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Afan Valley villagers speak out as wind farm inquiry starts

Villagers in the upper Afan Valley claim they will have to turn and face a brick wall if they want to avoid seeing wind turbines.

They also fear their homes will be devalued while a natural amphitheatre effect will cause problems with noise.

Some of them voiced their concerns during the opening day of a planning inquiry into Neath Port Talbot Council’s refusal to allow turbines to go up at Mynydd Y Gelli, near Abergwynfi, Blaengwynfi and Croeserw.

But there was also support for the project, with a former AM saying the developers had taken the views of residents into account – and were offering a potentially vital cash lifeline.

Neath Port Talbot Council turned down a planning application by Gamesa Energy UK.

One of the reasons given was the cumulative effect, taking into account other wind farm developments already given permission.

The original request was for 15 turbines, three of which were in Bridgend and were subsequently approved.

Yesterday saw the start of a planning inquiry at Port Talbot Civic Centre after Gamesa appealed against the refusal of the remaining 12 turbines.

It also submitted two alternative schemes, reducing the number of turbines to either nine or 10, both of which the council said it would oppose.

After opening submissions were made by legal representatives for both sides, planning inspector Rebecca Phillips invited residents present to have their say.

One, Christine Keirle, said her first concern was that property values would plummet. “The second is the visual impact. Everywhere I go, I will be able to see this wind farm,” she said.

“I’m very concerned that a large school is directly below these turbines. I’m very concerned about the safety should anything go wrong. What is the back-up?

“Are these turbines going to be attended to regularly, are they going to be maintained?”

She said she found the visual projections the company supplied to be very misleading. “Things have been reduced and minimised, and some have been heightened, to the advantage of the applicant rather than what is there.”

Roderick McIntyre, who runs the Tunnel Hotel in Blaengwynfi and lives in Abergwynfi, said the visual impact on Aber- Blaengwynfi would be quite substantial.

“There won’t be any area of the village where you won’t have these wind turbines in your sight unless you turn and face a brick wall,” he said.

Mr McIntyre pointed out Gamesa’s submission stated there had been no objections based on noise.

“But Aber-Blaengwynfi is a natural amphitheatre.

I’m sure there is going to be a noise problem,” he said.

“When you are there you will hear the sheep on one hill and you can hear it loud and clear on the other side of the valley.

“I’m sure it is going to be the same with the wind farm.”

Blaengwynfi resident and former Aberavon AM Brian Gibbons said previous proposed developments had rightly been vehemently opposed.

Some wind farm companies, he claimed, had shown no consideration for residents.

But, he said, Gamesa had listened to their concerns, particularly in relation to the number and location of the turbines.

Dr Gibbons said many community groups were supportive of the wind farm development, with some caveats.

He said they saw the community dividend that would arise from the development as a future resource and source of funding. “It will enhance the quality of life for many organisations that are struggling to survive in a very difficult social and economic climate,” he added.

The hearing will continue in Port Talbot until tomorrow, and is due to resume for three more days in Neath Civic Centre next Tuesday. It will include a site inspection.