Friday, 30 December 2011

Squeezed: the connection between Ynys Môn farm incomes and wind turbines

This post is intended as a short addition to my last post, a critique Ynys Môn's Energy Island strategy. In it I mentioned that a squeeze in farm profitability was pushing farmers towards various farm diversification schemes, including — controversially — the erection of wind turbines. Figures just released by Aberystwyth University's annual Farm Business Wales Survey show just how steeply farm incomes (with the exception of dairy, of which there is relatively little on Ynys Môn) have dropped over the past 12 months:

"Upland cattle and sheep farms recorded a decrease in the value of outputs of almost 1 per cent between 2009-2010 and 2010-2011, while inputs rose by 7 per cent – resulting in an income decrease of 18 per cent. 
"The value of outputs on lowland cattle and sheep farms in the identical sample rose by 3 per cent, while inputs increased by just over 12 per cent, leading to a similar 18 per cent fall back."

After a difficult decade including the Foot and Mouth disaster and continued government dithering over tackling Bovine TB, and now with such a considerable reduction in farm profitability due to the rising outgoing costs of feed and fertiliser, there is little wonder that additional income from the currently massively over-generous Feed In Tarifs are becoming so attractive.

The pressure on farmers is unlikely to ease up anytime soon. The Eurozone crisis adds huge amounts of uncertainty as both livestock prices and CAP payments are very sensitive to the Sterling-Euro exchange rate. CAP reform will see income support payments reduced whilst also requiring farmers to be be "greener", meaning they will need to protect "habitat" and take land out of production further squeezing income. Furthermore farmers in Less Favoured Areas (LFAs; roughly half of Ynys Môn is classified as LFA) will no longer receive higher levels of support. The list goes on and on.

Accordingly, with all this going on and its controversial side-effects on our landscape, it is both ironic and inexplicable that the Welsh Government decided to do away with a Rural Affairs Minister at cabinet level and downgrade and split its rural affairs department.

For those interested, the relevant sections comparing upland and lowland farm incomes over the past twelve months are below. Farm Survey

Thursday, 22 December 2011

An ill wind blowing across Ynys Môn

Wind Turbine locations on Ynys Môn
(source: AAWT)

Considering that Ynys Môn has been promoting itself as an 'Energy Island' for a few years now (and will soon become an Welsh Government sponsored Energy Enterprise Zone), the council itself seems remarkably ill-prepared and lacking in direction when it comes to any forms of energy other than Nuclear.

For example, the proposed 25,000 tonne Anaerobic Digestion plant in Mona has been criticised as being far, far too large. With only 35,000 tonnes of appropriate biodegradable industrial and abattoir waste in the whole of North Wales, the plant would need to ship in source materials from as far away as Mid Wales according to Friends of the Earth (a body which normally supports AD plants!). The Welsh Government enshrined a 'Proximity Principle' in TAN21, which states that waste should be treated or disposed of as near to the source of origin as possible. What therefore is the logic of placing an AD plant of that size in Mona? Indeed, in what appears to be a tacit acceptance of this fact, the developer has since hired several hundred acres of land in Valley to grow silage to feed the plant when it is approved. Not only is this pushing up the price of silage on the Island for farmers who need it to feed livestock, the application was originally given planning approval on the grounds that it would divert waste from landfill; now we learn that he is going to have to grow a crop to feed it. Thats the equivalent of erecting a wind turbine and then placing a enormous electric fan opposite to blow air at it!

The Biomass Plant proposed on the Peboc site in Llangefni is a remarkably similar story. It will apparently burn up to 180,000 tonnes of "locally sourced" timber every year. Seen any huge forests around Ynys Môn lately? Me neither. Instead the developer will be shipping it from Scotland and, amazingly, Nova Scotia in Canada. What's green about that?

Considering where the source materials are coming from, neither of these plants seem to have any logical reason whatsoever to be located on Ynys Môn — other than because Anglesey is promoting itself as an Energy Island and is possibly being thought of as a soft touch by grant-seeking developers. Furthermore the benefits of having them here are also not entirely clear — especially when you consider how few local jobs they will produce. For example, the developer of the Peboc biomass plant claims it will create 250 temporary jobs and 150 permanent jobs. Curiously their own Transportation Assessment mentions that the plant will only require 25-30 staff... furthermore there is no analysis of what effect building a massive incinerator (because that's what a 'biomass plant' actually is) will have on present and future employment in Llangefni — let alone on the tourism industry. What will be the net effect on jobs?

