Monday, January 22, 2007

Gwynt y Mor

With the tourism sector in North Wales facing considerable challenges during the next few years, I applaud the tenacity of those involved in the “Save Our Scenery” campaign. They have rightly highlighted the enormous anxiety expressed by many individuals and businesses in Llandudno over the proposed Gwynt Y Mor offshore windfarm scheme, which will place a minimum of 200 turbines – each as tall as Blackpool Tower - in full view of the sweeping vista of the ‘Naples of North Wales’.

With tourism supporting the economy within North Wales to the tune of nearly £1 billion every year, you would have thought that the Enterprise Department of the Assembly Government - which has responsibility for both energy and tourism - would have fully considered the impact of having windfarms at a location to which hundreds of thousands of people flock every year because of its very beauty – a beauty that will be despoiled by the presence of a new industrial park that would never be given permission offshore at such a location.

Instead, our elected politicians in both Cardiff and London seem to be perfectly content with npower’s premise that the project will have a major impact on reducing the impact climate change, create local jobs and have a minimal effect on the revenues generated from the tourism sector. Much of this has to do with the Assembly's obsession with wind turbines when the opportunity is there to invetsigate other. less intrusive sources of renewable energy, such as biomass, solar and tidal-generated energy.

The economic part of premise is based on the impact assessment commissioned by npower itself for the Gwynt y Mor Offshore wind farm. With a major infrastructure project that is estimated to cost over £1 billion, you would be surprised to find that its entire economic rationale rests predominantly on a survey of 204 businesses across Flintshire, Denbighshire, Conwy and the Wirral, with only 80 businesses from the tourism sector interviewed as part of the study. No detail whatsoever is provided within the assessment impact report of the number of businesses in Llandudno or the surrounding area that have participated in this survey. More worryingly, it more than likely that the conclusions from ‘local’ firms in support of this project are more than likely to be based on the perceptions of businesses in Mold, Ruthin and Hoylake rather than the area in which the windfarm will be based.

The actual views of the businesses interviewed seem to be based on perceptions rather than a considered opinion on the facts at hand. There are also major flaws and omissions within the report which are too numerous to mention here but which do give a positive spin as to the results. For example, only eleven respondents give reasons – such as being new and something to look at - as to why the wind turbines would encourage visitors. In contrast, 40 respondents believe that the turbines will be an eyesore or too noisy. Yet, the report highlights the ‘fact’ that 17 per cent of businesses felt that the development would encourage visitors to the area whilst 20 per cent felt that it would discourage visitors. Some mistake here, surely!

If we also examine the local economic benefits from this development, which promises a high number of jobs from the construction phase of the project, closer observation of shows that the report skilfully avoids any commitment on behalf of the developers to providing any employment locally. Instead we get glib statement on ‘encouraging’ contracters to recruit labour locally or that “it is important that the developer works with local partners and local communities to ensure that opportunities are made available to local people.” Yet on the next page, makes the statement that “the developer won’t be able to provide guarantees regarding where services are eventually procured from.”

The project also promises a total of 100 local jobs in the post-construction phase but again there is no guarantee that this employment will be sourced within Llandudno or the surrounding area and, more importantly, it will not compensate for the downturn in the tourism sector, an issue which even 20 per cent of the non-representative businesses sampled have acknowledged would happen.,

Therefore, in exchange for blighting the landscape for the foreseeable future, it would seem that the region will not be guaranteed any new jobs and the tourism industry in the area will get some viewing posts to look at the turbines and a few boat trips out to the bay. I am sure that will be little comfort to hoteliers and the other businesses which rely on tourists, and will certainly not compensate for the millions of pounds that will more than likely to be lost as a result of this development.

Given this, it is now time to challenge the Assembly Government and the DTI to provide their own detailed socio-economic impact assessment, one that would focus directly on the effect of the Gwynt-y-Mor scheme on Llandudno and its economy. If there is to be a business survey, then it should sample the range of tourism businesses within the area and not rely on the opinions of others who know little about the local tourist industry.

Like the proposed reform of the NHS in North Wales (including the downgrading of services at Llandudno Hospital), the economic rationale for the Gwynt y Mor scheme seems to be based on a flawed document. In both cases, the people of Llandudno have been treated as irrelevant to the whims of politicians, civil servants and big business. That is clearly not acceptable, and the voice of the people of Llandudno must be heard with regard to this development. They deserve no less from their elected politicians.

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