Consultation? Or Box-Ticking?

Welsh protesters are up in arms over plans by the National Grid to erect lines of pylons through the stunning scenery of the Vyrnwy Valley in Wales, and parts of Shropshire.    The pylons are apparently needed to connect Welsh wind farms to the National Grid (somewhere near the M6, so far as I can see).  This is a timely reminder that the environmental and economic damage of wind turbines is not limited to the wind farms themselves.  They also require something like £10 billion of up-grades to the grid, including new pylons.  We have a grid designed around large stand-alone power plants.  Now that the grid has to cope with distributed small-scale generation, it needs extensive adaptation.

Last weekend I was visiting friends in Shropshire.  They (and presumably a great number of other local residents) had received a very glossy mailing pack from National Grid, including an attractive pull-out map showing the proposed route of the pylons.  This was part of a “consultation”, and my friends were invited to submit their views.

No one over the age of three imagines that the consultation will make a scrap of difference to the outcome.  They’re not doing it to find out the views of residents.  They know those views perfectly well, from the widespread protests that have taken place, and are likely to become louder.  No.  They’re doing it so that if anyone asks, or seeks a judicial review of the decision process, they can say “But we had a consultation”.  It’s all about ticking boxes and preparing their defences against future legal challenges.  It has nothing whatever to do with “consultation” in the sense of seeking the views of the people.

I am reminded of the scandalous case (I think it was on the “regional government” issue) when they invited comment, but rated all comments, for and against, as “expressions of interest”, and therefore, by implication, endorsements of the plan.  If the public disagree, ignore them.

It’s much the same with the Prime Minister’s “consultation” on same-sex marriage.  He’s been honest enough to make it clear that it’s not about whether to introduce same-sex marriage, simply about how to introduce it.  It hasn’t occurred to Dave that to invite consultation on the details, while denying it on the main issue, may cause offence.  He’s happy to impose his own view, to affront a number of faith groups, and to undermine an institution that his government is pledged to protect.

Then there’s Andrew Lansley’s “consultation” on plain packs for cigarettes.  This is a policy that flies in the face of free trade, free speech and freedom of choice.  But it’s clear he’s made up his mind — and is probably encouraged by the recent decision against the industry in the Australian courts.  The consultation is just for show.  So that afterwards he can say “Well we consulted on it”.  They are spending a great deal of money and effort on what amounts to a spurious attempt to create a veneer of democratic accountability for arbitrary government decisions.

The only good thing we can say about these consultations is that (like planning enquiries for wind farms) they may delay the bad news, and put off the evil day.  For a little while.

One suggestion for Wales is that the new cables should be buried, or (as they say in the quaint argot of the industry) “Undergrounded”.  This is an expensive solution, although the higher cost is partly mitigated by longer life and lower maintenance costs.  Come to think of it, maybe the wind turbines could be “undergrounded” as well.

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14 Responses to Consultation? Or Box-Ticking?

  1. Ammonite says:

    As ever it is presentation, consultation is a myth when attached to the imposition of pylons or wind generation clusters.

  2. tomgowans says:

    “…Come to think of it, maybe the wind turbines could be “undergrounded” as well…”

    Plainly ridiculous and flippant. Really Mr Helmer.

    The turbines should be installed in the seats of the office chairs and mouthpieces of the telephones of these Eurocrats…

  3. Charles Wardrop says:

    Is this the best way for Dave to seek electorycal success? Perhaps continuation of the Middle Eastern wars or of EU membership are among his Party’s other killer weapons.
    In a madhouse where Tim Yeo is the knave, Cameron is the fool.

  4. tomgowans says:

    My first comment was flippant but I am being distracted by two boys now on holiday.

    There are a number of distinct issues rolled into one blog post here.

    Alternative energy. All for it, just make sure when you offer it to me it makes economical sense, In the meantime, I will stick to the tried and trusted methods of generating power, in my case a diesel powered generator. What is wrong with nuclear power? By now it should be cheap as chips but I suspect ever increasing regulatory costs and selective grants are giving alternative sources an unfair advantage. 40% of French power is nuclear and they haven’t had a disaster. What is it the French can do that we can’t. Even the green Germans produce more that way than we do. So for alternative energy, let’s imagine Sir Alan saying, ‘Nice idea, bring it back to me when it works’.

    Pylons as an argument NOT to have alternative energy sources? Weak. We all know that new power stations need to be connnected to the National Grid somehow and this means an enhanced distribution network. A new nuclear power station would need the same enhancements unless we are going to go for a Sizewell A, B, C, D, E ad infinitum. and then we would still have to upgrade the capacity of the cables leaving Sizewell.

    Same Sex Marriage lumped in with wind. Appropriate perhaps.