Then we come to the recent proliferation of planning applications for Wind Turbines on the Island. Personally I am yet to be convinced of their effectiveness as a means of reducing carbon emissions — especially when they anyway require fossil-fuel plants running on permanent standby to produce energy when the wind doesn't blow.

More than any other 'energy' development on Ynys Môn, wind turbines have created the largest popular opposition movement in the shape of Anglesey Against Wind Turbines. Around 200 people attended a stormy Penmynnydd Community Council meeting last week to object to an application to build some 100m-tall wind turbines in the area. Significant numbers also attended a similar meeting of the Llanfair-Mathafarn-Eithaf community council this week when a similar application was discussed in Brynteg. CAP reform and the 'greening' agenda will see farmer's incomes squeezed so they legitimately need to diversify and find other revenue streams, but it is difficult to argue that 100m-tall turbines will not be a massive blot on the landscape, are hugely unwelcome to those who live near them, and could potentially effect the wider tourism industry.

The Council has now announced a public consultation into Supplementary Planning Guidelines governing Onshore Wind Energy applications — but it seems a little late in day considering there are currently already over 50 planning applications for turbines on the Island, each of them being considered independently of the rest. It seems to me that the Council needs a clear strategy for wind farms. Like Conwy, which only allows extremely tall turbines to be erected in one defined area and has imposed a fairly low height restriction on them elsewhere, Anglesey council needs to do some serious thinking rather than letting them proliferate throughout the island on an ad-hoc case-by-case basis.

So in my view, apart from the preparations for Wylfa B, the council has got itself into a real mess with its Energy Island 'strategy'. With the exception of the underwater turbines off the Skerries, the developments being proposed so far:

  • deliver no discernible green benefits considering the long distances the source materials need to travel
  • ultimately provide relatively few low-skilled, manual jobs without a proper assessment of the overall net effect on jobs
  • require the shipping into Anglesey of large amounts of unpleasant waste (the Peboc biomass plant alone estimates 78 daily deliveries of wood; 5 daily deliveries of tallow and vegetable oil, and 88 trips related to the shipping of pellets. Thats a helluva lot of HGVs everyday)
  • do not lead to Ynys Môn becoming a 'Centre of Excellence' in any of these technologies
  • potentially have a dubious effect on tourism and other businesses

So what is the point being an 'Energy Island' if we don't gain anything from it? Surely the vision behind the Energy Island strategy originally was to promote Anglesey as a Centre of Excellence in energy technology, not a dumping ground for dubious, grant-seeking, "dirty" developments. The same is true of wind turbines: they are not a new technology, the community as a whole does not benefit from them, and we can't compete with the Danes or Germans in the development and manufacturing of them as they already have the expertise, experience and economies of scale.

Ynys Môn needs to be looking to utilising its unique Island resources and promoting renewable technologies in their infancy — as with the Skerries underwater turbines. In other words we need some vison, better strategic long-term thinking, and higher aspirations.

UPDATE: You can now register your objection to the Peboc biomass plant here.

Saturday, 17 December 2011

Commissioners: agreeing 5% council tax hike crucial for returning democratic control to Ynys Môn

The Anglesey Commissioners roadmap to recovery

The Anglesey Commissioners released their second quarterly report to the Minister yesterday, covering the period July to September this year. Below are the key passages (emphasis mine):

