Offshore wind – a matter of balance

There has been a lot of navel gazing in the planning world in the year since the draft NPPF was published – and many others have said their piece on what they think planning’s all about. The National Trust believes that the principle of balance is at the heart of planning.

That’s why we welcomed the decision announced on the 6th July to reject one application, Docking Shoal, but accept two others for wind farms off the North Norfolk Coast, near Blakeney Point.

The National Trust supports renewable energy sources – in the appropriate place. For us, it’s not about a blanket ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to wind power – it’s about where wind farms are sited, and in what quantity.

The proposed wind farms in Norfolk are situated in a beautiful, wild seascape, near an important site for migrating seabirds, particularly for the specially protected sandwich terns. These factors were important to take into account when considering the wind farm applications.

The predicted bird-strike rates for each wind farm were assessed individually in each application. When viewed in this way, the consequences for the local bird population do not appear too great – but combined, they posed a genuine threat. Equally, the positioning of the rejected wind farm, between the two accepted projects and closer to the shore than the others, would have a greater impact on migrating birds, being located in their flight path. By rejecting one of the three applications Department of Energy and Climate Change, recognised the cumulative impact of wind farms.

The quantity and positioning of off-shore wind farms can also make a great difference to the visual impact of wind turbines on seascapes. The NorthNorfolkCoast is a destination for many because of the wild beauty of its land and seascapes. Approving all three wind farms would have resulted in an unbroken line of turbines in the seascape visible from Blakeney Point. The close proximity to the shore of the refused Docking Shoal proposal would also have had a visual impact. Again, the refusal of this third application struck the correct balance between the need to provide renewable energy and to retain the wildness of our most special places and protect the wildlife that lives there.

We will be keeping up the pressure to monitor wildlife well-being as part of the two approved wind-farms. This will help us to better understand their cumulative effect on wildlife, and make informed judgements on new wind farm applications.

Planning is so often about striking a delicate balance and arbitrating between competing factors. In offshore wind cases, compromises can often be made in terms of quantity and positioning – spreading turbines out, placing them farther out and not near to sensitive habitats. The North Norfolk decision was a good example of how the planning system should behave to serve the interests of the economy, society and the environment.

Anything to add? Please feel free to comment and share your concerns below and you can join the conversation with us about planning on Twitter (@nationaltrust) using the #planning4ppl hashtag.

Blog by Ellen Reaich, External Affairs Assistant

#planning4ppl

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