The views of local people and communities have been ignored, according to a local rural countryside protection charity, as proposals have been made to designate the whole of North Devon and Torridge as suitable for wind energy development.
North Devon Council and Torridge District Council are considering the introduction of a new policy into the draft North Devon and Torridge Local Plan with the respect of wind energy development. The councils undertook consultations on wind energy policy options at the end of last year and subsequently held a consultation on a proposed policy for wind energy development during February and March.
The proposed policy would see the whole planning authority areas of North Devon and Torridge designated as suitable for development but with constraints on the scale of development in any particular location.
The two councils are due to make a decision on this policy at a meeting next week.
However, the Devon branch of the Campaign for the Protection of Rural England (CPRE) has said the councils have ignored the views of their residents by developing such a proposal.
A spokesperson for CPRE Devon said: ‘In 2012 the Coalition Government issued the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF). The emphasis was to allow people and communities back into planning. In other words local people and local communities make planning decisions in the place where they live.’
The CPRE spokesperson highlighted that the Written Ministerial Statement produced last year confirmed the Conservative manifesto, stating new considerations were being set out, to be applied to proposed wind energy development, so local people had the final say on windfarm applications.
‘It is quite clear that the minister was not happy with the way the NPPF had been used and was putting more weight on decisions being made by local people and local communities.
‘The minister had seen how often local authority planning officers and planning inspectors were ignoring the views of local people and local communities.
‘A prime example is the newly constructed Batsworthy Cross wind farm which was strongly opposed by all the local communities, but the North Devon planning officers were in favour of it and a planning inspector then ignored the local community and gave it planning permission. We can now see for ourselves why the local community opposed it. It is a horrendous blight on the landscape right next to the gateway to north Devon and Cornwall.
‘In contrast to all this government information, North Devon and Torridge Councils recently decided to ignore local people and local communities by drawing up a proposal to identify the whole of northern Devon on a map as suitable for wind energy development for inclusion in the upcoming local plan.
‘Had they consulted CPRE Devon they would have discovered that local people and local communities do not want their countryside blighted with yet more wind turbines and wind farms. But no, it appears that the professional planning officers at the two councils decided to try to impose their plans on the people who pay their salaries.
‘CPRE Devon is aware of the wishes of the local communities because for years, whenever a wind turbine or windfarm application is made, we are inundated with cries for help.’
The spokesperson said that in the first consultation on the plan, in which four different areas were offered, the vast majority of people who responded were against identifying any areas suitable for wind energy developments and ‘not one person’ was in favour of identifying the whole area as suitable.
‘Despite these views of the people and despite letters from the planning minister stating that a local plan did not need to identify any areas, in the second consultation the option of designating the whole of northern Devon as suitable was the only option offered,’ said the spokesperson. ‘As word of this unacceptable proposal and the way the views of local people had been ignored began to circulate around the district, huge numbers of people responded to the consultation expressing their outrage.
‘We sincerely hope that North Devon and Torridge District councils heed this overwhelming message, which is NO. This proposal is totally unacceptable and they immediately remove any such proposal and wording from any document associated with the local plan.’
In the councils’ proposed policy on wind energy development it states: ‘The introduction into the Local Plan of a new policy relating to wind energy development is considered necessary as a direct result of recent changes to national planning policy and guidance. A significant level of representations received through the first consultation advocated the approach of not seeking to define areas suitable for wind energy development through the Local Plan. This is however considered an inappropriate response to the matter and one which could potentially be seen to conflict with the provisions of national planning policy.
‘The definition of “areas suitable for wind energy development” is proposed to be contiguous to the full extent of the local planning authority areas of North Devon Council and Torridge District Council. However, within this area the potentially acceptable scale of wind energy development in any particular location will be guided by the landscape evidence base which has been translated into zones suitable for maximum turbine heights.’
In the planning manager’s report to the Community and Resources Committee, which is due to make a decision on the proposal, it states that in response to the consultation on the proposed policy 820 responses were received, of which 792 were made by 677 individuals or organisations. Of the comments 752 objected to the proposed policy, 23 comments were in support or in support subject to amendment and 17 comments were of a general nature. It stated that key stakeholders (AONB Partnership, national park authority, Natural England and the National Trust) favoured the policy approach.
The report states: ‘All duly made representations received to the proposed policy have been considered. The policy is considered to continue to provide a positive approach to wind energy development that will allow for the appropriate management of wind energy developments.’
The planning officer recommends that the proposed policy is progressed as a proposed ‘main modification’ to the local plan, but appreciated the difficult decision and has given recommendation options if the committee decides to defer the decision to a future review of the local plan or delegate responsibility to neighbourhood plans.
The planning officer said: ‘It is acknowledged that the issue is not straightforward and that the outcome of the present consultation does not demonstrate clear community support for the identification of an area of search for wind energy and in this important respect the option of reliance on the WMS would not unreasonably follow. On that basis, and although this report has recommended a preferred option, either stance could be reasonably argued and it is for members to arrive at a balanced view having regard to all the material considerations set out.’
The committee is due to meet to discuss the decision on April 18.