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

Posts from the ‘campaign’ category

Fascinating letter to the Times unearthed by the Snowdonia Society.

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In 1993 a proposal for a hydro scheme at Conwy Falls and the Fairy Glen (again involving the Foelas Estate) was withdrawn when it was unable to resolve the environmental issued raised. This application, amongst others, led to the Wild and Scenic River Campaign. A campaign led by Lord Elis-Thomas and supported by the Campaign for Rural Wales (CPRW).

Whilst in the USA a similar, earlier, campaign resulted in the National Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, protecting a small number of precious free flowing rivers from development, in Wales there has been a different result.

2013 brought an almost identical HEP proposal for the Conwy but this time things were different. CPRW have written in support of the development in a complete u-turn from their original stance. Lord Elis-Thomas has gone further, being an outspoken defender of the scheme. In Febuary 2016 Aberconwy  AM Janet Finch-Saunders asked a question in the Senedd of the then Minister for Natural Resources Carl Sergeant, raising the petition brought to her by Save the Conwy, a campaign group with almost identical aims to the Wild and Scenic River Campaign Lord Elis-Thomas chaired in the 90s. Lord Elis-Thomas jumped in and effectively told her to butt out and leave it to the planning authority. Has he lost all memory of his campaign for the protection of this very river?

Janet Finch-Saunders

Minister, you will be aware of around 6,000 signatures opposing the Conwy Falls hydroelectric scheme. Concerns raised primarily are as a result of a lack of consultation, failure to engage, and insufficient detail. With works of such magnitude, and in an area of stunning natural beauty, massive tourism appeal, and a site of special scientific interest, it is essential that the views of those affected are considered very much part of this planning process. Non-compliance incidents with regard to hydroelectric licences in Snowdonia national park have more than doubled in the past three years, causing much of this scepticism. How will you ensure that these representations will be heard, considered and accurately reflected so as to reflect all views, both those for and against the scheme?

Dafydd Elis-Thomas.

I declare an interest, as I live near Conwy falls. 
Would the Minister agree that Assembly Members should allow the relevant planning committees to take decisions in cases of planning?

Why have Lord Elis-Thomas and CPRW so drastically changed their positions on this? Do they have something to gain from this development or have they simply lost the vision to see the value in the “Wild and Scenic” above the short term gain of industrial development?

It is heartening to see on the letters list of signatures that the Snowdonia Society and North Wales Wildlife Trust are still campaigning for a free-flowing Afon Conwy. They lack some of the powerful allies they had before and need our support more than ever.

Join the Snowdonia Society

Join North Wales Wildlife Trust

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Save the Conwy has just got back from an amazing trip to the Batoka Gorge on the Zambezi.

As with many others around the world this fantastic river is about to disappear under a hydro dam reservoir. A 183m high dam wall (sited at the picture below) will flood around 35 miles of river up to around 1mile from the base of the Victoria Falls UNESCO World Heritage Site.

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Problems with high levels of methane production in dams at this latitude are well known, recent studies show that hydro dam reservoirs account for 8% of all man-made green house gases, more the Canada’s entire emissions.

BioScience paper on methane and hydro reservoirs,

The economy of nearby Livingston has grown up around the visitors to this amazing river, home to the endangered Fish Eagle, Zambia’s national bird. It is hard to imagine how this community will benefit in a country almost entirely self sufficient in power already.

For more information click the link.

International Rivers , Zambezi Dam

Thanks to Seppi Strohmeier for the images and video.

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The news that RWE have withdrawn their recent planning application has spread to a range of media outlets.

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The BBC carried several reports and John Harold Director of the Snowdonia Society featured on Good Afternoon Wales (41mins in)

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BBC News Website

The Daily Post also ran a story, alluding to a re-application in the future. (NB, that’s not the Conwy in their video!)

Daily Post News Story

There are no such allusions in the industry news site, Hydro World’s coverage of the withdrawal.

Hydro News Story

 

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What is clearly missing from all of this news coverage is a new statement from the National Trust. Not only do the Trust own land at the intake and a significant length of the proposed pipeline , but they have been pursuing HEP schemes in sensitive landscapes across the national park. In addition to this they claim they would be powerless to prevent it happening. Time is fast running out for the National Trust to make a statement and retain any shreds of being seen as guardians of the land. Currently their silence is deafening…

 

 

 

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On Thursday 28th September 2016 RWE withdrew their planning application for the Conwy hydro scheme. This followed a phone call in which the Snowdonia National Park Authority planning department, forced by the overwhelming evidence presented to it against this development, advised RWE that it would have to recommend refusal at the committee meeting on the 12th October.  Ending, at least temporarily, a 3 year battle to Save the Conwy.

Please be clear this outcome is only the result of an intense and coordinated campaign. When this scheme was first applied for in 2015 the planning officer recommended it be approved. At the first round of planning it was only rejected by a single vote, that of the Authority’s Chair. We have many thanks to give.

 

Save the Conwy would like to thank our partners in this fight; the Snowdonia Society and our sponsors and mentors at Patagonia and 1% for the planet.

We would like to thank the organisations who have stood alongside us; the Woodland Trust, North Wales Wildlife Trust, Canoe Wales, Plas y Brenin National Mountain Centre, National White Water Centre, Betws y Coed Anglers, the Angling Trust, Fish Legal, the BMC, Campaign for National Parks and Betws y Coed Community Council.

And we would like to thank you; for caring about this wild place, for signing the petition, for sending the postcards, for spreading the word and of course for writing letters of objection, not once but twice.

diolchlr

 

This whole process has raised many questions  of those who are meant to protect our wild places.

