A UK Government minister has defended his decision not to visit the proposed site of a controversial Welsh wind farm, saying he could make the decision about the project “in Kathmandu”.
Conservative minister Greg Barker, who last week made it clear there was no possibility of the legislation needed to build a barrage across the Severn being passed before the next election, gave a defence of his handling of the Brechfa Forest West Wind Farm.
Stating that planning inspectorate officials would visit the site and he would assess the evidence for and against the proposal to erect 28 wind turbine generators of up to 145m in height, he said: “It is my job to bring together all those detailed observations and the representations made locally, and to consider them. I could carry out that consideration in Whitehall or Kathmandu, but I have to look at the evidence impartially and reach a decision.”
Plaid Cymru Carmarthen East & Dinefwr MP Jonathan Edwards secured the Westminster Hall debate on the project yesterday, saying: “Local people feel that that particular development is being determined in a completely undemocratic manner.
“Only last week, a group of them travelled all the way down to London to present a dossier to the Department of Energy and Climate Change, and I am confident that the minister has read that document in the meantime.
“They feel that consultation by the planning inspector was lacking, and are as aggrieved as I am that the minister and his team are making this decision without having even visited the area concerned.
“The minister could have taken his dog, Otto, for a walk in the area, as it is a lovely part of west Wales, enjoyed by tourists from around the world.
“How can my constituents have any confidence in the Minister’s decision when he – sitting in his office down here in London – decides on an application for a project that is more than 200 miles away, in a village he does not know, in a community he does not understand and in a county he will not visit?”
Warning that constituents were concerned about noise levels, he said: “It cannot be right that some of my constituents consistently lose sleep due to the effects of wind turbines. If the Minister is minded to approve the Brechfa West application, my constituents would expect his personal reassurance that no resident will suffer loss of sleep due to the turbines and that there will be clear enforcement procedures to protect them.”
Mr Edwards asked for a “cast-iron guarantee this morning that no additional infrastructure, such as pylons or electricity cabling, will be required to connect the Brechfa West turbines to the national grid.”
Otherwise, he said, he wanted “a moratorium on the Brechfa West application until additional planning applications for electricity infrastructure are submitted”.
Montgomeryshire Conservative MP Glyn Davies also had concerns about infrastructure, saying: “The governments in Westminster and in Cardiff are forcing something on local people and are coming up with every stunt in the book to try to undermine local opinion.”
Mr Edwards was further concerned about potential new dangers in this area where airborne drones are tested.
He said: “The interference would desensitise radar in the vicinity of the turbines, leading to aircraft not being detected and not being identifiable to air traffic control.”
Mr Barker stressed that a decision would be made soon, saying: “In the case of the Brechfa application, a decision must be reached by March 12, so we are close now.”
Defending the system under which projects of more than 50MW are approved by ministers in London and not Cardiff, he said: “We believe that the present arrangements for decision making are fit for purpose in that they minimise delays and unpredictability and ensure investor confidence in the decision-making process.”
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