Our county is facing threats to its landscape from many aspects. Inappropriately sited solar farms, wind turbines and housing developments will scar the countryside for years to come. There is of course tension with the need to fight the Climate Emergency by generating renewable energy. The Zero Carbon Shropshire (ZCS) Plan of Shropshire Climate Action Partnership (SCAP), of which we are supporters, wants 500 acres per year of solar farms or wind farm equivalent. They are launching a mapping exercise for this on 20 October 2021. We prefer that the countryside is not industrialised.
CPRE Shropshire warmly encourages residents of Shropshire who share our concerns on these and other landscapes issues to join CPRE. We would also be pleased to hear from anyone with a professional background in planning who may feel able to play a more active role in our important work.
The still unresolved saga of the mid-Wales windfarms and their possible giant pylon line across Shropshire shows the tenacity required, over years, to fight some campaigns. This one has been running for well over a decade and although "in hibernation" since 2016 is now threatening to come back thanks to the Welsh Government. Read on for more detail.
CPRE Shropshire is a member of the ‘Alliance’ of 22 campaign groups that took a very active part in the Mid Wales Windfarms Conjoined Public Inquiry (CPI) into five Montgomeryshire windfarms and a 132kV power line. Four of these windfarms planned to get their electricity out via National Grid’s Mid Wales Connection (NGMWC) project, which is a plan for a large sub-station near Cefn Coch from which a 50km 400kV power line on 50m pylons would run through Montgomeryshire and Shropshire to join the main grid near Lower Frankton. The CPI was the largest of its kind, and sat for 50 days over the course of a year, ending in May 2014. Charles Green (joint chair of CPRE Oswestry) is the Alliance’s central point of contact, responsible for submitting over 70 Alliance documents, and Sally Green (co-joint chair) has produced a wry illustrated history of the Inquiry.
The Inspector’s report was eventually submitted to the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) in December 2014, and recommended passing three of the windfarms and the power line. We then had to wait till September 2015 for the Secretary of State’s (Amber Rudd’s) decision, which overturned the Inspector’s recommendation and refused all bar one of the windfarms. That was the ‘Re-powering’ of the existing Llandinam windfarm, but its dedicated 132kV power line was refused. In 2019 it was seeking to revive this dormant permission.
The biggest two of the refused windfarms (Llanbrynmair and Carnedd Wen) then applied for ‘Judicial Review’ (JR) of the decision, but DECC decided not to proceed to JR and instead ‘quashed’ the relevant two decisions. In early July 2016, DECC finally announced how these two applications were to be ‘re-determined’. But before the end of July, when the Alliance and the other parties to the Inquiry had submitted their representations, DECC had been abolished and subsumed within the new Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS).
All parties to the Inquiry submitted comments on everybody else’s representations in early October 2016. Incredibly, because there is no statutory deadline for making a decision on this sort of inquiry, we are still waiting for BEIS to issue their revised decision. We were promised a decision in autumn 2017, but shortly before autumn’s official end on 21 December 2017 it was announced that the decision was being postponed until the New Year. We were then told that, even so, a decision was not imminent. It appears that politics had intervened, but it may yet work in our favour.
Llanbrynmair and Carnedd Wen were then required to give an update, mainly on the status of protected birds in the adjoining Berwyn Special Protection Area. Submissions had to be made by 1 October 2018, one of which was by CPRE Shropshire. In summer 2019 we learn that BEIS must prepare a new Habitats Regulation Assessment, but that this is "not imminent". In the meantime Carnedd Wen withdrew its original application.
So, well over seven years after the end of the CPI, we still don’t have certainty as to its outcome.
The Welsh Government, since February 2021, has 'Future Wales: the national plan 2040', which has "Pre‑Assessed Areas" for wind and solar power, There is a presumption in favour of large‑scale wind energy development (including repowering) in these areas, subject to certain criteria. One of these is that they will not have an unacceptable adverse impact on the environment. The maps show much larger areas than even before, with lots of Powys covered in these areas. So campaign teeth are being prepared again in case another pylon line across north Shropshire rears its head once more.
Our objections to the Montgomeryshire windfarms and the 400kV line are largely, but not only, on landscape grounds. We think the harm that would be done to the attractiveness of the beautiful countryside is not justified by the relatively small contribution to electricity targets, particularly as the budget cost of on-shore wind has been exceeded. For the full text of the Alliance’s arguments see here. This give an indication of the huge amount of work that went into the CPI by the volunteers involved.
For the wry illustrated history of the Inquiry see here. (pdf format, 3.5MB)
Our Welsh colleagues in CPRW(ales), and others, ran a very effective campaign against Powys County Council’s shambolic plans, in their emerging Local Plan, to encourage more wind farms and solar farms by means of Local Search Areas. As a result, Powys CC abandoned the windfarm element of that proliferation, but more solar farms are still on the cards.
Selby Martin at CPRE Shropshire has compiled a short note of issues that objectors to wind turbines should consider. A copy can be downloaded here (pdf format)
Updated October 2021