Why is the National Trust still involved? How can a conservation charity that promises to protect our special places “forever, for everyone” rent out land it holds in trust for a multinational power company to develop? The National Trust is backing a scheme objected to by every environmental group in Snowdonia, that has been condemned by the ecologist with the statuary duty for it’s assessment and has been refused planning by the SNPA not once but twice. Surely now the National Trust must pull out and save some last vestige of it’s reputation within the park?

How could this scheme get as far as it has through the planning process when it contradicts so many national and local planning guidelines and stands juxtaposed to the founding principles of the National Park(1)? Why have so many smaller hydro schemes been granted permission and then allowed to be built way outside of their construction method statements, resulting in catastrophic damage to their local habitats(2).

 

How could NRW allow this scheme to progress when it breaks both Water Framework Directive (on geomorphology grounds) and their own guidelines on building new weirs in main rivers(3)?

How can the park so easily dis-guard what is the most important stretch of whitewater in Snowdonia? One of international importance that draws kayakers from across the UK and beyond. Why has the park shown no concern for or held no consultation with local kayakers and Canoe Wales?

Most of all how could the importance of preserving a free flowing river important for both migratory fish and recreational users be given such a low level of importance by both the National Park and NRW? Loss of river connectivity is one of the major environmental challenges faced in the world today. When in the USA these problems have been learned and dams and weirs are being removed, why are our regulatory bodies so far behind the times?

There now needs to be a complete reassessment of hydro power development in Snowdonia. The existing site designations and planning policies provide plenty of protection for our wild rivers but they are not being adhered to by either the SNPA or NRW. An assessment of the  accumulative effects of multiple small scale schemes within a single catchment is urgently required before any more licences are granted. We have situations such as the Llanberis pass where every single tributary of a main river has it’s connectivity broken by small scale hydro and no-one has any knowledge of the environmental effects that will have.

Let us hope that the National Park Authority, NRW and the National Trust now take the opportunity to re-think the future of our few remaining free-flowing rivers. That they choose protection over exploitation. Save the Conwy and our partners will be here to see that they do.

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(1)These purposes are to:

  • Conserve and enhance the natural beauty, wildlife and cultural heritage of the Park.
  • Promote opportunities for the understanding and enjoyment of the special qualities of the Park, by the public.

The National Park also has a duty to:

  • Seek to foster the social and economic well being of the local communities within the Park area.

For further information of how this application breaks planning policy see Save the Conwy’s full objection letter

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(2)https://savetheconwy.com/2016/06/19/total-disregard-for-the-national-park/

(3)We are unlikely to be able to grant licences in connection with applications for such schemes in designated sites and their supporting habitats.

https://naturalresources.wales/media/2592/hydropower-guidance-note-hgn-14-weirs.pdf

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There have been a large number of objectors to the scheme, and recently those from within the National Park themselves have come to light.

Senior Planner

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The Senior Planning Officer for SNPA doesn’t feel the development fulfils the Park’s duty to conserve and enhance natural beauty. Read his full report here.

 

Senior Ecologist

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The Park’s senior ecologist is all too aware of the frequency with which damage is done due to breaches of method statement. Read his full report here.

 

Tree and Woodland Officer

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The officer for Trees and Woodland also recommends the scheme be refused. Read his report here. 

 

It’s straightforward to object to the scheme. Simply email your objections to cynllunio@eryri-npa.gov.uk  referencing…

Application Ref: NP4/26/323A
Registration Date: 05-Aug-2016
Location: Afon Conwy, Betws y Coed

There is also a template available here: planning objection template 2016

It’s important to reference specific issues including environmental and visual impacts, the effect on tourism and recreation, and the loss of a wild and unspoilt river.

The deadline for submissions is Friday 23rd September.

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In common with the Senior Ecologist the National Parks Tree Officer has serious concerns about the proposed Conwy Falls HEP scheme. The problem lies with the incredibly restrictive CMS (construction method statement) the developer had proposed in order to convince the National Park that serious environmental damage will not occur.

In the environment concerned this CMS is extremely unlikely to be achievable and past experience on other hydro schemes, such as the Afon Las in Nant Peris, has caused the Tree Officer to advise the precautionary approach the National Park is meant to employ when assessing developments in protected areas.

Here is his conclusion:

The CMS needs to be rigidly adhered to otherwise serious environmental consequences could easily happen, and this element I’m extremely weary and concerned about if the application is successful. Other schemes have shown that this is the case (no compliance), and if this is a consideration then I would recommend the development is refused. 

To join the National Park Tree Officer in objecting to this scheme click the link:

Click here for how to object.

 

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The Conwy Falls HEP scheme was refused at it’s first try because the application didn’t hold enough information or visuals on the likely impact to the landscape. The weir / dam and the outflow were of particular concern. That information has been included in this latest application. 

Gareth Lloyd, Senior Planning Officer (Planning Policy Team) Snowdonia National Park, has advised the Planning Officer (Richard Thomas) on what he thinks of new application, an excerpt is below and the full document is at the bottom of the page.

I therefore fail to see how the development as proposed helps the National Park Authority to fulfil its first purpose and satisfy the requirement to conserve and enhance the natural beauty of the National Park … 

Now both the Senior Ecologist and the Senior Planning Policy Officer have advised the scheme be withdrawn will the Planning Officer in charge still recommend this for approval?

Join this park expert in objecting to the development by 23rd September

How to Object

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