Welsh Government department says energy park ‘would damage the soil on which it’s built’
A specialist department of the Welsh Government has lodged a formal objection to a developer’s plan to build an energy park with 14 wind turbines in an upland Valleys area.
According to Bute Energy, the Twyn Hywel Energy Park at Senghenydd, Caerphilly will produce enough electricity to power more than 80,000 homes.
But the Soil Policy & Agricultural Land Use Planning Unit of the Welsh Government’s Department for Climate Change claims the application is contrary to existing planning policy because it would damage the soil on which the turbines would be erected.
The unit’s submission to a planning consultation states: “The proposals will have an unacceptable adverse impact on the environment and represent a net loss of the peat resource. The Department does not consider acceptable provisions for the conservation and protection of peat can be achieved, and the proposal lacks detail for the effective site restoration of mineral soils.
“The proposal has not demonstrated that the site can be reclaimed to an acceptable standard and after-use. This should have been presented in sufficient detail for … statutory consultees to form a judgement as to its feasibility. There is significant doubt as to whether satisfactory reclamation can be achieved at the site, and as such, the planning permission should be refused.
“The lack of a detailed scheme means the Department does not have confidence that the land can, as far as reasonably practicable, be brought to the required standard when it is reasonably fit for (agriculture) or be brought to the required standard when it is suitable for sustaining trees, shrubs or other plants.
“When operations cease, land needs to be reclaimed to a high standard and to a beneficial and sustainable after-use so as to avoid dereliction and to bring discernible benefits to communities and/or wildlife. The proposal lacks the necessary detail to reasonably assess and provide confidence that a high standard of reclamation and beneficial and sustainable after use can be achieved.
“The Department considers locating borrow pits [holes dug for the purposes of removing gravel, clay, soil or sand to be used in a construction project] on areas of peat, which is an acutely sensitive natural resource with multiple benefits, as unacceptable. Peat soils are extremely fragile. The proposal risks compromising the long-term integrity of the peat resource and as such puts at risk the resilience of the multiple ecosystems which peat support.
“By developing peat, the proposal compromises the resilience of ecological networks. Development proposals must consider the need to safeguard protected species and species of principal importance and existing biodiversity assets from direct, indirect or cumulative adverse impacts that affect their nature conservation interests and compromise the resilience of ecological networks and the components which underpin them, such as water, air and soil, including peat. As Policy 9 of Future Wales highlights through the identification of national natural resources, peat is the critical component underpinning these networks.”
Matthew Haughton, Bute Energy’s project manager, said: “The proposed Twyn Hywel Energy Park will generate 92.4MW of clean, green energy, enough to power the equivalent of 81,000 households a year.
The project responds to the Climate Emergency and will help local communities live modern electric lives, while supporting the Welsh Government’s target for electricity to be 100% renewable by 2035.
“The clean energy generated at Twyn Hywel will help displace approximately 5.7 million tonnes of carbon dioxide, the equivalent to taking all cars off the road in Caerphilly County Borough Council each year. Improvements to habitats and support for local wildlife are also included in the application, with the project committed to delivering around 20% Biodiversity Net Benefit to the site through proposals including hedgerow planting and the restoration of degraded bog habitats.
“The majority of the proposed Energy Park site sits within a Pre-Assessed Area for large-scale onshore wind energy according to the Welsh Government’s National Development Framework, Future Wales: The National Plan 2040.
“Twyn Hywel will also deliver significant benefits to the local community, including an annual Community Benefit Fund in the region of £693,000 – totalling more than £30 million over the up to 45-year operational life of the project. The Community Benefit Fund will provide local groups, charities and services with funding to sustain their work, create new innovative projects that benefit local people and help organisations combine their expertise with others to build large scale multi-year legacy projects to benefit local communities. Uniquely for a fund of this type, it is linked to the Consumer Price Index to allow for economic inflation and to future proof the funding.
“As the proposed Twyn Hywel Energy Park will generate more than 10MW of energy, it is classed as a Development of National Significance(DNS). This means that we have applied to Planning and Environment Decisions Wales (PEDW), which will make a recommendation to Welsh Ministers, on whether or not to grant planning permission.
“We are aware of the representation made by the Soil Policy & Agriculture Land Use Planning Unit and will continue to engage with them – and other stakeholders, as the project proceeds through the DNS process. If consented, Twyn Hywel Energy Park could begin construction and start generating the clean, green power that Wales needs to transition to Net Zero and respond to the Climate Emergency in 2025.”
Mr Haughton said the objection was “from one specialist team within a Welsh Government department, rather than the Welsh Government or a department as a whole. We expect to hear from the Welsh Government regarding the outcome of the DNS (Development of National Significance) application in Quarter 2-3 2024 [ie between April and September].”
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