Oi Pickles!… Hands off

The latest edition of Planning Resource has just dropped through the door and the cover story reads

Fifty onshore wind turbines derailed by Pickles interventions in 2014.

For those unaware of the turmoil in the planning system at the moment it goes something like this… once upon a time Mr Cameron was very much in favour of wind turbines and even tried to put one on his house.

Then he got into Government and found his shire MPs have a major dislike for wind turbines which rather de-railed his Greenest Government Ever mantra. Worse still, they were proving quite popular with the planning inspectorate who appeared to be overturning too many local council refusals. In 2014 Cameron was reported to have been heard to have thought about thinking on declaring a War on Wind – although you won’t actually find a quote from him anywhere.

Faced with not being able to tear up existing subsidies for onhore wind he did the next best thing and got his mate Mr Pickles to start interfering with planning application and appeals via a process called Recovery. Where any planning application decision has been refused and the applicant has appealed to the Planning Inspectorate, the decision of the inspector is normally final provided the loosing side doesn’t choose to fight it out in the High Court. Recovery allows Mr Pickles to over-rule the decisions of the inspectors.

Planning inspectors are highly skilled practitioners of local and national policy who visit the site, consider all the angles and make a reasoned judgement. Mr Pickles is a politician. Wonder knows more about planning?

The motivation is clear – to destroy investor confidence in UK on-shore wind. By turning the lottery of planning into a loaded card game where he has a sleeve full of aces.

Yana Bosseva, planning advisor to Renewable UK (the UK renewables industry group) said Pickles actions were sending a “shockwave through the industry” and with 80% of appeals being recovered it “wasn’t leaving much to planning professionals“.

Others in the industry have described Mr Pickles antics as “perverse“, “murky” and “dangerous“.

The truth is that the planning system for wind energy is now totally politicised. Planning policy barely enters into it. Now you could read this as wind turbine developers having a whinge and a whine about lack of success.. but consider this – Sooner or later a raft of planning applications for fracking will hit the appeal system.

We’ve seen how fond the Tories are of fracking and so it seems self evident that Mr Pickles will use his new super-planning-powers to ensure these developments go ahead.

Like many environmentalists and others in the renewables industry we are therefore hoping for a change in Government later this year.

River Yeo Farm public exhibition

UPDATE – please note the format of this event is a drop-in exhibition so please come along at a time most convenient for you.

Distgen will be hosting a public consultation event for the proposed wind turbine at River Yeo Farm on Thursday 15th May, 2014 at East Brent Village Hall in Highbridge. The exhibition will be open from 3pm to 8pm to allow as many people to attend as possible.

The “drop in” event will feature large format display boards covering visual and acoustic impacts plus information about Distgen and our other sites, particularly Landmark Farm. Situated in nearby Wanstrow, public reaction to the wind turbine has been amazingly positive with a village walk planned for bank holiday Monday and a small feature in the April edition of the Mendip Times.

Members of staff will be on hand to answer questions about the proposal and attendees will be able to leave written comments on all aspects of the scheme.

Additional details of the meeting will be distributed to local parish councils and displayed in shops and post offices.

Hillbrow Farm public exhibition

UPDATE – please note the format of this event is a drop-in exhibition so please come along at a time most convenient for you.

Distgen will be hosting a public consultation event for the proposed wind turbine at Hillbrow Farm on Friday 16th May, 2014 at Palairet Hall in Norton St Philip. The exhibition will be open from 3pm to 8pm to allow as many people to attend as possible.

The “drop in” event will feature large format display boards covering visual and acoustic impacts plus information about Distgen and our other sites, particularly Landmark Farm. Situated in nearby Wanstrow, public reaction to the wind turbine has been amazingly positive with a village walk planned for bank holiday Monday and a small feature in the April edition of the Mendip Times.

Members of staff will be on hand to answer questions about the proposal and attendees will be able to leave written comments on all aspects of the scheme.

Additional details of the meeting will be distributed to local parish councils and displayed in shops and post offices.

