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People and organisations who oppose wind farms are sometimes portrayed as being anti-planet and unable to appreciate how vital it is to move towards green energy. However, there are surely cases where the damage is simply too great and should be opposed? There have been some recent instances which show English Heritage and The National Trust are working on that basis.
Remember Lyveden New Bield, where an Inspector ruled that damage to a scheduled monument’s setting caused by four 126 metre high turbines would be “less than substantial”?
EH, NT and East Northants Council have successfully appealed the decision. “The effect of the proposed turbines on one of the most important, beautiful and unspoilt Elizabethan landscapes in England would be appalling. This is why we pressed this case” said Simon Thurley. “We very much hope that this will be the end of the matter.” Indeed – and for several reasons, including the fact that the Inspector had said the damage to the asset was reduced by the temporary nature of the planning permission (25 years) and its reversibility. “Don’t worry it’s only for 25 years” is neither convincing nor consoling. There are numerous important landscapes and settings of all periods that don’t deserve wrecking on the basis it would only be for 25 years.
But apart from that does the reversal of this decision bring any further advantages? In particular, does it put a mark in the sand whereby other heritage assets of this calibre will be safe? Sadly no. It seems that precedents don’t play a part in many decisions despite English Heritage’s attempt to provide a rational basis for assessing the balance between energy needs and heritage conservation and their development of a database of previous decisions. Thus Mr Smith, deputy chief executive RenewableUK, which represents the wind farm industry, said: ‘It would be wrong to suggest that any kind of precedent has been set on this occasion, as each wind farm application is considered on a case-by-case basis”.
He seems to be saying the significance of heritage assets is open to a fresh battle every time. If true it’s a shame. It’s hard to see how it can be right for decisions to be independent of guidance through precedents or reference to any sort of “heritage significance scale”. Inspectors aren’t Gods with impeccable, consistent judgement on every “one-off” occasion, nor should the fate of high value heritage assets be dependant upon how well a particular barrister performs rather than how valuable the asset is. Put baldly, Mr Smith seems to be reassuring his wind farm entrepreneur colleagues that it’s always worth a try lads, as sometimes you’ll get lucky!” We can only hope Inspectors will still take a sneaky peak at EH’s guidance and database of previous decisions so that consistency prevails.
[If any of the above is wrong we'd be pleased to hear from anyone qualified to explain things].
by Sandy Gerrard
In March last year 18 questions relating to the archaeological situation on Mynydd y Betws were asked. During May the answers provided by Cadw were published here. I also asked my local Assembly Member (Mr Rhodri Glyn Thomas) to ask the Dyfed Archaeological Trust (DAT) the same questions and he kindly did this on my behalf. Having had no response in October I asked Carmarthenshire County Council for a copy of the DAT response and this was passed to both Mr Thomas and myself shortly afterwards. A commentary on the DAT response was then produced and sent to Carmarthenshire County Council. This series of articles present DAT’s responses in black and my own comments upon them in green.
General Comments (my commentary in green)
At the outset we should explain that this Trust has had strong reservations about the interpretation of the stone alignment as given by Dr and Mrs Gerrard largely through the medium of the press.
Interesting use of the words “has had”. The Trust surely either has or had strong reservations but surely not both at the same time.
At the site meeting the Dyfed Archaeological Trust (DAT) officer first raised the possibility of the stone alignment being schedulable and offered to contact Cadw directly for an assessment to be conducted. We informed him that we would also contact Cadw. The DAT officer also said that he would get straight back to us. I only contacted the “press” after it became clear that both the DAT and Cadw were not going to engage with our concerns.
This has concerned us as the nature of this archaeological find makes it very difficult to provide immediate or clear-cut interpretations on date and function and it is regrettable that this was done in the context of a sensitive windfarm development that has clearly invoked much local opposition.
I totally agree that it is regrettable, but as the stone alignment was only identified at this very late stage in the process clearly some sensitivity was going to be needed. If the Trust had instead chosen to involve us, as they initially promised, we would have been happy to work with them. Instead they choose to first alienate and then exclude us from the process and by doing so created the regrettable situation.
The Cotswold Archaeological Trust were commissioned by the developer to provide a report on the newly discovered stone alignment, based on a recommendation made by this Trust to the planning authority. The contents of the report are self-explanatory. However, it concludes that whilst a prehistoric origin cannot wholly be dismissed, it is: ‘More plausible that the current alignment is representative of a later boundary, perhaps demarcating grazing rights on the moorland, or marks a pathway, perhaps from Bryn Mawr to the twentieth century adit workings’. [p12].
