Say no to hydro power on the Afon Conwy in the Snowdonia National Park

Archive for ‘June, 2016’

The Afon Las Hydro Scheme is a small scheme built in a beautiful part of the Llanberis Pass, one of the most iconic mountain passes in the UK. Part of the scheme lies within a SAC / SSSI . The SAC(Special Area of Conservation) status should afford this site one of the highest levels of environmental protection, it’s general location should afford it the highest level of landscape protection. In Save the Conwy’s opinion sites like this should be protected from all development but that however is not the point of this piece.

The scheme was applied for in April 2014 with North Wales Hydro Power Ltd as the contractor. A detailed CMS (construction method statement) was included in the application including many points designed to protect the site such as; heli-dropping all materials to the top, hand cutting and air digging the trench around trees and the felling of only 5 trees during the construction. The application was handled by guess who? That’s right Richard Thomas, our favourite planning officer, the one who original recommended the Conwy Falls scheme for approval. The scheme was rubber-stamped, it wasn’t even sent for the planning committee to consider. NRW also granted the abstraction licence.
Work started and evidently continued unchecked (despite the sensitive nature of the location) with no oversight from either NRW or SNPA . Then on the 4th of May a pollution incident occurred, machinery driving through the stream bed had diverted the flow down the access track leading to silt flooding down the stream, the Nant Peris and all the way to Llyn Padarn. After many complaints to the SNPA instigated by the Snowdonia Society a stop notice was eventually handed out.
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Silt run-off causing pollution to the Nant Peris and Llyn Padarn.

The developer has now applied for a change in the planning conditions. The application makes for grim reading. It shows the original scheme was applied for with a completely undeliverable CMS that the developer had no intention of following. One that was built in the cheapest and easiest way possible ignoring environmental damage and the conditions under which it was granted. If the pollution incident had not occurred this total disregard for the environment and the SNPA would have continued until the project was completed.
The altered CMS that is now being applied for can be seen here:
To summarise it’s statements:
  • We cut down loads of trees (25) in and around the SAC/SSSI that we weren’t allowed to, so are now are applying for permission to do that.
  • We applied originally to helicopter all the stuff to the top of the site but that was going to be really expensive so we built an access road through the SAC/SSSI that we weren’t allowed to so are applying for permission to do that.
  • We applied originally to hand dig the trench through woodland to avoid damage to tree roots but that was going to be reeeeeally hard work so we are applying for permission to excavate the trench with machinery now. Oh by the way we have already done that as well.
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In river works.

 

Planning application is here:
The amendment is open to objections for the next 2 weeks or so. Please open the link above, click on the comments tab on the planning website and object to this re-application.
The right thing to do would be fine the developer, stop the works, remove any infrastructure already in-place and as best as possible restore the site. Anything else gives developers a green light to completely ignore planning conditions and do as they will. Anything else shows the SNPA to be impotent to it’s ability to control development in the truly special places under it’s care.
Just imagine if RWE felt it had a free reign to construct the Conwy Falls scheme in the cheapest possible way and just apply in retrospect for any damage done.
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The National Trust has a clear and simple purpose:

“We look after special places throughout England, Wales and Northern Ireland for ever, for everyone.”

http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/features/about-the-national-trust

Can we trust them to hold to this purpose in the face of the profits that can be gained by the exploitation of the lands they control.

The role of the National Trust in the Conwy Falls scheme is clear: They are a major land owner where the scheme is to be sited. The Trust own the river left back at the dam site and the land at Dinas Mawr on the northern side of the A5, land that the Trust will rent to RWE to tunnel through with the pipeline. It is clear that the hydro scheme could not go ahead without the involvement of the National Trust, it is also clear that the Trust stand to earn land rents from this arrangement.

What is not clear is how renting out land in a National Park to a foreign owned power company (a company with a far from glowing environmental record) to allow an extremely controversial hydro scheme to go ahead in a SSSI fits with looking after special places.

The Conwy Falls hydro scheme is one of the most controversial developments ever proposed in Snowdonia. It received 900 letters of objection including those from environmental groups such a Snowdonia Society, Woodland Trust and the  North Wales Wildlife Trust and a petition with over 6000 signatures was handed to the Park in objection. SNPA has refused the application once and despite the abstraction licence being applied for over 1 year ago NRW have still to decide if the damage to the environment it would cause is too great. Surely it is time for the National Trust to withdraw it’s involvement.

The National Trust is also pursuing it’s own extensive hydro power building program in Snowdonia. In many cases small hydro schemes can cause little impact to our environment and the post industrial landscapes around the Blaenau and Ogwen quarries are a perfect places for such development.  However there is evidence that the National Trust is now planning more schemes in some of the most beautiful and unspoilt mountain landscapes in the park. The Afon Lloer at the eastern end of Llyn Ogwen is one of these, a recent walk into the Carneddau found surveying post markers for an intake and pipeline.

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A line of posts marking the proposed pipeline.

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This post reads “Intake”

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The landscape through which the pipeline would pass and the access road would be built.

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A sign at the bottom of the Afon Lloer, one sentence reads “…the area is internationally important in terms of nature conservation..” and another “The National Trust Snowdonia Appeal raises funds to repair and protect this precious landscape”.

As a life member of the National Trust I am shocked to discover news of these schemes through my own investigations. The Trust’s policy on this has not been discussed with or even brought to the attention of it’s members. No word of the Trust’s involvement in the Conwy scheme can be found in any of it’s publications or websites.

Save the Conwy along with our friends at the Snowdonia Society are asking the National Trust for 2 things:

Please withdraw your support for RWE’s Conwy Falls hydro scheme.

Please consult with your members and other users of the Snowdonia National Park before continuing with your hydro building policy. 

If you wish to join us please write to both:

Dame Helen Ghosh, Director-General, National Trust

and

Justin Albert, Director of National Trust Wales

Use the template letters below and please feel free to edit or add to them as you see fit, email addresses are on the letter heads but we feel it may be more effective to post them.

Dame Helen Ghosh template letter.

Justin Albert template letter.

 

 

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