Planning inspectors accused of favouring wind farms

August 11, 2013 by  
Filed under Green Energy News

Those approved included three 410ft turbines in Southoe, Cambs, and single
turbine schemes in Golant, Cornwall; North Weald, Essex; and Leek, Staffs.

The scale on which the inspectorate has approved turbines appears to fly in
the face of a claim by David Cameron last week that there was “limited
potential” for further onshore wind farm development in Britain.

There is mounting controversy over subsidies paid to wind farm developers,
which are ultimately added to household bills and are estimated by the
Renewable Energy Foundation to cost consumers more than £1billion a year.

There have also been claims that promises of “green” jobs created by the
industry are failing to materialise, with only a small proportion of
turbines and their associated equipment being manufactured in Britain.

Glyn Davies, a Conservative MP who is fighting several wind farm proposals in
Wales, said: “It is discouraging and disappointing that the inspectorate are
carrying on as if nothing has happened.

“We want local people to have a say over what happens in their area and
it just seems completely outrageous that the Planning Inspectorate are
ignoring local democracy and carrying on regardless.”

The inspectorate is currently considering more than 200 turbine proposals
throughout the country, including smaller domestic schemes.

Campaigners against wind farms said the body should be reined in and warned
that if its pattern of approvals continued, the effect of 150 new schemes
would be to spread turbines into previously unspoilt areas.

Neville Thomas QC, of the National Opposition to Windfarms campaign group,
said: “While the details of the ministerial statement in June were not cast
in stone, the message was very clear and it is equally clear that its
message has been blatantly ignored by planning officers.

“This is both grossly unfair and deeply confusing to residents who are living
with the spectre of wind turbines destroying the area in which they live –
and in some cases their very happiness and livelihoods. They must now feel
that their feelings and opinions count for nothing.”

The Planning Inspectorate exists to make decisions on contentious developments
in England. It is effectively a hearing of last resort for developers who
have had their plans refused, or community groups which want to stop
proposals approved by their local councils.

Analysis of their approvals using Planning magazine’s Compass database
of appeals shows that in all but one of the cases inspectors said they had
taken the guidance from Mr Pickles into account when making their decisions.

The minister outlined the guidance in a parliamentary written statement on
June 6 which said green energy targets should not automatically override the
planning concerns of local communities.

“Decisions should take into account the cumulative impact of wind turbines and
properly reflect the increasing impact on the landscape and local amenity as
the number of turbines in the area increases,” he added.

The move followed a warning last year by 100 MPs that it was becoming
“impossible” to beat wind farm applications because inspectors were allowing
renewable energy targets to trump planning concerns.

The National Planning Policy Framework introduced by the Coalition last year
requires planning authorities to promote “sustainable development”,
including renewable energy, in decisions.

Mr Pickles wrote to Sir Michael Pitt, the chief executive of the Planning
Inspectorate, asking for his statement to be passed on to planning
inspectors so they would use the new principles in all ongoing and future
decisions.

But since then nine appeals have been allowed, each overturning the local
council decision.

Questions were raised over whether Mr Pickles’s guidance, which was published
formally on July 29, had been too loosely worded to have the effect he
desired.

One barrister who has worked on dozens of wind farm appeals said: “It
certainly does not indicate any significant policy change and the guidance
is extremely light in content.”

The barrister said it was a helpful development that the guidance warns that
wind turbines within the setting of listed buildings and other heritage
features could cause them “substantial harm”, but added: “The rest of it is
extremely anodyne … and makes no such changes as were anticipated following
Mr Pickles’s earlier announcement.”

Mr Pickles can choose to call in plans, but exercises the power in only a
small proportion of cases. He recently called in seven schemes, but has yet
to rule on them.

A Planning Inspectorate spokesman said: “Inspectors are appointed to hear wind
farm appeals for their experience, skill and judgment. Every case is judged
on its merits and on the evidence placed before the inspector, who is
required to give sound reasons for his judgment in each decision.

“Inspectors will always remain impartial when deciding an appeal. They are
rigorously trained to ensure that they develop and maintain the skills and
awareness of current guidance and policies necessary to undertake the work
they are given.”

A DCLG spokesman said: “In the planning process, emerging policy has little
weight until it is published in its final form. The final practice guidance
was only published on July 29, and will only have been a significant
influence on planning appeals after that date.

“Indeed, planning appeals typically take three to six months, so the appeals
before July 29 will have been based on the practice before the ministerial
statement.”

Maf Smith, deputy chief executive of RenewableUK, the wind industry’s trade
body, welcomed the figures, saying each scheme brought significant economic
benefits to local communities.

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