ERECTION OF 16 WIND TURBINE GENERATORS, AN ANEMOMETER MAST, ELECTRICAL SUBSTATION AND CONTROL BUILDING, ELECTRICAL CONNECTIONS. ACCESS ROADS, TEMPORARY CONSTRUCTION COMPOUND AND BORROW PITS.
MYNYDD Y BETWS, BETWS, AMMANFORD, CARMS
CAMBRIAN RENEWABLE ENERGY LIMITED, C/O EC02 LIMITED, CHURCHILL HOUSE, CHURCHILL WAY, CARDIFF, CF10 2HH
22 JUN 2005
NB The original Environmental Statement (ES) was amended and expanded by a Supplementary Environmental Information Statement (SEIS). The SEIS was circulated for consultation and advertised by press and site notices in August 2006.
1 RESPONSES MADE TO THE ORIGINAL APPLICATION AND ES:
Head of Transport - Observed only that prior to the movement of any abnormal load, the applicant shall contact the Highway's Department's Maintenance Section to supervise the delivery of any movement of an abnormal load.
Head of Public Protection - Does not object but provides detailed comments to ensure that noise issues are adequately addressed. Recognises that some noise disturbance may be experienced by recreational users of the site and therefore the lower of the daytime noise limits recommended by ETSU 97 be adhered to. Recommends that any permission be subject to conditions to ensure that the choice of turbine is acceptable in noise terms, noise surveys are carried out after construction, construction noise is minimised and that any noise complaints are adequately addressed.
Betws - Strongly object - ground stability due to past mining, hydrology, impact on roads during construction. (See also 2. below)
Cwmaman - Strong objection - visual amenity, noise, impact on commoners, adequacy of roads, ground stability due to mining, inadequate community benefit offer.
Llanedi - Opposed - no reasons given.
Llandybie - Recommended refusal due 1): to detrimental effect on health and well-being of local residents, particularly due to the flicker effect of sun rays on turbine blades and to low frequency noise, and 2): adverse effect on wildlife and plant habitats.
Ammanford - Members would wish to see provision made for residents of properties in the near vicinity of this development. (See also 2. below)
Cllr J D Evans (Betws) - concerned due to:- difficulty of land restoration at the end of the project, ground stability due to past mining, impact on wildlife, agriculture, hydrology, recreation, archaeological heritage, house prices, health, especially due to noise, and road safety during construction. He suggested that members visit the site and consider cumulative impact, having regard to wind farm proposals at Mynydd-y-Gwair and near Pontardawe, that they also visit a large wind farm in mid-Wales, similar in character, and that a public inquiry would provide the best means of ensuring a fair decision. (See also 2. below.)
Cllr K Madge (Garnant) - objected due to impact on an area of outstanding environmental and scenic value, to impact of noise, and to the inadequacy of the community benefit offer. (see also 2. below)
Cllr M H Evans (Ammanford) - objected due to probable ground instability, visual impact, and access.
Adjacent Planning Authorities
Neath Port Talbot County Borough Council - Objects "on the grounds that the proposal would by virtue of the scale, location and cumulative impact with that of the East Pit Opencast Site, create an unacceptable visual intrusion to the local areas, particularly from Brynaman, Tairgwaith and Gwaun Cae Gurwen".
Brecon Beacons National Park - Has concerns over the cumulative impact of the development of the site when viewed in conjunction with other proposed wind farm developments, considering that an uninterrupted band of wind farm development along the National Park's southern border would be visually damaging.
City and County of Swansea has indicated that it would wish to see the Arup report for Strategic Search Areas E and F before responding. However the Council's cabinet member for Economic and Strategic Development has concerns over use of roads during construction, particularly those in the vicinity of Morriston Hospital and Morriston Fire Station.
Environment Agency - Recommends conditions to prevent pollution of watercourses and groundwater. Requires additional information if mine workings are to be grouted or stabilised.
Ministry of Defence - No response, despite reminders.
Civil Aviation Authority - ES indicates that the operator at Swansea Airport expressed no objections. Refers to the possible need to install aviation obstruction lighting to some or all of the turbines.
National Air Traffic Services Ltd - No objection.
Council for the Protection of Rural Wales - Made a detailed response, including:
· A general statement of CPRW's policy on wind farms, saying that CPRW would oppose any onshore wind power proposal which would have a significant adverse impact on the landscape of rural Wales.
· A criticism of energy statistics included in the ES.
· A critique of TAN8, including concern at the implied scale of wind turbine development throughout Wales in areas not designated for protection (i.e. National Parks, AONB and nature conservation sites), particularly during the period 2010-2020.
· Considers that the upland area of which Mynydd-y-Betws, Mynydd-y-Gwair, etc. are part, is worthy of AONB designation, and is of great recreational value as the immediate backyard, over which there is a right to roam, of very large numbers of people living in an area which has seen massive economic, social and landscape appreciation change since the Second World War.
· Criticises the ES's technical presentation of landscape and visual impact (quality of photos, size of ZVI, etc.)
· Disagrees with ES conclusions on landscape impact, and considers that from viewpoints close to the site, and from the Black Mountain that visual impact would be overwhelming.
· Considers that archaeological evidence, with which the site is richly endowed, would be imperilled.
· Draws attention to the public response as evidence of the inappropriateness of the proposed development.
· Considers that biodiversity would be harmed over very substantial areas of Mynydd-y-Betws.
· Provides a commentary of on other forms of renewable energy production.
Countryside Council for Wales (CCW) - is concerned on a number of points - the site lies outside TAN8 Strategic Search Area G; the proposed development would have a significant detrimental impact on the area's landscape and detract from the visual amenity of people (sic) both accessing the countryside for quiet recreation and residents of this highly populated area in their day to day activities; provided ecological information is insufficient to demonstrate that no harm will be caused to ecological interests within the site. Also considers that the proposed development would have significant damaging impacts on natural heritage interests and raises significant national planning issues. Recommends that the application is deferred until refinement of the boundaries of Strategic Search Area G, or if not deferred, then the application be refused. Six pages of detailed comments were also submitted.
Swansea NHS Trust - Request programming of construction traffic to avoid rush hour times and ensure close contact between construction traffic managers and Swansea Ambulance Trust, in order to minimise impact on Morriston Hospital.
Cambria Archaeology - Gravely concerned that environmental assessment of archaeological aspects was inadequate, particularly with respect to identification of unrecorded features, and the effects of the proposed development on the settings of both scheduled ancient monuments and the historic landscape. The site includes ancient monuments which have recently been recognised by Cadw as being of national importance, including groups of funerary monuments which form part of a relict Bronze Age landscape which appears to have been little impacted on by later activity. Guidance has been given to the applicant to assist further archaeological assessment.
Cadw - Concerned that the ES fails to provide sufficient information to enable a comprehensive assessment of the impact that the proposed development will have on the historic environment. Considers that the proposed development would have a substantial impact on the settings of scheduled ancient monuments and on the wider historic environment, and that this impact has not been addressed in the ES. Several inaccuracies are also identified.
Crown Castle UK Ltd - No objection.
Neighbours/Public - The application has been publicised in accordance with Article Eight of the Town and Country Planning (General Development Procedure) Order 1995, as an application subject to environmental assessment for the purposes of Schedule Two of the Town and Country Planning (Environmental Impact Assessment) Regulations 1999. The application was advertised in the South Wales Guardian and the Carmarthen Journal. Site notices were posted at eight locations on and around the site. Press and site notices were also posted advertising the SEIS and the opportunity to comment on it.
Neighbours living within 1500 metres of the nearest proposed turbine: Addresses of 50 neighbouring properties were identified, to which were sent letters inviting comment on the proposed development. Only properties in Carmarthenshire were included. Many properties in Cwmgors are within 1500 metres of the nearest proposed turbine. The views of the occupants of these properties would be represented by their local planning authority, i.e. Neath Port Talbot CBC. A similar approach was taken with respect to such land in the City and County of Swansea, although here there are very few relevant properties. Several owners of consulted properties would have had an interest in the proposed development as part-owners of the application site and/or as holders of common grazing, etc. rights over the site. Sixteen responses were received, of which twelve objected to the proposed development and four either supported the proposed development or had no objections to it. Reasons for objecting included loss of visual amenity, effects of noise and shadow flicker, effects on tourism, walking and horse-riding, hydrology, inc. private water supplies, and risks associated with mine working under the site. Reasons for support included the importance of finding new sources of electrical power, lack of environmental impact compared with other forms of electricity generation, and reduced noise from low-flying aircraft which would need to fly at higher elevations or avoid the site.
Unsolicited responses were received from about 595 individuals/families and organisations. Detailed responses were received from several, including the Betws Mountain Preservation Group. It is clear that some respondents were assisted by pressure groups opposed to wind farms such as the Betws Mountain Preservation Group, Save Our Common Mountain Environment, and Mynydd Llansadwrn Action Group. Of the responses, about 95 supported the proposed development, whilst about 500 objected to it. About 300 of the letters of objection had characteristics which indicated that those signing them had received assistance, usually by being provided with a copy of a letter to which a name, or names, and address is then added. 28 of these standard letters were identified, as attached. . It is estimated that rather more than 16000 people live within 8km (5 miles) of the site of the proposed development.
The Betws Mountain Preservation Group's response referred to the following:-
Procedural uncertainty due to delay in submission of the ES; identified conflicts with seven UDP policies; noted that the site was outside the Pontardawe Strategic Search Area identified in TAN 8; queried forecasts of electricity generation; was concerned at lack of consultation with the Health and Safety Executive; the shortness of time between the applicant's public exhibition and the submission of the planning application; inadequate survey of wind characteristics, geology, inc. mining, ecology, hydrology and ground conditions; probable road closure during construction; visual dominance of proposed turbines and adverse effect on recreation; probable damage to archaeological sites; slowness of vegetation recovery following construction; loss of amenity to walkers; conflict between safety and public access; lack of information to assess impact of very large turbines on tourism. The response concluded by stating that the destruction of the landscape would be disproportionate to the reduction in carbon dioxide emissions. (see also 2. below).
2 RESPONSES MADE TO THE SEIS:
Rights of Way/Access Manager - Concerned about the close proximity of proposed turbines and a borrow pit to public footpaths and a bridleway, and recommends buffer zones be identified to ensure greater separation. Is also concerned about the proposed fence across the common, in view of its impact on public access.
Betws Community Council - Have concerns in respect of inadequate mining and geological surveys; visual impact, loss of public access to the site for recreation; decrease in property values; difficulties in proving liability in the event of ground subsidence; adverse effect of transporting materials through Betws; and noise impact on adjacent properties.
Ammanford Town Council - Now objects to the proposed development.
Cllr J D Evans (Betws) - Considers the uncertainties resulting from past mineworking under the site have been underestimated, and supplied detailed information in support of this. He also considers that the visual assessment under estimates the importance of Betws Mountain as a recreational area, and that the safety of walkers during construction is also an issue.
Cllr K Madge (Garnant) - Now supports the application due to the urgent need to use new sources of energy.
Environment Agency - Advise that groundwater may be encountered during excavations, and that if it is mitigation should be included in the proposed method statement. They also recommend conditions to be applied to any permission, and notes to be advised to the applicant.
Council for the Protection of Rural Wales - Provides additional information on carbon dioxide emissions, noting that they have not fallen in the UK since 1990, questioning whether land-based wind farms are any answer to the future. CPRW also consider that TAN8 targets for electricity production are outdated and redundant, and that the application should be refused.