4.1 During the Quarter, whilst Commissioners have continued to exercise the responsibilities previously reserved to the Executive, they have followed a process of gradual re-engagement of the Shadow Executive and Elected Members in the work of the Council. Relationships with Commissioners are good, and Elected Members have adopted a much more positive approach. 
4.2 Commissioners have involved Shadow Portfolio Holders in regular meetings with Officers and this has been received well, allowing constructive relationships to develop and providing mentoring for Officers and Executive Members. In this way the Executive has been re-engaged to work alongside Commissioners to observe the way in which they are operating. 
4.3 Members have also contributed effectively to building a consensus around the Corporate Plan and Budget Planning process. [...]
4.5 The experience to date is that the majority of Councillors have been supportive and have demonstrated a willingness to work with Commissioners and Officers to put the Council on a more business like footing for the future. Re- engagement will progress during Quarter 3 in order to test sustainability. 
6.0 The issues to be addressed during the next Quarter (September to December) and the longer term prospects up to May 2012 and Beyond 
6.2 The milestones for Quarter 3 will be to:- 
  • Prepare the budget strategy for 2012/2013;
  • Agree the strengthened corporate management arrangements; Establish the Improvement Board and implement the Performance
  • Management Framework;
  • Make substantial progress to improve poor performing services; Progress citizen engagement;
  • Make further progress in economic renewal;
  • Strengthen the Constitution;
  • Establish constructive relationships with Regulators;
  • Develop an agreed plan to develop the Corporate Centre; Implement risk reporting for the Council.
7.2 At this stage there are positive signs that the improvement process has commenced, but there is still a great deal of work to be done to deliver against the recommendations of inspection reports, as well as further developing the fundamental strategic issues.
7.3 The most urgent issues have been addressed and a stable platform for improvement has been created. However, the limited capacity of the corporate centre has meant that some important developments have taken longer than the Commissioners consider ideal and action has been taken to secure additional capacity. 
7.5 The Commissioners are satisfied that their 10 Key Themes will address the concerns of regulators and the perceived weaknesses identified by Commissioners, in order to secure improved services to the people of Anglesey. It is too early to say when sustainability will be achieved, but Commissioners will continue to work with Officers and Elected Members in developing their capacity and capability to resume control of the Council. 
7.6 Progress against the tasks agreed for Quarter 3 will be an indicator of when the Council is likely to be ready to return to democratic control. 
59.0 It is too early to say when sustainability will be achieved, but Commissioners will continue to work with Officers and Elected Members in developing their capacity and capability to resume control of the Council. Progress with the tasks agreed for Quarter 3 will be an indicator of whether the Council is likely to be ready to return to democratic control in the Spring of 2012.
For me two key points come out of this document:

1. There are continued references throughout the report to the weakness of the 'corporate centre' and how this has delayed improvements. The report enlarges on this point in the following section.
"The limited capacity of the corporate centre has been a factor in delaying progress in key areas. There have been continuing issues in ICT and HR and the need to make a number of interim appointments in Finance at short notice have delayed important milestones The improvement process in Children‟s Services was slowed down by the need to make interim appointments and to obtain external advice. These risks have been mitigated to some extent by the excellent quality of those inputs but this highlights the need to create a staffing structure for the future which will attract suitably skilled employees, able to met the challenges of the improvement agenda."
So this is not a problem with the councillors but with weaknesses in the permanent corporate functions themselves. Which begs the question what on earth was achieved by the two whole years of Welsh Government intervention in Ynys Môn prior to the introduction of the Commissioners — including the highest paid civil servant in Wales, David Bowles, and a whole 'Recovery Board' staffed by the Great and the Good?

2. The Commissioners will not make a recommendation as to whether the improvements are sustainable and the council is ready to return to democratic control until the end of the third quarter (i.e. after the period from October - December 2011). Furthermore, the decision will be based on councillors accepting without too much fuss the Commissioners recommended budget for 2012/13 which will controversially see council tax on Ynys Môn increasing by 5% — very likely the highest percentage rise in Wales. By witholding their decision until after December (and by making it contingent on Councillors agreeing to large council tax rises) the Commissioners seem to be purposely making a May 2012 election extremely unlikely. The lack of certainty means that with just five months until the local government polling day in May (remember Carl Sargeant hasn't yet said that the election on Ynys Môn will definitely be postponed), possible candidates aren't able to prepare properly. Indeed just this week I received an email from a someone who wants to stand as an Independent candidate at the next election. She said:
"...uncertainty about the date would make it more difficult for new people who did not have party political back-up, as they will need to start their campaigns early but they could not be certain as to the area they needed to canvass, and could not make plans to ensure that they timed their door-to-door campaign to best effect. As there are currently few women elected to the Council that would also discriminate against women being elected for the next term."
So, even if the Commissioners do decide in January that the council can be returned to democratic control, it seems likely that the very fact there will be so little time between that point and the official Wales local election date in May, it will be used as an excuse to force a very unsatisfactory postponement. 

