7th Dec 2015
Wind Turbines in the Landscape
Press Release - Northumberland & Newcastle Society.
‘Assessment of the extent to which existing onshore wind developments in Northumberland have been successfully accommodated into the landscape’, Northumberland County Council, May 2015. Northumberland & Newcastle Society and Campaign to Protect Rural England press release, 7th December 2015.
Northumberland County Council have quietly released a major independent report which compares the reality of the effects of a number of wind farms on the Northumberland landscape with the predicted landscape impacts as presented in the original application documents.
The report was angrily received by wind developers at the presentation of an early draft in 2014. This may explain why this important report has been released without any publicity, buried in a list of links to publications on a subsidiary planning page of the NCC website. 1
Lester Sher, Chair of the Northumberland and Newcastle Society’s Northumberland Environmental Policy Group, said: “The technical findings of the report directly identify the problems with photomontages and visual impact assessments in wind turbine planning applications which the Society and other organisations have complained of for years”.
The problems identified in the study include highly selective choice of viewpoints for visualisations; understatement of scale in photomontages; inaccurate turbine locations; understatement of effects and predicted impacts; inadequate technical quality in images; lack of cumulation information. 2
Heritage impacts underplayed
The report supports the concerns expressed by the Society and Campaign for the Protection of Rural England (CPRE) regarding the cumulative impacts of the Wandylaw and Middlemoor complex of twenty-eight 125m turbines on the Coastal AONB and iconic heritage sites such as Bamburgh, Dunstanburgh and Holy Island.
The Societies’ concerns informed the debate in the House of Lords in October 2014 on ‘Wind farms in Northumberland’. Sponsored by Baroness Quin, this debate was supported by a cross-party group of Peers. 3
The report criticises the lack of cumulative environmental impact information regarding the Wandylaw and Middlemoor schemes. Wandylaw was largely ignored in the Middlemoor assessment despite already being scoped with the planning authority at the time of the Middlemoor application.
The report acknowledges that, “it is almost impossible to assess the effects of Wandylaw and Middlemoor wind Farms separately, as reported in the respective ESs, due to the extent of their combined effects whereby the two wind farms effectively read as one from many viewpoints”. 4
It goes on to note the exclusion of Dunstanburgh Castle, lying in the Northumberland Coast AONB, as sensitive key receptor, in the Middlemoor landscape and visual impact assessment (LVIA), and the “poetic” interpretation of its visual impacts.
It concludes that, “Middlemoor wind Farm (now seen in complete singularity with Wandylaw Wind farm) abruptly interrupts views from Ros Castle and Cataran Hill (as important historic sites located in part because of their lookout attributes) towards the coastal strip, with the line-of-sight to Dunstanburgh particularly affected. Vistas from Preston tower, again important for its look-out function, are dramatically interrupted by turbines from both wind farms, and in the opinion of this study, to a significantly greater degree than suggested within the ES.” 5
This study is not a comprehensive review of turbine impacts on the Northumbrian landscape. It was carried out prior to the construction of a number of major wind farms.
The cumulative impacts of the North Steads (formerly Maiden Hall/Blue Sky) and Sisters turbine arrays now being built near Widdrington is certain to be much greater than was predicted. The 16-turbine Ray scheme near Kirkwhelpington is also under construction. Seen together with the contiguous 18 turbines at Green Rig this will constitute the largest turbine complex in England. Its visual impacts have been greatly understated.
The Northumberland and Newcastle Society and CPRE are concerned that the findings of this report, and changes in government policy, should be properly integrated in NCC’s emerging planning guidance for wind turbines. “A failure to get this right will, like the Middlemoor/Wandylaw turbine complex, scar our iconic tourist landscapes for decades”, the Societies say.
1 NCC web page with study download link (see ‘Landscape & operational wind farms study’, under ‘Energy studies’): http://www.northumberland.gov.uk/Planning/Planning-policy/Reports.aspx
2 From ‘Technical findings’:
“… issues of inaccuracy in visualisations were consistently observed…” “Photomontage and wireframe visualisations of proposed wind energy developments invariably present images which when observed in the field under-represented the scale of visual prominence of installed turbines by around 30%.”
“Some wind farm layouts as installed diverge from visualisations by a magnitude greater than could be attributed to micro-siting variations.”
“Selection of visualisation viewpoints were found on occasion to be unhelpful by using sites where vistas of the proposed development was limited or screened, yet open vistas could be found in close proximity.”
“Supporting material to help accurately locate visualisation viewpoints (grid references, descriptions and OS mapping extracts) was frequently inaccurate or not-fit-for purpose.”
“Where systematic matrices were presented for determining the ‘significance’ of effects as a function of magnitude of effect and sensitivity of the receptor, professional judgements would tend to underplay effects…”
“Significance matrices tended to weight possible outcomes towards nonsignificant effects.”
“There tended to be an inverse correlation between the age of the ES or other supporting material and their quality and transparency, although the technical shortcomings noted above were evident over more recent outputs as well as older materials.”
3 Hansard, 15 Oct 2014 : Column 253:
4 ‘Assessment of the extent to which existing onshore wind developments in Northumberland have been successfully accommodated into the landscape’, NCC, p.45.
5 Ibid, p.58.