Towy Valley pylon protest: Future of 'historic' Llandovery hot air balloon festival under threat

Ian Jones said the Towy Valley landscape would be "ruined" and the future of hot ballooning threatened if pylons are built on the land

The future of a "historic" festival in the Towy Valley is under threat as campaigners say plans to erect pylons in the area would put a stop to any future events.

The Llandovery hot air balloon festival returned in 2022 in memory of keen hot air balloonist from the area, Arwel Davies. Before he died in 2021 at the age of 40, it was his ambition to see the return of the annual festival.

His wife Laura Davies and best friend Ian Jones have made that dream a reality but say pylons would ground any future plans as they pose a major safety risk.

Llandovery is a popular spot for balloonists and is set in the picturesque Towy Valley.

Plans to build pylons on the land have been met with opposition by locals, who say the area is acclaimed for its beauty and attraction to tourists.

Bute Energy, the company behind the pylon plans, said it is committed to minimising disturbance to the environment and local people and it will be consulting further before submitting a planning application in 2025.

The festival was brought back in memory of Arwel Davies, who piloted hot air balloons in the Towy Valley like his father before him. Credit: Laura Davies

Mr Jones, who was taught to pilot hot air balloons by his late friend Mr Davies, is one of the organisers of the Ar y Gorwel Hot Air Balloon Festival. He said pylons would "ruin" the area.

"The Towy Valley is a beautiful area," he explained.

"To even consider having pylons, just from a point of view of the picturesque, would ruin the Towy Valley. There's tourism and farming in the valley and not much else. So if you take pylons into consideration, the tourism side is going to see a massive impact.

"Now you bring pylons into the ballooning world and it is the number one danger. If you have any interference with pylons it's catastrophic failure immediately so for us it is a major, major concern."

Bute Energy plan to construct a series of pylons to link a new windfarm in New Radnor to the national grid in Carmarthenshire. Currently there is not enough capacity to power the mid-Wales windfarm.

Mr Jones said he understands the need for power and supports green energy but to put pylons above ground should not be an option. Other local people have questioned why cables could not be dug underground to supply power instead.

Mr Jones said: "There are many, many ways we can do this in a safer manor than the old-fashioned steel structures that are dangerous."

Balloons returned to the sky above Llandovery as part of the yearly festival in 2022. Credit: Laura Davies

The event has particular significance to the organisers who have brought the festival back in memory of their loved one.

Arwel Davies died in 2021 after a road traffic collision. Mr Jones said his late friend "is the reason there are hot air balloons in the Towy Valley".

He described the festival as a "historic event" and added: "We've managed to resurrect the event in memory of Arwel. To have the pylons come into the area, would really probably end the event before it has a chance to establish."

Mrs Davies, Arwel's wife, said the festival was a reminder of Mr Davies' legacy.

Laura's husband Arwel Davies died at the age of 40 after being involved in a traffic collision. Credit: Laura Davies

"On a personal note, I'd be deeply, deeply saddened to see any pylons in the area," she said.

"What we've created through Ar y Gorwel is something really, really special. Not just for myself and my children but all of Arwel's closest friends, family and the entire community that absolutely adored Arwel.

"The support we have had from the community...has been absolutely overwhelming and I know everybody involved would be deeply deeply saddened if the festival had to come to such an abrupt end because of pylons in the area."

The pylons being proposed by Bute Energy would look like these ones currently in Carmarthenshire. Credit: Bute Energy

Bute Energy said it has listened to the views of more than 2,500 people and will take those views into account before holding further consultations and submitting a planning application in 2025.

Gareth Williams, Grid Director at Bute Energy said: “We know that people have strong views on new infrastructure. We are committed to doing everything we can to cause the least disturbance to the environment and those who live, work and enjoy recreation close to our proposals – including hot air ballooning - while still delivering clean, green energy in line with Government policy."

Outlining potential benefits the pylons could bring, Mr Williams added: “Green GEN Towy Usk will link Bute Energy’s Nant Mithil Energy Park, which could generate around 237MW of clean, green energy in the Radnor Forest area – and a number of other Energy Parks in early assessment and feasibility stage, to the National Grid.

"And it will reduce pressure on the existing electricity grid, supporting green businesses and enabling green heating and the roll out of electric vehicles across rural Wales.

“The project will also allow direct connection of community projects and support energy resilience. It has the potential to support technologies like 5G that could help farmers, schools and businesses to be at the cutting edge of technology while being based in a rural area.

"It will tackle both the energy crisis and the climate crisis, and empower rural communities through investment, jobs and skills, enabling communities across Wales to live modernn electric lives, supporting the Welsh Government’s target for electricity to be 100% renewable by 2035.”

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