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The scar on the landscape - similarities with Corrib,,2091841,00.html
Hay festival 2007
The scar on the landscape
One of the hottest topics of conversation at this year's Hay festival isn't a book but the 200-mile-long gas pipe that skirts the town. John Harris reports Thursday May 31, 2007The Guardian
Apart from the unseasonably foul weather, one subject has dominated conversation at this year's Hay festival: the huge dirt-brown construction site where teams of contractors working for the National Grid are laying a vast gas pipeline. Visitors who were barely aware of the £840m project have been particularly shocked at the way it is chewing up the Brecon Beacons.
It was inevitable, then, that the topic should come up on Monday, at a debate entitled Greening Britain. A local woman slammed not just the effects of the pipeline on the local environment, but the fact that its 200-mile route has been secured via Whitehall diktat and compulsory purchase orders, leaving any public consultation to focus on a few above-ground installations.

Her impassioned speech seemed to find one member of the panel unprepared, however. David Miliband, secretary of state for the environment, claimed not to be familiar with the development, and then nudged the conversation elsewhere.
"I don't think he knew anything about it at all," says the eco-author Mark Lynas, who was also on the panel. "He actually turned to me and said, '[Is it] gas?' I had half a mind to say, 'No - it's nuclear.' I thought that was pretty odd coming from the environment secretary - flabbergasting, really."
Given the expense, importance and sheer scale of the pipeline project, it does indeed seem strange that Miliband apparently knew nothing about it. As outlined in a G2 cover story last month, the pipeline is aimed at supplying a fifth of the UK's natural gas requirements, and will bring gas imported by huge tankers from the Pembrokeshire coast, across Wales, to a final terminal near Tirley in Gloucestershire. By way of highlighting its importance to the UK's increasingly anxious energy policy, Tony Blair recently paid a visit to the pipeline's source at Milford Haven.
In the past month, the controversy that has plagued the project - variously based on worries about safety, its impact on the landscape, what the project says about the government's commitment to the green agenda, and the bypassing of any meaningful scrutiny - has only continued. After the Forest of Dean district council unexpectedly refused planning permission for the installation that will sit at the eastern end of the pipeline, a public enquiry was convened in the Gloucestershire village of Corse: opponents of the project claimed that it would represent a threat to the local environment and an obvious target for terrorism, and are currently waiting for a decision due in the next three months.
After local councillors were inexplicably barred from voting on permission for another installation near the Welsh village of Cilfrew, anti-pipeline campaigners went to the high court in March, and overturned Neath and Port Talbot council's approval, meaning that the local planning committee had to meet again. That happened on May 15, when permission was once again granted, though anti-pipeline campaigners are refusing to accept defeat; they claim the result was secured via a Labour party block vote, despite the fact that planning law explicitly rules out any political interference in such decisions. Underneath such high-level intrigue, there are additional dramas that make it into the local papers: in the Welsh village of Llandybie, for example, a man claiming that the pipeline's supply vehicles were breaking local transport regulations recently put his head in a noose and spent two hours lying under a truck.
The national media, meanwhile, has belatedly started to take an interest. Radio 4's You and Yours broadcast an item about the pipeline a few days after the G2 story appeared. This Tuesday, Radio 2's Jeremy Vine show pitted a senior National Grid official against an anti-pipeline activist, before flipping into a five-minute run of callers that reached a bathetic conclusion with a woman phoning with an enthusiastic verdict on the work in progress. "It's quite fascinating to see all this big kit and action in an area where nothing usually happens," she said.
The activist was phoning from the protest camp that has been her home for the past two months, an ad-hoc clump of tents and improvised shelters a 25-minute drive away from Hay, in woodland near Brecon. Since January, it has formed an uneasy redoubt, as work on the pipeline has closed in from both directions, though this part of the story seems to be headed for its denouement. A solicitors' letter was delivered to the camp last week: "National Grid Gas plc have been granted the right and authority to enter and occupy the land to carry out works to lay a pipeline," it says. "Your presence on the land is interfering with those rights." It is only a matter of time before the "eviction specialists" arrive.
After two years of protests, the pipeline project's original October deadline is a forlorn hope: once the Brecon campers have been sent on their way, the pipe itself may yet be completed by early 2008, but the delays that have afflicted the two key above-ground installations mean the entire scheme could come in up to a year behind schedule. Meanwhile, as the crowd at Hay were told by Lynas, the saga has brought together environmental worries with the feeling that Whitehall is now set on moving against even the most basic scrutiny and consultation.
Two weeks ago, the government's new planning white paper announced plans to reinvent British regulations, so that new "national planning statements" issued by ministers would provide a "framework" for a new, supposedly independent national planning commission. According to some observers, the planning system would thus be centralised as never before: according to Friends of the Earth, "the white paper will give the green light to massive new developments while stripping away opportunities for affected communities or the wider public to have any input on the decisions". Round these parts, that has a very familiar ring.

Posted Date: 
23 May 2007 - 9:23pm