Hunks of Fenland could be made ‘no go’ areas for developers hoping to escalate wind turbine development, says a new report published this week.
“There are important views within the district that should be retained without the visual intrusion of wind turbine development,” says the report commissioned by Fenland District Council.
For the first time the council now has a significant set of criteria to judge future applications for wind turbines in the one part of Eastern England that has appeared to offer a free-for-all for wind turbine expansion.
With 34 turbines already built – and many more in the pipeline – the report by The Landscape Partnership accepts that Fenland “has more than met the renewable energy targets set for them by the East of England Regional Authority to 2010.
“However there is now a need to carefully consider the impacts that additional new developments or the extension of existing wind turbine sites within the district could have,” the report says.
“Wind turbines are the single largest development in terms of vertical scale within a landscape and the rate of change within the district over the last 10 years has been considerable. There is a need to ensure that future development is in balance with the local landscape and the population that lives in it.”
The report offers both optimism for some growth in wind turbines in Fenland but also some hope for critics who want to see wind turbine expansion halted or at the very least scaled back considerably.
As councillors and officers consider the findings of this new study they will be asked to reflect upon growing evidence that some parts of Fenland are suffering from an excess of turbines.
“For March in particular there are already significant combined and successive impacts from some viewpoints,” says the report.
But outside of the town, there is concern too that the view is beginning to be disturbed too much by wind turbines.
“In terms of sequential cumulative visual impact, the roads that run north-south through the centre of Fenland in particular already experience an impact from a number of sites,” says the report.
For example, the B1101 between March and Elm “currently exceeds the threshold for ‘prominent’ successive impact. However many of the more minor roads, particularly those that are quite short such as the B1096, B1099, and B1040, surpass the threshold for ‘conspicuous’ visibility. This would suggest that if new turbine development is to be accommodated along these routes it would be preferential to locate new turbines close to existing turbine locations where the journey experience has already been impacted upon.”
But it’s not only the countryside that concerns the report’s authors, for they note that within Fenland many of the listed buildings form important elements within the landscape, particularly church towers and spires.
“Visual conflict with these features should be avoided and wind turbine developments within a minimum distance of 2km of conservation areas and listed buildings and up to 5km distance will need to be carefully assessed to ensure there are not significant adverse effects on the settings of these features.”
The report covers most eventualities for future turbines and the document, if accepted by the council, will be offered to developers, farmers, councillors and the public who either want to pursue or protest about future turbines.
Thresholds and criteria also include, for example, a likely ban on turbines within 400 metres of housing and shadow flicker will need to be addressed on nearby homes.
And there is comfort for conservationists in the report, since the recommendations insist questions must be asked about the landscape’s ability to absorb more turbines.
“There is a danger that excessive development of wind turbines in any landscape would at some point result in such material change as to unbalance and overpower the existing key characteristics of the landscape,” says the report.
Key features of Fenland are seen as being in need of protection from seeing them obscured by wind turbines.
Not only should turbines be excluded from view by those within the conservation areas of market towns and along the Nene in March, but historic routes through the towns must exclude views of turbines.
“Other important views to preserve include those towards church spires and towers, which form landmarks in the landscape, e.g. St Wendreda’s and views towards Ely Cathedral from the A142 travelling northwards towards Ely.
“Views along the corridor of the Ouse and Nene washes are also important in landscape terms and should be safeguarded from adverse impacts.”
The report is likely to influence key decisions expected next week on expansion of the Coldham wind turbine site and for a single turbine in Creek Road, March, for Anglian Water.
But many more applications are around the corner, and Fenland, proud to be at the forefront of renewable energy, now hopes it has a working document that will help it evaluate future applications.
Authors of the report looked to see how neighbouring authorities were coping with wind turbines but appear relatively dismissive of the work of some of them.
With regard to South Holland District Council, for example, the report notes that the Lincolnshire authority’s guidelines “do not provide a large amount of detail as to how they have arrived at some of the criteria they have developed.”
By John Elworthy
24 April 2008
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