Tory MP puts ministers on the spot over wind farms

Eat your heart out, Jeremy Paxman.

The Newsnight presenter once hit the headlines for asking the same question 14 times to then Home Secretary Michael Howard.

Today, in the house of commons, Montgomeryshire Tory MP Glyn Davies asked coalition ministers the same question four times.

Mr Davies's question was sparked by the announcement that planning guidance in England will be changed to give local opportunities more powers to block onshore wind farms.

So what does that mean in Wales, where planning guidance is the responsibility of the Welsh government, but approval of large-scale wind energy projects is not?

That's the gist of Mr Davies's question. This is how he put it to Energy Minister Michael Fallon:

"Since power to decide large onshore wind farms—those over 50 MW—is not devolved to the Welsh Government, will my right hon. Friend reassure me that the changes to planning policy that will be announced this morning will apply to the wind farms that the mid-Wales connection is being built to accommodate?

Mr Fallon (a Conservative) replied: "I am sure my hon. friend will understand that I cannot comment on any specific wind farm proposal that is subject to the local planning authority and potentially to the Planning Inspectorate and Ministers, but as he will shortly hear in more detail from the unstarred question which I think you have allowed, Mr Speaker, the planning guidance is to be clarified to ensure that the visual impact of turbines, the cumulative impact of turbines and local factors are taken more clearly into account before consent is given."

So a question clearly about Wales got an ambiguous answer. A short time later, Mr Davies tried again - this time with Liberal Democrat Energy Secretary Ed Davey.

Glyn Davies: "I congratulate my right hon. friend on today's announcement that local opinion will no longer be trumped at the planning stage by national policy. However, everyone in my constituency wants to know whether that applies to the six large wind farm applications, over which planning power is not devolved, and which are currently being heard at the UK's largest ever public inquiry, which started yesterday. Everybody in my constituency is desperate to know whether those applications are subject to the new policy."

Ed Davey: "My hon. Friend will know that the public inquiry has started, and that it would be inappropriate for a Minister to comment on it. I am sorry, but I cannot give him the answer he looks for."

That didn't satisfy Mr Davies, so a short time later he tried again, this time with English Housing Minister Mark Prisk: "I would like some clarity if possible from the Minister about the position as it affects Wales. Applications for large wind farms over 50 MW are not devolved to the Welsh government. It seems logical that the new provisions should apply to those applications, so can he reassure me that that is the case?

Mr Prisk: "As I think you will know, Mr Speaker, the process relates to England only. There is a sensitive legal issue, to which my hon. friend refers, but I understand that the secretary of state for Wales is attuned to that and is in contact with the Welsh government."

Things were becoming clearer, but Mr Davies tried again - with Commons leader Andrew Lansley: "This morning the government issued an important statement about the public voice in relation to onshore wind farms.

"Three times this morning you have called me, Mr Speaker, and I have asked a similar question about how the statement will affect Wales. I have not received a satisfactory answer. I have been left in a position of deep frustration, and I am sure the people of Wales feel the same. Will my right hon. friend ensure that we have an early statement clarifying the position, so that people in Wales will know that applications for developments over 50 MW, which are not devolved, will be subject to today's new guidelines?

Mr Lansley: "I completely understand my hon. Friend's concern about this, and his desire to secure proper answers. If I may, I will talk to my right hon. friend the secretary of state for Wales to see how we might expedite a response."

As if by magic, David Jones has been in touch to point out that the new guidance in England will affect only those projects that generate less than 50 MW. Mr Jones will be writing to Welsh First Minister Carwyn Jones to suggest that unless there is a similarity between planning policy in the two countries Wales could "lose out" by having a disproportionate amount of wind farms.

David Jones said: "I would urge the Welsh government urgently to review TAN 8. Given that, as from today, communities in England will be more empowered as to whether wind farm developments proceed in their areas, it is only right that comparable measures should be adopted in Wales.

"English communities affected by wind farm development will also now be receiving significantly more generous community benefit payments from developers than before. For a 50 megawatt wind farm, this could be as much as £100,000.

"I would also urge the Welsh wind power industry body, R-UK Cymru, to confirm that the community benefits on offer to Welsh residents will match those of residents in England, so as to restore equality of treatment on both sides of the border."