This form of “later boundary” is unknown in Wales so if this interpretation is accepted it would make the feature unique and therefore arguably more important than a prehistoric stone alignment of which there are several examples.
The “twentieth century adit workings” are neither C20 in date or adits. This site is described as late C18 or early C19 by the Royal Commission and was described by them some 9 years before the date assigned by the Cotswold Archaeological Trust (CAT). Adits are never cut into the very top of hills and it is perhaps better to consider them as outcrop coal workings. This is important because it means the report is suggesting that an impossible explanation is more plausible than one that “cannot be wholly dismissed”.
This Trust agrees with this conclusion, though our preferred interpretation is that the stones have been taken from nearby prehistoric cairns and used as a way marker across an open and inhospitable moorland environment, where changes to weather can occur very quickly.
This explanation can and has been challenged on many grounds:
There is no logical need for a third route to the summit of Banc Bryn
None of the other paths or tracks on the moor are waymarked
The small size of the stones means that they are soon covered by snow
There is no man made path or track on the upslope side
There is no need to build a path to a small scale outcrop working whose focus would have been continually shifting
The outcrop workings are much earlier in date than suggested by the report and may therefore not even be contemporary with the farmstead
The route chosen is more uneven than the one currently being utilised a short distance upslope
There is no tradition of waymarking across moorland using large numbers of closely spaced small stones
Why is the Dyfed Archaeological Trust so eager to accept an interpretation that is completely contradicted by its own records?
However, Dr and Mrs Gerrard may not agree with these alternative interpretations and it will be for them to produce a detailed report on their find which can perhaps be published in an academic journal making their views open to professional archaeological scrutiny and judgement.
A report has been produced and copies sent to DAT and Cadw. An online version is also available at: http://heritageaction.wordpress.com/2012/06/06/mynydd-y-betws-stone-row-very-poor-scholarship-and-a-system-which-is-clearly-unfit-for-purpose/
This report and others are now hopefully being used as part of a consultation exercise being conducted by Cadw. However, no response to the contents of the report has been received from DAT or Cadw. Indeed the officers to whom the report was initially sent did not even bother to acknowledge receipt.
For previous and subsequent articles put Mynydd Y Betws in our Search Box.
by Sandy Gerrard
During the course of this year a number of articles have appeared here and elsewhere on the goings on at Mynydd y Betws. Behind the scenes I am continuing to explore with the various authorities what has gone wrong and am still seeking explanations. Meanwhile on the mountain itself the work continues and the turbines are popping up next to the huge platforms that have been cut into the hillsides. The Bancbryn area where the stone alignment was identified earlier this year also contains three scheduled ancient monuments. These are highlighted green in the photograph below.
The position of the stone alignment is shown by the red line and the blue denotes the new road and turbine platform. The fourth green area on the hilltop in the background is a scheduled castle known as Penlle’r Castell. The new road cuts its way past the scheduled areas and at one point is only a couple of metres away. The scheduled archaeology has not yet been damaged but its setting has certainly been altered and its landscape context disrupted both visually and physically. The prehistoric landscape on Bancbryn will never be the same and this despite its recognition as nationally important. Sadly this was seen as being of lesser significance than the need to meet renewable energy targets. It seems unsatisfactory that it is acceptable to mutilate what Cadw previously called a “complex interconnected ritual landscape” for a temporary energy gain.
Bribing local people so they’ll support planning applications is a growing trend and in the latest example people near a windfarm in Cornwall will get up to £150 and it is intended to expand the concession to people living near future developments. Julia Davenport, chief executive of the company, denied it was a “bribe” and said it was natural for locals to get “recognition” for doing their bit to combat climate change. So not a bribe, just “recognition”! The Department of Energy and Climate Change uses slightly less Sicilian language though. They say they are currently looking at “a range of financial incentives to encourage more communities to accept wind farms”.
Is it right though? The undeniable purpose of Bimbyism is to tip the scales against heritage protection by incentivising locals. Nationally significant heritage sites are nationally significant so it seems wrong that local bribes should affect their welfare. It isn’t that we’re anti-developments but surely planning decisions should be based on the merits of the case not on the fact that a few people that happen to be living in the area just now are being offered money to say yes?
by Sandy Gerrard
Recently I voiced my concern that English Heritage may have accidentally scheduled the wrong field. English Heritage has kindly responded, confirming that a mistake has been made:
“in this particular circumstance it does appear that English Heritage made an error regarding the extent of the scheduled area. We accidentally made this a larger area than intended, and thus also covered the area that was subjected to excavation in 2011 within the larger scheduled area. We are now in the process of revising this schedule.”