Countryside Council for Wales - Still consider that the proposal would have significant damaging impacts on the natural heritage interests of the site and surrounding area, in particular impact on the Brecon Beacons National Park. Considers the proposal would detract from the visual amenity of people using the countryside for quiet recreation and residents of this highly populated area going about their day to day activities. States that the ES and supporting information have failed to demonstrate that there would be no demonstrable harm to ecological interests within the site. Detailed comments are also provided. CCW also recommends that a decision be deferred until the work on refining Strategic Search Area boundaries (the Arup Study for SSA E and F) has been completed. CCW considers that the proposal is contrary to TAN8 guidance.
Cambria Archaeology - Recommend refusal on the grounds that the impact of the development on the historic environment of Mynydd Y Betws will be severe and is unacceptable; and without the Environmental Statement including the required assessment of this historical, cultural and archaeological landscape, the planning application is inadequately documented.
Betws Mountain Preservation Group - Maintain their objection and query whether turbines would be removed after 25 years, and the information given on electricity generation, offering alternative figures; consider that the site is outside the Pontardawe Strategic Search Area and that it is premature to consider the proposed development to be within it; points out that the height of the turbines would be about one-third as high as the total height of Mynydd Betws, as measured from sea-level; consider ecological information inadequate to comply with UDP policies EN9 and UT6; do not consider that 'floating road' constructed over wet habitats would protect those habitats; that the world of machines would be extended onto the mountain contrary to policy EN20; refer to the UK Noise Association report which recommends that no turbines be permitted within one mile of a dwelling, pointing out that there are several dwellings within one mile of the proposed turbines.
Cefn Croes Action Group - Made a detailed objection, referring to their experience of the development of the Cefn Croes Wind Farm in North Ceredigion; presentation of energy and CO2 figures, and challenging central government's 2010 electricity generation targets.
All Wales Energy Group - Suggest that there are many inaccuracies in the ES and that the claimed economic and environmental benefits are vastly exaggerated. In particular they consider the given load factor (the amount of electricity generated as a proportion of maximum installed capacity) to be too high, and the information on backup when wind speeds are low to be misleading. The Group also claims that ES information on CO2 savings is inaccurate, and that no account is taken of the effect of disturbing peat on the site.
The Open Spaces Society - Objects on the grounds that the proposal would have a severe visual impact on beautiful landscape, would destroy one of the last wilderness areas in this part of Carmarthenshire, would have a severely detrimental effect on public enjoyment of hills be walkers, etc. be detrimental to the tourist industry and interfere with the recreational and agricultural use of common land.
Ramblers Association (Dinefwr Branch (on behalf of 180 local members)): - Objects to the visual impact of the proposal on Mynydd Betws and on the surrounding area. Consider that the proposal would deter tourists, and that the area was still recovering from the landscape impact of deep mined and opencast coal extraction and should not be subject to a new period of defacement.
Neighbours/Public - 131 objections were received from individuals, of which 27 were local (as defined by the following addresses: - Betws, Ammanford, Glanaman, Tycroes, Gawun-Cae-Gurwen and Tai'r Gwaith. Most of these objections were received as emails written using templates, and reiterating the same concerns, based on visual intrusion, inc. cumulative impact, effects on wildlife, tourism, efficiency, and use of common land for recreation. Twenty emails were received from addresses outside Wales and England.
Comments received since September 2006:
Betws Community Council - Maintain their objection but have indicated that if the application is approved any offers of benefits available will be gratefully received.
BMPG - Asks questions.
NFU Cymru - Support.
Objection letters forwarded by CC Swansea, inc Gower Society.
Various letters of support and objection.
CPRW - Letter - TAN 8 targets outdated and redundant.
Betws Commoners Association - Support
BBNP - No further comments.
Betws Common Holdings Ltd - Support.
Mawr CC - Objection.
CADW - Still concerned.
CCW - Still concerned.
Applicant's letters to councillors
RELEVANT PLANNING HISTORY
The only planning application submitted for land forming part of the site since 1974 is that for attaching wind monitoring equipment to the existing communications mast on the NW side of Mynydd-y-Betws, required for assessing conditions as part of preparation for the current proposed development. A permission to retain equipment for twelve months was granted on 12th May 2005, and permission to retain the equipment for a further three years was granted on 5th May 2006.
On 29th March 2007 a planning application was received by the Council for temporary use of 8.4 ha of land on Mynydd-y-Betws to allow opencast mining of 40,000 tonnes of coal over a two-year period as an extension to Cwmyronnen Opencast Coal Site. The application is pending. It has been designed to avoid interference with proposed turbine locations, but would affect the site of one the borrow pits proposed for the wind farm. The wind farm applicant company has not objected to the proposed mining development and has indicated that sourcing material from elsewhere on Mynydd-y-Betws would be feasible.
The site of the proposed development is the common land known as Mynydd-y-Betws, which has an area of 797 hectares (1968 acres). It is a steep-sided plateau, with a maximum elevation of 341m. It adjoins Mynydd-y-Gwair Common in the City and County of Swansea which reaches a maximum elevation of 371m near Penlle'r Castell, about 800m SSW of the nearest proposed turbine. The proposal is for sixteen turbines to be sited across Mynydd-y-Betws in a broadly double, east-west row, over a distance of four kilometres (2.5 miles). Turbines are proposed to be mostly between 270 and 320 metres above sea level.
The site has been defined to include all land needed for the siting of turbines and associated infrastructure, and would include the link to the public electricity supply. It would include most tracks connecting the site to the public road network. Only a small proportion of the site would be developed, the majority is to be returned to rough grazing after construction.
The site is unenclosed land over with a vegetation of mainly acid grassland, wet heath, dry heath and blanket bog. These different vegetation types form a mosaic across the site. Grazing rights have been registered for 6000+ sheep, 1,000+ cattle and 200+ horses or ponies. Not all of these rights are exercised, with some nine active graziers at present, not least because they are far in excess of the capacity of the area to feed these animals.
A public road and bridleway, and public footpaths cross the site. The site is an area of open access for recreation on foot (CROW Act land). The site is also crossed by 3km of the 102km (64 miles) - long St Illtyd's Way long distance footpath, which runs from Pembrey to Margam Park. The lies adjacent to but not within the Strategic Search Area identified in TAN 8, SSA E Pontardawe lies to the south of the applications site and is identified on Map 6 with the note "Scope to increase SSA has been identified to the north-west "
Adjoining land includes the upland common of Mynydd-y-Gwair, farmland and conifer plantations. Nearby land includes the densely populated Aman Valley, some 2-3km N of the proposed turbines. The proposed turbines are about 4km S of the SW boundary of the Brecon Beacons National Park.
The nearest dwellings are all are more than 600 metres from the nearest proposed turbine.
The site contains several Scheduled Ancient Monuments and other sites of archaeological value.
THE PROPOSED DEVELOPMENT
The ES indicates that the proposed turbines would each comprise a cylindrical steel tower surmounted by a nacelle containing a generator, driven by a three-bladed rotor. The hub of the rotor would be 68.8m above ground level. The rotor would have a diameter of 82.4m. The overall height of each turbine when a rotor blade is at its highest point would be 110m above ground level. The ES also indicates that permission is also sought for slightly smaller turbines, with an overall maximum height of 107m. The tower would have a diameter at its base of about 4.5m and will be supported by foundations with horizontal measurements of 17m by 17m, and a depth of about 1.5m. Foundations would be concealed beneath 1.25m of excavated rock, sub-soil and topsoil. The sixteen turbines would be spaced between about 300m and 700m apart. All turbines would be on land between 270m and 330m OD. NB The highest part of Mynydd-y-Betws is 341m OD.
The proposed substation compound is proposed to be sited near the western boundary of the site, immediately adjacent to the existing 132kV electricity transmission line, about 10m south of the mountain road and 90m west of the Scotch Pine Public House, at an elevation of about 320m above sea level. The compound would contain a 20m by 10m, pitched roof building, external switchgear and transformers, surrounded by a 2.4m high palisade fence. Cables connecting the substation to the turbines would be underground. An overhead line about 25m long would connect the wind farm to electricity transmission lines, although this connection to the public electricity supply is not part of the current application. It would not be subject to an application for planning permission.
A 70m high steel lattice monitoring mast to support wind measuring devices is proposed to be erected near the western boundary of the site at an elevation of about 300m OD.
The proposed development includes the upgrading of 1km of existing track and the provision of about 7.3km of new tracks to allow construction, maintenance and eventual dismantling of the proposed development. Tracks would have a minimum width of 4.5m although they would be wider where passing places, junctions and bends were constructed. They would include a new track to the south-eastern boundary of the site at Nant Melyn Farm. This track would link to a new/upgraded track to the A474 south of Cwmgors for which Neath Port Talbot CBC granted planning permission in May 2006. This track and the A474 through Pontardawe could be the main route into the site for large components including tower sections, blades and nacelles, from the A4067 Heads of the Valleys Road and the motorway network. The other main route would include minor roads, including Heol Rhyd-y-Pandy, between the site and the M4 at Llangyfelach, within the City and County of Swansea.
Hard standings, slightly larger than the turbine bases would be constructed alongside turbine locations to allow cranes to assemble the turbines. A thin layer of topsoil would be placed over hard standings after construction to encourage revegetation. A temporary construction compound, of about 50m by 15m, containing offices/stores, a car park and fuel store, and surrounded by a 2m high chain link fence, would be located adjacent to the mountain road close to where it is crossed by the 132kV electricity line, at an elevation of about 320m.
The proposed development also includes four borrow pits from which stone would be extracted for tracks and hard standings. They would have dimensions of about 50m by 30m. Three of the pits would be located near the centre of the site at an elevation of about 300m. The fourth would be adjacent to the temporary construction compound at an elevation of about 325m. Vegetation at borrow pits would be reinstated after construction. One of the borrow pits would not be developed in the event that Cwmyronnen Opencast Coal site is extended in accordance with the recently submitted application.
The possible impact of the proposed development is such that the application is accompanied by a formal environmental assessment. The Environmental Statement (ES) has been prepared by independent environmental consultants and has been made publicly available. It includes over 400 pages of text, a volume of 24 pages of maps, diagrams and photo-montages, and a 23- page non-technical summary. The ES appraises the proposed development in terms of its likely impact on the environment, in terms of landscape, biodiversity, noise, electro-magnetic interference, traffic, etc.
In August 2006 the applicant submitted a Supplementary Environmental Information Statement. This adds to the following matters: -
Planning policy, at central and local government levels
Geology and mining
Construction, Operation and Decommissioning of the proposed development
The ES indicates that construction would take place over a period of an estimated 47 weeks. A month-by-month construction programme indicates that the first six months of the programme would be mainly for construction of tracks, turbine bases and the electrical substation. Turbine component delivery would take place over a two-month period.
The ES indicates that delivery of turbine components would be via the M4 and then either of two routes indicated in 1.4 above. Both routes are almost entirely outside Carmarthenshire. The SEIS indicates that an abnormal vehicle assessment had been carried out for the A474 (Pontardawe) route and that the Head of Engineering and Transport at Neath Port Talbot CBC has indicated his approval in principle of the use of this route. At the time of writing no response has been received from the City and County of Swansea.
The ES includes much detailed information on construction, including a month-by-month programme of traffic movements. If sufficient trackmaking stone is quarried on site, total traffic movements are estimated at 4866 in and out trips. If all track making stone is brought onto the site traffic movements would increase to 6112 (Averaged out over the project this maximum traffic movement figure is the equivalent of about one trip every half hour of a ten-hour day for six days each week. Staff movements account for 3712 trips. Concrete and steel for turbine bases account for 570 trips, and turbine components, which make up the bulk of the abnormally large loads, account for 114 trips.