    Marriage is the legal recognition of two biologically productive partners, ergo, opposite sexes choosing to live together, hopefully producing offspring to enter the workforce and make their contribution to society. I could not give a toss about religion, all I know for a fact is that two people of the same sex can bang each other for a lifetime and there will be no issue other than that of the extremely messy kind. I have no objection whatsoever to two people of the same sex who care for each other enough to elect to choose to spend their lives together to do so, but they should do so as individuals, without let or hindrance, with the respect of their fellow citizens but with an absence of any desire to the benifits afforded to those who will continue the species.

    Finally, as a lifetime heavy smoker and slave to distilled grain, I applaude any initiative to de-glamourise smoking and drinking. When I need a new liver or a new set of heart and lungs, who pays for it? The poor old bloody tax payer and that is grossly unfair. Akin to some poor sod who has worked hard all his life to secure his offspring a better start only to have the exchequer nick the lot when he dies. Why should anyone else have to shoulder the financial burden of replacing my internal organs on an already overstretched National Health Service when it was me who wrecked them in the first place and there are so many more worthy cases? You talk about choice, Mr Helmer. Well I chose to drink and smoke to excess, so I have to accept the consequences.

    Yes, we can argue the influence advertising and culture had on my lifestyle choices and they were not insignificant. Sitting in the cinema on the Townsend Thoresen Ferry on our way to rejoin our units in Germany, we all aspired to be the ‘Marlboro Man’.

    Rather than extra taxes on alcohol or cigarettes, targeted cynically at the consumer, we should not discourage the purveyors of such products, thereby denying freedom of choice, but warning them we will be taxing them within an inch of their lives, their contribution to the extra burden their products lay on society as a whole.

    • So many points! I think the French get about 75% of their electricity from nuclear. Well done them. On smoking: I think smokers already pay more than their fair share towards the NHS. For me, the issue of freedom of choice trumps nanny-state health arguments. Go down this road, and you’ll have whisky bans and 20 mph speed limits. Plus banning any remotely hazardous sport. No rugby. You might break your collar bone.

  5. mikestallard says:


  6. mikestallard says:

    Wow! It works again!

  7. mikestallard says:

    As I was saying………
    If you believe (with the EU) that the people are not worthy of consultation, but that government should be firmly in the hands of the experts (alias technocrats), then whenever Mr Cameron and his cronies go to Brussels, they learn that they must fudge consultations but pay them no attention because of – what is the word? – “output legitimacy”.
    The EU is very much to blame here for the gradual contempt with which ordinary voters are treated.

  8. Another example. I’m told that the one company NOT invited to the Downing Street shale gas consultation was also the one company with experience of prospecting for shale gas in the UK: Caudrilla!

    • Lt. Columbo says:

      As reported on “No Hot Air” website at the time …..

      This from Mark Miller of Cuadrilla Resources:

      No, we were not invited. Nor were we consulted about potential shale gas production in the future. I was surprised to see negative statements from people who have never seen our core data or open hole log data. They may consider getting their facts in line next time since this is such an important issue to the country.

      see website @ NO
      HOT AIR

  9. Owain says:

    Roger- As an inhabitant of Mid Wales can I thank you for covering this story. The plans set out by the Welsh Government are for the whole of Montgomeryshire to be turned into a giant wind subsidy farm with 800 turbines planned (on top of an existing 200) up to 600ft high, that will march right up to the boundary of Snowdonia National Park. The power line will run through the beautiful Vyrnwy Valley into Shropshire to join the National Grid line near Oswestry. This lunacy and vandalism was planned by the First Minister Carwyn Jones when he was Environment Minister back in 2004/5. He is widely regarded as a traitor and puppet of the Wind Industry and is not welcome in Mid Wales (although being a Welsh Labour politician he probably doesnt realise there is more of Wales beyond the Southern Valleys). Last year Carwyn Jones said that National Grid did not need to build a Hub and new power line on the scale proposed and he would not support it. This year when National Grid announced their preferred route, he welcomed it and told the local population to basically get stuffed. If Wales has a leader like this then who needs enemies?
    The people of Mid Wales have been fantastic and have been fighting these plans and will continue to do so for the duration. The Wind scam (and it is a scam) will cost this County its tourist industry and hills if it goes ahead and will have a huge negative impact on the environment for decades. One day when this lunacy is over (and I pray its sooner rather than later) all those who supported these plans should be held to account and Carwyn Jones is first on the list.

  10. Ammonite says:

    Owain so much of what you say has happened in Scotland. A grief so profound I find it hard to express. All this willful destruction for what? No Scot Nat me, but my own country gone under the surgical knife of planners in league with the developers and the government targets. There is a kind of loss difficult to express when you know it all for nothing except profit.

    • Owain says:

      Ammonite: Yes Scotland maybe even has an even more moronic gov with regard to the Wind Scam. Having visited last month and seen the M74 turbine corridor (what a welcome to Scotland) and the hills of Perthshire covered near to Loch Tay and the Beauly to Denny pylons being built I can understand your grief. We share that too as to what is happening also in Wales. Words cant express my contempt for all those involved.

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