Sixpennywood Windfarm Appeal Presentation
This appeal is not about windpower as a concept, it’s not about national policy, it’s not about targets - it is simply that this is not a small windfarm (as the appellant would have us believe) and the simple question…. “Can a windfarm of such size and scale with it’s out of character vertical structures fit into the existing landscape without a significant adverse effect, on this part of the countryside and those residents who choose to live in it?”
I have seen the area change and the communities adapt over the years - but they have never been faced with anything like this.
When entering the East Riding of Yorkshire from the west you see Drax Power Station on the left and Goole’s Capital Park on the right with it’s massive buildings including the glassworks, pelleting factory, and large distribution centre. In the background we see the iconic salt and pepper pot towers, the church spire and the cranes on the Goole docks, an area described as the economic powerhouse of the East Riding. Continuing over the Ouse Bridge into Howdenshire where we see the port of Howdendyke and the two large distribution centres on the right, and the two Loftsome Bridge wind turbines at the water treatment plant to the left.
A large expanse of rurality then opens up before you – in the foreground we see trees, woods and hedges planted by farmers who over the generations have invested to shape the area. Then stretching to the vale of York to the north, the foothills of the Wolds to the northeast and the Humber Bridge and City of Hull to the east. It is this tranquil, intimate, rurality dominated only by the tower and green roof of the historic Howden Minster that makes Howdenshire special.
The East Riding of Yorkshire Council (ERYC) Planning Committee
It is important to state that I sit on the ERYC planning committee, although I am not representing the committee, these are my views. I have been involved in the decision making process regarding all the renewable energy applications brought before the committee since May 2007, including the Sixpennywood application. I am not a policy maker nor qualified to defend any of the Council’s planning policies, my role can be described as trying to give overview, interpretation and weighting to those policies.
Why did the applicant move straight to appeal rather than submit an amended scheme?
It was disappointing that the applicant didn’t consider, and take into account the thoughts of the Planning Committee including the narrowness of the vote on the day, and resubmit the application, reconfiguring the proposal to include fewer turbines, and certainly removing the turbine which at 630m would be closest to South Lea farm (which does not have a landowner interest in the application).
The ERYC Planning Committee and recent windfarm applications
The Planning Committee can only make a decision on what is in front of them, which can at times be very frustrating for members with some applications. I have always been open to arguments from all sides when it comes to windfarms and have voted both for and against, depending on the individual application
At the recent meeting of the Planning Committee the members considered two windfarm applications
The first application for the 3-turbine Monkwith windfarm on the East coast was difficult for members; I struggled with the site and the cumulative impact of 3 windfarms surrounding a village, which I felt, had not been adequately considered, all members supported a motion for a deferment.
Conversely the second application for the 16-turbine Goole Fields windfarm was considered to be very well sited, being remote, windy, and a considerable distance away from residences, an excellent application for a large windfarm in an appropriate location. It was clear the applicant had worked very closely with the communities neighbouring the site, and there were very few objections but also not a significant number of supporters either. This application was fully supported by the Committee.
This was exactly the same with the nearby Twin Rivers application, which I again supported earlier in the year.
As a member of the Planning Committee I find that when making decisions on windfarm applications it is always a question of balance. It may well be quite clear that a proposal is just plainly out of scale with the surrounding landscape, or has the potential to have a negative impact on the setting of a town such as we see here with Howden.
Issues with windfarm applications can also be more subtle – the number of turbines may be too great - perhaps 4 o r 5 would be more acceptable than say 10 as we see in this case. This can also be said for the height of the turbines in some locations, there are of course smaller generation turbines, which can blend more easily into the background. Sometimes the location is not quite right e.g. the turbines may have been better a couple of fields further away from housing to reduce the impact, or to take advantage of natural screening wherever possible. But this is very difficult when the industry is being led by speculative developers who cannot always persuade the owners of the land most suitable for locating wind turbines to become involved.
Profitability v Public Concern
It is understandable that a developer wants to maximise the profitability of any given windfarm by having the maximum number of turbines of the largest size and capacity – but a little more care and consideration for the communities surrounding a windfarm could make the passage through the planning process much easier.
Here in lies a contradiction. When the application was submitted it was for a 30 Mw installation consisting of 10 x 3 Mw turbines with the company stating this would supply electricity for up to 14,000 homes, this was an important factor in the decision making. Now we are led to believe that these may be 10 x 2 Mw turbines. There is anecdotal evidence as introduced by David Davis MP and other speakers that these larger capacity turbines as proposed originally have issues with noise, but perhaps less so with the smaller ones as now proposed. Doubt is certainly raised when the application changes between when the planning committee refused an application for reasons of size and scale, and the situation at appeal where the turbines are to be of a lesser capacity, although It is accepted that they will be the same height and diameter.
I feel the applicant should have taken more care with this application, they did not have to propose the 10 largest turbines, that for many people are cumulatively unacceptable, and they certainly did not have to propose to locate a turbine within 630m of the home of a resident unconnected with the application.
The hearing has received information on how the noise measuring has been ‘suspicious’ in the minds of some – I know first hand that some of the practices described by residents occurred, and this is very worrying.
