I agree with the remarks of JM Donlan (March 22). The recent consent order signed at the High Court, which quashed planning permissions for a wind farm at Haw Top, Woolley, is another good example of the lack of judgement displayed by the WMDC Planning Authority.
Of concern to me is the fact that residents are only able to have a dialogue with their own ward members yet those members are deemed to be biased, and lose their voting rights, if they express sympathy with the views of their constituents. It seems only the other members if the Committee are capable of giving proper consideration to the district as a whole. I find this difficult to believe.
Their decision to permit yet more wind turbines at Woolley was particularly incomprehensible given that the District targets for renewable energy schemes have now been exceeded and the regional and national targets have been abolished altogether. There were no local benefits arising from the latest scheme which might have justified the local environmental, social and economic harm. The only justification put forward was the ‘wider environmental benefits’, though these were never quantified or explained. Since when did the remit of local councillors include international affairs and global issues?
The encouragement by the planning department of speculative applications for renewable energy schemes is lamentable – especially in these circumstances. How can councillors possibly decide on the acceptability of developments and the suitability of locations in the absence of targets or any other objective criteria and without full consultation with local residents? [I was so dismayed by the one who decided that “she’d seen a turbine and it wasn’t at all noisy”. The typical noise output of approx. 100 dB is actually greater than that produced by a pneumatic drill or a low flying jet plane.]
When I queried the lack of local consultation with residents of Woolley, in the light of the provisions of the Localism Act, I was told that: “Section 122 of the Localism Act 2011 requires a planning proposal to be subject to local consultation with affected parties prior to submission. This requirement has not yet been followed by secondary legislation (in this instance changes to the General Development Procedure Order) which would impose such a requirement accompanied by relevant thresholds etc.”
The Government may be determined that local community groups should be consulted but WMDC councillors seem equally determined that they should not.
It appears that the provisions of the National Planning Policy Framework (the NPPF) are also merely advisory. Councillors can apparently ‘pick and mix’ as they like. I would therefore suggest that a comprehensive, consistent and coherent network of Neighbourhood and Local Development Plans is absolutely essential – if only to provide the necessary checks and balances in the planning process. Their use by local councils is certainly being encouraged by the Ministers at the DCLG to help shape where sustainable developments, including renewable energy schemes, should and should not take place. According to the Ministers: “having clear and up –to – date plans in place can help reduce speculative applications and avoid unnecessary appeals”. I would add that they can also help reduce expensive litigation in the High Court, paid in our case by council tax payers.
Ultimately, what should and should not be included in the WMDC Local Development Plan is a matter for the district councillors collectively – not the Planning Inspectorate as some apparently believe. As an inspector recently commented: “the Planning Inspectorate is not prescriptive; inspectors merely assess material put before them”. So, if we consider the Plan to be defective in any respect, as I believe it is, we should lobby our own ward members and get it changed.