Statement from Councillor Debby Blakeborough about the planning approval debate (7th Jan 2016)
I recognise that the 7 objectors to this application will be disappointed with the decision made by the planning committee on Tuesday. I have tried to summarise the reason for the decision in my account at the planning meeting as a member of the planning committee.
Since the meeting at Pelham Hall I ensured that the application was deferred to January to provide time for residents to submit their objections and have them recorded in the report going to full Planning Committee. I also contacted the Wye Valley Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) Officer to ensure that they were included in the planning process and have their views taken into account.
As residents may be aware this application was part of a wider scheme to install a combination of towers and ‘EcoPOPs’ throughout the County to provide broadband to those rural areas not covered under the BT Super-fast scheme, which by the way has now been delayed until March in the Trellech United area.
A mast on Little Skirrid in Abergavenny was also considered on Tuesday and approved.
My summary of the meeting was as follows:
The main issue with this application is the site of the mast. It is a sensitive area in that it lies within the boundary of the Wye Valley Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, an area we rely on for our economy through tourism. I am a member of the Joint Advisory AONB committee and therefore proactive in ensuring that its status is preserved, protected and enhanced.
The other cause I champion is the need for connectivity in our rural areas again to ensure economic, social and educational sustainability keeping rural communities viable and vibrant.
The initial AONB report wanted a comprehensive justification for the mast and posed two questions.
1) Why this site?
2) What are the benefits of the installation?
AB Internet responded with further information to clarify these two main concerns:-
1) This site provides the optimum position for a clear line of site of other masts to maximise connectivity and coverage. Anywhere along the ridge would be in the AONB and this particular site provided the minimum visual impact.
2) There is no doubt that the scheme will provide huge benefits to the community of Monmouthshire and surrounding regions. There are clear national benefits.
As a result of the AB Internet report providing further information, AONB withdrew their objection. During a telephone conversation they informed me, ’Whilst the mast is not ideal and will certainly not enhance the landscape its visual impact is of a minor significance and, on this occasion, the benefits outweigh the impact’. Late correspondence from the AONB confirms their withdrawal of objection.
This stance was supported by the Countryside Council for Wales report following their landscape character assessment looking at the site from important vantage points including the A40, B4293 and public rights of way. The report concluded that the landscape character will not be significantly affected.
So what of the local benefits to the Penallt community that will host the mast?
On this scheme there is little direct local benefit, however working with AB internet and AONB we have managed to secure a promise that AB internet will work with the community to find ways of maximising the benefits of connectivity and will fund a repeater if necessary. We have also negotiated free internet access to the village hall.
Based on the AONB and Countryside Council for Wales responses I am unable to find any legitimate planning consideration to reject this application.
The You Tube video of the complete Planning Committee meeting of 5th January 2016 is included below. The discussion and vote regarding the Penallt mast starts at a time of about 1:12:00 and lasts for about 20 minutes. The debate about the mast on the Little Skirrid follows on from this and lasts about 17 minutes.