CONTROVERSIAL proposals for a hydro electric scheme on the River Walkham at Huckworthy Mill, Sampford Spiney, have been sunk.

Members of Dartmoor National Park Authority's development management committee last Friday went against officers' original recommendations to grant, and rejected the application by CGP (South West) Ltd, of Abbotskerswell, to install a fish pass on the existing weir.

It was a resounding rejection — with 19 against, one for and one abstention.

With the fish pass proposal lost, members also rejected the plan for construction of a hydro scheme using water from the Walkham and utilising the existing leat, turning it down on an 18-0 vote with one abstention. It was considered the absence of a fish pass would seriously affect migratory fish such as the Atlantic salmon and sea trout.

Before the debate, the committee was told it was only considering the planning applications and not an ownership wrangle — the company contending the fish pass would be constructed in an area entirely in its ownership, but objectors, through an independent surveyor, maintaining it strayed into the owner's territory. That would have to be decided in court.

Planning officer Christopher Hart said water would be extracted under Environmental Agency licence and flow along the line of a leat. There was need for a fish pass to protect the salmon and sea trout population by ensuring their safe passage along the river.

Concrete fish pass pools would be constructed in the river corridor for which some of the boulders in the weir would be removed.

He told the meeting that members had spent a considerable time on a site visit on March 16.

Objector Roger Furniss, secretary of the South West Rivers Association, said the association was not opposed to hydro generation, but this scheme was a balance between risk and benefit.

'The maximum 100kw generated on average during a year is likely to be 50kw, and is small benefit to the threat to an archaeologically important feature that is threatened,' said Mr Furniss, comparing the proposal with 'a carbuncle on a face of a well loved friend'.

'We are not against a hydro proposal on this site, but we think there is a third way and that a small scheme could have been achieved,' said Mr Furniss.

For the company, Tony Jackson said the weir and leat had been used to generate power for a variety of purposes for many years.

'The present easement does not meet current standards. It can cause delays in the passage of migratory fish. The design of the proposed fish pass has been closely scrutinised.

'It is of primary importance that the heritage of the site and its wildlife of all descriptions should be protected,' said Mr Jackson.

DNPA archaeologist Jane Marchant said the weir was constructed in 1578 and there was no doubt that some of those boulders remained at the site.

At the site inspection, members were told by the Environment Agency that the fish pass would improve the situation for migratory fish — but on Friday, were told it was only 'possible' it would be improved.

Member Dr Ian Mortimer said it was a sensitive area and a heritage asset which required protecting.

Fellow member David Lloyd said the proposal would damage an important Dartmoor asset.

'It will be detrimental to the natural beauty of this valley,' he added.

But he stressed the authority was not against hydro power.

'I would encourage them to come up with a solution that does not do this damage and come back to us,' he said.

The plans were refused on grounds of loss of a heritage asset and the adverse and detrimental impact to the character of the area.