The ES assesses the impact of wind farm construction. It considers that construction noise will not be excessive having regard to distance from dwellings and government guidance on construction noise limits. Measures to avoid or mitigate the impact of construction include preparation of a Construction Environmental Control Plan and a Traffic Management Plan. Plan headings are included in the ES. The ES also identified measures to reduce the impact of construction tracks by narrowing them and encouraging revegetation. The temporary construction compound would be restored to its previous condition, i.e. to land suitable for rough grazing.
Operation of the constructed wind farm would have little environmental impact. Weekly visits in a light van would be likely to ensure adequate maintenance. Oil changes would be necessary every 18-24 months. Oil would not be stored on the site, and waste oil would be recycled off-site. Access to turbines by cranes and support vehicles would need to be retained in the unlikely event of blade or nacelle replacement being needed.
The ES states that the expected productive lifetime of the turbines would be about 25 years. At that time application could be made to replace or refurbish turbines, or the site could be decommissioned by the removal of turbines and ancillary structures, including all transformers and the control building, from the site. Turbine foundations and underground cables would not be removed from the site. Tracks and hard standings could be reinstated, i.e. returned to land suitable for rough grazing.
Determination of this planning application must be made in accordance with relevant policies of the statutory development plan, unless material considerations indicate otherwise. For the purposes of the proposed development, the statutory development plan is the Carmarthenshire Unitary Development Plan (UDP), which was adopted in July 2006.
Other material planning issues include:
Welsh Assembly Government's Planning Policy Wales (2002)(Section 12.8 - 12.10) as amended by Ministerial Interim Planning Policy Statement 01/2005.
Technical Advice Notes, particularly TAN 8: Planning for Renewable Energy (July 2005).
WAG letter dated 2nd April 2007 (copy attached)
The UDP contains fourteen policies, which provide the strategic framework for development in Carmarthenshire. In addition the Plan contains a great many other, often more detailed, policies. Strategic policies and many of the other policies help determine whether the principle of development is acceptable. Other policies seek to influence the way development is carried out and are only relevant once the principle of development has been accepted. Three strategic policies are relevant to the current application. These are as follows:
Policy CUDP14 - Renewable Energy:
It is the policy of Carmarthenshire County Council to support proposals for renewable energy schemes and developments, which minimise energy and resource requirements, where appropriate.
The proposed development is clearly a renewable energy scheme.
Policy CUDP 9 - Landscape/Environment
It is the policy of Carmarthenshire County Council to enhance the natural environment and safeguard it from inappropriate development.
The site of the proposed development is an extensive area of relatively natural environment where development would generally be inappropriate. The proposed development includes a few suggestions for environmental enhancement, although these are very limited, when compared with overall environmental impact of the proposed development.
Policy CUDP 10 - Amenity/Open Space
It is the policy of Carmarthenshire County Council to ensure that all identified areas of important amenity/open space be protected to safeguard against inappropriate development and the coalescence of settlements.
The site of the proposed development is an extensive area of unenclosed land over which the public have a right to roam on foot for recreation, and over which many commoners have rights. The draft visual and sensory aspects of Carmarthenshire County Council's LANDMAP evaluation place a high value on Mynydd-y-Betws. This supports the view that the area is an important resource for those outdoor recreational activities that are enhanced by a high quality of scenery. The site may therefore be considered an area of important amenity/open space.
Having regarded to two of the three UDP strategic policies it may be concluded that the proposed development would be inappropriate. The third policy, on renewable energy, requires further consideration to be given to this conclusion, as indicated in relation to other relevant UDP policies below. As stated above other material consideration need to be considered namely the WAG policy on Climate change and associated renewable energy targets.
The main relevant detailed UDP policy is UT6, which provides that:
It is the policy of Carmarthenshire County Council that proposals for wind turbines, wind farms or groups of wind turbines will be permitted provided that the following criteria are met in full:
(i) Proposals either individually or cumulatively would not cause demonstrable harm by virtue of having a significant adverse impact on the quality of the local environment, or to sites of nature conservation, historical or archaeological importance, agricultural value, areas designated for their landscape value, or to species of nature conservation and ecological value;
(ii) The siting, design, layout and materials used should be sympathetic to the characteristics of the landform, contours and existing features of the landscape;
(iii) Proposals do not give rise to problems of highway safety or place unacceptable demands on the provision of public services;
(iv) Ancillary works, buildings and structures are kept to a minimum and sited unobtrusively within the landscape;
(v) Proposals should not lead to a significant adverse increase in risk or nuisance to, and impacts on the amenities of, nearby residents or other members of the public arising from wind turbine operation, shadow, flicker, safety risk, and radio or telecommunications interference;
(vi) No turbine should cause demonstrable harm to the amenity of any residents;
(vii) New connections to the local electricity distribution network should accord with policy UT2
Other detailed UDP policies are referred to in the appraisal below, according to topic. One UDP policy, which does not sit comfortably under a particular topic, is Policy GDC3. This policy provides that in general development in the countryside will not be permitted. Amongst the several exceptions to this policy is 'operational development by statutory undertakers and renewable energy schemes'. Clearly the proposed development is a renewable energy scheme.
Ministerial Interim Planning Policy Statement (01/2005) and Technical Advice Note 8: Planning for Renewable Energy in Wales
Published in July 2005, the MIPPS refers to the Welsh Assembly Government's renewable electricity production targets for Wales of 4TWh each year by 2010 and 7TWh each year by 2020. In order to meet the 2010 target, the MIPPS state that the Welsh Assembly Government's policy is that 800MW of renewables capacity should be provided from onshore wind energy development, mostly in the form of a small number of large wind farms. The MIPPS states that :
'In the short term, wind-power offers the greatest potential for an increase in the generation of electricity from renewable energy. The Assembly Government accepts that the introduction of new, often very large, structures into the open countryside needs careful consideration to minimise the impact on the environment and landscape. However, the need for wind turbines is established through a global environmental imperative and international treaty, and is a key part of meeting the Assembly Government's targets for renewable electricity production. Therefore, the land use planning system should actively steer developments to the most appropriate locations. Development of a few large scale (over 25MW) wind farms in carefully located areas offers the best opportunity to meet the national renewable energy target.'
Whilst landscape and conservation constraints and electricity distribution issues are vital inputs, other technical and economic issues are critical to the provision of wind power. The most appropriate scale at which to identify areas for onshore wind energy development is at an all-Wales level. Technical Advice Note 8: Planning for Renewable Energy, also published in July 2005 identifies areas in Wales, which, on the basis of substantial empirical research, are considered to be the most appropriate locations for large-scale wind farm development; these areas are referred to as Strategic Search Areas (SSAs). TAN8 includes indicative capacity targets for each SSA. The detailed characteristics and the methodology used to define SSAs are outlined in TAN 8 and its Annexes.
One of the Strategic Search Areas, known as Area E or Pontardawe is located to the south and east of the application site, lying mainly within the City and County of Swansea and Neath Port Talbot County Borough. It is given an indicative capacity target of 100MW. The deliberately approximate boundary of this area passes through the south-western corner of the application site.
The Welsh Assembly Government has advised that refining the boundary of Strategic Search Areas is a matter for local authorities, and that a refined line need not necessarily be drawn within the thickness of the given boundary. Para. 2.4 of TAN8 states that 'where there is robust evidence that land outside (but close to) the SSA is suitably unconstrained local planning authorities might wish to consider the possibility of development of wind farms in these areas as well. The map in TAN 8 showing Pontardawe SSA includes a note which states that 'boundaries may be slightly refined by local planning authorities. Scope to increase SSA has been identified to the north-west.' Such land to the north-west could include both the application site and Mynydd-y-Gwrhyd. The latter area includes the site of a proposed four-turbine wind farm, which is the subject of a public inquiry in June 2006 following refusal of planning permission by Neath Port Talbot CBC. This appeal was dismissed. Amongst other matters, the inspector concluded that the above-mentioned statement on the TAN 8 map did not apply to the Mynydd-y-Gwrhyd site and is now subject to Judicial Review.
The three local planning authorities responsible for Pontardawe SSA and its five kilometres buffer zone, including Carmarthenshire County Council, are working with consultants to refine the boundaries of the SSA and provide greater certainty of knowledge of acceptable wind farm areas. The consultants' report will inform the preparation of supplementary planning guidance to be prepared individually by local planning authorities. The consultants conclude that it is not appropriate to extend the boundary of the Pontardawe SSA to include Mynydd-y-Betws, as there are better sites, measured mainly in terms of visual intrusion, within the core area of the SSA which could be made available to meet TAN8's 2010 target. The report did not however identify how this target was going to be met and accepted that the Mynydd-y-Betws area identified as Zone 12 in their report was acceptable in landscape and visual terms.
In a WAG letter dated the 2nd of April 2007 on the issue of Implementation of Renewable Energy Targets Local Planning Authorities were reminded of the crucial role they have in ensuring that the targets and objectives for the development of renewable energy are met. The letter states:
Energy and planning policies ser out the targets for renewable energy generation, in particular for locating larger scale onshore wind farms in the Strategic Search Areas (SSAs) identified in TAN 8. These were drawn up very carefully in the light if considerable expert advice, while acknowledging that minor adjustments may be needed to account for local circumstances.
The MIPPS advises that at the same time as facilitating renewable energy development, local planning authorities should ensure that species, habitats and the historic environment are protected from inappropriate development, and that any potential detrimental effects on local communities are minimised.
The SEIS includes a commentary on several relevant UDP policies, and also on TAN8, with particular reference to Strategic Search Area E.
Observations received in response to consultation on this planning application address numerous issues; these have been indexed using a specially designed database.
Of the 95 letters of support received, 72 (76%) were received from the local communities of Betws, Ammanford, Glanaman, Garnant, Brynaman, Gwaun Cae Gurwen, Cwmgors, Llandybie, Capel Hendre, Blaenau, Carmel, Gorslas, Penygroes, Cross Hands, Tumble and Llanedi. Reasons for support included lack of environmental impact, need for renewable energy, offer of community benefits, and input of finance to assist better management of common land.
473 letters of objection were received. 205 (43%) of these letters were signed copies of circulated letters. 28 different templates of these circulated letters were received in contrast No templates were received in support of the proposed development. 315 (67%) letters of objection were local responses. The table below summarises the most frequent grounds for objection. Local responses are those received from places as noted above above, together with Tycroes, Tairgwaith, Garnswllt and Cwmllynfell.
Table One: Objections from the general public
Brecon Beacons National Park
Clearly many letters contained more than one ground for objection. Interpretation of the response should bear in mind the effects of large numbers of templates which repeat a fairly standard list of general wind farm-related issues.
In general, total and local objections expressed a similar range of concerns. Many of the comments made both for and against the proposed development, were general in nature and frequently based on anecdotal information and perceived benefits and problems. Many comments were primarily aimed at government policies for energy and addressed matters which were peripheral to the issue of the determination of the planning application, including the efficiency of wind farms, financial support for renewable energy, and changing property values.
Some interpretation of the issue headings used above is as follows:
"Wildlife"- includes loss of habitat and possible direct casualties caused to birds and bats.
"Mining"- Possibility of accidents during construction due to subsidence of old mine workings, release of underground water via old mine entries, and the impact of quarrying the fill which might be required to provide turbine foundations at mined locations. The uncertainties attached to this issue.
"Water"- Possible pollution of, and interference with the quantity of water reaching private water supplies, watercourses, wetlands.
"Access"- Impact on public footpaths and bridleways, and on the "right to roam" across the site. Particularly during construction, but also during operation, when moving blades might alarm horses and other users.
"Health" - often linked to noise, especially low-frequency noise. Also includes safety fears.
"Property values" - main concern is possible impact on house prices. Not a material planning consideration, although the factors which influence these prices may be.
