Europe’s largest electricity generating waterwheel makes a splash at historic National Trust beauty spot

Water power has returned to a historic beauty spot that the National Trust looks after in Wales this week, following the restoration of Europe’s largest electricity generating waterwheel.

Watch BBC One’s Countryfile this Sunday from 6.30pm to see the big switch-on.

Aberdulais Tin Works and Waterfall, South Wales (National Trust / Paul Harris)

Aberdulais Tin Works and Waterfall, South Wales (National Trust / Paul Harris)

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Local power in wind farm planning is step in the right direction

This week’s announcement by government that local people are to get a stronger voice over planning decisions on wind farms is an important step in the right direction.

We have long advocated the need for a robust planning system that values the opinions of local people and gives them a say on what type of developments they want and need for their own communities. And this move by government towards engaging and empowering communities in decisions around renewable technology is really important.

View along the Whitehaven coast, Cumbria towards wind turbines ©National Trust Images/Joe Cornish

View along the Whitehaven coast, Cumbria towards wind turbines ©National Trust Images/Joe Cornish

The National Trust believes in the need to grow cleaner, greener energy to tackle the damaging effects of fossil fuels on our environment and wellbeing. That is why we have pledged to generate 50 per cent of our energy from renewables, including biomass, solar and hydro technologies, by 2020 . It is also why it is important that this move does not signal a major backward step in the government’s commitment to expanding renewables. Fewer renewables to be replaced by any anticipated bonanza in fracked shale gas would be a serious blow to the Coalition’s low carbon credibility and do nothing to help us all tackle climate change.

We also believe there is a place for well-sited, well-designed wind technology as part of a mix of renewable energy schemes, but that this should not be at any cost.

So we welcome the communities and local government minister Eric Pickles’ statement this week, in which he says: “Meeting our energy goals should not be used to justify the wrong development in the wrong location.” And also his strong support for clear policies in local plans which will ensure that “impacts from wind farms developments, including cumulative landscape and visual impact, are addressed satisfactorily.”

As a leading conservation organisation, we have a duty to protect beautiful places for ever, for everyone and believe that great care needs to be taken in the siting of any renewable technology, wind included, to ensure that the special character of our most sensitive places and landscapes is not compromised.

Long overdue is a national debate and then clear plan – organised by regions – which aims to set out where large scale renewable technologies could be located. This would take so much of the understandable heat out of the current situation where scattergun and speculative approaches to, for example, wind farm development are creating incessant pressures on some local landscape and their communities. The best development proposals engage local people early and help them take part proactively in the what, where and how of any major interventions.

While this week’s announcement has prompted concerns that higher incentives from wind farm developers to communities might lead to distorted planning decisions – and it is important that the government ensures this does not happen – there is a need to recognise the benefits that can be gained from energy providers working with local people on developing models for sharing the dividends of local, community renewables.

We support the principle of local energy tariffs, where communities which host schemes can benefit from access to cleaner, less costly heat and power. Our new energy partner, Good Energy , is already a pioneer in this approach, and we are working with them in exploring how our new hydro schemes, for example at Hafod y Llan in Snowdonia , might embrace this concept of local, mutual advantage.

By Patrick Begg, Rural Enterprises Director

Charity scoops top prize at global green energy awards

The National Trust have won a top prize at the prestigious Ashden Awards ceremony, recognising achievements in green energy.

The pioneering work of the charity in Wales in almost halving energy use and CO2 emissions in just two years was recognised as the most outstanding achievement in green energy throughout the UK in the event at the Royal Geographical Society in London.

Judges of the Ashden Awards were impressed by the conservation charity’s dynamic, common sense approach to saving energy, improving energy efficiency, and producing green energy in their continued drive to make the National Trust in Wales energy self sufficient by 2020.

Sarah Butler-Sloss, Ashden Founder-Director, said: “The National Trust’s work stood out for its strategic vision, its thorough approach, its expertise, and for getting everyone on board, from cleaners through to senior management.

“Most impressive of all, it has shown that if huge energy savings can be made in historic listed buildings, they can be made in any building”.

Now in their 12th year, the Ashden Awards champion practical, local energy solutions that cut carbon, protect the environment, boost economies and improve people’s lives in the UK and developing world.

Keith Jones, National Trust Wales Environmental Adviser, said: “Winning the Ashden award is a fantastic achievement and recognition of the Fit For The Future energy work and approach of the National Trust in Wales.

“The charity exists to preserve cultural and natural heritage, so the money saved through greater energy efficiency and through producing our own energy from renewable sources can be channelled towards this vital work.

“The award and support from Ashden is assisting us to now look at the possibility of setting up a company to help others save energy and look at appropriate renewable technologies on older buildings.”

The reductions in energy use are now saving the charity £280,000 a year, and have cut its annual CO2 emissions by 1,700 tonnes.  Over the last two years more than one hundred Trust properties in Wales have been insulated, and numerous solar, hydro and ground source heat pump power systems have been installed generating over 700MWh a year.

The National Trust is to reduce its use of fossil fuels across England, Wales and Northern Ireland by 50 per cent by 2020. The move will cut the Trust’s carbon emissions from energy use for heat and electricity by 45 per cent.

Kevin McCloud of Channel Four’s Grand Designs and presenting the £20,000 Ashden Gold Award to the National Trust said: “Among all the weapons in our armoury in the fight against climate change, the Ashden Awards is a powerful one.