However, they note that:
“1. The excavations of 2011 strongly suggest that the archaeology present on the (excavated) southern half of the site continues to the north, possibly associated to one or more features visible on air photos. There is a strong presumption of in situ archaeology of national significance remaining to the north, and at real threat – thus worthy of scheduling;
2. In relation to point 1, I would convey the fundamental importance of our ability to respond effectively in cases where real or potential development pressure dictates the use of designation as an effective management tool, para. 139 of the NPPF notwithstanding. Any error in defining the constraint area in the case of Storrey’s Meadow should not be allowed to obscure those initial assessments of archaeological interest and significance which prompted the application for scheduling;
3. The consultation responses for this case did not highlight any concerns about the necessity to exclude this area of the site.
While these points do not excuse our error, and while we are setting up an amendment case to remove the excavated area from the scheduled area, English Heritage stands by the good intent and expertise underlying this schedule.”
It might be worth briefly considering some of these answers. Firstly, however it is should be emphasised that there is no explanation for this fundamental error. It has happened, it has been pointed out to them and now they are going to put it right. This is important stuff – the scheduling description and mapping forms part of a legal document and mistakes will lower or some cases are likely to invalidate protection.
Moving onto the numbered points.
1. The evidence for nationally important archaeology within the northern half of the site is not proven beyond reasonable doubt. The Secretary of State is being asked to schedule an area on the basis of a presumption only – albeit a strong one. The available evidence does not support EH’s stance and more importantly the scheduling documentation is rather vague on what survives within this area. For the scheduling of this area to be effective a clear indication of what is being protected and why it is nationally important needs to be provided or else in the future the decision will almost certainly be challenged.
2. EH have correctly identified that it is fundamentally important to be able to “respond effectively”. Demonstrating national importance and clearly defining the extent of surviving remains are crucial elements of an effective response. Neither appears to have happened here.
3. Essentially this point is saying that nobody else involved with the case spotted the serious error. This suggests that nobody involved in the process checked the details.
The final sentence in the EH response is baffling in the circumstances:
“English Heritage stands by the good intent and expertise underlying this schedule.”
Perhaps someone can explain what this means?
None of the other issues raised in the original article have been addressed by English Heritage and I am still awaiting a response to the scheduling of the C19 gravel pit raised in Scheduling – Part 6.
[For other articles in the series put Scheduling in the search box]
The EH Legal Director has tweeted….
Great idea. It has been said that “genius is the ability to act rightly without precedent” but it’s self-evident that most planning inspectors and most people aren’t geniuses and need to be guided by precedents. For instance, one inspector recently judged, without obvious reference to precedents, that a wind turbine that was 485 ft high from ground to blade tip was “unlikely to be visually oppressive or overbearing”. He had to be having a laugh. Except that he wasn’t. That’s about the same height as the Lighthouse of Alexandria – whose core function was to be visually oppressive and overbearing!
A searchable database of heritage planning and court cases might have led him to a less random assessment. And democratised the process by giving the public access to tools to challenge opinions rather than having to just accept them. In addition, although it’s probably not practical, photographs would clearly be worth a thousand planning specialists’ words, especially as the Government has just signalled a change of tune, with the new energy minister saying: “The salience of aesthetics to discussions about renewables has often been neglected”.
We recently highlighted differing expert views on how to resolve the conflicting needs for wind energy and conservation. Two favoured balancing the issues on a case-by-case basis and being guided by precedents – which seems pretty rational. But a third was more wind-industry aligned and thought offering effective “bribes” in the form of cheap electricity to local people is the way to go – which it surely isn’t, as conservation would never get a fair hearing. Now the wind farm lobby has come up with an even dodgier plan:
“Ministers are investigating a proposal to outsource the production of wind power to Ireland. Faced with fervent and growing opposition to onshore wind farms in the UK, Tory MPs are backing a plan to site those facilities in Ireland – and then export the renewable energy generated back to Britain using cables running under the Irish Sea, to Wales.” 700 turbines would be built using British Government subsidies on The Bog of Allen, an archaeological and natural treasure described by one Irish public body as “as much a part of Irish natural heritage as the Book of Kells”.
Is that troubling? Dumping the downside onto the Irish but enjoying the benefits ourselves? Should we pay the Irish to store our nuclear waste too?! The scheme is the brainchild of American company Element Power who say “the Irish have a less reactionary attitude to onshore wind turbine developments than the British.” Do they? Or is it that the Irish government is known to have a conveniently uncaring attitude towards heritage conservation?
High status helmet?
