At 08.00 on Fri. 24 April Sir Simon Gourlay began construction of an access track and works compound on Stonewall Hill. With clipboard in hand, to the tune of singing skylarks, the landowner directed works as two giant Komatsu diggers ripped up the grassy topsoil. He had already been excavating in a borrow pit for the past 6 days and had plenty of stone ready. He was digging below the water table which risks compromising neighbours’ private drinking water supplies, something the conditions were specially designed to avoid.
Gourlay’s precipitate action was designed to ensure that a ‘technical start’ on Reeves Hill Wind Farm, before the expiry of planning permission on 25 April, would ensure the viability of his project.
Hereford Council bent over backwards to assist Gourlay in his plans. Setting a deadline of midnight on Thurs. 23 April for consultation over Gourlay’s application to discharge conditions, the Council then announced their intention to come to a decision the very next day so that consent could be issued within hours – in time for Gourlay to begin construction but not in time for proper procedure. SHCG had already complained that one working day was not enough to consider the representations properly, consult colleagues, make a decision and issue permission in time for the diggers to start, and it turned out that this was so. But, just as we had expected, impetuous Sir Simon had already jumped the gun.
Late on Thursday night, SHGC sent in a detailed objection to the developer’s application (link) and, the day before, had already complained to the Council over Gourlay’s unauthorised use of a borrow pit to extract stone, threatening private water supplies. Back in 2010, the Developer, Mike Corker of Bolsterstone Plc, had written to the Council confirming that no borrow pits would be used.
On Friday morning SHCG made several attempts to complain about the developer’s unauthorised start on construction but, needless to say, no one was available in the Council’s planning office. A plea to an Enforcement Officer at 11.30 came to nothing. At 16.34 an email with photographic evidence finally produced the following response from Mark Tansley, the case officer involved: “I’m advised that the council is still awaiting legal advice on the matter and expect to resolve early next week. I will get someone to site on Monday if at all possible to record what has taken place”.
By Monday 27th April, permission will have expired. The Council will have to decide about the status of this unauthorised start which flouts their planning conditions. As their own website says: ‘The council is responsible for making sure that development should not be undertaken without planning permission first being granted and that conditions attached to permissions are fully complied with.’
Herefordshire were too busy picking up the bits on Friday to come and see what was happening on their forgotten North-West Frontier. We now have significant environmental damage in Herefordshire with absolutely no certainty that the Developer can ever deliver his turbines and complete his wind farm.
This legal and environmental mess arises from the toxic combination of a ruthless, intimidating developer and a Council that does not think through its responsibilities.