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Application numbers: WPCC1475 (Abstraction) and WPCC1476 (Impoundment) 

Licence numbers: WA/065/0001/010 (Abstraction) and WA/065/0001/018 (Impoundment)

NRW Area: North

Date of Application: 07/04/2014

Applicant details: Hydro Schemes UK Limited, 3 Feronia House, Alban Court, Aberaeron, SA46 0AW

Summary of the proposal:
This is an application for a full abstraction licence and an impoundment licence for a hydropower scheme. The applicant proposes to abstract at a rate of up to 290 litres per second from the Afon Cynfal at National Grid Reference (NGR) SH 74456 41776 near Pont yr Afon Gam, Cwm Cynfal, Llanffestiniog, Gwynedd and to discharge all the water back into the same river at SH 73385 41337, approximately 1300 metres downstream of the abstraction point.  The proposed scheme would consist of a new concrete intake weir (at the abstraction point), a penstock pipe with an external diameter of 560 millimetres, a coanda intake screen with 2 millimetre apertures, a residual flow notch (called a ‘flume’ on drawings) to secure a residual flow of 45 litres per second, a turbine house and pipeline (not considered as part of these applications) and an outfall structure (screened pipe with an external diameter of 560 millimetres).  The proposed weir would be situated on a natural step in the channel. 

The applicant has proposed an abstraction regime of 40 percent abstraction above Q95 during the period 1 April to 31 December inclusive, and 60% abstraction above Q95 during the period 1 January to 31 March inclusive (both up to a maximum abstraction rate of 290 litres per second).  This is in line with advice given at pre-application.  However, this advice was later revised by the NRW as a result of the findings of the applicants Bryophyte survey and an NRW site visit, to a 40% abstraction above the residual flow all year up to a maximum abstraction rate of 290 litres per second (see sections 10.2.2 and 10.3).

Summary of concerns with the application:
Rights of Access evidence – the applicant was unable to provide sufficient evidence to demonstrate that he had a right of access to the point of abstraction, without which it is not possible to issue a licence. Please see section 16 for further details.

In-combination impact of an application to vary an existing upstream abstraction licence (see map 2) – An application (application ref: WPCC2764) for a variation to an existing consumptive abstraction licence (number 23/65/1/0034) 1.4 kilometres upstream of this proposed HEP scheme was received in December 2014.  These applications for an abstraction licence and impoundment licence were considered alongside the application for the variation.  The two applications are considered to be competing as they require part of the same water resource.  Although licence number 23/65/1/0034 is already in place, the requested change in abstraction period will affect the resource availability in the summer.  

Each application has been assessed with regard to the following criteria (taken from the NRW’s Hydropower Guidance Note: HGN 7 Competing Schemes):

  • Likely significant effects on designated sites
  • Optimum use of available water resources
  • Impact on other water users
  • Impact on protect species
  • Impact on aesthetic criteria

Resource availability, the impact on flows, ecology, designated sites and fisheries (see section 10) were assessed and it was decided that the NRW are able to grant the requested licence variation to licence number 23/65/1/0034 and offer an abstraction scenario to the HEP developer, which the NRW are satisfied will not result in a likely significant effect on the designated sites.

Concerns regarding potential presence of humidity-sensitive bryophytes – an appropriate abstraction regime was agreed in principle in order to protect the SAC species (bryophytes) present in the proposed depleted reach. However, the residual flow is yet to be confirmed subject to the resolution of the concerns regarding the amenity flow over Ceunant Cynfal Falls (see below).

Concerns regarding impact on amenity flow over Ceunant Cynfal Falls – the applicant failed to provide information regarding the potential impact of the proposed hydropower scheme’s abstraction on the amenity value of the Ceunant Cynfal Falls. Without an appropriate photo survey, it was not possible to determine an appropriate abstraction regime (including residual flow).

Source of Supply:
Inland water (river) known as the Afon Cynfal near Pont yr Afon Gam, Cwm Cynfal, Llanffestiniog, Gwynedd.

Points of abstraction and quantities:
Point of abstraction – National Grid Reference SH 74456 41776
Quantities – 25,056 cubic metres per day
 9,145,440 cubic metres per year
 At a rate of 290 litres per second

Means of abstraction:
Intake works and a gravity feed pipe with an external diameter not exceeding 560 millimetres.

Purpose of abstraction:
Power production.

Abstraction period:
All year.