"Shadow flicker" - amongst environmental experts this has a technical definition, which limits such impacts to a few rooms within a few dwellings for a few hours each year. The frequency of reference to shadow flicker and "strobe effects" in objection letters suggests a wider definition, including perhaps the effects of moving shadows cast on the ground near turbines, and fears that blades may flash reflected light on sunny days.
"Peat disturbance" peat soils are seen as a scarce resource, producing unusual and declining habitats. There are fears that peat soils cannot regain their character following movement if they are allowed to dry out. The added constructional difficulty of erecting turbines in peaty areas is also recognised.
"Race tracks" - this refers to the possible unauthorised use of new tracks across the site by motor vehicles.
"Site specific" - many objection letters could have applied to a proposed wind farm anywhere. It is appropriate to draw attention to those letters which specifically relate to the possible impact on Mynydd-y-Betws.
An important part of the appraisal process has already been carried out and published in the Environmental Statement (ES). Independent environmental consultants prepared the ES. The scope of the ES was agreed following correspondence with Carmarthenshire County Council, Environment Agency, Countryside Council for Wales, and Cambria Archaeology. The ES identifies the main issues which are discussed in ES order, in relation to statutory development policies below.
Landscape and Visual Impact
Landscape effects are defined as changes to landscape elements, characteristics, character and qualities of the landscape as a result of the development. Visual effects are concerned with the effect of the development on views available to members of the public and general visual amenity. In the light of responses received to consultation on the application, the content of development plan and other planning policies, as well as the attention given to this issue in the ES, it is apparent that this is a main issue
Landscape character areas, defined by similarity of landscape features are being defined throughout Wales as part of the local authority/Countryside Council for Wales landscape assessment project known as LANDMAP. A few kilometres north of the proposed site is the Brecon Beacons National Park, designated in 1957 in order to protect an area of spectacular landscape and to provide recreation opportunities for the general public.
The application site area may be characterised as an open area of common grazing land, of varied semi-natural vegetation, including heather moorland and bogs. The site has extensive panoramic views in all directions. The commonland which is Mynydd-y-Betws, and also the site of the proposed development has been evaluated by the draft visual and sensory assessment undertaken by Carmarthenshire County Council as part of LANDMAP as follows:-
Scenic qualities - High, on account of the large expanses of unenclosed moorland, and the impressive views afforded over other parts of the county. The majority of the area remains un-spoilt.
Integrity - High, while one part of the aspect area at Scotch Pine is disrupted this area is relatively confined, and the majority of the area is unspoilt by development and remains empty open moorland.
Character - High, Distinctive character in the main - an extensive area of open moorland - it is empty and windswept, and there are similar elements across the area. The Scotch Pine area is an exception to this, with its car park and pylons, however these intrusive elements only affect a small proportion of the total area.
Rarity - High - one of only four area in the county of extensive open unenclosed moorland. A relatively unusual landscape type in Carmarthenshire.
Overall Evaluation -High, on account of all four consideration. An impressive and largely unspoilt area.
The proposed development would be conspicuous from the proposed site, and in the wider landscape. The ES gives some indication of this. A computer-generated Zone of Visual Influence (ZVI)(Fig. 15) shows where proposed turbines would be visible from within a radius of 20 kilometres, assuming that views are not masked by buildings or trees, etc. This shows that turbines would be visible from many places. It uses visibility of blade tip at its highest elevation as the criterion to show whether a turbine would be visible. A separately generated ZVI based on visibility of at least the hub of a turbine produces broadly similar results.
Within 5km of the proposed site most of the proposed turbines would be seen from:
· most of the high moorland of Mynydd-y-Betws and Mynydd-y-Gwair,
· parts of Glanaman, Brynaman, Tairgwaith.
· about 5 sq km of the southern fringe of the Brecon Beacons National Park between Twynmynydd and Brynaman.
Also within 5km, tips of up to ten proposed turbines would be seen from:
· much of Ammanford, inc. Betws and Pontaman, and
· Glanaman and Cwmgors.
Between 5 and 10km away most of the turbines would be seen from:
· over 20 sq km of the Brecon Beacons National Park,
· Upper and Lower Brynaman, Llandybie, Penygroes, parts of Capel Hendre, Ystradowen and Cwmllynfell.
Also between 5 and 10km away tips of up to ten turbines would be seen from:
· parts of Ammanford and Capel Hendre, Tycroes,
· a wide area of Carmarthenshire countryside between Hendy and Llandybie.
Between 10 and 20km away most of the turbines would be seen from;
· Bannau Sir Gaer and Bannau Brycheiniog and large areas of the southern approaches to these mountains, all within the Brecon Beacons National Park,
· large areas of countryside to the north and west of Llandeilo, between Mynydd Sylen and the Llwchwr valley, and high ground to the north of the Gwendraeth Valley,
· parts of Llanelli and Swansea,
· extensive upland areas in Neath Port Talbot.
Also between 10 and 20km away tips of up to ten turbines would be seen from;
· parts of Llanelli, Gorseinon and Swansea, and
· countryside and coast on and around the upper reaches of the Burry Inlet.
In drawing assumptions from ZVI calculations, it should be borne in mind that views, particularly in urban areas will be frequently obscured and that weather conditions make a great difference to the visibility or more or less distant features. It may of course be argued that views remaining despite these difficulties are that much more valuable.
In addition to ZVI's the ES contains photomontages showing how the proposed wind farm would look from fourteen viewpoints chosen to represent views within 20km. These images are also computer generated. Particularly for close views, eg Fig. 16A, it should be noted that the photomontage does not show access tracks and hardstandings made to allow turbine construction, the substation, nor the temporary construction compound. The selected viewpoints are clearly only a small fraction of the hundreds of viewpoints, which could have been identified.
The ES sets out in detail a method for assessing the impact of the proposed development on the surrounding landscape. The method follows guidance given by the Landscape Institute, and the Institute of Environmental Management and Assessment. In summary it includes the following:
· an analysis of landscape in terms of character and quality
· how the landscape is perceived and valued by different groups of people (receptors)
· the potential impact of the proposed development on landscape character and receptors
· an assessment of the magnitude and significance of the impact of the proposed development.
The landscape within 20km of the proposed site is split into six areas which are described and classified. One of the areas, which is the western part of the Brecon Beacons National Park is classified as of exceptional landscape quality. An area called the "Central Uplands, which includes the proposed site and the high ground around it between the Aman, Llwchwr and Swansea valleys, is classified as of high quality, The "Urban Fringe/ Llwchwr Valley and Estuary", which includes the Aman Valley, Ammanford and Llandybie, Llanelli and Swansea, as well as intervening low-lying countryside, is classified as of low quality. Other land within 20km of the proposed site is classified as medium quality.
Perception of the landscape and assessment of magnitude of impact are considered when views from selected viewpoints are analysed. Given that distance from the proposed site is an important factor affecting impact, the following comments are ordered according to distance between viewpoint and proposed site.
Three viewpoints within 5km of the centre of the site have been selected:-
From Penlle'r Castell, just south of the County boundary, in a moorland setting close to the site, and 0.58km from the nearest proposed turbine (npt). Sensitivity of receptors here is considered high and the impact on visual amenity is considered in the ES to be MAJOR.
From a viewpoint on St Illtyd's Way, south of the site and 1.72 km npt, and also in a moorland setting, with highly sensitive receptors. The visual amenity impact is considered in the ES to be MAJOR.
From A474 Pontaman Road, between Pontaman and Glanaman, 2.67 km npt, where turbines are partly obscured by foreground trees. Receptors, including vehicle users, pedestrians, residents and farm workers, are considered to be of low sensitivity. The visual amenity impact is considered in the ES to be MINOR/NEUTRAL
Seven viewpoints between 5 and 10 km from the centre of the site have been selected.
4 From Penybanc Hill, on the outskirts of Ammanford, 4.01km npt, where several turbines or parts of turbines would be seen on the skyline to the east. Receptors are considered to be of medium sensitivity. The visual amenity impact is considered in the ES to be MODERATE.
5 From Capel Hendre, 6.8 km npt where several turbines or parts of turbines would again be seen on the skyline to the east. Receptors are considered to be of high sensitivity. The visual amenity impact is considered in the ES to be HIGH/MODERATE.
6 From Sardis, a rural area looking across the Llwchwr Valley to Craig Fawr and more distant hills, 8.04 km npt. Receptors are considered to be of medium sensitivity. The visual amenity impact is considered in the ES to be LOW. The choice of viewpoint with an electricity pylon in the foreground has a bearing on this assessment.
7 From the western outskirts of Brynamman, 3.92 km npt, where fifteen turbines, or parts of them, would be seen on the skyline to the south-west. Receptors are considered to be of medium sensitivity. The visual amenity impact is considered in the ES to be MODERATE.
8 From the car park at Pen Rhiw-wen, near the highest point reached by the A4069 Brynaman-Llangadog Road as it crosses the Black Mountain section of the Brecon Beacons National Park, 8.64 km npt. Fifteen turbines would be clearly visible in good conditions, although only partly appearing on the skyline. Receptors are considered to be of high sensitivity. The visual amenity impact is considered in the ES to be HIGH/MODERATE.
9 From the car park at Craig Derlwyn, also adjacent to the Brynaman-Llangadog Road and within the Brecon Beacons National Park but a lower elevation and 6.01 km npt. Fifteen turbines would be visible along the skyline. Receptors are considered to be of high sensitivity. The visual amenity impact is considered in the ES to be HIGH/MODERATE.
14 From A 483 Trunk Road between Tycroes and Cwmgwili 5.87 km npt. Six turbines would be seen on the skyline. Receptors are considered to be of medium sensitivity. The visual amenity impact is considered in the ES to be MINOR
Four viewpoints between 10 and 20 km from the centre of the proposed site have been selected.
13 From a residential street in Morriston, Swansea, 12.11 km npt. The photograph indicates that turbines would be obscured by houses in the foreground of this view. A wire-frame diagram indicates that turbines would be visible on the skyline were this not obscured by trees or buildings. Receptors are considered to be of high sensitivity. The visual amenity impact is considered in the ES to be MINOR
12 From a residential street in Neath 15.66 km npt. The viewpoint shows an attractive backdrop of hills visible over the roofs of houses in the foreground. Receptors are considered to be of high sensitivity. The visual amenity impact is considered in the ES to be MINOR.
10 Ffynnon Oer. The site of a recently-constructed wind farm, 18.84 km npt. In good conditions the proposed turbines would be visible on the skyline. Receptors are considered to be of medium sensitivity. The visual amenity impact is considered in the ES to be MINOR/NEUTRAL
Missing from the ES is an appraisal of how representative viewpoints are of their surrounding areas and consequent summary of general visual landscape and visual impact in different areas around the site. Specific references to effects on "users" of the landscape of the site and surrounding areas is limited to recreational users (see. 4.6.7) which stated to include walkers, horse riders and mountain bikers. No mention is made of other forms of recreation, even though there is a golf course within two km of the site, and much recreational use is made of private gardens, in the densely-populated surroundings of the site.
Other "users" of the local landscape to which more consideration should have been given include people going about their day-to-day work and leisure activities in areas where turbines might be visible.
The ES addresses the issue of the cumulative effects arising from being able to see more than one wind farm, by considering the four-turbine wind farm proposed by Awel Aman Tawe on Mynydd Gwrhyd, about 3km east of Mynydd-y-Betws, and the permitted wind farm, which has now largely been constructed, at Ffynnon Oer, nr. Resolven: some 20km to the south-east. No account is made of the prospect of wind farm development which may be built in the TAN8 Pontardawe Strategic Search Area which lies immediately south and east of Mynydd-y-Betws. It is known that wind farm development on Mynydd-y-Gwair, immediately south of Mynydd-y-Betws, is being environmentally assessed, although no application for development has yet been made. Other large areas of land within 20km of Mynydd-y-Betws may also be expected to become sites for wind farms in the next few years. Whilst no detailed assessment can be made until proposed wind farm layouts are known, some general comments could have been made in the ES. Possible development on Mynydd-y-Gwair could be readily visible from densely-populated parts of south-east Carmarthenshire.
