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Hydro-electric plan would ruin moorland river, say protesters

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: October 14, 2012

  • Andrew Joynson says the development would change the character of the river and damage populations of migratory fish, such as salmon and sea trout Picture: Paul Slater

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Campaigners fear an idyllic stretch of moorland river could be ruined forever if resurrected plans for a hydro-electric project are approved.

Dartmoor National Park Authority resoundingly rejected plans for the energy generation scheme on the River Walkham at Huckworthy Mill, near Yelverton, which also required a new fish pass to be built, nearly six months ago.

But developer CGP South West has now resubmitted its proposals, on land owned by Lord Roborough's Maristow Estate, which could be decided by the park authority early next month.

Opponents of the plan are dismayed. They fear the development could change the character of the river and damage populations of migratory fish, such as Atlantic salmon and sea trout.

They also fear that the proposed concrete fish pass, a series of tiered, square pools to allow salmon and sea trout to head to their spawning ground further upstream, would destroy a historic weir.

Andrew and Susan Joynson have owned the opposite side of the river and riverbank for 20 years. Mr Joynson walks the river every day.

"It's a wonderful place," he said. "There is a host of wildlife on the river, dippers and kingfishers, as well as the salmon and sea trout.

"If the scheme goes ahead, this stretch of river will change completely. It will turn from a typical moorland river into a slow-moving, turgid piece of water. That will do no good for the salmon and sea trout, which are already in decline, returning to the river to spawn. If they can not get to their spawning grounds above the weir then the fish will be lost to the river forever.

"The Environment Agency say they will monitor the situation but there's no room for any mistakes here.

"All the way along we have felt like the little guy fighting against the big guy. I have always been quietly confident of the outcome but for my wife it has been very upsetting."

CGP, which is based at Abbotskerswell, near Newton Abbot, believes the scheme, which would divert water down a leat which used to power the local mill, would generate enough electricity for around 100 homes.

It has already been granted a 20-year abstraction licence by the Environment Agency which has also approved the design of the new fish pass.

But planning permission was rejected out-of-hand by the park authority in May, against officer advice, over concerns that the fish pass would destroy the weir which was originally built in 1578, and regarded as a heritage asset, but has undergone significant alterations and repair.

Pam Hayward, Mr Joynson's neighbour, owns the stretch of river beyond the weir. She stressed they were not opposed to the principle of hydro-electric generation on the river but to its size.

"It is all about the scale," Miss Hayward said. "It is about the scale of the development, the scale of the fish pass, the scale of the impact on the river. At peak times they are talking about removing 72% of the water in the river. That could be up to 1,100 litres per second from a small river compared to the 1,200 litres a second which is taken from the River Tavy at Abbey Weir for the Tavistock canal."

Miss Hayward added: "It seems that renewable energy targets have overturned common sense."

The next meeting of the authority's development management committee is on November 2. The scheme is also opposed by the South West Rivers Association while more than 50 others have lodged their objections with the authority.

CGP (SW) Director Tony Jackson admitted he had been "disappointed" with the committee's original decision but was confident they had addressed the issues raised.

"It is a new application but the scheme is largely similar and we have just provided additional information," he said. "There's no major redesign.

"The two important reports are the structural engineer's report and the historian's report which we believe address the reasons for our first application being refused."

Mr Jackson said they were only taking "a small proportion" of water out of the river and disputed the figure quoted by Miss Hayward, saying it would be less than half.

He added: "We don't see the character of the river will change and neither do the Environment Agency."

Reducing the level of water abstracted, he said, would make the hydro-electric scheme unviable.

"We think we are doing it for the best of reasons and I'm sure the objectors think they are too," Mr Jackson added. "We have to rely on a neutral body that will decide what is best for the community."

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