A key objection to the development of wind turbines at French Farm has been withdrawn.
As the planning inquiry opened in Peterborough today (Wednesday), it was revealed that the Ministry of Defence was no longer objecting to the development.
The RAF had originally raised concerns about the effect wind turbines would have on precision-approach radar, which guides aircraft into RAF Wittering, also surveillance radar at RAF Cottesmore.
However, Cottesmore has now closed and Wittering’s role is much changed, although the base remains operational and is a diversion airfield and also a logistics hub, with massive Boeing C17 Globemaster transporters using the runway from time to time.
Both Wryde Croft wind-farm at Thorney – which is under construction – and the two wind turbines at French Farm which already have planning permission (a total of 15 turbines) fall within the vision of Wittering’s precision-approach radar but at 13 nautical miles from the base, the effect is not now thought to be severe.
Developers REG Windpower met with the Ministry of Defence in late January and agreed a condition which the RAF is happy with.
John Taylor, a retired Royal Navy Commander and director of Wind Power Aviation Consultants, acting for the developers, said the fact that the MOD has now agreed a condition is a very positive development which protects operations at RAF Wittering and enables this issue to be removed from consideration at the inquiry.
The news dealt a blow to groups opposing the development as the RAF objections were an important part of their campaign.
The inquiry is looking at a planning application for four wind turbines at French Farm, French Drove, to the north of Thorney. Planning permission has already been given for two wind turbines on the site and REG wants to build four more. The turbines have a height of 60 metres to the central hub and 100 metres to the tip of the blade at its highest point of rotation.
Peterborough City Council approved the application, but because of the strength of feeling and local opposition to wind-farm developments around the village, the decision was “called in” by the Department of Communities and Local Government. Effectively, this means that the city council’s decision was blocked and the decision on whether to grant planning permission would be made by a government planning inspector following a public inquiry.
Opposition to the development is led by Thorney North Landscape Protection Group and their case is being put to the inquiry by Ian Kelly, a chartered town planner and head of planning at Graham & Sibbald, chartered surveyors.
In his opening statement, Mr Kelly said that Peterborough City Council had not applied the correct level of informed and independent scrutiny to the initial application. He said Thorney North Landscape Protection Group would present evidence to show that the development was not consistent with government planning policy and guidance for renewable energy developments in that the assessed harm outweighs the benefit; also that the development is not consistent with the development plan for the area.
City Council criticised for sitting on the fence
Peterborough City Council came under fire for adopting a neutral stance at the inquiry.
Marcus Trinick QC, who is representing developers REG Windpower Ltd, said the council had granted planning permission, yet now its position was declared as neutral. “In my view this cannot be,” said Mr Trinick. “It is in favour of the proposed development.”
He pressed Louise Lovegrove, senior development management officer to re-affirm the council’s support, but she would not do so.
“We voted to grant planning permission, but then the decision was taken away from us,” she said. “In the light of this we have taken a neutral stance. It is up to the inspector to decide.”
Ian Kelly, representing Thorney North Landscape Protection Group (TNLPG), was no happier with the council stance and demanded a decision. “Is the council happy for the decision to be approved – yes or no?”
The planning inspector, John Braithwaite, said Ms Lovegrove did not have to answer that question.
“Is your professional opinion neutral as to the outcome?” asked Mr Kelly.
“Yes,” said Ms Lovegrove.
“So you have changed your professional opinion since you recommended the application be granted?”
“Only in the extent that the decision making process has been taken away from the council,” replied Ms Lovegrove.
Part of the Thorney group’s argument is that Peterborough City Council didn’t properly assess the application, in particular that more up-to-date environmental information was ignored and that Ms Lovegrove’s report as the case officer did not include a separate report from the council’s landscape architect. Ms Lovegrove said that the application had been considered by a landscape architect, but that his findings had been included in her report.
It was a bruising morning for Ms Lovegrove, who was forced to admit that this was her first wind-farm case and her first public inquiry.
There was also some scrutiny of her report into the impact of the development on local homes where Ms Lovegrove has used the so-called Lavender test. This is named after a planning inspector who ruled:
“When turbines are present in such number, size and proximity that they represent an unpleasantly overwhelming and unavoidable presence in main views from a house or garden, there is every likelihood that the property concerned would come to be regarded as an unattractive and thus an unsatisfactory (but not necessarily uninhabitable) place in which to live. It is not in the public interest to create such living conditions where they did not exist before.”
Ms Lovegrove said this test had been applied in the Treadwell Farm planning inquiry in South Holland District, which had been published shortly before the city council were to consider the French Farm application. Mr Kelly asked her how she would define the tipping point of visual effect that would make somewhere an unsuitable place to live.
“I believe this would be where turbines reach such an extent that they become the dominant feature. I appreciate this is a subjective matter and residents may set the bar higher than I do.” She did not believe this was the case with regard to French Farm.
The inquiry adjourned for lunch
Landscape architects clash on visual effect of French Farm wind turbines
During the afternoon session, two landscape architects submitted somewhat different assessments regarding the impact of the French Farm wind turbines.
Mark Steele for Thorney North Landscape Protection (against the proposal) and Marc van Grieken for developers REG Windpower, submitted evidence that differed substantially in its conclusions.
Mr van Grieken’s evidence stated that: “at none of the properties assessed residents will experience impacts which could be said to be overbearing or dominant, or to dominate.
“The development will not affect the outlook of these residents to such an extent that the property would become an unattractive place to live.”
Mr Steele’s evidence was picked over by Marcus Trinick QC for REG Windpower who savaged a number of findings.
He claimed the evidence had mixed up some properties so incorrect visual impacts had been reported; evidence on the design of the wind-farm had considered only two-thirds of the development; the same wording had been used to describe views from different points and there was no proof to support an assertion that high levels of visual impact would be present up to four kilometres away from the site.