The hearing sessions of the Powys Local Development Plan, which began on 28th March, were completed on 21st July. CPRW Brecon & Radnor Branch participated in the following sessions:
Session 15A: Tue 27 June 2017 – RENEWABLE ENERGY – Re-scheduled from 9 May
Session 16: Thu 29 June 2017 – MONITORING & CLOSE OF HEARINGS – Re-scheduled from 11 May
Our branch also attended:
Session 15B: Wed 28 June 2017 – RENEWABLE ENERGY – Rescheduled from 10 May (for participants not included in 15a)
Session 18: Fri 21 July 2017 at 11:00 – MATTERS ARISING CHANGES (MACs) (Powys and Welsh Government only)
The national CPRW organisation was represented by Peter Ogden, CPRW Director, and Tina Douglass, planning barrister, for sessions 1, 2, 11 and 15. Michelle Bolger, Landscape Consultant, provided an expert report on Enplan’s Landscape Sensitivity Study of Solar Local Search Areas.
All the relevant Examination documents can be seen via this link.
- The Inspector’s Hearing Sessions Agenda (ED029 or ED032)
- Our Hearing Statements for the Examination Sessions (ED032)
- Michelle Bolger’s Report on Enplan Landscape Sensitivity Study (ED032 15/159 Appx 2)
- Action Points arising from each session and the responses (ED032 or ED039)
- Audio-recordings (made at our request) for Sessions 6,7,11 and 16 (ED043)
- See also ED 064-069 for other CPRW submissions
The Council’s response to those Action Points can be seen on the LDP examination documents page (ED039).
CPRW Powys Branches and CPRW National submitted substantial responses to the public consultation on Further Focussed Changes (FFCs) last autumn. At the opening session of the Examination Hearings, our barrister argued that the Further Focussed Changes to RE1, with the introduction of Local Search Areas for wind and solar energy and a twelve-fold increase in targets, were too substantial to be legitimate FFCs and that further publication of a revised REA towards the end of the examination undermined the effectiveness of public participation in the process.
Throughout the Hearing process there have been constant changes to the policies being examined as we went along. The greatest difficulties came in discussion of safeguarding landscape, the natural environment and historic assets before we knew anything about the revised Renewable Energy Assessment and new Local Search Areas published on 12th May. Throughout, all participants, including Powys, had to submit a Hearing Statement by a set date three weeks before the Hearing. We spent much time on detailed statements about proposed Policy, only to find that Powys had radically changed the Policy wording in their own statement leaving us to prepare anew. Sometimes there were yet more alterations which were not published at all before the relevant Hearing. There have also been further changes in Policy wording in response to the Inspector’s Action Points arising from each Hearing. All these changes mean that participants have frequently been wrong-footed and frustrated by the lack of opportunity to revisit issues in order to ensure that all the changed policies fit together to cover the subject matter. At every stage we have had to comment on policies without knowing how they related to the rest of the LDP or how the LDP will be monitored.
What have we been doing?
While Powys’s proposed renewable energy policy has attracted the greatest public interest, CPRW Brecon & Radnor branch has also put forward arguments, evidence and policy wording for:
Strategic Assets SP7 (together with CPRW National)
Better description of Historic environment, inclusion of all designations, inclusion of Offa’s Dyke Trail and archaeological monument, improved protection of rights of way network.
Landscape policy DM3 (together with CPRW National)
Strengthened protection with proper use of Landmap. Evidence on Dyfi Biosphere. Safeguarding of carbon soils. Argument for designating Special Landscape Areas within Powys.
Natural environment policy DM2
Strengthened protection. Improved coherence. Inclusion of all designations
New Policy to safeguard Tourism assets
The LDP must recognise the importance to Powys communities of the tourist industry and the assets on which it depends.
New policy on intensive livestock units
These are expanding rapidly in Powys with serious environmental consequences and not one has been refused planning permission for the past 2 years. Although Powys continue to argue against a specific policy, we have suggested Policy wording at the Inspector’s request.
New Policy on anaerobic digesters
Units that are poorly sited, designed and regulated have caused a spate of serious pollution incidents of rivers and soils in Wales. Improved screening and risk assessment at the application stage is essential.
We also put forward arguments and wording suggestions on many other topics in our hearing statements and are pleased that some of these have been accepted by Powys.
Renewable Energy RE1
These two sessions attracted by far the most public interest in the whole examination. The Welsh Government, PCC, and all other parties agreed to recording but this decision was unilaterally blocked, without any convincing justification, by Mr. Simon Hartley of AECOM, Powys’s renewable energy consultants.
Session 15B was specifically scheduled for Powys residents. We hope the Inspector was as impressed as the audience by the thoughtful, articulate, arguments and expert evidence put forward by residents. This must the first time an LDP Inspection has included so great a contribution from the public and we all owe a debt to those who took part in this impressive day.
