Local opinion is being ignored and Powys County Council’s cabinet is rolling over allowing the Welsh Government to hold them to ransom over the county’s controversial Local Development Plan (LDP), according to an AM.
Last week, the council’s cabinet approved updated changes to the LDP consultation report, following a public consultation on a number of ‘local search areas’ to be included in the plan, designated for solar and wind development.
Before a decision to approve the LDP, members were reminded the inclusion of the areas were in response to Welsh Government advice to incorporate them as part of the renewable energy policy in the LDP.
Despite opposition to approving the plan, it has been approved in front of 60 members of the public, and will be sent on to the planning inspector.
AM for Montgomeryshire Russell George has slammed the decision for the plan not to go to full council, and believes local opposition has been ignored and that PCC is “being held to ransom”.
He said: “Given the sweeping changes all councillors should have an opportunity to debate the merits of these further major changes to Powys’ LDP.
“The council’s tacit admission that more work is required to make this part of the plan should have been enough to require the Cabinet to recognise the seriousness of this issue and prompt it to trigger a call for a full council debate and a consensus direction on this matter.
“In reality, and despite massive local opposition to this policy, local opinion has not only been ignored but become totally irrelevant. The cabinet’s decision to roll over and allow the Welsh Government to hold the council to ransom represents a charter to encourage major developments of this kind anywhere across Powys, possibly even across any part of Wales at the whim of the Welsh Government, regardless of local circumstances or opinion.”
A plan of LSA’s show a higher number of areas designated for wind energy in Radnorshire, and two large areas of Montgomeryshire designated for solar energy production.
These geographically defined areas will add an additional 600MW from the county’s onshore wind and solar resources, will cover more than 100,000 hectares and are in addition to existing search areas.
Within the consultation on the changes to the LDP, there were 741 representations, of which the mahority were ralted to solar and wind.
Cllr Graham Brown said PCC’s cabinet had wrongly become the ‘bad boys’ in this.
He said: “It’s smoke and mirrors intended to get its (the Welsh Government’s) own way.
“There is a feeling that we have now become the bad boys but it’s not us – we have to dance to the tune of the Welsh Government but we need to put it at their doorstep.
“We are having to introduce this to our LDP to satisfy the threat that’s coming from Welsh Government because we know that if we don’t include it into our LDP it’s going to be rejected.”
Peter Morris, the council’s professional lead on planning, recommended in the meeting the cabinet agree to undertake more work on renewable energy as quickly as possible, and the public needed to have sight of it.
The LDP will now go before the planning inspector, with the process beginning in February.
Councillors have argued the plan should come back before full council, which it will, but only to approve it, not to discuss or change it.
The council’s solicitor told cabinet members that making changes after the further focussed changes had been approved was very limited, prompting Conservative Leader Aled Davies to call for the plan to be rejected.
Cllr Stephen Hayes said if the plan was not taken to the next stage, it would leave Powys open to unmanaged development.
He added: “It does feel as if we are in one of those rooms in a nightmare where the walls start to move closer together.
“People have raised concerns about the degree of influence and control the government has on what should be a local process. The dilemma here for us today is that if we don’t take this LDP process to the next stage, we risk leaving the county without a development plan into the future.
“It’s difficult to balance the importance of renewable energy against that risk but the risk of unmanaged development is a serious one. I do think we need to have an LDP as soon as possible.”
Six councillors voted through the LDP with one abstention. A pre-hearing with the inspector, Nicola Gulley, will take place on February 7.
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