Select Committee on Environmental Audit Minutes of Evidence


Examination of Witnesses (Questions 240 - 246)

WEDNESDAY 13 MARCH 2002

MR DAVID BYERS, MR PHILIP WOLFE, DR KEITH PITCHER AND MR MAX CARCAS

  240. Why is it then that the obstacle to such developments—and I am thinking again mainly of wind farms—is, for example, at the moment in Wales stuck at the National Assembly level? That is not local opposition. It may have started there but there is a crisis of decision making at a national level within the United Kingdom, is there not?
  (Mr Byers) I would prefer not to comment because otherwise I would show my ignorance. I suspect that it is a particularly Welsh issue. One just must respect that where the geography works it works. In fact, maybe we ought to move to Wales to increase the demand there.

  241. And the jobs.
  (Mr Wolfe) Can I pick up on one other point, not so much on that last question but on the previous two, and it reflects back also to what David said earlier on about NETA. So much of the thinking and so much of the infrastructure historically has been focussed on the concept of very large scale centralised generation feeding through a distribution network to users at the end of the line. That will change in the future and we need to start addressing what the infrastructure will look like when we have far more, far smaller sources of generation distributed out in the network. We will be moving away, to use an analogy, from what used to be huge great mainframe computers operating centrally to something which looks far more like the Internet, lots and lots of small pockets of local generation. At the moment NETA just does not address that. The thought process does not address that. The culture does not address that. We need to start realising the effects that that will bring in terms of the way in which we think about using electricity in particular.

Mr Barker

  242. Just to follow on with these planning points, why do you think wind farms are so unpopular?
  (Dr Pitcher) I developed three wind farms in the early 1990s. Because we spent a lot of time talking to local communities and planners and so on, all of those gained permission, and I have seen that happen elsewhere. There has been development of a group of individuals forming organisations which are well publicised who do not like these on principle. I can only assume that there is a media contact with that which is saying that one the one hand these people say one thing and on the other hand someone is saying something completely different. However, when it gets down to local levels I have found a lot of support for these projects and the independent surveys which have been carried out over the last decade have confirmed that and the British Wind Energy web site gives the precise details of that. What it is saying is that there is a very small but vociferous minority of individuals who oppose this type of development and would oppose, I suspect, a lot of development per se. I think that is perhaps one of the things which has been exaggerated to an extent but when you get down to talking to local people about this and how it works and how they can do their bit it is a completely different world.
  (Mr Byers) The evidence suggests that there is a vociferous aggression before they are built and then not much afterwards. The very fact is that they tend to go in rather attractive places in open countryside and they are about as popular as high voltage wire pylons that the National Grid put up, but they are actually beneficial and, as I say, once they are operating they do not massacre the bird population and they are not noisy any more because that technology has been solved. There is a natural resistance to having metallic or concrete structures in our countryside.
  (Mr Carcas) But if something better does come along they are very easy to take down.

  243. Can I go back to Dr Pitcher's point about the communities that you have worked with who have had an acceptance towards them and locally there being support for them? Why then in your submission to us are you strongly urging a shift towards regional decision making which takes decision and responsibility further away from communities? I was struck by this community regionalism which seems to me like an oxymoron.
  (Mr Byers) I think the effort is to partly change the culture and not by an obligation but to make regions accept a joint responsibility for a share of an obligation that Britain has taken on.

  244. Ultimately though would you not agree that it does not boil down to responsibility on a region? If you live in north Kent and you want to put a wind farm in West Sussex, is that a regional responsibility or is it going to impact on the people in West Sussex? It really impacts very much on the people whose communities are going to be visually or otherwise impacted by these developments.
  (Mr Byers) It is an attempt to model what Europe has done. Rather like, if you were in north west Scotland or Wales, Austria itself has something like 89 per cent renewable energy because they happen to have mountains but, as part of Kyoto they agreed to take their incremental share of reaching a European target and, arguably, for Austria to go from 90 per cent to 93 per cent is phenomenally difficult but they have taken their proportionate part of the bargain and, whilst not devolving down to parish levels, we think, as the Government is doing, that some form of regional contribution to an overall national target is a fair balance given the nature of the geography that exists in different regions.

Chairman

  245. Mr Byers, we have got a division taking place and my colleagues will want to go and vote. We have very nearly reached the end, so I would rather not delay you and then come back as it were, but Mr Owen Jones has just one brief question that he would like to put and you can follow up any others in writing if that is possible.
  (Mr Byers) Certainly; thank you.

Mr Jones

  246. The DTI report that they published on 6 March, which has got targets for each of the regions that the regions have ownership of, looking at some of them, they are quite bewildering to me: the fact that there is such a huge variation between the high level and the low level, the fact that some regions put massive amounts of apparent faith in certain sorts of renewable energy. The West of England, for example, puts huge faith in biomass but other regions do not, and presumably they are all governed by the same governmental system. Could you comment on that? Exactly how do you see these regions being able to speed up the planning process and having ownership of these commitments and, if you can manage to get it in, how are you going to get some reasonable degree of consistency between these different regions?
  (Mr Byers) Regrettably your assumption is wrong that they were given the same guidelines. The methodologies applied to reach the various regional suggestions were completely different, depending on the consultant that they hired to do it. It is an excellent start. I commend the Government for its initiative but unfortunately the comparability between regions defeats us because the methodologies were entirely different.

  Chairman: Thank you very much indeed for that brief reply. I am sorry to curtail the questions but if there is anything you would like to add to that perhaps you would let us have a small note. Thank you very much indeed for your attendance. I am sorry we have had to end so rapidly. We are very grateful to all four of you.





 
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