Seventy-seven years ago plans for a giant power station on the banks of the River Usk in the heart of picturesque rural Monmouthshire were blocked.

In 2018 Andy Rutherford looked back at the battle to preserve a country idyll.

Here is his report:

IN 1946 the South Wales Electric Power Company had a big idea.

As post-war Britain slowly recovered from the crippling effects of the recent conflict, demand for electricity - to help fuel economic and industrial revival, and supply increasing numbers of homes - rose steeply.

Electric power companies - soon to be nationalised - struggled to provide enough electricity to meet that demand, and sought to build more generating stations.

The South Wales company pursued the policy with gusto, and its eyes fell on what it saw as a prize site - on the River Usk between Llanover and Penpergwm in rural Monmouthshire.

Fred Hando, chronicler of the county's landscape and history, and South Wales Argus contributor, alerted readers to the plan in a front page article on May 31.

Accompanying his drawing of a bucolic county scene - St Bartholomew’s Church, Llanover, and surrounds - was Mr Hando's florid description of the threatened site, situated in "what seems in truth a promised land, flowing with milk and honey”.

This, he warned, was "now threatened by the smoke, the dust, the noise of industry", cooling towers, chimney stacks, coal dumps, coal trains, ash deposits, and "a general industrialisation of the whole Vale".

South Wales Argus: The front page of the South Wales Argus, May 31 1946, featuring Fred Hando's impassioned plea to save the Vale of UskThe front page of the South Wales Argus, May 31 1946, featuring Fred Hando's impassioned plea to save the Vale of Usk

Claiming the soul of the county, and of Wales, was under threat he urged objectors to mobilise under the slogan “Hands off the Vale of Usk!”

Even in more environmentally sensitive days, it is hard to grasp how such a project was proposed for such a rural area, let alone pursued. But farmers, landowners and residents of this part of the Vale of Usk faced an almighty fight.

A public inquiry was held at Abergavenny in June 1946, and the company was thinking big. It proposed a 200,000KW (kilowatt) generating station costing £7.2m, equivalent to an eye-watering £293m today.

Balloons flew pennants at the height of the proposed stacks as the inquiry team visited the site - and they would have seemed, at 300 feet, awfully high.

The company argued that the station - to be a building with "a pleasing aspect" - would be obscured entirely by natural obstacles.

South Wales Argus: St Bartholomew's Church, Llanover, and its surrounds as it is todaySt Bartholomew's Church, Llanover, and its surrounds as it is today

It claimed too, that the need for the station to help meet growing demand could not be denied, and no other site in Monmouthshire had the four "essentials” for such a project - an adequate and clean water supply; good rail and road links; a reasonably central location; good evidence that it was free from subsidence.

The company was adamant that fish in the Usk and the food chain they relied upon, would not be harmed by water temperature increases, and it was committed to closing the station when daily river flow fell below 60 million gallons.

Sites at Newport and Caerleon were deemed unsuitable on the grounds of extra cost, distance from the river, poor water quality, and road, rail and ground difficulties.

Objectors however, teased out an admission that the station would be seen from the Sugar Loaf and Skirrid mountains, and from White Castle.

The land was considered agriculturally of high quality, and farmers in Llanover area gave powerful evidence.

One, Arthur Glyn Lewis, said what would be left of his 134-acre farm would be useless, while George Lewis said it would be uneconomic to run the remainder of his 126-acre farm after the company took the land it needed.

Rumours of attempts to bribe Lady Mary Herbert, tenant for life at Llanover Estate, had circulated, including that she had been told “money was no object so long as the land was obtained quickly and secretly.” The company rejected these "emphatically".

The estate's value was £135,000-145,000, equivalent today to £5.2-5.6m.

Lady Mary told the inquiry she was approached by the company with a view to it buying the whole estate.

“My general impression was that price was no object,” she said. While admitting it would have been financially desirable however, she was not to be moved.

“As the present life tenant, I do not look at it from that point of view at all,” she said.

“I feel extremely strongly that my tenants ought to be protected.”

Mr T P H Watkins, clerk to Pontypool Rural Council, was blunt in labelling the proposed station “a bare-faced enormity”, and said potential consumers of the station's electricity had offered to pay any extra cost of an alternative site through increased electricity charges. A monopoly company such as the applicant, he added, should welcome such a position.

After three days of evidential cut and thrust, the hearing ended, with the final decision down to Lewis Silkin MP, the Labour Government's Minister of Town and Country Planning.

Silkin legislated - despite much local opposition - for post-war development of ‘new towns’ in Britain, and declared infamously in 1948 that “Basildon will become a city which people from all over the world will want to visit.”

While his claims for the Essex new town were in retrospect, nonsense, two years earlier he turned down the Llanover power station plan, thus ensuring this corner of Monmouthshire stayed resolutely rural.

The Argus reported late in October 1946 that Silkin's decision was due to “the high agricultural quality of the land, ancillary and subsequent industrial development which might be expected, and the desirability on both agricultural and amenity grounds of maintaining the rural character of the eastern half of Monmouthshire."

He also considered it wrong to industrialise this part of Monmouthshire and believed an alternative site could be found in the county.