Much criticism has been levelled against all those that played a part in the diversion of the Crosby Garrett helmet, a national treasure in all but legal definition, away from permanent public view. But Mike Pitts just added a further dimension. He asks why the owner has lent it to the Royal Academy and not to the Tullie House Museum, which was so keen to show it to the people of Cumbria – and he answers himself like this:
“As Mrs Merton might have said to the collector, “So, what first attracted you to the socially prestigious Royal Academy?”
Bleeper sounds off
An astute metal detectorist-blogger reckons our Farmer Brown isn’t a real person but a literary device! Genius! Then on that basis he goes off on one about us. (No, we aren’t archaeos and we can’t be unfrocked!) Still, he said one sensible thing to his readers: “What I suggest is that you print off a copy of the piece and take it to your local FLO/Friendly Neighbourhood Arkie. Ask for their comments and if they will stand by them in public.” Please do!
Why don’t Barristers read English Heritages guidelines?
This week EH have been encouraging people to visit their website to learn all about concepts like setting and significance. A good idea but a hopeless plea in the case of Mr Jeremy Pike, barrister for power company E.On. Just look what he said at the Chiplow windfarm Inquiry:
“no-one is entitled to say that they should not have to see wind turbines in the same view as listed buildings or other protected assets.”
“Wot, nowhere, never?” a lawyer from EH’s legal department may have been heard to exclaim. “Bleedin ‘ell, why did we bother writing all those definitions and guidelines on “setting” and “significance” then?
The Inspector smirked and said “Don’t tell him Pike!”
We’ve featured the London Stone a couple of times previously, but it seems you can’t keep a good stone down! Let’s face it, anything that can withstand the constant building and rebuilding that goes on in the City of London for as long as it has, has to be admired and celebrated.
This time, it’s the turn of the Londonist web site to bring our attention once more to the plight of this remarkable symbol of London’s endurance. Whilst the article doesn’t bring much new to the debate, it does highlight just exactly what a mess the whole planning process is in.
As regular readers will guess when it comes to taking sides, our stance is that the stone has moved in the past, but enough is enough. It should remain part of the infrastructure of the City where it currently is, and not be exhibited and gawped at like one of Britain’s Secret Treasures in a museum display.
While there is precedent for moving the relic, critics say Minerva’s plans would remove the Stone from the fabric of the City streets and make it little more than a lobby decoration. “Minerva’s grand design finally removes London Stone from the built environment,” blogger Diamond Geezer wrote when the plan was announced. “It’ll become a showcased exhibit — an ancient relic in a glass cage — rather than part of the everyday fabric of the city.”
English Heritage are inclined to agree. “We would question the concept of displaying the Stone at a new location and in a raised position within a modern glass case,” EH told us. “In our view, this would harm the significance of the Grade II* listed object, and there are no public benefits to the proposal that outweigh this harm.”
“Our preference would be for the setting and presentation of the Stone to be enhanced once the current building at No. 111 Cannon Street is redeveloped. At present, we are not convinced of the justification to remove the Stone to its proposed position in the Walbrook Building.”
by Sandy Gerrard
Regular readers of the unfolding drama on Mynydd y Betws will not be surprised to learn that the Dyfed Archaeological Trust response to the Cotswold Archaeology Report on the stone alignment is that they “are content with its contents and the interpretation, which better suits the archaeological information.”
The report that “better suits the archaeological information” states that the row was “probably a waymarker between Bryn Mawr and the twentieth-century adit workings.” These workings are described by the Royal Commission as bell pits in a report published in 1917 which states they are likely to be late 18th or early 19th century in date. Cotswold Archaeology and Dyfed Archaeological Trust appear to have ignored this crucial archaeological evidence and I would suggest that this might make their conclusions somewhat unreliable.
After “detailed archaeological investigations” Cotswold Archaeology has concluded that the coal mining pits were dug in 1926 i.e. some nine years after they were first described by the Royal Commission! Cotwold Archaeology also described them inaccurately as adit workings yet Dyfed Archaeological Trust are “content” with this explanation.Why when the quickest of glances at their own records would have indicated that the information used to justify the report’s conclusion is wholly inaccurate?
Furthermore why is the Dyfed Archaeological Trust so eager to accept an interpretation that is completely contradicted by its own records? They claim the conclusion “suits the archaeological information”. It does not. It only suits the subjective view they have selected and is convincingly disproved by the information they have chosen to omit. We are being asked to believe that the Royal Commission recorded the coal workings some nine years before they were created. It would be helpful if someone from the Dyfed Archaeological Trust could explain how this is possible. The only suggestion that I can think of is that the Royal Commission in the early 20th century had access to a time machine.
Can anyone think of a reason why Dyfed Archaeological Trust believe that it is possible to describe and record archaeological remains years before they have been created?
For previous and subsequent articles put Mynydd Y Betws in our Search Box.