“By celebrating human change – in how we live, how we travel, how we build and maintain our homes, how we invest – it shows us what’s possible for us all to achieve.”

Legal challenge launched against landmark wind farm decision

The National Trust, English Heritage and East Northamptonshire Council are today making a joint legal challenge against planning permission for a wind farm that would be built within 1 mile of a Grade I listed building and registered park and garden.

The proposal would see four 126.5m wind turbines built within the setting of the Lyveden New Bield site – a place described by the Planning Inspector who granted approval for the plans as “probably the finest example of an Elizabethan garden [with a] cultural value of national if not international significance”.

After planning permission was initially refused by the local Council, the development was given consent on appeal in March 2012.  The three organisations started legal proceedings on 23 April under section 288 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990*.  It is extremely rare for English Heritage and the National Trust to pursue legal action and it is the first time that East Northamptonshire Council has ever taken a case to this level.

Fiona Reynolds, Director-General of the National Trust said, “We fully support renewable energy and have made our own commitment to halve our dependence on fossil fuels by 2020.  We have also backed a number of wind proposals where scale and setting have been considered appropriate.

“However, the decision to allow a development of this size so close to one of the country’s most treasured historic places is both damaging to Lyveden New Bield and could have serious implications for other heritage sites across the UK.

“It is because of the threat this decision poses to the setting of all our valued historic sites that we, along with English Heritage and the local Council, have taken the significant step of making an appeal to the Administrative Court.”

As a Grade I listed building, registered park and garden and scheduled ancient monument, Lyveden New Bield’s unfinished Elizabethan lodge and gardens have the highest heritage designation possible.  The wind turbines would be prominent, modern, intrusive structures in a landscape that still evokes the character of Lyveden New Bield’s historic Rockingham Forest surroundings.  The turbines would be visible from almost everywhere on the property and would severely affect the appreciation of this wonderful place.

Simon Thurley, Chief Executive of English Heritage, said, “We were extremely disappointed by the Inspector’s decision to allow the wind farm.  Our challenge to his decision is not simply about the balance of professional judgement between heritage and renewable energy.  The Inspector did not adequately take into account the contribution that Lyveden New Bield’s historic and rural surroundings make to its immense significance.

“In our view, therefore, he failed to have ‘special regard’ for the desirability of preserving the special interest of the listed building and its setting which the law requires of him as decision-maker in this case.

“This decision is highly unusual and must not be allowed to become the benchmark for future wind-energy developments.”

Leader of East Northamptonshire Council, Steven North added, “East Northamptonshire Council is committed to the use of renewable energy sources wherever it is practicable but not to the detriment of the historic landscape.  It is regrettable that it has come to this, but we fully support this legal challenge and will be working closely with the National Trust and English Heritage to protect this heritage site.”

*Section 288 provides a legal right for people who are affected by a planning permission to apply to the courts for redress if they can show that the decision maker made an erroneous decision in law.  A challenge brought under section 288 is designed to put under judicial scrutiny the way in which the decision maker reached their decision rather than the merits of the decision.

Further information

1) Planning

Further information on the planning application (case reference 2156757) can be found at:  www.pcs.planningportal.gov.uk/pcsportal/ViewCase.asp?caseid=2156757&coid=32833

The National Trust’s response to the planning appeal can be seen here:

http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/press/press-releases/view-page/item772786/

2) National Trust energy policy

  • As a trusted guardian of places of ‘historic interest and natural beauty’ the National Trust has a fundamental duty to do all we can to avoid any inappropriate development that could compromise special landscapes.  This means that we will always encourage and participate in a robust and rigorous debate about the right locations and scale for any energy infrastructure that might affect our land.
  • We believe that there is a place for wind in a mix of renewable technologies which we must pursue to help us meet the country’s low carbon energy needs and thereby tackle climate change.  But each wind proposal should be located, designed and on a scale that avoids compromising the special qualities of its locality.
  • In February 2010 we launched our ‘Grow Your Own’ strategy with ambitious targets to halve our dependence on fossil fuels by 2020.  We are using a wide range of technology, including where appropriate wind, to reach these targets.

The National Trust’s position on wind energy can be viewed at http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/what-we-do/big-issues/energy-and-climate-change/our-views/view-page/item749709/

3) Lyveden New Bield

Lyveden New Bield is one of England’s oldest garden landscapes and features an unfinished Tudor garden lodge, steeped in Catholic symbolism. Work on Lyveden stopped suddenly in 1605 when its creator, Sir Thomas Tresham, died and his son became embroiled in the Gunpowder Plot. The Elizabethan moats, mounts and terracing have been restored and the orchard re-planted with period varieties.

4) English Heritage

English Heritage is the Government’s statutory advisor on the historic environment.  Our guidance on setting and views can be found here http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/professional/advice/advice-by-topic/setting-and-views/

Our advice on wind energy can be found here http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/professional/advice/advice-by-topic/climate-change/renewable-energy/wind-energy/

We provide advice on how best to conserve England’s heritage for the benefit of everyone.  While most of England’s heritage is in private hands, we work with all who come into contact with it – landowners, businesses, planners and developers, national, regional and local government, the Third Sector, local communities and the general public –  to help them understand, value, care for and enjoy England’s historic environment.