The full report and annex are attached below.
Quarter 2 Report to Minister Appendix 3 Corporate Governance Priorities (Q2 Position)

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Schism: Ieuan Wyn Jones and Ynys Môn's Plaid Councillors

IWJ: deliberately avoiding
the question
As reported in yesterday's Daily Post, Ieuan Wyn Jones has sought to completely sidestep the question of the whether he supports the postponement of local elections in Ynys Môn or not. This is what he is quoted as saying:

"Plaid Cymru’s Constituency Committee for Ynys Môn is carefully considering the plans for local government electoral changes on Anglesey. The document presented by the Boundary Commission needs to be thoroughly evaluated in view of the far-reaching proposals contained within it.
"We will not give a knee-jerk reaction like some other parties but give the proposals the consideration they deserve. We will be presenting our response before the deadline early in the New Year."

There is no question that the proposed boundary changes need to be considered carefully and in detail — nobody disputes that. However the issue is why is Ynys Môn only being given four weeks (over the Christmas period too) to consult on them whereas the rest of Wales will have four years? If Ieuan Wyn Jones considers that they should not be responded to in a "knee-jerk" manner and, indeed, that they will lead to "far-reaching" changes then why would he accept that we are only being given four weeks to consult on them? 

The fact remains that these boundary changes are being rushed through by the Minster in order to facilitate a postponed election in 2013 under new electoral arrangements designed purposefully to eliminate Independent councillors. This is not how proper, sustainable, organic "democratic renewal" should be brought about. Even Plaid Cymru's Ynys Môn councillors — those who notionally will gain the most from the proposed changes — have taken a principled stand against them. Furthermore Plaid Cymru's former Party Chair, John Dixon, has said unequivocally that he thinks the proposals amount to "rigging the electoral system" and has spoke out against them. Yet it seems clear from Ieuan Wyn Jones' side-stepping response to the Daily Post that he is prepared support a postponement and in so doing is ignoring both his own local Plaid Cymru councillors, and the best interests of Ynys Môn, in favour or securing narrow party advantage at a rigged and postponed local election in 2013.

In the meantime, certain commentators on this blog and elsewhere continue to support the proposed boundary changes and delayed elections on Ynys Môn. Below are the reasons why I feel they are wrong:

  • The proposed reduction down to 30 councillors leaves too few for the council to operate effectively. Although a smaller reduction in numbers is warranted, a council of just 30 members will require that, on top of their duties to constituents, virtually all of them will need to take executive and portfolio positions, staff the various committees, attend to statutory obligations on police and fire associations, etc. This will mean in the short-term that being a councillor will become a full-time job; and in the long-term it will simply pave the way for rolling Anglesey up into Greater Gwynedd — something that is not in the best interests of Ynys Môn residents.
  • For the above reason, younger people with jobs, mothers with small children etc. will not find it possible time-wise to fulfil their obligations as councillors and will thus be discouraged from standing for election. Reducing the amount of people able to stand for election is not conducive to 'democratic renewal'.
  • A reduction down to just 11 new multi-member 'super-wards', spanning both urban and rural areas, could mean that all the elected members in one ward could come from just one small part of the ward (likely the urban parts) and thus be unfamiliar with the rest of their ward. This is not in the best interests of constituents.
  • Similarly, these larger wards make it impossible for Independent councillors without Party backing to get elected. For example, the proposed ward of Central Anglesey has 5,829 electors and therefore approximately up to 3,000 households. Independent members will have no chance to canvass all of these households and sending out a leaflet would could cost upwards of £2,000 in printing and postage charges. Again reducing the pool of people able to stand for election is not conducive to 'democratic renewal'.
  • As already discussed, why are these proposals being rushed through? The rest of Wales will get four years to consult on their boundary changes, Ynys Môn is getting just four weeks (over the Xmas period too thus effectively making it shorter). 
  • Postponed elections will not allow issues like next year's council tax rises, cuts to services etc to be discussed and debated, nor will it allow all the Parties and candidates to set out their policy stalls in an election.
  • Finally, as the WLGA says, all Welsh counties should be treated equally. The Minister is attempting to introduce an electoral system unique in Wales to achieve his own desired election result. That is wrong.

