Wind turbine proposed Policy for North Devon

North Devon Council’s Planning Manger wrote to every District Councillor about wind turbines.  I’m definitely not against renewable energy, but there are a number of points that are raising concerns.  Please note my responses to the Planning Manager’s email are in bold print:

Dear Councillor,

At last Wednesday’s Planning Committee it was informally agreed that a short factual position statement regarding the Council’s policy relating to wind energy be sent out to all councillors.

The context for this is the present emerging Local Plan consultation on options for wind energy which closes 24th. March 2016. In this particular respect, you will be aware of representations being put to parish and town councils from those opposed to the preferred option of allocating in the emerging Joint Local Plan an area of search suitable in principle for wind turbines. I would hope that the Councillors are aware of the huge opposition to the ‘preferred option’. Preferred by who? Certainly not the local people and local communities that are in Landkey, Swimbridge and Tawstock.

This ‘area of search’ option is intended to respond positively to the Written Ministerial Statement in stating that proposals for wind will be supported if it can demonstrate that its impact on landscape character is acceptable or the proposal is a community-led one and no other adverse impacts result (noise, shadow flicker, ecology, heritage, etc.). It is not responding positively to the WMS, which says that local people in North Devon and Torridge have the final say on wind farm applications. The ‘area of search’ option is not what local communities, certainly in my ward, appear to want.
Additional points that have informed the policy position to date and which may be helpful are set out below:

1 The Written Ministerial Statement issued 18 June 2015 stated that planning permission should only be granted if the development site is in an area identified as suitable for wind energy development in a local or a neighbourhood plan; and following consultation, it can be demonstrated that the planning impacts identified by affected communities have been fully addressed and therefore the proposal has their backing. Agree.

2 The Written Ministerial Statement further advises that In applying this advice, suitable wind energy development will need to have been allocated clearly in a local or neighbourhood plan. Agree; however it says ‘need to have been’ (past tense).

3 The implication appears clear that without community support then no area of search suitable for wind turbines may be allocated in a Local Plan. Agree and there is little community support in my area. North Devon is particularly suitable for wind energy and any absence of community support does not change this having no area of search will essentially impose a moratorium on approving any further applications for wind turbines and will not allow individual proposals to be assessed on its own merits (for example, in supporting a local dairy farm or community scheme). I disagree as I believe this can be done via a Neighbourhood Plan.

4 Should we not identify an area of search we will need to demonstrate on Examination of the Joint Local Plan why we have chosen this option given:

(a) the requirement to ‘have a positive strategy to promote energy from renewable and low carbon sources’ (paragraph 97 of NPPF). The NPPF says ‘should recognise ’ not ‘must recognise’. It can be shown at Examination to the Planning Inspectorate that the draft Local Plan does not need to identify an area of search and by not doing is in conformance with Government Policy, as stated by Planning Minister James Wharton.

(b) the encouragement of LPAs to identify areas suitable for renewable energy (PPG ID: 5-005-20150618), The PPG is only a guide as to how LPAs can identify areas suitable for renewable or low carbon energy if they wish to go down that route. It does not say they must or are required to identify areas.

(c) our obligations under related legislation (including Section 1 of the Climate Change Act 2008 and legal duties on mitigation set out in Section 19 (1A) of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 (amended by Section 182 of the Planning Act 2008). The Government has made it clear that the targets on onshore wind have been overachieved and they are now focusing on offshore wind.

5 Having no area of search would be in conflict with the AONB and ENP Management Plans and would not be supported by these organisations based on the recent engagement workshop and the present consultation exercise. These organisations can change their Management Plans. These are only organisations – they do not represent the voice of local people and local communities, which is what the minister’s statement is concerned with. Why are NO other South West Councils from Cornwall eastward to Hampshire and north to the Cotswolds and beyond, adopting a wind energy development policy?

6 To date, the views of the local community have been fully considered following the first round of consultation and the option of “no areas suitable for wind” option is fully discussed in Appendix 4: Consultation Statement Supplement in the current consultation document The views of the local community expressed in the first round of consultation may have been fully considered by the planners, but what local people have said has been apparently ignored. 67% of those who responded wanted further constraints on Option 4 or “No Areas identified for wind energy development” (Option 5). This is consistent with the minister’s letter as he states that there is NO requirement to allocate wind areas in order to get the Local or Neighbourhood Plan approved.

7 North Devon and Torridge District Councils have commenced work on this policy area having regard to the advice to do so from the Planning Advisory Service and having discussed the approach with the Planning Inspectorate. Local people and local communities appear to have the backing of the Planning Minister, James Wharton and there is no evidence that the Planning Inspectorate will ignore his statement. I would be interested to see the evidence and any letters from the Planning Advisory Service and the Planning Inspectorate requiring the Councils to adopt wind areas. Could you also provide evidence that the Planning Inspectorate are requiring other Councils to adopt wind areas.

Other South West Councils are not consulting on wind and this will leave North Devon and Torridge isolated as the only Councils that are considering allocating wind areas in their Local Plan.
One example is Mid Devon who have put on their website that they are not consulting on wind due to new Government policy (link)
“The first consultation was held in 2014 on the scope of the new SPD. Since the initial consultation representations have been taken into account to prepare a draft SPD which is out for consultation on 15 February 2016 – 29 March 2016. One of the main changes in the document is a focus only on the impact of solar proposals and no longer on-shore wind energy; this is due a change in national policy and guidance.”

The next step is to consider the outcome of the present consultation exercise through initially the Joint Local Plan Working Group and thereafter the Executive of North Devon Council and the Community and Resources Committee of Torridge District Council in order to agree a way forward taking into account the deliberations to date and the outcome of the above noted consultation process. It is important that after the second consultation the local people and local communities are listened to. Landkey, Bishops Tawton, Swimbridge and Tawstock Parish Councils need the time to digest this policy. The top-down approach and not involving Councillors like myself on the Policy Options Workshop is misguided, and I’m disappointed not to be have included.

There was a distinct pro-development presence at the Policy Options Workshop. I would question as to that being ethically correct and acceptable, when introducing a potential policy change into the Local Plan that would affect all local people for a generation. This isn’t to say that I am totally against wind energy as turbine installation is reversible but climate change isn’t, but I do want a discussion as to the impact of adopting a controversial policy for North Devon and Torridge.
The vast majority of those who responded to the wind consultation do not want any further development.

The Minister in charge of wind turbines has made it crystal clear that the Local or Neighbourhood Plan can be adopted without allocating wind areas.
No other Councils in the South West are allocating wind areas. Cornwall is deferring the wind issue to the Neighbourhood Plan. We, like Cornwall have many wind turbines and I think we should be following their lead.

If we allocate wind areas we will be the only Councils locally doing so and this will no doubt attract all types of development requests. I realise there are additional safeguards in the form of policy to protect vulnerable areas, but why invite the possible influx of multiple planning applications when we don’t have to adopt a wind turbine policy?

Could we note that without wind allocated areas as stated in the WMS of June 2015, no wind turbine development can take place. This wind issue can be considered within the Neighbourhood Plan which is reflected within the tone of the WMS and Localism Act, giving each Parish/Neighbourhood more control over what, if any sort of development they want.

Could this response be circulated to all the Councillors in Torridge please?