Proposed changes to our landscapes unacceptable

I want to make you aware of new draft proposals which the Welsh Government has recently published. The closing date to respond to this recent consultation is approaching, and I am keen to make you aware of the proposals and encourage you to respond.

The Draft National Development Framework (Draft NDF) is a new development plan which will set the direction for development in Wales from 2020 to 2040. It sets a strategy for addressing the Welsh Government's national priorities through the planning system.

The draft framework was published during August, when Assembly Members were not sitting. The proposals cover a whole range of issues, from housing to transport. There is a section dedicated to ‘Energy’.

This section of the draft contains proposals for "large scale wind and solar development to be directed towards Priority Areas for Wind and Solar Energy"Over a dozen areas have been identified throughout Wales.

The map above, which was kindly provided by the Campaign for the Protection of Rural Wales (CPRW) shows the proposed Wind and Solar Priority Areas. 

According to the document, there will be a presumption in favour of "large scale on-shore wind and solar energy development in these areas, and an acceptance of landscape change."

Also, "a strategic review of landscape and visual impact identified the Priority Areas for Solar and Wind Energy as the most appropriate locations to accommodate landscape change. There is, therefore, an acceptance of landscape change in these areas."

I have been a long-time supporter of protecting the Mid Wales landscapes and in my view, the proposals in this recent Welsh Government consultation are entirely unacceptable.

Like many of you, I’m passionate about protecting our environment. I believe Mid Wales people recognise the importance of tackling climate change by reducing emissions, and we need to invest in renewable technologies, and ensure that we have a mixed basket of different forms of renewable energy solutions.

However, from my perspective, it seems as though the Welsh Government is determined to do all it can to ignore the views of Mid Wales people. Local people have seen off a number of attempts to destroy large areas of Powys' beautiful countryside with large scale pylon infrastructure, and I have no doubt that you, local people, will be prepared to campaign again to prevent any kind of devastating proposals see the light of day.

In my experience, affected communities will not sit back without a fight and accept the Welsh Government's top down assertion that there has to be an "acceptance of landscape change".

This draft Development Framework includes proposals which could devastate vast swathes of Powys and I am concerned that the current proposals do not include any detail of how energy produced would then be connected to the National Grid. I would encourage you and others in your community to make your views known loud and clear before the consultation closes on the 1st of November.

The Draft National Development Framework Consultation is available to view here

I provided details about these proposals at the beginning of September in my e-newsletter, and many Community Councils and other action groups have been active in alerting people to the proposals and encouraging them to complete the consultation.

I hope that you have already been made aware of the proposals and have responded. The purpose of this letter is to urge people who may have not yet responded to complete the consultation. 

Many attended a drop-in session with Welsh Government officials which was held on the 17th of September at Newtown Library.

The same week, I attended a special drop in event held at the National Assembly for AMs. Clearly, I am disappointed that an event was not made available for AMs, before the consultation was launched in August.

Feedback from those residents that attended the September event was that further drop in sessions across Montgomeryshire were required but it seems the case that no further sessions will be available.

Last month, I raised the issues on the floor of the Assembly, and called on the Welsh Government to make a statement on the proposals in order for the National Assembly for Wales to be able to scrutinise the proposals contained within the Draft Framework. I also raised my concerns with the First Minister, Mark Drakeford AM. 

In recent times, the Welsh Government has committed a great deal of time to discuss the impact of Brexit, over which it has no direct jurisdiction, but seems not prepared to devote time to allow Assembly Members to scrutinise its Development Framework proposals on the floor of the Senedd.

Over recent weeks, I have had conversations with many, including with representatives of Montgomeryshire Against Pylons and The Campaign for the Protection of Rural Wales who share my views on the proposals.

The relevant Welsh Government Minister, Julie James AM, has agreed to meet with me and representatives from both of the above groups later this month to further discuss the proposals where we will firmly make her aware of our views. 

Like many others, I fully support renewable energy in the right place and economic development in rural areas but this lack of adequate scrutiny underscores my original fears of the top down nature of this National Development Framework and the considerable additional powers which Welsh Ministers have accrued for themselves through the Planning (Wales) Act 2015 on Developments of National Significance. 
 
The Welsh Government must not be allowed to interfere in the planning priorities of Powys in an attempt to impose large scale wind and solar energy developments on Mid Wales communities against local people's will, and I will robustly defend the principles of local democracy and Powys’ ability to set its own Local Development Plan without interference from central government. 

My advice on responding to the consultation:

  • You can respond to the consultation by completing the consultation document, available at the above link, or call this number for a hard copy to be sent to you - 0300 025 3261. Please be aware, while the Welsh Government have indicated a preference for responses to be submitted by completing the consultation document, you are not required to complete the entire document. Feel free to only complete the area/s that concern you as I have been advised that your response will be equally treated.
  • However, you don’t have to complete the prescribed consultation document, you could just email your views to ndf@gov.wales (again your view will be treated equally).
  • You can also write with your response to:

NDF Team, 
Planning Policy Branch, 
Welsh Government, 
Cathays Park, 
Cardiff
CF10 3NQ

Clearly, people will have different views on the proposals. In my own response, which I shall be incorporating views form others, I shall include my view that:

  • The Mid Wales landscapes should be protected and that an acceptance of landscape change as set out in the proposals is entirely unacceptable.
  • Our rural economy supports thousands of businesses and jobs that are dependent on the scenic mid wales landscapes.
  • In England, local councils are able to determine Wind Energy applications, and applications must have the backing of local communities to be approved. It is unacceptable that applications in Wales are determined through a decision by Welsh Government Ministers and not local authorities.
  • The proposals in the document make insufficient reference to how energy produced by potential large scale wind developments will be connected to the National Grid.
  • There is insufficient road and highway access across North Powys to facilitate large scale wind development and associated infrastructure. 

I hope, if you have not done so already, you will consider responding to the consultation before the 15th of November deadline.

With kind regards
 

Russell George

Assembly Member for Montgomeryshire