The ES's conclusions on cumulative impact are limited. They rely heavily on assessment of the impact from the selected viewpoints, without drawing wider conclusions from the computer-generated map showing visual influence. The ES concludes that cumulative impact would be low.
The ES's main conclusions on landscape and visual impact are as follows:-
"only minor and localised changes to the existing land cover"
"a high/moderate effect on visual amenity from the specific viewpoints considered at the western edge of the (Brecon Beacons) National Park. However, these effects on visual amenity would be restricted to a relatively small zone on the southwestern margin of the Park"
"From viewpoints within the more populated areas, such as Ammanford, which are relatively close to the proposed wind farm, the effect on visual amenity is reduced. This is due to a number of factors, including localised landform and existing vegetation screening views, existing built elements and other structures and features such as overhead power lines that in themselves detract from the view."
"Visual amenity is unlikely to be affected from more distant viewpoints
Significant effect on landscape character "would be predominately restricted to the immediate vicinity of the turbines. Consequently the magnitude of change in landscape character is low."
"The effect on the landscape character of the Brecon Beacons would be restricted to a very small area with the National Park. This effect would be insufficient to result in a significant change in character of the National Park landscape"
"in balancing the landscape and visual effects against the need for renewable energy development, the Mynydd-y-Betws proposal is an acceptable development in terms of its affect (sic) on landscape character and visual amenity".
It is not possible to agree with some of the landscape and visual assessment, including most of the conclusions quoted above. The main points of concern and the alternative conclusions reached are considered below.
The proposed wind farm would be seen from large parts of the Brecon Beacons National Park, where foreground screening vegetation, etc. is largely absent. Some parts are less than 5km away from the site. Photomontages 8 and 9 show that the turbines would be conspicuous in an open landscape, notable for the contrast between intensively-used and densely-populated valleys, and largely undeveloped upland. The impact on visual amenity from viewpoints 8 and 9 is considered high, rather than high/moderate. It is considered that there is a significant impact on the landscape character of the Brecon Beacons National Park.
On the site and within 5km of it, it is considered that the proposed wind farm would have a major impact. This is not just confined to the impact as perceived from the site and neighbouring high ground, as recognised in the ES, but also on the densely-populated valley communities between Ammanford and Cwmgors. Viewpoint 3 within this area is considered unrepresentative. Whilst it is true that many views of the proposed turbines would be obscured by buildings and vegetation, the ES fails to recognise that remaining views, especially of unspoilt hills which contrast with the foreground landscape, are that much more precious. Nor is it recognised in the ES that many views will be seen from upstairs' windows which are less likely to be obscured by foreground detail.
Similar considerations apply to effects perceived at a greater distance. Between 5 and 10km from the site the effects are still considered significant, particularly in respect of settlements west and north-east of the site, and the south-facing slopes of the Brecon Beacons National Park.
The final conclusion in the ES's Landscape and Visual Assessment chapter, in which landscape and visual effects are balanced against the need for renewable energy development, is not supported by any evidence and little weight can be attached to it.
The SEIS contains additional illustrations or visual impact, as follows:-
A map showing the Theoretical Zone of Visual Influence (ZVI) of the existing communications mast and electricity pylons
A local ZVI for the area within about 3 kilometres from the site boundary
Wireframe diagrams showing the visual impact of proposed turbines from villages close tp the site.
UDP Policy UT6 provides that:
"It is the policy of Carmarthenshire County Council that proposals for wind turbines, wind farms or groups of wind turbines will be permitted provided that the following criteria are met in full:
(i) proposals either individually or cumulatively would not cause demonstrable harm by virtue of having a significant adverse impact on the quality of the local environment, or to sites of nature conservation, historical or archaeological importance, agricultural value, areas designated for their landscape value, or to species of nature conservation and ecological value;
(ii) the siting, design, layout and materials used should be sympathetic to the characteristics of the land-form, contours and existing features of the landscape;
(iii) proposals do not give rise to problems of highway safety or place unacceptable demands on the provision of public services;
(iv) ancillary works, buildings and structures are kept to a minimum and sited unobtrusively within the landscape;
(v) proposals should not lead to a significant adverse increase in risk or nuisance to, and impacts on the amenities of, nearby residents or other members of the public arising from wind turbine operation, shadow, flicker, safety risk, radio or telecommunications interference;
(vi) no turbine should cause demonstrable harm to the amenity of any residents;
(vii) new connections to the local electricity distribution network should accord with policy UT2.
Several of the criteria contained in the above policy relate to landscape and visual effects. Criteria (i) refer to a significant adverse effect on the quality of the local environment. The appearance of the local environment would be affected by the proposed development and the sensitive moorland landscape would also be physically disturbed. Significant visual impact has been identified.
Criterion (ii) refers to design, layout and materials. No comments have been received on the design of the proposed development. Modern turbine designs have an uncluttered appearance. Their pale colours are designed to minimise visual impact when viewed against the sky. Whilst the turbines are structures of fixed design, ancillary development, particularly construction tracks, could be unnecessarily unsightly. The close proximity of the proposed wind farm to a suitable electricity grid connection limits this aspect of visual impact.
Criteria (v) and (vi) refer to amenity. Visual impact of development is clearly an important component of the concept of amenity.
UDP Policy GDC8 provides that:
It is the policy of Carmarthenshire County Council that the siting and design of proposed developments should have full regard to the physical character and topography of the site by:
(i) avoiding conspicuous locations on prominent skylines or ridges;
(ii) integrating into the contours of the site;
(iii) avoiding locations that would have an adverse visual impact on prominent buildings, landscapes, open spaces and the general locality from the site;
(iv) ensuring the height of any new building is in scale with adjoining buildings, so as not to lead to unacceptable overlooking or overshadowing;
(v) utilising topography to maximise energy efficiency, where feasible.
Mynydd-y-Betws provides a prominent skyline to many views in south-east Carmarthenshire, including views from densely-populated areas to the north and west.
Policy GDC19 refers to retention of landscape features as part of development, and Policy GDC20 provides that development will include a landscape design scheme to safeguard or replace landscape features. Some features would be lost due to creation of access tracks and hardstandings, etc.
6.3 Fear of noise from wind turbines is a frequently-raised issue. Many wind farm proposal sites are in areas of generally low background noise, particularly at night and anxiety about possible noise levels is one of the four most frequently raised issues . In additional to operational noise, noise would be generated, and over a much wider area, during the proposed 9 to 12-month construction period
The detailed information on noise contained in the ES has been appraised by County Council environmental health officers. The main guidance followed during development of proposals and during the Council's appraisal is "The Assessment and Rating of Noise from Wind Farms" (ETSU-R-97) published by the Energy Technology Support Unit of the Department of Trade and Industry in 1996. These guidelines recommend an acceptable lower level of noise from turbines at dwellings regardless of previous background noise levels. They also recommend that higher levels of noise are acceptable where background noise is higher. In quiet rural levels background noise levels usually increases with increases in wind speed, due to noise from trees, etc. Different acceptable levels are defined for different times of day, to reflect the importance of a quiet environment for night-time sleep and evening recreation. In low noise environments, such as Mynydd-y-Betws, the guidelines recommend upper and lower limits during the day-time. Higher limits are set for dwellings occupied by persons with a financial interest in the proposed development.
The main noise concern is to ensure that noise levels at nearby dwellings are acceptable. Partly for this reason, proposed turbines are sited well away from dwellings. The nearest dwellings to the proposed turbines are all 600m or more away. The nearest, at 600m is occupied by an owner with a financial interest in the proposed development. Other nearby dwellings are all 620m or more away. Specialist noise consultants made a detailed assessment of background noise levels was made by measuring sound levels at several properties. Aspects of the survey were agreed with and overseen by a Council environmental health officer. Readings were correlated with wind speed data obtained on site during the same period. Predicted noise levels were all within the upper noise limits recommended by the ETSU97 guidelines, although one dwelling was only within this limit using the criteria which apply to occupiers with a financial interest in the proposed development. Five properties were predicted to experience noise levels between ETSU97's upper and lower limits.
In commenting on the ES the Council's Head of Public Protection was mindful that precise details of proposed turbines and their noise characteristics are not yet known and that in the event of the proposed development proceeding further information would be desirable. He notes that the ES does not address the issue of tonal noise from turbines and recommends that any chosen turbine should not emit any tonal noise. He also recognises that the area is important for outdoor recreation and that lower noise levels would be desirable in the interests of quiet enjoyment of the common. He recommends that any permission be subject to conditions to ensure that the choice of turbine is acceptable in noise terms, noise surveys are carried out after construction, construction noise is minimised and that any noise complaints are adequately addressed.
UDP Policy UT12 provides that pollution risks, including noise pollution risks, from new development should be at an acceptable level.
Ecology and Wildlife
Concern at possible impact on wildlife, together with landscape impact and mining issues, were by far the commonest grounds for objection to the proposed development from members of the public. Objections were made on grounds of loss of habitat and possible bird and bat collisions. The Red Kite was frequently mentioned as a vulnerable bird, which had only recently re-colonised the area following its recovery from near extinction in the UK during the early part of the 20th Century.
The site of the proposed development extends over an area of almost 800 hectares and contains a wide variety of open upland habitats, including heathland, blanket bog, marshy and acid grassland. These vary according to the underlying geology, topography, burning and grazing patterns, with the result that the different habitats grade into one another and form mosaics of vegetation which support a corresponding wide variety of animal and bird life. These subtle vegetation patterns are also of landscape significance, whether viewed on site or from further, sometimes much further away.
6.4.3 Some of the habitats characteristic of the site, and found over wide areas of it, have been designated Priority Habitats in accordance with the United Kingdom Biodiversity Action Plan. This Plan has been prepared in response to the Convention on Biological Diversity agreed at the Earth Summit held in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. The Plan has been described as "a major driving force for conservation and wider land-use planning activities across the UK" (CCW/WAG 2003). The Priority Habitats on the proposed development site are Wet Heathland, Dry Heathland, Blanket Bog, and Purple Moor-grass and Rush Pasture. The ES maps these habitats, although it recognises that boundaries are approximate. Nevertheless the site clearly contains substantial areas of these Priority Habitats. In addition, about half of the site is made up of a mosaic of vegetation which includes the Priority Habitats wet heathland and dry heathland. Aerial photographs viewable via the Council's website also indicate the variety of vegetation types.
These Priority Habitats are also recognised by Habitat Action Plans prepared as a part of the Carmarthenshire Local Biodiversity Action Plan. Plan objectives are broadly to maintain the current extent of these habitats and to encourage restoration or enhancement of degraded areas.
When considering Priority Habitats it is important to have regard to whether or not particular sites are in favourable condition. Many upland areas in Wales, especially those grazed in common, have retained semi-natural vegetation types and have escaped wholesale conversion to "improved" agricultural land. However many are ecologically degraded through over-grazing. The ES indicates that the development site has been grazed heavily in the past but that recent grazing pressure has been light enough to allow the recovery of heath species. Drier parts of the site have been extensively burnt in recent years, perhaps deliberately to encourage young growth, or perhaps by accident. The ES does not assess the favourable, or otherwise, condition of the habitats on the site, although it does refer to heath recovery as increasing the conservation importance of the site. Although there are over 100 holders of grazing rights on Mynydd-y-Betws, it is thought that there are currently only nine graziers exercising these rights. Future grazing levels are not known, although the ES recommends that various grazing levels prescribed by Tir Gofal are adopted (subject to the limitations imposed by the lack of fencing between different habitats) and that landowners investigate the possibility of entering Tir Gofal in order to financial support.
