An energy firm behind a major forest wind farm scheme has been accused of paying little more than lip service to obligations to consult on its controversial proposals.
RWE Npower Renewable used a consultation period for its scheme in Clocaenog Forest, North Wales, as “purely a legitimising exercise”, a report claims.
The firm plans to build a 32 turbine 96 megawatt (MW) scheme, but faces opposition from critics who say it will disturb wildlife habitats in the woodland, which forms part of the larger Hiraethog forest spread over 15,000 acres.
Critics also suggest the turbines, which at 475ft tall will dwarf the forest canopy, could destroy the tranquility of the beauty spot straddling Conwy and Denbighshire.
Now a report to go before Denbighshire Council’s planners next Wednesday says by the time the consultation was held the size of the scheme was already established leaving the public feeling it “had no meaningful input”.
The report also says some believe RWE’s consultation did the “bare essentials” and failed to “go the extra mile” to convince people of the scheme’s merits.
The report by Denbighshire’s head of planning and public protection Graham Boase reads: “One of the major problems with the consultation process is that the applicant does not come to the table with a ‘clean sheet’, as by the time active consultation takes place, the nature and scale of the development has already been established.
“As such, the public may be left feeling it has no meaningful input to the form of the proposed scheme, and frustrated at a process which appears purely a legitimising exercise on behalf of the applicant to comply with laid down statute.”
Michael Williams, secretary of wind farm protest group the Hiraethog Alliance, backed Mr Boase’s report, saying concerns about noise, wildlife and water supplies have not been properly addressed.
A number of householders depend on private water supplies from springs and have expressed concerns these could be affected by digging work for the wind farm.
Mr Williams, 69, who lives in the forest with wife Rolande, 61, and their three foster children, said: “They haven’t taken any real care to engender a relationship with the community.
“It’s going to be fundamental change to all of us around here.”
All energy schemes over 50 megawatts are classed as nationally significant infrastructure projects (NSIP).
Local councils can only comment on these and don’t have the power to reject them – the schemes are endorsed or thrown out by the Planning Inspectorate.
RWE rejected the criticisms, saying they have gone beyond their legal obligations by extending the consultation period and altered the plans as a result of community feedback.
A spokesman said: “Rather than do the ‘bare minimum’ we, for example, doubled the consultation period from 28 to 56 days, consulted on a full draft environmental statement rather than just preliminary environmental information, and from February 2013 have been providing more information than was required on the project and what we’ve done since consultation.
“We have made changes to the project as a result of local feedback, and have written letters to those who took part in the consultation, summarising our responses to points raised.”
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