March 13, 2014

Westminster Debates South West Wind Farms

Yesterday afternoon up in Westminster a selection of South West Members of Parliament, together with one or two from further afield, debated the controversial topic of "Planning policy and wind turbines in the South West" led by Geoffrey Cox, the Conservative MP for Torridge and West Devon. Here's a video recording of the proceedings:

The "They Work For You" web site has conveniently extracted a transcript of the debate from Hansard, in which the controversial phrase "Den Brook wind farm" occurred more than once. It didn't sound as though the locals present were very keen on such things. By way of one example my own MP, Mel Stride from Central Devon, had this to say amongst other things (at 2:30):

On the visual impact of turbines, I do not want to get into a bragging war about who has the largest turbines, but those that he mentioned were probably no higher than 60 or 70 metres. Those that are likely to be built now in the Den Brook valley will be 120 metres high; that is almost the height of St Paul’s cathedral. Whether they are smaller turbines up on hill ridges, which are obviously visible, or turbines down in valleys, they are often of such a magnitude that they are visible for miles around.

My hon. Friend knows that Devon’s tourist industry is valued at about £1 billion a year. There will be huge, cumulative detrimental impact on that business if we continue to despoil our landscape in this way.

One thing Mel didn't mention however, is that some of the unfortunate side effects of our changing climate are already having a huge, cumulative detrimental impact on agriculture, tourism and other businesses down here in soggy (and now also windy) South West England.

Duncan Hames, the Liberal Democrat MP for Chippenham also spoke (at 43:20). Hansard records his opening remarks as follows:

I congratulate Mr Cox on securing this debate. I anticipate that I will be a dissenting voice—[Hon. Members: “Lone voice.”] We shall see.

Mr Hames spoke some more, but he didn't mention climate change either. That controversial topic was eventually raised by a Labour MP from up country, Andy Sawford from Corby. Here's some of what he had to say (at 1:04:50):

Political division at Westminster, some of which has been reflected today, means that we are sleepwalking into a national security crisis on climate change. The science has not changed, and the terrible events of the last few weeks should serve as a wake-up call. The climate change consensus that once existed in this country has frayed.

The transition to a low-carbon economy is essential, but it also presents a huge opportunity for the UK, with the potential to be a major source of jobs and growth that we need now more than ever. The Government started out by promising to be the greenest Government ever, but the reality is that they have a terrible record on climate change. We see squabbling and inconsistent messages from Ministers and policy uncertainty on decarbonisation and support for renewables. The Prime Minister says that he has not changed his mind, but, in the face of pressure from his Back Benchers and the UK Independence party, he has ignored the issue or allowed it to become downgraded across Whitehall. Indeed, the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs apparently refuses to be briefed on climate change by his own civil servants.

I fear Mr. Sawford's speech won't be sufficient to persuade me to vote Labour at the next general election, but his remarks do seem to sum up quite well my own views on the sorry state of both energy policy and climate change adaptation policy over here in the once, but no longer, Great Britain.

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