In addition to a vegetation survey, the ES includes an ornithological assessment based on intensive survey work carried out during April 2004 - February 2005. The assessment identified seven bird species of principal conservation concern. These included, as breeding species, Skylark, Grasshopper Warbler, Linnet and Reed Bunting. It was estimated that the site supported 114 pairs of Skylark. Non-breeding birds of principal conservation concern recorded on, or over the site, included Hen Harrier, Golden Plover and Starling. Other notable species included Red Kite, Peregrine Falcon, Kestrel, Merlin, Whinchat and Stonechat. The ES also refers to the sighting of a Brown Hare on the site.
Several of the species identified in the ES are subject to special conservation measures via Biodiversity Action Plans. At the UK level these include Skylark, Reed Bunting and Linnet. At the Wales level, "species of principal importance for the conservation of biological diversity" (s.74 species) supported by the site include Skylark, Linnet, Hen Harrier, Reed Bunting, Golden Plover and Brown Hare. It is not known whether any of the s.74 invertebrates, plants or fungi are found on the site, although Countryside Council for Wales suspect that Waxcap fungi may be present.
Assessment of the impact of the proposed development on the ecology and wildlife of the site should take account of the following factors:
· Direct habitat loss
· Fragmentation and/or degradation of habitat
· Collision risk
· Land management
The above factors should also be related to the value, measured by scarcity, typicalness, etc of affected habitats and species. It should be note that Heather moorland in favourable condition is a scarce habitat in Southern Britain. The diversity of vegetation on the site, both in terms of species and structure, together with a good diversity of birds and good numbers of typical species, such as Skylark, suggest that many parts of this site may be in favourable condition.
Direct habitat loss, from land taken for turbine foundations, crane hardstandings, tracks, borrow pits, etc has been estimated to amount to about 11 hectares (27 acres) of land. About 8 hectares (20 acres) of this land would be reinstated, eg by encouraging vegetation to grow over foundations, hardstandings, borrow pit areas and the narrowed tracks. The ES does not indicate how reinstatement would take account of the site's harsh climate and poor soils, nor how livestock would be accommodated whilst vegetation was being re-established. Poor reinstatement could leave areas devoid of vegetation.
Direct land take largely avoids the most precious priority habitats. The ES indicates that only about 1.5 hectares of land would be disturbed, of which 1 hectare would be reinstated. It should be noted that habitats have been only approximately mapped (see 6.4.3 above) and therefore figures should be treated with caution.
Fragmentation of habitat is of particular significance in view of the 7 kilometres (4.5 miles) of tracks proposed across the site. Tracks will restrict movement of invertebrates and other small animals, owing to increased exposure to weather and predators, and unsuitable ground conditions. Access tracks would need to be drained, at least during wind farm construction, and this drainage would affect surrounding land. This would adversely affect ecological value, especially in peaty areas. An indirect effect of running the electrical cables in trenches across the site is also likely to be increased drainage.
Tracks and trenches would need to be reinstated to a high standard to avoid undue fragmentation effects lasting for the lifetime of any permission, or longer.
Disturbance through increased human activity during the construction period would affect birds, particularly those characteristic of open moorland, such as Curlew, Golden Plover and Hen Harrier. Following construction some areas may be avoided, although studies indicate that this is unlikely to be a significant problem. Availability of tracks may lead to increased human disturbance, although there may also be some reduction in recreational use by those who find turbines unsightly or inappropriately sited.
The ES recognises that there is a very low risk of birds, including Red Kite, colliding with turbines. Collision risk would be slightly greater for birds migrating across the site, and hence unfamiliar with its features, especially in conditions of poor visibility.
The way land is managed is critical to its continuing ecological value. The site is subject to common grazing rights and whilst this has safeguarded the site from ecological degradation brought about by agricultural improvement, it limits the scope for precise management of grazing levels, etc necessary for land reinstatement and maintaining or enhancing ecological value.
The ES offers mitigation to offset ecological damage. This includes reinstatement of borrow pits and narrowing of tracks. The ES also includes an outline habitat management plan. This plan aims to encourage ecologically valuable vegetation by limiting grazing levels to limits set by Tir Gofal recommendations, by elimination of burning, and by retaining a mix of sheep, cattle and horses on the site. The plan also includes a commitment to monitoring site vegetation at five year intervals.
Additional information included in the SEIS includes the following:-
· Further assessment by an ecologist to advise on location, construction and mitigation in respect of a "floating" section of track where needed along the edge of a wet heath/blanket bog habitat in the centre of the site.
· Additional bird monitoring, beyond the five-year period referred to in the ES.
· Employment of a warden to control grazing, burning, vandalism and undesirable activities
· Recognition that heather is an important component of habitat, especially on the eastern part of the site.
The SEIS does not provide any clear indication of how stock would be controlled to allow re-vegetation over track margins and centres, hardstandings, borrow pits, turbine foundations, the construction compound, cable trenches, etc.
Relevant UDP policies are EN3, EN5, EN6, EN8 and EN9.
EN3 refers to sites of importance for nature conservation. These sites, unless they are Sites of Special Scientific Interest, have not been identified individually. Local planning authorities across South Wales, including Carmarthenshire, have agreed criteria which guide the identification of such sites. These are contained in "Guidelines for the Selection of Wildlife Sites in South Wales" (August 2004) Criteria to be considered include habitats, identified by nationally agreed indicator species, and individually important species, or groups of species, of plants, fungi and animals.
The main habitats present on the site of the proposed development are: acid grassland, marshy grassland, dry and wet heath, grass-heath and blanket bog. The Guidelines recognise that "mosaic sites, comprising of complex mixtures of semi-natural habitats, are acknowledged to be problematic when determining criteria for Wildlife Site selection .... but that such sites may .... be extremely important for the range of species they support collectively." The Guidelines state that "the block designation of extensive areas of open countryside where semi-natural upland features predominate" as wildlife sites should be considered. The site of the proposed development clearly falls into this category.
With respect to individual habitats found, the Guidelines state that the following should be considered for selection:
"all examples of unmodified wet heathland and wet grass-heath, and where cross-leaved heath is still present even though reduced in its cover due to grazing pressure;
All examples of unmodified dry heathland;
Examples of degraded heathland, secondary heathland and grass-heath mixtures ..... which have at least 10% dwarf shrub heath cover;
All examples of undegraded bog habitats, and degraded bog habitats which still show some remaining distinctive features of the habitat type.
The site has extensive areas of the above categories of habitat. Although none of it is designated, eg as a site of special scientific interest it may be noted that only about one-third of such sites in Wales are designated. SSSI designations apply to a representative range of sites. They do not attempt to designate all habitats of a given quality. Whilst SSSI designation tends to apply to the higher quality habitats, this quality is very sensitive to the way land is managed. Many designated upland habitats have been identified by the Countryside Council for Wales as being in unfavourable and declining condition, and only a few areas are subject to management agreements to safeguard habitat quality. Whilst the condition of the habitats found on the site has not been assessed as part of the environmental assessment of the proposed development, it would appear that the overgrazing so prevalent on many upland habitats subject to common grazing rights, is currently less of a problem on Mynydd-y-Betws.
Turning to species, the ES indicates that brown hare was recorded on the site. The Guidelines state that any site supporting established breeding populations of brown hares should be considered for selection. More survey work would be needed to confirm a breeding population on the site. However, the large size of the site and the variety of habitats it contains suggest that it is likely that it does.
The ES also indicates that the site supports a range of birds of conservation importance, during and outside the breeding season. They include one species which on its own justifies consideration being given to identifying the site as a Wildlife Site. In addition sixteen other species contribute to the value of the site, all though on their own they are not quite sufficient in number for the site to be considered for selection.
It is clear that the whole of the site of the proposed development should, for the purposes of UDP Policy EN3, be considered a site of importance for nature conservation. The Policy provides that development on such a site "will not be permitted unless the need to safeguard the substantive nature conservation value of the site ... is clearly outweighed by the reasons for the development ..."
Policy EN5 provides that development will not be permitted where it would cause demonstrable harm protected species or habitats and where mitigation cannot be provided.
Policy EN6 encourages retention and creation of wildlife habitats.
Policy EN8 encourages retention of landscape features of wildlife importance, including moorlands.
Policy EN9 seeks to conserve habitats and species identified in the UK Biodiversity Action Plan or the Carmarthenshire Local Biodiversity Action Plan. The latter Plan includes several habitat and species action plans which are relevant to the proposed development. These are:-
Habitat Action Plan
Species Action Plan
Purple Moor Grass and Rush Pastures
Relevant UK Biodiversity Plan habitats and species are largely included in the Carmarthenshire Local Biodiversity Action Plan. However additional relevant species present on the site include three species of bird, ie Reed Bunting, Linnet and Song Thrush. It is not known whether other relevant species, eg Euphrasias, (low-growing plants) are present on the site.
In general, mitigation and retention of habitat features is not sufficient to overcome policy objections on ecological grounds. Whilst some mitigation offered in the ES and the SEIS is to be welcomed, notably the employment of a warden, there remain some serious doubts. The developer may not have sufficient control over the site in order to carry out sensitive land management given its status as common land and the existence of large numbers of grazing rights. There is no clear assurance that vegetation can be reinstated satisfactorily, nor that the hydrology of the site would not be permanently affected by increased drainage resulting from tracks and cable trenches. It should be noted that blanket bog and wet heath are habitats which are particularly difficult to restore.
Traffic and Transport
Traffic related to the proposed development would be very light during normal operational periods, comprising occasional visits in a Land Rover or similar, to allow maintenance. However construction would generate large numbers of vehicle movements, particularly for track and turbine foundation making. (See 2.2 and 2.3 above).
Within the site the proposed development would include the construction of 7.3 kilometres (4.5 miles) of new tracks. These tracks would mostly be 4.5 metres wide, but wider at passing places, corners and junctions. In one place a track would cross an area of blanket bog, where it is estimated that 50-100 metres of track would need to floated across the bog using a geotextile membrane. One kilometre of existing track would need to be altered for use by construction traffic. In some places drainage ditches would be constructed alongside tracks. The ES states that following construction the tracks would be reduced in width to 3.5 metres, by placing topsoil on the verges, from which vegetation would be encouraged to regenerate. Turves of top-soil would also be placed along the centre of tracks, with the same intent. Track surfaces would remain in-situ to allow for access for repairs and/or decomissioning. The intention would be to reduce visual impact and ecological disruption.
UDP Policy T3 provides that development will be permitted provided that the capacity of the local highway network is sufficient to serve the development safely. Where this capacity is insufficient, upgrading will be required. However any upgrading required would be on roads outside Carmarthenshire.
The ES contains a detailed description of the many archaeological features found on the site and the surrounding area. These include seven scheduled ancient monuments and thirty-eight regional sites or monuments. In addition there are many such sites or monuments close to the site boundary, including the mediaeval Penlle'r Castell Scheduled Ancient Monument.
The SEIS amends the ES, by both expansion, by appraisal of the impact of the proposed development on the settings of archaeological features, and by revision of judgements made in respect of the direct impact of the proposed development.
The proposed development has been sited to minimise direct impact on scheduled ancient monuments and other archaeological features. The SEIS concludes that any direct impact would be minor, and due to the possibility of the proposed development disturbing peat deposits which may "contain ritual deposits associated with the known prehistoric landscape".
