Conwy farmer orders SP Manweb off his land as battle intensifies to safeguard historic farmhouse from pylon blight
A Conwy farmer is refusing access to his land in an escalating battle to safeguard an historic building from controversial plans for overhead power cables.
John Mars-Jones said Berain farmhouse at Llannefydd is of “national significance” and will be scarred forever if 18 large pylons are erected on his land, the nearest coming within 100m of the building.
SP Manweb wants to build 17km of power lines linking two windfarms in Clocaenog Forest with a sub-station near St Asaph.
Around 1,200 metres of the line would run across Berain farm, some towering 40 metres above the farmhouse.
Mr Mars-Jones, who fears the farm’s management will be compromised if the proposal goes ahead, has now banned SP Manweb from his land and is prepared to go to court to prevent it carrying out habitat surveys.
His tussle with the firm is highlighted in the first of a new series of Cefn Gwlad, S4C’s countryside series, next week.
“The pylons will stick out like a sore thumb,” he said.
“We have always tried to be sympathetic custodians of the farm, which is Grade 2* listed and of national significance.
“A linear line running across the farm will compromise this significance and will also affect our farming practices: as well as making it difficult for large machinery, it will also put the safety of staff and contractors at risk.”
Legacy of Mam Cymru threatened, owners claim
Berain Farm, parts of which date from the 14th century, was the birthplace in 1540 of Katheryn of Berain, a powerful Welsh noblewoman during the reign of Elizabeth I.
Katheryn is remembered for her four marriages, six children and her extensive line of descendants, for which she is often referred to as “Mam Cymru” (Mother of Wales).
Eirian Mars-Jones, who’s lived at Berain for 23 years since marrying John, is proud of the building’s historic links.
“The house is old and can feel very cold at times!” she said.
“There’s a lot of upkeep and maintenance, and we have to stick to Cadw’s specifications.
“But we’re here to look after the house as people have done before us.
“Many people in the area oppose the plans. We can’t understand why they won’t lay wires underground as they do in Snowdonia and on the coast.”
Pylon opponents claim scheme is ‘speculative development’
Objections to the pylon plans have been put forward by Denbighshire and Conwy councils, politicians, environmentalists and several other landowners along the route.
In January the planning inspectorate held a public inquiry, and the final decision is expected around July.
Mr Mars-Jones said: “If the application is approved, it will make a farce of the planning process.
“Of the original three proposed routes, we suspect this one was chosen because it is the least populated and will therefore have the fewest objections.
“Contrary to the original proposal for a 25-year lifespan, we now gather the scheme is to last in perpetuity.”
He added: “Since the scheme was proposed, two of the four planned wind farms have been dropped.
“However the pylons are still going ahead, which leads us to suspect this is just speculative development.
“It will have a damaging impact not just on local farms but also on the beautiful landscape, which is currently the reason why the area attracts events such as the Wales Rally GB and the Tour of Britain.”
Battle to preserve Berain highlighted in S4C programme
Weighing up the arguments on Cefn Gwlad, to be screened on Monday, April 4, will be its presenter, Dai Jones.
He will also meet the extended Jones family where everyone – from the grandparents to their four grandchildren – help run the farm.
Life can be extremely hectic, with John also farming at Meysydd Brwyn, Denbigh, with his dad, Richard.
As well as milking 200 dairy cows, the family rears and fattens beef cattle, runs 700 Welsh Mules and also grows crops.
The couple’s children, Elin, 16, Ifan, 15, Elias, 11, and Jacob, 9, all help out, the eldest two with the milking.
“We’re lucky to live in a close, rural community,” said Eirian, who teaches Welsh for Adults at Coleg Cambria.
Differing views on pylons’ visual impact
In an assessment report for SP Manweb, Dr Jonathan Edis, director of the Heritage Collective, said the impact on Berain would be moderate in comparison to the changes already “inflicted” by its modern farm sheds.
However Cadw, the historic monuments body, said the shed roof profiles and colours mitigated the impact, whereas the proposed overhead line would be “distinctly visible”.
Other local farmers have also raised concerns, while businessman Conrad Proudlock said he would not have invested £3m on historic Eriviat Hall, Henllan, had he known about the proposed pylons.
Cefn Gwlad will air on Monday, April 4, at 8.25pm.
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