HOW TO FIGHT A WINDFARM PROPOSAL

A INFORMATION GATHERING

1. The first indication that your area has been targeted for a windfarm will be

one of the following:

 

(a) If you have suitable land, a development company will offer to measure

     your "wind resource".

 

             (b) A landowner in your area may make it known that he has had such an approach.

 

(c) Someone will spot one or more anemometry masts on high ground.
They are poles about 50 feet high, secured by guy ropes, with small revolving cups neat the top, measuring the wind-speed.

(d) A planning application for an anemometry mast will be publicised.

The anemometry mast is the most likely indicator these days; windfarms are so unpopular that developers and landowners who are keen to have a windfarm are pretty secretive, and may not apply for permission to erect the mast.

2. If you are determined to fight the proposal, the first thing to do is to find out as much as possible about wind energy generation. The more you read, the more you are likely to conclude that it is economic nonsense and that the environmental costs hugely outweigh the benefits. See www.countryguardian.net.

3. Make contact with COUNTRY GUARDIAN and other groups fighting windfarms. You do not have to re-invent the wheel. Many other groups have been through the fight already and can supply you with advice and information. Contacting them will save both time and money. In Wales, contact the Campaign for the Protection of Rural Wales. In England, the Campaign to Protect Rural England. In Scotland, Views of Scotland (www.viewsofscotland.org)

4. Make contact with the local planning officer who is likely to have had discussions with the developer before the application is submitted. Gain the maximum information about the nature of the proposed development.

5. At the same time, seek the maximum information about the site, whether it has any designation (Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, National Park, Heritage Coast, Area of Great Landscape Value, SSSI, Environmentally Sensitive Area), any special features of its ecology and so on. Ask the planning officer to explain the Local Plan, County Structure Plan etc so that you can see how the development contravenes the sections on landscape protection. Ask him if he thinks the plan contravenes PPG22 and if so, why.

6. Establish what footpaths, bridle paths and roads cross or go near the site.

7. Establish whether any part of the site is Common Land.

8. Contact the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and the local wildlife trust to find out if there are rare species of flora or fauna on or near the site. Find out from local history and archaeological societies whether the site is of historical or archaeological interest. (note that RSPB has been slow to understand the threats to birds posed by windfarms, and has on occasion helped to promote them. It also has a financial interest in some windfarms, however there are signs that they might be just beginning to wake up to the threat. (see RSPB.htm)

B. ORGANISING THE OPPOSITION

1. It is extraordinary how few people know the negative side of wind turbines - their scale, their inefficiency, their visual intrusiveness and their noise. The majority of people still think that putting up a windfarm will save us from nuclear or provide cheap electricity[March 2004 – This is changing rapidly – see www.countryguardian.net]. It is this lack of information that the developers exploit, pretending to be saving the planet when, in truth, they are in it for the money. You will have to educate people and show them that wind power is not the benign technology that they might have thought and, in particular, that they will not affect nuclear power by the sacrifice of their peace and local amenity. It is vital that your information gathering has been accurate so that you cannot justly be accused of exaggeration and misinformation. Remember, the truth is quite damaging enough!

2.   Form your own action group. Usually an individual or a small group forms the core of the opponents, and, while they get a lot of moral support locally, active help is more difficult to come by. Try to form a committee, meet as often as necessary and allocate tasks. The group can be as formal or as informal as you choose. Some have constitutions, elections, bank accounts, formal membership, press officers and so on. Others are loose-knit and informal. Look at actiongrps.htm and links.htm

3. Write letters to the local press and alert the news desk of the local paper / radio/ TV to the story. Windpower developments tend to be slowly unfolding sagas - keep the media up to date with the story and any twists or new developments. Get as wide a variety of people as possible to write to the newspapers opposing the scheme. Make sure any letters that support it are answered in the next issue.

