A council has admitted it urgently needs new policies to cope with the increasing volume of wind turbine and solar energy applications.
Fenland District Council says a recent appeal decision for six turbines “highlighted the lack of Fenland policies available to determine such proposals- whether wind, solar or other form of renewable energy”.
Corporate director Gary Garford says in a report to Cabinet that the inspector who conducted the appeal for Treadings Farm – on the Cambridgeshire/Lincolnshire border- relied on national policy and guidance.
“Whilst the council was successful in having the appeal dismissed, the case demonstrated that a lack of local policy could place a significant risk on the council in the future,” says Mr Garford.
His team has now produced an 80 page supplementary planning document which he hopes will provide guidelines and controls.
Mr Garford believes the new policies, if agreed, will “help ensure inappropriate developments are refused and help prevent an excessive amount of renewable energy schemes blotting out landscape and impacting on the amenity of residents”.
It would not mean an end to those which are “sensitively designed and well located” since these brought benefits to the district through jobs, business growth and lower fuel bills.
He added: “In these days of ever rising fuel bills, it is important we enable local residents and businesses to take advantage of fuel saving measures, thus taking residents out of fuel poverty and creating local jobs. This will ensure more money circulates within Fenland, not out to the ‘big six’ mostly foreign energy companies.”
The new guidelines “once finalised and adopted will strengthen the council’s ability to consistently and fairly consider all relevant planning applications.
“Without this document, the council will be at greater risk of unacceptable proposals being permitted, probably through the appeal process. This is because the council will not have set out locally specific policies to deal with such proposals.”
Mr Garford said a consistent and transparent approach was needed as well as the requirement to clarify Fenland Council’s approach.
He said that in the Treadings appeal the inspector pointed out that his starting point “was on the basis that there are no relevant local policies” and that the application should be approved unless there was evidence to persuade him otherwise.
“Fortunately, in this case, there was sufficient evidence but the council may not be so fortunate at future appeals,” he said.
Mr Garford said officers were of the opinion that to place Fenland Council in the best position in the future to respond to renewable energy applications, it needed to set out clear policies and have a local framework for dealing with them.
This was preferable he said than starting from “the presumption in favour of such proposals which is where we do start if no policies exist”.
Another issue highlighted by the appeal- and was a determining factor- was the impact wind turbines have on nearby residents, especially those living within 1km of the site.
“What officers can take from reading the appraisals made by the Inspector and the Secretary of State is that had there been a set of local policies covering these matters, both could have strengthened their view against the proposal on these grounds,” he says.
As of November 5, the council says it has 38 existing wind turbines in Fenland and 35 for which approval has been given (these exclude small turbines which do not always need permission).
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