After the comprehensive trashing of the Further Focussed Changes to renewable energy proposals last autumn, Powys produced new material in May:
- Renewable energy assessment from consultants AECOM, with maps (third version)
- A landscape sensitivity study of the resulting Solar Local Search Areas from consultants, Enplan
- Revision of the proposed renewable energy policy RE1.
In summary, AECOM’s GIS mapping of constraints (i.e. elimination of “constrained” areas for renewable development) resulted in:
- NO suitable areas for designation of wind LSAs
- Identification of 33 Local Search Areas (LSAs) for solar development
- Enplan’s landscape sensitivity exercise reduced the number of solar LSAs put forward from 33 to 20.
- RE1 still allows wind developments between 5 and 25MW anywhere outside wind Strategic Search Areas subject to other policies (a 25MW wind development is approx.12 turbines)
- RE1 still allows solar developments between 5 and 50MW anywhere outside solar LSAs subject to other policies (a 50 MW solar development is approx. 120Ha or 1.2sq.km)
Welsh Government explicitly confirmed that there will be a presumption of approval for renewable applications within LSAs although Powys has consistently denied this.
Significant problems with the AECOM and Enplan reports emerged during the hearing sessions:
- Drawing wide boundaries around clusters of small pockets of “unconstrained” solar resource has resulted in substantial areas of constrained land being included in AECOM’s revised LSAs. Therefore constrained land which may be unsuitable for development now carries a presumption of approval for development.
- Enplan have applied their landscape sensitivity study to all land within LSAs. They recommend how many MWs can be generated in each LSA but development is not necessarily confined to areas where there is unconstrained solar resource. In fact Enplan do not show exactly where they consider solar parks could be built out without significant impacts on landscape.
- Our own expert landscape consultant, Michelle Bolger, found the criteria for Enplan’s assessments of landscape susceptibility to solar development were not clear enough.
- Michelle Bolger, found Enplan consistently underrated landscape sensitivity. For instance landscape of HIGH value and HIGH susceptibility to Solar Development was only awarded MEDIUM HIGH sensitivity. Applying a more logical methodology, three of the LSAs accepted by Powys are found to be of ‘HIGH’ landscape sensitivity and another three are of ‘MEDIUM HIGH’ landscape sensitivity, which should also be excluded from development. Therefore 6 further Local Search Areas should be eliminated.
- There was no time during Session 15 to look at the LSAs or identification of constraints in any detail or to discuss the long-distance visibility or cumulative impact of RE1 on landscape, biodiversity or the historic environment.
CPRW and residents identified significant errors and inconsistencies in AECOM’s renewable energy assessment. It emerged during Session 15, that the AECOM report contained a significant error. Where the report states that only Grade 5 agricultural land is included as suitable for solar development, Simon Hartley of Aecom admitted at Session 15 that in fact Grades 3, 4 and 5 were included in the mapping of solar resource. Aecom has had to rewrite parts of their REA (ED039 15 Appx 1 and Appx 4).
What changes to RE1 has Powys proposed?
So far we are only able to see changes proposed in the Council’s response to action points. PCC has accepted a large number of suggestions made by CPRW but has resisted significant changes in policy.
The Council has accepted:
- The need to include proposed developments as well as approved and completed ones, when considering cumulative impacts;
- The inclusion of a maximum lifetime for renewable projects of 25 years;
- The need to include the impact of associated infrastructure, such as power lines/battery storage, on neighbouring residential and sensitive properties;
- The need to correct numerous errors in LDP text;
- The need to make the text clearer and more relevant.
So far, the Council has not accepted:
- Wind development of 5-25MW should not be allowed outside Strategic Search Areas for wind;
- Downgrading of landscape sensitivity resulting from Enplan methodology should be remedied and then HIGH and MEDIUM HIGH sensitivity LSAs should be withdrawn;
- Energy generation and storage options are rapidly changing and large scale wind and solar in rural locations are likely soon to be seen as costly, inefficient and wasteful of land resource;
- In a rapidly changing renewable energy environment, there is need for more specific protections against the negative environmental impacts, including pollution, of renewable energy on neighbours and communities.
The Inspector has made it clear that she has not decided yet whether she considers that the LDP and any of the Matters Arising Changes made during the examination so far are “sound”.
WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?
The Council will publish a “Schedule of Matters Arising Changes” by 19th September.
Public Consultation on these new revisions to the LDP and the new REA will be open from 19th September until 5pm 30th October.
As with the Further Focussed Changes, anyone can write supporting or objecting to the changes. All representations will be published and seen by the Inspector who may decide to hold another set of Hearings or proceed directly to her examination.