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Anglesey's "il Sorpasso"

Back in 1987 there was much jubilation in Italy when, for the first time, the size of the Italian economy overtook that of the UK. The Italians nicknamed it "il Sorpasso" ('the surpass'). Unfortunately for them it didn't last long and the UK economy has now been consistently larger since the mid 1990s. However today marks Ynys Môn's own "il sorpasso" moment as it finally overtakes Gwent Valleys to become officially the second poorest region in Wales, and the third poorest in the UK. 

The 'il sorpasso' moment: Ynys Môn no longer bottom of this table.
Top five and bottom five GVA per head regions, 2009. Source: ONS

We know this from the latest regional GVA per head figures released by the Office for National Statistics this morning, and reproduced above. As it happens, it appears that our "il sorpasso" moment may have actually came and passed unnoticed in 2004 — historical GVA data revised in line with new EU standards which were also released by the ONS today show that Ynys Môn actually overtook Gwent Valleys back in 2004. The Telegraph has the full story.

Unlike Italy in 1987, these figures do not really provide much cause for celebration on Anglesey: being the third poorest region out of 133 sub-regions in the UK is not much of an improvement. But at least we are no longer last.

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Decision time for Ieuan Wyn Jones

At an Extraordinary Meeting of Ynys Môn council this morning councillors unanimously agreed to resist both the proposed boundary changes and mooted postponement of next year's local elections on the Island. Significantly the two Labour councillors present, J Arwel Roberts and Raymond Jones, went against both Senedd colleague Carl Sargeant and their (absent) Labour leader on the Council, John Chorlton, in supporting the motion to reject the proposals.

Most importantly however for Carl Sargeant's chances of pushing his measure through the Senedd, Plaid Cymru's Ynys Môn Leader Bob Parry, and members of his group, also spoke passionately against the Welsh Government's proposals. Ieuan Wyn Jones told the Daily Post today in response to the news that both the Welsh Conservatives and Lib Dems will oppose the move, that he was "in discussions with Plaid councillors on Anglesey to consider a response". Now that his local councillors have clearly shown on which side they are on, will Ieuan Wyn Jones listen? And if so will he join the Welsh Conservatives and Lib-dems in blocking these proposals in the Senedd?

So, to help Ieuan Wyn Jones make up his mind, here is a ready reckoner of who is now for and against Carl Sargeant's proposals:


  • The Welsh Local Government Association (WLGA)
  • The Welsh Conservative Party
  • The Welsh Liberal Democrats
  • All Independent councillors on Ynys Môn council
  • All Plaid Cymru councillors on Ynys Môn council
  • At least two of the five Labour councillors on Ynys Môn council
  • A clear majority of Ynys Môn's town and community councils
  • The former Plaid Cymru National Chair, John Dixon


  • Carl Sargeant
  • The Welsh Labour Party (presumably, though Labour members in the WLGA unanimously voted against the proposals, as did at least two Labour councillors on Ynys Môn)
  • Holyhead Town Council

Those who apparently can't make up their mind even three weeks after Carl Sargeant made his announcement:

  • Ieuan Wyn Jones

Monday, 12 December 2011

Crushed: Ynys Môn and Carl Sargeant

Carl Sargeant crushes local democracy on Ynys Môn

Welsh Local Government Minister, Carl Sargeant, will be in Ynys Môn tomorrow to meet with his Commissioners — no doubt to "consult" with them on whether he should do what he has already decided to do anyway, i.e. postpone the Island's local elections for 12 months. This will allow him to ensure that when Ynys Môn residents are finally entrusted to once again exercise their right to vote — a full year after everyone else in Wales — they will vote within rushed through but entirely new boundaries and according to an electoral system which uniquely throughout Wales will be made up of only multi member wards. You see, Mr Sargeant does not like who Anglesey residents have been voting for in the past, therefore his solution for "democratic renewal" is to simply rig the electoral system on Ynys Môn so as to make it exponentially more difficult for those he doesn't like, the Independents, to get elected.

