By Councillor Ian Bevan
This week, I spoke in my capacity as Councillor for Ramsbottom Ward at the Public Inquiry into the proposed extension of the Scout Moor Wind Farm.
Scout Moor is the second largest onshore wind farm in England. Peel Energy and United Utilites submitted a joint venture to extend the current wind farm on Scout Moor above Ramsbottom with an additional 16 wind turbines (thirteen 115-metre turbines, and three 100-metre turbines). This would make it the largest onshore wind farm in England.
The plans had been approved by Rossendale and Rochdale Councils.
Several Ramsbottom groups, including Edenfield Village Residents’ Association, the Holcombe Society, your local Councillors and Bury North MP, David Nuttall, had opposed the plans and campaigned against the proposals. Other organisations such as the National Trust also objected.
The decision has been referred to the Secretary of State, Sajid Javid, and the matter listed for a public inquiry.
Our ward is situated to the west of the proposed development with Ramsbottom and the villages of Shuttleworth and Holcombe having a largely un-obscured view of the proposed wind farm extension. At its closest, the nearest property in our ward, at Grimecote Farmhouse, Rochdale Road, Edenfield, is just 250 metres from the entrance to Scout Road.
The Government issued Planning Guidance: “Renewable and low carbon energy – Particular planning considerations for hydropower, active solar technology, solar farms and wind turbines” which was updated in June 2015. In its online Planning Practice Guidance the Government’s aim was to make clear that the need for renewable energy did not automatically override environmental protections and the planning concerns of local communities.
A Written Ministerial Statement made on 18 June 2015, is quite clear that when considering applications for wind energy development, local planning authorities should only grant planning permission if:
(a) the development site is in an area identified as suitable for wind energy development in a Local or Neighbourhood Plan; and
(b) following consultation, it can be demonstrated that the planning impacts identified by affected local communities have been fully addressed and therefore the proposal has their backing.
Pre-application Consultation with the local community
There is a legal requirement to carry out pre-application consultation with the local community for planning applications for wind turbine developments involving more than 2 turbines.
That requirement is the responsibility of the applicant (Peel). They must publicise the proposal in such a way as to bring it to the attention of a majority of the people who live at, or otherwise occupy, premises in the area.
I can only comment on the position of us here on the Bury side of the boundary. Whilst there were some briefings in the late stages of 2011, this was for a different proposal to the one lodged with Rossendale Council in April 2015.
There was a little publicised exhibition in June 2014 at the Town Hall in Bury but many people in Ramsbottom remained unaware of this proposal until the planning application was lodged in April last year.
Statutory Consultation with the local community
Bury Councillors were notified on 5 May 2015 of the application being lodged with Rossendale and views were sought. Unfortunately, this was in the final days of the General and Local Election campaigns and I made a request for an extension of time to consult with residents.
Unfortunately, this request was rejected on 19 May 2015 by the Assistant Director (Localities) at the Department for Resources and Regulation at Bury Council. The deadline for responses expired two days later.
Since that time, Ramsbottom Councillors have undertaken extensive soundings from our constituents. This included letters, emails, online responses to surveys and importantly attendance at a public meeting at Ramsbottom Civic Hall to listen to residents views. A meeting hosted by former BBC News presenter, Martin Henfield. Residents were almost unanimous in their objection to this proposal.
Landscape and visual impacts from the wind turbines
Many Ramsbottom residents are concerned at the effects of the proposed development on the fabric, character and quality of the local landscape on Scout Moor. They are concerned that the wind farm will become a significant and defining characteristic of the local landscape in the valley.
The main concern is in relation to the visual impact. Whilst most of us have become used to the current windfarm, the proposed extension will turn Scout Moor into an “industrial-like” landscape of turbines.
The existing Scout Moor turbines were approved several years ago. The Planning Inspector at the time recognised the turbines could have a negative impact on the local landscape, and wrote in his report about the turbines having to bewidely spaced and dispersed.
The current proposals are for infill to the existing wind farm, and evidently these large structures would dominate and devastate the immediate area, and would be visible in whole or in part from many parts of Ramsbottom, Shuttleworth and Holcombe. The “openness” of the existing wind farm will be removed.
The Planning Inspector for the previous Scout Moor Wind Farm application claimed that the turbines were so far apart that the landscape was clearly visible through the spaces – but emphasised any ‘closing up’ of these gaps was unacceptable.
The public inquiry has now concluded, and we will have to wait around 6 months for the decision.