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Countryside caught in a hurricane of new wind turbines

Wind Farm © Sarah Burroughs

Wind Farm © Sarah Burroughs

Onshore wind mapping shows exponential growth in wind turbine planning applications leaving local communities struggling to safeguard valued landscapes

A new report by the National CPRE highlights the dramatic proliferation of onshore wind turbines.  In many cases these are damaging valued landscapes and intruding into some of the most tranquil areas of England. CPRE nationally is calling for a locally accountable, strategically planned approach to onshore wind development.

In 2008 there were 685 30 metres or taller wind turbines either completed, in construction, or awaiting approval. By 2010 this had increased to 1,831 and at the start of 2012 the number was 3,442. Applications made by March this year brought the total to more than 4,100 [2].  These statistics do not include turbines smaller then 30 meters which also add significantly to the strain on the planning system in many areas.

Download a map showing wind farm locations superimposed with CPRE’s tranquillity map of England (http://bit.ly/K4g2OA) and wind farm locations with protected landscapes (http://bit.ly/I5dajN).

Shaun Spiers, the Chief Executive Officer of National CPRE, says: “There is no easy way to provide the country with the energy we need.  CPRE accepts onshore wind in the right places as part of the mix required to meet the UK’s carbon reduction targets, but we are seeing more and more giant turbines sited in inappropriate locations.  Communities feel increasingly powerless in the face of speculative applications from big, well-funded developers, and this risks undermining public support for the measures needed to tackle climate change.

“The English countryside is one of this country’s great glories.  It will always change, of course, and it is right that the countryside should play its part in supplying the renewable energy the country needs.  But we must find a way of reconciling climate change mitigation and landscape protection.  Otherwise we will sacrifice the beauty and tranquillity of much-loved landscapes for at least a generation.”

Shaun Spiers concludes: “In spite of localism rhetoric, the industrialisation of valued countryside is happening as a result of central government policies.  The Government must take responsibility and set out far more clearly a framework for meeting the country’s energy needs while protecting our matchless countryside.”

The CPRE report: ‘Generating light on landscape impacts: How to accommodate onshore wind while protecting the countryside’, makes a number of proposals for action.  It refers to assurances given last year by former Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change Chris Huhne that the Government would not ‘wantonly plant wind farms across the countryside at random’ or let the ‘market loose upon the countryside’. Yet many communities are now faced with what seems like an unending stream of applications [3].

In Cornwall and Durham, at opposite ends of the country, it is widely felt that the capacity of the landscape to accommodate wind turbines without unacceptable damage has been exceeded.  Cornwall currently has 94 operational turbines over 30 metres tall with a further 18 consented and 11 in planning. County Durham has 60 operational turbines, 27 under construction, 19 consented and six in planning [4].

In other locations the number of onshore wind farm applications currently in the planning system, if built, could mean that the landscape capacity of their area will also be exceeded. Northamptonshire, for example, currently has 13 operational turbines over 30 metres high, and an additional 46 consented and 32 in planning.  Northumberland has 29 operational turbines over 30 metres high and an additional 24 under construction, 64 consented and one in planning [5].

Research indicates that some wind energy developers enter the planning process with a dismissive mindset towards public concerns, seeking to disparage arguments against new development as baseless and emotional rather than well-reasoned and legitimate [6]. In 2008 CPRE compiled a large body of evidence about the approach by wind energy developers which undermines the integrity of the planning system [7].

The Regional Spatial Strategies, revoked through the Localism Act 2011, often used landscape character assessments to help work out what areas were suitable for renewable energy.  These helped to outline a landscape-sensitive distribution of onshore wind across a region.  Following the abolition of regional planning CPRE is calling on the Government to develop a strategic, plan-led approach which recognises the importance of landscape capacity, including the cumulative impacts of onshore wind turbines.

CPRE calls on the Government to:

  • provide more clarity about the total number of onshore wind turbines it expects to see built and where these might be located;
  • develop a strategic plan-led approach which recognises landscape capacity, including cumulative impacts of onshore wind turbines;
  • ensure local planning authorities seek to protect landscape character through their local plans and in planning decisions;
  • instruct the Planning Inspectorate to give significant weight when making decisions on development proposals to any local plans which have attempted to identify appropriate and inappropriate areas for onshore wind development; and
  • provide national obligations for the onshore wind industry to take legal and financial responsibility for decommissioning onshore wind turbines and restoring the landscape once they stop working or when they reach the end of their useful life.

Notes

[1] CPRE, Generating some light on landscape impacts: How to accommodate onshore wind while protecting the countryside, 30 April 2012 http://bit.ly/J9qoLJ

[2] RenewableUK, UK Wind Energy Database, http://www.bwea.com/ukwed/index.asp Clean data can be found here: https://www.google.com/fusiontables/DataSource?docid=18qmes8ba-SC_2knKavaJtDwivewagUIfwKgScGI

[3] Secretary of State for DECC, Chris Huhne’s speech to CPRE entitled ‘Beauty, Tranquillity, and Power Stations?’, 2011

[4] See 2

[5] See 2

[6] University of Manchester et al, Beyond Nimbyism project summary report, 2009. Accessed from – www.sed.manchester.ac.uk/research/beyond_nimbyism/deliverables/reports_Project_summary_Final.pdf.

[7] CPRE, ‘Goodwill payments: Do they benefit communities or bring planning into disrepute?’ – 2008

Editorial Comment:

Although Shaun Spiers states that National CPRE accepts wind turbines in the right places, the question that has to be asked is what are the right places?

The cumulative impact of turbines must now be a material planning consideration.

Planning authorities have established a precedent by allowing so many wind turbines to be constructed, and as a consequence it may now be difficult to refuse consent for further turbines, especially as many applicants now threaten local authorities with expensive appeals.

Off-shore turbines are not an answer either. These pose navigational hazards and could cause changes in the sea bed that threaten the coastline. It should also be borne in mind that metal and sea water do not mix, and this makes off-shore turbines costly to maintain and the power produced much more expensive.

The Government should advocate and work towards much more acceptable forms of renewable energy. The present drive to meet internationally agreed targets for renewable energy through the encouragement of wind turbines, and large scale solar farms, are not supported by an increasingly large section of the UK’s population.

Quality of life and the right of people to be able to live a peaceful existence should also be remembered by those elected to represent the people living in the UK.

This morning’s (April 30th) discussion on the Radio 4 “Today” programme between Neil Sinden from National CPRE and a representative from Renewable Energy UK focused on wind farms. The discussion did not refer to the many single wind turbines that are proposed or have been constructed throughout England. A considerable number of these single turbines are grouped in clusters and therefore resemble wind farms.

Ted Venn


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