Some defend Mr Sargeant's questionable methods by arguing that it is a price worth paying to get rid of the "rot", forgetting that there are some hard-working, excellent Independent Councillors on one side and some awful Party-affiliated Councillors on the other. Unfortunately the new system will see the former punished and the latter prosper. Mr Sargeant's defenders also forget that the Island's political problems were exponentially exacerbated by the Welsh Government's previous attempt at intervention through the forced appointment of 'local government troubleshooter' David Bowles, who unfortunately did far more harm than good — indeed his highly-paid two year reign as Interim MD led directly to the appointment of the Commissioners themselves. Though to be fair to Mr Bowles at least he only said that the Commissioners should stay until 2012:

"I recommended commissioners should be appointed until elections in 2012, together with investment in democratic renewal."                                                                                     — David Bowles in March, 2011

Accordingly, the genius idea of pursuing "democratic renewal" through (a) postponing actual elections, and (b) reducing the pool of people who will find it possible to get elected is Mr Sargeant's alone. 

In the meantime, between now and when we are eventually allowed to vote again, too many important and irreversible decisions affecting everyone on Anglesey will be made by Commissioners with no democratic legitimacy or accountability. For example, successive administrations on the Island, mindful that Ynys Môn is the poorest region in the UK, have successfully managed to keep Anglesey's council tax amongst the lowest in Wales — now we discover that the Commissioners want to impose a 5% rise in our Council tax next year, quite likely the largest rise in all of Wales. Similarly, Anglesey residents will have no democratic say in what services will be cut next year, or on controversial plans to erect a rash of wind turbines across the Island, and so on and so on until May 2013.

Is this really a price worth paying in order to achieve a sham "democratic renewal" achieved through the dubious means of purposefully manipulating the Island's electoral system?

Thursday, 8 December 2011

Explosive Wind Turbines

On the day that a Scottish windturbine exploded in spectacular fashion in today's gales, a reader writes:

I attended the public meeting held last night by Penmynydd and Star Community Council. Between 150-200 people attended, some were unable to squeeze into the hall. The Community Council Chair did a good job as almost to a man (and certainly every woman and child) was opposed to the plans being discussed for an industrial size wind turbine development in the community.  
About half the people were from the community and they spoke with passion about their worries about the noise and flicker that are known to cause health problems; and about the loss of jobs that will result from the destruction of the landscape that is the main attraction for tourists and visitors; and their fear that high quality businesess will not be attracted to come to the island when they can't offer skilled staff a good quality of life; and the worry that homeowners will not be able to sell their houses as no one will want to come here to live in the shadow of the turbines. 
Despite the strength of public feeling and genuine concerns, the Councillors voted 3 to 2 in favour of building the first of what could be many turbines - a 71 meter high turbine that will be seen for miles around.

Update: One Ynys Môn County Councillor comes out completely against the approval of any further wind turbines on the Island:
No to Wind Turbines

Monday, 5 December 2011

Commissioners behind closed doors. (Updated)

In the newly delivered December edition of Anglesey Council's "Môn News" propaganda sheet, in a section entitled "Anglesey's Commissioners — making good progress", one of their top three priorities is listed as:

"fully engaging with the people of Anglesey to reflect their views and priorities".

Furthermore, one of the Commissioners is then specifically quoted as saying:

"Improving the way we engage with people is vital. In time, we hope to see community engagement play a key role in the way Anglesey develops and provides future services".

Meanwhile, we discover from the published agenda of this Thursday's Full Council meeting that item 15, "Commissioners 2nd Quarterly Progress Report" will be made only after the "exclusion of the press and public".

"Community engagement" in action? "Democratic renewal"? Hmmmm.

UPDATE: The Council gets in touch to say:
"The draft Q2 progress report has been forwarded to the Minister for consideration and he will be meeting with Commissioners next week to discuss its contents.

Subject to the Minister's views, we anticipate that the report will be published on our website within the next fortnight.

Members will be provided with a verbal briefing on what is contained within the draft report during Full Council on Thursday.

The verbal briefing will take place in the closed session because the report is still in its draft form and has not been agreed with the Minister."
Which is all well and good. However I'm afraid that at a time when the Minister is both (a) directing the Local Government Boundaries Commission for Wales to exclusively introduce multi member wards throughout Ynys Môn with the sole aim of achieving a certain election result (i.e. the elimination of Independents), and (b) is "minded" to postpone Ynys Môn's local elections until 2013, things are beginning to appear more and more anti-democratic.