4 . Prepare a leaflet pin-pointing the site and outlining briefly the case against wind energy generally and in this site in particular. Distribute it in shops, pubs, hotels. Encourage people who read the leaflet to write letters of opposition to MPs and councillors if the development is still in the design stage, letters of objection to the planners if an application has been submitted. Note that leaflets come under the jurisdiction of the Advertising Standards Authority

5. Organise a public meeting, and get an experienced chairman who can control a large and passionate crowd and deal with disruptive elements. Invite the local press and radio, the planning officer, and all members of the planning committee. Invite speakers whom you can trust - particularly those who live near a windfarm and whose lives and proper-ties have been blighted. Invite the developer to speak. Borrow tapes and videos of existing windfarms and interviews with people living under them (refer to Country Guardian for videos. Groups have found it very effective to hire the village hall for a few hours and just play the tape) Play these at the meeting. Take a vote at the end of the meeting on whether the windfarm is wanted.

6. Write individually to your M.P. and to all local councillors, particularly members of the planning sub-committee, inviting their support. Remember, their position depends on you and other electors. The more letters the better. They have a duty to represent their electorate's concerns.

7. Write to the developer and landowner. If the developer is an individual, rather than, say, a foreign company, he or she may be susceptible to local argument - particularly from friends. Sadly, communities and even families are divided by the windfarm issue, but never feel embarrassed politely to confront friends or neighbours with the argument that they will be ruining other people's lives and amenity for their own profit.

8. Embarrass the developer by publicising unpalatable truths. Read all publicity material and propaganda put out by the developers and compare it to the detail contained in their application. In one recent case, developers have dramatically understated the volume of construction traffic. Point out inconsistencies. Examine carefully all claims made about the creation of local jobs or benefit to the local economy. Experience to date shows that there are few if any jobs, even in the construction phase, and that ongoing economic benefits are negligible except to developer or landowner. Developers make a great play of "saving the world." Calculate and publicise the infinitesimal emission savings of the development - not in tomes but in national percentage terms. Calculate and publicise the income to the developer: they will tell you the output of the turbines, so you can calculate their income if they are tendering at 4p or 4.Sp or Sp a unit of electricity sold. They are in it for the money: show how considerable that money is. Make sure they make clear the difference between Installed Capacity and Load Factor and don’t overstate the “number of homes supplied” See Red Booklet 2003 - 2004 Intro.htm or current year’s equivalent)

9. Try to take an opinion sample of everyone living within 3km of the proposal and publish the results in the local press.

C. OPPOSING THE PLANNING APPLICATION

1. Make sure there is consent for an anemometry mast. If not, make sure that the council's enforcement officer forces the developer to submit an application for consent for one. It has been difficult in the past to secure rejection of anemometers, but a large number of objections will alert planners to the level of local opposition. Object on the grounds that the anemometer can only be a preparatory step towards an unacceptable development.

2. All planning applications must be publicised by one or more of the following ways: notice in local paper; notice on site; notification of owners of neighbouring property. Monitor all applications.

3. Study any application (for anemometry mast or windfarm proper) and make sure it is correct in every detail. It is available in the planning office. Developers are obliged now to submit an Environmental Statement for windfarms of significant size. Examine this in the greatest detail, if possible using the services of an expert, and prepare a detailed critique of it. Past experience has shown that these statements are often sloppily prepared, inaccurate and positively misleading.

4. Visit the site, check out the details of the application on the ground, note the proximity of the turbines to rights of way, roads, dwellings.

5. The planners must allow a minimum of 14 days for comment on a proposal, but in practice tend to take account of comments made up to the date of the planning decision. Generate the maximum possible number of letters of objection. There were 2000 letters of objection to a proposal on the Welsh border recently. They must object on proper planning grounds (see below ) they must be individually written if possible, and not round robins. Petitions are useless - one with ten thousand signatures may be treated as a single letter of objection - except as publicity material. Make sure every detail

6. Outline in a circular the proper grounds for objection: for example,

- Conflict with specified paragraphs of the Local Plan or County Structure Plan
- conflict with Designated Area status/visibility from Designated Area

- Intervisibility with other windfarms
- conflict with Council's statutory duty (Countryside Act 1968) to preserve and enhance the countryside

- ecological/habitat/archaeological/historical importance of site
- unacceptable noise levels at properties within 1.5 km

- safety considerations - proximity of roads, footpaths, bridleways - inadequacy of existing roads for construction traffic.

- tiny amount of clean electricity generated in relation to the huge landscape damage.

Subjective comments on ugliness will not help. Get objectors to send copies of their letters to local councillors and to the MP

7. Letters of objection from prominent individuals - MPs, MEPs, media figures, writers, local celebrities of any sort - are good publicity. Generate some and ask the individuals if you can publicise their feelings.

