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Friday, January 04, 2008

Revisiting Tryweryn

Fascinating article in this morning's Western Mail by Rory Francis suggesting that the impact of Labour's Planning Reform Bill on Wales could be comparable to the flooding of Cwm Tryweryn in Meirionnydd, drowning the village of Capel Celyn so as to provide water for the City of Liverpool.

That event was particularly emotive and galvanised nationalist sentiment for decades afterwards. Every Welsh MP bar one voted against the bill but it still went through. The recent apology by Liverpool City Council made national headlines in Wales for days. It was an apology that was not accepted by everybody, though it seemed to bring closure to many.

Rory points out that the Planning Reform Bill has had little publicity in Wales so far, largely because people have not sussed that it will affect us:

In England, the document proposes sweeping changes which would make it easier and quicker for the Government to push through developments like roads, airports and power stations, denying local people and local authorities the right to oppose them in principle at public inquiry. A number of the major environmental NGOs have come together to oppose the proposals, dubbing them a “planning disaster”.

As a spokesperson for Friends of the Earth put it, “You won’t be able to object to a new nuclear power station in your community, but you might be consulted on what colour the gate is.”

In Wales, though, there has been much less discussion about the proposals, which is surprising as they reopen old wounds of the flooding of Cwm Tryweryn.

But the White Paper’s proposals would not just signal a return to those days, but to something even less democratic. It proposes that applications for all energy projects over 50MW, including dams for hydro-electric power, nuclear power stations, LNG terminals and pipelines, wind farms and tidal barrages, should be determined not by elected politicians at all, but by a panel of two or three unelected members of the planning commission, only one of whom would necessarily have any connection with Wales.

According to the Woodland Trust’s own figures, electricity, wind power and gas projects are the second most common development threats to irreplaceable ancient woodland, with no less than 113 areas of ancient woodland currently under threat from such projects around the UK.

How could organisations like the Woodland Trust work to save these woods, if the Government had put an unelected planning commission in place to approve these applications, making clear that there was effectively a presumption in favour of the developments concerned?

Indeed, the panel that would make decisions on the energy development would be under no obligation to make its decisions in line with the Welsh Assembly’s plans and policies, such as the environmental strategy and the spatial plan, both of which have been argued and consulted over at some length, throughout Wales and at Cardiff Bay.

What’s more, if the Assembly or the Assembly Government fundamentally disagrees with one of the planning commission’s decisions, they will have no right to “call it in”.

This bill is not just contrary to the devolution process, but it could effectively put the Welsh Assembly on a collision course with Westminster, particularly if it is used to push through new nuclear power plants for Wales. We have already seen Westminster pass plans for large wind farm developments in Mid Wales and a large wood burning power plant in Port Talbot against vociferous local opposition. The Planning Reform Bill will make such incidents more commonplace.
This bill sounds atrocious and I'm frankly astonished that this is the first time I've even heard of it. With any luck, following that article in the Western Mail, the press will further highlight the issue.

Surely the government is aware that such measures will do anything but endear them to the public? As far as I can tell this bill essentially seeks to remove power from the public and bestow it upon unelected officials?

A Swansea Blog
This was actually reported in the Western Mail before Christmas but I don't imagine many read it - for the reason that you suggest, Peter.

It's rather insulting to the people of Wales that their democratically elected politicians are only allowed to make decisions regarding power stations up to 50MW. All of this, of course, as Brown continues to bang on about democracy and the new politics.

About nuclear power - Brown will be making a statement soon, I understand. Areas in the south of England were actually identified as the most likely sites, leading to much shrieking from the Daily Mail heartlands (which, of course, are happy to have Welsh water and energy). If there are going to be new Welsh nuclear power stations they will almost definitely be on the sites of the existing stations at Wylfa and Trawsfynydd. No one in the UK Government seems willing to make any proper decisions about energy. It has the makings of a huge cock-up if you ask me.
"Fe godwn ni eto!"
You may well rise again Green man but Plaid are far too respectable now to join you. :-)
Hi Peter
Very many thanks for highlighting this important issue on your blog!
Rory Francis
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