HL Deb 05 March 1991 vol 526 cc1301-3

Lord Hunt asked Her Majesty's Government:

What is the present position relating to a proposal by the Ministry of Defence to erect four radar/radio masts on Mynydd Eppynt, on the northern boundary of the Brecon Beacons National Park.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence (The Earl of Arran)

My Lords, we are considering a requirement for new communications facilities, and the Sennybridge training area is under consideration as a possible site. However, no decisions have yet been taken.

Lord Hunt

My Lords, I thank the noble Earl for that Answer which is reassuring as far as it goes. Is he aware—and if he is aware will he bear in mind—that the installation proposed would be 1.5 times the height of the Eiffel Tower and positioned at 800 feet on Mynydd Eppynt, that it would be visible throughout the length and breadth of the Principality, quite apart from being visible from the Cotswolds and Exmoor, and that it would dominate the whole landscape of the Brecon Beacons National Park? Although I fully accept the priority which must be given to NATO's defence needs, can the Minister explain in further detail what is the purpose of this installation additional to the masts already proposed to be erected on the St. David's Peninsula? Finally, in view of the anxiety to which mention of this proposal has given rise in the public mind, can he assure the House that, as was agreed by Mr. Alan Clark in the case of the St. David's Peninsula project, the full planning procedures will be observed?

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, first, the masts will be approximately 1,500 feet high. There will be four masts in a lattice-work complex. It depends upon the weather conditions as to how far away they can be seen. However, it is thought that they will be seen at a maximum of five miles away.

I wish to make it perfectly clear that this is a classified operational requirement. It has nothing to do with the over-the-horizon situation at St. David's. As regards the Minister of State whom the noble Lord mentioned, my honourable friend the Minister for Defence Procurement should be in a position shortly to consider this matter before deciding whether to go ahead with the submission of a notice of proposed development.

Lord Moran

My Lords, is the Minister aware that 1,500 feet is half as high again as the Eiffel Tower, which is just over 1,000 feet, and compares with the height of St. Paul's, which is 365 feet, and the height of Nelson's column, which is 185 feet? The masts would be enormous and intrusive. It would be a great pity to have them erected in an area of still unspoiled countryside. Therefore, will the Minister think again?

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, I had hoped that I had made it perfectly clear in my original Answer that no decision had been taken. However, I am now aware of the relative heights which the noble Lord, Lord Moran, mentioned.

Lord Gisborough

My Lords, can my noble friend give us hope that those large posts will be replaced by satellites in the future?

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, I believe that that is unlikely in the short term.

Lord Morris of Castle Morris

My Lords, can the Minister give the House an assurance that, if this gaunt edifice is erected upon Mynydd Eppynt, the National Parks Authority will be fully consulted and its views taken into account? Can he further assure the House that the Government will guarantee an environmental impact assessment before any action is taken?

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, as is normal, the Ministry of Defence will follow the procedures laid down in the appropriate DoE or Welsh Office circular. As regards environmental impact assessments, no decision has yet been taken as to whether Sennybridge is to be the area chosen.

Baroness Nicol

My Lords, as my noble friend asked, does that include consultation with the local people, because that consultation was noticeably absent in the St. David's case?

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, as I said, no decision has been taken. I am sure that if that area is chosen all the local people will be consulted. I repeat that no decision has yet been taken.

Lord Tordoff

My Lords, would it not be better to consult the people before a decision is taken? Can the noble Earl tell us also which other areas are under consideration for this monstrosity?

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, it is not a monstrosity; it is an operational requirement which is important for the defence of this country. Some five or six other areas have been looked at, most of which already belong to the Ministry of Defence.

Baroness White

My Lords, will the noble Earl ensure that the National Parks Authority is kept adequately informed? I understand that a letter was sent to the Ministry of Defence several weeks ago for which no acknowledgment has been received. I should have thought that courtesy would have demanded at least an acknowledgment even though information may not be forthcoming.

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, until a decision has been taken this is merely a matter for speculation.

Lord Bruce of Donington

My Lords, in view of modern technological developments in this sphere, are the Government satisfied that a mast of this kind and height is necessary.

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, the Government will consider a mast of that height only if it is regarded as necessary.

Lord Kennet

My Lords, would the Government be prepared within a year or two to rename the mast as a monument to the end of the cold war?

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, that is unlikely.

Lord Williams of Elvel

My Lords, I am grateful for the noble Earl's assurance that he will consult local people. Speaking as a local person—I happen to live practically next-door—I look forward to that consultation. However, will he assure the House that, having consulted with local people, the Government and the Ministry of Defence will abide by any result of the planning application, if and when it comes, and not invoke prime authority to override it?

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, the noble Lord is aware that all planning procedures are strictly adhered to within the Ministry of Defence.

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