Energy companies could face new restrictions on wind farm projects after ministers launched a review of the way noise pollution is taken into account by planners.
The Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC) has admitted noise regulations are applied “inconsistently” by councils and planning inspectors.
They have ordered an investigation which may lead to stricter controls being imposed where officials have been too lax in the past.
Campaigners who claim their lives have been made a misery by constant turbine noise gave a cautious welcome to the review but said they wanted to see more wide-ranging changes. Energy companies also welcomed the move.
Current rules state that noise from wind farms should be limited to 5 decibels above background noise but in quieter areas the noise limit should be a maximum of 40 decibels in daytime – abput the volume of a humming fridge – and 43 decibels at night.
Charles Hendry, the energy minister, disclosed that a specialist company will begin a review next month into whether noise protection guidance is being applied by councils in a “consistent and effective manner”.
A DECC internal document, leaked to The Sunday Telegraph, reveals: “It has been brought to our attention that inconsistent approaches have been taken to the practical application of the guidance.
“We are keen to ensure that planning authorities and developers have clarity about best practice, to provide greater certainty and consistency within the planning system.”
Olive Repton, whose farm is a mile from the 15-turbine Dalswinton windfarm in Dumfries and Galloway, said: “I’m pleased to hear that ministers recognise there is a problem with noise for people all over the country.
“We had a measurement in the middle of the night recently which hit 56 decibels. However, they need a review of the original guidance which is seriously overdue.”
Mike Hulme, who has spent six years fighting plans for nine turbines near his home in the Den Brook Valley, Devon, said: “It is good news that something is happening regarding noise pollution but I am concerned it will not get to the heart of the problem.”
But Mr Hulme pointed out that since the guidelines were drawn up in 1996, turbines have more than doubled in height to 400 feet.
Mr Hendry told MPs: “Noise is a key issue to be taken into account in considering proposals for wind farm development.
“Our aim is to ensure that (the guidance) is applied in a consistent and effective manner and that it is implemented in a way that provides the intended level of protection.”
The review by Hayes McKenzie, a wind farms specialist, will begin next month and is due to be completed by the end of the year.
Dr Lee Moroney, director of planning at the Renewable Energy Foundation, a charity which has questioned the value of windfarms, called on the department to ensure the review is completely transparent by publishing all the research.
“Hayes McKenzie habitually work for wind farm developers and we will need to see all the data to know that it has been correctly gathered,” she said.
Charles Anglin, spokesman for the wind power trade body RenewableUK, said: “We welcome the review because we think it will show very clearly that athough there are very loud myths about wind power there actually isn’t a noise problem.
“We think that any review of how the regulations operate is welcome because wind turbines are not noisy.”
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