Following concerns expressed by Cadw and Cambria Archaeology, further work was done on assessing environmental impact, including an assessment of impact on the settings of the eight scheduled ancient monuments on or near the site. The results are set out in the SEIS. The SEIS concludes that the proposed development would have some impact on the visual setting of all of the scheduled ancient monuments. Three would be slightly affected, three slightly-moderately (inc Penlle'r Castell), and one moderately affected. The Bancybryn Lluest SAM, which is the site of a post-Mediaeval farmstead, would be considerably affected. These judgements are challenged by Cambria Archaeology, the County Council's historic environment adviser. It considers that the impact will be at least major, and in many cases (inc Penlle'r Castell), severe.
The proposed development would also have an impact on the visual setting of other archaeological features. Although this was not individually assessed, the close proximity of many features to scheduled ancient monuments enables similar conclusions to be drawn.
The SEIS also included a general history of the Amman Valley area, including Mynydd-y-Betws, from prehistoric times until 1900 AD.
UDP Policy BE1 provides that development which would adversely affect the preservation, archaeological potential, amenity, historic value or the setting of a scheduled ancient monument or other nationally important archaeological remains, will not be permitted. The proposed development affects the settings of eight scheduled ancient monuments. Cambrian Archaeology and Cadw considers the impact to be adverse. It may be concluded that the proposed development would be contrary to UDP Policy BE1. The proposed development is also likely to adversely affect the visual setting of other nationally important archaeological remains.
UDP Policy BE2 provides similar protection to sites of local or regional archaeological importance. However the Policy provides that exceptions may be made where, in the opinion of the local planning authority, the need for the proposed development outweighs any likely harm. The visual settings of several such sites would be adversely affected.
UDP Policy UT6 provides that a proposal for a wind farm shall be assessed having regard to whether it would cause demonstrable harm due to a significant adverse effect on a site of archaeological importance. It may concluded that the proposed development does have such a significant effect.
Hydrology and Hydrogeology
The risk of pollution of watercourses and private water supplies has been referred to by many respondents. The ES indicates that the site is underlain by poorly-drained soils which in places are peaty. The site straddles watersheds between the rivers Aman, Llwchwr and Clydach, and is drained by small streams. The site is in an area of high rainfall. Hence there is potential for construction of major development to cause problems if surface water runoff is not carefully controlled.
The ES indicates that "a large number of properties in and around the site do not receive mains water". It may be concluded that many of these properties have private water supplies, and that some of these would be potentially vulnerable to pollution as a result of poorly-managed development on Mynydd-y-Betws. The ES identifies eight properties likely to be dependent on spring or well water, although these water sources are generally outside the site of the proposed development.
The ES indicates that groundwater conditions under the site are complex, of varying quality, and of varying vulnerablility to pollution. The ES and SEIS provide much information and analysis on the extensive coal mining which took place under much of the site. The ES states that a previously "multi-layered aquifer system with separate water bodies in each sandstone horizon" has been modified by mining such that there is now hydraulic continuity between sandstones, and locally, coal measures. The ES also states that large portions of the aquifer have been dewatered (by mining) with a consequent lowering of levels. It considers that it will be a number of years yet before groundwater levels return to normal.
The ES states that the proposed development is unlikely to affect groundwater flow patterns or quality, suggesting that significant changes in groundwater flow are likely as a result of recent closure of coal mines in the area and consequent reduction or cessation of water pumping.
The proposed development includes four borrow pits to be excavated to a maximum depth of 3 to 5 metres. The ES considers that it is likely that excavation would be above the groundwater table, although there may be seepages of rain water into the pits which would need to be discharged into drains and watercourses. The significance of the hydrological impact of the proposed development is assessed as low.
Numerous measures for mitigating hydrological impact listed in the ES include avoiding peat bogs, wet areas and watercourses as far as possible, use of settlement lagoons to trap silt from surface water run-off, and provision of wheel-washing facilities.
Worry that the past mine working under the site would threaten the safety of the proposed development was frequently expressed by objectors to the proposed development. One particular concern was the proposed siting of a turbine over, or nearly over, the site of an underground dam constructed to restrain mine water in the Mount, or Butchers, Colliery. This colliery was not referred to in the ES. However, information provided to the developer is the subject of comment in the SEIS, which concludes that "concerns over the mine water dam do not appear to be justified". It may be noted that the precise siting of a proposed turbine could be amended if justified by ground conditions. It may also be noted that it is in the developer's interest that risk of subsidence which would jeopardise costly investment is minimised.
More general concerns related to the possibility of subsidence, during or following construction, and the implications this would have for safety, groundwater movements, and fill requirements which might increase demand for material to be obtained on site from borrow pits.
The proposed extension to Cwmyronnen Opencast Coal site has been designed to avoid any risk to nearby proposed turbines and access track. NB: The nearest turbine is 30m from the edge of the proposed mining excavation and the access track would approach to 30m from this edge.
The Environment Agency recommends that that no development should take place until a method statement for the construction phase has been agreed with the local planning authority. The method statement would set out ways of storing potential contaminants, ground treatment, etc so as to minimise pollution risks.
UDP Policy UT8 provides that development proposals should take account of water quality and include measures for the control of surface water run-off.
UDP Policy GDC15 provides that prior to the granting of planning permission for development on a previously developed site, the developer will be required to demonstrate that problems, risks and hazards have been fully investigated and effective remedial measures identified.
Although the surface of the site of the proposed development has almost entirely not been previously developed, ground under the site has been developed by the winning of a mineral, ie coal, over at least the last hundred years, and as recently as 2003 (when the New Betws Drift Mine ceased coal production). The ES and SEIS provide material, including material from an independent expert, which addresses relevant issues. There remains, however, an element of doubt, and consequently doubt as to the environmental implications of the proposed development. Whilst engineering solutions to problems may be found, there is doubt over the environmental acceptability of any such solutions.
Electromagnetic Interference and Air Safeguarding
The ES outlines the extensive consultation that took place with relevant organisations. As a result proposed turbine locations were modified, before the submission of the planning application, to avoid any interference to microwave signals used by Western Power Distribution via the mast near the site's north-west boundary.
No adverse comment has been received in respect of possible electromagnetic interference. An estimate of possible interference to television reception has been made. Using BBC software, a rough estimate of the numbers of properties which might be affected has been obtained. Up to about 20 homes for which there may be no alternative off-air service may be affected, and up to about 420 homes for which there may be an alternative off-air service may also be affected. Homes for which there is not alternative off-air service may need to be equipped with satellite receivers, whilst other homes may require repositioned or new aerials. The developer has indicated his willingness to ensure that these alternative arrangements are carried out to avoid any adverse effects on residential amenity.
In the event that the proposed wind farm is constructed, it would be expected that a legal agreement would be in force requiring the developer to remedy any television reception problems throughout the permitted lifetime of the wind farm.
UDP Policy UT6 provides that wind farm development should not adversely affect nearby members of the public in respect of radio or telecommunications interference.
No adverse comments have been received in respect of air safeguarding from aviation organisations. The Ministry of Defence has not responded to consultation, despite reminders.
Land Use, Access, Amenity and Safety
This section of the ES deals with several separate issues. The whole of the site is common land over which grazing rights are exercised, and over which a right of public access on foot exists under the Countryside and Rights of way Act 2000. The ES refers to the small proportion of the site at which built development would prevent access. It states that a temporary prohibition order would be necessary to limit public access to parts of the site affected by construction, in the interests of public safety. It also refers to an on-site management plan which would include vehicle movement protocols and hazard warning signs.
The ES refers to the public footpaths and bridleway which cross the site. The closest turbine would be 42 metres from a public footpath and 130 metres from the bridleway. t refers to the British Horse Society's recommendation that wind turbines be located at least 200 metres from a turbine but does not accept that this policy is justified.
The ES recognises that the amenity of walkers and riders would be affected, and considered that the issue is adequately addressed in the section dealing with Landscape and Visual Assessment (see section 6.2 above). The site is clearly an area of important open space for the purposes of UDP Policy CUDP 10. The proposed development may be considered inappropriate in that it would significantly diminish the recreational resource currently available.
The ES summarises the assessment of possible shadow flicker which could affect twelve properties. It considers that shadow flicker would not be a problem at seven properties. Three of these were unoccupied at the time of survey and it was assumed that problems would not arise, presumably because it was considered that they would remain empty for the next twenty-five years or so. Of remaining properties, the worst affected could experience the problem for up to 148 days in any year, for continuous periods of up to 66 minutes. The predictions assume clear, sunny weather and not obstructing vegetation and so can be considered a worst case scenario.
UDP Policy UT6 provides that wind farm development should not adversely affect nearby members of the public in respect of shadow flicker.
In the event that the proposed wind farm is constructed, it would be expected that a legal agreement would be in force requiring the developer to shut down turbines occasionally to avoid nuisance to local residents.
The ES states that proposed turbines would be finished with a semi-matt light grey surface which would ensure that potential to reflect light is minimised.
The ES addresses safety issues including ice-throw and driver distraction. Sensors would detect any build-up of ice on blades and trigger a shut down of the affected turbine.
The ES refers to wind farms which have been built close to public roads, and considers that as the nearest proposed turbine would 1.3 kilometres from a main public road (the A 474). The ES concludes that driver distraction would not be significant. However three turbines are proposed to be located within 300 metres of the minor road which crosses the south-western part of the site. The closest turbine could be 185 metres away, ie less than twice the height of the turbine. The ES states that there is no evidence to date in the history of wind farm development of distraction impacts to vehicle drivers despite a large number of UK wind farms being clearly visible from major roads.
Socio-Economic Effects and Environmental Benefits
The title of this section has been taken from the ES. Information is given on finance, employment, effects on property prices, the UK electricity industry, climate change and the significance of greenhouse gas emissions. The SEIS provides additional information on some of these topics, and also on local measured wind speeds. The above issues help form an overall view of the usefulness of wind farms generally. However, for local authority planning purposes, this general support is already given at an all-Wales level through planning policy, including TAN8, and to some extent by the UDP's Strategic Policy CUDP14 which supports proposals for renewable energy schemes. The purpose of this report to Planning Committee is to advise on the merits of a particular proposal and its suitability for a particular site. To date we have identified some 106 local companies who would be eligible to tender for work on the above project and have now estimated that the construction, operational and decommissioning phases would be approximately £16,315,000. This is in addition to a potential £5-£10m of local procurement which could emanate from the community benefit element.
INITIAL CONSTRUCTION £7,215,000
In addition there could be a further £5m of local procurement arising out of the community benefit element (which could be doubled if grant funding can be obtained).
UDP Policy 33 encourages the provision of contributions from developers to fund community facilities, infrastructure, affordable housing, education facilities, environmental projects and highway works. Benefits will be sought where they are directly related to the development, are fairly and reasonably related in scale and kind to the development, reasonable and necessary.
The Civil Aviation Authority has raised the prospect of aviation obstruction lighting being installed on some or all of the proposed turbines. It has agreed however that at present there is no statutory need for such lighting.
The proposal would be linked to the electricity distribution network via the 132kV line which currently crosses the site. Only a very short connecting line would be needed. This is in marked contrast to many other wind farm developments where their naturally remote locations often many kilometres of new overhead cables are required. This not only reduces the environmental impact of the overall development but also improves the effectiveness of the proposed development.
This report indicates the complexity of issues which must be weighed against each other. Planning policies, contained in the Carmarthenshire Unitary Development and in central government guidance, including TAN8, set out the relevant issues and provide some guidance for their evaluation. However no single policy provides a clear basis for making a decision.
Several factors relevant to a decision may be considered certainties; other factors incorporate varying degrees of doubt.
· It may be said with certainty that the proposed development:
· Has generated a substantial local reaction, mostly of opposition.
· Is opposed by several consulted organisations including four out of five consulted Community Councils, a neighbouring County Council, Countryside Council for Wales, Cadw, Cambria Archaeology, and Council for the Protection of Rural Wales.
