Wednesday, September 02, 2009
Wind farms - some thoughts
The Walkway Wind Farm at Wynyard, when it was under construction
I suspect that the planning application submitted by Banks Ltd for a wind farm to the north east of Barmpton will attract a lot of interest - and not just in the village itself.
The role of the Council, of course, is not to take sides for or against the principle of wind farms when dealing with applications, but to ensure that the proposal is dealt with fairly and in accordance with established planning rules and guidelines. Local residents need to be heard, and so it is helpful that the company have scheduled a fresh round of consultation sessions in the rural (Sadberge) and urban (Harrowgate Hill) areas.
Anyone who's taken a passing interest in the issue will know that passions run high on the matter - wind farms are either gigantic white elephants, sucking in public subsidy whilst making a neglible contribution to the country's energy needs, or they're part of the only solution to the energy crisis avaiable.
As I'm not on the Planning Committee, I can publicly declare where I stand on the matter. I'm all for wind farms. I believe that wind, wave and solar technology will play a key role in replacing our reliance on fossil fuels in the future. At the same time (and this is where I part company from some in the environmental movement), I agree that an expansion of the nuclear energy programme is essential if we are to bridge the gap between the current energy production mix, and a time when renewable technology has moved ahead and can provide for all of our needs.
Personally, I don't agree with the argument that condemns wind farms as blots on the landscape. I respect people who hold this view, but I find wind turbines striking and attractive additions to the landscape. Given the proliferation of static, dull, intrusive electricity pylons across our countryside, I can't see how wind farms detract.
Still there are other, more tangible arguments about winds farms, currently being played out in local communities the length and breadth of the Great Britain. It's important that planning authorities retain the confidence of their residents in dealing with applications about wind farms, whatever the outcome. So I was pleased that plenty of training has been laid on for Planning Committee members about the issues that characterise these applications, and on Tuesday members visited the Walkway site near Wynyard to hear how a neighbouring planning authority dealt with the issue, and to see for themselves up close what these turbines are actually like. Given my portfolio, and interest in this matter, I joined them.
It was a chance to explore issues such as how far turbines should be sited away from houses. Noise and light flicker are also important considerations.
Helpfully, it was a very blustery day, and the turbines were operating at their maximum capacity. You could certainly hear the machinery from 300 metres - but it was a swishing and not unpleasant sound. As we walked underneath one of the turbines, we watched the shadows of the sails against a nearby wood as the sun moved from behind the clouds.
I can't speak for members of the committee, who had contrasting thoughts and questions, but I came away with a sense of the complexity of these matters - what is appropriate and right in one site will be unacceptable elsewhere. Not just the proximity of houses, but the extent to which there is background noise (from a nearby road, for example) and even in which direction houses' windows face could all be critical considerations.
I understand that the application for Barmpton is being formally lodged by Banks next week.