Tories – “Get ready for shale”

Today’s announcement by the Tories that they will do  everything in their power to stop any further  on-shore wind turbines has been labelled as “pandering to potential UKIP voters” by many. By announcing the future policy now, so far ahead of next years election they also hope to damage investor confidence which could in turn see bank lending for such projects dry up. A double whammy.. Go Dave!

But, look at what else you’ll be getting should a majority Tory government be elected. Energy minister Nigel Fallon has been doing his best to promote fracking saying:

“The message is: get ready for shale”

Mr Fallon is urging communities around the country to “get behind fracking” touting the 65,000 jobs it will create. No mention of the same number currently working in the wind industry that would loose theirs. In December 2013 Mr Fallon said he wants to see 2/3’rds of England opened up for fracking.

In January the government rushed through pro-fracking planning reforms despite massive opposition in the Lords with the aim of making it harder for local planning authorities to block future shale gas developments. In today’s announcement they plan to do exactly the opposite for wind energy development and make it much easier for plans to be blocked by local councils and the minority of vocal objectors.

Its clear that a majority Conservative government would be a disaster for UK plans to become self sufficient with renewable energy. Remember shale gas is not renewable and will continue to contribute towards climate change. On that very subject we forget at our peril the latest warnings from the IPCC:

“The impacts of global warming are likely to be severe, pervasive and irreversible”

Meanwhile energy experts the world over agree that on-shore wind energy is by far the cheapest and easiest large scale renewable technology. In trying to kill it in favour of shale gas the Tories are showing their true colours – and they ‘aint green.

Much more expert reaction to the news can be found here.

Pickles in hot water after refusal

Communities secretary Eric Pickles faces legal action after overruling HM Government planning inspectors to refuse a wind farm development by Ecotricity. The proposed four turbine wind farm near Highbridge in Somerset had  been supported by both local planning officers and the Inspectorate who agreed that despite significant impact on the immediate landscape, it would be able to accommodate the development which would, at larger distances still appear quite small.

Mr Pickles agreed with with these points but decided [and this is key] without actually visiting the site himself that the intermediate landscape would be affected to a level that was not offset by the environmental benefits of the scheme.

A spokesman for Ecotricity said: “Following a review of the secretary of state’s decision to dismiss our appeal for four wind turbines at West Huntspill, and in particular aspects of the decision-making process relating to landscape and topography at the site, we have decided to challenge the decision.

The result of this high court action will likely set a precedent for this and other similar cases where Mr Pickles has overruled planning inspectors which appears to Ecotricity, to represent political interference in the planning system as summed up by Dale Vince, CEO of Ecotricity, who said

Mr Pickles’ decision is a political intervention in the planning process – it’s anti-wind posturing as all his interventions in the planning process have been, and par for the course from this government.

We’ve worked diligently through the entire planning process, passed every test, including a public enquiry – only to have our application refused by a man that knows nothing on the subject, and cares even less. What faith can anyone have in the planning process when this can happen, when the rules are thrown out of the window on a whim?

If the recent floods have taught us anything it is that climate change is real and we need to do all that we can to abate the carbon emissions that cause it. Our government doesn’t seem to get that. It hasn’t just cut flood defence spending, it’s blocking the renewable energy schemes that can help tackle the cause of flooding.

 

 

South Glos says yes to amendment

Having won our planning appeal for permission to install a mid-size 500kW wind turbine at Talbot Farm last year we are delighted that our subsequent amendment to increase the size of the turbine has been passed by South Glos planning officers.

The revised permission sees the rotor size increase from 39m to 52m. As a result the expected annual electricity generation will almost double from approximately 1200MWh to 2000MWh per year.

The site at Talbot Farm lies close to the villages of Dyrham and Hinton and is designated both Green Belt and Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Despite these designations both the planning inspectorate and now South Glos note that the effect of the M4 motorway is “colossal” and the additional harm a wind turbine would cause in this location is far short of significant.