· would have a significant adverse effect on the upland landscape of Mynydd-y-Betws
· would be a prominent addition to the landscape of the Ammanford area
· would have an adverse effect on the ecological and recreational value of a site of importance for those characteristics.
· would have an adverse effect on the settings of Scheduled Ancient Monuments and other sites of archaeological value.
· does not include adequate arrangements for the reinstatement, following construction, of disturbed ground.
· does include the basis of arrangements for land management to offset visual and ecological impact.
Areas of doubt which must be considered include:
· The way in which the visual impact of the proposed development would affect local quality of life.
· The extent to which wildlife and ecology would be adversely affected.
· The scope for the developer to carry out sensitive land management of the site, given its status as common land and the existence of large numbers of grazing rights.
· To what extent turbines, etc would need to be repositioned, the size of excavations and amount of fill required, having regard to the coal mining which has taken place at shallow depths under the site.
· The hydrological impact of the proposed development on local ecology.
The additional environmental information provided has reduced uncertainties to a limited extent. It is not considered appropriate to press for further information at this stage and should the Committee be minded to grant consent these issues can be addressed through conditions
The MIPPS and TAN 8 make specific reference to onshore wind-power within a context of renewable electricity production targets for Wales of 4TWh per annum by 2010, some two and a half years away and 7TWh per annum by 2020.It is stated that planning policy at all levels should facilitate both targets (MIPPS Para (12.8.3.). The same document states that local planning authorities should generally support renewable energy targets projects provided environmental impacts are avoided or minimised and nationally and internationally designated areas are not compromised. (12.8.6) The application site while a designated Common (which introduces further legislative requirements) it is not internationally or nationally designated. The WAG outlines in the MIPPS that their target of 800MW of renewables capacity should be provided from strategic onshore wind energy development - mostly in the form of a small number of large wind farms.
The policy also recognises the impact of such an approach in visual terms and balances this with the "global imperative" for renewable energy production and that the land use planning system should actively steer developments to the most appropriate locations. These have been identified in TAN as Strategic Search Areas and the applications site is located on the north-eastern boundary of SSA E, which is located in adjoining authorities and has a specified target of 100MW by 2010. The map identifying SSA E has the note that states: Scope to increase SSA has been identified to the north- west.
The area was included the study commissioned jointly by the authority and recognised as being acceptable in visual and landscape terms although not the best performing area in terms of the criteria used. The development of this area was not deemed to necessary in order to meet the 2010 target of 100 MW for SSA E. The report does not however provide any indication of the likelihood of the other areas, which are preferred in visual and landscape terms, being developed in time to meet this target. Given the time taken to prepare such schemes, including the preparation of an Environmental Statement, and time for determination, this application was submitted in June 2005, the relative position of this scheme in the process must be a material consideration in whether the 2010 target is to be achieved.
The balance between the need for renewable energy and the effect on the environment has been at the centre of determining this proposal, a decision that needs to be taken in the context of the clear presumption in favour of wind turbine development provided by the spatial dimension of National Planning Policy (TAN 8) and the obligation it places upon local planning authorities. In addition encouragement is given to renewable energy projects within the Local Planning Authority's own policies in the Carmarthenshire Unitary Development Plan. The additional work now completed by the authority itself recognises the suitability of the site in visual and landscape terms and its contribution in meeting the TAN 8 target.
I recommend that approval be given to the proposed development, subject to conditions as detailed below, and a Section.106 Agreement to secure the restoration of the site.
RECOMMENDATION - APPROVAL
1 Development to be begun within five years of the date on the decision notice.
2 The permission hereby granted is for the proposed development to be retained for a period of not more than 25 years from the date that electricity from the development is first supplied to the grid, this date to be notified, in writing, to the Local Planning Authority, upon commissioning. One year before the due date for the decommissioning of the turbines, a scheme for the restoration of the site shall be submitted to the Local Planning Authority for approval, in writing. The scheme shall make provision for the removal of all the above ground elements plus one metre of the turbine base below the ground level of the turbines and associated equipment and the return of the land to agricultural use, and shall include details of phasing. Upon approval, the restoration scheme shall be implemented in accordance with the phasing details, the turbines having already been removed not later than the due date.
3 No development shall commence until an agreement between the applicant and Local Planning Authority has been made which provides financial security for the removal of structures from the site and for restoration of the site. Copies of such agreements shall be forwarded to the Local Planning Authority prior to the commencement of development.
4 In the event that a turbine ceases to function for a continuous period of six months or more it shall be dismantled to a depth of no greater than 0.9 metres below ground level and the site of the turbine restored within the following six months, or as may otherwise be agreed in writing by the Local Planning Authority
5 No development shall take place until a detailed Construction Management Scheme for off-site highways works has been submitted to and approved in writing by the Local Planning authority. This shall include a Traffic Management Plan for the routing of construction traffic to and from the site, addressing in particular the movement of extraordinary loads, the arrangements to be made for any Highways Act Agreement that may be required, and the re-instatement of off-site works not needed to be retained after the construction phase. The development shall thereafter only be carried out in accordance with the approved Scheme.
6 No work shall commence on site until a construction method statement including details of all on site construction, drainage, mitigation, restoration and reinstatement works, together with details of their timetabling has been submitted to and approved in writing by the Local Planning Authority. This shall detail the following:
· The construction of the access into the site from A485 and the creation and maintenance of associated visibility splays, as illustrated in figures.
· Details of the location of the passing places on internal roads.
· The formation of the construction compound.
· The construction of the crane pads.
· The carrying out of foundation works.
· The construction of the sub-station and control building.
· A swept path analysis to demonstrate that the bell mouth can accommodate the arrival and departure of vehicles involved in the transportation of the blades.
· The arrangements to be made for the cleaning of the site entrances and the adjacent public highway including the provision of wheel washing facilities.
· The formation of the access tracks and any areas of hard standing.
· Post-construction restoration/reinstatement of the working areas.
· The measures to be taken to avoid any damage to on-site archaeological remains that are to remain in-situ.
· Before the turbine bases are concreted, the precise positions of the turbines shall be notified to, and approved in writing by, the Local Planning Authority.
· HGV deliveries shall not take place outside the hours of 08:00 to 18:00 from Monday to Friday only, or at any time on Bank Holidays and Public Holidays, except by prior written agreement of the Local Planning Authority.
· Construction shall only take place in accordance with the methods as approved.
7 No development approved by this permission shall be commenced until a Method Statement detailing all necessary pollution prevention measures for the construction phase of the development is submitted to and approved in writing by the Local Planning Authority. The Method Statement shall identify, as a minimum -
· Storage facilities for all fuels, oils and chemicals.
· Construction compounds, car parks, offices, etc.
· Details of surface water drainage arrangements to be installed to intercept and treat contaminated surface water run-off.
· Details of measures to ensure no polluting discharge from haul roads/disturbed areas.
· Details of how foul drainage is to be disposed of.
· Details of the nature, type and quantity of materials to be imported on to the site.
· Measures for dealing with any contaminated material (demolition waste or excavated waste).
· Hours of working, excluding HGV deliveries to be restricted to 07:00 to 18:00 from Monday to Friday and from 07:00 to 13:00 on Saturdays, except by prior written agreement of the Local Planning Authority.
8 Before development commences a scheme shall be submitted to and approved in writing by the Local Planning Authority for the ecological mitigation and compensation measures proposed within the site incorporating the principles set out in the Environmental Statement. The scheme, as approved, shall be implemented throughout the requisite construction and implementation phases of the development and shall include the following elements:-
· Agreements to conserve and enhance habitats on the site, in accordance with the Habitat Management Plan, have been signed on behalf of the applicant, landowners and the Local Planning Authority.
· A programme of bird, mammal and plant monitoring.
· Buffer zones of at least 7 metres wide to be maintained between all watercourses/waterbodies on site and any development in order to protect riparian habitat.
· The main access track between existing lines of trees and the site compound to be fenced for the lifetime of the permission so as to provide a 3 metres wide ungrazed strip of land on the north-east side of the proposed track
9 No development shall take place until details of the following have been submitted to, and approved in writing by, the Local Planning Authority:-
(a) The external finish and colour of the proposed turbines.
(b) The materials to be used in the construction of the external surfaces of the proposed buildings.
Development shall be carried out in accordance with the approved details, and there shall be no subsequent change to the finish or coloration of the turbines without the Local Planning Authority's prior approval, in writing.
10 All of the turbines' blades shall rotate in the same direction.
11 No development shall take place within the site until a programme of archaeological work has been implemented in accordance with a written scheme of investigation approved by the Local Planning Authority.
12 At the reasonable request of and following a complaint to the Council the operator of the development shall measure and assess at its expense the level of noise emissions from the wind turbine generators following the procedures described in Section 2.0, Pages 102 to 104 in the document 'The Assessment and Rating of Noise from Wind Farms, ETSU-R-97' published by ETSU for the Department of Trade and Industry.
13 The level of noise emissions from the combined effects of the wind turbine generators when measured at noise sensitive properties shall not exceed:
(i) During night-time the greater of 43dB(A) L90,10min or 5dB above the night-time LA90 background noise level at wind speeds not exceeding 12 metres per second.; and at all other times
(ii) The greater of 40dB(A) L90,10min or 5dB above the quiet day-time LA90 background noise level at wind speeds not exceeding 12 metres per second.
14 The level of noise emissions from the combined effects of the wind turbine generators when measured at identified at noise sensitive properties shall not exceed:
(i) During night-time the greater of 45dB(A) L90,10min or 5dB above the night-time LA90 background noise level at wind speeds not exceeding 12 metres per second.;
and at all other times
(ii) The greater of 45dB(A) L90,10min or 5dB above the quiet day-time LA90 background noise level at wind speeds not exceeding 12 metres per second.
15 Background noise levels referred to in this condition shall be those recorded by the regression lines in the Environmental Statement submitted with the application. Night-time means 2300-0700 hours on all days. Quiet day-time means 1800-2300 hours on all days plus 0700-1800 hours on Sundays and 1300-1800 hours on Saturdays. Wind speeds shall be measured on site at a height of 10 metres above ground level.
16 At all other dwellings excepting those specified in Condition No. 15 the level of noise emissions from the combined effects to the wind turbine generators shall not exceed the levels specified in Condition No. 13.
17 The operator of the development shall produce wind speed and wind direction data to the Council at its reasonable request to enable compliance with and performance under this condition 33 to be monitored. This wind data shall include the wind speed in metres per second (ms-1) and the wind direction in degrees from north for each 10 minute period. At the reasonable request of the Local Planning Authority the recorded data relating to 10m height above ground level shall be made available to them. Where wind speed is measured at a height other than 10m, the wind speed data shall be converted to 10m height, accounting for wind shear by a method whose details shall also be provided to the Local Planning Authority.
18 Details of the proposed turbines and their noise characteristics shall be submitted to the Local Planning Authority prior to their becoming operational.
19 No development shall commence until a scheme relating to the remediation of any shadow flicker effect for dwellings within the ten metres diameter of any wind turbine has been submitted in writing to an approved by the Local Planning Authority. The approved scheme shall be implemented
20 No development shall commence until a scheme has been submitted in writing to and approved by the Local Planning Authority providing for the remediation of any interference with television reception, which may be caused by the operation of the development. The scheme shall be implemented as approved.
1 Required to be imposed pursuant to Section 91 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990.
2-4 To ensure derelict or obsolete structures do not adversely affect the environment.
5 In the interest of highway safety.
6 To minimise environmental impact in the vicinity of the site.
7 To minimise the risk of pollution of water courses.
8+10 To offset loss of amenity in the wider landscape.
9 To safeguard amenities.
11 To enhance archaeological understanding of the site.
12-20 To minimise impact on the amenities of local residents.