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Too close for comfort: Wind developers, planning department ‘cosy’

Humphrey Price-Jones has long suspected that the NSW Department of Planning was secretly working with wind farm companies to draw up new planning guidelines.

Now he says he has proof. Mr Price-Jones and the NSW Landscape Guardians were able to gain copies of internal Departmental documents detailing an in-house planning workshop with 14 wind industry representatives on July 18 through a Freedom of Information request (FOI).

The workshop came despite repeated assurances that the Department wasn’t working with industry representatives in formulating new draft guidelines for wind farms.

“We have been told over a period of time that there was no special preference given to wind turbine developers,” Price-Jones said.

“In short, we have been lied to repeatedly by a number of people in the Department of Planning,” he said.

What particularly grates with the Landscape Guardians is that they were told in a meeting with the Department on October 22 that work on the draft wind farm planning guidelines hadn’t started yet.

“They insisted that no work on draft guidelines had been done, and even if it had we wouldn’t be able to see them because it would essentially give the Landscape Guardians an unfair advantage over the industry,” Price-Jones said.

“The thing that is absolutely appalling and disgraceful is the fact that there seems to be a symbiotic relationship between elements of the Department of Planning and the wind energy industry.

“Why should people who are supposed to be independent assessors be so biased in favour of the developers, to the detriment of the community and individuals living in the areas that…are going to be so severely affected, basically to the point of being driven out of their homes and off their land?

“And this is under the auspices of a government that said there should be more community involvement and the rights of individuals should be given more weight.”

The Department confirmed in a statement that the July 18 meeting with industry representatives went ahead but said neither developers nor community representatives had been given direct access to the draft guidelines.

“The department held a two-hour briefing for a number of developers from the wind farm industry in July to inform them of the repeal of Part 3A of the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979 and the transitional measures for wind farm projects that were already in the planning system,” a spokesperson said.

“The department also advised the group of the likely introduction of new planning controls for wind farms and canvassed the matters that would likely be covered in future wind farm guidelines.

“(However) neither group has been given access to the draft guidelines or had direct advice on the planning controls and measures that will likely be included.”

Cabinet met on Monday to consider the draft guidelines. If approved, they will then go on a period of public exhibition before being legislated next year.

On Monday, Mr Price-Jones called on the Department to consult more widely and be more transparent in its wind farm planning.

“The Landscape Guardians aren’t arguing that there should be no more wind turbines built necessarily,” he said.

“What we are arguing is that there should be some injection of intelligence and common sense into the planning process. At the moment, the siting of turbines is being driven purely by the developers.”