November 27, 2007
Opinions, Wales

It all depends on whether you are standing under the wind turbine

When I was somewhat younger than today one of the popular songs of the era had the line, “You’re right from your side and I’m right from mine.”

The song was about a failing relationship, but it also observed that two people can witness the same thing and come up with completely different interpretations. It depends on the perspective, and that depends on where you’re standing – and, often, what you want to believe.

This came home with a clump at the time of the Lucky Goldstar episode when the Government put £180m into the pockets of a South Korean company that talked of bringing 6,000 jobs to Newport – the one in Gwent, not the charming little town in Pembrokeshire.

What was then the biggest inward investment deal in British history was hailed as a wonderful boost to the Welsh economy by then Welsh Secretary William Hague and just about everyone else east of Porthcawl.

Eyebrows were raised out west. Many of us doubted the claims and pointed out that £180m for one honey-pot site meant £180m less for everywhere else.

We wanted an alternative approach to economic development, which we though more suited to the realities of Wales as a whole. It would focus on developing indigenous companies and products rather than stuffing the pockets of here today, gone tomorrow, foreign investors.

This alternative approach is the one that subsequently powered the successful Welsh food initiative.

I offered at the time to write something focusing on this point of view about LG, as a counterbalance to the heaps of praise emanating from the Welsh media, only to be told, “Er, the editor’s supporting this.”

All this was in 1996 and, surprise, surprise, the jobs never materialised. Although the company did hand back £36.5m in grants, they did not pay interest on the money and we never did get to hear how much we never got back.

I was reminded of this last week when a Cardiff developer of wind turbines blamed what he called “the Taffia” for the delay in the grand design to cover the Welsh countryside with structures more than 110 metres tall.

From where I’m standing it’s not the Taffia that’s getting in the way. It’s the ordinary people who live in the places where they want to plant these monsters. And they’re not usually labelled Taffia. They’re called Nimbys – Not In My Back Yardies – which neatly reduces their objections to selfish motives, compared with the philanthropic intent of the turbine companies. It looks to the locals like commercial companies “from away” exploiting fears of climate change to rake in lots of taxpayers’ money with a technology that might look as though it’s doing something, but is actually useless.

As always, it all depends on where you’re standing, and what you want to believe.

By Steve Dube, Western Mail


27 November 2007

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