Case history
A pre-application enquiry was submitted in late 2012, proposing a hydro power scheme at National Grid Reference SH 74450 41780 on the Afon Cynfal.  The pre-application was assessed by NRW’s predecessor the Environment Agency Wales.  A pre-application response letter was sent on 28 February 2013 advising that in principle we had no objections to the proposal and we were willing to consider a formal application.

A formal application was received on 20 February 2014.  However it was initially considered invalid because rights of access information had not been included.  The application was accepted as valid on 7 April 2014, once a draft lease agreement (to support the applicants right to access) had been received, and deemed acceptable to validate the application and begin determination.

Justification of quantities:
The applicant has not submitted information on the net head of the scheme, or the scheme efficiency, therefore NRW are not able to calculate the system efficiency and comment whether or not the quantities requested are justified and reasonable. 

Resource assessment:
The Catchment Abstraction Management Strategy (CAMS) resources assessment status for this area is ‘water available’. This proposal has been subjected to the WALES methodology to establish the permitted abstraction/residual flow regime.  The watercourse falls within a Band A for which a 40 percent abstraction above the residual flow (typically Q95) all year to Qmean is considered acceptable to protect the ecology of the proposed depleted reach.  However, the residual flow has yet to be agreed and is dependent on the outcome of the applicant’s flow survey of the amenity waterfalls within the depleted reach – this was never submitted by the applicant.

Impact assessment of proposal:
Abstraction regime: The WALES scoring methodology assessed this site as a Band A from the perspective of protecting the ecology of the depleted reach. The applicant was advised in their pre-application advice letter that a 40% abstraction above the residual flow (Q95) April – December and 60 percent abstraction above the residual flow January – March would be acceptable.  The applicant was also advised in the letter that the residual flow value was subject to change, pending the outcome of the requested flow photosurvey.  However, this advice was reviewed and amended during the extended determination period, due to the potential impact of the abstraction on the Migneint-Arenig-Dduallt SAC (see section 10.3) to 40% all year above the residual flow, up to the maximum instantaneous rate.  This was deemed appropriate to protect the ecology of the depleted reach taking into account the potential in-combination effect on the designated site and depleted reach of both the HEP abstraction and the varied DCWW abstraction issued 7 May 2015 (see tables and hydrographs below).

The impact on the aesthetic quality of the waterfalls is likely to be determined by local hydraulics, such as channel shape and velocity, as well as flow rate.  As shown by table 2 below, when both abstractions are considered together, there will be a reduction in flow over the falls.  However it is not possible to tell, without considering other factors mentioned above (local hydraulics etc), what impact this would have on the amenity value of the waterfalls.  Snowdonia National Park Authority have requested that the applicant for the HEP scheme carries out a survey to show what impact their proposed abstraction will have on the waterfalls from an amenity perspective. This was never provided and as such, it was not possible for NRW, SNPA and the applicant to agree on an appropriate abstraction regime for the proposal that would protect the amenity value of the Ceunant Cynfal Falls. 

In addition to the above, the applicant has not provided sufficient evidence to show that they have a right of access to the abstraction point. Therefore this is another reason that the abstraction licence is being refused.

Statutory Consultation:
Snowdonia National Park Authority were consulted on 29/07/14 and replied on 27/08/14.  They commented that any proposed abstraction regime should protect the visual amenity of the Ceunant Cynfal waterfalls.  They requested that the impact of the proposed scheme on the waterfalls is assessed.  As a result the applicant was asked to carry out a photosurvey of flows at the falls and submit it to NRW and the SNPA.  SNPA also stated that the site qualifies as a Natural Environment and Rural Communities (NERC) Act 2006 Section 42 Oceanic Ravine Bryophyte site and this should be taken into consideration for the abstraction regime.

External Representations:

Protected Rights:
No protected rights or lawful users have been identified as being at risk of derogation as a result of this proposal. 

Conservation Issues:
The comments provided by the Designated Sites Team were in response to the ‘in-combination’ part of the appendix assessments for the DCWW licence variation application (23/65/1/0034), which were signed off on 24/03/2015. Natural Resources Wales is of the opinion that the proposal is not likely to have an impact on the Migneint-Arenig-Dduallt SAC/SPA/SSSI as designated under the Habitats Regulation or the CRoW Act. A maximum abstraction of 40 percent of all flows above the residual flow to a maximum of 290l/s is likely to be acceptable.  Any change in the proposed abstraction regime will need to be re-assessed and should be accompanied by a thorough bryophyte survey and report of the Rhaeadr y Cwm gorge (see section 10.3). However, an appendix assessment has not been completed for this site, or for Cwm Cynfal (SSSI), as NRW are awaiting the submission of the requested flow survey to allow us to determine an acceptable residual flow regime, which would need to be included and considered on the appendix assessment.  Therefore this conclusion could change upon completion of the appendix assessment once all the information (as yet unavailable) has been considered.