View from the M4

Brayton Park turbine granted at appeal (again)

Today the Planning Inspectorate have decided to allow our appeal for the mid-sized wind turbine at Brayton Park, Aspatria in Cumbria.

Previously we had already won an appeal for a similar sized wind turbine at this site but had not been allowed to make any modifications to the permission without submitting a new planning application – which predictably led to refusal by Allerdale planning committee members (despite another recommendation to allow by planning officers) and a hence another appeal.

Residents of Allerdale may perhaps be wondering whether the council is spending their money wisely in their continued obstruction of any and all wind energy related applications. Previously it was leaked that the council had spent 80 thousands pounds fighting (and loosing) multiple appeal cases.

Naturally we are delighted by this decision and look forward to Brayton becoming our 6th operational turbine.

The inspectors decision can be downloaded here.

Tories turning against Solar? (UPDATED)

UPDATE

The Government announcements this week that subsidies for solar farms are to be cut drastically came as no surprise to many. Renewables of all types are under attack on multiple fronts from back-bencher sniping to DCLG interfering with the planning appeals system.

Meanwhile new tax breaks for tearing up the countryside with fracking sites were announced in the Autumn statement, together with a promise for thousands of new jobs and cheap(er) gas. Presumabley these are to replace the thousands that were shed last year when the solar industry almost imploded after cuts exceeding 50% or the thousands more that will be lost as onshore wind and solar developers simply give up on the UK.  Only quite recently Danish giant Vestas pulled out of  a major wind turbine assembly plant in Kent.

So just why is the Government so keen to break their ‘green promise’, destroy an industry and loose thousands of jobs in order to promote fracking as the only way forward? The cynical reader might suspect powerful lobbying by the oil and gas industry or perhaps even vested interests coming to the fore. Whichever, it is becoming clear that a change of government may be needed if the migration to a low carbon economy is to become a reality.

ORIGINAL

If attacking wind wasn’t enough it now looks like the Conservatives have turned their attention to Solar PV. Planning Resource highlights a recent appeal case for a solar farm in Suffolk where the Planning Inspector independently ruled the proposals could go ahead only to be overturned by DCLG minister Eric Pickles who said:

“The secretary of state agrees with the inspector that the harm to the character and appearance of the area would not amount to significant adverse effects but, nevertheless, considers the effect on the character of the site, although limited, would be adverse.”

This decision beggars belief and has caused warning bells to ring within the renewables industry.

It would appear this is further evidence of the current “fracking or bust” policy.

Talbot Farm gets go-ahead

After some considerable amount of time in the appeal process the Inspectorate has finally allowed our appeal for a mid-size wind turbine at Talbot Farm overlooking the M4.

The application was refused permission by South Gloucestershire District Council in 2012 who cited unacceptable impacts on landscape and nearby heritage assets. The Inspector disagreed ruling that impacts were “less than substantial” and fully reversible.

The full appeal decision can be downloaded here.

The Planners

approved-stampBBC documentary The Planners shed a fascinating light on the planning process and in particular how much power is held by conservation professionals. For example the Chester couple wishing to install solar panels on  their roof who were recommended for refusal despite the very large and shiny glass office block next door!

Thankfully in this case the council members chose to overrule the recommendation for refusal and allow the solar panels to go ahead. A win for common sense but highlights the very subjective nature of  assessing the impacts of planning applications and in particular when not taking into account other nearby development. In this case it appeared personal objection to the solar panels resulted in ignoring the office block immediately adjacent. In other words a reduction in the sensitivity to change caused by other development was not adequately assessed.

In our own experience this is not altogether uncommon; we have been refused permission on the basis of impacts to a nearby hill fort that has a road running quite literally through the middle of it, a line of buzzing pylons and roaring traffic noise from a nearby motorway!

Protecting our heritage is important. But from what? Much of the existing policy was  intended to prevent actual physical harm to historic sites and buildings and yet all too often the more subjective topic of impacts upon the setting are awarded too much weight, particularly then the historic asset is many kilometres from the development or the officer uses a “if its visible.. its unacceptable” yard-stick.