8. Groups, institutions, associations and businesses can object as well as individuals. Contact wildlife groups, civic societies, walking and riding organisations, those involved in tourism, and any business which has interests that might be damaged by the application.

9. Common Land is a separate category. You can refer to the Law of Commons under the 1925 Law of Property Act which indicates that nothing can interfere with the rights of graziers or commoners. If people with such rights object it should be possible to force the development company to withdraw. If this applies to your site, ask us for fuller information.

10. If through your contacts (it is important to cultivate contacts among local councillors or among planning officers), you become aware that either the planning officers are going to recommend the planning committee to accept the proposal or that the planning committee is likely to accept the proposal despite a recommendation by the planning officers to reject it, then find out from the Department of the Environment who is your local regional controller and from him try to secure an ARTICLE 14. This will mean that the planning committee's scope is limited. It can debate the application and refuse it, or resolve to accept it, but it cannot simply accept it. If they resolve to accept, the application will then go before the Secretary of State who will either endorse the committee's resolution to accept or call it in for determination at a public inquiry. Article 14 can be obtained when the application is deemed to involve more than merely a local interest. Regional or national interests must be involved. Alternatively objectors can demonstrate that there are grounds to mistrust the ability of the planning committee to determine the matter fairly.

 

11. If the planning officers have recommended refusal of the application but the planning committee gives consent, then the Secretary of State can call the application in for determination at a public enquiry. You must therefore discover what the planning officers' advice is and under these circumstances seek to ensure that the matter is called in.

12. Attend a planning committee meeting before the one at which the windfarm proposal is to be decided in order to see how they work.

13. Be prepared to accompany the committee members on site meetings, where you may be able to point out how the turbines will degrade the landscape or cause noise nuisance to neighbouring houses. You cannot be prevented from doing so if a public footpath crosses the site. If you are prevented from entering private land to attend a site meeting, this interference with your ability to express yourself on a matter of public interest will make very good publicity.

14. Attend the planning committee on the actual day with as many opponents as you can muster. You may not be allowed to speak, so have placards and banners. Make notes of what is said by whom, and how people vote. Be prepared for a deferral, in which case you have to find the energy to fight on. Even if the proposal is rejected, the developers may appeal; they risk financial penalties if the appeal is unsuccessful, and so a well-organised opposition obviously determined to fight to the last ditch may deter them. Equally the developer may submit a marginally different but substantially similar proposal.

Remember that both the Welsh Secretary and the Environment secretary have said that they wish these things to be determined locally. All but one application in 1994 have been turned down. A strong local opposition and a high profile campaign will be helpful in the event that the application goes to appeal.

If consent is given locally, you can lobby the Secretary of State to call the application in if consent has been given contrary to the advice of the planning officers, but the developer may well have won. All you can do then is to publicise everything that the developer does that degrades the environment, and monitor noise levels and bird deaths. You may have lost one of your hills, but every bit of adverse publicity for windfarms helps to win the war.

There is a possibility that the developer will not win a contract under NFFO because his bid price for selling electricity is too high, even if he has secured planning consent.

D FIGHTING AN APPEAL.

If a developer's application to build a windfarm is turned down, he may within six months make an appeal to the Secretary of State who then decides whether it should be dealt with in writing or by public enquiry-. As we have seen above, there are other circumstances that can lead to a public enquiry (Article 14 or consent despite planning officers' advice to refuse). Remember that if the local planning committee has turned down the application initially, they will be fighting the developer at appeal. It is the job of your action group to convince the Secretary of State or his inspector at the public enquiry of the strength of the case against and the strength of local opposition by getting the objectors to present in writing and/or by personal appearance at the enquiry all the grounds for objection which they have already put to the local committee. Work with your local planners.

The inspector or the Secretary of State will examine the wider national interest and so it may be necessary for a technical expert to give evidence of the negligible contribution to emission control or electricity supply of an individual windfarm, thereby demonstrating that there is no substantive argument for overturning the landscape protection provisions of the local Plan. Bear in mind that the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee has dismissed the contribution of wind as negligible in proportion to the cost involved, so it has become even harder to argue that windfarms serve the national interest.

Country Guardian may be able to supply a technical expert to give evidence on your group's behalf.

 

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