, only plydd I guess

Jonathan Dean
Jonathan Dean
1 month ago

I was one of the 148 people who attended a consultation in a library in October 2019. The information provided was minimal

Mandi A
Mandi A
1 month ago

Please could nation.cymru publish a full list of the Pre-Assessed Areas in Wales (and Border Country)

Jonathan Dean
Jonathan Dean
1 month ago
Reply to  Mandi A

Google “Future Wales: the national plan 2040”, there is a map there

Gordon James
Gordon James
1 month ago

Martin Shipton tells us that this article was written for the Net Zero Watch group. I wonder why Martin decided not to inform readers that this organisation is renowned for consistently attempting to cast doubt on the reality of climate change and to impede progress in tackling this monumental threat to our children’s future.

Jonathan Dean
Jonathan Dean
1 month ago
Reply to  Gordon James

Doesn’t everyone already know that NZW and GWPF are just another Tufton Street lobby group?

However, I think the base research into how dreadfully the consultation was run still stands, irrespective of where this was first reported

I find it somewhat ironic that the WG mention offshore wind in their defence, a sector over which they have minimal control, and a sector which could render their entire “onshore only” approach utterly redundant

Jonathan Dean
Jonathan Dean
1 month ago

Future Energy Grids for Wales reports set out our expectations for new renewables and the new grid needed to deliver them”

that report is absolutely not a statement of policy regarding grid development and just illustrates how little they understand

David
David
1 month ago

They are useless, they have slowed us all down to 20mph, voted down a pause on rental evictions so now they sell their soles to foreign wind and solar farms, councillors are currupt

Peter
Peter
1 month ago

Thanks to Mr ‘D’ and our wonderful Senedd It looks like the only Farms that Wales will have in the future will be Wind Farms.

Bobby
Bobby
23 days ago

You’d think Martin would have the journalistic instinct to check whether his “environmental campaigner” source for the article works for a climate denial thinktank… But no. Nice work as ever Martin.

vicky moller
vicky moller
22 days ago

Sad to see Nation and Shipton backing the campaign against Welsh government. The campaign’s starting target is Labour and Plaid efforts at climate action and at energy security via renewables, pedestrian friendly town cetres and clean rivers and seas unpolluted by nitrates. (While there is scope for improving details of HOW to achieve these, the campaign is against the whole effort). These attacks are the run up to the leap to unravel and reverse devolution. It’s been plain to all watching that after Brexit Devolution would be next. Surprised that Nation and Shipton such willing cannon fodder

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