The report compiled by Wychavon District Council's planning officer concerning the Lenchwick Windfarm planning application was published today. A press release reported that the planning officer has recommended refusal of the planning application on the following counts:
This, of course, was the same planning officer who was libelled by VVASP's head honcho last summer. On various nimby websites, Dr No stated that the planning officer was "biased" and "minded to approve" the planning application. It would appear that, as usual, the Chief Nookie was saying whatever he felt like with scant regard for the facts.
Anyway, while the planning officer's report might have nixed the planning application at the Development Control Committee stage - not a foregone conclusion, but a likelihood - the Council has in fact only stored up trouble for itself if, as seems likely, ScottishPower Renewables refer the application to a planning inquiry.
Take the first objection - Landscape. The problem with the planning officer's objection here is that it flies in the face of the advice supplied by the District Council's very own Landscape Officer. Early in 2009, the Landscape Officer observed that -
In purely landscape terms there may, therefore, be no special reasons to refuse wind turbines here any more than anywhere else in the district ... in the light of Government guidance on renewable energy and our own policy, and in the absence of any special landscape designation, I feel it may well be difficult to defend refusal of an application in respect of landscape issues at any planning appeal.
It will be interesting to see whether Wychavon can in fact defend the planning officer's recommendation when the Planning Inspectorate get involved.
And then, noise. Oh, boy. Wychavon really could have got themselves into a right pickle here.
Let's first take note of the representation filed by the usual solicitor on behalf of the six parish councils (yep - yet more tax-payers' money blown on dodgy objections!). Not for the first time, the solicitor argues that the "Parish Councils, through their joint working group, representing the overwhelming majority of their residents, submitted a 20 page detailed reasoned response to the application". Nice to think that the solicitor considers his own work to be both detailed and reasoned - especially when you look at the strangely vituperative letters he's been sending to ScottishPower Renewables.
But, hang on - what was that about the "overwhelming majority of their residents"? Sorry - whose residents? Church Lench managed a majority - 57% of households opposed - which can hardly be called "overwhelming". Of the other five parishes, two returned minorities of opponents and three didn't bother polling their residents at all.
So, as with most nimby statements, the solicitor's claim of an "overwhelming majority" is confidently stated but completely unsubstantiated. For the simple reason that it's not true.
Now, here's the rub. As readers of this blog will know, Wychavon chose its noise consultant on the grounds that there was "general concern" in the acoustic industry that the government's guidelines on wind farm noise assessment and rating (ETSU-R-97) were "unfit for purpose". Again - not true. But, on that mistaken basis, Wychavon chose to hire a consultant known for his oppositional stance to the established guidelines.
General concern amongst noise experts about ETSU-R-97? If that phrase rings a bell, it's because Big Chief Nookie has also used it. It's a sort of nimby mantra. But how the District Council formed the same misguided opinion is a bit of a mystery.
Perhaps it had something to do with the fact that unnamed representatives of the Anti-Windfarm Working Party were holding meetings with Wychavon's officers at the time. And one member of the "joint working group" - an ex-District Councillor, in fact - continued to badger Council officers in order to convince them, wrongly, that the government's guidelines on wind farms and noise could be "overruled".
Try telling that to the government.
Anyway, having secured the noise consultant they wanted, VVASP duly trumpeted his findings. No mention was made of the fact that the consultant in question regularly takes money from nimby groups and refers repeatedly to "research" that has never been peer-reviewed or, for that matter, seen by others in the industry.
One of the claims made in the MAS Environmental report on noise was that SPR's noise consultants had underestimated the noise output from the proposed windfarm to the tune of 5 decibels. But another of the noise experts initially approached by Wychavon has assured one of our correspondents that this claim is absolutely ludicrous. It was, as this expert confirmed, "impossible" that SPR's distinguished consultants could be 5 decibels out.
However, the planning officer at Wychavon has taken this "impossible" claim at face value. And, purely on the basis of that unsubstantiated claim, he has recommended refusal.
Reports by MAS Environmental don't tend to survive the Planning Inspectorate stage. And the fact that VVASP - via its Windfarm Working Party - was bending the ears of Council officers in order to mislead them over the status of the government's guidelines, a process which led to the retaining of a maverick noise consultant whose unsubstantiated and "impossible" claims provided the sole basis for the planning officer's recommendation ... well, it's unlikely that Wychavon will come out of the planning appeal stage smelling of roses.
As for Residential Amenity - well, that's a subjective opinion. And Highways? Come on - are they trying to say that transporting turbines along a major motorway can't happen? How on earth did all those other turbines find their way to their destinations?
So, all in all - it's unquestionably a blow for windfarm supporters, and all those villagers who have suffered at the hands of VVASP, that the planning officer has recommended refusal. But those very recommendations present an invitation to the Planning Inspectorate to criticise the District Council for being rather too ready to listen to the uninformed opinions of the nimbies.
At best, Wychavon has bought itself a bit of time and given the Development Control Committee an excuse to pass the whole problem on to the Planning Inspectorate. Which would mean more time, more stress, more money spent ...
And, on the face of it, Wychavon will indeed find it very difficult to defend these decisions at the planning appeal stage. It would appear that VVASP have made complete fools of them.