Planning applications for wind farms are breaking out like a rash across the East Midlands Region (and elsewhere). They are causing great distress to local communities. Their low frequency noise, flicker and strobe effects can have serious health consequences for susceptible local residents. They are an industrial-scale intrusion into some of the finest rural landscapes in Britain. They blight villages, and homes, and lives. And in areas like the East Midlands, with relatively low wind speeds, they produce derisory amounts of electricity, and rely on massive subsidies to make any money.
Across the region, local protest groups are frantically fund-raising, collecting signatures on petitions, and following the progress of planning applications. Yet they feel the odds are stacked against them, and (certainly under the last administration) they had the impression that the Secretary of State would in any case over-rule local planning decisions against turbines. In many cases Councils and Planning Officers have believed that they had little scope to influence developments.
But the worm may be starting to turn. I have just discovered Planning Policy Statement 22 (PPS22), which explicitly establishes the right of Local Planning Authorities to define a “set-back” – a minimum distance between new wind turbines and existing dwellings (I am grateful to my friend and colleague Chris Heaton-Harris MP, Daventry, for alerting me to PPS22).
PPS22, para 22:
Noise 22. Renewable technologies may generate small increases in noise levels (whether from machinery such as aerodynamic noise from wind turbines, or from associated sources – for example, traffic). Local planning authorities should ensure that renewable energy developments have been located and designed in such a way to minimise increases in ambient noise levels. Plans may include criteria that set out the minimum separation distances between different types of renewable energy projects and existing developments (my emphasis). The 1997 report by ETSU for the Department of Trade and Industry should be used to assess and rate noise from wind energy development.
I suspect that many authorities and local Planning Officers may be unfamiliar with this provision, and I shall be seeking to draw their attention to it. In Scotland, Planning Advice calls for a 2 km set-back on new turbines, but I have been concerned for some time that citizens of England enjoy no such protection. But it now appears that local authorities can indeed establish a suitable set-back. Residents and protest groups must call on councillors and councils to exercise this right on behalf of their constituents, and to mandate minimum set-back distances on a precautionary basis.
We can point out to our Councillors that this will save them a great deal of time and money, in avoiding having to work on unsuitable applications which are too close to dwellings, and which are likely to go to appeal if refused with the attendant costs for the Council and which may also result in residents judicially reviewing grants of planning permission. All round this seems to be a “Win-Win” for a local planning authority.
Lincolnshire County Council is already putting in place a Planning Protocol which will call for a 2 km set-back for large turbines. This is an excellent initiative which I very much hope other County Councils will emulate.
There is just one fly in the ointment. The web-site where you would normally find PP22, http://www.communities.gov.uk/planningandbuilding/planning/planningpolicyguidance/planningpolicystatements/planningpolicystatements/pps22/, carries an ominous notice: “Content Under Review: Following the change of government, we are reviewing all content on this web-site”. I have accordingly written to the Rt. Hon Eric Pickles MP, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, appealing to him at least to leave “Noise 22” in place, and ideally to strengthen it.