For me this application has always been about imposing something on the local people rather than working with… The company will tell us they consulted the communities – but in reality this was a one-way conversation, which is not what community engagement is about. It is certainly more than just £2,000 per turbine per year in community contributions. It is about listening and compromise
Other windfarms approved in the area that are different in size, scale and proximity to residents
The Lissett windfarm just south of Bridlington, an application very similar in size and scale to what is being considered with the Sixpennywood application - BUT located on an old airfield and what was thought to be a good distance away from residents. The Planning Committee at the time approved the application and it is now a reality. Many lessons have been learnt from this application as it has caused a massive visual impact for miles and miles around, and there are noise issues for residents living close by (with the nearest not being connected with the application being a distance of 850m away). The committee was told these would not be significant issues, but the actuality is very different. One important lesson that we must consider much more carefully is the number of turbines and their fine siting detail, in order to determine how they can be best built into the landscape. A similar size and scale windfarm as Sixpennywood but in a different landscape and further away from properties
The Routh windfarm just east of Beverley was a contentious application, refused by the Planning Committee but subsequently overturned at appeal. This was for 12 smaller generation turbines at 100m from the base to the blade tip, and 60m to the hub, and located between 700m and 900m from any property not connected with the application. These turbines are some 25m lower than what is being proposed at Sixpennywood, plus some 5 km from the historic Beverley Minster instead of the 3.8 km we see here from Howden Minster. A windfarm of a different size and scale and located further away from properties, and the historic Minster
The Withernwick windfarm application on the east Coast was granted at appeal after the planning committee refused it on similar grounds to the Sixpennywood application. The major differences between the applications being the size and scale of the development – namely 9 turbines at a 111m from base to blade tip and 70m to hub height at Withernwick - compared to 10 turbines 125m from base to blade tip and 80m to the hub. Therefore 9 turbines instead of 10 and each 14m lower than those proposed at Sixpennywood and also 899m from the nearest property not connected with the application. Again a windfarm of a different size and scale and further away from properties
With further reference to the Goole Fields and Twin Rivers applications, both of which are examples of a large windfarm in the right location with few objectors. Conversely this application at Sixpennywood is an example of a large windfarm in the wrong location with a significant number of objectors. Neither the Goole Fields or the Twin Rivers application will have an adverse impact on an historic town and a number of listed buildings, but the same can not be said this application, here the general location is wrong for such a large scale windfarm, as it would have a negative impact on not only town of Howden, but will also dominate the communities of Kilpin, Laxton, Saltmarsh, Balkhome, Metham, Greenoak, Bellasize and Eastrington, some of which have historic buildings….
I use these examples to show that the Sixpennywood application is very, very different in size and scale both in height and number of turbines – it is not to be built on an old airfield and away from properties.
There has been debate about the landscape character being the same for both the Goole Fields and Twin Rivers applications as it is for this application…. this may be the case BUT the sub character areas are very, very different – one only has to visit the three sites to see this.
If this application is approved it will result in the greatest number, of the largest turbines, built as close to any property not connected with an application, in the whole of the East Riding of Yorkshire. This is in my view a step too far. Windfarms yes, but of an appropriate size and scale and far enough away from communities not to leave them swamped.
Possible significances of the changes to the proposed grid connection
The hearing has heard an update about the grid connection now being possible in the verge at the side of the B1230 running across the north of the site. Myself and others recall asking about grid connections at the public exhibitions put on by the applicant, and told the nearest grid connection was approx. 4km away at Howden and this would probably require an underground cable being installed the full length. I took this into account when considering the application, and rightly or wrongly, assumed the number of turbines included was in part a reflection on the economy of scale required (or number of turbines) to fund such a long and expensive underground cable.
In summary, and indicated previously, the most important lesson learnt from the Lissett windfarm is that we must consider much more carefully size and scale, the siting of individual turbines, how windfarms can be built into the landscape, and the effect on properties, and for this reason the following 3 criteria have not been satisfied in this application.
1....Is the scale and size of the windfarm appropriate for the location? – This is the crux of the issue and in my opinion the location is not capable of accommodating such a large windfarm without unacceptable adverse effect on the landscape and communities. Quite simply these massive turbines would dominate a number of settlements in what is an otherwise flat rural landscape. If the two electricity pylons are Blacktoft are considered as a benchmark, these are 114m and 112.6m high and can be seen for miles around, imagine adding a further 11 m or almost 10% to the height of these and this is the height of the turbines as proposed.
2....Is the location of the turbine just 630m from a resident not connected with the application appropriate? – This is clearly not acceptable and for the applicant to persist with this turbine location as part of the application and it typifies a complete lack of meaningful community engagement, and awareness of the noise issues.
3....Would the siting of the turbines have an adverse impact on Howden Minster? –This is subjective but personally speaking yes I think it does.
Comments regarding the ERYC Planning Committee
There have been some comments made about ERYC Planning Committee at this hearing. To be clear, I am proud of the Committee’s good record of approving windfarms of appropriate size in appropriate locations. It has been agreed by all parties that the applications approved exceeds the 2021 target by some 26%. The decision of the planning committee on the Sixpennywood application (a decision I supported personally) was summed up in the three reasons for refusal as follows:
“The proposed development because of its size and scale would visually dominate and cause substantial and unacceptable visual impacts to the area”
“The proposed development because of its tall structures would introduce uncharacteristic vertical structures and an industrial element, which would detract from the rural character of the area”
“The proposed development would have an adverse impact on the setting of the Minster Church of St Peter and St Paul Howden”
During the hearing, a lot of issues have been brought to the fore. The reasons the planning committee gave for refusal are very clear and I feel these reasons are as strong now as they were then.
It is a question of balance and judgement – and in this instance the balance is surely tipped by the sheer size and scale of the proposed windfarm. Unless a line is drawn in the sand on size and scale of windfarms in close proximity to residences, I really fear for some communities in the East Riding, at some point someone has to say ‘this is acceptable - but this is not’, the ERYC Planning Committee said this application is not acceptable because of this, and I hope that the inspector can come to the same conclusion and dismisses the appeal.
On day two Mr Stewart the main witness for the company was talking about counting renewable energy figures when he said:
“When it comes to wind turbines – you can’t really miss them” ….
Mr Inspector, How right he is……