An Appendix 11 assessment has been completed for Meirionnydd Oakwoods and Bat sites (SAC) and was sent to the Designated Sites Team for information only. As the SAC boundary was 2.16 kilometres downstream of the proposed HEP site, and listed no mobile, water dependent species, no significant effect on the SAC is expected as a result of this proposal. An Appendix 4 assessment for Ceunant Cynfal (SSSI) was completed and saved for audit. The site activities are not listed in the Operations Likely to Damage for the SSSI, and therefore no impact on the site is expected as a result of this proposal.

Costs/ Benefits:
No adverse effects upon the social and economic well-being of local communities in the rural area are perceived as a result of this proposal.

The scheme may encourage others to produce electricity in this way.

Biodiversity and sustainable development:
Concerns have been raised regarding impacts on ecology as a result of the 60 percent abstraction above Q95 up to the maximum instantaneous rate applied for with a depleted reach of 1300m.

A bryophyte assessment survey was carried out on behalf of the applicant (as requested in the pre-application response letter) and submitted with the formal application.  The assessment was conducted over 3 days (2, 3 and 12 November 2013).  The full report can be found on the DMS/EDRM.  The surveyor stated that the ‘area is clearly of national conservation interest for bryophytes, particularly the steep north facing slope of Rhaeadr y Cwm (within the depleted reach created by the proposed scheme), where most of the specialised oceanic species are found around rocky outcrops and along small streamlets and seepages.’ The species identified in the limited area assessed showed that the site met the criteria for Section 42 Oceanic ravine bryophytes, and the SSSI selection threshold. 

The surveyor concluded that at the location where the weir would be installed and the upstream impounded area, no bryophyte features of significant interest are supported. They also concluded that the area within the depleted reach created by the proposed scheme would not be directly affected by the proposed HEP development. The accessible lengths of the river channel that were assessed did not support a bryophyte flora of particular conservation interest, however large parts of the river channel of the main ravine were deemed inaccessible (and therefore not assessed), and the surveyor conceded that it is possible that species of conservation concern, in association with the main river hydrology, could be present in these areas.  If this were the case, they would be susceptible to the effects of the proposed HEP development.  They concluded that the proposed scheme is unlikely to have any significant impact on any bryophyte features of any significant conservation interest within areas that could be accessed during the survey.  

NRW have visited the site since the submission of this survey, and concluded that the area of the watercourse assessed was relatively small, due to the inaccessible nature of the gorge.  It was determined from the site visit that it was very possible that humidity dependent bryophyte species, including those notified as a feature of the SAC, could be present, and therefore it could not be shown that an abstraction of 40 percent above the residual flow April – December with an additional 20% January – March, would have no likely significant impact on the SAC.  Therefore, adopting the precautionary approach, which is considered appropriate when considering the impact on a Natura 2000 site (designated and protected by the Conservation (Natural Habitats, and c.) Regulations 1994, as amended by the Conservation of Species and Habitats Regulations 2010 and 2012), the additional 20% abstraction January – March will not be permitted. This is because the reduced tree cover in the winter, along with a larger abstraction could have a negative impact on the humidity dependent bryophyte species notified as part of the SAC.  This advice could be revised upon the receipt of a more detailed survey, if the survey definitively showed the absence of such species.  Therefore, considering the information available, NRW has recommended to the applicant that we will only accept an abstraction regime of 40% abstraction of available flows above the residual flow up to the maximum instantaneous rate for this site.

Conclusion and recommendation:
NRW has chosen to refuse the applications for the following reasons:
Abstraction licence:

  • The applicant has not submitted evidence to show that the necessary rights of access have been granted; this is a legal requirement under section 35 Water Resources Act 1991. Without this evidence, NRW are unable to issue an abstraction licence

Impoundment licence:

  • The applicant has no ‘reasonable requirement’ for the licence (section 38(3)(b) Water Resources Act 1991) as the abstraction licence will be refused and therefore the HEP scheme cannot go ahead

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