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MPs, AMs, UAVs and JOBs

You could hardly say that the establishment of the UAV testing zone over West Wales has been a hot topic of debate between politicians, whether from Westminster or Cardiff Bay. Why aren’t they elbowing their way onto the front page of all the locals to associate their names with this centre of UAV excellence?

Maybe the answer lies in their embarrassment. They believed the WDA’s spin 5 years ago which dangled the carrot of 250 jobs in the short run and eventually “up to 1000”. Now, with only 18 employed at the Parc and only half of them from the local community, the politicians are left having to explain what, apart from the jobs, are the benefits for the people of West Wales.

Here is some of the hype from 5 years ago – May 17th 2004

WDA Executive Director Geraint Davies said ParcAberporth… is set to play a key role in developing a vibrant and dynamic economy and we are working with our partners to create high quality, sustainable jobs for the local community.

The park is being developed in three phases – the first will involve the construction of three high specification units providing some 3,000 sq m of accommodation.

This will provide a 1,000 sq m technology business unit with high quality office accommodation; a 1000 sq m high specification R&D facility and a 1,000 sq m flexible design, light industrial unit. The first unit is due to be completed by the end of 2004.

The second phase of two units £ which is subject to Objective One funding £ is planned to get underway in 2005. The five units could accommodate 230 jobs.

The remaining thirty acres will be available for expansion projects by the private sector bringing the total job creating capacity of the park up to 1,000.

Part of the former MoD airport has been developed into the civilian West Wales Airport which is adjacent to ParcAberporth. It forms a vital component of the ParcAberporth offering, providing companies with logistic opportunities, potential airside access for businesses as well as air transport links to UK and European destinations.

Of course, the WDA and now the Welsh Assembly Government would say that no jobs were promised, and the press release above only talks, cleverly, of accommodating 230 jobs and capacity of 1000. In other words, they are building sufficient premises to house the jobs, and that’s all.

Mark Williams, Liberal Democrat MP for Ceredigion, the county most affected by the testing zone has supported creation of jobs on civilian projects at Parc Aberporth. Unfortunately in March 2009, he was still quoting the figure of 250 jobs.

The Plaid AM for Ceredigion Elin Jones in 2006 could only quote in an email, a totally irrelevant historical employment figure for the 70 year old Aberporth missile range (not Parc Aberporth):

“Previously over 2,000 people [the majority local] have been employed at the range. As part of a plan to retain employment in Aberporth, it is presenting itself as a UAV development centre. This is accompanied by an Objective One funded Technology Park and a civilian airfield. The testing will be military and civilian.

“Plaid Cymru has, to my knowledge, never campaigned against the MOD base at Aberporth and I have supported the UAV development at Aberporth.”

Also in February 2006 Elin Jones said:

“There will be employment at ParcAberporth, as well as training and research and development.” The technology park is being marketed by the WDA as a “centre of excellence” for the test and evaluation of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).”

Adam Price MP (Carmarthen East and Dinefwr) suggested more fundamental objection to the Parc Aberporth UAV project when in June 2009 he said:

“It is, to say the least, distasteful and pretty instructive that the Ministry of Defence has chosen to base its ominously sounding billion-pound Watchkeeper Unmanned Air System on the Israeli designed Hermes 450 that has been used in attacks on civilian populations in Gaza. Do we really want this technology associated with a peace-loving land like Wales?”

But that possible principled objection doesn’t appear to have evolved into a Plaid policy on the issue.

Labour AM Alun Davies (Mid and West Wales) is a supporter of Parc Aberporth. In an email in 2008 he stated that:

“I do support the work that is being carried out at Aberporth and will be taking part in the consultation that is being undertaken by Aberporth to allow the testing of unmanned aircraft over Mid Wales.”

AMs appear to take the line that the military has long been associated with Aberporth, and jobs – whether in military or civilian UAV development – are the only justification needed to counter any disadvantages that might result from the establishment of a testing zone over 500 sq miles of west Wales.

All of the politicians have made the calculation that despite the possible negative consequences for the people living under the testing zone – safety, noise, invasion of privacy and effect on the tourist industry, their concerns are outweighed by jobs. Job creation carries such moral weight, that all other considerations are trumped in a single hand. Game over.

But wait! what if the jobs did not materialize, or only a tiny proportion of them? Would the political support for the Parc Aberporth project fade away? I decided to try and clarify the issue.

The proposed UAV testing zone covers part of the Counties of Pembrokeshire, Carmarthenshire, Ceredigion and Powys. 12 MPs and AMs have constituencies which are overflown to some degree by the zone. So on Thursday September 25th 2009 I emailed this letter to all 12 representatives:

Dear (MP or AM),

I am currently updating BEPJ supporters on the views and positions of local elected representatives to the creation of the UAV fly zone (segregated air space) over west Wales.

I would be most grateful if you could make your position clear for us.

1. Do you currently support the creation of the area of segregated air space (fly zone) over west Wales as proposed by the Welsh Assembly Government for the purposes of testing UAVs?

2. Is your support for the fly zone conditional on jobs being created for local people at Parc Aberporth?

3. If yes, how many local jobs would you want to see at Parc Aberporth in two years time in order for the project to continue to receive your support?

4. What benefits do you think the UAV testing zone brings to the people of west Wales other than jobs?

5. Is your support for the fly zone influenced by whether the zone is used to test military applications of UAVs or civilian applications?

6. Do you think the creation of a fly zone will benefit or harm the tourist industry? If so, how.

Many thanks,
Jeremy Clulow

Follow up email:

Having received not a single reply after 10 days waiting I sent a reminder email on 6th October.

I recently sent some questions to you and all other West Wales AMs and MPs whose constituencies will be partly overflown by the proposed UAV testing zone. I know you are busy but I’d really appreciate a reply.

The UAV issue is becoming increasingly prominent in West Wales and will become more so as elections approach in 2010 and 2011. I think it’s really important that voters know where their representatives stand on this issue, especially in the light of last months UAV crash (see attached press cuttings) which has alerted the public to the whole issue.

Constituency Members for Ceredigion (majority of the UAV testing zone)

Mark Williams MP, Elin Jones AM

Mark Williams MP Elin Jones AM

Constituency Members Carmarthen East and Dinefwr (UAV zone over northernmost part of constituency north of Llandovery)

Adam Price MP, Rhodi Glyn Thomas AM

Adam Price MPRhodri Glyn Thomas AM

Constituency Members Preseli Pembrokeshire (UAV zone over very small area northernmost part of constituency between Abercych and Cardigan)

Stephen Crabb MP, Paul Davies AM

Stephen Crabb MP Paul Davies AM

Constituency Members Brecon and Radnorshire (UAV zone over area on far west of the Powys including the Myndd Epynt military zone)

Roger Williams MP, Kirsty Williams AM (emails sent October 3rd 2009)

Roger Williams MP Kirsty Williams AM

Regional Assembly Members Mid and West Wales (Includes Ceredigion, Carmarthen East and Dinefwr  and Brecon and Radnorshire constituencies.)

Joyce Watson AM, Alun Davies AM, Nerys Evans AM, Nick Bourne AM

Joyce Watson AM Alun Davies AM Nerys Evans AM Nick Bourne AM

Responses

Tivy-Side Advertiser

Cambrian News

Cambrian News 1st October 2009 – Crash of Pilotless plane sparks safety concerns

Carmarthen Journal

Carmarthen Journal September 30th 2009 – Fears after UAV crash landing